a little sewing: culatello step 2

My regular readers know that I have been known to do a little sewing from time to time, and my current sewing student knows I know how to do a few stitches by hand.  This morning, I got out two of my new needles.

As you can see, trussing needles are just a little bit larger than your average sharps or betweens, which are often used for hand quilting.  Yes, these two larger needles come from Allied Kenco, and are used in the kitchen or butcher shop.  Today’s exercise was not in quilting or hemming, but of sewing ham into casings, and prepping them to hang for several to many months in the curing chamber.

I soaked the laminated casings (I got them from Butcher & Packer), which are large and bulbous in shape, in warm water for about 30 minutes while I rinsed and dried the hams, after taking them out of their plastic bags, removing the salt and the accumulated liquid that has come out of the meat.

The first step was to cut the casing open on one side, almost to the bottom of the bulbous end, and then put the ham into it.  Then, with my trusty new needle and butchers twine (I wonder if Aurifil would make this size…. 00?), I sewed the ham into the casing, doing my best to get all the air pockets out.

(I apologize for the bad lighting in the pictures… sun streaming into the kitchen is a lovely thing, though not necessarily convenient in process photos.)  This was my first try, with one of the two hams.  This sewing process is not as easy as you might think, given that the thing is a bit slippery, and the large needle doesn’t always allow for the most nimble maneuvers.

With that done, the next step was to tie some loops of twine around the ham, so that I could make a net-like structure around the casing, to evenly distribute the weight for when the ham is hanging.

With this done, the next step was to make the “net”,  with another large piece of twine,  looping around the supports, working from bottom to top.  This takes more string than you think, and a fair bit of time.  I put some Italian pop songs on the iPod while I was working at this.  While your choice of tunes may vary, I enjoy singing along in Italian while I do this. (Will this make the culatello more authentic?  Doubtful, but I’m hoping the spirit is in the right place.)  Once again, practice makes better- I did a much better job on the second one that I did.

Again, keeping the twine taut, more air gets forced out through the top of the casing, allowing me to tighten it.

The final step was to make a hanging loop, record the weight, and put them into the curing chamber.   I’m pleased with the results at this point.  The sewing and tying is a pretty satisfying process.  But you knew I like sewing.

 

To get the humidity up, I have two bread pans with a salt and water slurry in them.   I expect I’ll be checking the humidity a lot for the next couple days, to see how it goes.  Now for the curing magic.  I am expecting these to lose about 30% of their weight before they’re ready.  If I can keep the conditions right, these beauties may be ready in anywhere from 4 to 36 months.  So, back to being patient.  I’ll get on that right away.

 

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the Salumi adventure begins – culatello step 1

I had anxiously awaited the arrival of my copy of Ruhlman and Polcyn’s latest book, Salumi.  As I have been dreaming of dry curing my own prosciutto, the idea of getting the word from my “mentors” in charcuterie for best practices at home was a thrill.  After getting lovely Red Wattle pigs from Pork and Plants, I’ve started the process.

Since our local meat lockers don’t have the facility to butcher with the skin on, and the fact that my curing space is somewhat limited, I have decided to take three hams and cure culatello and fiocco from the major muscles, using the laminated “bladders” and fibrous casings, to keep the meat from drying out too quickly.

Here’s where I started:

The pigs were processed at Burt’s Meats in Eyota, MN.  This was the first time I’ve worked with the people at Burt’s, and they were a bit surprised at my non-traditional cutting order, but were interested in what I was going to do with the stuff.  I think I need to take them some guanciale, so that they will better understand what I am doing with jowls.   But back to the hams.

First, I needed to separate the two major muscles.  American butchery standard cuts are a bit different from those used in Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Salumi for this particular part of the pig, but I knew that on my first attempt with Burt’s Meats, it would be unlikely that I’d be able to get as specific as they do in the book.  (I’m hoping now that I’ve worked with them once, I could get more specific next time)  The result is that the shank ends of these boned out hams are a bit shorter than they are in the pictures from Salumi, making the hams a bit lighter weight.  Given my curing space constraints, that’s not a huge problem for my first attempt.

First, I recorded the weight of the total ham, and dried the meat, to get it ready to separate into the two main muscle groups.

