Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bloggin' Bacon

Some folks already realize that I make sausage. From scratch. Yes, with the big long hog intestine casing and the ground up meat. That sausage. And it's delicious (or so says the many tasters who've been lucky recipients of said sausages).

Whereas sausage was a great entry point into the world of meat, it wasn't too long ago that I was surfing over to Butcher & Packer for some new natural casings when I saw this phenomenal looking book: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. And so began the journey into the art of charcuterie.

This week after obtaining curing salt, a remote probe meat thermometer, a Salter-brand scale (accurate from 1/4 of an oz up to 11 lbs!) and a fresh pork belly from El Toro Meats I have officially cured my own bacon. I made about a pound of standard cure out of nitrate-based salt (aka pink salt or curing salt), kosher salt and sugar. And then I spread it on that 3lb pork belly and flipped and waited and flipped and waited. 7 days.

The process was one in which I truly had to trust Chef Brian Polcyn. It's really quite easy. However the concept is counter intuitive to everything we've been taught. Why? Well, several reasons:
  1. Leaving a piece of meat in the fridge for 7 days usually means that your significant other starts to question your sanity and goes looking for green or blue fuzzy stuff on the meat.
  2. The amount of curing salt needed (that is, the salt with the nitrates) is so minute that one questions if this really is going to work (note: it does)
  3. There is a big thick skin on a pork belly. And though bacon has lots of fat on it, even a seasoned sausage-maker such as myself starts to wonder if this sucker isn't supposed to be trimmed in some way (it's trimmed post-smoking/baking)
Anyway, trust I did. I went for 8.5 days since I was busy and Polcyn said 1-2 days extra is OK. Since I don't have a smoker at home [yet] I followed his recommendation to slow roast the belly for approximately 2 hrs until it reached 150 degrees internally. I believe it took 2 hrs 8 mins (Polcyn is a genius, by the way, and a well-written one at that).

After baking one can taste the belly warm; it really tastes somewhere between a fresh ham and a pork loin with salt (the curing salts are thorougly rinsed before baking, FYI). My girlfriend and I were doubting that it would really taste like bacon if cooked in a pan. After all, it was tasting like ham to us and why would cooking it render the taste changed?

Live and learn. I sliced the whole 3 lbs into slices of medium-thickness. Then I threw a few in a small All-Clad pan (no non-stick here) and turned on medium heat. The bacon started sizzling and as soon as the fat was liquefied I knew I had done good. The bacon strips become juicy. The fat rendered a smell that filled the house with bacon-ey goodness. As it cooked, the "ham-like" belly turned to lean and crispy strips. And the taste? Out of this world. I've made my own bacon as successfully as I made sausage. And I'm moving forward.

Mission Accomplished. From here on out it's time to make my own charcuterie. I'm shooting for nova lox, prosciutto, Italian dried sausages, etc.

And most readers might have the same skeptical reaction that everyone had when my buddy Rob and I undertook the sausage endeavor. Crazy? Maybe. Breakfast? Delicious.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Hat for a Cat

How to Crochet a Cat Hat

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

With these instructions, you can crochet a charming hat for your kitty. You'll probably spend a lot more time making this hat than your cat will spend wearing it (unless your cat likes playing dress-up), but it's still a fun, easy project for a beginning crocheter (and avid cat lover). To follow these steps, you'll need to understand crochet patterns.


  1. Make a slip knot, and crochet 4 Ch (Chains); Slip stitch in first ch made. This will make your ring that you'll crochet into.
  2. Crochet 7 sc (single crochet) into the ring, use slip stitch to join sc into first sc made: 7 sc.
  3. Ch 2, work first hdc (half double crochet) in same stitch as the ch 2; work 2 hdc in each stitch around in circle; Slip stitch in first hdc made: 14 hdc.
  4. Ch 3, dc (double crochet) in same stitch as ch 3, 2 dc in each stitch around, slip stitch in first dc made: 28 dc.
  5. Ch 1, 8 sc in circle, ch 13, skip 4 stitches, re-attach using slip stitch. (This will create the first ear hole.) sc 10 more stitches in circle, ch 13, skip 4 stitches, re-attach using slip stitch, sc 3 more stitches, slip stitch in first sc made. By now your hat should start to curve a little bit, which is what you want.
  6. Ch 1, 7 sc in circle. Note: You will be working into the 'ear hole' now, so you will be working in the space under it, but it's basically like working a normal stitch. 16 sc in the 'hole', sc in in each stitch until you hit the next ear hole, 16 sc in hole, 3 sc, slip stitch in first sc made; cut yarn and tie off. Weave in yarn ends with yarn needle.Alternate explanation:Ch 1, sc in next 7 sts.16 sc around ch of 13.Sc in each st up to next ch.16 sc around ch of 13.Sc in next 3 sts, slst in 1st sc made.

