How to make coffee cookies from scratch

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

The following is cross-posted from our coffee blog because it’s a perfect fit here, too.

At the end of November/beginning of December, I spent a couple weeks seeing coffee and coffee people in Chiapas, the southern-most state of Mexico.  With the exception of a dinner in an American chain hotel the night of my arrival, it’s safe to say I didn’t have a bad meal on the entire trip, and some of the things I ate were just magnificent. Among other things, the country is replete with fabulous baked goods.

I have a bit of an irrational love for certain cookies, but it’s a really narrow range.  Your garden-variety chocolate chip (or even so-called “gourmet” chocolate chips) just doesn’t do it for me.  For me, cookies need to be small, thin and crisp, for starters.  They also need to be simple, but flavorful.  A really well-done sugar cookie, or a ginger snap, is the kind of cookie I like.  At Carajillo Cafe in San Cristobal de las Casas, I had what may be the prefect cookie for me: a coffee cookie.  It was a good size (bordering on too large, but not really over the limit), with a crisp texture and a foundation of butterscotch.  The coffee was subtle, enhanced by a decorative bean on the cookie.  As cookies go, on a 100-point scale, this one was about a 90 for me.  I was determined to replicate it when I got home.

This is the cookie that grabbed my attention. I ate half the plate before it occurred to me to photograph them.

Without a recipe to guide me, I had to go through some trial and error to come up with a coffee cookie that beat the one in Mexico, but after the third attempt I finally nailed it.  Here’s the recipe:

Coffee Cookies – makes 60 small cookies

0.5lb (2 sticks) butter, room temp
1-1/4c brown sugar
1 whole egg + 1 yolk
1 tsp vanilla
2-1/4c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp fine sea salt
2 TBSP very finely ground coffee
60 coffee beans

Cream together butter, brown sugar, vanilla and eggs.  Mix flour, salt and baking powder.  Combine butter and flour mixtures till they are a dough. Roll in 10 gram balls (a little bigger than a teaspoon), place 24 per sheet. Press each cookie flat with palm.  Sift ground coffee onto cookie, place one bean in center.  Bake at 350F for 17-20 minutes.

The variation between my attempts was really due more to technique than ingredients or proportions.  In the final analysis, three things really mattered:

  1. Giving the dough balls a little flatten with your palm changes how the cookie finishes;
  2. Use a sifter of some sort to sprinkle the coffee evenly on the dough after flattening (I used a small screen colander-style strainer), so not try to do it by pinching with your fingers like a pinch of salt;
  3. Baking duration – it took longer than I thought it would to achieve the degree of crispness desired.  Your oven may vary, but 15 minutes was definitely not enough @350F in mine.  I did one batch at 17 min and another at 20 min and didn’t note much difference between them, but there was a huge difference between 15 and 17 minutes.

Here’s the finished product:

My very own coffee cookies.

We hope these cookies make your list of holiday favorites!

To be consistent with other posts on this blog, here’s the rough cost info:

Butter, $3; Flour, $0.40; Eggs, $0.60; Brown Sugar, $0.80; Coffee, $0.25; Other, $0.25.  Total $5.30.  Made 60 cookies, so $0.09 per cookie.  I consider a serving to be 2 cookies, so $0.18 per serving.

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Categories: Baking, Coffee, Recipes Tags: ,

How to make an stuffed acorn or butternut squash from scratch

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

I love it when the weather starts to turn, and the evening fare starts to shift to heartier more savory meals.  One of our favorites are stuffed winter squashes.  In our neck of the woods, acorn and butternut squash are plentiful and inexpensive.  Talking to friends, I was kind of surprised to learn that these squashes are a little daunting to a lot of folks, so I thought I’d share my approach to what is realistically a 40-minute meal, start-to-finish.  You can alter the ingredients based on what you have on-hand, and/or make in advance and refrigerate or freeze for a quick, easy meal later.

Quick, easy stuffed squash. These are acorn and butternuts, stuffed with a sage-infused millet, kale and pear stuffing.

