Thursday, January 28, 2010

BUILDING, HANGING, AND BLTING

Just a quick update on my progress.... Last night, I managed to get my workbench into position, build a wall board, and hang most of my hand tools. I also installed a fishing pole rack that is nicely holding about 50% of my fishing rods.

Tonight, I'm hoping to finish hanging all my tools, build a shelf for the laundry area, build an overhead lumber rack, and re-wire my table saw for 110 Volts. It's all starting to come together, and I'm beginning to think that I just might make it...

On a side note, my wife made us some homemade bacon BLT's for dinner last night... AMAZING!!! The thickness of the bacon made it really stand out in the sandwich, instead of disappearing into the bread and tomato. Sadly, though, the homemade bacon supply is spent. We have one salty end piece left, which we're planning to use as an ingredient in some sort of soup or stew. I guess I'll need to make a bigger piece next time so that I have more to share...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

HARD TIME

Well, it is official... I've been sentenced to two weeks in the chilly northwest, away from my family, and away from all the pressing things that I need to do. The northwest is fairly depressing for me as a general rule, due to the gloomy climate and the circumstances of my visits, but I need to try to be positive.

I'll finally have a chance to catch up on my reading to prepare for our baby that will be here in around three months. Between work, my giant list, and the day to day happenings of life, it is rare that I have the time or energy to sit down and read a technical or dry book. I'll probably need to work weekends and overtime while I'm up there, but there will be no dishes, no laundry, no cooking, and no cleaning. In addition, there will be noone to spend time with, and very little to do.

I plan on seeing the bright side here and using my unwanted liesure time to do something productive. There is lots of research and planning to be done, and I'll finally have some extra time and energy to take it on.

In the meantime, I have four and a half days. I plan on working like a dog as much as possible so that I can cross a few things off my list. My goal is, at a minimum, to have my garage up, running, and ready for action, and to have my house unpacked and organized before I leave......eeesh......

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

THE LOOMING LIST

We're finally moved into our new apartment! On Sunday, we moved the last of our things into the new house, and now the long process of unpacking, arranging, and re-arranging has begun... the only problem is that time seems to be at a premium these days, and there does not seem to be enough hours in a day to do what needs to be done. Between pregnancy classes, doctor's appointments, and the looming possibility of business travel, I'm finding that it is going to be very difficult to keep up with my growing to do list. Just to keep me focused, and because lists make me feel better, here's what I need to do as of today, in the order it needs to be done...
  • Organize the garage. It looks like something exploded in there at the moment. I was able to get the kayaks hung, and the boat positioned last night...but there is still a long way to go. I still need to stow my fishing poles and dive gear, reposition my workbench, and sort and set up my tools.
  • Build a shelf above the laundry area for cleaning products. This will get a lot of clutter in the garage organized and put away.
  • Paint the new entertainment center doors. The doors are ready for putty, sanding, and paint. I'm considering getting this hvlp spray gun to help with all the painting I'm going to be doing in the coming months. The doors would be a great test.
  • Touch up some really horrible patch jobs on the walls inside the house.
  • Paint the nursery. We're leaning towards a green color and a nature-like theme....
  • Re-wire and tune my "new" old table saw, and make a crosscut sled for it that can also be used to cut 45 degree miters.
  • Re-purpose our old entertainment center for baby storage. I need to make/remove several shelves, add some new doors, and paint to go with the nursery. Lots of sanding and painting is going to be required for this one....
  • Build a small bookshelf for the nursery.
  • Build a toy chest for the nursery.
  • Touch up the paint on our night stands and entertainment center. Hopefully, the spray gun will make this quick and easy.
  • Paint an end table that needs some re-finishing.
  • Build some bookshelves for the house.
  • Build a rocking chair.
  • Build a new coffee table.
  • Build a new kitchen table.
My list is a little bit overwhelming at the moment, but at the same time, I really enjoy having lots of worthwhile projects to work on, which is much more exciting than the alternative. I'm hoping a few solid weekends will put a good dent in this list.

If anyone is looking for me this year, I'll be at work, in the garage, or sleeping.

