What is old is new again

After four years of entropy, I find myself looking to document some more experiences and studies in my culinary education.  I’ve been working with sourdough for about a year and a half, and I am experiencing some success, some failure, and some knowledge that I’ve only scratched the surface.

I find myself re-claiming my quilting, adding some knitting, and revisiting some activities that have been dormant.  I’m hoping to use this as a way to compile and document some knowledge, and to get some use out of the investment in the domain name, etc.

I find myself in search of open crumb in my bread, and when I have time to practice, the Minnesota weather is at its least conducive to rising levain, though it does give me plenty of time inside.  Alas, I am doing what I can.

In my first year and a half of working with sourdough, I have experimented with recipes from Peter Reinhart, Ken Forkish, and Trevor Wilson, while managing to keep a starter alive.  This has been something of an accomplishment, and a somewhat meditative practice.  The victories are slow coming, and the complete failures, while few, have been spectacular.  I am doing my best to learn, practice, and relearn.  As I move into the new year, I find myself back where I started.  While I feel my dough skills are improved from the beginning,  this cold snap and mixed results are making me reassess my progress.  It’s time to go back to my basic recipe, to practice being gentle with the dough, and to work again on my baker’s hands.

References I am revisiting are  Trevor Wilson’s Breadwerx site, and new book, Open Crumb Mastery, along with Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, and Jeffrey Hammelman’s Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes.

It looks like there will be a season of lots of drive-by gifts of loaves, as I continue.  Hopefully my hand skills improve, as well as my nose and eye skills for levain development.  May I continue to CTFD and improve.



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7 Month Culatello

As I am preparing for the Day of Pigs on October 19, I am using some of my weekend time to clear out the curing fridge, clear space in the freezer, and decide on recipes for this year’s sausages.  This weekend, I took my last culatello from March out of its casing.

culatello and casing

I rinsed the meat with grappa after removing it from the casing, and took a couple other photos.

vertical shot of casing and culatello
Of course, I sliced it in half, to see how the color was.  It looks like there was a little hardening along two outside edges, so I’ve vacuum sealed them in plastic and I’m putting them in the refrigerator for a week or two, to see if that will improve the overall moisture distribution.

culatello, sliced in half

This is from a barley-fed Red Wattle hog, cured with Trapani sea salt in a laminated casing for 7 months.  Weight loss of 30+ % over 7 months.

I even asked Cute Hubby to take a couple pictures of me with the hams.  Americana con Culatelli in stilo di Emilia Romagna.

woman with culatelli

Posted in Charcutepalooza, Cured Meats, Festa di Salumi, Food, Slow Food | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Meet Harissa, My Current Condiment Crush

Harissa, in its colorful roasted glory

Harissa, in its colorful roasted glory

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately canning, roasting, freezing, and otherwise processing vegetables while they are ubiquitous, so I will have things that I can quickly grab later in the year, especially in the winter.  While I have been doing a lot of blog-worthy cooking, I have not been taking the time to do the writing and photography, so perhaps I will catch up as the harvesting winds down.

After making some pretty tasty meatballs with harissa, lamb, and venison,  and after some inquiries from friends who tasted them, I need to follow my own best advice (“Write it down, will you?”),  so we can perhaps replicate some of that roasted pepper flavor down the road.


Several things this summer/fall have led me to the recipe that follows:

  • a delicious merguez and harissa dog with grilled haloumi at Hot Doug’s in Chicago
  • a search for new things to do with CSA peppers
  • planning the upcoming home sausage making day, thinking of spice combinations
  • reading new books on sausages and charcuterie
  • planning menus for dinner parties

In the process, I’ve come up with my own version of harissa.  I started with a recipe from the kitchn, but I’ve moved on a bit, given my current mix of available peppers and chilies, spices, and whim.  I can see myself making this with just dried chilies in the winter, but I like the body and flavor that roasted fresh peppers add, making it a little more saucy and a little less paste-like.  The recipe below is my second attempt, which is an attempt to be more spicy, but still well within the range of most diners.  I love the flavor, but I think a bit more kick wouldn’t hurt.  When this is combined with meat, the spiciness is a little tempered.

This is a perfect thing to make when you are puttering around the house, as there are little bits of effort that can be spaced out between inexact periods of reading/chores/napping/what-have-you.  This is also the perfect example of why a good food processor makes your life better.   It’s too big a job for stick blenders, would be an upper body fitness plan with a mortar and pestle, and probably not liquid enough for most regular blenders. (I expect comments from Vitamix owners, who will remind me that they have more than enough power available to them.  Ilene Ross?)



