Tag Archives: Food

The big one

Here we go.

I actually starting prepping and cooking things on Thursday for Saturday’s gathering. The turkey and the pork butts both went into the brine on Thursday. Both were drained and rinsed on Friday, then went onward to their next destination. For the turkey, into the oven, accompanied by some beef tips that would serve as dinner Friday evening for the hordes descending on the place.

Turkey in the oven

The butts received a rubdown.

Rub ingredients

And then 14 pounds of pork went into the smoker.

Butts in the seats

With those things out of the way, I moved on. Mom had made some cakes for her Hawaiian dessert.

Cakes

Those were topped with a combination of vanilla pudding, coconut flakes that I toasted for her, crushed pineapple, and frosting. People love it. I also made a couple batches of strawberry ice cream to go with the vanilla ice cream I’d made previously.

Strawberry ice cream

We also boiled some eggs…

Eggs

…and some shrimp.

Shrimp

Potato salad, shrimp salad. Yummy. We were running low on barbeque sauce, so I decided to whip up another batch.

BBQ sauce

Between doing all this and working the “real” job, it was starting to get late. There was still quite a lot to do, though. Like pull the turkey out.

Turkey's done

Nothing quite like the smell of roasted turkey. In the wee hours of Saturday morning – about 1 AM, I suppose – I had made four batches of dough for sandwich rolls.

Dough

At 2:30 AM, I pulled the butts from the smoker. Fourteen hours of smoketime.

Butts done

I made a funny face at the butts and they started to fall apart right before my eyes.

Pulled

Just kidding. I actually pulled them both by hand. They melted like butter, though.

Fully pulled

I’d also shaped the rolls from the dough.

Rolls shaped

While those were undergoing their final proofing, I carved the turkey. White meat and wings/thighs…

Turkey sliced

…and dark meat.

Turkey dark meat

The rolls went into the oven and the gravy train started while those were baking.

Gravy

The batches of rolls were finished…

Rolls done

…and by this time, it was approaching 5 AM, so a nap was in order. Just after 6 AM, I got back up and started up again. T-7 hours to the arrivals.

First up, getting the crabcakes formed.

Crabcakes

As usual, lots of crab, very little cake.

Crabby closeup

The day before, I’d sliced some cucumbers and onions on the mandoline.

Cukes

These were combined with sour cream, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and dill to make a cuke salad of sorts. One of my sisters’ favorites. Aubrey had picked up the flowers and started arranging them.

Flowers

I got the spinach-artichoke dip started.

Spinach artichoke dip

This went into the fridge to wait until it was time to heat it through. We also roasted some beef to slice for sandwiches.

Beef

Another batch of crabmeat, to mix with a few things to stuff mushrooms.

Crabmeat stuffed mushrooms

A little onion, red and green peppers, Old Bay, pepper, butter, and the crabmeat went into mushrooms caps and was topped off with provolone.

Mushrooms

We steamed some broccoli for the gratin.

Broccoli

Publix made the cake.

Publix cake

Mom also contributed a sweet potato souffle (great, by the way). We put it all together, got everything for the main meal on the table (the appetizers having been put out some time before, with people snacking away), and forced everyone to back off while we got a final picture.

Table

Let the games begin.

Feeding frenzy

Later that evening, since apparently I’d not had enough cooking for the past couple of days, and since someone had mentioned it, I decided to whip up some focaccia.

Focaccia

Two batches, actually: the second batch I formed into doughballs for pizza (or mini focaccias).

Doughballs

The cheese was added to the bread about halfway through the baking time.

Bread's done

In retrospect, I probably should have made two focaccias.

Another shot

Because eight minutes and forty seconds after taking the above pictures and pulling the bread out, this was left.

All gone

Tasty stuff, I guess.

Eventually, almost everyone left except those enjoying the hospitality at the estate. Those who were left crashed where they could find space. Based on the lack of leftovers to pack up, I’m guessing that everyone enjoyed their meal. That’s always a good thing.

What a night

So, officially, I am very ill. Last night was awful – sore throat, trouble swallowing, draining sinuses, and mucus making me choke. Swell. Spent most of this morning in bed, with bathroom breaks for me and the dogs and to swig down some Nyquil and kiddie Tylenol (which, by the way, doesn’t taste like bubblegum at all to me). I could wrap myself in a bubble, but that would make it difficult to cook and move around the kitchen.