Here we are looking at the top part of the ham (shank end is toward the top of the picture).  The white triangle of fat in the lower center of the shot is about where the ball joint of the leg bone was, I think.  The right side of the ham is what will become the culatello, and the left flap is essentially what will be the fiocco.

I basically ran my knife down the edge of the fat line that separated the two major sections.  This ham, of the three that I portioned this way, had the most obvious line of separation.

Here (above) is what will be the fiocco, the small piece cut away from the larger ham.

Here (below) is what will be the culatello.

After cutting the pieces apart, I tied them up with twine as best as I could into compact packages, as shown below, with one of the culatelli.

Then, it was time to weigh and record the pre-salt weights of the pieces, and then cover them with as much Trapani sea salt that would stick to them, and get them into some large plastic bags to cure, and determine how many days they should spend on the salt in the Back Fridge.  Luckily, this turned out to be as many days til the weekend, given that the small amount of salt gives you a little more leeway than something completely packed in salt.

Given that I had three boned out hams, I’ve now got three each of fiocci and culatelli.  The next steps will be the preparations for the drying process.  I’m excited to actually be dry curing these at home.

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We’re Smoking Bacon Here

In the course of fall here in southeast Minnesota, it becomes necessary to cure bacon, in preparation for winter gift giving.  It is for altruistic reasons that I spend a Saturday lighting fires, and putting wet fruit wood chips on said fires for the appropriate level of smoke.  That, and the fact that it’s fun.  Yes, I do get considerable mileage out of drive by gifts of home cured bacon, and from the now annual bacon holiday cards.  So, last weekend, I put portions of pork belly and salts and Maine maple syrup  into zipper bags, and allowed them to cure in the Back Fridge.

I can’t see how this could go wrong….

So, what did I do this morning?  Get the smoker, beer (wood chips must always be soaked in beer, correct?), matches, charcoal, and wood chips out into the driveway.  Note the two options for fire starting. Always good to have backup.

A new definition of beer and chips

Here is my less than Girl Scout fire starting method… I don’t have any trees in the yard that produce lovely dry tinder, especially given the gallons of rain that have fallen on the yard this week.  I used a charcoal chimney.  And, of course, real wood lump charcoal (none of those nasty laminate by-products in your wood smoke here).  I’m assuming that the liberal slant of the newspapers burnt in starting the charcoal (soy ink) won’t offend my more libertarian bacon recipients, but if you’d like off the list, I’ll understand.  Blame my husband the Political Science professor.  Right.

Once the fire’s going, it’s time to get the rinsed and dried pork bellies, put them on foil pans, and arrange them in the smoker.  Here’s a “before” shot, as the smoke is just getting started.

Then the process is as follows:  Keep fire lit, keep smoke moving through the smoker, wait.   More to follow.  Gotta go check my fire.

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Marine Series #3 Complete!

I’m on a roll this weekend.  I just finished quilting the last few sections of Hingham Holiday, my third in a series of marine-related quilts.  Thanks to some good music and podcasts on my iPod, I’ve managed to finish.  I did portions of stippling and basic free-motion with my darning foot, and large sections of this with the walking foot, particularly for the straight line shadows on the cockpit and bench, as well as for the sky.  I’m still not that adventurous with my stippling patterns, and I think this is mostly due to the large chunks of time between my quilting sessions. We’ll see if I can work on that this winter.

This picture shows the quilting pretty well,  but doesn’t do the best job of showing the color changes that I used to try and show the shadows from the sun (which would be on the right of the viewer).  My goal was to use both color and quilting to bring parts of the figure forward, and to make other parts of the cockpit and sky recede.  There is, of course, that foreshortening issue, which is why the hand on the tiller seems so huge in comparison to the rest of the figure, and seems even bigger given what I needed to do to make it pieceable, but I haven’t really had to deal with foreshortening in previous quilts, so I’m going to give myself a passing grade on this attempt.

I find it funny that this particular image is one of sailing close up, but that there’s such a tiny portion of this image that represents water.  Hopefully it will make more sense if it is shown with the others.  That’s another goal for the future.