Monday, January 25, 2010

HOMEMADE BACON

On Saturday morning, I finally completed my first slab of bacon. I lightly smoked the slab with Pecan chips, and recruited some family members to test the bacon with me (and to ensure that I wouldn't die alone if it all went wrong)I have to say, it was wonderful! The bacon was thick, flavorful, and even juicy...You just can't get anything like it in a store, and I'll definitely be making this again.

A few notes for next time...
  • I decided not to let the bacon develop a pellicle. Since I didn't use any nitrates, I just couldn't bring myself to leave the meat exposed like that. There was still plenty of smoky flavor for my taste.
  • The sides of the bacon slab are extremely salty. Next time, cut 1/4" off each side, and save this saltier portion for use as an ingredient in something like soup. (I was devastated when I first tasted the bacon because it was so salty, but it turned out to be fine as I got away from the exposed edge.
  • I ended up smoking the meat on the morning of the 8th day. Next time, I think I should remove the cure on the morning of the 6th day, as the bacon is slightly over salted.
  • Since I didn't use any nitrates, I smoked the bacon at about 300F instead of 200F to cut down the cooking time and avoid bacteria growth... I didn't notice any negative effects from doing this...
Here are the pictures... I went a little overboard, but I just can't help myself when it comes to delicious food...

The bacon in its cure... note the amount of liquid in the bag...

The cured, unsmoked slab of bacon...

halfway through smoking...

Internal temperature at 150F...

Mmmmmmmm........

Into the pan....

Into the mouth...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

CATS, DOGS, AND HIPPOPOTAMUSSES

I had quite an eventful drive home from work yesterday... Storm drains got blocked during an insane downpour, and the streets turned into rivers. It took me an hour to complete my 15 minute drive home. Thank god I just happened to be driving my dad's truck. My little car would probably have been flooded, but I was able to stay high and dry thanks to the truck.

video

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

INTROSPECTION

Now that I've had this blog for a little while, I realized that I wasn't using labels very effectively. I went through and changed all the labels, so now, if you're interested in a certain subject, you can click on it and see all the posts related to that topic. I've condensed everything so down to a pretty manageable list of topics. In doing this, I came across an interesting idea....I can actually track my level of interest in particular activities...

As of now, I used a cooking related label for 60% of my posts. Woodworking and fishing each came in at 5%. I find it fascinating that I can evaluate my interests with such clarity. At this point, I am obviously obsessed with cooking more than anything else, and I am very curious to see what these numbers look like after a full year.

I'm looking forward to using this enhanced vision to see myself with a little more clarity... This kind of information will let me see when I've allowed a hobby to go by the wayside, and either remind me to pick it up again, or bring me to the conclusion that it isn't something I'm really interested in...

Monday, January 18, 2010

MAGIC DISAPPEARING BAGELS

I started a batch of bagels on Thursday evening for breakfast with my family on Sunday morning. I took some pictures of the process, and a few notes for next time...

First, you mix a "sponge" which is basically a runny dough. The sponge is fermented at room temperature for an hour, then refrigerated overnight. (This fermentation is where a lot of the flavor in the dough comes from) The next day, the dough is thickened and kneaded, allowed to rise until doubled, then ripened in the refrigerator for 2 days. Next time, I'd like to add vital wheat gluten to unbleached flour to get a chewier texture. This is the dough before ripening:

The next morning, the bagels are shaped. The dough is fairly sticky, and I found that very cold dough and lightly floured hands were the key. The shaped bagels are placed on floured parchment for 15 minutes to slightly rise...

The bagels are boiled in a large kettle along with some molasses and baking soda. The molasses and baking soda help with the color and shine of the finished bagel. I boiled these for 2 minutes a side. The longer the bagels are boiled, the thicker the outer skin will be. I think a shorter boil time would make a smoother, but less chewy skin, but I like the chewiness....


The boiled bagels are allowed to dry on parchment for a few minutes, then brushed with egg whites and coated in toppings. Next time, less pepper in the everything bagel mix (I used equal parts fennel, sesame, poppy, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper). Also, try dehydrating some jalapenos... Here are the coated bagels, ready to be baked. I made 1/2 salt, and 1/2 everything...

