Sunday, January 23, 2011

Smokin' Good Day

Today is the day! The pork belly and the pork loin chunks that we cured with salt, pink salt and maple syrup are ready for the smoker. As suggested in the online recipe we used, we cut some pieces out of these pre-bacon beauties and fried them up. The loin made a back bacon that was delicate, slightly sweet and a great consistency. The pork belly bacon fried up like a dream. Because we cured the meat and drew a lot of the natural water out, it didn't shrink AT ALL in its cooking. We had left the rind on (I love the rind) and that crisped up beautifully. This bacon was left a week longer than suggested in its cure and had a strong maple flavour that was perfect with the meat.

Both of these meats went into our Big Chief Smoker for 8 hours over a hickory chip smoke. Because both of these meats will be cooked fully before eating, the internal temperature of the meat (suggested around 140) is only to ensure the meat takes on the smokey flavour. We don't worry about the temperature preferring instead to taste it as we go.

Then I had a brainstorm. Out on the deck I have had a brisket soaking in corning mixture and it is right on time to eat as corned beef. Well, since the smoker is out, we are making it a pastrami instead.

To do this, you take one corned beef (can be a store bought one if you haven't had time to make it yourself....after all, it has to sit for a minimum of two weeks in the brine to make it "corned"--but really the store bought varietys cannot compare to one you do yourself) and soak it for four hours in cold water. This is to remove some of the salt as the smoking process will condense the flavours and intensify the saltiness. Change the water at least once during this time.

Once you have soaked the beef sufficiently, then make a pastrami rub (there are lots of recipes for this on the web). Here is the basic ingredients: 1/4c kosher or pickling salt, 1/4c paprika, 3 tbsp brown sugar, 8 cloves minced garlic, 3 tbsp black peppercorns, 3 tbsp coriander (seed or powder), 2 tbsp mustard seeds. Grind the peppercorns, coriander (if it is seeds) and mustard seeds into course mix. Add to the rest of ingredients and rub liberally onto the corned beef.

When that is done, put in the smoker until the internal temperature is 165 degrees. This internal temperature ensures that the meat has absorbed as much of the smoke flavour as it can. If your smoker cannot get the temp up that high (like mine) then after about 8 hours in the smoker, put the pastrami in the oven at 325 degrees and cook til a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees internal. This way you are sure to have killed off any nasty bacteria that may have formed during smoking.

Cool the pastrami when done and slice paper thin. For this a meat slicer is best but you can use a very sharp knife.

The one website I read suggested using a very gentle smoke wood such as fruit wood or maple so not to interfere with the flavour of the pastrami. Since we are already doing bacon and it needs a stronger smoke (we are using hickory), we are just going to give it a try for convenience and see. Nothing like a little experimentation to make life interesting.

None of these things are difficult to accomplish. They merely take forethought and planning. The efforts are well rewarded by incredible smells wafting through your home and yard. You might even meet some of your neighbours as they follow their noses to your front door.  Not only do you know what is going in to your food, but you have the immense pleasure of saying, YES, I did make this myself. 


Friday, January 14, 2011

Right tool for the job

So this week has been interesting. Huge dump of snow early on paralyzed us "wet-coasters" so we had a snow day on Wednesday. Took some time to read Leading Change by John Kotter. He emphasizes a few things that are so important in working through organizational change, but communication and leading by example are my personal mantras. This blog and our 52 week pledge towards better self-sufficiency fulfills both of those for me personally and gives me thinking time on how to better do it professionally.

Being snow-bound, and frankly a bit lazy, I didn't plan a lot for the week but one project needed to be done. I needed a compost pile. Having separated out kitchen food scraps from other garbage for a couple weeks now, the old ice cream bucket under the sink was full and starting to smell. The weather provided ample excuses for not getting to this task sooner but I wanted to stall off the compost walking outside by itself.  The bin just had to be done.

I have had compost piles in the past. Usually elaborate affairs with three sections so that you can turn one section into another to keep the compost cooking and giving yourself a progressively more decomposed pile. Well, my elbows just can't take that kind of strain anymore. Years of hauling firewood for heating has left me with tendonitis that flairs up if I barely think of digging or carrying. I wish I could claim it was tennis elbow but nothing nearly so romantic as that blew them out.  So how to have a working compost without the strain.....simple! Keep it SMALL.

While I was in town today signing up for a beekeeping course, I scooted to the local HomeDepot and bought a 2ft high 5ft long piece of stucco matting. This matting is really wire mesh but very sturdy and with much smaller openings than traditional chicken wire. I also grabbed a bag of small plastic zipties (or wiretires or zap straps or whatever people call them) and from then it basically put itself together.