I think I had a record amount of bobbin winding and thread color changes in this quilt- I used eleven different shades of thread.  (For Alex Veronelli, and the quilty types, here’s the list of colors in Aurifil MAKO NE 50/2:

  • 2024 white/bianco
  • 2310 cream/crema
  • 2600 light gray/grigio chiaro
  • 1158 graphite gray/grigio grafito
  • 5008 gray blue/blu grigio
  • 2730 medium blue/blu medio
  • 2360 warm brown/marrone caldo
  • 5013 cool dark brown /marrone scuro
  • 2581 regal purple/ viola regale
  • 2250 my favorite bright red! /rosso
  • 2430 “Gazzetta” pink/ rosa di Gazzetta dello Sport

This is quilted with Hobbs Heirloom Wool batting, so I’m hoping I can give it a “blocking” treatment, so that it will hang pretty straight.  Oh, and that pesky hanging sleeve for the back, and it’s DONE!  Huzzah!

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Salumi Startup

Here is a collection of my acquisitions this fall, in preparation for meat curing.  I got a Frigidaire 42 bottle wine fridge, a hygrometer, Salumi, Ruhlman & Polcyn’s new book, a skin-on ham (for practice), and a boned lamb leg from the O’Neills  of Sheep Improvement.  Not pictured are the Bactoferm cultures, the laminated casings, the beef bungs, the new scale, the boxes of salt.  Right now I’m debating whether I should pony up the cash for a Mangalitsa hog, or whether I’ll stick with the Red Wattle ones that are nearer by.  I’m leaning toward the local pig, mostly for logistical reasons, and loyalty to my local producer.  Proscuitti and salami are in my plan for this fall, as well as the second annual sausage making fest with friends.  In a fit of organization, I’ve also procured a nice notebook, for keeping weights and dates listed.   I’m still waiting for the “personal humidifier” to arrive in the mail, but I may just go forward with the pan of salt slurry method.  Most of this will need to wait until my fall rowing season is over, but I’m getting set up.

Next things to find:

  • 20-lb. weight for weighing down the ham
  • bone saw
  • meat hooks for hanging
  • trussing needle

Looks like it’s time to check Butcher & Packer again.  Toy catalog!  😉

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Finally Quilting Hingham Holiday

This morning I am in the studio, after suddenly not having a commitment of my time.  After some espresso, I’ve managed to sandwich and “bind” my third Marine Series quilt, titled Hingham Holiday.  (I generally do a “pillowcase” edge for my wall quilts, so that I don’t have to make binding.  As I rarely put borders on my pictorial quilts, I like the edge that this gives me.)  Now it’s time to get quilting.  I took these shots as I’m auditioning thread color choices.  Some of these are from the Edyta Sitar Kit Art box, and others are from my varied collection of Aurifil MAKO 50 weight that I’ve bought at local quilt shops, like Olive Juice Quilts in Onalaska, WI,  (got the 2250 red there this week!) or Pine Needles Quilt Shop in Rochester, MN.

After a macchiato doppio, and a few more hours, I’ve got some quilting done, but still have work left.

I’m working on making the sky recede from the foreground.  Looks like this is going to take a while.  I like the way the sky looks just under the lifeline at the top of this photo, but as you can see, I’ve got more than a bobbin full to fill in the rest of the sky on this side alone.

For the features, I’m trying to use the density of quilting as well as the color to show depth.  I’ve quilted the head and torso, but still have the hands and the lower torso to do.

Here’s how I treated the face, which I’m quite pleased with, considering I didn’t plan this in advance, and just quilted it in a few seconds.  I should remember this lack of advance planning sometime when I’m obsessing over little details.  Note to self….

Yes, this is a self-portrait.  Does the denser quilting of the neck remind you of a sunburn?  That would be accurate….

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Braised Leeks from Berlin

Seared leeks before braise

Leeks are one of my husband’s favorite vegetables, even though he’d never seen one before he’d met me.  That alone suggests that he likes what I cook, and that he’s not a picky eater.  How nice for us, eh?  Thus, when I found this recipe in My Berlin Kitchen, I knew it would be a potential hit.  It’s also pretty easy to do, and as it turns out, is a lovely compliment to braised lamb shanks, which is what I served it with at a recent dinner party.  I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, due to the timing of the other dishes I served with it (I doubled the recipe and braised this at 350 degrees F for an hour, instead of 30 minutes at 400 F.), but I can say that this was delicious.  I’m guessing that if you can’t find shallots, a large onion and a couple cloves of garlic would be similar.  I don’t have a picture of the finished product, due to dinner party timing, but rest assured that this dish is more than just what it looks like,  though it was a lovely golden brown.

