Monday, April 16, 2012

OMG, Real Homemade Bacon!

Double posting tonight, because the bacon simply must be shared. It is that superbly glorious. You may recall from my post last week that I was curing some pork bellies for bacon, and let me tell you, that was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I fried some up for dinner tonight (yes, I ate a dinner of bacon and nothing else), and it was just SO good.

Fresh off the smoker on Saturday. 

Just sliced. If it weren't in beautiful, giant chunks, you'd think it were store-bought by the appearances.

Bobby, the maple cure, didn't get as much maple flavor as I'd hoped at first - it was subtle, but it built up with each bite. He tasted like candy, let me tell you. Petrino, with the garlic in the cure, was perfectly salty but not overly so. Considering that this was a short cure - just two and a half days, plus three hours soaking (Bobby was soaked in brown sugar and water, Petrino was repeatedly rinsed and soaked in clear water), plus drying in the fridge overnight - I'm blown away by how absolutely perfect it was.

A bit of each was for dinner tonight. I like mine slightly undercooked, and definitely not burnt.

I will never buy bacon at a store again if I can help it. I'll just make huge batches while I visit down here, then freeze them for use throughout the year.

BB's "Yum-ptious" Apple Pie

The theme for last week's baking challenge was 'Kids', so I asked BB what she would like to make with me. Of course, the girl who used to sing a song about pie wanted to make apple pie. So, we did!

I peeled and cut the apples. She pretty much did the rest.

We didn't get to make it until today, because of all the work finishing up the smoker last week, plus all the chaos of my birthday party on Saturday, plus other parties BB and KB went to this weekend, PLUS the fact that BB's playing softball. She called yesterday upset that we hadn't made the pie yet, so that's what we did right after school today.

She did TRY to peel the apples, but didn't like the peeler.

She added the sugar and flour...
Stirred it all together...

Filled and pinched the crust...

And mixed and brushed on the egg wash all by herself.

The filling itself was made of about 5 large granny smith apples (7 or 8 cups, peeled and chopped) tossed in lemon juice, about a cup of sugars (I used about 1/3 brown and 2/3 white), a small bit of flour, plus some cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger that I just eyeballed, but was a little heavy handed with.

I cut the smiley face vents, she made the nose.

I haven't had a full slice yet, just tasted a bit of the filling, but it is, indeed, yum-ptious. Even more importantly, she had a blast making it!

After cooking. So cute!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Precursor to Bacon

The fireplace/smoker is very, very close to complete. The handle is going on in a couple of days, and the metal cap to go over the top will be fabricated in the next week or so. Tomorrow will be a cleanup day, and preparing for my birthday/PhD shindig on Saturday.

I earned a trowel of my own for all my work in this. So... tired...

However, finishing up stone work was not the end of my evening. Yesterday, I acquired half a pork belly from a lovely butcher in Hoover, but I had a difficult time finding pink salt to cure it with. I ended up using celery salt instead, which has plenty of nitrates in it that convert to sodium nitrite - which was exactly what I needed to keep the pork belly nice and pink, not to mention botulism-free.


It took a while to break down, because this is the first time I've had to skin a pork belly. I consulted my friend George, whose PhD is in Food Science, for advice on a rapid cure, since it's already Wednesday evening and the bacon's going on to smoke on Saturday.

Vegetarians, I don't know how you do it.

After a bit of chat, I decided to do skin-off and smaller chunks for maximum absorption. A 6.8 pound pork belly yielded a bunch of skin, plus two separate portions. Having my own silly sense of humor, the 2.2 pound batch that I added maple syrup and brown sugar to was named "Bobby", while the 2.3 pound batch has salt, garlic powder, and black pepper, and is named "Petrino".

I also bagged up the skin, which I'm going to use to make cracklins. After a little research, I've decided to use the oven-and-fry technique posted here. Whether or not they'll be snacks for the party or if they'll be our Friday night noms has yet to be seen.

Bobby, Petrino, and Wilbur's Skin. A pork belly destined for MY belly.

For the record, Bobby got 1c maple syrup, about 1c brown sugar (1.5c loose pack), 3/4 c kosher salt, and 1 oz celery salt for about 2.2 pounds of belly meat. Petrino got 1 oz celery salt, 3/4c kosher salt, 1/4c garlic powder, and 1/4c black pepper for around 2.3 pounds. I'm really interested to see how it turns out. I've never made my own bacon before, and I don't know anyone else who has, either.

More updates to come on Saturday!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Turkey and Quinoa Pitas

Wow, it's been a while, eh? Well, that's because March has been quite the crazy month for me. Not only is this the time of year when tons of conference and research award proposals are due, but we also visited Arkansas over Spring Break to visit the university I'll be heading to for my new position in the fall (and for some vacationing). As soon as that was all wrapped up, I was home for a whole two days before I headed back to Georgia to defend my dissertation!

That's right, I'm -Doctor- Domesticated Professor now. Oh yeah.

Two tasty pitas, about to meet their fate as lunch for my mother and I.

Anyway, I'm finally back in the kitchen, and it feels good to be back! I've made a few things in the past week - a killer turtle cheesecake, for starters - but nothing that I really wanted to post about, until today. The budgetfood challenge for this week was for quinoa, something that I'd only had once in the past but liked. I was't even certain that I could find it in Alabama, but I did luck out at Publix last night and found some in its overpriced gluten-free, health-food section. After some thinking, I came up with what my mother and I agree was a very good lunch, and a nice grain that we'll be using from time to time. I will definitely be buying more of this at the Farmer's Market next time I'm Atlanta!

The sandwiches came to a total of only $2.15 apiece to make if you purchase the stock, which isn't bad at all considering how filling they are. Vegetarians can replace the turkey with some roasted butternut squash for an equally tasty and less expensive meal - something I meant to do as well, but I spaced, stared directly at the butternut squash at Publix, but didn't get one to take home. Ah, well.

Turkey and Quinoa Pitas
For the quinoa:
2/3 cup uncooked quinoa
1-1/3 cup vegetable or chicken stock
1 oz dried cranberries
salt and pepper to taste
For the sandwiches:
Oat bran pita bread, cut into half pockets
Sliced muenster cheese (about .65 ozs per half-pita)
Sliced deli turkey breast (3 slices, or about 1.85 ozs)
Sliced avocado (1/4 per half-pita)
Diced red onion (about 1/3 oz per half-pita)
Romaine lettuce (about 1/4 oz per half-pita)

Add quinoa and stock to a pot and bring to a boil, then stir in cranberries. Reduce heat to low and cook 15-20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, then let cool. Stuff a pita pocket with cheese, lettuce, and turkey. Scoop in quinoa, then sprinkle on chopped red onion and top with avocado slices.

Total prep/cook time: 30 minutes
Happiness Rating: 8/10