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Archive for June, 2009

A few weeks ago a friend of ours went deep sea fishing. It sounds interesting, but not sure if I could do it (physically or mentally). However, when he offered us some of his haul, I was more than happy to take it off his hands. We scored some red snapper, amberjack and mackerel.

Snappah

Snappah

A few days ago I made the red snapper. I did almost nothing to it. Squeezed lemon juice over it and stuck it in the oven. When it was done and ready to plate, I had a hard time getting it to come off in one piece, so I ended up just pulling chunks off with a fork and placing them on top of a pile of arugula from my CSA box. Even before adding just a little salt and pepper, it was the best red snapper I ever tasted. Amazing! I served it up with some steamed green beans and squash I got in my CSA box. (I think the beans got a little discolored from the lemons I dropped in there…or did I just cook them too long? Hmmm.)

Today was a day of ups and downs, kitchen kung fu yo-yoing. I haven’t made bread for a while, ever since my sorrowfully neglected starter began growing something orange in it (ack) and I had to toss it. But a few days ago I mixed up a new batch of starter and left it on the counter to work its magic. Ok, kung faux pas – I can’t believe I did it again. I forgot how it turns into frankenstarter and grows into a massive blob. I put it in a container that was too small and ended up with starter all over the counter. Grrr.

Anyway, I left it on the counter (in a bigger container) for about two and a half days this time (last time only about 24 hours). I think that concentrated the yeasties because it was very flat when I scooped out my 1 1/2 cups of starter to make my bread, but when it was rising it was out of control. Also, it was suuuuper sticky. When I was dividing the dough between the two loaf pans I couldn’t get it off of my fingers. It was nasty. However, it seemed to bake up ok, not too bad looking, but when I cut a slice and tasted it…I realized I’d forgotten to add the SALT when I made the dough. Major kung faux pas. I’m so embarrassed. The good news is that this did not stop test subject Bill from plowing his way through half the loaf at dinner. We both enjoyed the very light, porous texture of the bread, which I think is a result of the starter’s long rest.

I got a pint of blueberries in my CSA box so I’ve been thinking muffins like crazy. Using the blueberry muffin recipe in How to Cook Everything, I whipped up a batch. Unfortunately I realized that my baking powder was expired. So I added a little extra in case it was losing its lift. I don’t think that was a good idea. I also think I over-stirred and let my batter get too dry. The muffins were dry, marginally edible and a disappointing waste of good blueberries. Poop.

Apparently I was in the mood to cut vegetables today (or just wanted to cut the heck out of something) because I ended up making two salads for dinner. First is one I’ve made often, an insalata with heirloom tomatoes (from North Carolina via Whole Foods), fresh mozzerella, red onion, basil (Georgia grown, via Whole Foods), olive oil salt and pepper. Sometimes I add balsamic vinegar to this, but with how delicious the tomatoes were I didn’t want to detract from that. It was super yum, and Bill had two servings.

Second is something I came up with to use some zucchini and yellow squash (from South Carolina via Whole Foods). I sliced up the veggies, salted and peppered, chopped up some chives from my CSA box, then added fresh parsley from my back deck. Drizzled with olive oil and red wine vinegar. I had red onion left so I tossed some in for good measure. This concoction marinated in the fridge for about six hours. It was so good even Bill, with his hatred of onions, ate it! Wonders never cease.

Summer salad plate

Summer salad plate

Here’s the plate I put together for dinner, from the top: smoked salmon, leiden cheese (from my CSA box), marinated squash stuff, insalata, fresh bread and in the center is some garlic I roasted up. It was all very good and I felt redeemed from my day of DUHs.

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When you’ve committed yourself to only eating meat that is ethical, sustainable and preferably local, some specialty items can be difficult to find…like bacon. It was this sad world without bacon that compelled me to make my own, which began on the day that I recieved a pork side from my CSA full of joy from Nature’s Harmony Farm. When Liz handed me that package and told me I was the lucky winner of a pork side, I was thinking um…what? Then she told me it could be used for making bacon. She could have told me it was made of gold and I would have been just as excited. Bacon…it was within my grasp.

Bacon is made using a raw pork side/belly that is brined and cold smoked. I had the first part covered with my prize pork side. Next, the brine. Since Alton Brown is my hero (one of them, anyway) and his scrap iron chef episode is my favorite Good Eats, I immediately went in search of AB’s recipe. Food Network lists it as “Difficult” something that used to make me run screaming, but now I say bring it, baby.

Follwing the Scrap Iron Chef bacon recipe, I fixed up the apple cider/molasses/sugar/salt brine, chilled it and placed my precious cargo within. It wanted to float so I had to fill and empty jar with water to hold it under the liquid. There it stayed for three whole days, doing its thing.

Once the brine was complete, the meat had to be dried. Apparently they don’t sell old fashioned box fans anymore but I did find a suitable round model. I set up the fan and the meat as per AB’s instructions and let it dry for an hour. The directions say it will form a pellicle. I don’t know what a pellicle is and I still don’t, but I trust him so under the fan it went.