Sauteed shallots for braise

Braised Leeks

from My Berlin Kitchen, by Luisa Weiss

serves 4 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 6 large leeks
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup sliced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1.5 to 2 cups chicken broth ( I used low-sodium)

Equipment

  • cutting board and chef’s knife
  • large skillet or saute pan
  • ovenproof baking dish (gratin dish)
  • liquid measuring cup
  • wooden spoon or spatula
  • kitchen timer

Procedure

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Prep the leeks:  Trim the roots, leaving the root end intact.  Trim off the tops, leaving about 2 inches of green.  Cut each leek in half, lengthwise.  Rinse them carefully to remove any grit between the layers.
  3. Heat the skillet or saute pan over medium high heat.  Pour in half the olive oil, and when it gets hot, place the leeks, cut side down, into the pan without crowding them (you may need to work in batches), so they don’t steam.  Sear the leeks for 4 to 5 minutes, until golden brown (This will take longer than you think. I used a timer to make sure I waited 4 minutes before turning), then turn them over and cook the other side for 3 to 4 minutes.  Transfer them, cut sides up, to the baking dish.
  4. Pour the remaining oil in the skillet and set over medium heat.  Add the shallots, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper.  Cook for about 5 minutes, until the shallots are beginning to color.  Add the wine and reduce by half.  Add the broth and bring to a boil.  Pour the mixture over the leeks.
  5. Put the baking dish in the oven and bake for 30 minutes until the leeks are tender.
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Luisa Weiss’s Peperoni al Forno Conditi

Here’s my first experience cooking from Luisa Weiss’s My Berlin Kitchen, Peperoni al Forno Conditi.  Isn’t this a pretty salad?

I took these photos half an hour before the guests arrived for a dinner party, so I had not yet added the crisped fresh bread crumbs to this.

First of all, thanks to Ms. Weiss for sharing the best way to roast (and later peel) peppers.  By putting them into the oven, you get lovely roasted peppers without black singed spots (as one gets holding them over a burner’s flame, or a grill flame).  Even better, they are much easier to peel!

Before they have been roasted… on a roasting pan

So, I washed and slapped these peppers onto a pan, and stuck them in the oven for about an hour.  Here’s what came out of the oven:

After the oven magic…..

After they cooled enough to touch, I was able to lightly grip the skins, and they came right off, much more easily than I expected.   Here’s what my big bunch of peppers looked like after I got all the peels off.  I put them into the fridge, and finished assembling the salad later in the day.

Before final salad assembly

Unfortunately, oil-cured olives and salt-cured capers are not easily available at the last minute in my town, so I used regular kalamata olives, and vinegar-cured capers.  In deference to guests who might not like anchovies, I didn’t use them.  I should have.  I think the sweetness of the peppers needed more of a salty, umami balance.  Go make this as soon as you can.  It’s beautiful, and people will eat it right up.

As tasty as it looks. The guests didn’t leave much!

Peperoni al Forno Conditi, serves 4

from My Berlin Kitchen, by Luisa Weiss

Ingredients

  • 2-3 slices stale white peasant bread
  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 3 yellow bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and chopped
  • 3 anchovy fillets (optional), finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup salt-cured capers, soaked and drained
  • 1 cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley, minced (I’d use less)
  • 4 Tablespoons best-quality olive oil, or more to taste
  • Flaky salt, such as Maldon (I used Trapani)

1. Cut the stale bread into rough chunks and blitz in food processor until they turn to coarse crumbs.  Spread out on a plate and set aside to crisp up and dry out.

2. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Wash and dry peppers and lay out on sheet.  Put baking sheet in oven and let roast for 45 minutes, turning the peppers every 10-15 minutes to make sure they cook evenly.  By the end of their cooking time, they should be blistered all over, and have juices bubbling.

3. Remove the sheet pan from the oven and let cool on a wire rack until you can handle the peppers.  Set out a clean plate next to the pan and pull the skins off the peppers, working over the foil.  Take care when you “unplug” the stem of the pepper: hot steam or liquid usually comes gushing out.  Your hands will become quite wet as you work; periodically dry them to facilitate the cleaning of the peppers. Transfer the peeled peppers, devoid of seeds, to the plate.  As you transfer the peppers, use your fingers to tear them into thin strips.  Discard the foil and the pepper trimmings.

