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Archive for the ‘Smoking w/ Fire’ Category

FROM THE WILD – S1E3 – BEAR

05.22.14

Black Bear - Spring Bear Hunt

Don’t think I wasn’t apprehensive about tackling this one. When the prospect of bear hunting for From The Wild first came up, I scoffed. I’m now firmly on the opposite side of that fence. Rationale: Spring bear is not in fact fatty at all, which many claim is what makes it ‘gross’. Bear meat is far from ‘gross’, and in fact is more delicately flavoured than moose or elk. The bear in the photo and the others we saw are feeding heavily on the first grasses of the season. Bears are omnivores, like pigs, and I’m fine ethically with eating a pig. My backyard hens are omnivores too for that matter. Bears are a managed species in Alberta and hunters aren’t chomping at the bit because 1] they’re gross to eat (false) and 2] it’s illegal to abandon the hide so it’s a commitment to get it processed afterwards. Sadly, it would have been fully legal for us to harvest this bear, skin it, and walk with the hide leaving the carcass for the scavengers. Instead, we’re putting it to marvellously good use. I’m now on a mission to wake others up to the fact that black bear indeed should have a place in our culinary repertoire, especially if we’re going to claim that we know the foods of the place that we live. Expect more posts about bear, and I welcome any challenges about the ethics around its culinary use. For those of you who are going to see me at Host Edmonton – bear is on the menu. Full episode is still in edit.

FULL EPISODES AVAILABLE HERE

Episode 53 – Duck

10.09.12

Confession: I packed in waterfowl hunting for a number of years for a few reasons. First reason – the more I learned about appropriate practices around animal slaughter in general, the less it made sense to shoot a hundred+ pellets at any and all of the prime cuts of an animal, have it fall from the sky to bruise on the ground, not necessarily killing it immediately, and not to be bled. I would not do that to a pig, say. Second reason – I had yet to prepare it in a fashion that I could really get excited about in the kitchen. There are a million ways to screw it up, and it took half a decade for me to realize that it’s kind of like squid – needs proficient quick preparation execution, or very, very, very long cooking time. Skip absolutely everything in between at your own peril.

Having been served some really nice goose a couple months back by Danny VanCleave – the guide in Episode 52 – I was re-inspired to give waterfowl another chance. And I’m glad I did. Turns out my displeasure with it in the kitchen was simply due to my inefficacy around its preparation. I admit it. Still think the slaughter method is crazy and wasteful, and that plucking in the presence of any shot hole in the body is insane though…

Episode 49 – Rge Rd 135

08.22.12

Last year’s Rge Rd 135 farm-to-table epic at Nature’s Green Acres [Episode 19] is still engraved into the minds of everyone that had the pleasure of being involved, making me more than slightly trepdatious at the prospect of trying to duplicate, nevermind top that farm-to-table extravaganza. But as far as I see it, they pulled it off.

Maybe I’m biased. It was a menu heavy on grass fed free-range meats, fresh garden veg and a splash of wild foods, all cooked on fire. I’m into that kind of thing. It also was the true maiden voyage of the 2nd cob oven build of the year, the first being mine. Add a lucky card-draw on the weather [again], a crew that busted their butts to make it happen, a few bottles of wine, a farm tour, and a few beautiful dishes for a large crew of happy guests – what’s not to like? The cob oven performed fabulously, I’ll add. It was a joy to watch it shed the last of its moisture from the build, get insanely hot, and cook some beautiful food. I wish I’d shot a video about the build, but was soaked to squishy-socks-in-my-shoes-stage and muddy as all heck.

This event is a labour of love, and for that I adore it.

Cob Oven Bacon

06.03.12

Writing about bacon. Again. Just when I thought there wasn’t anything additional to add to the conversation I have with myself here, there was something else to add. A simple conclusion: wood ovens are fantastic smokers. Different than a commercially manufactured smoker that generally involves automation, an element, and some wood chips, it still requires some finagaling in the way of fire management, making it an enjoyable creative process. Not only does it contain smoke as intensely as you’d like, it’s also well suited to creating smoke, as it’s easy to shut down its O2 supply such that it can’t ‘catch’ flame, and instead smoulders and smokes prolifically. I still maintain that an external fire source is critical to successful smoking, so I had a fire in an old baking pan off to the side to fuel the oven with heat when it started to cool off too much to hot smoke, or generate smoke at all for that matter. As usual, the wood of choice in my yard is apple wood, this time supplied by a friend at Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton. A future project of mine: many of the hundreds of trees OFRE has signed up for fruit rescue need some serious pruning + a local meat shop is interested in smoking their meats with said wood = cool.

So after years with a bbq conversion setup, and a year with a dry-stack brick setup, I am now pleased to be staring down a future of smoking in the new cob oven. A friend recently asked me if the honeymoon phase is over with the oven. Nope.

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 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

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.

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.

Farm-to-Table w/ RGE RD & Riverbend Gardens

10.27.11

The last farm-to-table dinner I attended was a resounding success, and I’m not surprised Blair and his crew have done a few of these since then. By happenstance we ran into each other at the farmers’ market a couple weeks ago and I ended up involved with his upcoming dinner at Riverbend Gardens. He ended up buying the last half of the 3 pigs we cut on Pig Day for the event, came over to butcher it, and also wanted to include some rescued fruit in his dessert so I ended up supplying some urban-fruit-rescued apples and evans cherries harvested by myself and Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton volunteers. I offered to give Blair a hand, shoot some video and such, cause, well, it’s just a lovely kind of thing to be involved with, really.

It was a 6 course wine-paired menu based on winter-veg from Riverbend Gardens, and pork and beef from Nature’s Green Acres. Plus 3 hors d’oeurvres. Pretty impressive menu, really, and glad it was he and not I in charge of making it happen for the 25 or so guests. It was a well-conceived and well-executed festival of winter squashes, pork, local cheese, kales, cabbages, brussel sprouts, cauliflowers, beef, potatoes, urban fruit, live music, and local and Okanagan wines. I was lucky enough to be offered a spare seat at the huge table, and between shooting video of the courses as they were plated, got to eat the food and be a guest. Thanks to Blair and the RGE RD crew for that, and for becoming such fantastic advocates and supporters of our local food producers, and for cooking with fire. It matters. Enjoy the video.