I didn’t think to photograph this meal step-by step, but it’s straightforward to describe, and pretty easy to reverse-engineer just by looking at the finished product.  My version is vegetarian and gluten-free (omit cheese and butter for vegan version).  But you can alter all the inputs – I used millet as stuffing base, but it could have just as easily been rice, or wheat berries, or other grain of your choosing.  Tonight I put pears in my stuffing, but you could omit, or use apples, or dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, etc).  Likewise, I had kale in the house, but any green would be equally good.  Read my recipe and feel free to modify or substitute liberally.  If you want meat, add some cooked crumbled sausage to the stuffing mix prior to baking.

Acorn and Butternut Squash, Stuffed with Sage-infused Millet, kale and pear

1 Acorn squash, halved, seeds scooped out
1 Butternut squash, halved, seeds scooped out (cut off area above hollowed out bowl and use in other dishes)
1 cup millet (uncooked)
1 Medium onion, chopped
2 cups chopped kale
2 pears, chopped
1 tbsp dried sage, or several fresh sages leaves, minced
1-2 tbsp butter (omit for vegan)
1-2 tbsp oil (olive oil, canola, etc)
1/2 cup grated semi-hard or hard cheese (omit for vegan)
salt and pepper to taste

Arrange the squash cut side down on a large plate with enough of a lip to add a bit of water (submerge squashes a couple millimeters).  Cover plate and squashes tightly with plastic wrap.  Microwave them for 5 minutes to steam them.  Alternatively, you could steam the squashes in the traditional way, which would take about 15-20 minutes.

Cook the millet, covered, in 3 cups water with sage and salt to taste.  At a low simmer, millet takes about 25 minutes.  All the water should be absorbed, but if not, drain excess.

Saute the onion in a bit of oil and/or butter.  When nearly translucent, add the kale and pear, stir till wilted, about 2 minutes.

Mix the cooked millet with kale mixture.  Add a TBSP butter and stir till melted.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Stuff the grain mixture into the squashes, and top with cheese.  bake in a 375F convection oven or under broiler until cheese is lightly browned.  Serve hot, or save for later.  these will keep for a week in the fridge, or months in the freezer.

Cost analysis:

Squashes were $1 each at farmers’ market.  Millet about $0.25.  Onion and kale $0.25.  Pear $0.50.  Cheese $0.75.  Butter $0.25.  Sage $0.10.  EVOO $0.15.  Total $4.25.  Made (4) servings = $1.07 per serving.

How to make ketchup from scratch (with no HFCS!)

July 24, 2012 2 comments

This post I debated – is ketchup worthy of being written up on a blog about lost culinary arts, about doing things that aren’t really very easy?  I mean, what’s next, posts about lemon bars and how to make a mean vegetarian pasta?  It’s a slippery slope between being true to the mission, and channeling Rachel Ray.

Because on the one hand, while ketchup’s not quite as easy as making tomato sauce, it ain’t rocket science.  But on the other hand, it’s enough of a mystery and pain in the ass that I had never done it before.

And while all that mental debate was being played out in some schizophrenic place in my head, I tasted the fruit of my efforts, and wondered how I had ever eaten Heinz.  Holy shit.  Really.  And with that, I knew it must be blogged about here.  Because you really should be making your own, it’s just that Goddamned good.

For me, this effort started where they often do: with a giant box of excess ingredients about to melt down into compost at any moment.  In this case, tomatoes.  On Saturday, as we were tearing down our tent at the Holly Springs Farmers’ Market, I made a deal with a nearby tomato seller: one bag of coffee in exchange for all the tomatoes he had left that wouldn’t last the weekend.  Which turned out to be around 50 lbs of butt-ugly, maximally ripe, about to burst or ooze out of the box tomatoes.

Some of those tomatoes wound up as sauce, and some just plain canned tomatoes.  But even after we had canned all we were going to need for the year (remember, I’ve been canning tomatoes for weeks now), I still had approximately a metric shitload of tomatoes remaining.  So I decided to tackle something that’s been on my list for years, but I’ve never quite gotten around to: ketchup.  How hard could it be, right? Turns out that the question I should have been asking all these years is “how good could it be?“.

Somehow, the “recipe” on the back of the Heinz bottle left something to be desired. All out of High Fructose Corn Syrup. But it did provide a useful guideline on starting sodium content.

The research started as it always does, with an internet search, and a scouring of my home library, now made much easier by eatyourbooks.com(no paid plug, I really just love their site/service)  I also read the back of the Heinz bottle looking for clues.

