Bacon Three

19 Oct

Another Huge Success. I cured the entire belly this time, again in two halves. I made one half With No Weird Stuff, as the Law demands. The other half had only added brown sugar. Both are really good. The brown-sugar cure definitely added some sweetness and seemed to bring out other flavors as well. Ruhlman notes that extra sugar will make the smoking add more flavor so I’m guessing that is what happened.

This belly was purchased at the local Costco. They had a lot of bellies there and the price was about the same as the butcher shop. I am hoping they will continue to carry them when I want to get them. The belly was a good bit thicker than the one I got before. It also already had the skin removed, which saved me quite a lot of work. It did deprive me of the skin for cracklins, but they were able to leave much more fat on the belly than I had in my earlier effort. Tradeoffs.

At some point, I will seek out higher quality pork. We have had great success and are very pleased with the results using these commercial bellies. It will be interesting to see whether a belly from a small-farm raised hog really does have the difference reflected in the cost to make it worth using for us. Being Food Enjoyers and not Food Connoisseurs might make it a cost not necessary.

I show the smoking setup I used in the photo attached (the two parts of the collage were taken on different days). I use a grill and some hacks to get it to smoke at the temperature I want and still have smoke. A couple of bricks and a rack made a two-level area just right for these half-bellies. The old pan with the wood chunks is sitting directly on the gas burner. You can’t see it here, but I have about 75% of the burner holes covered with foil to be able to keep the temperature below 200ºF. I only light the one burner, mostly covered, and then keep it turned almost as low as it will go to get that temperature. I really like this grill. It has fairly heavy steel, a gas side, a charcoal side, and a side smoke box on the charcoal side. I use the gas side for most smoking because it is less hassle (I am generally really lazy). One thing the gas side does really well is get really, really, really HOT. I have gotten it hot enough that my probe thermometers exceed their maximum possible reading. The, highly inaccurate, dial thermometer on the grill lid shows it going to 700ºF+. The drawback is that it is very difficult to get a temperature below 300ºF with hacks like I describe above. But you can, so there.

Field Notes:

12.32lbs total. Split 6lb3¾oz; 6lb1½oz.
One half cured with brown sugar added
Other half cured with just the cure mix
Cured 14 days
Smoked with apple chunks at 210º to internal temp of 145º
Smoking took about 3 hours.

Happy surprise: this belly from Costco is much thicker that the previous belly from Fergusons and has a much thicker layer of fat (which seems a good thing right now). It also came with the skin already removed which cut out about 80% of the effort for me.

Bacon, the Other Half

5 Oct

When we were getting to the end of the first half-belly, I thawed and cured the half-belly I had frozen frozen. The skin cut off much easier this time. That was partly because I had a sense of how to work it this time. Mostly it was because I got out the sharpener and put good edges on all the knives. Note: Knives sharp; fingers bleed.

Against all of Mary’s demands, I added brown sugar and pepper corns to the cure this time. I liked it quite a lot, but it caused a new Rule of Bacon Making to be declared: Thou Shalt Reserve Half to be Cured with No Weird Stuff Added. So sayeth the boss; so it shall be done.

Field Notes

5 lbs (other half of the 5Sep belly) cured with added brown sugar and cracked pepper
3Oct smoked with just apple wood
Started with a fairly strong pepper flavor. After a couple of weeks that has mellowed to a very nice, mild pepper note.

Bacon, a Beginning

5 Sep

I have seen a cousin posting about home-curing bacon and got interested. I like bacon. I like cooking. Seems a match made in the kitchen. He gave me the basics. I researched some more. Settled on generally following the recipe in Ruhlman’s Charcuterie. The results have been outstanding; we are hooked.

Once I had all the necessary curing ingredients (Salt, Curing Salt, Corn Sugar, Big zip-close bags), I went to a local butcher and got a pork belly. This belly had the skin on. Removing that was quite a lot of work for this first go. It will certainly take me a few times to figure out the best way and the best knife to use to do this. Or start getting the butcher to do it for me. Cracklins sound like a good thing to make, though.