The bagels are baked for around 30 minutes before they disappear.




Sunday, January 17, 2010

WAITING ON THE CURE

It has begun! My 2.5 pound black hog belly was fully defrosted on Friday night, so I started the curing process. Here is a picture of the belly before I did anything to it. It is 2" thick, and looks gorgeous. There are a couple rib bones you can see in the back of the picture, but they are small, and I will remove them before I slice the bacon...I haven't decided on the right time yet...

And this is the pork belly, coated in a mixture of equal parts salt and sugar. I heavily coated the meat, then threw a little extra in the bag for good measure.

The pork will sit in its cure for 7 days. I'm flipping it over every day and making sure that the liquid forming in the bag stays in contact with the meat. Next Friday, I'll put the uncovered, rinsed meat on a wire rack in the fridge overnight to form a "pellicle", or sticky coating which will help smoke adhere to the meat. On Saturday morning, I'll fire up the smoker, fulfilling this pork belly's ultimate destiny....

Friday, January 15, 2010

WEEKEND CRAZY

Well....it's official! We picked up the keys to our new homefront yesterday evening. The electricity isn't going to be on until Monday, and it was dark in the house, but it sure felt good to start moving some things in. The garage is enormous and dwarfs the pile of boxes that made my other garage seem cramped and full. The real moving begins today. I'm going to be getting off work early, inspecting the new house by the light of day, and attempting to empty my old garage into my new one. At the same time, I'll be working on my bagel dough for Sunday and finally starting my pork belly on its trip to bacon land.... wish me luck... it's gonna be one crazy weekend!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

THE HAPS

We've got a lot going on at the moment, but here are a few headlines....

Our landlord is going to let us move into our new place early, with no extra payments or fees! I couldn't wait to get started, so this is just thrilling for me. We are supposed to get the keys tonight, and I couldn't be more excited! We'll have a full four weeks to get our stuff from one house to the other, and I'm really looking forward to doing this move as easily and gently as possible.

Every now and then, my wife and I like to host a weekend family breakfast at our house. It's a nice way to get family together and a good outlet for some of our baking bugs. This time, it looks like we're doing bagels, and we'll probably serve up some eggs and spinach, benedict style to go with them. I really love making bagels, and will post the process of making them next week sometime. We went and got some dehydrated onion, dehydrated garlic, sesame, fennel and poppy seeds, so now, we can make our two favorites: salt bagels, and everything bagels. I'll be starting the dough tonight for our Sunday morning feast. Very exciting.

Last night, we went to Barnes and Noble and did some book browsing. Lo and behold, they had one copy of the Charcuterie book I've been lusting after! It is incredible. There are recipes for everything from pickles to saurkraut to salami to duck confit to head cheese (ew). I can't wait to try a few of these as soon as I can get my hands on a meat grinder. Mortadella is at the very top of my list, as it has always been one of my favorites (the real Italian stuff....not the cheap bologna kind they sell at Vons). Thanks to a very generous Barnes and Noble gift card, my wife and I left with a nice selection of books that we are both excited about.

We've got a lot going on these days, but I'm feeling more motivated and more excited about the things that are keeping us busy, so it is definitely a good thing...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

THE PIGGY IS IN THE NEST

OH YEAH.... The bacon has landed... I repeat... the bacon has landed.

Last night, at 9:30, after a class my wife and I are taking, we went to the Freshia Korean market, and by god, they had the pork belly. They had it in slices, they had it in chunks, they had it in pieces, and they had it whole. It was everywhere, like frozen pizzas at an Albertson's. Amazing. If I ever need an odd cut of meat in the future, I'm heading straight to the Asian markets.

Unfortunately, the meat department manager had gone home for the day, so I couldn't get a custom sized piece off a whole belly (which they DID have in stock), but I did manage to find a 2.5 pound piece of pork that looks gorgeous, for around $3.50 a pound. It is labeled "black hog", is about 5 or 6 inches wide, and is almost a full 2 inches thick... these are going to be some impressive slices of bacon!