In Other Words
  1. ch 4, slip stitch to first ch to form a ring.
  2. ch 1, 7sc in ring, join with sl st to first sc. (7sc)
  3. ch 2 ( this will be the first hdc) hdc in same st, 2 hdc in each st around, join with sl st in top of ch 2. (14 hdc)
  4. ch 3, dc in same st, 2 dc in ea st around, Sl st in top of ch 3. (28 dc)
  5. ch1, sc in same st and in next 7 dc, ch 13, skip 4 dc, sl st in next dc, sc in next 10 dc, ch 13, sk 4, sl st in next dc, sc in next 3 dc, sl st in first sc.
  6. ch1, sc in same st and next 6 sts, 16 sc in ch 13 loop, sc in ea st around till next loop, 16 sc in ch 13 loop, sc in last 3 sts. Sl st in first sc. Fo weave in ends


  • You can make a chin strap but this is only for the most patient and mellow of cats, and definitely not recommended if there are children who'll be trying to put this hat on the cat. Cut a 6 inch piece of yarn, and tie it onto the middle of the ear hole, try the hat onto your kitty to determine how long the chin strap should be, hold the spot and cut off the extra yarn, but leave an inch so you have room to tie it loosely. If the cat is clearly stressed, tying the hat on with a chin strap is not a good idea--it's rather cruel!

Things You'll Need

  • Size H 5.00 mm crochet hook
  • Yarn
  • Yarn needle

Related wikiHows

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

The New Old Gym

I've blogged previously about returning to the gym and the strange memories that come with that experience. I'm pretty much into a 2-day swim/lift routine now. The rest remains yoga. That leaves Friday to rest (Did the Bible get it wrong? Sunday is for Level 2-3 yoga, big guy, not just napping).

Anyway, I got to thinking this evening, staring around at the gym-rats and reminiscing (and later discussing with my brother who shared the same experience) about my high school days driving to Gold's Gym in Wheaton, MD. Back in those days the gyms weren't fancy shmancy (say that in your best "Grumpy Old Man" voice). This place was pretty much a shit-hole. No really lobby entrance to speak of; just weights, barren floor, posing room (yes, posing room, as in practice for the bodybuilding competition), mirrors, old windows, locker room with occasional steroid use, the works.

And old man named Herman who basically walked around dressed like the strong man of a big-top would dole out advice to "newcomers" and guys on 'roids would bench press 600lbs (no exaggeration) while the remainder of us either helped spot him or drooled.

Yes, folks, this is where I spent a good amount of time after school every day (when I wasn't in Stage Crew or Yearbook I guess) and in reminiscing I determined one thing: what a great way to spend your time. I got healthy, learned about some random characters who somehow ended up in a rotten gym in Wheaton (say Wheaton ten times and tell me if it's not amusing somehow?) and generally enjoyed myself. I pretty much kept quiet and slowly succumbed to the reality that a 16-year old Jewish kid wasn't going to be entering body-building contests without serious steroids (which didn't interest me in the least).

And that's all I got to say about that. Just some random memories of Herman and company. It beats being in a gang I suppose. And I still have the pectorals that I built up then to help me with yoga now. Thanks Gold's.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Rarity Indeed

Cable television hasn't come into my humble abode since June 2005. But from time to time I stray from a steady regimine of LA Times and Netflix and flip on the ole' tube. Tonight was one such occasion and as usual I stumbled upon PBS first and foremost and caught some quality HD programming of Antiques Roadshow.

One item that they reviewed (combined with a thought for the last 6 months that I really oughta be blogging more) seemed blog-worthy. It was a collection of signatures from aviation pioneers. Seems pretty damn boring, I know. But 990 signatures from the days of balloons to astronauts in space capsules is a pretty monumental achievement.

Think about it. In this day and age we're lucky if we get past celebrity gossip long enough to have a single hero. And here's a collection of almost 1000 of them. Genuine pioneers. Amelia Erhart, John Glenn, etc. I've never been a real fan of pilots or astronauts enough to want to collect memorabilia. But that's not the point. It's that somebody was inspired enough to type out letters to individuals during a time in which individuals, famous or not, had genuine understanding of who they were and who the people that supported them were... enough to write back! Try that with P-Diddy. Or President Bush.

Sure you can collect autographs now if that's your thing. And a few genuine individuals would probably sign on the dotted line with some semblance of belief that their autograph would do somebody some good. But as a general rule even the 21st century heroes like Cal Ripken will most likely end up on eBay with cash-in-hand used for a cheap XBox 360 Virtual Baseball 2010 game.

There are few selfless pioneers anymore. Fewer still collections of them. And that's what made me appreciate this collection all the more. Thanks PBS.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Roxy Chicken Jam, Mammoth Mnt Day 2

This pretty much sums up the experience for 5 days. Sun, snow, blizzard, boarding, blogging, photography... rough life.