  • skillet for toasting spices (I have a small cast iron one that gets used for this job)
  • food processor (I have a 12 cup one, and did this in 2 batches)
  • sheet pan(s) or roasting pan(s) for roasting peppers
  • foil or parchment paper (for easy cleanup of roasting pans)
  • silicon spatula/scraper
  • spice grinder or mortar and pestle (optional)
  • measuring spoons
  • garlic press (optional)
  • kettle, or other device for boiling water
  • medium bowl or large liquid measuring cup for rehydrating peppers
  • large bowl for mixing it all together
  • gloves (disposable or rubber) for handling peppers (optional but recommended)


  • 1 Tablespoon (3 teaspoons) coriander seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon (Tbs) cumin seeds
  • 1 Tbs fennel seeds
  • 1 Tbs kosher salt, or more, to taste
  • garlic cloves, peeled – I had some HUGE garlic cloves, and in this last batch, used about four of them.  Use more if you love garlic,  or have smaller cloves
  • 3 fresh poblano peppers
  • 9 large red bell peppers (they were 3 for $2, and I didn’t have small bills at the farmer’s market)
  • 5 fresh jalapenos (again, they were 5 for $1)
  • 8 dried Hatch chilies (what I had in the cupboard)
  • 3 dried mulato chilies (again, what I had on hand.  I’m guessing ancho would work well here, too)
  • about 4 oz (120 ml) olive oil, plus more for storage



1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F – 400 degrees F (around 200 degrees C).  Line roasting or sheet pans with parchment or foil for ease in cleanup.  (See Luisa Weiss’s method for roasting peppers here, for more detail).  Wash and dry the fresh peppers (red bell, poblano, jalapeno), and roast them in the oven for an hour or so, turning them occasionally (every 20 min. or so), so they blacken evenly on all sides.

2.  In the meantime, boil about a quart/liter of water.  Place the dried chilies in a medium bowl, and pour the boiling water over them.  (I weighted them down with a saucer to keep them submerged)  Let sit at least 30 minutes to re-hydrate, and for the water to cool some.

3.  Put the seeds in the skillet over low heat, and toast them, giving them a shake occasionally. You want them to be toasted and fragrant, but not burned.  This is not a good time to step away.  When you can smell the spices, and they seem toasted, turn off the heat and let them cool.

4.  When the peppers are evenly blackened (the house will smell great), take the peppers out of the oven and let them cool.

5. Put on your gloves now- it is time to peel, stem, and seed the peppers (both roasted and re-hydrated).  This is the fussy and messy part.  Good music or podcasts are helpful during this chore.  Depending on your tolerance for capsaicin, you may not need to be as thorough as I am on removing the seeds, but I’m conservative at first, and wilder once you know me. Paper towels or rinse water are good to have for this part of the process.

6. Now for the power tools!  Grind up your cooled toasted spices (I use an old coffee grinder, which has been benched from the varsity (coffee), and now starring on the spice team), press your garlic, and throw them all together with half of your seeded peppers and chilies in your food processor.  Blitz this until it becomes a puree (it’s OK if it has little flecks of chili, that’s the way I like it), and gradually pour the olive oil down the feed tube, with the motor running.  Stop the processor, and scrape the contents into a large bowl with your spatula/scraper.  Blitz the remaining peppers and chilies.  Add them to the first batch, and mix it all together.  Taste.  Adjust salt, if needed,  and add some of the soaking liquid from the re-hydrated chilis, if you want it to be thinner.  If it’s not spicy enough, now would be the time to add some cayenne, or your favorite alternative.

7.  Store in plastic containers or jars.  I froze two containers, and kept one in the fridge.  If you refrigerate it, put a slick of olive oil over the top, to keep the peppers from oxidizing.

Yield was a little more than two pints from this version.


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Graef Hand Slicer – I am in love!


I decided to buy our household (OK, really me) an anniversary present this year. Traditionally (whose tradition exactly?), sugar is the gift for #6, but  stainless steel works for ANY gift in my book. I had noticed the Graef Hand Slicer thanks to Ken Abala, a fellow member of The Salted Pig. Thanks, Ken. This is going to keep me very happy for a long time.  I love a well designed tool that is a pleasure to use.

Details- it cost 127 Euro, (about $162.00 US as I write this) plus shipping to get this thing of beauty to Southeast Minnesota.  It came in a humongous box, which had inside it another huge box, and finally the regular slicer box that had the label on it, the Styrofoam packaging, etc.  Kudos to Manufactum for getting it here safely (if humorously, which may or may not have been the intent).