Mixed the cure, coated half the belly, put in a bag, put the bag in the refrigerator, and waited. The other half went to the freezer. After about 10 days, with a bag-flip in the middle, the curing belly came out got washed, dried, and smoked. Bacon.

Field Notes:

4lbs cured with just the curing mix
15Sep Smoked with hickory and apple
Very nice bacon flavor. Mary says this is the only bacon I can make (“Don’t start doing anything weird to it!”)

And how are you, Today?

1 Jun

Geez, I might have some time and some inclination to post some again.

Today begins my last active month at my current employer. I have worked with basically the same group of fine folks for the past 12 years, other than for a few months between when I was out then brought back in.

This time, I think the layoff will stick. My entire team is being cut loose along with other fairly huge changes throughout the company as it tries to adjust to changes in the mobile device markets.

The exit program being offered is very generous and affords me the chance to take some time to consider what I want to do next.

Let’s see where the path leads from here.

Pork – The Good Kind

2 Mar

The weekend before last Nelson and I ate at Pappy Red’s, a truly wonderful barbeque joint in town. At some point the talk to turned to us trying our hand at cooking some meat. Ribs. Pulled Pork. Maybe a whole pig just like we’d seen on the Anthony Bourdain show. Mmmmm. Well….maybe.

Anyway, this weekend we took a shot a pulled pork. We tried two methods of cooking Boston Butts to see which was better, whether we could even tell the difference, and whether the difference was worth the bother.

The short form was a recipe from Food magazine. A very simple and tasty recipe cooked in a Dutch oven in the stove. We used our cast iron pot. It took a total of 5 hours prep, cooking, and pulling (shredding) time. The long form was an Alton Brown recipe (our current cooking crush). This used a 10-hour brine followed by a 10-hour slow cook in a smoker.

We planned on having pulled pork Saturday and Sunday as sort of a taste testing weekend. We invited Vicki and William along for the ride with no complaints heard.

I dragged Nelson out of bed Saturday morning to help with the shopping and off we went. We stopped by Publics to get most of the stuff and check out the meat. The plan was to see what pork they had and compare it to Ferguson’s Meat Market. We ended up with a 4-pound butt from Public’s and 18-pounds of Butt from Ferguson’s. By far, the better deal was at the Meat Market, but the little 4-pound butt we snagged from Publics was on sale for just ten cents a pound more while a dollar a pound less than the others. Makes you wonder why it was on sale, but we cooked it that day so it wasn’t going to matter much. Ferguson’s is pretty amazing. In the 14 years we have lived in Cumming, knowing it was there, and with Mary shopping there sometimes, I have never been inside. I have a feeling I will be there often now.

We got the rub on the small butt with its cider-based baste and put it in the oven. While that cooked, we put the two big butts in a molasses flavored brine to soak for 10 hours. I made some sauce (Emeril) and put it in the fridge to mellow. The little pig came out of the oven and was shredded.

Then we did other stuff. Nothing to do with the kitchen and nothing went as planned so I am not going to talk about it other than to say we did not spend money, which is good for now.

Vicki, William, and the boys came over for dinner. It was good.

The big pigs came out of the brine about 9:00pm. The Alton Brown cummin-based rub went on thick and they went onto the grill about 10:00pm. We had to use the grill as our smoker because our smoker had not seen any use in a couple of years and was DOA when we tried to turn it on.

The grill worked fine after some fine tuning. It held the temperature at just a bit above 200 degrees all night long except for one exciting spell around 1:00 am when some of the drippings caught fire and spread flames over the big pig. That called for some adjustments in the grill. The foil covering the burners was replaced with some heavier and wider pans to keep the fat out of the flames.

Nelson and I set into a schedule with him checking the temp and flamage at the bottom of the hour and me checking at the top of the hour. I kept that up until about 5:00 and the decided that the meat would be good enough or someone would let me know that the porch was afire because I was sleeping for a few hours. Nelson kept checking every hour. At 9:00 I took the smaller of the butts off the grill to rest. The bigger needed a couple more hours. Nelson slept until about 11:00 because he was done, too.

