Monday, April 26, 2010

Equipment: home-made custom drying rack.

When I finally found a place to do my drying in a more controlled manner, I wanted to have a versatile drying rack for whatever I may decide to do. It also needed to fit into the "long-closet" type of room I was being allowed to use. So I was able to get a general idea to size, shape and placement of the to-be-built rack. I drew up a nice drawing using the skills I acquired in my High School drafting classes, back when you still used pencil and paper to make said drawings. Then off I went to Home Depot to grab up the supplies. It all came to about $80 with tax.

I wanted to be able to dry anything from small sausages to full hams, but had to keep it under 2 feet deep. I wanted to use dowels to hang the meats from, either strung up, or directly on them (i.e. polish sausages). I also wanted to keep it neat and not leave my kind friends' closet a mess or attract unwanted guests with floor drippings. So I designed this to hold a commercial sheet tray on the bottom. It's easily removed and cleaned. Once I got to my friends' place and showed them the plans, we checked it against the space. To increase the ease of passage to the things in the back of this space, I reduced this by 3 inches in depth. It will still easily hold the sheet tray, it just doesn't nestle down perfectly into the base, no biggie.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Round 2: Kinda quick 'Nduja

As part of our culinary offerings for our wedding in May, I am getting to do a cheese and charcuterie table. I have to admit that I am a bit pressed for time in preparing the things I am offering, so I have to take the 6 week time-frame into account. I do think that this might be just enough time for a decent 'nduja, a quick version. You might have read about the lack of success with my first attempt. It was far from notable with it having over-dried and having a bizarre graininess. But as I eluded to in that last post, I have a couple fixes that I am banking on working out. Most importantly, my friends Emily and Henning (the same couple for whom I prepared the pulled shoulder) have recently moved. It just so happens that they have a room seemingly ideal for some charcuterie drying! And being a meat lover, Henning is happily accepting my offer of products in payment for his space and occasional tending to the goods (checking temperature, weight and refilling humidifier)!

Instead of beating a dead horse, I'll quickly remind you what wasn't right with the last batch: dry, grainy and it was rather mildly-porky in taste. So I changed the meat composition, peppers, added a controlled drying process, improved the pork quality and fermented this batch. And thus far they are looking much better, though I felt the last batch held good potential at the start. Since I wanted a large enough batch to give to friends as well as offer at the wedding, I ended up with a 24 pound batch, that should yield around 16 pounds in final product! The composition of this batch is:

3 parts Shoulder
2 parts fatback
1 part belly
9% hot pepper puree
9% sweet pepper puree
9% hot pepper powder
4.5% sweet pepper powder
Bactoferm™ F-RM-52 as directed (6g for my recipe)
.1 % cure #2
1% salt

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An egg-ceptional lunch, hamburgers in the BGE!

Spring seems to have physically arrived here in Chicago. And along with this I dusted off the Big Green Egg and moved it to its Summer-long home on the communal space between our coach-house and the front-house. Thanks to our fairly moist basement, it had started to grow some small spots of white mold on the interior. So a quick fire-up at 500˚ inside killed it quickly. I scrubbed it down later (after lunch) to remove any visible signs of the unwelcome visitor.

I picked up a bag of Cowboy Lump Charcoal from Home Depot, 20oz. of stewing beef and a couple fresh baked rolls (one sesame/one cheddar). At home I ground and mixed the beef with some Pickapeppa sauce, fresh black pepper, garlic powder and crushed red pepper. I formed 2 huge (see the picture below) patties that would fit nicely onto the rolls. One got bagged up for the next day. The other was seasoned with more black pepper (I am a fiend) and sea salt (I never salt ahead, it pulls out too much moisture if not used soon).

Chicago Charcuterie update

Well, the word is in, and I was kind of surprised. The Publican ended up taking home the Gold in the Time Out Chicago Readers' Choice Awards for Best Charcuterie Program. In saying that I was surprised is in no way saying it was unmerited! Cured meats aside, it is all done in-house and they switch it up nicely with some regularity.

But some other nominees in that category didn't go home empty-handed. Jared Van Camp of Old Town Social took home the trophy for Best New Chef. The Purple Pig grabbed up the Best Late Night Menu category.

I am not sure what it says for being the big dog in town, but the only nomination for one of Paul Kahan's restaurants that didn't win was for Most in Demand Dish. The Publican's Pork Rinds lost out to, oh wait, Pork Belly Tacos at his other place, Big Star! Personally, I voted once for each of these, love 'em both! Once again, my favorite sausage shack won an award, Most Worth the Wait at Hot Doug's was no surprise. My second home showed up twice on the ballot but failed to take home any prizes. Wait 'til next year guys!

For the full list of results, click here! Congratulations to all the nominees and winners.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Some hunger-inducing reading: Smithfield, Parma and Spain

In preparation of Easter it seemed I came across a lot of good reads about ham. I have been a little busy with wedding prep and work to get a post worthy of you, so I am offering a couple good reads to amuse you in the mean time.

The Wonders of Ham
A nice story comparing the country hams of Virginia and Parma, Italy. Informative!

A great travel log in Spain eating some great sounding delights! Honeymoon here we come!

The Meat District
An article on the Meat District in London where I recently spent some time staging and dining. More than just ham!

(Smithfield Market from the balcony of Smith's, London)

I also just got news that a neighbor is going to allow me to use his garage rooftop as an urban garden. I have a great friend and also a newer acquaintance very versed is such things from whom I am looking forward to drawing on their knowledge. Pickle buckets, PVC and ladders are all in my future. Does this type of thing interest you? If so I might post things as I move along. But if you guys are just looking for meat, meat and more meat, I understand that too!

But worry not my friends, packages have been received and plans are in order for the next post. I'll give you a teaser, it involves a fiery Calabrian sausage I've attempted before!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Something sweet: Jalepeno Jelly

Believe it or not, I've made something not meaty. I will admit I do it fairly regularly. But since this is a preserve and it's done in an artisanal way, I thought it merited being shared with you guys. I love preserving. I know it's not very manly, but it helps offset all the extra testosterone built up from my smoking and braising! In my past posts I have talked a lot about my growing up and why I like meat so much. But I haven't yet talked about my paternal grandfather, Grampa Joe. We was an airplane mechanic in the Army Air Corps, was part of The Civilian Conservation Corps under FDR's New Deal, and even later worked for the postal system with my maternal grandfather. But two of the biggest things I remember him for now, and always will, are his hobbies. He was an avid carpenter/handy man. He is the one I credit for my ability to build, fix and create. He had a huge "wood shed" with all the necessary power-tools and he was always more than happy to take me out there and show me how to do something. I would look forward to having a reason to have him teach me a different technique or use a tool I had not yet seen. I took advantage of this when ever I had the chance.

But it was his other hobby that I think most other people cherish most in their memories. He was an avid gardener. Their property on the west side of town was over an acre, and at one point it seemed that half of it was a garden. I imagine his green thumb came from his time with the CCC. These young men made our National Parks what they are today, beautiful, safe and accessible. And this definitely carried over into his later years. Unfortunately for me, I was never really into gardening or eating vegetables. I remember my cousin would come over and head straight to the tomato plants, grab one, come inside and devour it with a little salt. I preferred to use the garden as a back drop to my target practice with grampa's pellet gun he'd let me use. As he grew older the garden grew smaller and the dust in the tool shed got thicker.