Ground zero for bacon smokin'

Ground zero for bacon smokin'

Once the drying was over, the real fun began: cold smoking. I am not the owner of a cold smoker and after seeing some scary prices online I found a wonderful el cheapola getup here. You really CAN learn anything on the internet! I used an empty chickpea can, some hickory smoking pellets I got from Barbecuewood.com, and a $3 soldering iron I picked up at Fry’s Electronics. My old hand-me-down PitMaster charcoal grill (thanks Rose and Lane!) got a new lease on life as a make-shift smoker. The smoking contraption went in the small compartment where it could get hot and smoke, then the smoke would be funneled through a hole into the larger area and surround the hanging meat.

Make-shift smoke generator

Make-shift smoke generator

Test subject Bill lent a serious hand on this project. He cleaned up the grill and rigged four wire clothes hangers to act as a meat hook. He wound them around the large chamber so that the hook part was available to hold the bacon-to-be and the other end was fastened securely around the other side. Ingenious! The hooks weren’t sharp enough to pierce the tough fat part of the belly so we made some holes using a BBQ fork and it worked like a charm – hooks slid right in and held it true.

 

Wire clothes hangers do have a useful purpose...

Wire clothes hangers do have a useful purpose...

Now…bacon smoking is a cold smoke. Cold. It happened to turn scorching hot in Georgia over the past couple of days. It was about 95 degrees yesterday when I was preparing to cold smoke. Errrr…ok. But the meat was brined and primed, there was no turning back. So I put frozen ice packs and ziplock bags of ice into the bottom of the large chamber to keep the temperature down and we moved the smoker from time to time to keep it out of direct sunlight. It seemed to do the trick. Every time I felt the meat it was no warmer than room temperature.

No B.S. Just bacon. (Ok, there's lots of B.S. But it's serious.)

No B.S. Just bacon. (Ok, there's lots of B.S. But it's serious.)

With the whole set up going, we stuck the soldering iron into the can of pellets and waited. (Bill had turned on the iron and let it heat for a while to burn off any oil that may have been on the metal parts.) We stared at the unit, waiting for it to smoke. I got impatient and ran off to Quick Trip for a big bag of ice. By the time I got back…we had smoke!

About every hour from noon until 5:30 in the afternoon I swapped out ice packs and refreshed hickory pellets. I smelled like smoke from head to foot. (Seriously Mom…it was just bacon, I swear!) The instructions said to smoke for 4 to 6 hours. How do you know when it’s done? It looked pretty much the same the whole time. I was paranoid about under smoking because of the breaks between smoking while I changed out pellets so I left it for 5 1/2 hours.

Looks like bacon...

Looks like bacon...

The bacon (yes! It was bacon then!) went directly into the freezer for an hour to firm up before I attempted slicing. Once I had it out and took my knife to it I found that while it wasn’t terribly hard to cut, there was a really hard rind that had formed on the fat side, so I had to cut it fat side up. Because the piece was long, it was difficult to keep a uniform slice. So I cut up what I needed and put the rest back in the freezer. Must obtain a meat slicer for future use.

 

Smells like bacon...

Smells like bacon...

Today was the big day…cooking time. Since AB is my idol, I always bake my bacon. So I fired up the oven to 400 degrees, laid out my bacon on a sheet pan and got it going. Also on the menu: scrambled eggs from Nature’s Harmony chickens, hashbrowns made from a random potato I still had hanging around from the pot pie filling, toast made from my homemade bread and fair-trade organic coffee that was roasted locally that I got from my other CSA.

With excitement and trepidation, I pulled my bacon from the oven and took my first bite. Dude. It was freaking awesome and I almost passed out. I was so petrified that I was going to screw it up, but it turned out great! The one kung faux pas I made was that I did leave it in the oven a bit too long. I think it cooked faster than the old store-bought bacon I used to make. It still tasted fantastic and now I know to watch it closer next time.

In the aftermath of Project Bacon, I have about 2/3 of a cup of bacon drippings that I don’t know what to do with. I hate to let all that goodness go to waste…any great ideas of what to do with it? And how long it will last and if I need to refrigerate it?

The only real complaint Bill and I have (and thanks to test subject Bill for telling me it was better than store bought bacon) is that on the fat side of the belly it formed almost like a rind, a really tough outer coating that tasted good but you can’t chew it. Any home bacon makers out there encounter this? I’m wondering if I should try to cut it off or if there is some way to avoid that in the future. However, this rind did not prevent us from plowing through the whole portion that I cut off last night. And the best part…there is enough in the freezer for several more meals!