As an aside, I’ll mention that I also did a serious Heinz ketchup tasting, trying to ascertain the ingredients and proportions.  I must admit, it’s the first time I ever really tasted ketchup for the sake of tasting ketchup.  It was kinda gross.  It is way sweeter than I ever consciously realized.  And other than that, kinda benign, flavor-wise.  I realized it wouldn’t be hard to beat.

The recipes I read had many common threads.  Tomato concentrate. Sweetener. Vinegar. Spices. Salt.  All I had to do was deduce the proportions, cobble together a recipe, and figure out the technique.  And that, my friends, is the stuff this blog is made of. Most of the recipes out there are small batch, and struck me as being about 1/3 each tomato, sweetener, and vinegar.  I knew I would never like something so sweet, and my family would never like so much vinegar.  I also guessed that ketchup is a non-linear kind of recipe, i.e., a big batch doesn’t require proportionately more of everything.  So I figured I’d start small, and add to taste.  Here’s the photo blog, which I’ll follow with a recipe.

It all starts with these about-to-be-compost tomatoes. Wash, cut out the core, the bad spots, and give ‘em a coarse chop. I used about 20 maters like these, which amounted to about 3 quarts chopped.

I used two small onions, one red and one white (they weighed 116 grams), and a couple large cloves of garlic, which I smashed with a pinch of salt in the mortar and pestle (probably not strictly necessary, but habit for me). Everything’s gonna get blended later so no need to fret about the panache of your knife work.

 

Simmer the maters, oniion and garlic for a while (20 minutes), then hit ‘em good with the stick blender. If you don’t have a stick blender, you should buy one. Really. They are that useful, and no competent kitchen should be without one. If you must, use a food processor or blender, but for God’s sake, be careful because the stuff is hot. Safety first.

OK, now you need the spices, which will be simmered in vinegar to extract their flavor. I used a variation of my standard pickling spice blend – about equal parts coriander seed, mustard seed, cloves, cinnamon stick, and whole allspice. For this batch, my spice mix probably amounted to a couple tablespoons. Toast them for a few minutes before adding vinegar.

Ah, vinegar. Which type? I picked apple cider because I thought it would add more flavor than white. De gustibus non est disputandum, or in other words, use what you like.

Simmer the spices in the vinegar for 15 minutes or so, then strain the spiced vinegar into the tomato mixture.

Here’s where I cheated. I added a few cans of tomato paste to hasten the thickening. Sue me.

For sweetener, I used demerara sugar. You could use white sugar. Or honey. Or stevia. Or high fructose corn syrup. I live in a no-judgement zone.

Time to add salt to taste. Add it slowly and taste as you go. It’s really surprising when you hit the tipping point and a little bit changes the flavor quite a lot. I did a calculation based on the sodium content of Heinze, and the size of my batch, to determine that 26 grams of salt was probably about where I would end up. I added it about 5 grams at a time, but 26 grams turned out to be exactly right for me.

Now you need to simmer to get the right consistency.  Sorry, it didn’t occur to me to get a snap of it simmering, but how boring would that be anyway?  Turns out I needed quite a lot of simmering, about a lawn-cutting’s worth (I went out and cut the lawn while it simmered, uncovered, so about 2 hours.  When I came in it was perfect.)

Now you run the pureed condiment through a food mill or sieve. This is another tool that if you don’t have it, you should get one. If you must, you could push it through a wire strainer with a spoon, but I don’t recommend that. In any case, it really must be strained to get the right texture. This of you who know me know that I would never recommend extra steps if they weren’t essential.

Into jars for canning the usual way. Water bath for 30 minutes.

Final product. Better than anything you can buy.

So here’s the recipe for the batch I made:

Recipe

3 qts coarsely chopped, very ripe tomatoes (about 20)
2 onions, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
3/4 cup demerara sugar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cans tomato paste
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp whole allspice
1 tsp broken up cinnamon stick
26 grams sea salt

Boil then simmer the tomatoes, onions and garlic in a large pot for about 20 minutes.  In a separate pot, toast the spices, then add the vinegar, boil then simmer for 15 minutes.  Strain the spiced vinegar into the tomatoes, discard the spices.  Add the past, sugar and salt.  Blend well with immersion blender.  Simmer uncovered until desired texture is achieved (depends on water content of tomatoes; mine took 2 hours).  Strain through food mill to remove seeds and stems.  Can in the usual way.

