Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bacon Vodka

I don't remember where I first heard about Bacon Vodka, but it was probably on Facebook from one of my bacon-obsessed friends. My initial thought was, "Ewwww, why would you want vodka that tastes like bacon?". Then I pictured a Bloody Mary made with bacon vodka...and the idea became stuck in my head where it fermented like a bowl of kimchi on a hot summer day. I HAD to try Bacon Vodka.

I located a bottle of it at the local Friar Tuck store, but was dismayed to discover it cost 30 bucks! I don't mind spending thirty dollars on a nice bottle of hootch, but this was different. What if it sucked? What if it tasted like vodka with liquid smoke and fake bacon (fakon) flavor? I just couldn't see spending that kind of money on something that might end up being used as a drain cleaner.

Maybe this was something I could make myself! I turned to Mr. Google to see if anyone knew how to make Bacon Vodka. Sure enough, there were plenty of recipes to choose from. And it just so happened that I had homemade maple-smoked bacon sitting in my fridge!

I started by chopping up 4 1/2 ounces of my smokey, homemade bacon:

I fried the chopped bacon until brown and cripsy:

At this point, I was supposed to drain off the fat, but there's SO MUCH FLAVOR in that fat, I just couldn't do it. I poured the browned bacon and all the fat into a mason jar and added 1/4 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns and a pint of vodka:

Then I capped it and let it sit in a dark cupboard for three weeks. Three long weeks of thinking about Bacon Bloody Marys...

At the end of the three weeks, I popped the whole thing in the freezer for 24 hours. This allows the fat to freeze so it can be strained out. Finally, I poured it through several layers of cheesecloth...

...and my long-awaited Bacon Vodka was done!

It turned out to have a beautiful amber color and the most incredible, smokey, bacony aroma. I did a shot, straight up. Amazing! Like liquid bacon with a boozy kick!

I gathered the ingredients to make a Bloody Mary. I like mine with ice, a splash of worcestershire sauce (Lee & Perrin's, please), a dash of hot sauce, V8, and a sprinkle of celery salt. I also like to include a celery stalk or a hot pickled green bean, but was out of both.

Behold: my new favorite drink! The Bacon Bloody Mary!
I wish you could taste this. Picture a BLT. With alcohol. I bought some celery a couple of days later and discovered that adding a celery stalk made it even more BLTish, so don't skip the celery if you can help it.

This is one fine Bloody Mary, and definitely worth the wait!

Bacon Vodka

4 1/2 ounces good quality, smokey bacon
1/4 t black peppercorns
one pint vodka

Chop the bacon, then cook until crisp.
Pour the bacon and fat into a jar and add black peppercorns and vodka.
Cap it and park it in a dark cupboard for 3 weeks.
Freeze for 24 hours, then strain through several layers of cheesecloth.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

it's BACON!

Finally. My first post about Charcutepalooza!
(You can click on any picture to see a larger version of it.)

The February Challenge was the Salt Cure. We could either make bacon (the Apprentice Challenge) or pancetta (the Charcutiere Challenge). I chose to make bacon, although I did end up also making a small piece of pancetta since I had so much pork belly.

The first task was to locate a nice pork belly. After calling around and sending dozens of emails, I heard back from Ben at Salume Beddu who was willing to sell me a nice, locally raised, Berkshire pork belly.

I don't know what I was expecting, never having seen a pork belly before, but this thing was huge! Over 9 pounds.

Since I didn't have the book yet, I decided to follow the recipe on Michael Ruhlman's blog. His recipe only calls for 5 pounds of pork belly, so I had some trimming to do...

It only took me two tries to whittle the belly down to a five pound chunk:
I was so proud of myself until I flipped it over and saw this:
Oh my. Pig nipples.
Oh oh, not just nipples, but skin! Should I remove the skin or leave it on? The recipe didn't say! What if I leave it on and the cure can't penetrate it? I studied the picture on Michael Ruhlman's blog... did his bacon have skin on it? I just couldn't tell.

In the end I decided to err on the side of caution and I removed it. Badly. You can see the hack job here:
Fortunately I just happened to making pork stock that day, so all the skin went into the stock pot. The stock ended up with beautiful body (like porky jello) and intense flavor.