Mary and the kids went to the movies in the afternoon. It snowed. I pulled the pork, and made some cornbread. Vicki, William, and the boys came over for the second round. Everyone ate. It was good.

The consensus was that they were both pretty good. The long form was the winner in taste, but no one would turn down the short form. The short form was the big winner in the taste per effort ratio, although the long form wouldn’t be so bad if we planned it so we were not cooking overnight.

Now I have pork sandwiches for lunch for the whole week and I am not complaining one tiny bit.

Long Drive Home

1 Dec

After an hour and half of driving 25mph on 4-lane wide interstate between Macon and Atlanta we decided that we had to change the route. We got off, took a potty break, got some food and gave the GPS to Nelson. He tapped on it until the routing did not use any interstate highway. It took a few tries, but eventually the GPS-lady got the idea that we really and truly wanted to get away from those roads. Then we drove for two more hours, but at the speed limit, in the dark on curvy roads in the rain listening to CD of the teen vampire romance novel until we finally got home three hours later than planned. The usual five hour trip had turned into eight.

Then Mary got dressed and left for work.

PSA from the Cook

26 Nov

If the the propane powered grill on your back deck has trouble starting when using the built-in automatic starter, be sure to SHUT OFF all of the burners and WAIT a few minutes before trying to light them with a lighter. If you light them right away the resulting fireball will engulf your head and burn off most of your eyebrows. You will be lucky to be able to get away without your entire head being aflame or your clothes catching fire.

Shhlip from the Boy’s Lips

22 Nov

Nelson and I were in car coming home from cheer practice this morning. He was tired. We pulled up to a corner that is overgrown with bushes and stuff that makes it difficult to see  whether anything is coming from that direction especially since the cross road curves away a bit there.

Nelson:  They need to cut that sh..those weeds don’t they….

Me: What? What did you say? Sh Sh Sh weeds?

Nelson: (laughing now) They need to cut those shrubs .. those weeds.

Me: (laughing) Yeah, that’s what I thought you said.

Nelson:I was trying to say shrubs!

Me: Oh, I just bet that’s what was trying to come out.

Nelson: You’re going to blog this aren’t you?

Me: Oh, yeah.

Movies, popcorn and rings?

20 Nov

So all of you that know me, know I LOVE going to the movies. And yes I am also one of those people that MUST have my popcorn with the movie! Anyway, I am just writing this story as a warning to all you popcorn loving movie goers. Rings beware! My family (all 4 of us) had one of those rare family outings to the movies a couple of weeks ago. I know even Butch went along! Of course once there at the theater we split up, girls one way to see “The Secret Life of Bees” and guys went another to see “Eagle Eye”. So we are now in our perspective theaters and ready to indulge. Caitlin and I find great seats and I dig into the yummy buttery popcorn! After a few handfuls I bite down on this obvious metal something with my popcorn. Yuck, weird…I remove it from my mouth and think, “I better put this in my pocket so I can give it to the concession workers or someone to inform them that there was something in my bucket of popcorn” .So I slipped it into my jacket pocket and went on, a little more carefully of course! The movie was great and nothing else suspicious in the bucket. After the movie Caitlin and I are in the lobby waiting for the guys when I remember the metal thing in my pocket. I remove it and show it to Caitlin. She looks at it and says it looks like one of the 2 rings I have been wearing for the past year or so…we examine it more closely…stunned I look down at my hand! Sure enough BOTH rings are missing! Gross!! Where is the other one?? GROSS! Even though I tried to tell myself it must have fallen on the floor, under the popcorn in the bucket, somewhere…I felt a little sick to my stomach for the rest of the day.  That and the mental image I had of myself looking a bit like the COOKIE MONSTER with my popcorn! I know why it is so dark in the theater now!!

Great Day

4 Nov

We had a great day Sunday.

It started with me getting up and not remembering that the time had changed. When I was getting ready to get folks ready to do things, Mary asked why the rush and, Hey! free hour! Which was really good because no one was ready to go and it meant a pleasant time getting ready instead of a mad rush.

