Look, this is not the healthiest breads of all, but sure makes a killer sandwich. Also thought it was time to dust off my Bread Baker’s Apprentice book and take on a new bread baking challenge.
In hot and humid Chicago summer days, when the AC is almost always on, (don’t remind me of the electricity bill), the last thing I want to do is spend the afternoon in the kitchen having the oven or stove on. I admit, I need an effort to become creative at whipping out dishes (decent ones, mind you) under one hour. I usually take refuge doing something on the grill, but there are days when I couldn’t bear the sight or smell of barbecued meat (as much as I love it!). So then, what do I do? Start by opening the fridge veggie bins for some inspiration. That quickly turns me off since sometimes all I find are some pathetic wilted scallions or forgotten half bell peppers. I am a very clumsy meal planner, so most of the time I have to improvise with what’s at hand. And oh look! What’s on our counter!! A beautiful bouquet of fresh basil that my brother in law brought over from his garden! My creative wheels start to turn. I open the freezer, there lies a package of walnuts. A jar of sun dried tomatoes in the fridge. Enough garlic to feed an army. I look at the clock – it’s 5:15 p.m. Heck, I might be able to pull it off too feed them for our religious 6 o’clock-dinner-on-the-table time. It’s Pesto!
Tell me, what would YOU do when berry season is in full harvest, when strawberries and blueberries go for less than $1.00 a pint, when you go berry picking on a farm, then come home wondering what to do with THIS much berries knowing that they go bad quite fast? Oh that wasn’t difficult, was it! Smoothies, of course. Hail to the Blender!
I agree, lately my blog’s flavor leans on the meaty side. This all has to do with my latest fascination with cured meats, and the craft of charcuterie I consider an art worthy of a pedestal. After some (failed) attempts at curing sausage, some of which grew beards (literally), I finally got a grip on some of the key rules, so here is the the first successful result – Salame di Brianza!
I had this next chapter in the BBA challenge on my list for a very long time but only now I got to actually get my hands dirty (literally!): Bagels! Partly because of my quest of finding the highest gluten content flour, and partly because of the residual insanity in my life that never seems to clear up. Here is my first adventure in baking Bagels, hope it’ll inspire you.
So, I finally was able to sit down and watch Food, Inc. yesterday and ended up scratching my head about what to do from here. Robert Kenner did an excellent job at presenting the blunt fact about our food supply chain from seed, egg, suckling pig or calf to our tables.
Pancetta or pork belly (aka bacon for us in the West), is the easiest meat that can be cured at home even without the need of a curing chamber. Inspired by Jason Molinari’s Cured Meats blog, I mustered enough courage to get this project running along with the others ones that are still sitting in the curing chamber.
Ok, I have to tell you about my latest bug. Growing up in Eastern Europe where EVERYTHING is cured, smoked, with prosciutto and sausages hanging in the pantry, I couldn’t help but try to reproduce the same delicacies here on US soil.
But I was faced with a couple obstacles like I had to keep my basement smell free, and keep my neighbors happy if I was to build a smoke house to cold smoke the meat outside for 10+ hours.
Here’s the first task for my charcuterie adventures in curing meat – the fermentation and curing chamber.
What is Meat Curing??
Without going into much detail and chemistry, (if you wish, you can read Wikipedia’s entry on curing meats) curing is the process of preserving and flavoring (sometimes cold smoking) using salts, sugars, nitrites, nitrates and/or a combination of these. It’s being done since time began and it became a craft in itself called gracefully by the French – charcuterie.
A Word Of Caution
Curing meat involves of course raw meat handling, which can become (if not careful) a source of all sorts of disease, not to speak about contaminated meat, etc. I cannot stress enough the need of proper sanitation, both, of your precious hands and the tools that get in touch with the raw meat. I will most likely write a whole post dedicated solely to safety on meat handling, since it is the most important ingredient of the charcuterie. You’ve been warned!
Jamie Oliver goes beyond the basic facts of how to put a (mind you, delicious) meal together. Watch his TED presentation about child obesity in America. After all he has all the credentials of a proper chef, not that of an Iron Chef sensationalism, but who needs that anyway? After all, cooking is about you being in the kitchen and getting your hands dirty.