Make Your Own Bacon

Filed under: Food/Drink — Savvy Housekeeper at 8:00 am on Thursday, April 3, 2014

savvyhousekeeping make your own smoked bacon diy

My husband decided he wanted to make bacon. We had been eating a lot of it lately, and well, what meat-eater doesn’t like bacon?

It turns out that making bacon is easy. It takes a little bit of time, but it’s not hard at all, and well worth the effort.

On top of that, making your own bacon is fairly frugal. Good bacon–the thick-cut, apple- or hickory-smoked, lower-fat bacon–costs about $6-$8 a pound. Our bacon ended up being around $3 a pound, and I would say it is as good as most of the fancy stuff from the grocery story.

Of course, if you are content with the stringy $1/pound bacon, then you are not going to come out ahead on price here. However, you will come out ahead on quality.

savvyhousekeeping make your own smoked bacon diy

Bacon is made from the belly of the pig.

savvyhousekeeping make your own smoked bacon diy
(Courtesy)

We bought the belly from our local grocery store. We asked at the butcher counter and it turned out they had an 8 pound belly in the back that they were willing to sell us for $2/pound. That sounded okay to us, so we ended up with a long thick slab of belly with the pork skin still on it.

We also used “pink salt,” a curing salt otherwise known as sodium nitrite. You use pink salt in meat curing to prevent botulism. A pound of pink salt costs $2.50. (More on sodium nitrite here.)

Aside from that, it was just a matter of time–9 days to be exact–plus seasoning, heat, and smoke until we had bacon.

A couple of notes before I give the recipe. we adapted the recipe from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. I really can’t say enough about how awesome this book is. If you are interested at all in curing meats, go out and buy it.

Secondly, we used our smoker to make the bacon. According to Charcuterie, if you don’t have a smoker, you can use the oven, although of course then the bacon won’t be smoked. Check out the book for more information if you’re interested.

Okay enough talking.

How To Make Your Own Smoked Bacon

Ingredients:
(in this case, it is more accurate to weigh the ingredients, so get out the kitchen scale)

    1 8 pound pork belly
    75 grams (approx. 3 oz) kosher salt
    18 grams (approx. 3 tsp) pink salt
    75 grams (approx. 3/8 cup) packed dark brown sugar
    90 milliliters (approx. 2 1/10 cup) maple syrup


Equipment:

    Kitchen scale
    1-2 3-gallon ziploc plastic bags
    Smoker
    Wire rack
    Meat thermometer
    A good sharp knife


Directions:

First, trim excess meat from either end of the pork belly so it is a rectangle. I froze the excess as pork belly is wonderful to cook with.

Create the cure. Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl. Rub the cure over the meat side of the belly. (There’s no point in rubbing it on the skin since you are just going to cut it off.) Put the whole thing in a big ziploc bag and put it in the fridge.

savvyhousekeeping make your own smoked bacon diy

Now, you wait. It takes about a week (we waited 8 days) for the cure to penetrate the meat. Every day, flip the bag over so that the cure is redistributed. During this time, you will notice liquid leeching out of the belly. This means the salt is doing its job.

After a week, remove the belly from the fridge. Congratulations, you have just made fresh bacon. If you want, you can slice a little off and fry it up–it’s good. It tastes like pork belly.

But we want to make smoked bacon, so onward! Next, rinse the cure off the pork belly:

savvyhousekeeping make your own smoked bacon diy

And then set it on a wire rack. Put the belly, uncovered and meat-side-up, in the fridge overnight. During this time, a pellicle will form over the meat, which is a gooey film that comes from the salt cure pulling water out of the meat. This is an important step because the pellicle helps the smoke penetrate the meat.

