The Chicken Challenge

Getting ready to do the chicken challenge. One chicken is from a "factory" farm and one is from a "family" farm.
Getting ready to do the chicken challenge. One chicken is from a “factory” farm and one is from a “family” farm.

I just completed my latest  “CHALLENGE”!!  We finished shooting a video looking at all aspects of these two very different chickens.  Price is a HUGE factor as well as taste.  We’re editing the video right now so stay tuned to see how it all pans out!!

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the Bacon comparison

the bacon comparisonstore bought bacon on the left, homemade bacon on the right
the bacon comparison
store bought bacon on the left, homemade  salted bacon on the top right,homemade  cane syrup rosemary bacon on the bottom right
a strip of store bought bacon(can you hear the sad trombone playing?)
a strip of store bought bacon
(can you hear the sad trombone playing?)

The homemade bacon is so thick and delicious, you can really sink your teeth into it.  It’s moist and juicy inside but crisp on the outside….the store bought bacon has no inside so there is really no comparison.

The homemade bacon has a rich smoky flavor but it’s not too strong,  you can really taste the slightly sweet flavor of the pork as well.  Unfortunately the flavor of the store bought bacon was weak and wimpy, there was not much to it at all.

So the verdict is : I will take a little effort and a bit of time to make my  bacon at home.  It is TOTALLY worth it.

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How to Cure and Smoke Your own Bacon + Pancake Recipe

How to Cure and Smoke Your own Bacon
The finished bacon, cooked and ready to eat

HOW TO MAKE BACON FROM SCRATCH

Got my stuff together.  Now that I have all my ingredients all I have to do is put it all together. The basic cure recipe I decided on was two teaspoons of pink curing salt and a quarter cup of kosher salt for every five pounds of pork belly.  Many cures call for a sugar or other sweeteners  but I wanted to have some bacon with no sugar.  I sprinkled one half of my pork belly with only this basic cure and to the other half I added the basic cure as well as 1/3 cup of cane syrup and a tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary.  Each pork belly half gets it’s own sealed 2.5 gallon bag and is parked in the fridge for seven days.

Two bacon cures. One with only salt and sodium nitrite, one salt, sodium nitrite, cane syrup and rosemary
Two bacon cures. One with only salt and sodium nitrite, one salt, sodium nitrite, cane syrup and rosemary

 

BASIC BACON CURE

¼ Cup kosher salt

1 teaspoon pink curing salt (Prague Powder no.1)

5 pound piece of pork belly

Mix the kosher salt and pink curing salt together and coat both sides of the pork belly. Place in a 2 or 2.5 gallon zip top bag. Let cure in the refrigerator for 7 days. Rinse, dry and place on a rack over a pan uncovered for 1 day.

CANE SYRUP ROSEMARY BACON CURE

¼ cup kosher salt

1 teaspoon pink curing salt

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1/3 cup Steen’s cane syrup

5 pound piece of fresh pork belly

Mix the kosher salt, pink curing salt and rosemary together and coat both sides of the pork belly. Coat with cane syrup and place in a 2 or 2.5 gallon zip top bag. Let cure in the refrigerator for 7 days. Rinse, dry and place on a rack over a pan uncovered for 1 day.

Here’s where things get tricky. So I totally forgot that we were going out of town to visit my parents right in the middle of this whole project.  It’s not really a problem, I just packet it up in a cooler with a few re-usable ice packs and off we went.  This actually worked out really well because my Dad loves this kind of stuff, I knew he would get a kick out of helping me smoke the bacon and he certainly has all equipment.

On day seven we took the bacon out of the bags, rinsed them, dried them and put them on a rack over a pan.  Back into the fridge uncovered for another day to develop the pellicle. The pellicle is a slightly sticky coating that forms around the meat during air drying, it helps to hold the smoke flavor as well as protect the meat from drying during the smoking process.

SMOKE. I chose applewood chips for smoking because I wanted a fairly mild smoke flavor.  Soak the applewood chips in water for a half hour before putting them on the coals

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The dark pork belly had the cane syrup cure, the lighter colored pork belly had just kosher salt and pink curing salt. My Dad’s smoker is set up a bit different than a regular grill. The coals and soaked applewood chip packets are placed in a trough in front of the pork belly.
the pork belly after smoking.
the pork belly after smoking.

Get your grill ready by building a pyramid of coals on the opposite side of the vents, if the coals are under the vents the smoke will escape .  Place soaked and drained applewood chips into three seperate  foil packets and poke holes in the top of  them.  Place the packet of applewood chips on top of the coals and place a foil pan of cool water next to the coals. The pan of water helps to moderate the temperature. Place the grill rack on the grill and put the bacon skin side up over the pan of water.  Smoke the pork belly for two and a half hours at  between 180 and 220 degrees.  Your pork belly is now smoked but not cooked.

Now you have BACON!! Remove the skin of the bacon and it’s ready to slice and cook.  It’s easier to slice if it is semi frozen so put it in the freezer for about a half hour.  The bacon can be stored in the fridge for a week or kept in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Here’s a recipe for some delicious pancakes to go with your homemade bacon.

Pancake Recipe
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ cup milk
  • 1 T lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
  • 1 egg
  • 1¾ cups ap flour
  • 2T sugar
  • 2t baking powder
  • ⅛ t salt
  • 1t baking soda
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 2T melted butter
  • canola oil for the griddle
Instructions
  1. Pour fresh lemon juice into the milk and let it stand for 5 minutes.
  2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and stir.
  3. Add the egg to the milk and beat well to combine, add vanilla
  4. Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture to combine.
  5. Stir in melted butter
  6. Brush your griddle or pan with oil
  7. Heat your griddle or pan to medium/high
  8. Pour pancake batter onto the griddle to make 3 inch pancakes (about 2 ounces of batter each)
  9. Cook for 1-2 minutes per side when bubble form and break flip the pancakes and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.