Cost Analysis

Tomatoes: if you bought them, figure about $5
Paste: $1.50
Vinegar: $1
Salt & Spices: $0.50
Sugar: $0.75
Onions and garlic: $1

Total: $9.75.  Yields 8 half pints. $1.22 per half pint, or $0.15 per ounce.  Heinz is about $0.11 per ounce, so mine’s not cheaper, but it’s not that much more expensive. But there is no comparison in taste, trust me.

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How to make eggplant salsa from scratch

Ah, summer.  The time when posts to this blog are farther and fewer between, because it’s just so damned easy to eat well in summer.  After all, these posts are dedicated to things that are difficult.

Well, there is one thing that starts to get difficult about mid-July: using all the eggplant coming out of your garden, farmers’ market or grocery store.  These prolific plants pump out the fruits until the first frost, and there’s only so much eggplant parm one can eat.  So what to do with the summer bounty?

In my house, the answer is eggplant salsa.

My eggplant salsa: like traditional salsa, but better.

Now, eggplant salsa is nothing new.  But when I perused recipes for inspiration to punch mine up, I realized something – the way I make mine is a lot easier than most recipes, which often call for roasting the eggplants first (and sometimes even peeling them, for God’s sake).  The resultant “salsa”, while lovely in its own right, doesn’t resemble anything my kids like to eat.  And worst of all, they don’t look like they store for the long haul.  Well Dear Reader, that’s not the way I roll.  My stuff has got to be simple, delicious, kid-friendly, and store-able all year.  These characteristics set mine apart from the usual fare found on the internet.

Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me to photograph the process, so you’ll have to follow written instructions and rely on the photo above for inspiration.  Here’s the basic recipe, but it’s very forgiving in terms of both ingredients and ratios.

4 cups shredded eggplants
4 cups chopped tomato
1 large onion of choice
4 garlic cloves
1 can tomato paste
1/2 cup vinegar of choice (cider works well)
Juice of 2 limes (or lemons)
2 TBSP salt (I prefer smoked, or sea salt)
1 TBSP ground cumin
1 TBSP dried cilantro (or a big bunch fresh)
1 TBSP ground black pepper
2 TBSP toasted, crushed coriander seed
Other optional ingredients: cut corn, black beans, shredded squash, spicy peppers minced, etc etc etc

Heat some olive oil.  Saute the onions and garlic in a large saucepan for a minute or two.  Add the shredded eggplant, saute for about 10 minutes.  Add the remainder of ingredients.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, stirring frequently.  Simmer for about an hour.

When complete, you can refrigerate, freeze or can.  I canned mine tonight (simple water bath canner, 30 minutes), so two hours’ work will last the better part of a year.

Three pints, six half-pints (aka 6 pints all together)

A quick cost analysis:

About $5 worth of seasonal veg from the farmers’ market.  About $1 worth of everything else.  Yield was about 6 pints, so that’s $1 per pint.  Try that at the grocery store.

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How to make strawberry jam from scratch, WITHOUT SUGAR OR ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS

I started this blog to help people do kitchen things that are different, unusual, or downright difficult, things that are neglected topics in the world of food instruction.  With the plethora of book, blogs, YouTube videos, etc out there, it’s usually pretty easy to find information and/or instructions on many, many things, even if actually doing them isn’t exactly easy.

Making traditional strawberry jam (or even novel recipes with sugar as sweetener)  is one of those topics that’s extraordinarily well covered.  While I hesitate to say there is nothing new to add to the subject, it’s safe to say that *I* personally have nothing new to add to the subject.

But making strawberry (or other fruit) jams without sugar, and without artificial sweeteners, well, that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.  While I have no health reasons for wanting sugar-free jam, I personally just don’t like how sweet traditional jams are.  For a few years, I tried reducing the amount of sugar in traditional recipes, and wound up with tasty syrup.  My jam just wouldn’t set.  I tried recooking it with more pectin, to no avail.  For two years, I poured my strawberry jam onto toast and sandwiches instead of spreading it with a knife.  So in 2010, I made my last batch of strawberry jam.  Until today.