The slicer is lightweight, but nicely designed.  I love that it has suction cup feet to keep it still on the counter.


Here is everything that came in the box.  In the photo above, I have attached the food slider.  The black piece is for securing the food that you are slicing.


Here is what the food slider looks like on the bottom.  It goes onto the slicer bed just by hooking the black hooks over the edge of the slicer bed (easy on and off).  I love that there are no little crannies for stuff to get into, and it all can just be wiped clean easily.  I also love that there is nothing to plug in.  If you need something sliced after the zombie apocalypse, you know where to come.

The first thing I sliced with this was bread.  It inspired me to make crostini.  But my main reason for purchasing this is for slicing cured meats, and this is what the Salted Pig folks wanted to know about.

I am pleased to say that it does everything I want it to.  These photos were taken today, by my patient and understanding husband.  I was slicing some of my culatello  for a thank-you gift to the neighbor who took away the two humongous outer boxes for recycling when he saw me at the post office trying to deal with the package on my bicycle.


Action shot from the food pusher side…


and from the cut side.  The little black knob is the width adjuster for positioning the blade to the carriage.


Here is another shot of the slicing action.


and here is one of me, slicing.  As you can see, the tool budget at Slow and Sew far exceeds the hair and makeup budget.

Now for the important part….  how thinly I could slice the meat…..



If the page of Zingerman’s catalog behind this slice had been printed in black instead of blue, this would have had better visual impact.  It says “Sublime Pork”, if you can’t make it out.

This is such a beautiful tool.  If you cure meat or slice things at home, you could do far worse than investing in one of these.  I think it would be great to have if you were to sell cured meat at a Farmer’s Market, and wanted to slice it to order. I’ve only used it three or four times so far, but I know I am going to be glad I bought it.


Posted in Cured Meats, Festa di Salumi, Food, Slow Food | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Jambonettes, a.k.a. Ham Grenades

This week I got a little practice trimming up some ham pieces that were left over from my last culatelli.  I had frozen the pieces that would have been i fiocci, and I decided to cure them in the French way, instead, the small pieces of jambon di noix.  I had ordered a meat netting cone from MeatProcessing.com, and a roll of #14 netting.  The cone is 3.4 inches in diameter, and the maximum diameter of a roll of #14 netting is 3.5 inches.  On Saturday, I got to work with my mise:

Mise en place

The only ingredients here other than the meat is salt (Sea Salt from Spain), and black pepper.  The first step was to cut the meat pieces into relatively even squat shapes, and to tie them with twine before adding the netting.  The meat had already been salted overnight, with just enough salt to stick to the sides of the meat.

Tied with butcher string on four sides, with ends secured

The next step is to roll the meat in cracked black pepper, both for seasoning, and to keep bugs away.  I find that cleanup is easier if I line my tabletop with some cling film, as shown below.

Pepper, for rolling on meat

Once there is some pepper stuck to the meat, as shown below, it’s time to prep the netting cone.

Net on cone

I cut a piece of netting that was at least three times the length of one of the pieces of meat. I put the removable tip on the cylinder, and then loaded the net on, as you would load a casing on a stuffer. After all of the netting was on the tube, I removed the tip, as shown below.

Top removed, ready for netting.

At this point, I put the ham, knotted string side down, into the tube toward the net end, and pulled the ham through, allowing the netting to attach around the ham as it moved through the tube. I trimmed the end with scissors.

Applying the netting.

At this point, I repeated the process with the other ham pieces, and then weighed them to record their pre-drying weights. I used blue painter’s tape and a Sharpie. Not exactly pretty, but effective.

Weighed and labeled

The next step was the cold smoking of these little jambonettes. Now it’s pretty obvious why they got called Ham Grenades. I think these three will be pretty small after drying, but they will be a perfect first course for a dinner, I think, or possibly a nice gift for a picnic.

Into the Smoker

These were cold smoked (175 degrees F) for about 4 or 5 hours (along with some bacon), with maple wood chips. After they were removed from the smoker, they went straight to the downstairs curing chamber. In about four weeks, these should lose 25-30% of their weight, and firm up.

Posted in Charcutepalooza, Cured Meats, Festa di Salumi, Food, Slow Food, Smoked | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Second Curing Chamber

As my experience curing meats increases, and my desire to cure more stuff after Grrls Meat Camp, I have been working on a way to increase my curing space, yet not invest too much money/time in the construction.  I’m also game to share what is working and what isn’t with my meat friends (and of course, my other readers), who might be thinking about creating a similar environment.

