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December 31, 2011

Happy New Year! With bacon.. of course

Happy New Year everyone!  Behold.... the bacon....

Technically this is a smoked pancetta... such as it is.  Last nite I smoked the bacon that I started curing back here.  It was magnificent. I used the instructions from Ruhlmans book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing and also followed along with my friend David the Gastronomic Gardener and voila - bacon!  Don't think you can make bacon? Yes you can!

I don't have pix of the smoking mostly because I got started after it got dark. How hard is it to smoke your own bacon? Not at all. The hardest part is making the fire. I tell you the truth I cannot start a charcoal fire with a bag of Kingsford and a gallon of lighter fluid. Don't ask me how I know this. So I gave up on that malarkey and started the fire how my people have been doing it since the elder days. With wood. Easy peasy.

I come from a long and glorious line of pyromaniacs so while I couldn't get the charcoal even if the main development guy from Kingsford was holding my hand... I got a decent fire started with wet kindling and a single match. I let the fire burn down to coals while we did chores. Then I tossed on some mesquite chips, some trimmings from the pear tree, and some kinda other hardwood we had laying around... and commenced to smokin'.

Pretty much the smoking part involved me sitting on the couch and watching a movie. From time to time I got up and added more wood chips and trimmings to keep the smoke and the fire barely going. After several hours (maybe four?) the internal temp of the bacon reached about 150*. Then it came out of the smoker and went into the fridge.  And I went to bed.

This morning I had bacon-y goodness and a stellar cup of coffee. I'll be slicing up the bacon - and keeping some of it in chunks for cooking - and then putting it into the freezer. How easy was that?

I've got some other pieces curing in the fridge downstairs and one pancetta hanging in the basement. Next week I'll try smoking it during the day so you can all see. In the meantime, see ya next year!

Happy New Year everyone!

December 29, 2011

Winners and Losers

As we close down 2011 I've been thinking about the projects that worked....and the things that didn't. It helps me do better planning when I have a clear vision of the winners and losers.  You can read about projects that made a difference in years past, here and also here.

The chickens are always winners...That's little Neo with Red, our roo

The big winners this year are....

1. The pigs. Wow. You can't imagine the quality and quantity of our harvest. Not only that, we had a great set up this year. And we had them on such great pasture that our feed costs were really low.  Especially since we had Sunny providing all that milk for most of the summer.

2. Sunny. That was one ugly goat but man.. she ruled. Not only did she do great with our goats and their babies.. but holy cow she could milk. Sunny really put it in the bucket and we were so grateful we had her on loan. Unfortunately her herdmaster moved away and so did his herd - so we won't be getting her again.

3. Fencing. We were able to complete our "all sides" fencing project and it really made a difference. It helped keep the pigs in, it kept the predators out (no losses), and we were able to let the dogs run loose to patrol...which also kept the predators out.

4. Making our own laundry soap. This deserves its own post.. but I gotta tell ya, this is our most cost-saving project to date. Thank to my friend SD for teaching me how to save about a million bucks!

5. Trenching. This project made the most sense  for our house improvement and it totally worked. Unfortunately the weather was against us and the last really dry period we had was when we did the trenching. So we still have more work to do.

Which brings us to the losers....

1. The weather. I didn't just imagine it, 2011 was actually the rainiest year on record for Ohio. We passed the record mark last week. Wow what a rain. The animals suffered, we suffered, the garden was not great....and oh the mud. The good news is that it allowed us to work on projects like the fencing. The bad news was that it totally sucked.

2. Trying to move Nibbles and Dahlia into a new yard down by the pond. They hated it. We hated it. All the goats did was stand there and scream. The good news was that the fencing we did for the goats ended up being prefect for the pigz... so we just turned the pigz out into that new yard when then had "hogged down" their existing yard. The bad news was that Nibbles screamed all day, every day that she was down there. I'm not sure the pigz minded but it drove me nuts.

3. Keeping Dahlia. I had a Scarlett O'hara moment  this summer and determined that I would never, ever keep another doeling. Her momma, Debbie, refused to wean her so I spent a lot of this summer trying to keep them separated. And to be honest, I don't love Dahlia. However, I think she is bred and she is sure to be a prize milker. So she stays. For now. The good news is that she most likely will milk like a demon. The bad news is that if she doesn't she'll be staked out by the road with a "free to a bad home" sign.