What happened between then and now was a simple but life-altering discovery: Pomona Pectin.  It is different than the pectin you can buy most places – that pectin only works if the correct amount of sugar is added, so that after cooking there is not enough water present to keep added pectin dissolved, and thus upon cooling, the pectin will gel.  Pomona is a calcium-activated pectin, so when calcium (included with the pectin) is added, it will gel regardless of the amount of sugar present.  Now that you know the secret, you can Google it and read up on the topic yourself.  What I will tell you is that while Pomona pectin works like magic, it IS different to work with and requires some experience and experimentation if you want to wander off the reservation and make your own recipes.

Let me show you how I made some strawberry jam with honey today.  Note that it is NOT my intention to teach you to make jam, or to do basic canning; I assume you are competent in this regard already.  I’m also not trying to teach specific recipes, though I hope you will like mine and the variations of it described here.  The point of this post is to teach you how to do what you know how to do already, except WITHOUT SUGAR.

Here are the main ingredients: 3 lbs strawberries, some mint from the garden, local honey, and the Pomona pectin with its calcium activator (more detail on that on a minute). Not pictured is a little lemon juice and some Meyer lemon rinds. I also added cracked black pepper and balsamic vinegar (separately and together) to a few jars.

My friend Katie sent me some Meyer lemon rinds from her tree. I use them in everything. They are beautiful and tasty.

OK, this snap technically has little to do with making jam, but I wanted to point out the difference in waste you achieve by using a huller instead of a paring knife. the difference is about 4 grams per berry. Doesn’t sound like much, except when you consider that for every hundred berries, you wind up with almost an extra pound of fruit using the huller. That lesson is consistent with the other thing we want to teach here: how to minimize waste and thus cost.

This post isn’t really about the basic mechanics of making jam, but at this point I mashed the fruit (3lbs), added 2c honey, 3 TBSP chopped mint, and a few TBSP lemon juice, then cooked gently for about 10 minutes. If you are planning to use sugar, don’t add it just yet – you can use it as a carrier of sorts for the pectin powder. Now we’re ready for the pectin, but adding it is a multi-step process that definitely *is* possible to screw up, so pay attention.

First you will need to dissolve the pectin powder (NOT the calcium) in hot water, mixing well to dissolve. IF YOU ADD THE POWDER DIRECTLY TO THE FRUIT IT WILL CLUMP AND RUIN YOUR JAM. Seriously. Guess how I know? If you are adding sugar, you can mix the sugar and pectin powder at this point, and fold it into the fruit, but that is still potentially problematic for clumping. Dissolve in water and you will be happy. In this case, I used 6 tsp pectin powder and 3/4 cup very hot water.

Here’s what it looks like dissolved – like a thick paste. Fold the paste into the cooked fruit.

Now you need the calcium activator. Add 1/2 tsp calcium power to 1/2c water and mix well.

Here’s the calcium water. You won’t use it all at once, and it keeps for months. I add about 4x as many tsp calcium water as I do pectin. In this case I used about 20 tsp calcium water – just add it to the fruit mixture containing the pectin. You should notice the jam begin to start setting. It won’t get stiff. Use the plate test to judge whether the set is sufficient – before starting, put a ceramic plate in the freezer. When you reach this step, take the plate out, and shmear a tsp of the jam on the plate. It will set to the consistency you will get in the jar. If set is insufficient, try adding more calcium water. If that doesn’t do it, add more dissolved pectin. Iterate till it’s right.

Jar your jam in the usual way. Here’s the batch I made today. This jar had a little cracked black pepper and balsamic vinegar added. The set was perfect, and the jam is delicious – not too sweet!

I do try to include costing info with each post to refute the notion that cooking with fresh, high quality ingredients is expensive.  I bought the strawberries at the farmers’ market for $12.  I buy my honey by the half gallon, and estimate I may have use about $3 worth.  My mint was free from my garden, but if you bought it I would have paid about $1.  The lemon juice and pectin may have been $1.  So for about $17, I got (12) 4-oz jars and one large (32-oz) jar (ran out of small jars!).  So 80 ounces of jam for $17 is $0.21 per ounce.  That’s about $1.70 for 8 ounces, which is a typical supermarket size that will run you from $3-5.  And the store jam won’t taste as good, or be as good for you.

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How to make turkey soup from scratch – and can it!

