Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Internet

I was browsing Craigslist looking for my dream-cheap-10inch-fantastic-wet-saw and I stumbled onto the Craigslsit TV channel. It's like watching a posting unfold on your screen. Anyhow, I'd buy this guy a drink. And I'd hire her to decorate my place.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend Wrap Up

On the plus side, I was able to bounce back from falling behind in my Wednesday prep and put out a pretty good meal. I ended up skipping the Tuscan salami. I think it came out just so-so. And certainly not being above average is disappointing. Perhaps the larger ones requiring a longer hang-time will fair better. I'll try them this week. But here are my two favorite things from the weekend.

The first was a story told to me by by sister-in-law Lisa. My 7-year old niece Abby was riding in the backseat next to her 3-year old brother Ryan. Abby says, "Ryan, next week is Thanksgiving! And we get to go Allison and Casey's house. Do you know what my favorite part of Thanksgiving is?" At this point Lisa said she really started listening because she wanted to hear this..."Allison and Casey's other grandma is there. And do you know what she brings? She makes cookies in the shape of everyone's name. So I'm going to get an A and you're going to get an R!" As fate would have it, an A (there are a total of 4 A cookies made) and the R were on top of the separate container holding the letter cookies.

That is the expanding tradition of Grandma Cookies. One cookie is baked in the first letter of everyone in attendance. It originally started out as just the kids years ago when I was a kid, but now the kids from back then have kids of their own. And it just kept growing...Besides the letters, the traditional cookie shapes are moons, stars, circles and the shapes from a deck of cards. I could eat them all.

My second favorite thing about this years Thanksgiving was a new guest. This was the 10th Thanksgiving we have thrown here. There are some that have made a few, some that have moved onto other venues and a handful that have been to them all. My brother-in-law's brother Tony came  this year. Their parents recently moved to Florida and he was left without his annual place to go. I'm glad he came, but I am happier that he felt comfortable enough to stay after his brother and family left to get kids to bed. That's nice. Unfortunately, Tony cleaned up at the post-dinner poker game that has kind of become a new tradition. Next year is my year, I feel it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In the weeds....

Or at least that's what I've read chef's call it. My Thanksgiving prep was really slow today. I added some extra errands this morning and by time I got going I was already behind. Finished up around 9:00. Looks like everything is set for tomorrow. I get a fresh start.

I just can't help but wonder what will happen to put me in the weeds tomorrow. Hope everything goes off well. The house looks great. Probably hasn't been this clean since we moved in.

Happy Thanksgiving. Hope you enjoy the day....

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I'm lucky I haven't hurt myself.

Although, maybe I should shut up. I haven't gone to bed yet. There's still time.

I had a professional development day. Someone, somewhere thought that engineers need to stay current and the best way to do that was to make them sit through hour long presentations. An average of 12 of them a year or, if you are insane, you could wait until the 3rd and final year of you license and sit through 36 hours at a pop. Ouch. It all comes down to a tax. You have to pay for the credits. The people providing the credits have to pay to have the credits certified. And you have to pay with hours of your time. Couldn't they have just raised the price of a license and saved everyone the headache? Today had 6 hour long presentations so that is half my year's quota. I should be in the clear until February....

So, I came home from that and started to make dinner. About every other week, we have breakfast for dinner. The kids like putting hard boiled eggs into a slicer. There was rye toast, fried eggs, and pancakes too. I burnt some pancakes. I tried cooking the bacon in this roaster with the brilliant idea that I could use the roaster to make stew tonight. The roaster is too big for one burner. Two burners heated it very unevenly. I started to burn the bacon. So I put the roaster in the oven. And forgot to turn off the stove. Caught that a second later.

I had saved some bacon fat for the stew. Burned it. Smoked up the kitchen. Started over. The stew is braising in the oven now. I think I might go get my welding gloves to take it out. And I was going to sharpen my knives for Thanksgiving...not tonight. I'll pass on the stitches.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Casing the Tuscan Salami

This all happened Monday night. It was time to grind, stuff and hang this batch of Tuscan Salami. The grinding and stuffing is pretty easy. The hardest part of that is cleaning up. The difference between a pretty easy fresh sausage and the more difficult salami for me is the butcher's twine. I still can't tie a salami nicely. That being said, I am pleased with how this batch of slami went into the chamber. I hope it ends up tasting as good as it smell now. Here's how I spent my Monday evening....

First up, I got some casings soaking. The casings are salt packed so they need at least half an hour to soak. I also flush them out a few times. The beef middles were very different than the hog casing. Probably to be expected since the two animals are also very different. I had expected a difference in size, but not a difference in texture. Here are the two types of casing soaking. Hog casing on left, beef middle on right.

Next up, toasting some fennel to get added to the meat before the grind. This also smells good.

I tossed in the toasted fennel and started grinding. For the benefit of the camera, I only took a picture when I was done grinding.