4. The stupid green bean bugs that wiped out most of my hill o' beans. Stupid fuzzy buggers.... I was able to get most of the beans but several rows were completely demolished. The good news was that I ended up with a pretty good story - thanks to FJ for egging me on. The bad news was.... I lost a lot of beans. But we were able to buy replacements from an Amish neighbor at a great price.

5. Too Short. I just ain't goat pimpin' again. No way. That reminds me, one of these days I gotta tell you about gettin' rid of that guy.

So that's the wrap up. We are starting to plan for next year and most likely it will involve even more fencing, better turkey management, more effective gardening, more dinner chicks, and selling the goat babies as soon as they are ready. And yes of course there will be more pigz. Speaking of... I think I need to get me a slice of ham.

Happy Thursday everyone!

December 28, 2011

Dog sloth

Our number one dog, Titan, has been hanging out in the living room.  He's had enough of the puppy shenanigans so he got a reverse time out and some peace and quiet.

I love this picture of Titan snuggling with Wolfie the dog toy.

We also want to reinforce Dog#1's status as the number one dog. We do this by giving him special privileges - like spending extra time and being close to us. Remember there is no "fair" in the dog world - only the hierarchy that they need and understand. Dog1 is dog number one and there is no further discussion. This helps organize and manage our "pack."

Titan really likes to sleep on a dog bed. Kai The Destroyer systematically disemboweled all of the dog beds so we put a new bed in the living room for Ti and let him sleep there. The rest of the no-good-nicks are sleeping on easy-to-wash blankets. Or in ridiculous ways.....

Zander and Lucky tend to sprawl all over the floor. 
We've been trying to make sure that the pup gets plenty of rest. But sometimes he's like a little kid who plays so much he gets over tired.  Then he sleeps so hard he wakes up and is still delirious. Its very cute.
At this writing Titan is sleeping at my feet and is chasing something in his sleep. It doesn't matter how big they get, sleep-running dogs are the best. I hope he catches whatever he's chasing. Shh.. I don't want to wake him up. 
Happy Wednesday everyone! Are you all enjoying your week off?

December 27, 2011

Oh my sweet buns!

*OFG rethinks punctuation....*  I mean......Oh my! Sweet buns!

Would you get a load of these sweet rolls? Are you licking your screen? Yeah.. they are as good as they look. I made these cinnamon rolls on Christmas Eve. They are terrific.

Unfortunately, I can't give you the recipe. Can you believe it?  Here's the problem. The recipe is my mom's secret recipe and she refused to give it to anyone except us kids. After she died the extended family tried to get us to give out the secret. And we didn't. Actually my sister didn't and I was threatened with real death if I uttered a peep about it (maybe they should have asked me first). So I can only show you these luscious treats.

However, if anyone has an older version of The Joy of Cooking you can probably find a similar recipe there. And if you wanted to check here this recipe is kinda close. And Ree's process here gives a good step by step. Aside from that I can say no more.

Except that I made a caramel glaze for the bottom. And I used our leaf lard instead of any kind of shortening or butter for the dough. And I used a big handful of pecans. And my two favorite farm boys in the whole world mixed up the cinnamon-sugar for the filling. Now I say now more.

Other than... you can probably guess what I've been having for breakfast all week. That and birthday cake.

Thanks to everyone for their fun birthday wishes yesterday! I did have a bacon filled, meat-tastic day!

Happy Tuesday everyone!  Now remember, I told you nothing about how to make these rolls, right?

December 24, 2011

The accessability of bacon: An Interview with The Gastronomic Gardener

Happy Christmas everyone!

I was trying to think what I could give everyone for Christmas, what would be the best present?... And then, of course, I thought, "Bacon!"  But instead of handing out bags of meat I thought it would be more useful to give everyone some encouragement about 'how to' make your own bacon. Something along the lines of, "Give a guy a pork belly, you'll feed him for breakfast. But teach a guy the know-how, he'll eat well all his life."

