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!