Opening the mesh, it unravelled to the point where I could take the two ends and set them against each other. Then, using the zap straps, I joined the two sides to form a tube from the mesh. VOILA, one small, easily manoeverable and easily emptied compost bin.  I took it down the hill to where I am going to have some raised garden beds built, put it on the ground and emptied my old compost pail into it. Since there isn't more than a 1/4 inch of soil on the ground around my house, pegging the thing to the ground also posed a problem. Temporary fix? Weigh it down with some old wood lying around. Will hold out until I can figure out if it will stay in a wind or fly away like Dorothy's bike or at least until is has more mass inside of it.

And on the subject of right tools for the job. A quick pop in to the Cowichan Green Community Store today ( netted me a fabulous little under-the-counter-smell-free composting bucket. Its much nicer than the ice cream pail as it is long and skinny as opposed to short and wide. Perfect for that crowded spot under the kitchen sink. Perfect! I think for this year, I will keep track of how much goes in to my compost (and stays out of my garbage) just to see. At least I will have some lovely homegrown (or is than home-decomposed) fertilizer when I get the new beds built.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A meaty weekend

This past weekend was the first in our self-sufficiency challenge and our focus was meat. The kids bought Gerry a "Jerky Gun" from for Christmas and it was the first test drive of it. This great tool was much sturdier than I expected and didn't have any learning curve at all (compare that to the pasta maker attachment on the KitchenAid which took a good three batches of pasta before things started to resemble the form they should).

We took two pounds of freshly ground beef (thanks again to our KitchenAid attachments) and added some paprika, garlic, salt, pepper, pink salt (a combo of salt and sodium nitrate), and chili flakes. That mixture sat overnight and then was pushed through the jerky gun in two batches. Using the tube shape, we formed long rolls of jerky meat onto oven racks and then left those overnight again. Next day, Gerry dried them in the oven on 170 degrees for 5 hours. Next time, we will check them after 3 hours. Our question...dried or cooked. This pepperoni is definitely cooked.

We dried them a bit too long and next time will reduce that to keep some of the chewiness. Now a word about the sodium nitrate. I know, I know. Homemade items are supposed to help keep  us from additives. But we have tried sausage making without it and I am not about to poison the family cause I didn't use a tiny (and I mean five pounds of meat you only need add 1 tsp of's Instacure). Nough said. You can try it without but I am not that experimental.

Next, I put together the pickle for a good corned beef. One of the great gifts I ever received was my dad's pickling book " The Complete Book of Pickles and Relishes" by Leonard Levinson. Not only great recipes but also great historical snippets about all things pickle. The never fail recipe is for much larger batches of corned beef but I always scale it back to enough for one meal and maybe some sandwich spread afterwards.

Starting with a fresh beef brisket, I give an 8 min full boil to water, sugar, pickling spice, and bay leaves and once this elixir is cool, pour it over the brisket (to which I added a few whole cloves of garlic). The mix has to cover the meat entirely. You can use a weight (plate, rock in plastic bag etc) to hold it under. After covering the pot with two layers of plastic wrap and adding the lid, this then sits outside (Nature's refrigerator works well this time of year) for two weeks. After the two weeks there is a big decision to make......corned beef (which you just then boil until cooked) or pastrami, which is smoked then sliced. Haven't made my mind up on that one yet....but I have time. There is nothing, I mean nothing, like fresh corned beef. Whatever it is you buy in the store cannot compare.

The final experiment of the weekend was bacon. Yes,BACON. When I picked up the brisket at the butcher's I also grabbed a piece of pork belly. Now make sure it is fresh pork belly and not smoked or brined.The recipe is simple. Salt and pink salt (we use Instacure) rubbed thoroughly into every side of the pork belly. Then 1/4 cup maple syrup (can also use honey) rubbed overtop. This is then slid into a ziplock bag and put into the fridge. Voila, two weeks later, bacon. Well, maybe not completely bacon, but it can be eaten at this stage. Best to taste a bit at this point anyway to see how the salt level is. If too salty, soak for an hour in cold water then taste again. If it works for you, you can either slice and fry at this point or put into the smoker....we will be smoking ours using our Big Chief smoker and some hardwood chips.

Will keep you posted on how these projects all turn out. 

The New Year's resolution still stands.....we are working on seeing what we can make at home, what we can do without, and how we can improve our lifestyle by considering these things.

The Complete Book of Pickles and Relishes