When I finally rolled up out of bed to go to work, what do I find? Mom, very kindly making up a batch of stuffing. Hoo-rah.  Maybe later tonight some turkey, stuffing, and gravy will be in order. She tells me that there’s also another bag of cranberries in the freezer. And we have potatoes for mashing. Sounds like thanksgiving dinner to me. Just the thing to cure what ails you.

What leftovers?

Still in the process of rebuilding the gigantic, picture-filled post from Saturday’s festivities. There weren’t many leftovers, but I had saved the legs and wings from the turkey I roasted, thinking I’d figure out a use for them or eat them with some gravy (and stuffing, if I can talk my mom into making some from the giblets we boiled off). Since I woke up with a horrible headache and my throat is on fire – not to mention this horribly deep cough I seem to have today – I did find a use:

Soup's on

Just the thing to soothe a sore throat and  try to fight whatever buggies were brought along by the crowds. I suppose this is one of the problems with not getting out amongst people a lot (plus that whole radiation/chemo thing): the defenses aren’t what they used to be.

Ready to eat?

The final menu for Gabs’ baby shower on Saturday, even though she’s being irritable and hormone-y (is that a word?), is ready. There will be in the neighborhood of thirty people here for fun and games and food. Slightly more than originally expected, but who cares? I like to cook for crowds. Since it’s a lunchtime shower, it isn’t quite as involved as a regular evening meal would be, but there’s still quite a bit of work to get done.

Menu

Appetizers: Mushroom turnovers; spinach and feta and spinach and havarti turnovers; spinach and artichoke dip (homemade bread bowl); assorted crudites; cheese platter; deviled eggs

Mains: roasted turkey, pulled pork, and roast beef for sandwiches (on homemade rolls, of course – the dinner rolls I made can easily be adapted for this); shrimp salad; crab cakes

Sides: Potato salad; homemade potato chips with bleu cheese; broccoli gratin; sweet potato souffle; cucumber and onion salad

Desserts: cake; homemade ice cream (vanilla, strawberry); Hawaiian dessert cake; assorted cookies

I’ll start the cooking tomorrow and we’ll end up on Saturday morning with the things that we can’t really make in advance. Everyone will come, eat, have a good time, and then be gone before the evening – except for the clan coming from Atlanta, who will enjoy our hospitality and then leave on Sunday to go back after we have breakfast of some kind. That breakfast will not include homemade bacon, alas. I did not expect that we’d go through five pounds of bacon by eating it here or giving it away over the course of just a couple of weeks. Since we did, we have none here – but I did get two fresh pork bellies Wednesday, so  those will go into the cure and be ready by next week for smoking and storage. I’m hoping to get the sausage done tomorrow as well. It didn’t quite make the list of things done today because we wound up looking for a farm truck to haul everything from cow poop to lumber to hay.

Shake it up, baby

What do you do with extra heavy cream that you happen to have on hand?

Shake it.

Butter, step one

Then pour off.

Buttermilk

Shake and pour.

Butter, step three

Repeat.

Butter, step 4

Until you can’t shake no more.

Butter, step five

Pack it in, salt it down, chill it out. It’s butter, baby!

Butter, yay

For extra amusement, measure the length of your arm in Cheetos.

Cheetos

Worm poop

Mom had been out of town for the weekend, off gallivanting in another state. When she got back, she couldn’t resist opening one of the boxes of worm poop to take a look. It looks, I told her, as she held out two palms worth of the castings, just like worm poop: tiny balls of waste. I remember we used to see this a lot when I was a kid, in yards where the soil was rich and the temperatures not terribly extreme to kill off the worms. When I was much younger, we used to head out to Pirate’s Cove to go fishing. The adults would be fishing and drinking and the younger one would be poking at the fire, trying our hand at shrimping, and poking at the worms. You could be guaranteed to get worm poop on your hands at some point while playing with the worms before they met their grisly fate.

At the time, I didn’t really give much thought to the whole thing. After all, when you’re young, you’re indestructible and unconcerned most of the time with whatever is going on outside your own little planetary system. These days, my mind is awash with gardening and homesteading-related things. I’ve always had trouble sleeping because my brain won’t shut up, but it seems to be getting worse as time goes by. Sometimes I wish I could be like the cat curled up on my desk or the dogs curled up at my feet. They have that simple sleep and seem to know that when it is time to sleep, that’s just what you do. You don’t let your brain go off thinking about layouts for frames, how much soil needs to be mixed, whether to try a bunch of several kinds of tomatoes or several of a bunch of kinds of tomatoes – which naturally leads to the thought that the season can really be as long as you make it, so do you really have to choose? What about the trees, and where shall position the trellises for the climbing plants, like beans and cukes? If things go well, how much time will be devoted to canning and pickling, and who the heck will be eating all this stuff anyway?

