Really Eating Real Food

Serious Confession: I Need A Substitute

Ghirardelli Brownies

These are amazing, just not home made

I hate to say this, but I have a soft spot in my sweet tooth for two specific desserts: Ice Cream and Ghirardelli Brownies.  I can buy ice cream ingredients and make a batch myself without any real issues.  From scratch food is always my favorite, but I don’t always have time so I do appreciate that Bryer’s has a very, very short ingredients list on their vanilla ice cream.  Here’s the problem: I have not found any from scratch brownies that are as good as the box from Ghirardelli.  This is where you come in: I can Google, Bing or Yahoo myself to death and not come up with results that have my confidence, so what recipe do you use to make the best brownies you can make?  As we move to have as many local, from scratch, or natural foods I want to avoid the boxed brownie mix and explore the whirled of home made (not too regularly mind you, I can’t gain weight from this stuff, so keep the crack out of the recipes, I don’t need to be addicted).

Perfect Ribs

Disclosure: The following process is NOT designed to make you live forever and be healthy forever and it is recommended that you consume ribs in small quantities and with lots of vegetables in your meal so as to avoid contaminating your innards with nasty bits regularly.

I have been working on a process to create ‘the perfect baby back ribs’ for a couple years now.  I generally started out with no experience and a rather mediocre experience with other folks’ ribs.  My brother-in-law Kurt actually helped me with this process a lot and should be credited as the one who encouraged me to take on the steaming process.  Here’s what I do (as of yesterday when I made the almost finalized version of the ribs – some tweaks which I will do in the next batch are included in this plan so you don’t get sub-perfect ribs):

1) Criss-cross cut the membrane or ‘skin’ on the bottom of the ribs at about 1″ intervals. Update: Further testing suggests that the membrane be removed completely.  Use a sharp knife to start peeling the edge of the membrane and then use your hands and fingers to pull it up and off.  Rub the ribs down with your favorite spice rub.  I have a recipe that was given to me by two barbecue men in Texas that I use. I am not at liberty to share that recipe, sorry.  The ribs should sit for about 24 hours to let the rub do its job.  If you’re feeling adventurous you can also let the ribs marinate in root beer for a sweeter flavor (the kids and adults love this one).  If you use root beer make sure you either submerge all of the ribs, or rotate them so that they get submerged and saturated.

2) Smoke the ribs in a smoker (I have a charcoal smoker and a terracotta pot smoker that I made – I use both for different volumes of meat) for 1.5-2 hours at a low temperature (200 or so is preferable to keep the meat from getting burned or dry).  I prefer pecan wood for smoking pork.  This comes from the two Texas barbecue men, too.  There is no doubt in my mind that pork and pecan were meant for eachother.  I usually put liquid in with the smokers so as to keep things moist (first passes at smoking did not involve liquid and the meat was dryer).

3) Remove the ribs from the smoker and place them on a cookie sheet with a cooling rack on it with water (laced with Jack Daniels if you’re into that sort of thing) in it – make sure the water isn’t making contact with the ribs).  I also use a turkey baking rack which can hold more liquid if you’re concerned about that sort of thing.  Place the ribs onto the cookie cooling rack and carefully insert a meat thermometer (I use a remote thermometer that allows me to set a temperature at which I will be alerted to reaching 205 degrees Fahrenheit).  Tent the cookie sheet with aluminum foil.  Make sure that you keep most of the foil off of the ribs – a little contact is OK, but you want to keep the ribs open for contact from the steam which will come up off of the cookie sheet.  Cook at 350 degrees in the oven until an internal temperature of 205 degrees F. is reached.  This temperature is around where the ribs reach ‘fall off the bone’ goodness.  This knowledge was gathered from my brother-in-law Kurt who should be credited for this.  Hotter than this and you risk burning and dryness.

4) Once the internal temperature is 205 degrees remove the ribs from the oven and sprinkle them with brown sugar on the meaty side.  Place them on a hot grill until the brown sugar melts and caramelizes.

I do not find I need barbecue sauce on these ribs.  You may choose to put barbecue sauce on your ribs, but the flavor from the spice rub, the smoke and the brown sugar all combine to give these a perfect flavor combo.  Of course you don’t have my rub recipe – so it could be that your mileage varies.  I like a spicier rib and my rub has that kick that I like (hint: also add a portion of celery seed ground up to add a nice vegetal sweetness).