4. Sprinkle the peppers with the breadcrumbs, olives, anchovies, capers, and parsley, and drizzle with the olive oil.  Mix gently, and sprinkle with flaky salt to taste.  Serve right away.  The salad without breadcrumbs can be held at room temperature for up to 4 hours- mix in the breadcrumbs at the last minute, so they retain their crunch.

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A review of My Berlin Kitchen

Luisa Weiss’s book, My Berlin Kitchen, is “a Love Story (with Recipes)”.  It’s also a bit more than that.  It’s a story about finding a voice, self-trust, and bravery.  The fact that this comes with vignettes from two continents and three languages makes it more colorful.

I’ll freely admit that as a reader of Ms. Weiss’s blog, the Wednesday Chef, I’ve been part of her cheering section for a while.  I enjoyed reading more about her life, and the people in it, and, of course, the food.

Ms. Weiss’s honesty impresses me as much as her writing style.  She admits her frailties, her failures, and her fears.  I especially enjoyed her assessments of her experiences that didn’t quite fit the preconceived ideas- that the Paris of day to day life is different from the one of week long vacations, that graduate school can have more frustrations than eurekas.    I appreciated the look back through her blog’s beginnings, remembering the sometimes cryptic posts, and now understanding what went on behind the screen.

Ms. Weiss’s experience of living in New York and now living away from it resonates.  Her understanding of the mile a minute speed of New York life and its influence on the rest of us, and its contrasts with life in Berlin (and rural Minnesota, in my case) are reasoned and mature.  The comparisons of apartment hunting, friendliness with neighbors, shopping for bitter greens, and regional tolerance of spicy made me nod knowingly and laugh in equal doses.  Sometimes a life that is different is better, and sometimes it’s just different.

I nodded more knowingly when Ms. Weiss described childhood years as a bookworm, and teen years in the kitchen baking.  These are the building blocks of my own experiences in the kitchen.  I share her love of throwing dinner parties, and have had similar pot luck horror stories.  I wouldn’t be able to tell my stories so deftly.  Because I could so easily relate to the comfort of the kitchen, and to shy insecurity as a younger woman, I enjoyed every bit of this book.  I feel Ms. Weiss and I have had so many common experiences, and it is wonderful to discover I was not alone in some of my odd thoughts when abroad, or at home.

I’m planning on working a couple of her recipes into my repertoire pretty quickly… I need a good ragu recipe, and the roasted peppers and braised leeks fit right into what’s in my fridge today.

Brava, Luisa!  Lei e’ una scrittrice meravigliosa.

 

 

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I Dream of Cured Meat

As I have been perusing my new copy of Salumi, by Ruhlman & Polcyn, I have been preparing for this year’s meat curing.  As you may or may not know, I enjoy the process of making sausages, and home cured prosciutto is my current Holy Grail.  I’ve been scheming in those spare moments before falling asleep, considering what I want to make this year, and what kinds of prep lists and coordinating I need to do.  The fact that my bedside reading has included the works of Maynard Davies,  Ruhlman & Polcyn, and Peery & Reavis may explain even more.

As I am in a bit of a hurry up and wait phase, I have been getting my cantina ready.  A new wine fridge is on order, new scales are on their way, and I’ve ordered casings and Bactoferm from Butcher & Packer.  This year I’m also getting a hygrometer and “personal” humidifier for the wine fridge, and I have my notebook ready, so I can keep better records of pre- and post- weights, etc.

My next task is to find the right conditions for the butchering of the pig.  I want to have the pig scalded, so I can have skin-on ham.  Unfortunately, the local meat lockers don’t have the facilities to do this, so I am trying to find a farmer who is willing to do this for me.  Thanks to my local network of providers, I have a couple names to call.  Ruhlman & Polcyn say you can order a half pig from Heritage Foods, or from Niman Ranch, but it seems silly, when I live in rural MN, to order half a pig by mail order from Brooklyn, NY.

If I can’t get this figured out, I guess I will end up curing muscles in casings, rather than doing the whole leg, and going back to the trusty folks at the local locker.  But I’m not ready to give up yet.  More to follow.

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