Don't think you can do it? Sure you can! You've heard from me how easy it is to make your own food so I thought I'd introduce you to a regular guy who's great at makin' bacon. My friend David over at the Gastronomic Gardener is a regular guy who is making and serving up some tasty home cured meats, including bacon. I asked David for his take on the fine art of charcuterie and he's got some great info to share.

OFG: So, David from The Gastronomic Gardener, you're a regular guy living in the suburbs and you make your own bacon. What gives? Isn't bacon an industrial process? Or don't you need to be on a farm?
Hi OFG, yes, I am a suburbanite, with a full time corporate job, and
I make my own bacon. By make, I mean cure and smoke. Some day I hope to grow my own hogs as you do OFG, but until then, I’ll do what I can to "practice."

Most folks go and pick up bacon at the store, and while there is nothing wrong with that, I find it immensely satisfying to be involved with my food production to the greatest extent that I am able. Just as I take pleasure and pride in the first ripe tomato in the garden, or opening a jar of pickles in the dead of winter from cucumbers I grew and canned, I am glad to take as much responsibility as possible in what I eat or feed my family.

The best friend to make if you want to make your own bacon is your local butcher. They are super helpful and you should see how excited they get when they find out you’re making your own bacon! While I go to a specific butcher shop, most supermarkets will be able to get you pork belly – the prime ingredient for making bacon. You may have to special order it, but they can get it. Other than the pork belly – you’ll need some curing salt - or sodium nitrite, (aka pink salt). Your butcher should have this as well, if not I’ve found it at the outdoor sporting good stores near the jerky and sausage making supplies. The rest of the things are common in the kitchen – large zip-close bags, kosher salt, sugar, garlic, peppercorns. Nothing extraordinary or mystical. It’s surprising to me how accessible making your own bacon really is. You don’t need a smoker but it does add an extra flavor element to the bacon that I really love.
OFG: What experience did you have before you first made your own bacon? And what inspired you?
I like to eat consider myself pretty handy in the kitchen and always enjoy new things, so I suppose I don’t intimidate easily in that regard. However, making you own bacon is so simple. If you can make a box cake mix, you can do this. I’ve been making fresh sausages for a couple years now – bratwurst, merguez, kielbasa and in my search for more information I can across Ruhlman and Polcyn’s book Charcuterie. It’s such a wealth of information, the recipes and how-tos – especially in the beginning of the book make it all very do-able.

OFG: Aside from the logistics, what did you learn about about "making your own food"?
The quality of almost anything you make at home is far superior to the product you can purchase at the big box store. When you are making your own, you know you and your loved ones will be eating it. If you think for a moment the few major food producers have much more than profit on their mind, then I think you are deluding yourself.
And the proof is in the pan. Home cured bacon doesn’t shrink nearly as much as mass produced bacon. And the flavor? There is no comparison!

OFG: What does your family/friends think?
They love it! Being the first one up and starting the coffee and the bacon sizzling in the skillet, they don’t need an alarm clock, they get up pretty quickly! Seriously though, I’ve given the gift of bacon to a few people and even given some away for a small "donation." One guy ate three lbs between Friday and Sunday. When he got back to work on Monday – he said "No matter how much I beg and plead, please don’t bring me any more!" That’s pretty strong testimony! I always tell them how easy it is to make and offer to walk them through it. That offer stands.
OFG: What is your best advice for someone who is hesitant to do this?
First don’t be afraid. Go talk to your local butcher and find the availability and price of skin on pork belly. If it is within your means, pick up some pink salt, and give it a try. You will not be sorry, and if you are like me, you may never buy prepackaged bacon again!

Thanks, David, all great info and wow!  The tutorials you have on your blog are fantastic.  I'm sending a friend of mine right over to check it out.

So, what do you think, folks? Are you ready to jump in with both feet? If you're ready to try making your own bacon-y goodness at home I hope you'll get some confidence, and know how, from David and give it a try. Most of the free world is off work next week, so if you are a bacon lover and are home, why not call up your butcher and ask for a pork belly... then get to makin' bacon at home. Your friends and family will love you for it - its the gift that keeps on giving!

Happy Christmas everyone!