Our first adventure was to a comic book convention. Our main reason for going was to see Georges Jeanty. He is the artist who draws most of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic books. We happen to have all of them because we use HeavyInk to subscribe so we never miss one. The convention is a somewhat small affair and only cost five bucks so is a great way to spend a couple of hours. None of us is really a comic book collector and that is what you really need to be to get any benefit from the room full of comic books on sale at this convention. Nelson and I attended one of these put on by the same crew back in April. That time the point was to just spend a couple of hours doing something different. We did that and came away with a few trinkets and a cheap box of comics guaranteed to be worth a bit more than what we paid. This time we had the specific goal of seeing Georges Jeanty and getting some of our Buffy comics signed. Not that we are becoming collectors or anything, just because he was going to be there and it seemed like something fun and different to do. It got Caitlin out of the house, which is a major feat.

Georges Jeanty was a nice, chatty, and charming guy. There were a couple of people at his table when when we got there, but not a line so we made a circuit of the six or so other tables outside the main room before coming to rest in front of his.  I expected there would either be some fee for getting the autographs or some limit on the number he would be willing to sign, time being valuable and based on Caitlin’s experience at DragonCon. With this in mind on the drive over, Caitlin selected a couple of her favorite issues in addition to the issues that had covers Georges had drawn. We had these out when we got to the table and asked if he could sign them. He was really nice and welcoming. He talked about some of his prints while he signed those comics. I asked if there was a fee for that and he waved it off with a smile not seeming either surprised at the question or offended.  We thanked him and then made out way to the main comic room.

We went couple of trips around the room, gawked at folks with clipboards digging through the boxes of comics, but did not see anything that really interested us and headed back out. Georges was still there and did not have a long line. I suggested that he might be willing to sign the rest of our comics if asked. And then we spent some time negotiating who would do the asking. All of us are pretty much chicken when it comes to talking to people. Nelson finally took the lead and asked. Georges was more than happy to sign them all and did, skipping the ones that he did not draw (except for one that he did not notice was not his until it was too late). Then we talked with him for a while about working on the comics. He had some sketches of work from past issues and some from upcoming issues and talked about some of the fun things that would be happening in the stories. We bought a couple of prints that he signed. Caitlin got one of his sketch books and watched as he drew a picture of Dawn Summers on the cover. If we weren’t collectors of Buffy stuff before , we might be now. Caitlin and Nelson are going to combine these new items with a James Marsters photo Caitlin got at DragonCon 2007 and a few of the Georges comics into a Buffy Shrine in the library.

After the Comic Convention we zipped back to the house so Mary and Nelson could join his cheer team to watch a cheer competition the Gwinett Arena. About half of his team is new to the sport. That was the first live cheer competition they had seen. They have been working hard over the summer getting their routine together. This was a chance for them to see how a meet flows and what it might be like to be on stage. Mary and Nelson had a good time. They got to watch a few of the teams including the team Nelson used to be on. His old coaches were there, were happy to see him, and interested in how he was doing at the new gym. Mary spent some time catching up with the Cheer Moms from the old gym who she doesn’t see now.

When they left there we made plans to meet for a bite to eat. Caitlin and I were at home recovering from the crowd a the Comic Convention. Mary, Nelson, and Nelson’s girlfriend, Mycala, who had been along on the Cheer trip, were on the way back to town. Caitlin wanted to ride the motorcycle even though it was getting a bit chilly out. Not one to deny my daughter much, I agreed: Motorcycle ride to town for dinner. Dinner was good enough. Mary was not at the Comic event having elected quiet time instead. So she was filled in on everything that happened there. Caitlin and I were not at the Cheer event so we got the scoop from their outing. Then we had some fun at Nelon’s expense, which is always good for a few minutes laughs. I can’t recall exactly what it was now, but I know we laughed about it then.

The motorcycle ride home was quite a bit colder than the ride in, but was still nice. I was done in.  I read for a while and then zonked out.

A Great Day.