The next day, you finally get to smoke the bacon. We used almond wood instead of traditional apple or hickory wood because that is what we had lying around. My husband smoked the whole pork belly at around 185-190F for about 2 hours, until the thickest part of the belly registered 150F on the meat thermometer.

savvyhousekeeping make your own smoked bacon diy

After it cools, remove the skin off the belly. This is the hardest part because it requires you to cut along the line where the skin meets the fat of the belly. Using a knife, carefully slice the skin off, trying not to remove the fat in the process. Discard the skin.

savvyhousekeeping make your own smoked bacon diy

What you have left is a nice slab of freshly smoked bacon!

savvyhousekeeping make your own smoked bacon diy

We ended up with 5 pounds of bacon after the skin was removed. It is much leaner than the stuff in the store–I ended up needing a bit of oil to cook it, which is a first for bacon. It is neither too sweet nor too salty, just the right amount of crispy, and very delicious:

savvyhousekeeping make your own smoked bacon diy

My husband says that the only thing he would do differently next time is to divide the pork belly in half because that would have been easier to work with. Otherwise, I would say our bacon adventure is a success.

Make Your Own Sausage

Filed under: Food/Drink — Savvy Housekeeper at 12:00 pm on Wednesday, April 2, 2014

savvyhousekeeping.com

This weekend, I made my own sausage for the first time. It was easy and cheaper than buying sausage in the store. It took about 20 minutes and I ended up with 2 pounds of sausage, which I froze in half-pound sections for easy use.

Italian Sausage

Ingredients:

    2 lbs of pork shoulder
    1 Tbs salt
    1 1/2 Tbs paprika
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    1/2 tsp fennel seeds
    1 tsp pepper
    1/3 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
    3 Tbs parsley

Directions:

A couple of months ago, I bought several pork shoulder steaks for cheap at my local market. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, since the steaks are tough and have a lot of fat. Since someone gave me a sausage attachment for my KitchenAid Mixer, I decided to try making my own sausage with the meat.

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First, I cut the pork into cubes and combined all the herbs in a bowl. I mixed thoroughly to combine the herbs and meat.

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Next, I simply ran the meat through the attachment. I used the smaller of the two blades I had, put the meat in the top, and watched it come out of the blade. I did a little bit and then fried a piece up to make sure it tasted good. It did–it tasted like a mild, properly seasoned sausage. Satisfied, I ran the rest of the meat through and ended up with this:

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To store, I separated the meat into half-pound sections, wrapped them in wax paper and plastic bags and put them in the freezer. Well, all except the bit I fried up and put on homemade pizza.

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Now that I have had a taste (no pun intended) of making sausage, my mind is open with possibilities. Chicken-and-apple sausage. My own Chorizo. Lamb sausage with Mediterranean spices… Hmmm….

Cost: 2 lbs pork shoulder: $1.69; Spices: $.40-ish.
Total Cost: $2.05 for 2 lbs, $1.05 a pound.
In the stores: In my grocery store, country sausage–i.e. Italian-ish sausage outside the casing–goes for $1.99 a pound. Sausage in the casing seems to be much higher, 4-5 sausage for about $5.99. However, for the sake of comparing apples to apples, we’ll go with the $1.99 a pound price.
Total Savings: $.94 a pound

Spicy Carrot Peanut Soup

Filed under: Food/Drink — Savvy Housekeeper at 8:00 am on Wednesday, April 2, 2014

savvyhousekeeping spicy carrot peanut soup

I like this soup because it is thick and creamy, flavorful, but also chock full of vegetables and protein. It’s a very satisfying soup, especially if you are a vegetarian.

On top of that, it’s insanely cheap to make–$2.30 for an entire batch of soup! (That is considering you make your own vegetable broth.) Here’s the recipe:

Spicy Carrot Peanut Soup

Ingredients:

    2 Tbs vegetable oil
    1 large onion, chopped
    2 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped
    1 celery stalk, chopped
    1 Tbs parsley
    1 spicy pepper–jalapeño works fine.
    2 garlic cloves
    4 c vegetable broth
    2 c water
    3.5 Tbs peanut butter
    3 Tbs soy sauce
    2 Tbs fresh lime juice
    1 Tbs salt
    pepper


Directions:

Prepare all the vegetables. In a soup pot, warm the oil and add one at a time the garlic, onions, carrots, celery, parsley, and chili. Sauté on high heat for 10 minutes until the vegetables start to soften. Add the water and broth, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the carrots are soft, about 25 minutes.