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Chicken 3 1/2 ways

I recently obtained several real chickens from my heros at Nature’s Harmony Farm. I was totally excited because I haven’t had chicken in 2+ years (if you missed why, read here.)  What I didn’t know is how many different ways this chicken would display herself…

The first night after the 4.9 lb bird was thawed I dressed it simply with salt, pepper, lemon and rosemary (from my back porch), and roasted it in the oven. I didn’t take any pictures because I didn’t think a roasted chicken was blog worthy. I was wrong. Anywho, the chicken turned out well, moist and flavorful, and Bill and I feasted on it along with rice grits and pea gravy. Yum!

Chicken soup

Chicken soup

There was a TON leftover. And since not only was it a pricey real chicken (because of how it is raised) and quite tasty I knew it would be reincarniated a time or two. I hate to disrespect an animal that lost its life so I could eat by letting it go to waste. And so, the second incarnation appeared the next night as chicken soup.

It was a very simple fly by the seat of my pants recipe. I used a mirepoix (onion, carrot and celery), butter, salt and pepper, vegetable broth, bow tie pasta and shredded chicken followed by fresh thyme. It was super yummy! Even test subject Bill, not a huge soup lover, approved. Local ingredients: onion, celery, thyme (grown on my back porch again) and of course, chicken.
Pot Pie out of the oven

Pot Pie out of the oven

The soup didn’t use nearly enough bird. I had a good four cups of shredded chicken left. In a flash of brilliance, Bill suggested chicken pot pie. At first I was like uh…what? I’ve never made a chicken pot pie. I haven’t eaten a chicken pot pie in about 20 years. And I’ve never made a pie of any sort on my own. Lucky for him, that intrigued me.

I came up with this pot pie recipe from my favorite allrecipes.com site. It got good reviews so I decided to go for it, including the from-scratch crust. I’d always been intimidated for some reason by homemade crust. It seemed mysterious. Difficult. But after making this one (I subbed butter for the lard, btw) I will never be caught buying premade crust again. It was so easy and suuuper tasty. In fact, I may intervene if I see someone buying crust in the store. (“What do you think you’re doing with that cardboard??”) I mean, you mash together the ingredients, rest in the fridge, then roll it out. What is the problem??
Plated pot pie

Plated pot pie

Anyway my crust phobia resolved, I followed the recipe pretty closely for the filling. It made a freaking ton of filling, way too much for one crust recipe. (Not to worry. I kept the leftover filling to serve over leftover rice grits.) I was so proud of that pie when I pulled it out of the oven. It was golden brown and delicious on top and warm and savory on the inside. Next time I will likely add garlic and herbs, but even plain jane as is it was worth the effort.

Gratuitous pot pie photo.

Gratuitous pot pie photo.

Test subject Bill was pleased with his chicken pot pie. However, he thought the crust was very tasty but a bit tough…I think he was refering to the bottom part of the crust (which I pre-baked before filling to prevent soggy crust). I didn’t have a problem with it but not sure what to adjust to meet his approval for texture…any suggestions are welcome!

Chicken not pie over rice grits.

Chicken not pie over rice grits.

A single chicken turned into an adventure. 1. Roasted rosemary and lemon chicken. 2. Chicken soup. 3. Chicken pot pie. 3 1/2. Pot pie filling over rice grits. I think I did right by the bird.

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Here I am, catching up after a whirlwind few weeks. Test subject Bill and I went to Virginia on a wine tasting/hiking/eating tour, then shortly thereafter went on a cruise to the Bahamas – a vacation to remember and filled with GOOD EATS!

Stuffing spread

Stuffing spread

But back in my kitchen, my creative fingers were itching again to produce something fun. Right before leaving for Virginia, my Korean tutor gave me three plants, a Korean herb that she loves: ganep. (Not sure if that’s an appropriate English transliteration but it seems right.) Anywho, ganep leaves get huge and are begging to be stuffed with something. After being exposed to some Korean food ideas I came up with the following:

The stuffing spread: fresh ganep leaves from the plants my tutor gave me (which are growing like crazy near my garden), brown rice, red bell peppers, garlicky & spicey lightly steamed broccoli, sweet onion, tofu marinated in soy sauce, and a black bean paste/chili paste mixture for the sauce (sadly store-bought on those two).
Plated and stuffed ganep

Plated and stuffed ganep

I laid the ganep on a plate and loaded up as much goodies as I thought it would hold, then poured a little sauce over it. So pretty!

Finished product in my hand and ready to eat. For my first effort I think it turned out well. It was tasty, fun, a little messy. Maybe next time I can try to get some more authentic ingredients for the sauce and make it a little hotter – it wasn’t quite spicey enough for me.

Ready to eat!

Ready to eat!

I don’t know if you can get ganep in an Asian market, but it seems to grows very well in Georgia’s clay-saturated soil. I recommend it – it has a very unique flavor and it’s just a little bit fuzzy. You could stuff anything in it – tuna or chicken salad, rice and marinated beef, let your imagination go wild 🙂 There’s nothing more satisfying than venturing beyond your culinary borders, trying something new and getting a good meal at the end.

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