 

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The Bacon Project

BACON!
BACON!

Bacon is everywhere. Its on doughnuts, ice cream, chocolate bars, even candles and soap. To each their own, but  I just want delicious, smoky, crispy bacon on a BLT or with oysters, something savory, salty and delicious.  One of the problems I’ve found with bacon from the grocery store is that it tends to be sliced too thin, even the “thick” bacon from fancy grocery stores is fairly thin which is fine for a sandwich but for some of the recipes I want to try I need a big hunk of bacon.  Another problem is that I have not been happy with the taste of store bought bacon .  It just ain’t right.

I decided that I’d make my own bacon.  First decision, to nitrite or not nitrite.  Nitrites (also referred to as pink salt or curing salt) in combination with kosher salt are added to cured and smoked products to inhibit the growth of bacteria.   There were several recipes I found that used only kosher salt to treat bacon but I don’t feel that is sufficient.  The pork belly that I was turning into bacon would sit in my refrigerator for a week and then be smoked at a low temperature for a few hours and that is  the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. Also, the nitrites give bacon that special bacony good taste.

bacon ingredients
bacon ingredients

Get it started. I ordered the pink curing salt and some cane syrup  from Amazon and received it within a few days.  Then I visited Assi, an international market, to find my pork belly.  They had some pieces in the meat case but they were a bit too small, about 2 pounds each, I was looking for a large piece that was a least 5 pounds.  I asked the ladies that were packaging sausages behind the counter if they had any larger pieces of pork belly.  There was a bit of confusion, a language barrier and some strange looks but finally they called the butcher over and he brought out a huge 12 and a half pound pork belly.

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twelve and a half pound pork belly cut in half

Stay tuned.  I’ll fill you in on how I got from belly to yummy, yummy bacon in a future post.

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Flank Steak Recipe – Marinated, Grilled and DELICIOUS

 

Flank steaks on the grill

 

It’s grilling season y’all!…well in the south its almost always grilling season, especially this past winter which was really no winter at all, but I digress.  Yesterday we put the grill to good use by cooking up some flank steak and some squash ( yes, squash again. When I told you yesterday that there was a ton of squash at the farmers market I was not kidding).

The flank steak was marinated for two days in the fridge, which was overkill but we had a huge electrical storm roll through on the original day I was going to cook it.  The extra day didn’t hurt it at all, but I wouldn’t go longer than that.  You don’t want your meat to break down in the marinade before you cook it. Here’s the recipe:
Marinated Flank Steak
1 flank steak
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup canola ( or vegetable) oil
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Score the flank steak on both sides. Put all the other ingredients into a ziplock bag and mix. Put the flank steak into the bag. Seal and refrigerate for  4 to 8  hours.

Remove the flank steak from the fridge and get your grill going. Build the fire to one side of the grill creating a hot zone and a cool zone. Remove the flank steak from the marinade a pat the steak dry. Cook the flank steak on the cool side of the grill for about five miunites on each side. The time depends on how hot your grill is so just watch it so it doesn’t over cook.  This will slowly bring your meat to the desired temperature. I like my flank steak cooked to medium, so when it gets close to medium I move it to the hot side of the grill, directly over the fire an let it brown for just a minute on each side.

here’s a quick snack to make with flank steak

I sliced the flank steak thin,  made a quick guacamole and served it as an open faced little sandwich with some serrano pepper, cilantro, red onion and sour cream.  The flank steak would be great in a lettuce wrap with white rice or as a taco with some slaw….I’m gettin’ hungry again just thinkin’ about it.

When the flank steak was done the fire was still roaring so why let it go to waste.  I took some of the squash from the farmer’s market, sliced it about 1/3 inch thick, drizzled it with olive oil and seasoned it with salt, pepper and fresh thyme.  Over direct heat it only takes a few minutes for it to soften and it was delicious.

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Squashed

Seared Patty Pan Squash

I love this simple vegetarian dish, I’m using patty pan squash ( I don’t know the specific varieties) that I bought from the farmers market this weekend.  They were so beautiful that I almost couldn’t bring myself to cook them….actually I didn’t cook one of them, it’s just too pretty.  When you make this, cut the squash so that you show off the beautiful flower shape.

Seared Patty Pan Squash Steaks

2 Patty Pan Squash (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter)

1 teaspoon of canola or olive oil ( I used canola oil for it’s mild flavor)

1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Slice the squash into 1/3 inch steaks ( see the picture attached to this note for an example)

Coat the patty pan squash slices in oil and season with thyme, salt and pepper

Let this stand (or sit) at room temperature for about 5 minutes

Heat a frying pan over high heat…let the pan get really hot.  Sear the patty pan squash slice quickly over high heat for about 1-2 minutes per side..until beautifully browned

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“Krab”

I’m a sucker for “krab”. I love it. I love it in fake krab sushi, in krab salad with cucumber and carrot,spicy  krab dip, as a krab appetizer stuffed into tiny tomatoes, krab and pasta, krab in coleslaw (that’s what’s in the picture over there krab with shredded cabbage, carrot, cucumber, sriracha, mayo, rice wine vinegar and sweetfish roe) ….KRAB I love it. Well, I only love one brand, the one from Sam’s Club. It’s a little dryer with a firm, flaky texture that I prefer to what I find in the regular grocery store. All of the other brands I’ve tried seem very mushy to me.

OK, it is a  processed item, ground up fish meat and such, probably some MSG, and it doesn’t really taste like crab (crab is a miracle from God and can not be duplicated) but it is sweet and fishy and tasty.

That’s it really. I just wanted to tell you that I love Krab.

Thanks for listening

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