I split this up and gave the meat a quick mix with the paddle attachment on the Kitchen Aid. No pictures of that. Then it was time to flush the casings and get stuffing. Well, after cleaning up all the grinding stuff and taking a quick break. I did the the beef middles first.

After stuffing two larger salami, I stopped using the beef middles and went onto the hog casings.

After stuffing six of the smaller diameter salami, I put the leftover beef middle back on and mad one more larger salami with the rest of the meat. Here's what I ended up with:

Now it was time to tie them up and weigh them. It took a little while. The first delay was finding the butcher's twine. I keep it on my spice shelf. It wasn't there. I looked all over the kitchen. It wasn't there. I asked my wife if she had seen it. "The girls have it, I thought you gave it to them." Not sure how or when they took it, but it was over by a craft table and I think they had been making necklaces with it. Once I had the string, the pace picked up a little bit. Not much though. About an hour later every thing was weighed, labeled and tied up. Once again, I give you salami in bondage:

These went into the chamber which got sent up slightly different than last time. Still the same piece of plastic hanging from the floor joists, but this time the humidifier isn't on the floor. Instead, it is on top of the winner cooler I bought off of Craigslist to cure salami in (it didn't work - wine fridges don't work like regular fridges and if you close the door you will have 100% humidity, no air circulation and you will be growing fuzzy, nasty looking mold).

I hung the salami fairly low. The idea was to have the humidity fall to the level of the salami and not be in the line of the humidifier fan.

The last thing I did was about 12 hours after the salami had been hanging. I bough another culture. This one is supposed to bloom a beneficial mold on the outside on the salami and prevent the case from drying out before the middle of the salami. I bloomed three grams of the culture in a little over a cup of water. Then I pour the cultured water into a lasagna pan and rolled the larger salami and 3 of the smaller salami in the water. Then I hung it up again. No signs of this culture bath doing anything yet.

The humidistat on the humidifier consistently reads 70%. The humidity readings I get on the indoor/outdoor gizmo (the little white box next to the salami in the picture above) are consistently 60%. My guess is that the truth is somewhere in between. The temperature in there seems to fluctuate between the high 50s and low 60s (Fahrenheit). The salami will hang until they have lost about 30-40 percent of their original weight. Hopefully, some will be ready for Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tuscan Salami

Those starter cultures I ordered came and and I had to get moving if the salami was going to be cured for Thanksgiving. I pretty much followed the same recipe as last time around with a few minor changes. I changed the starter culture, I am probably going to add a spray on culture and  I'm using a little less fat. I used a coarse grind on the fat last time. And these salami are too narrow (think a little thinner than commercial pepperoni sticks). So I will grind everything, eyeball the fat content and maybe mix in a little more. Here's where we are so far...

We start with a pork butt from Cardona's. This is weighing in at about 6.25 pounds. It has been frozen for awhile. This is to eliminate the trichinosis larvae that are 99.5% probably not there to begin with. But my kids really like this and I'm planning to serve it to guests. Not worth the risk.

The butt gets sliced into long strips. The strips are easy to feed into the grinder attachment on a Kitchen Aid mixer. I weighed out all the other ingredients and they are ready to go. There is salt, Cure#2, pepper, dextrose, garlic, Chianti, and culture dispersed in some distilled water.

The whole mess gets mixed together and put in the fridge. This is going to give the culture a little time to get going since I will not be incubating the salami (holding it at 80 degrees for 12-48 hours before going to regular curing temperature and humidity conditions).

On Monday night, I'll toast some fennel seeds, add it to the mix, grind it all, stuff casings and hang it. Might be a late night on Monday. I also got some beef middles with my culture order. They are a natural casing but with a bigger diameter than Italian sausage casings. I'll be making a least some of the batch a little bigger. It will take longer to cure, but I am curious to see how it comes out.

I set my curing chamber up tonight and started to raise the humidity inside it to get ready for the cure. And there is also 10 pounds of pork belly coming my way this week. Bacon and Pancetta are in my future.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Variety, the spice of life

I stopped by Dean's Natural Foods in Westgate Plaza on Central. They have a very nice bulk spice counter. I picked up crashed red pepper, black peppercorns, thyme, rubbed sage, allspice, juniper berries, some bay leaves and a few whole pieces of nutmeg. All for the low price of about $6. They have little bags to fill with a sticker on it. I write on the name of the spice and the date. (Friendly piece of advice: It is easier to write on the bag before you fill it. Ask me how I know.) There are a few other stores locally that have similar bulk spice setups. Honest Weight has a pretty large one - very nice salt selection there. I didn't need any during this trip, but the chili powder and granulated garlic sold here are excellent. Perfect in rubs. That garlic is strong though, go easy on it at first.

My favorite part of this kind of system is that you can try something very cheaply. Got a recipe calling for a teaspoon of turmeric and don't want to buy a whole bottle of dead spice that has been on a market shelf for 7 years? You can buy a teaspoon of turmeric and be on your way.