Or at least some files. Being able to take a bazillion shots with a digital camera means there are a bazillion images to sort through “later”. And by “later”, I mean “at some point, probably, when you’re bored out of your mind, taking a break from answering tickets and doing server/network maintenance, and have turned off the tv and disabled the news crawl on the computer screen because it’s all about Heath Ledger dying”. That kind of later.
Awhile back, I had posted a picture of our spidery neighbor, who hung around the front of the place all season. That spider put up a couple of egg sacs and then promptly did what spiders do a few days later. Died.
The eggs are still up there for now, although we’re probably going to have to get rid of them.
Newton likes the organic veggie juice that, coincidentally, my mom also likes.
I’ll add that while I will eat after the dogs when they have had something off my fork, mom refused to drink after Newton. Sissy.
And finally, say hello to my nephew, due in a couple of months. Yours truly will be cooking for the gaggle of girls appearing on the doorstep here for the baby shower.
OK, so it isn’t -4F here like it was at Lambeau Sunday night. It’s still cold to someone like me. I don’t like the cold and never have, which made our living in the northern reaches of the country interesting when I was younger. Then, it was just an annoyance because I’m a summer kind of gal. These days it’s actually annoying and painful, because while I’ve never had much bodyfat, since the whole cancer dance, my bodyfat is even lower than it was. A nice problem to have, no?
When the weather cools off and the days only go into the 50s with the nights somewhere in the 30s, my feet never seem to be warm. My hands are cold all the time, making for interesting typing on the computer, and while everyone else is fine in a sweatshirt to combat what to them is a chill, I have a shirt, a flannel shirt, and two pairs of socks on, with my heater going under my desk to try and warm my feet. Going outside on a day like today in particular is rather heinous, as it was also very windy out there. I know my little cat (the one with the wrap around her waist in the photos) feels the same way, since she herself has a tumor that can’t be removed as she’s too old to be put under and she’s dropped down to virtually no bodyfat as well. She spends her days either in the window with the sunlight concentrated on her small frame, or curled up, leaning right against the other heater near my desk.
But I know that soon enough, my kind of temperatures will return, the sun will be out instead of taking the day off as it has this past week, and we’ll have colorful things growing out in the garden and yard. I may still get chilled when I come back in since everyone else likes the inside temp at around 72 (too chilly for me), but at least outside, my bones will be warm again. I can’t wait for summer.
Today has been all about food. Well, that and getting the dogs shaved and bathed. That, and getting the Princess wiped down and brushed. And watching football. But it has been a day full of cooking for me, although I was a bit behind schedule due to the dog-bathing part.
We begin our tour with a hunka hunka nice looking buffalo.
Salt, pepper, garlic, and in it went to a pan to sear. After nicely browning on all sides, it went into the oven in a bath of beef broth with some onion and garlic as companions.
After that, it was time to start the soup. I had roasted a couple of butternut squash, and started some onion, garlic, and carrot in a pot. Some chicken broth, a couple of diced potatoes, the innards of the squash, and some spices, and it turned into something like this.
All of that was stirred together and then allowed to simmer while I began the next item on my culinary agenda: guacamole. Here, our model Aubrey demonstrates the functionality of that fabulous green appetizer.
Meanwhile, those of us still suffering from a root canal went on to the creation of another yummy item.
The soup was coming along nicely, and was almost ready for the immersion blender.
Two other parties chimed in with their own orders.
Often, they don’t know exactly what they want, but they know you might have it.
The soup was ready, so I blended it and Mom kindly jarred it for me.
I asked that she do that because I was moving along on the bread front.
I also threw together some tarragon-pickled mushrooms and onions for Aubrey, who was starving because she insists on doing this “total carb” thing instead of net carbs since she wants to drop some weight, but hey, who am I to say anything about peoples’ strange ideas? I moved along to the roast, pulling it out of the bath it had been in for about three hours.
The braising liquid, to which carrots, onions, and potatoes had been added, was thickened a bit to give us a hearty backdrop for the roast.
We also had some roasted zucchini with parm-reg.
And we added the final touch of our lovely focaccia.
Besides the Packers losing a game the Giants seemed better prepared to play, a very enjoyable day. Just to prove I am certifiably insane, I also ordered more seed today, because the very best thing to do when you think maybe you’re getting too close to that gardening mania line is to just boldly step right over it.