The problem now was that my perfect five pound piece only weighed 4.2 pounds. Following Michael's instructions, I recalculated the pink salt and salt based on the new weight of the pork. I tried, I really did, to just whip out a calculator and spend 1 minute doing that, but readers of this blog (all 3 of you) know that I have this obsession with Excel.  So of course I ended up spending an hour creating The Cure Calculator*.

After wasting an hour playing with Excel, I put the cure and all the seasonings on. For the seasonings, I threw everything on it that Michael Ruhlman mentioned in the recipe, including: black pepper, bay leaves, freshly grated nutmeg, sugar (the recipe actually called for brown sugar, but I used maple sugar), garlic, juniper berries, and fresh thyme.

Then I sealed it up in a ziplock and stashed it in the refrigerator, removing it once a day to smoosh it around to distribute the cure.

Fast forward 1 week. I'm going to cruise through the rest of the prep so I can get to the good part: Eating it!
Removed it from the bag, rinsed it, and cut the whole thing in half. One half went into the oven per Michael's instructions, and the other half went into the smoker with some chunks of maple.

Fresh out of the oven:
And fresh out of the smoker:
Both versions were fully cooked and delicious at this point! Not as sweet as I had hoped, and more garlicky than expected, but savory, porky and yummy. Even better after frying up in a pan!

Unsmoked Bacon:

Smoked Bacon:

So what did I do with all this beautiful bacon?

Most of the smoked bacon is gone at this point, enjoyed in sandwiches and for breakfast along with eggs and toast. I saved one smallish portion of it to make Frisée Salad with Lardons and Poached Eggs, but I probably won't be able to get to that recipe until next weekend.

The unsmoked version also ended up in sandwiches and breakfasts, but I saved about half and braised it slowly (210 degrees for 4 hours) in my intense pork stock. After chilling it in the broth for 24 hours, I sliced it and used it in a variation of this dish: Pan Seared Diver Sea Scallops with Crispy Braised Kurabota Pork Belly, Pickled Cabbage and Violet Mustard Gastrique.
(Hmmm... told you I can't plate)

This turned out really good and I would definitely make it again for company. The combination of the fatty braised-then-browned bacon with the seared scallops was super rich, but really nice. The pickled cabbage and gastrique cut the richness perfectly.

*The usual Caveats apply

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Excel Awesomeness

Being the engineer that I am, I tend to think that all of life's problems can be solved by the creation of an awesome Excel workbook, complete with formulas and macros.

In fact, when Steve and I were newlyweds and talking about having babies, the first thing I did was create a spreadsheet. It was a wonder of complex formulas and macros, taking into account such variables as:
- How much it would suck to be pregnant in the winter (Winter Suck Factor)
- How much it would suck to be pregnant in the summer (Summer Suck Factor)
- When the perfect time would be to have baby number 1 (a boy)
- When the perfect time would be to have baby number 2 (a girl)
- Pros and Cons of having baby number 3
- The proper spacing between babies
Little did I know that Mother Nature was about to throw me a huge curve ball called infertility, that would involve things like sperm counts, ovulation prediction, drugs, more drugs, and finally the sort of injections that tend to result in litters of children.(Luckily we were finally able to have 2 beautiful boys (one at a time, thank God) spaced 2 years apart. The spreadsheet went into the recycle bin.)

But I'm an optimistic engineer, so I keep creating spreadsheets and hoping for the best.

When I started writing about food, I realized right away that I am severely adjectivily-challenged. I have one adjective in my arsenal and it's awesome.
   How was the pizza? 

Sometimes, if it's really awesome, I'll use awesome!
   Laurie's homemade lasagna?

I reserve AWESOME! for the very finest:
   The Mangalitza Lonza from Salume Beddu?

Clearly I needed help.

So what's a girl to do? Build an awesome Excel workbook called The Random Awesomeness Generator*, of course. If you have any suggestions for my collection of awesome words, let me know! This is going to be awesome fabulous!