Next, stir in the peanut butter, soy sauce, lime juice, salt, and pepper. In a blender, puree the soup in batches. Taste and adjust seasoning. If you want it spicier, add a little dried red pepper. Enjoy.

This makes a large batch of soup. I usually separate soup into single-serving containers and freeze for an easy lunch.

Cost of Dish: Oil: $.05; Carrots: $.99, Onion: $.20; Celery: $.02; Parsley, garlic, lime, and chili pepper: free from the garden; Vegetable broth: free; Water: free; Peanut butter: $.84; Soy sauce: $.20; Salt and Pepper: practically free.
Total Cost Of Dish: $2.30 for the batch, or $.23 per serving.

Fresh Pita Bread

Filed under: Food/Drink — Savvy Housekeeper at 8:00 am on Tuesday, April 1, 2014

savvyhousekeeping.com

Yesterday I finally got around to using up that half box of falafel. I made the falafel and some fresh hummus, then grilled up some bell peppers and onions to serve with them. But I needed something to serve the falafel in, so I made some pita bread too.

I had never made pita pockets before. I had tried naan several times, and it has never come out exactly how I wanted. Luckily, it turns out that pita bread is easier than naan. Homemade pita is softer and tenderer than the store stuff. Here’s the recipe courtesy of the Joy of Cooking:

Pita Bread

Ingredients:

    3 c flour
    1 1/2 Tbs sugar
    1 1/2 tsp salt
    4 tsp yeast
    2 Tbs melted butter
    1 1/4 c warmish water

Directions:

1. Mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the water and butter. Mix to combine.

2. Knead for 10 minutes by hand, or on medium speed in the mixer using a dough hook. (I did the latter.) The dough tends to get sticky. You want it to be a little tacky, but not incredibly sticky. I added extra flour to get it to the right consistency.

3. Spray a bowl with pam, roll the dough around to cover in the oil. Put plastic wrap on top and let the dough sit for about 2 hours.

4. Punch the dough down. Divide it into 8 small balls. Cover with a dish towel and let them rest for 20 minutes.

5. Now it’s time to cook the pita. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. I used a pizza stone, although the book says you can also turn a baking sheet upside down as a cooking surface. With a floured rolling pin, roll out each of the 8 balls until they are about 8 inches in diameter and 1/8 of an inch thick.

6. When the oven is hot, spray some water on the pizza stone. Wait 30 seconds. Now put the dough on the pizza stone. I had to work in batches, cooking three pitas at the time.

7. The pitas cook very quickly. What you want is them to inflate into a little balloon, like the pita in the picture above. When they get like that, wait 30 seconds and take them out. When they come out of the oven, they deflate and become pita pockets. It you wait too long, they will not deflate and you will have a pita balloon. Total cooking time is about 2-3 minutes per pocket.

Voila! Homemade pita!

Lemon Meringue Pie Bars

Filed under: Food/Drink — Savvy Housekeeper at 12:00 pm on Monday, March 31, 2014

savvyhousekeeping lemon meringue pie bars

Can’t choose between lemon bars and lemon meringue pie? The solution is to combine them, of course. Lemon meringue pie bars are shortbread crust, a creamy lemon filling, and a layer of meringue on top. They are fantastic. The meringue is so fluffy, it makes the lemon bar seem light and delicate. I highly recommend you try them.

Lemon Meringue Pie Bars

Ingredients:

Crust:

    1 c butter
    1/2 c powdered sugar
    2 c flour
    1/4 tsp salt

Filling:

    1 1/3 c sugar
    1/2 c cornstarch
    1 3/4 c water
    4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
    2 Tbs butter
    2 Tbs lemon zest
    1/2 c lemon juice
    Dash of salt

Meringue

    4 egg whites
    1/4 tsp cream of tarter
    1/2 c sugar


Directions:

To make the crust, blend the butter, powdered sugar, flour, and salt together and press into an oiled 13X9 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes until it starts to get golden.