After my experiments with the wine fridge,  I had two major goals for the new chamber (besides not breaking the bank):  More capacity, and better airflow.

A few weeks back (actually before Meat Camp), I was having my normal Saturday morning chat with B, the cheesemonger, I noticed the baker’s pan rack we were standing next to, and its zippered clear cover.   A-ha!  The clear cover would allow me to visually inspect the contents, yet keep the meat protected from dust.  The zippered sides would allow me to alter the humidity level, I thought.

After the miracle of Google and the WEBstaurant store, I discovered that a similar setup could appear at my home for about half the cost of  another wine fridge.  So I bought it, and a clear plastic cover.  I assembled it in my scary old house basement, which is naturally cool, and more humid than my living room.  (think 7 feet of clearance, walls that were dug out, not poured in concrete, and are not exactly straight- the house is over 200 years old)


Baking rack turned curing chamber

I used an old refrigerator shelf as the hanging rack for the top level, and bought some S hooks, and hung some of my items.

A second level for hanging more stuff

I have added a second level, using a replacement grill rack.  This may not be strong enough, but I do have another refrigerator rack if it is not.

Not the winds of Camont, but it will circulate the air….

I have added a fan to the bottom of the rack. This one was replaced by a ceiling fan in another part of the house, so there was no cost outlay for this.

The last thing to purchase was another temperature/humidity controller. One trip to Ace Hardware and $28 later, here we are:

And the chamber’s environment is…. pretty great!

Given that we wanted to have about 70% humidity, and about 55 degrees F/13 degrees C, I’m feeling pretty good about the fact that the current setting is as shown above.   (In case it’s not obvious, I live in SE Minnesota, and the cellar will get a little warmer in the summer, but not as warm as it might get where you are)  I will have to monitor the temperature as spring goes on, to determine how many months this will be usable for.


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Back from Grrls Meat Camp, and raring to go

After the amazing weekend that was Grrls Meat Camp in Napoleon, KY, I am back, and raring to go with what I’ve learned.  Thanks so much to Kate Hill and Kari Underly, and to all the grrls whom I hope I’ll continue to learn from.  Another reason why Facebook can be a valuable tool.

Due to airplane luggage logistical restrictions, I only brought home two ventriche, some saussison seche, and two of the jambon di noix, which I’m going to call jambonettes.

Transport Device, courtesy of bp station

This little cooler from the bp gas station was my transport device, along with some ice from the hotel.  Worked fine, really.  A little salt in the ice, and the ice was still mostly solid when I got home.

I weighed my little jambonettes before hanging them in the curing fridge (in kg), and added blue painters tape labels, until I could get around to smoking them this weekend.

New additions to the chamber (with the colored linen/elastic netting) Notice the little saussison seche in the back, by themselves behind the culatelli

This morning, I got out the smoker, and prepped it for cold smoking the ventriche (the long pork belly rolls) and the jambonettes (the little netted pieces of ham), both of which had spent some time in salt, and then were netted and tied.  The jambonettes were rolled in black pepper, too.  These are going to be cold smoked for a few hours, and then hung again to dry cure.

Smokin-it smoker, with fresh foil, ready to load up

Since this smoker is a bit more air tight than Kate Hill’s setup at Camont, I won’t be smoking these for 12 hours. I expect that three or four will probably be enough to give subtle smoke flavor to these.  I’m still learning what the appropriate wood/time ratio is for this, so I’m going to be pretty conservative on this.  So far, I’ve tended to go too heavy on the wood.

My hickory stick for this smoke- small!

As you can see, this is a pretty small piece of wood, but I’ve cold smoked fish four times in this smoker with a piece only half again as big as this piece.


So, wood goes into the smoker box…

Then I put in the cold smoke plate, to keep any heat from the smoker box away from the meat. This shows the linen/hemp strings on the ventriches

After the smoke plate went in, I put the meat on racks.  It might be better to have them hanging down, but space doesn’t allow, so they are on the racks.  As this is cold smoking, I don’t expect the meat to change shape much, given they won’t be in the smoker that long.

Here are the rolled pork bellies. Note the stray peppercorn. These have really only been cured with salt, though a few peppercorns got on them in the bag.

Here are the rolled pork bellies (ventriche).  I plan to roll them in more cracked black pepper after the smoking, before re-hanging.

The good white mold in only a week!

Here is one of the little jambonettes, which was rolled in pepper when it was netted.  Note that it already has some of the good white mold from my curing chamber, after only 6 days.    I put the two of these onto the top rack in the smoker, and closed it up.

I’m starting this at 155 F, but will push it up to 185 F.