Unfortunately, it was frozen, but I think that will be okay, at least for my first attempt. I just couldn't get over how wide and delicious the future bacon slices looked. I was a little disappointed to notice when I got home that it looks like there could be a couple small bones runnning through one part of the meat. I can't really tell until it defrosts, but it looks like it is pretty close to the surface, and should be easy to trim away...

So... my little slice of heaven is hanging out in the fridge for a few days to defrost, and by around Friday afternoon, it should be ready to head down the path of porky greatness. I'll keep you posted on its progress as things get going....

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

CHARCUTERIE TOMFOOLERY

Oh, brother... I think I have my next obsession brewing, and there's really nothing I can do to stop it... Home Charcuterie.

Home charcuterie is basically the process of making cured meats at home. It all started with the bacon. While I was researching bacon recipes, I kept coming across a book called "Charcuterie: The craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing". I did a little research on the book and its subject, and have been slowly becoming more and more obsessed.

It turns out that bacon, sausage, and even mortadella are at the beginner end of the charcuterie spectrum, while salami, prosciutto, bresaola, and other similar items are on the more advanced end. With the equipment I have right now, I think I can wade into the beginner stuff right away, (the ones that don't require long term dry curing), but the more advanced items are going to take some planning.

The first order of business is to get the bacon made. Once I've got that under my belt, I'm going to need to buy myself the book I mentioned above, along with a meat grinder. From there, I can attempt a few types of sausages, then maybe a mortadella or two.

My real goal is to make salami, bresaola, and prosciuttio, and to do that, I'll need to save up for a small refrigerator, a temperature controller, and a temperature/humidity monitor. The goal is to end up with an environment that is about 50-60 degrees and ~70% humidity. I think the curing box could be put together for about 200 bucks or so. Also, this type of refrigerator would be perfect as a cheese cave, so I could use it to pursue that old dream at some point as well.

I feel like I'm a little nuts because of the way I get into things sometimes, but I'm starting to see a common thread forming... they're all delicious, difficult, and extremely time consuming. The day when I combine my cheesemaking, bread baking, smoking, lobstering, and charcuterie interests into a single meal that I eat on a handmade table, in a hand fitted chair, will probably bring me to tears. I think my subconscious is orchestrating the perfect meal without my knowledge, so I'm just gonna go with it for now and not ask too many questions....

Monday, January 11, 2010

BRINGIN' HOME THE BACON

It turns out that pork belly is kinda hard to find. I visited 3 meat counters, and called about 5 others to no avail. My only option thus far is to special order pork belly from Bristol Farms for about 3 bucks a pound, which isn't bad, considering that good bacon goes for about 7+ bucks a pound. Sadly, my bacon making will have to be put on hold for a while longer. I think I'll place that order tonight, which will put me in bacon land a few weeks later than I expected... I'm hoping the wait will make it that much more delicious when my day of glory finally arrives...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

YOUNGS ON THE MOVE

My wife and I have been looking for a new place to live for what seems like an eternity. First, we were trying to buy, but gave that up and decided to rent, thinking that we could find somewhere really great.... neither approach seemed to be working. This weekend, I had the most amazing renting experience of my life. We got in our car and went driving around one of the neighborhoods we wanted to live in (near mercurystate's neck of the woods), and spotted a likely candidate.

We called the landlord to find out that the 2 bed, 2 1/2 bath property was unlocked, so about 2 minutes after we found it, we walked in and checked the place out, and for the first time in this apartment hunting bout, I was not horrified by what we found... in fact, I was thrilled!

To make a long story short, we spotted, applied, and signed a lease for a house to live in, all in the course of about 3 hours. I left my house that morning expecting nothing at all and returned home with a new life ahead of me! I had pretty much given up hope of ever finding what we were looking for, so I really can't describe how wonderful my Saturday was.

Let's just suffice it to say that I now have a two car garage, a gas stove, and a little place to plant some tomatoes... heaven on earth.....

