Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Smoked Turkey Breast

I was in the grocery store the other day and found some good deals in the 'Manager's Specials' section. Those are the meats that are close to the expiration dates and marked down considerably. That's the first thing I check when I go to the store. Meat that is aged in the proper temperature, of course for not too long, is very good. When I shoot a deer I like to hang it for 5-7 days if it is cool enough (under 40 degrees maximum), so I have NO problem buying most of those specials.

I found all of these for 50% off; a huge turkey breast, a brisket, a large flank steak and some frog legs. I figured I could smoke the turkey, make corned beef with the brisket, jerky with the flank steak and I could be daring and try smoking the frog legs. Hopefully that will be a new post here in the very near future.

I had great success with brining the Thanksgiving turkey so I thought I might try brining this turkey breast before smoking it. For the brine I used:

1/2 gallon of water
1/2 cup of canning salt
A few smashed garlic cloves
About a teaspoon of onion powder (I was out of onions)
2 teaspoons of Instacure (pink salt, Prague powder) This is optional, I was winging it and thought I would try it.

I mixed all of this up and placed the breast into the bowl and let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours. After this I patted it dry and placed it on my smoker.

I smoked it for about 4 hours but this did not bring it up to a safe temperature of 165 degrees(I need to build a bigger, better smoker!) This is not a problem though. I wrapped it in foil, poured a few Tablespoons of water into the foil, closed it up and placed it in a 300 degree oven. After about 45 minutes it was at 160 degrees. When you pull it out of oven, the temperature actually rises as it rests, and it did go to 165 degrees.

I placed it in the refrigerator until it cooled down considerably and became more firm for slicing. The fun part was using my new meat slicer that my girlfriend Sue gave me for Christmas. Nothing says love more than a Waring meat slicer! Ha!

I sliced it fairly thin and tasted it, I thought I had gone to heaven! It was that good. Take a look:

Turkey breast can be bought cheaply, so try this sometime.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Makin' Bacon

I've wanted to make homemade bacon for some time now. I finally jumped in and the water was just fine. I saw Cowgirl's post on her blog on making bacon and I just had to do it. I would just direct you to her blog, but mine was slightly different and possibly worthy of a different post.

First I had to get a pork belly. It was a week before deer gun season and the first few butchers that I called said I would have to wait until after the first of the year for them to start getting pigs. Apparently most of their work for the rest of the year is limited to processing deer.

So I called the place that I should have thought of first, my favorite meat store Mom Wilson's. Mom Wilson's is just north of Delaware Ohio on Route 23. They have an excellent supply of specialty meats like sausages, trail bologna, jerky, etc, etc. It was the day before Thanksgiving and they could have it by the day after Thanksgiving! Cool.

First, the ingredients for the cure:

1 cup of canning salt
1/2 cup of brown sugar
2 Tablespoons of Instacure (AKA pink powder, Prague powder, etc)

If your pork belly comes with the skin on, leave it for now, you can remove it after you smoke it.
Mix the cure ingredients well.

I cut my 6 lb pork belly into two 3 lb pieces so that it is easier to work with and to fit on my small bullet smoker. Using half of the cure, rub it generously onto the entire cut of meat, including the sides.

I need to buy a plastic bin to work on and cure meats, but lacking this I just placed it in two layers of garbage bags. I use two just in case one leaks!

Fold over the bag and remove as much air as possible. Then place it in the refrigerator for one week. Once a day turn the meat over.

After 7 days it's time to smoke it. First rinse the meat off well, then place it in cold water for about 30 minutes or so, change the water and soak it again. This is to remove some of the excess salt. I didn't rinse it very well with the first half of the meat, and it was way too salty! I soaked the second piece and it came out much better.

If you like pepper, sprinkle a heavy dose of FRESHLY CRACKED pepper onto the meat, then place on your smoker. There is a huge difference between pre-ground pepper and freshly-cracked pepper, I use fresh-cracked whenever I can.

I smoked my meat for a few hours with low heat, but a lot of smoke. Many recipes I read state to smoke it at 200 degrees until the meat reaches 150 degrees. I can't control my heat that well on my little smoker so I decided to try a different route.
I smoked it for a few hours, then wrapped the meat in foil with a small amount of water added (1/2 cup?). Then I placed it in a 300 degree oven until the meat reached 150 degrees, checked with a probe thermometer.
Then let it cool in the refrigerator overnight, still wrapped in foil. When the meat is chilled it slices easier. I need to buy a good meat slicer, but I just used a good sharp knife to slice it manually.

Now doesn't that look good? It tastes even better than it looks!

