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Archive for the ‘Cooking w/ Fire’ Category

The big masonry kitchen project shows its face again

04.11.12

Some of you might remember this. 2-3 years ago, I came up with the mad idea of building a huge-assed [17+' wide] masonry wall of kitchen awesomeness in my back yard. Did all the research. Drew all the plans. Had them approved by the city and the gas company [crossing a gas line, not because anything's gas fuelled]. Then, decided that tackling it the year we had a newborn in the house was likely not the responsible thing to do. So it got shelved.

I then built ‘the temp‘, re-purposing the stack of cinders and bricks intended for ‘the big project’ to make them less in the way and more useful. Turns out the temp was a resounding success. 3 hour time investment gave me a wood oven and wood fire grill that will have lasted 15 months or so. But alas, the heat took its toll on the pavers in the design [see photo top left], which has compromised the structural integrity, as well as the usability of the temp. The temp will be seeing its last day standing today.

Which leaves me with two masonry-wood-fire projects. 1 – the big project. The shovel has hit the dirt to dig foundation. I have no idea when I’ll finish, but am taking the first steps in the journey. Keep telling myself Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s a bit daunting, but very exciting. 2 – the temp 2.0. I need a setup in the interim built elsewhere in the yard where it won’t be in my way. I believe it will be a cob oven and smaller wood grill. We’ll see what comes of that project. I see muscle soreness in my future.

Episode 37 – Bacon

03.21.12

I’ve been writing about bacon for years now. As in, 6-7 years. I’ve made it umpteen times, yet there are always little refinements here and there to make in the process. You’d think I’d have run out of things to say about it too by now. Nope.

I feel like this episode should be rated ‘N’ for containing the evil ‘Nitrates’. But for all you nitrate haters, consider this: “the permissible amount of nitrate in comminuted meat products [sausages], is 1718 mg/kg.” The amounts of nitrates naturally inherent in vegetables are then quoted, again in mg/kg: “spinach, 1631. beetroot, 1211. lettuces, 1051. cabbages, 338. potatoes, 155…” The list goes on. I’m quoting the book ‘Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design’ by respected charcuterie authors S., A., & R. Marianski. The authors then go on: “If one ate 1/4 lb smoked sausage, the ingoing nitrate would be 430ppm. That would probably account for less nitrates than a dinner served with potatoes and spinach.” 

That’s right. That box-store bagged spinach [which has a nasty history of carrying deadly pathogens, I'll add], cooked into a nice lasagna, would very likely have far more nitrates in it than a healthy portion of bacon. There are many things to fear in the food world, but let moderate use of nitrates not be one of them. And lastly, let me say it for the record: bacon without nitrates is not bacon, it’s pork belly. If you’re smoking pork belly without nitrates to get a ‘pretend bacon’ or ‘nitrate-free bacon’, you’re missing the point that nitrates are present to avoid you having a intimate encounter with ‘Mr. Botulism’.

Episode 32 – Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes

02.17.12

Eagle Creek Seed PotatoesIt being February and quite possibly a particularly early spring, I was contemplating my annual seed potato order from Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes when it dawned on me that perhaps I should go check them out. So I did. I knew they’d be filling my order in the next couple months, so they had to be busy prepping for that busy season – which was exactly the case. More seasonal food action that you perhaps wouldn’t think is going on up north in February.

This farm should be celebrated by Slow Food and anybody who values biodiversity. While others are farming a single variety of potato in serious quantities, this 4th generation family farm is growing 40 or so varieties and counting. Potatoes need not be a boring staple. What struck me when listening to John was his focus on taste – choosing potato varieties because they have the best taste. What a novel concept for something we eat. John also offers some great advice for what varieties to use in different cooking applications. I thought I knew potatoes, but apparently I have a few things to learn. They also do a veg CSA, raise heritage laying hens and turkeys in a straw-bale construction coop, and all kinds of other cool stuff. Add to that a stunning location atop a high point with a view over the Rockies, and it’s quite the memorable place.

Their online catalog is here, if you’re in the mood for potato enlightenment and/or want to order from them. I will be, again.

Episode 31 – Pizza

01.30.12

New Level Pizza - Margerita

Two people passionate about pizza. Like. Hardcore passionate. New Level Pizza [no they don't have a website, but you can follow them on Twitter @newlevelpizza], is affectionately known by members as ‘pizza club‘. Pizza club is currently a member only deal, not open to the public, and you can only go if you get invited by an existing member. There’s a long list of reasons why pizza club is a member-only deal at the moment, and you can ask the guys all about it when you score yourself an invite to go try their pies.