Friday, January 8, 2010

THE NEED FOR A CURE

I am completely obsessed with the idea of curing my own bacon, so I've been doing some research on the subject. After reading several articles about making bacon, I've combined and compared the different techniques, and come up with these steps to follow:
  • Buy a pork belly, with skin on, that weighs about 5 pounds. You want the back portion of the belly if possible, as it should be meatier than the front end.
  • Generously rub equal parts Kosher Salt, Sugar, and Maple Syrup(optional) into all sides of the belly, along with any other spices or flavoring you want...I'm thinking some Sambal Oelek or Sriracha would be amazing....
  • Put the belly in a ziploc bag, put it in the fridge, and flip it over every 2 days for seven days.
  • On the seventh day, rinse and dry the meat.
  • Place the meat on a wire rack, and refrigerate, uncovered for 12-24 hours.
  • Smoke, skin side up, at 200 degrees until the internal temperature hits 150 degrees, about 3 hours.
  • Remove the skin, leaving as much fat intact as possible.
  • Either slice the bacon and cook it, or cut it into manageable chunks to be frozen and sliced later.
  • Bacon can be stored in the fridge for about 7 days, and will last in the freezer for about 3 months.
It looks like it is going to take around 8 1/2 days to cure the pork... If I start tonight, I just might be in hog heaven on Sunday morning....Time to go talk to a butcher and get this little piggy home!!!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

BLOG BONUS

It's been about a month since I started this blog, and I am already amazed at the difference that I have noticed in my life. As far as I can tell, the blog has helped me quite a bit. Just the act of writing things down (whether within blog posts or just as a note to myself) has had a huge impact.

I've been led to think and evaluate things more clearly. I think it is a good mental exercise to sit and think for a few minutes, with a goal in mind. Surprisingly, I feel like I am much more physically and mentally active as a result.

Researching something and writing it down is a great way to embed it in my memory. The act of writing things down has worked just like it used to in elementary school, and I find that once I write a post, I don't need to re-read it (but having it available in case I forget gives me much peace of mind).

Writing down the things that I want to do has helped me to focus. Instead of wandering from one project or activity to another, I feel like I have been able to anchor myself a bit better. Jotting things down allows me to hold onto ideas for the future so that I can let them go for a while. As a result, I don't feel the need to do 1,000 things at once.

Just having a blog has changed the way I look at things. It has caused me to continually search for things to write about. Like a little alarm clock in my mind, when something interests me, my subconscious reminds me to pay attention and remember what I'm seeing.

When I started this whole thing, I wasn't sure that I would really keep up with it... but I'm starting to think it will be around for a while...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

TRADITIONS

I've returned from vacation, straight into the old routine. It is very difficult to readjust to the real world after spending every waking minute with my wife, doing whatever we felt like doing, but I guess that's the way it is for now. I didn't have much time to post while I was away, but I wanted to share the Christmas Eve dinner I had, because my family has a long standing tradition, which I think is quite rare nowadays. Every year for as long as I can remember, and long before that, my family has had basically the same schedule and menu, which is layed out below:
  • The feast starts with lunch: homemade italian style thin crust pizzas... Anchovy is a must for at least one pizza
  • Shrimp, sautee'd calamari and anything else that might be around is served as an appetizer. Hot mustard, lemon, and cocktail sauce are also never far away at this point.
  • The next course is a seafood pasta. It is a red sauce cooked with crab and shrimp for flavor, which gives the sauce a delicious sweetness, but it is not really obvious that it is a seafood pasta.
  • After the pasta, the real feast begins: More Pasta, 2 kinds of Octopus Salad, Crab Salad, Crab cooked in tomato sauce, Stuffed Calamari, Crispy Potatoes, Broccoli Salad, and an experimental seafood dish, which changes every year, hit the table.
  • Espresso, Biscotti, and other traditional Italian cookies or desserts follow the main meal.
  • Santa Claus always makes a visit to the house after dinner.
  • Presents are handed out and opened once santa heads home.
  • The white elephant game, "Doubles" is played, which is always good for lots of laughs.
  • Tangerines, whole nuts, and liqueurs round out the end of the evening.
Christmas Eve is my favorite night of the entire year. It is full of tradition and memories for me, and one of my biggest goals is to find a way to carefully preserve the traditions that have been handed down to me from long ago.