A few things I will make sure to do from now on:

- make sure the meat is rinsed well and soaked in cold water after curing in the refrigerator.
- make sure the temperature is LOW on the smoker, but the smoke is plentiful the whole smoking time.
- buy and use a meat slicer.

As you can see in the picture, this bacon was really lean compared to store-bought bacon. It doesn't lose most of its volume when cooked. The flavor will make me swear off store-bought, it was that good.

- Marty

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Brining A Turkey

I have never been a big fan of Thanksgiving turkey, at least not the white meat. When I have eaten turkey I have always gravitated toward the dark meat because it has more flavor and is much more moist. I have read about brining turkeys for some time now and had my first one last year at my sister's in Michigan. It really turned out well, was moist and full of flavor and I had to try it on my own this year finally. I wasn't able to take pictures of the process this time because my camera is in the shop getting some under-warranty work done to it.

To brine the turkey I used a large cooler that I sanitized with a MILD bleach solution first. Then I rinsed it WELL, you don't want any remnants of bleach left in the cooler. A clean, never-used 5 gallon bucket would have probably worked better, since it took 4 gallons of water to cover the bird in my cooler.

You will need a bag of ice for the brining process. For every gallon of water that is needed to cover the bird (in whatever clean container you choose to use), you will need:

- 1 gallon water
- 1 Cup Kosher salt, canning salt or sea salt. I used my canning salt.
- ½ Cup sugar

There are many options that you can add to the water for flavoring, I chose to use:
- a small handful of fresh sage, thyme and one good stalk of rosemary.
- 2 quartered oranges
- 2 quartered lemons
- 3 fresh bay leaves

First mix the salt and sugar in a small amount of warm water. It won't dissolve easily in very cold water. Then add the solution to your cold water.

Make sure the bird is completely covered in the water, add your salt/sugar solution and any flavoring you want, then add a layer of ice. THIS IS IMPORTANT. The temperature danger zone for food is 40-140 degrees, so you want the water to stay under 40 degrees the whole time it is in the brine. The recipes I have seen call for brining for anywhere from 4 to 24 hours (a few called for a few days) and I ended up brining mine for about 18-20 hours.

When you are ready to roast the turkey, remove it from the brine and rinse it WELL to get the extra outer salt off of it. Pat it dry and follow your favorite turkey-roasting recipe and you should get outstanding results from brining it beforehand.

How I roasted my turkey

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Yes, 500 degrees. Make a square of aluminum foil and fold one corner over to meet the opposite corner to form a triangle. Push it over the breast of the turkey with the point of the triangle pointing toward the rear of the bird. Form it over the bird, then remove it from the bird but keep the resulting shape of the foil. This will be placed over the breast meat later, and you don't want to form it over a 500 degree turkey!

Place the bird in a roaster that preferably has a raised rack to it, and place in the 500 degree oven for 30 minutes. This will brown the turkey very nicely. Now lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and cook the turkey until the temperature of the thickest part of the breast (don't touch bone with the thermometer) reaches 160 degrees. This should take a 2-3 hours. Let the bird rest for 20-30 minutes before slicing. Eat hearty.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Infused oils and vinegars

Necessity was the mother of invention for this project. Not that I invented this but it was somewhat new to me.

I grew quite a bit of purple basil for the first time this year and needed to find a use for it. The thought of purple pesto was somewhat strange so I started surfing the internet for ideas. I saw a picture of some beautiful purple-basil-infused vinegar and I had to try it.

I mixed cider vinegar and white vinegar at a 50/50 rate, which has a beautiful color even before infusing. In a half gallon of the mixed vinegar I added about 2 cups of purple basil leaves.

I let this set on the counter for a week, then filtered out the basil leaves and anything else that might have come off of the leaves.

Muslin was a good choice for a filtering material. I also use it in cheese making instead of traditional 'cheesecloth', which is almost worthless when actually trying to use it for cheese making. I could have left the leaves in the vinegar but I know from experience that the leaves start to fade and wilt quite a bit and do not look very good.

I also infused another batch with garlic. I smashed about 6 cloves with the flat side of a knife and let those sit in the vinegar with the basil for a week. It smells wonderful after a week, with the basil and garlic smell. It will probably be very good in many Italian dishes.

Nasturtiums are an edible flower that I grow, I haven't used them in any dishes yet but need to do it. I have read some nice ideas for cooking with them. A simple salad topped with a few nasturtium flowers would be a very nice presentation. I tried to keep some of the fresh flowers in a bottle of vinegar but the acidity of the vinegar wilts and fades them too much. However, in that failed attempt I found that the flowers color the vinegar with a beautiful color:

The bottle on the right is 50/50 cider/white vinegar right after adding the nasturtiums. The one on the left is a few days after adding the nasturtiums. Also in both of the bottles are stalks of garlic chives.