While that cooks, make the lemon filling. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Gradually add the water and stir until smooth. Cook over medium heat until mixture boils, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

In another bowl, beat the egg yolks. Stir about half of the mixture into the egg yolks to temper them. When it is all mixed together, pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the filling. Stir over low heat until the mixture bubbles.

Remove from heat. Stir in butter, zest, and lemon juice. When the crust comes out of the oven, pour the lemon filling over crust.

Now make the meringue. In a mixer, beat the egg whites, cream of tarter, and sugar until peaks form. You want it to be stiff.

Spread the meringue over the filling, being careful not to burst the bubbles. Bake at 350 degrees until meringue is light golden brown, roughly 25 minutes. Make sure to watch that they don’t burn.

Refrigerate 1 hour before serving. Enjoy!

How To Pick A Kitten

Filed under: Cleaning/Decorating — Savvy Housekeeper at 8:00 am on Monday, March 31, 2014

This post is not an excuse to post pictures of kittens. It’s not!

People always ask me how I ended up with such friendly cats. (Some would call my cats overly friendly.) Part of this is that they have always gotten a lot of attention but part of it is that I picked good kittens in the first place.

Cat personalities can run the gambit from feral to lap cats. Luckily, picking a kitten is not hard at all–in fact it’s very fun–but there are a few things to look for to make sure you get a good one. You want to make sure the kitten is friendly, healthy, and has a good personality.

There are other things to consider when picking a kitten–what it looks like, whether the cat sheds, and whether you want a male or a female (I usually get male cats but find the sex doesn’t matter as long as you get the cat fixed when it’s young). But if you focus on the following points first, you will be happy with your adoption.

When looking for a kitten, make sure the kitten:

Purrs when you touch it.
Unlike adult cats, a good kitten will purr every time it’s picked up. I can’t stress enough how important this is for ending up with a friendly cat. A purring kitten means it’s used to being handled and that it likes people. A kitten that doesn’t purr may be the cutest thing in the world, but if it isn’t bonded to people, it won’t have the same relationship with you that a kitten that purrs will. (Most likely, anyway–there are exceptions to every rule.) If you want a cat that comes when you calls, loves to cuddle, and follows you around, get a kitten that purrs when you pick it up.

Is healthy. There is nothing sadder than a sick kitten. You want your kitten to be in good shape and healthy. This includes:

    A healthy coat. Cats show their health in their fur, so look for a shiny, thick coat. An unhealthy coat may look dull, feel thin, or even have bald spots.

    A healthy weight. You want a kitten with a bit of fat on its body and good muscle tone. Skeletal kittens can have serious problems.

    Clear eyes. It’s common for kittens to have runny eyes. Usually this is a simple problem that can be cleared up by medication, but it’s still something to think about.

    Normal breathing. Kittens that wheeze, sneeze, or show other respiratory issues are doing so because they’re sick. Usually this is a common cold, but sometimes it can be more serious.

    Seems energetic.
    Of course cats sleep a lot, but when the kitten is awake, it should show interest in playing and be generally bright eyed and bushy tailed.

    Has a clean butt.
    Sorry, but you have to check under the tail too. You don’t want to see blood, diarrhea, or any other nasty-looking problems.

Connects with you. Wait for a kitten that has a personality. Usually, this means the kitten will notice and interact with you. Maybe he will come across the cage to see you, maybe he will bat at your clothes, or maybe he will fall asleep on you in the store, as in the case of our most recent cat. However this manifests, you’ll know it when you see it.

How did you know your cat was “the one”?

What’s Up Doc? Cocktail

Filed under: Food/Drink — Savvy Housekeeper at 8:00 am on Friday, March 28, 2014

savvyhousekeeping what's up doc carrot juice ginger gin cocktail

Carrot juice is good for you, full of minerals and vitamins and so on. So why not ruin it by adding alcohol? DIY Cocktails and I thought that sounded like a good idea, so we ground up some carrots and made a cocktail out of their juice.

With ginger liqueur, gin, and a touch of cinnamon on top, this drink is almost like drinking a piece of carrot cake.

savvyhousekeeping what's up doc carrot juice ginger gin cocktail

This could be a good alternative for brunch cocktails like the mimosa and the Bloody Mary.