New Food: Honeycrisp Apples

Until this year I don’t believe that I have had a honeycrisp apple.  They come from heaven Washington State according to the little sticker that came on my organic apple (apparently sticker clue doesn’t count as a contaminate).  They’re sweet, they’ve got a mild floral component, and they’re usually crunchy (thus the crisp in the name).  I totally dig them.  If you haven’t had one I would strongly suggest you consider adding them to your repertoire.

Also, we’re considering planting an apple tree in our back yard.  What kind of tree would you get as your base fruit tree?  I know we can then add other trees to the main tree by grafting (which I don’t consider to be GMO) – we’ll just need to find apple friends to trade grafts with.

Homemade Bacon Part II

A piece of my maple bacon up close and personal

A piece of my maple bacon up close and personal

After smoking the bacon for around three and a half hours on my smoker and then moving them to the oven to finish them off to an internal temperature of 150 degrees I have finally concluded that out of this batch: maple is the winner.  I ended up having to move to the oven after battling temperature regulation problems in my charcoal smoker.  I’m confident that some other smoking system that is electric would be much easier to manage.  Next time I will try my homemade terra cotta pot smoker and see if I can get the temperature under control.

Bacon Day 6: Leaky Bags & Firm Slabs

I have flipped over the bacon bags and the container that they’re in has Maple Bacon brine juice in it.  The bag seems to have formed some sort of leak and I can’t find it.  It may make for milder bacon, but I’m not going to start over, I’ll just discover where I’m at and refine the process next time.  The bacon slabs are definitely more firm than previous days and the brine is defintely thicker and has richer colors in all three bags.

Tomorrow is smoking day and so I will need to grab some pecan wood tonight and some charcoal.  bacon will all be removed from the bags and patted dry, but before I smoke any of the slabs I’m going to cut off a small bit of each slab and fry it up to confirm that it is salty enough or too salty.  That will let me figure out if smoke flavor will be beneficial (almost absolutely on the Maple Bacon).  I’m less confident that the adobo bacon and the coffee bacon will need the smoke.

From what I’ve read if the bacon is too salty I can let the slabs soak in cold water for an hour or so before smoking (dried off of course) to help draw out some of the salt.  I’ve not taken pictures this time through because I don’t know if that will impact flavor to expose the slabs to more air and more removal from the brine, but I will take some next time (which could be months from now).  As I’m smoking and cooking the bacon over the next 24 or so hours I will take photos to help give readers a bit of perspective on what they can expect.

Refined Sugar

One of the problems with the western diet on the whole is that there is a lot of refined sugar in it.  I can’t eat a lot of refined sugar or it wipes me out.  Unfortunately today, in an attempt to help stop a cold and cough I consumed cough drops.  Those cough drops have more sugar in them than I normally eat in one day.  I’m totally wiped out, very tired, and various symptoms that I look out for to let me know I’m having an allergic reaction are triggering.  I don’t get to blindly go through western diet sugar consumption, but as an eating people we really need to curb the sugar, curb the excessive processed food cycle, and embrace wholesome, nutrient eating.  Not by science, not by happenstance, but by purposeful, willful choices that make good eating a high priority.

Bacon Update Day Two

Today the bacon has firmed up a tiny bit, the brine is starting to collect even more, I would say maybe two tablespoons now in each bag.  I have decided to smoke the bacon with pecan, its my favorite flavor with pork, and I can’t feel good about going with a more generic wood.  It would be like singing a Carrie Underwood song to try out for American Idol 😉

Bacon Update: Rub-to-Brine Day One

This morning I checked in my fridge and it appears that the rub I put on the pork belly has been doing its job and the salt has drawn out some water from the pork cells and that water is mixing with the sugar (and other spices and flavorings) and its turning into a brine.   If I had to estimate the first bit of water was maybe a little more than a tablespoon, which is not a lot for a whole pound of pork, but since there is a high fat content it may not be the highest water content.

The maple bacon’s water content is off-clear and brownish as you might expect from the maple and the brown sugar in the rub.  The bacon should firm up as the water leaves the cells and the salt remains, but so far I have not noticed an overly firm texture.