November 26, 2011 3 comments

Our Thanksgiving bird was, once again, wonderful.  We go to a lot of trouble to buy a high-quality bird (a Bourbon Red in our case), from a farmer we know.  And we pay a lot, compared to that insipid supermarket stuff they call turkey – $87 for a 12 lb bird, to be precise.

I get as as much as I can out of that bird.  It’s not just the money, either – it’s a matter of respect for resources.  And one of the ways we stretch the use is to start a big pot of turkey soup while we’re cleaning up from dinner.  Literally, I’ll break up the roasted carcass into a soup pot, add water, put the pot on a small hob and lowest flame, and start a simmer that will last nearly 24 hours.  Here’s the pictorial.

Here's our bird out of a two-day buttermilk marinade. 12 lbs or thereabouts.

Three hours later, heat has worked its alchemy. Once dinner is over, I remove all the meat from the carcass and save for sandwiches, pot pie, etc. But I retain the carcass, too. While we're cleaning up, our tradition is to start making soup. Simply break up the carcass and put it in a soup pot full of water. Put it on a small hob, with a low flame, and start a simmer that will last about 18 hours.

Here's the stock after an 18 hour simmer. I did not add any meat - that's all what comes off the carcass (and there's more, as you'll see in the next photo.

Here are the bones pulled out of the stock pot. There is nothing left of them. In case you're wondering, these bones weigh 641 grams, or about 1.5 lbs of the 12 lb turkey weight. The pink plate is full of bits of skin and such that will go to the dogs (250 grams). So of a 12 lb bird, we're looking at 1.5 lb bones, 0.5 lb dog scraps, so that leaves about 10 lbs of usable turkey.

Here are the vegetables we'll add. The stalks are retained from bok choy we steamed last week. It's every bit as good as celery, and we have it around, why not use it? We also added lots of root veg which are on season now - rutabaga, carrot, turnip and Jerusalem artichoke (not pictured).

Here's the veg chopped. Add it to the soup, simmer for another 30 minutes or so. Ladle soup into sterilized jars (half solids, half broth), leaving 1" head space. Close jars tightly.

Put the jars in a pressure canner, add a few inches of water, and take it to 15 PSI.

Process at 15 PSI for 1 hour.

Yields about 20 servings of soup.

One awesome quart jar of soup for the pantry.

Note that you need lots of headspace – 1 inch, no kidding, if you want to assure all jars seal (one in this batch did not).

Costing notes:  This turkey yielded about 30 individual meals, which is fairly unheard of for a bird this small.  Total cost, then, is $2.90 per serving (that does not include dog food).  The trick is to not waste any. We hope this post helps you do that.

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How to make pancetta… starting with a five-hundred-year-old pig

November 21, 2011 2 comments

OK, the pig itself was not 500 years old.  But my pancetta project started 5 centuries ago, give or take.

Pancetta, for the uninitiated, is an Italian version of “bacon”.  It starts with a pork belly, but unlike American bacon, it is salt-cured (along with garlic, pepper and other spices), not smoked.    Pancetta is typically cubed and rendered to provide flavor for any number of dishes, and to my taste is more enjoyable than American bacon, mainly because it tastes more “porky”.

Ossabaws at Cane Creek Farm, the place we bought our breeding stock.

Before I became determined to make pancetta, I became infatuated with a hog.  Not just any hog, an Ossabaw Island hog.  These pigs are descendants of the legendary Iberica swine, and were deposited by the Spaniards on Ossabaw Island, off the coast of Georgia, in the 1500’s.  As an isolated, feral herd, they are now the most genetically  pure European swine on the planet.  These are not your ordinary industrial hogs.

Fortunately for me (who lacks a farm), I have a friend as crazy as I am.  Bruce is the fourth generation on his Hillsborough, NC farm, and he agreed to raise a some Ossabaws.  We bought some gilts from Cane Creek Farm in Snowcamp, NC, later found a boar from another farmer, and soon enough we had piglets.  Bruce’s young son took care of the piglets, and in October we harvested the pig that was subject of this post.

While our piglets were bulking up, a couple of food bloggers created the Charcutapalooza Challenge.  The gist of it is that they proposed one charcuterie challenge per month, and dangled a big prize for the person who completed all the projects in an exemplary way.  They managed to get Michael Ruhlman, author of the amazing book Charcuterie, to be a consultant to the project.  As soon as I saw the project I knew I needed to be involved.