The recipe:

What’s Up, Doc? Cocktail

(Makes one cocktail)

Ingredients:

    1 1/2 oz carrot juice (fresh is ideal, but you can also buy carrot juice at health food stores)
    1 1/2 oz gin
    1/2 oz ginger liqueur
    Ice
    Cinnamon to top (optional)


Directions:

Combine carrot juice, gin, and ginger liqueur in a cocktail shaker. Shake thoroughly. Put a few cubes of ice in a glass and strain the drink over the ice. If you want, add a slight touch of cinnamon on top. Enjoy!

Freezer Pizza Dough

Filed under: Food/Drink — Savvy Housekeeper at 8:00 am on Thursday, March 27, 2014

I’ve mentioned before that homemade pizza is much cheaper than delivered or restaurant pizza. It costs me $2.65 to make a pizza at home compared to paying $25 for delivery. That’s about one-tenth the price of delivered.

Once you’ve got it down, homemade pizza tastes as good, if not better, than most delivered pizza, and it doesn’t even take that long to make… providing you have the dough ready.

Luckily, raw pizza dough is easy to freeze. My system is to make a big batch, divide it into pizza-sized portions, and freeze it. On the day we’re having pizza, all I have to do is pull one of the dough balls out of the freezer and by dinnertime, it’s ready to be made into pizza. Here’s how I do it:

Freezer Pizza Dough:
(Makes enough dough for four 12″ pizzas)

Ingredients:

    4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
    2 2/3 c warm water
    7 c all-purpose flour
    1/4 c olive oil
    2 Tbs salt
    1 Tbs sugar

Directions:

In a mixer, add the yeast and sugar.

Turn the water on your faucet to hot and let it run until you see steam. You want warm-to-hot water to stimulate the yeast.

Once the water it hot, add it to the yeast and sugar. Quickly add the flour on top of the warm water to lock in the heat and continue yeast activation. Add the salt and oil.

Mix the dough for 1 minute on low speed until all the ingredients are blended. Switch to a dough hook and knead the dough for 10 minutes on medium speed. At the end, you should have a compact dough that is smooth and elastic.

Spray a bowl with oil to keep the dough from sticking. Put the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set the bowl in a warm out-of-the way spot until it doubles in size, about an hour and a half.

To divide the dough: Gently remove the dough from the bowl. It’s okay if it deflates a bit. With a cleaver or some other kind of knife, cut the dough into four similar-sized pieces. Weigh the dough to make sure it is the same size–usually each ball weighs about 3/4 of a pound.

Roll each dough section into a ball. Wrap in freezer-safe parchment paper or wax paper to avoid freezer burn. Put in a plastic bag and stick in the freezer.

You now have dough for four pizzas. To defrost, simply take a ball of dough out and let defrost on the counter. But dinnertime, you’ll have nice fresh dough to shape into a pizza.

savvyhousekeeping homemade pizza dough freezer

Hurrah! Pizza about to go into the oven.

Unusual Pizza Toppings

Filed under: Food/Drink — Savvy Housekeeper at 12:00 pm on Wednesday, March 26, 2014

savvyhousekeeping corned beef pizza

Like the above Corned Beef Pizza, I like trying unusual toppings on my homemade pizzas. One of the best pizzas I have ever made was one with barbecue ribs. It had rib meat, a combination of mozzarella and smoked cheddar, and a mixed marinara and barbecue sauce. It was awesome.

We have also tried pulled pork, arugula, squash, chorizo, chicken, falafel, and lots of other toppings. All have been good. The trick is to think of the whole pizza as complimenting the flavor of the topping. So with the ribs pizza, I didn’t just dump meat on top, I also incorporated cheese and BBQ sauce that mirrored the flavor of the ribs. This gives the pizza an overall harmony, and harmony = delicious.