The adobo (spicy) bacon has lightly reddish water from the ground chili powder, but is not as tinted as the maple or coffee bacon’s brine content.  The texture has definitely not gotten firmer.

The coffee brine is definitely brown as the roasted coffee generally does that to water (cold water being a slower process than hot water which has an increased saturation due to the heat), but the texture on this slab is also feeling about as flimsy as the previous two slabs.

I have the fridge set to 39 degrees farenheit, which should give me brining/curing at a temperature that is safe to store pork, but warm enough for the curing process to happen with the speed needed.

SFG: Square Foot Gardening Part 1

Creative Commons, Used by Permission

Creative Commons, Used by Permission

We’re preparing for our 2009 garden.  2008’s was a stinker, so we’re looking at making 2009 rock.  To do so we’re going to be doing something we’ve never done before and attempt square foot gardening.  We had read about it before, but this year we picked up Mel Bartholomew’s book All New Square Foot Gardening, which is a great resource for beginning this method.  We’re taking several steps that I thought I’d share with readers so that you can see how being concerned about the quality and source of our food impacts our garden.

First, Plan your garden so that you can make sure you have the right space needed, the right growing conditions needed, and the right supplies for making the garden happen.  Since we know we want to introduce new and different species into the diet of our family we’re planning on some different plants and we need to make sure that we have the right climate and conditions for those plants to not only make it through a Colorado growing season, but that we get fruit or produce from the plants.

Secondly, we’re taking a look at the ingredients of the soil.  The SFG soil uses “Mel’s Mix” which is actually easy to create in an organic formula.  By going organic we’re going to probably pay a bit more for the ingredients, but the 6″ soil depth requirement means we don’t need yards and yards of material in comparison to other growing methods.  Also, as we compost this year we’ll be saving money on 2010’s compost needs and reduce the expense of soil replenishing in the future.

Thirdly, we’re making sure that we make this a family learning experience.  I know this isn’t technically a gardening event, but by involving our two daughters we’ll be allowing them to learn about plants, soil, seasonal cycles, and the importance of their food sources.  We’ll also be equipping them with gardening knowledge themselves, should they choose to garden when they move out of our home.

Fourth, we’ll be reducing our watering costs compared to last year’s watering bonanza.  By creating a very specific watering location and using a drip system we suspect we’ll be able to cut watering a lot.

Fifth, we’re going to go vertical, too.  We’re going to put up some support for vining and trellacing plants such as tomatoes and honeysuckle which will yield good fruit or attract honey bees, which are invaluable for gardens.

As we garden I hope to write about the produce and the foods we make with the results of this labor of love.  Consider subscribing to the RSS feed to keep up with the process.

Homemade Bacon Part I

Creative Commons, used by permission

Creative Commons, used by permission

I have ordered some pork belly to cure and smoke myself.  I am going to cure & smoke the bacon at home without nitrites.  This is a slightly risky situation because of the chance of botulism, but I’m going to continue to do my homework so as to avoid any serious risk.  There are a few details I want to make sure I keep in line:

1) Always keep the meat out of the danger zone (temperatures of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit) where dangerous bacteria is more likely to latch on and cause issues in your food.

2) Cure the pork belly in salt solution/brine for some time to make sure that the salinization can help preserve the meat and keep it free of junk.

3) Keep the meat frozen after you’ve smoked it so as to not allow it to deteriorate in any way.

I have ordered some pork belly from the butcher and will go retrieve it as soon as they notify me its arrival so as to get it going quickly and keep the meat safe from things like germs, dogs, and other shoppers who may want to buy the meat I have ordered :)

This may come as a surprise, but I don’t think that fat is all evil, but I do believe that it needs to be carefully handled and preserved, and used in moderation.  I am going to avoid using nitrites, which will make it safer for me to ingest.  I will not be eating an insane amount of bacon at any one given time and I hope to share it with family on special occassions so as to keep everyong well fed, and full of sodium.  Moderation is not the word I would use, I would describe my desire to have it in less than moderate amounts.  I just want good tasting foods, mostly quite healthy, with treats to be of a better quality than the quick & easy stuff.