I also have started a couple batches of basil and garlic infused extra-virgin olive oil.

These leaves are green basil and not the purple basil (the purple might make an interesting looking oil though!) From what I have read I will have to let this sit for a month or longer to properly infuse the oil. Before adding the basil leaves it helps to smash the leaves quite a bit to help release the flavor of the basil. I also added about 4-5 smashed garlic cloves to this. I plan on filtering all of this out when it is completed. If I am going to use this to actually cook with, I am going to research whether this will require heating after the infusion is complete. I think that even if I don't find any information about it, I might heat it to a little over 212 degrees (boiling point of water, and a low heat for oil) for about 10 minutes, just to kill any of the 'nasties' that might be in there. I can't see that it will hurt it, and can only help.

Another herb that I grew again this year was tarragon. Simply cut the tarragon to the right length and slip into the jars of vinegar. It's very simple and look great.

The hardest part of this project is finding nice looking bottles to use. The ones pictured here with the spouts I found at Walmart for about $4 each. I have seen some very nice ones on sites online, but they can be pricey. If I decide to get any of those, I would probably make them into Christmas presents.

There are a lot of other ideas that you can find online, search with the term 'infused vinegar recipes' or 'infused garlic recipes' or something similar. Or simply use your imagination and think of what would look good or taste good with vinegar and/or oil.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Canadian bacon

I've made Canadian bacon a couple of times and it has really turned out well. It tastes good with a lot of things, but my son's favorite is homemade "Egg McMuffins"; a muffin, egg, a good cheese and a slice or two of this Canadian bacon. Use a pork loin, not a pork tenderloin. Mine was 5-6 lbs. In a nutshell the loin is cured in the refrigerator for 5 or 6 days, then it is smoked for a few hours.

My brine is usually something like the following. It varies a little, depending on what I feel like adding to it at the time.

Water to cover the meat, usually about a gallon, depending on the container you are curing it in.
For every gallon of water use:

- 2 Tablespoon of Instacure #1 (Prague Powder) for every half gallon of water.  Some recipes call for more Instacure, I tend to go lighter on it.  - OR use the appropriate amount of Morton's Tender Quick. I don't know the conversion factor, since Tender Quick has the salt and the curing salt combined.
- 4 Tablespoons of canning salt.
- 5 to 10 (depending on your taste, I use 10) smashed garlic cloves. Take a wide-bladed knife turned sideways or something similar and smash the garlic on your counter, but not so hard that it flies into pieces. This releases the garlic oils and taste.
- About a Tablespoon or so of onion flakes.
- 1/4 cup or so of sugar, preferably brown sugar.

Some optionals; be creative, there are a lot more options than these:
- 2 or 3 FRESH bay leaves. If you don't have a bay tree growing in a container, get one! Once you've had fresh bay you will never go back.
- a teaspoon of fresh-cracked pepper.
- a Tablespoon, or more, or less, depending on you, of a hot-pepper powder. If I add pepper I use dried jalapeno powder because I dry my own jalapenos.

Put the meat into a bowl/pot large enough to hold it, covered with the brine. It looks awful in this picture but that is because the water has spices and such in it. The piece of meat in the middle is the pork loin, the other smaller pieces were something else I was working on at the same time:

Place something on top of the meat to hold it under the surface of the brine. I usually use a small plate with a mug full of water to weigh it down. Keep it in the refrigerator for 5 or 6 days.
When the loin is done curing, pour out the liquid and replace with clean water. Let the meat soak in the water for about an hour, and change the water 2-3 times. This will remove some of the saltiness. You can get creative with your rub at this point, but I covered this one only in fresh-cracked pepper. I ran out of pepper, and usually cover the meat a lot more than this:

Next I place it on my smoker.

I have a small smoker and it is hard to regulate a good cooking temperature, so first I smoke it at a low to medium smoker heat for about 3 hours. I like to get it to a safe heat of 160 degrees, and I don't want to dry it out, so I finish it up in the kitchen oven. I wrap the loin in heavy duty aluminum foil and pour in a small amount of water.
At 350 degrees I think it took an hour or two to get it to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, checked with a meat thermometer.

After the loin has reached 160 degrees, I remove it and let it rest for about 30 minutes.

Next simply slice it up. I usually slice it about 1/8th to 1/4th of an inch, but the thickness is up to you.