It has been cold, dark, and gloomy today, and our chance of snow flurries has dropped down to almost nothing for tomorrow evening. Since we don’t get the thrill of that chance, it’s time to focus on the job ahead and the fun that goes with it: seed sorting and selection.
That may seem like a lot of seeds. In fact, I think it probably is. There are maybe a dozen varieties of tomatoes, eight peppers, squashes, onions, herbs, corn, beans, melons, cucumbers, and just about anything else you’d find in a typical visit to your pantry and fridge. The fun now is determining how to lay out our frames, what to plant where, and where to build the trellises for the climbers. We still have a bit of time before our last frost date, and since things tend to germinate very quickly and spring up ready for transplanting, still some time before the seedling flats need to be started. We’re looking forward to quite a lot of canning, pickling, and freezing this year. With all the work done on the soil and the effort going into the frames, hopefully this year’s harvest will be leaps and bounds above last year’s meager and short-season pickings.
We received several orders this week of meat packed and shipped from elsewhere. One of the shippers used dry ice instead of cold packs. You know what that means.
Have you ever had one of those days, where you have an idea that at the time seems absolutely brilliant, so you dive into it, trying to get reality to match what’s in your head, only to find that it isn’t as simple or obtainable as you imagined and in fact takes you veering along the edge of the cliff of sanity and you know you’re going to plunge off the side into spectacularly horrible defeat?
So have I. But this is not one of those times. Lucky you.
In my life BC (that’s before cancer, for those of you unfamiliar with the history here and who have not perused some of the more gruesome photos in my collection), I watched the Food Network quite a bit. By “quite a bit” I mean that if I was interested in having the television on and wasn’t watching a movie for the billionth time, generally speaking the screen had FN on it. Back in those days, the programming, while it could be uneven, was generally not full of the spastic, heavily caricatured “personalities” it features now, and that’s one of the primary reasons I hardly ever watch it currently. I know Emeril can be annoying as hell, but we have to give credit where it’s due: the man obviously loves to cook and he just as obviously loves food. Out of all his catchphrases, “pork fat rules” is probably the most apt right here, right now.
Because there’s something about pork, isn’t there? It’s versatile in ways that chicken is not. Consider this: there are thousands of different ways to prepare chicken. When you’re a broke college student also working full time, or a slave in ISP hell not making a ton of money, chicken can be stretched out to make eating more pleasant than the standard ramen/mac and cheese duo. And beef – grassfed, organic beef especially: well, there’s nothing like a medium rare ribye off the grill, or a braised roast, or even just a nice juicy hamburger to get you powered through your day.
Pork could be in an altogether separate class. In fact, I will go so far as to say that Homer was on to something. Don’t get me wrong. I love the beef and buffalo and chicken and fish and shrimp and turkey. When I put 40 pounds or so of ribs on the smoker, though, they are pork spare ribs. When I make barbeque, it’s pulled pork via a Boston butt. During the holidays, you can always find ham on the table or in the fridge here. Bone-in pork chops, fried and then topped with gravy, served alongside fried okra, mashed potatoes and biscuits with some sweet tea on the side? Southern heaven.
But the defining moment for pork, to me, is bacon. What else can you eat alone as part of a meal, or include as part of a trio singing in harmony in a BLT? What else can be wrapped around so many other things – steak, shrimp, asparagus – to take them to a higher level than they could ever reach on their own? What else can you render as a base for another dish and then turn right around and sprinkle over that same dish in a cloudburst of porcine goodness that adds just the right note?
That was the thinking I had when I decided to cure and smoke my own bacon. That, and the “wouldn’t it be cool to try this” line of thought. Both work equally well. As it turns out, the process is much less involved than people think.
Step one, as linked above, was the curing phase. Get the cure mixed, slather it on, stick the belly in the fridge for a week or so. Simple. Once that phase is over, pull it out, rinse it thoroughly, pat it dry, and back it goes in the fridge for a day.
The underside is dry and we’re ready to go on the smoker.
I smoked this batch over hickory for about three hours or so. When it had reached a temperature of 150F, I pulled it out. Next step: trimming the skin from the belly.
The skin could be saved, I suppose, to flavor soups and such, but when I looked at this belly, I knew there would be scraps and pieces and fat left for that purpose, so I tossed the skin. Without its skin, and from the side, it now looked like this.
Everyone knows that there must be a tasting. The two outside pieces are the ends that were directly exposed to the smoke. They are naturally darker than the slices from the interior.
It fried up nicely.