This was written in Excel 2003 and will probably fail miserably under any of the following conditions:
- You don't have Excel at all (definite fail)
- You have that abomination Excel 2007 (possible fail)
- You use a Mac (all bets are off)
If it doesn't work? Well... tough. Sorry!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Magic Mushroom

I remember my food epiphany. I was ten plus or minus a few years, and the epiphany came in the form of a previously frozen Green Giant button mushroom, cooked in butter in a cast iron pan.

This is the part where I back up to give you, my imaginary reader, some context.

My dad is a major foodie. He was a foodie before the word foodie was coined. I can't think of anything he doesn't like except badly made food. And he enjoys food with such gusto! I remember as a kid it would gross me out to watch him eat because he'd be so into it! Rolling his eyes, groaning and smacking his lips. Later, when I knew how to cook, I would realize how fun it is to cook for him because he enjoys it so much. But as a kid I was horrified by the things that he liked. Blue cheese, dark meat poultry, fish, mushrooms...

My mom, on the other hand, was not a foodie. She wasn't exactly what you'd call a picky eater, but she had (and still has) a huge list of food dislikes. Blue cheese (that's mold in there, you know), dark meat poultry (the white meat is the only good part), fish (all fish. period.), mushrooms (they're grown in shit, you know). Since the five of us kids spent the majority of our time with mom, these hang ups became our truth. Mom was always right.

So there I was, hanging around in the kitchen, while mom frazzled the mushrooms for my dad in that little cast iron skillet. The thing was, they didn't smell disgusting. They smelled delicious! They smelled amazing! Finally, I couldn't take it any more and I asked mom if I could try one. Of course she reiterated how foul they are, how they're grown in shit, yada yada yada. But I kept after her until she relented. I stabbed one of those puppies hot out of the pan with a toothpick (this was before toothpicks were banned from the house... long story) and blew on it until it was cool enough to pop it in my mouth. BAM, that was it! It tasted just like it smelled! Delicious! Amazing! Earthy and salty and buttery and so deeply savory!

In that one bite I learned three startling things:
1) Mushrooms are not disgusting, they're delicious!
2) Mom was wrong
3) Dad was right
 Wait a minute... Dad was right? But what about all the other gross things he likes to eat? Could it be that they're delicious, too?

That one bite changed the way I thought about food (and my Dad) forever.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Scratch that

I love to cook. I've loved to cook since I was a little kid, helping my mom in the kitchen. But when friends tell other people I'm a "gourmet cook", I have to argue. I don't consider myself a gourmet cook. I don't do multi-course dinner parties. I don't think I've ever made a starter course. Or an amuse-bouche. I have no idea how to plate food. I just like to make things from scratch. Pizza, bread, salad dressings, pasta, tortillas, sauces, Thai food, Chinese food, Mexican food. I've even dabbled in cheese making. I don't like to buy pre-fab food or packaged mixes. I just think food tastes better when you make it yourself.

So when Charcutepalooza came along I knew I had to jump on that band wagon. Homemade bacon? Pancetta? Duck Prociutto? YES! This is right up my alley! The main purpose of this blog is to journal my adventures in charcuterie as I play along with the Charcutepalooza gang. Along the way I hope to also learn something about myself, to learn how to write, to embrace writing so that it's not such a challenge for me.

Follow along with me and I'll try not to post too many disturbing pictures of pig nipples.

Friday, February 4, 2011

I must be crazy

I can't believe I'm doing a blog. Mostly because I suck at writing. 

I have always had a problem with writing. Math & science, no problem. But writing? Big problem. All throughout high school and college I had to agonize over papers. It's one of the hardest things in the world for me. I envy people who can write easily and eloquently. I guess that's why I'm an engineer. Even in my job I shun writing as much as possible. When it's unavoidable, I procrastinate until the very last moment, and then it's like high school all over again. I have to pace, talk out loud to myself, and pace some more. Fortunately I work from home 3 days a week, so I can do all this pacing and muttering in the privacy of my home office.

In other words, this blog is no easy feat for me. Please be patient with me as I struggle to describe things using words other than "awesome".

Oh, and eventually I'll explain what Corned Beef and Kimchi means. I promise.