I have always adored the concept of prix-fixe eating – allowing the chef to do what inspires them and knock those dishes out of the park, rather than burning their energy accommodating everybody. Depending on the season and night, you’ll get a different array of deliciousness. Chad’s folks happened to have been in town from Newfoundland bearing gifts of line-caught cod, lingonberries, and cloudberries – so they ended up on the menu this particular night. Next time, something different.

It’s always fun to listen to folks talk about what they’re passionate about – and this episode’s no exception.

Episode 28 – Bin Food

01.19.12

This is a follow up to Episode 27, the reaction to which I must pause to thank you all for. I was more than slightly apprehensive in the days just prior to shooting it, fearful that if it didn’t go well, it could reflect badly on the subjects of the story. Turns out the result has been an outpouring of praise, appreciation, and value for the transparency, respect, and approach. I’m very grateful for you all and for having a brilliant individual to interview.

This is far…lighter, although still a serious topic near and dear to me: food waste. I left that day with 60-70 lbs of off-cuts from only 1 of the 5 cows killed, and it wasn’t even all the off-cuts. 100 lbs of edible ‘waste’ from one cow might be a good rough estimate. I’ll repeat myself to death that it’s the consumer demand that drives this waste. I’ll lump myself in there. I didn’t grow up eating heart, tripe, kidneys, caul fat, oxtail, etc – so I’m still learning about all this stuff too. But I now render all my lard from our annual pig, and easily use it all up. And I thoroughly enjoy roasted pig head which I would never have considered a few years ago. Pig skin crackling makes a regular appearance in my kitchen. There’s still a lot of an animal that I could learn to use better. So in this one, you get to see me make a dish with a bin cut that quite frankly should not be.

How did it taste? The flavour was intense and outstanding, and the mouthfeel unparalleled. For stews, I’m not sure there’s a better cut of beef. If the local restaurants don’t scoop this reject cut, I might, it’s that good. And for those that ‘don’t have the time’, please note how long it took to prepare.

Episode 26: Smoke & Ice

01.06.12

I grew up hunting and gardening, abandoned them both as a young adult, then fell in love with both again later in life. Apparently, same goes for ice fishing. I have semi-fond memories of exhausty ski-doo-trailer rides on to the lake, sitting on a pail getting blasted by the elements, eye lashes freezing together, not catching much of anything, getting cold, and hearing stories about how at one time you caught way more and way bigger fish. When you’re a kid, those kind of stories are far from any form of consolation.

A friend of mine [who I met when shooting another video, coincidentally] invited me out ice fishing with him and a co-worker of his, and I just couldn’t say no. It’s January. In my usually busy food world, action had slowed. Gardening season was over. Hunting season was over. But ice fishing is just getting started. And I had a blast, despite it being a particularly slow day. Ice fishing is immeasurably more enjoyable when you’re protected from the elements in a shack, and more importantly, can see down the hole to watch the fish swim about. Add to that some camaraderie and wild-food action – I now get why folks enjoy it. I’m hooked. I want to go again.

Music courtesy of The AwesomeHots

Gratuitous Pork-on-Rotisserie Action

12.30.11

I couldn’t help myself. A large piece of pork shoulder came out of the freezer, and all I could think was ‘rotisserie‘, shortly followed by ‘I want to shoot that‘. I figure one thing better than watching the fireplace channel is watching a fire AND a chunk of pork shoulder turning away on a spit. It will also serve as a reminder that I do not rotisserie nearly enough, not even close. I fell in love with rotisserie’d pork and chicken long ago in Belgium, and partook in both when I was there again in September. They know rotisserie. Combine that with good beer, and it’s one of the many reasons I keeping going back to Belgium. Every time I pull the spit out I kick myself for it having been so long. Perhaps that should be my new year’s resolution for 2012: more rotisserie, lots more.

The shoulder was started in a lidded earthenware crock, in the oven with some carrot, onion, sage, and apple wine – 180C for 2-3 hours. The idea here was to let it break down in the oven, and to finish it on the fire. Worked a charm. I will most certainly be doing the same again. And the days I’m not setting up the rotisserie, I can now sit back and watch.