I usually store half of it vacuum-packed in the freezer, it seems to stand up to freezing well. However, there is nothing like a fresh piece!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pesto Making and Freezing

I had never even heard of pesto until maybe 7 or 8 years ago. I had been growing herbs for a few years and started looking into different ways to use and preserve what I was growing. Someone gave me my first taste of pesto, spread on a piece of homemade bread, and I was hooked. I started looking into ways of preserving it and found this idea, and I do this every year now.
We have frost warnings for tonight so I cut all of my basil, here is about a third of what I grew this year. Yes, it's a lot!

First you strip the leaves from the stems

I make my pesto by sight and taste and really don't follow a recipe. But if you need some measurements, I found a recipe that is probably close to what I do:

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts (I use walnuts, much more inexpensive!)
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

If you want to freeze your pesto, don't add the cheese until you thaw it out and it is ready to serve.

Place reasonable amounts of the basil into your food processor, in other words don't cram it full. Add olive oil, garlic cloves, cheese (if not freezing the pesto),salt and pepper and process until smooth. Add the nuts after you obtain the consistency of pesto that you want, then process until the nuts are ground well but not so small that you don't notice them. If you put them in with all the other ingredients at first they will get ground too much.

Now here is a trick for freezing pesto in manageable amounts. Remove pesto from food processor and spread into ice-cube trays

Place trays in freezer until it is frozen well, then break pesto out of trays

Now you can place the cubes in freezer bags

I put some of my cubes in freezer bags, but also placed some in vacuum bags. These are for a longer storage time, I want it fresh in February!

I make this by sight and taste, slowly adding ingredients until I like how it looks and how it tastes to me. It is really good on a homemade French or Italian bread. It is also fantastic when mixed with pasta. I cooked enough pasta for 3 people the other day, added about a tablespoon of the pesto to it and that was all. It was fantastic and well received here at home.

Try growing a larger patch of basil next year. You will have fresh basil from midsummer on, and pesto for the winter!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Canning Applesauce

Making applesauce is very easy if you have a Victorio Strainer in your kitchen arsenal. I think the Victorio company went out of business(?) and the new product that replaced it is the Roma, there may be others out there. Here is an example of the kind of food mill that I am referring to, on

To make approximately one canner full of quart jars you will need about 20 lbs of a good cooking apple. Normally I use the ones on my tree, which I believe are Golden Delicious, but I am not sure since the trees were here when I moved to this house. However, my tree produces fruit about every other year, and this was the off-year. I went to an orchard in our county, Buckingham Orchards and bought 20 lbs of Cortland apples. This variety was recommended to me by the owner as a good cooking apple, and I was not disappointed. The applesauce had a great flavor and a pinkish color to it.

First we need the apples sliced up, I use an apple wedger like this

Don't throw the core away, the whole thing will be run through the strainer. After you wedge them, place them immediately in a large bowl of cold water and Fruit Fresh. Fruit Fresh is ascorbic acid(vitamin C), citric acid and sucrose. This prevents the apples from browning, and the Cortlands will start browning in a few minutes if not treated.

Now we want to soften the apples by cooking them in a pot of with about an inch of boiling water.

Cook them in batches that are just a few inches deep of apples in the pot. It only takes a few minutes to soften them, test them by poking them. Try not to cook them too long or they will fall apart in the cooking water. I found that using my pasta ladle was perfect for scooping the apples from the pot.

Next run the cooked apple wedges through the strainer. The Victorio makes this so easy. Place the apples in the hopper and start cranking. The seeds and skins come out of one chute and the sauce comes out another chute.

Run the scrap that comes out of the scrap chute through the strainer, this will get you quite a surprising amount of sauce. After it has been run through the strainer the second time, I dump the scraps into the compost area near my garden.

Place the sauce that comes out of the strainer into a pot and heat it on low to medium heat, almost to a boil. You have to heat it slowly or it will bubble up and make quite a mess on your stove.

Fill your heated jars with the applesauce and leave 1/4 inch of headspace, then place your boiled lids on, then the band, and place them in your canner.

Make sure there is at least an inch of water above the tops of the jars. Process pints for 15 minutes, quarts for 20 minutes.