I’m getting a bit sleepy now, and always think that those moments should be seized for a nap. Otherwise, the moment passes, and I’m off and running once more.

Where’s the food, already?

I know, a real dearth of food and garden stuff lately. This morning when I got back up after my few hours of sleep, it was 35 degrees and rainy outside. Brrr. Where’s my spring?

It’s also that time of the year when the whirlpool of month end and previous year end paperwork/filings/activities are at full blast, which leaves only a little time for the other things I like to do. Since it’s still spitting rain and not going to warm up outside past 50 or so, and everyone is gone, leaving just me and the animals, it’s a perfect day to blast through as much of this stuff as humanly possible.

We will return to the goodies eventually – next week, we will be building more frames and mixing the soil to fill them, getting seeds started, and in general working on more prep for the garden. For some reason, I don’t give as much love to the winter garden as the summer. It may be because half the stuff I cannot/will not eat (lettuces for the former, brussels sprouts for the latter), and this year it may be because I hate the plants we picked up from Home Depot to transplant and get us kickstarted (that would be the broccoli, which has been a complete loser, in my opinion – we’ll be starting some anew from seed). The garlic is going gangbusters, though. I just hope it doesn’t rot in the ground from the weird rains we’ve been having.

The spring and summer gardens should be huge, given all the seed we have. In the past two days, we’ve received shipments of worm castings, chicken manure, and a batch of tomato and pepper seed varieties we’re going to try. We’re awaiting the arrival of some worms and a will have a bin for our wormy friends to do some composting in addition to the regular compost pile we have. There are also more seeds en route because – and there’s no other way to put it – I must be insane.

We still need to:

– find a permanent place for the asparagus.

– build a coop for the upcoming chick parade, with laying boxes.

– get the greenhouse up, but only after the latest five loads of topsoil that isn’t really topsoil is spread – it’s swamp muck more than topsoil, and completely unlike the nice loads we got last time from this very same place. Since they’re not entirely as consistent as we’d like, as they apparently do not go to the same pit on a load to load basis, we will simply find another supplier. Topsoil ain’t exactly cheap, and since we need a lot of it around here to top off our sand and fill various areas, it makes no sense to use a provider who cannot perform to the standards we need.

– figure out which trees we will plant where out front when it does warm up into spring.

– plant all these damn sagos my uncle keeps giving my mother and she keeps bringing in.

– edge off the driveway to keep the slag in place.

– figure out where we’ll put the fences around the huge garden area we’ll have to keep the bunnies from thinking it’s a free lunch around here.

– put up some solar-powered exterior lights on the corner of the barn.

– pick up some more coastal hay for mulching and moisture control as I continue my quest to extend our grassy area out front.

– get the pasturegrass started on the west side of the property, as a place for the rolling coop and an area where we can eventually cut our own hay.

– put together a menu that will help keep cholesterol ranges in the norm. Mom’s latest bloodwork came back with a sky high count, my sister’s is also high, and I’m sure now that I’m eating again, mine has gone back up to my BC levels. In our family’s case, it’s more hereditary than dietary (although diet of course contributes), so there are limits to what diet alone can do – that’s why there are drugs for that and why we’ll probably all be on them at some point. I was, until the first surgery, in fact.

– various other things too numerous to mention, but which all fit right in with our homestead theme.

One winter day

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.

Buffalo roast

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.

Starting the soup

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.

Guacagoodness

Meanwhile, those of us still suffering from a root canal went on to the creation of another yummy item.

Dough

The soup was coming along nicely, and was almost ready for the immersion blender.

Simmered soup

Two other parties chimed in with their own orders.

Boots

Often, they don’t know exactly what they want, but they know you might have it.

Newton

The soup was ready, so I blended it and Mom kindly jarred it for me.

Jars of soup

I asked that she do that because I was moving along on the bread front.

Rising

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.

Roasted buffalo

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.

Stewed

We also had some roasted zucchini with parm-reg.

Zukes

And we added the final touch of our lovely focaccia.

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.

Dreaming of spring

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.

Seeds

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.

Fun with dry ice

Pining for pork

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.

Dried

The underside is dry and we’re ready to go on the smoker.

Underbelly

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.

Skin-less

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.

It's bacon!

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.

Taste test

It fried up nicely.

Frying

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.

Slicing

Ready for packaging and distribution.

Ready to go

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.

Packed

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.