So while this is smoking, it’s off to other food projects.  More to follow.


Posted in Cured Meats, Festa di Salumi, Food, Slow Food, Smoked, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Cold Smoking in the Winter

2103_ColdSmokePlateInPlaceAfter last night’s smoke of ribs and pork hocks (which had plenty of smoke, but needed more time to cook after 4 hours, so they went into the oven on low), this morning I am prepping for the first cold smoke.    This time I only put one piece of wood in the firebox, as I don’t want the quantity of smoke I got last time.  The picture above is with the cold smoke plate in position.

Here’s what I’m smoking this time:

2013_RicottaConLattea bowl of ricotta con latte, and

2013_ScallopsOnFishRackSMa few sea scallops, which are frozen, and going in that way, so as to keep them cold.  I’m just going for some smoke flavor, as I plan to cook them when I take them out.  We’ll see how it works.

2013_ColdInsuranceSMAnd just to make sure things stay cold, I’m throwing in this pan of ice under the scallops.  So, here we go.  I set the smoker at about 150 F, and we’re off.

Given that it’s 19 degrees F outside this morning, I think keeping everything cold will not be too tough.  Fingers crossed.  Now on to make the stuff to go with the smoked items…



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Happy Smoking New Year!

2103_ControlAndVentHoleSMToday was the first day I had time to take my new Smokin-It Model #3 out of it’s box.  Thanks for the Christmas money, Susan and John!  Here’s what I bought!  It was about 9 degrees F this morning when I was using the box cutters, but as soon as I saw all this stainless steel, I got really excited.  (A friend on the Salt Cured Pig group surely would have said something about wood, but I’m not configured that way).  Excited enough to stand in a 9 degree garage and just grin while looking this over.

After a short XC ski and a trip to the meat market, it was about 30 degrees when I took these pictures, as I prepared for the initial seasoning smoke.

2013_InsideTheBoxSMThis shot gives you the best view of how ingeniously designed this thing is…. no gaskets or seals on the door, just a flush stainless steel to stainless steel join with easy open bars.  See those hooks on the side panels?  Those are what you put the rack holders on, so you can put the rack holders AND the racks in the dishwasher!  Absolutely fabulous.  The metal bar around the heating element is what holds the fire box in place.  Keep looking… notice the heavy duty casters? and the TWO drain holes to the drip pan (one in the body of the smoker, and one in the lip, so anything that drips against the door goes in the drip pan, too….  I told you I was excited. I am my father’s daughter.  I share his love of cooking stuff with fire and smoke, and his love for beautiful tools.  I don’t remember if Dad had this thing I’ve got for stainless steel, but I’m pretty sure he’d like it.

2013_FireBoxInPlaceSMAfter adding a few wood chunks to the fire box, I put it in place, to get ready for the seasoning smoke.  I plugged in the cord via extension to an outlet in the garage, closed the door, and let it go for about 3 hours.  When I came out and opened the door and removed the fire box (using potholders) here’s what it looked like.2013_SeasonSmokeSM

And here’s what the door looks like.

2013_SeasonDoorSMSeasoning done, it was time to get this loaded up with the first round of MEAT.  I dumped what little ash there was, and then went on with the prep.

2013_DrainHolesSMFirst, I lined the bottom with foil, making sure to poke a hole where the drain hole is.  Then I covered the lid of the firebox, and reloaded it with some more wood chunks. (These are hickory)

2013_FueledSMThen, it was time to put in the racking system, and, of course, the meat.   (I plan to cold smoke some cheese tomorrow, but it’s hot smoking tonight)  I put a basic rub on two slabs of pork ribs,

2013_FirstRubSMand then put a rack full of pork hocks in, unseasoned.  See how hefty these racks are? 2013_HocksSMSo, I loaded it all in, turned the control knob to 225, and now we wait…..


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Choir Stole Pattern Creation

In response to some recent inquiries, I am currently working on the Choir Stole pattern, so that it would be a PDF, and printable.  I’m sorry that I was not able to do this in the time frame to fill the recent requests, but I’m finally doing it.

As this is my first time trying to generate a printable pattern for non-personal use, I can say that patterns are worth paying for.  This is a bit of a process.  Given some of the great tutorials and patterns that are available on blogs for inexpensive amounts, I dare say that I have some work to do to make this as good as some that I’ve bought.

I want to thank vegbee of little print designs  for the blog post where she laid the process out beautifully.  I’ve got as far as the initial scanning of my pattern parts… we’ll see how long it takes to get this completed.

Posted in Design Wall, Sewing | Tagged , | 1 Comment