I bought 20 lbs of the Cortland apples and the applesauce yield was 14 pints and 2 quart jars. I love using these Cortland apples for sauce, they soften nicely and give the sauce a nice color. These directions are basically the same directions for making pear sauce also. I think I hand cut the pears instead of using the wedger. If you've never had pear sauce you need to try it, it is outstanding!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Easy grape juice

I used to make grape juice by cooking the grapes then filtering through cheesecloth. It was a long process but it made great grape juice. Then someone told me about a way to make juice with a LOT less effort and a LOT less time. In a nutshell you put the grapes in the jar with a little sugar (or none if you want) filling up the rest of the way with hot water, and processing in a water bath canner for 25 minutes. THAT'S IT, you are done! I've been making it this way now for about 10 years now, and don't plan on going back to a longer, harder process.
I grow concord, Catawba and Thompson Seedless but use the Concords and Catawbas for juice.

Ingredients per jar:
1 1/2 to 2 cups of grapes (I use 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar (I use 1/4 cup)
Boiling water to fill jar the rest of the way.

First wash your grapes well, I do it in the kitchen sink. Remove grapes from vine, and sort out bad grapes, stems, leaves, leaving just the good-quality grapes.

Prepare a pot of boiling water to use to fill the jars. You will need a little less than a quart for every quart of juice you are going to make.

Prepare your lids by boiling in water. I heat my washed jars in the microwave by placing a half inch of water into each jar and microwaving until the water boils. Then I use my 'hold warm' function on my microwave to keep them warm until ready to use. Or you could microwave them for a minute every few minutes to keep them hot.

Pour 1 1/2 cups of grapes and 1/4 cup of sugar into each jar.

Now pour the boiling water into the jar, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace, and place in water bath canner.

Process in boiling water bath for 25 minutes and you are done. This is so simple and makes great juice. When serving, pour slowly and usually the grapes will stay in the jar. Or you could pour over a strainer to keep the grapes out.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Bad recipes online; I'm venting, sorry.

I was just browsing around for good recipe ideas, and I just had to vent about something. For one thing, I was reminded of sticking to USDA-approved recipes. Yes, I can hear some of the black-helicopter-fearing folks now, and how the US government is in the pockets of this, that and the other groups. However, I want to live a long and happy life, and there is a LOT of research and data behind their recipes. There are some very dangerous canning recipes online. "But Marty, my ma and her ma used this recipe and nobody ever got sick." Yeah, and a few people live to be 92 years old and smoke 2 packs per day.
Another bad-recipe finding I have seen is bad measurements. "Use 3 onions". Uh, duh, is that 3 onions-the-size-of-Buicks? Is that 3 small onions? The difference can be huge, and costly in the results.
How about recipes where the author doesn't know the difference between a 'T' and a 't', or a TS and a ts. It would be nice if they all used TBSP or tsp, or TB and ts, or simply TABLESPOON and teaspoon.
I just saw a recipe online where the person said 'fill a bowl with sliced cucumbers'. What's a bowl? Sliced how thick?
Proofread, people! 13 TBSP of turmeric (instead of 1 or 3 TBSP) is enough to taint the waters of a large swimming pool, and not to be used in a recipe.
The worst offending website is, where anybody can post anything. It's almost funny, some of the recipes; "Cook until done", "Hete on hi heet til it looks like itz about reddy" "Add enuf habeneros til you think yu have enuf"
OK, I'm not perfect, but things like this really drive me nutso, and I will strive to never post anything like these examples. If you see me straying off the beaten path of common sense and proper English usage, PLEASE post a comment and whack me upside the head.

Next: bread and butter pickles


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sauerkraut-making pictorial

Last year I posted a how-to for making sauerkraut (Here), but I didn't post any pictures. Since I made a new batch of kraut today, I wanted to show some pics of the process.

This was a 13.5 lb cabbage I picked. Honestly, I waited too long to pick it, I should have picked it a week ago.
From More Blog Pics

A big'n, 13.5 lbs. The variety is Late Flat Dutch
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Coring the cabbage
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Cutting/shredding the cabbage
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Shredded cabbage
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Work in batches of 5 lbs at a time. Add 3 Tablespoons of CANNING SALT to each 5 lbs of cabbage. Iodized salt(table salt) will discolor the kraut.
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Squishing down the cabbage until each batch is covered in its own liquid. I use an inverted flat-bottomed coffee mug that is made of pottery. A glass could break in your hand! There are some tools that are made specifically for squashing down cabbage, but a mug works fine for me.
From More Blog Pics

From More Blog Pics

I use an oven roasting bag with a half-gallon of salt water (3 Tbsp of canning salt to a half-gallon of water) to cover the mixture
From More Blog Pics

Then let it set at room temperature for 4-6 weeks, until no bubbles rise to the top when the side of the crock/bucket is tapped. Then its just a matter of processing in a water-bath canner. See recipe post HERE.