I recommend watching the vid below with a beer in hand.

Dry Cured Elk Heart Verdict

12.12.11

I got a lot of questions about how the dry-cured elk heart turned out – and I didn’t know until today. Sliced into it exactly one month after the start of the cure, and I’m on the fence if leaving it longer would do it harm or good. You can see in the photo that the exterior’s dry like a jerky, while the interior’s got some texture like a lightly cured fish. Describing fish texture and game meats in the same sentence likely doesn’t conjure pleasant thoughts, but it’s not unpleasant. That’s what’s shocking.

My expectations were strong, rich, heavy, mineral/irony, dense. It in fact is delicate and mild – almost to a fault. It smells lightly like game but not strongly so, with light smoke notes from the cold smoke [I'd go longer next time], and is simply mushroomy & salty. I noticed the mushroom, then looked to see if I’d added any, and sure enough it’s obvious in the photo below that I’d dusted it with crushed wild mushroom and hadn’t noted it. I need to work on my note-taking-discipline. The texture reminded me of a thin slice of lardo in texture [more on that later] – denser than the norm, but in a pleasant way. Overall this is so light, in fact, that when thinking about pairing a wine, I think it would be lost by any red, even the lightest. I wanted a brandy after giving it a go.

So the dry cured heart was surprisingly delicate. Next time around, I’d omit the mushroom [too dominant], and herb and cold smoke it quite a bit harder so that it had some aromatic balance to the game vibe on the nose. Other than that, pretty happy with this one. Yes, I’m a little surprised.

Fire, Brick, Water, and Wheat

11.30.11

I couldn’t not take photos of these breads yesterday. It being a busy fall with harvesting, butchering, etc, I haven’t fired up the wood oven nearly often enough. There’s something meditative about watching a fire that’s akin to getting lost in music. Add to that the satisfaction of baking up lovely loaves of tasty bread while tending the oven, and it’s the kind of activity that can make your day.

This bread is the same pain a l’ancienne approach as I wrote about here. Having taken a quick look at that post I noticed that I’ve modified the loaf shape due to the design of my wood oven and how I’m baking them off. With hot coals still in the oven during baking there’s uneven heat making a baguette style loaf shape impractical – one end being done far before the other. So instead I’m free-styling them into whatever shape comes from cutting the dough into a few manageable pieces that can be turned easily in the oven if need be without removing them. It produces a puffed up mini-loaf that cut in half is fantastic for sandwiches. Kinda like pita meets pizza crust meets ciabatta bun. First course for dinner last night was herbed fried ruffed grouse breast, mayo, and carrot & pickled onion slaw stuffed into a half of one of these loaves. Tasty.

Smoking Heart and Bacon

11.14.11

I had been thinking of cold smoking my piece of curing elk heart, and then ‘Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design‘ arrived from the library. Inspiring book. No question I was going to give it a go after reading all kinds of cool ideas on how to cold smoke. It’d only been curing a couple days, but I had some bacon that was ready to get smoked, and I figured  I’d take care of them both at the same time. I wasn’t looking for a heavy smoke on the heart – just enough of a touch that when it’s shaved thin, you can detect traces of smoke. We’ll see if I got it right in a few weeks post hanging.

So I improvised a setup – one of the things I love about cooking with fire: it’s adaptable and conducive to use of ingenuity. It’s -2C outside, and the books I’ve been reading say cold smoke’s upper limit is 32C, with a desirable range of 12-22C. I figured that so long as I could get the piece in the smoke well above the fire, I’d be good. So I grabbed an old rack from my formerly employed bbq, plopped it atop my fire’s brick wall, and weighted it down with a couple bricks. Surprisingly solid. So the bacon would get a warm-ish smoke, and the heart a cold smoke. I ended up placing my bbq lid atop the bacon to contain more heat and smoke, and it still leaked plenty of smoke onto the heart piece. After an hour or two, the elk heart was still cool to touch.

You’ll see in the photos below that my setup allows for a separate fire/heat source to the right. This allows me to generate embers to keep apple branches smoking away. I found today that the best results came from simply pulling the sticks from under the bacon, placing them atop the fire for a minute until re-lit, then shaking/blowing the flame out and throwing them back under the bacon to smoke away again. Success. Heart goes back into the fridge for the smoke to even out and cure for a couple more days, and the bacon will meet its usual fate.