Here are some toppings I’m curious about:

Egg Pizza

savvyhousekeeping egg pizza

I have tried egg on a pizza before and found it unnecessary. However Michael Ruhlman’s egg pizza makes me want to give it a second chance. For one thing, he paired the egg with asparagus and bacon, which sounds darn good. Also the egg I had was practically raw, and he cooks his in the oven for a few minutes, which would make a lot of difference in texture. It gives a whole new meaning to breakfast for dinner.

Chard Pizza

savvyhousekeeping chard pizza

I am going to be growing chard this year, so will probably try it on pizza. In particular, I like the looks of In Praise of Leftovers’ broccoli, chard and chévre pizza, pictured above. Wow.

Pear Pizza

savvyhousekeeping pear pizza

Pear sounds like one of those ingredients that could either be awful or genius as a pizza topping. This recipe from the Rustic Kitchen gives me hope that it is the latter. It is pear pizza with red onions and walnut pesto, which sounds kind of awesome.

Corn Pizza

savvyhousekeeping corn pizza

Here’s a picture from the Biggest Menu of “pizza with fresh corn, balsamic marinated roasted red onions, mozzarella, smoked mozzarella topped with fresh chives.” I’m sold. I know that’s good.

Potato Pizza

savvyhousekeeping potato pizza

The LA Times has a recipe for potato pizza. Sounds like the trick is to slice the potatoes very thin to get them to cook. I’m not a fan of white sauce on pizza, so would probably tweak the flavorings to go with marinara instead.

Really, this can go on and on. There’s no end to the deliciousness of pizza, especially when you make your own.

What unusual pizza toppings have worked for you?

Homemade Vs Delivered Pizza

Filed under: Money — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:52 am on Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I eat a lot of pizza. As such, I have carefully analyzed the cheapest way I can purchase a good pizza. And by good, I mean a pizza with real cheese and a nice dough–not those paper-dough cheese-food pizzas you can get at fast food chains. Here’s my options for purchasing a large sausage pizza, from the cheapest option to the most expensive:

Homemade using my own dough: Dough: $.25, Cheese: $2, Sauce: $.10 (using tomatoes from the garden), Sausage: $.25, total: $2.65

The problem here is you have to think ahead and give the dough time to rise, so this option is not good on spontaneous “Let’s get pizza!” nights.

Homemade using the local pizzeria’s dough: Dough: $2, Cheese: $2, Sauce: $.10, Sausage: $.25, total: $4.35

When we are feeling lazy, we go for this option. We get a bag of the uncooked dough from a local pizza place and then use our own ingredients from there. (Trader Joes also sells uncooked dough for $1.30 a bag. It’s not the world’s greatest dough, but it’s passable.)

Take N Bake from local grocery store, on sale: $6

I’m not a fan of grocery pizza because they skimp on cheese. However, on sale this can be a reasonable way to get pizza.

Take N Bake from local pizza place, on sale: $6-$10

I used to use Papa Murphy’s when they first came out in the 1990s, but now their prices are so high, I don’t see the point of their pizza. If you have a coupon or get them on sale, they can be worth it, but not on sale, they are around $12-$15. At that price, you might as well just get a cooked pizza. (Costco also has a Take N Bake pizza for around $10. It’s pretty good.)

A pizza from my favorite pizza place: $15

Bricks has great pizza and we go there a lot. I have no complaints about Bricks, frankly. I love that place.

A pizza from local delivery place, take out, with coupon: $18

The local pizza delivery places have good pizza. Sometimes I take advantage and order a pizza, using the coupons I get in the mail and picking the pizza up. Without the coupon, the pizza costs between $21-$22.

A pizza from local delivery place, delivered, no coupon: $25

This is a hell of a lot to spend on pizza.

If you compare the most expensive way to get a pizza–delivered with no coupon–to the least expensive way–homemade with your own dough–you’re talking a savings of $22.35 a pizza. When you’re buying about four pizzas a month, like I do, that’s about $90 a month in savings. This is precisely why I almost always make my own pizzas. And if I do go pay for one, it’s usually to Bricks.

Here’s a recipe for making that sausage pizza at the top of the entry, courtesy of Eggs on Sunday.

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