It tasted like: bacon. Pure, unadulterated porky goodness. I sliced up the remainder for packaging. I could have tossed the bellies in the freezer for a bit and then used the handy slicer the fam gave to me, but I had my sharp knife and the time, so I went ahead with that job.
Ready for packaging and distribution.
Packed, labeled, and ready for the freezer – or, in the case of the pack on the left, ready to go to my aunt and uncle’s place for them to enjoy. The smaller bags on the right are scraps and fats for soups, flavoring, and rendering when needed.
Overall, from an eight pound belly with the skin on, I wound up with five pounds of bacon, which is about what I expected to get. On a price per pound basis, this batch ran $7.20. That is at or lower than bacon by the pound in the store, since most of the packages now come in 12 ounce packs rather than full pounds.
Was is worth it? Absolutely. I know where this belly came from. I know exactly what was in the cure and at what ratios, how it was handled, and how it was smoked. The active work time from an overall standpoint is minimal, and the cost is about the same as me climbing into my car and going to the store.
Would I change anything? Next time, I think I will change the cure a bit. The fam likes sweeter bacon, and it was difficult to taste the maple and brown sugar in the cure this time, so that needs to change. I also think an extra day in the cure would be a good idea.
If you’re considering doing this, but don’t know where to get pork belly with the skin on, head over to Niman Ranch and try them. I’ve ordered from them in the past and used them for this belly and the fat. They’re excellent.
This evening’s trek to town was much more relaxing and enjoyable than my morning trek to town, which involved the completion of two root canals and the news that those two teeth need crowns. Now, I’ve seen some comedians whose routines were much like the experience of having root canals performed, but I can safely say that Kathy Griffin does not fall into that category.
I have been a huge fan of Kathy’s since – well, since forever, really, and try to catch her D-List show whenever possible. Someone who revels in their D-List status and makes a living snarking on the rich and shameless? Sign me up.
If you get the chance to see her live, I highly recommend that you do so. Even if you haven’t had major dental work done that morning, your jaw will be sore at the end of her show from laughing so much.
Tonight’s dinner plan was to roast a chicken (salt, pepper, ginger, fresh orange, onion) for dinner. When I started peeling it out of its wrapper, it smelled like a three week old chicken left in hundred degree heat after a skunk had sprayed it. In other words: no chicken tonight. Fortunately, there was cheesy potato vegetable chowder to be had on this gloomy, rainy evening.
My seed packets are spread out on the table, with the exception of the packets of the sungold tomato seed, which I can’t lay my hands on this instant. I need to get some flats started in the garage under the heat and grow lights, in an area which will also house some special guests for several weeks: chicks. Yes, we will have a few chickens when all is said and done, and they’ll be here in mid February to take up residence with the rest of the zoo.
It’s going to be an interesting spring around the homestead…
Why on earth would anyone want this? Certainly no one would need it – a bowl is a bowl, and without the name attached to it, probably half the price. But apparently I am quite out of tune with things, because as I post this, that product is listed as out of stock. Someone is buying this. Who?
This afternoon, we watched the Packers beat the Seahawks in a near blizzard. This evening, we watched the Jaguars put up a valiant fight against the Patriots. They played much better than I thought they would, and really, after watching the Patriots in a couple of close games this season, I think the Jags put up a bigger fight than the Colts and the Ravens did – the game was much closer than the 11 point difference in the score.
And what do you need in order to watch a couple of playoff games? Food!
Guacamole: this batch was perfect. Astonishingly perfect. I’ll have to remember the ratios next time. I even ate some myself. We had corn tortillas made from organic corn with this. I had a few chips, too, but I think I could just eat this with a fork and be as happy.
Shrimp! Boiled with Old Bay, and lots of that.
Beef! A big pile of it. Grilled, and seasoned only with salt, peper, and garlic.
That was because half of it was ordered from a place in Missouri offering grassfed beef. And I think this is even better than the last batch of beef we found from a local place – sweeter, more fragrant, if you can apply that sort of terminology to beef.
Shrimp! This batch in honey, lime, soy, pepper, cumin, red pepper, and ginger.
Broccoli! Because you have to have something green.
I also made another batch of rolls (there are a grand total of three left), we had corn on the cob, and we had a cheese sauce for the broccoli. I just realized as I was uploading these images that we completely neglected to make any baked potatoes. Not that anyone missed them, since we stuffed ourselves with everything else.
So we watched the Jags hang with the Patriots for awhile, enjoyed our food and good company, and overall had a grand evening. Now to start work on the menu for the conference championship games…