Sadly, however, I’ve only had time for one challenge – duck prosciutto – till now.  I posted on that one several months ago.  In some ways, knowing that I can’t compete for the prize was liberating.  I am now free to focus on my art, the way I want to.  And I thought that it would be pretty unusual for anyone to make Ossabaw pancetta, let alone from a pig they’ve grown.  In addition, I decided I would do the hog processing myself.  Here’s the photo tutorial.

It all starts with a hog. Bruce wisely talked me into letting him take the hog to be killed, scalded, and halved. The harvesting itself isn't such a big job, but the scalding is. So this half hog is how I took delivery of the pig. Note the beautiful fat on this pig, including the leaf lard in the viscera.

Here's the mid-section of the hog after I liberated the ham and shoulder. Since this isn'a post about how to butcher a hog, I'll focus just on the task of separating the belly that we'll turn into pancetta. Note that you don't need a lot of heavy cutting equipment to butcher an animal - a sharpening steel, a good boning knife, and a bone saw will do the job.

We start by separating the loin from the belly. We'll separate out the tenderloin, then turn the loin itself into three roasts.

We isolate the belly by removing the ribs. I also trimmed off a lot of the excess fat (which I retained for more lard). This belly is now ready for curing.

Bruce was enthusiatic to have me turn his half of the hog into pancetta, too, hence there are two bellies here. Bruce's is a little oddly shaped because he was a little more aggressive about separating the ham from the loin. The glasses contain the curing spice mixture specified by Ruhlman: Instacure #1, pepper, garlic, bay leaves, nutmeg, thyme and crushed juniper berries. Ruhlman also calls for brown sugar, which I forgot. But I was very happy with the outcome, and would probably omit sugar on the future, too.

Here are the bellies with the curing rub on them. From here they went into a giant Ziploc, and into my reach-in to cure for a while. Ruhlman said a week, but I let them go for three weeks, just because I didn't have time to take them out sooner. I did take them out once or twice for overhauling (rubbing the spices into the meat).

After three weeks in the reach-in, the meat was ready to roll and cure. First step was to rinse off the spice mixture, and trim them to an appropriate size for rolling.

Pretty simple now... cut, and roll tightly. You could add extra seasoning now, but I didn't.

Now tie the roll TIGHT. If you don't know how to tie a roast, see this video: http://video.about.com/homecooking/Tie-a-Roast.htm

Once they're all tied, hang them in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Ideal conditions are 50-60F and 50-60% RH. Because pancetta is cooked, hanging to cure can be an inexact science.

Because the weather in NC is highly variable (and warm for several days at a time), I built a simple curing chamber out of a dorm fridge. Basically I hijacked the controls and added humidification capability. It needs dehumidification, too. Next project.

After two weeks of curing, they were ready to slice and store. The vinegar was used to wipe off small bits of chalky white mold. I checked them every few days while curing and wiped off small mold spots when they popped up (which they did, because of the high humidity while I was curing). White mold is no problem. Green and black mold is the stuff you worry about, and I didn;t see any of that.

Here it is, all sliced up, ready to package. Beautiful, isn't it?

Couldn't resist a close-up.

Vacuum seal and store for 6 months, easy.

Now that you see how to make the pancetta, let’s do something with it: pasta carbonara.

Cube a wheel or two of that pancetta.

Render it.

Cook some pasta. Yes, I was lazy and used boxed pasta. Sue me. Be sure to reserve a little of the water from boiling the pasta (maybe 1/2 - 1 cup), you'll need it later.

Get some other stuff ready: a big hunk of butter (1/8-1/4 lb), a big mound of hard cheese (2 cups pecorino romano), a couple eggs, and wine (optional, for drinking, not cooking).

Heat a big pan in the oven while the pasta is cooking. When pasta is al dente, throw the butter in the hot pan to melt.

Add the pasta, cheese, and eggs to the hot pan with butter. Yes, one of my eggs was a double-yolker. Bonus.

Mix well, adding a little retained pasta water till consistency is correct. Normally I would have added pancetta in same step, but I have one vegetarian in the house, so I mix it up veg and plate hers first.

Add the pancetta, mix well.

Plate and enjoy!

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