Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Birch Bacon

I honestly can't remember in recent history, a time I've been more excited about something than January 15th, 2011 at 10am.  For all you curious types, that's when I read that the next charcutepalooza challenge would be bacon.  That's right people, homemade bacon... and pancetta.  What more could I ask for?

So that weekend, the hubs and I wandered down to a butcher we are huge fans of to get a large pork belly.  I figured I would do half of it as bacon and half of it rolled as pancetta. I had recently worked with smaller cuts of pork belly for the first time in our relatively new sous vide supreme with some amazing results so I was pretty excited to try this challenge.  Plus... bacon!

When I was reading the recipe in Charcuterie for the bacon, I saw a note that indicated for a sweeter note, you could add some maple syrup.  I have to admit now that I'm not crazy over maple syrup the way some people I know are.  The hubs could main line it into his body however.  Here's where we enter tangent territory. (I know, you all love my tangents)

Last summer I'd read a recipe I found through Liqurious for an Old Fashioned made with birch syrup instead of raw sugar.

Photo from Art of Drink blog 

I liked the idea of using a syrup instead of plain sugar in an Old Fashioned because I felt it would add some complexity to what was already a pretty amazing drink.  So I scoured the internet and ordered way more syrup than necessary in order to justify the shipping costs and because I was secretly dreaming of homemade birch beer.  I just knew this was going to be the best Old Fashioned ever.  Can we just talk about how right I was for a second?  This was the Old Fashioned of my dreams.  Birch Syrup has a nice (mild) smoky flavor and a caramel-y sweetness that is not cloying at all.  So much better than maple, I promise!  Maple is meh, get on board!

Anyway... Delorean yourself to a few weeks ago when I was getting ready to rub my belly (will that ever stop being funny? no.) When I thought hrmm, I have had some pretty great maple bacon...  and birch > maple... and I knew I was planning to make bacon jam with at least half of this bacon.  And suddenly my brain was like HEY LADY.... BOURBON BIRCH BACON.  Duh.  How did it take me so long to think of this?  The flavor of bourbon should work perfectly with the mild smokiness in the birch syrup.  So, I cooked off the alcohol from a few tablespoons of bourbon, (in case it did something to the meat?) added it to about a quarter cup of birch syrup, and added that to my dry cure.  Then I rubbed it all over the first half of the belly that was destined for a salt cure only and waited.  And waited.

Can I just tell you how hard all the waiting involved in making charcuterie is?  It’s hard.  You know you have something that is inherently great sitting in your refrigerator... But... if you wait it out that greatness gets better.  WAY better.

Fast forward to a week later and it is time to make the donuts bacon jam (side note: bacon jam filled doughnuts?!).  I cleaned off the cure and patted that puppy dry and sliced off a couple strips to try.  The bacon was a bit saltier than I would have liked (I think this is due to the fact that we couldn't find a belly from a butcher/farmer that we were happy with that had skin on it so we ended up with a skinless one) but the flavor was incredible.  A hint of interesting sweetness added to what I can honestly say was the best bacon I'd ever tasted.  This bacon is the JAM (pun obviously intended.)

Speaking of jam!  I'm sure if you have graced the internet with your presence lately you've seen or heard about this bacon jam recipe that is making the rounds from Foodie with Family.  I've linked to the recipe and the pictures there do it way more justice than I ever could but PEOPLE - make this jam. ASAP.

I followed the recipe pretty much as-is with a few specific things to note.  I wanted a bit of smoked flavor that I wouldn't get from my fresh bacon alone so I used half my bacon and half Wellshire Farms black forest smoked bacon.

I rendered about a cup of fat off of this (hold your horses we'll get to that) and pulled it from the pan when everything was good and crisped.  I added some rosemary sprigs to the onion and garlic in the pan but removed it once everything was cooked down.

The only other change I made was to use half maple syrup and half birch syrup (continuity! woop!) instead of just maple syrup.  I don't even know why I'm still typing since you've probably left to make your own bacon jam but whatever.  Then I pureed it and let it sit off the heat to cool down.

Then I ate like 4 cups of it.

Just kidding I only ate 3 1.  Since I had plenty of bacon fat, and a starving sister sitting in my kitchen staring at me, I figured it was time to make some dinner.  I wasn't particularly hungry due to all the aforementioned bacon jam eating but I had invited her over for dinner and felt semi-obligated to provide her with food.  I defrosted a pork tenderloin and cut up some onions, carrots, mushrooms and parsnips.  I browned all the veggies in the bacon fat with a couple of sprigs of thyme and then spread them out in an oven proof pan just big enough to hold them.

 Then the pork tenderloin got the same browning treatment while I made a glaze for it and the veggies.

I just mixed together equal parts bacon jam (!!) and whole grain mustard.  I added a splash of white wine, salt and pepper and some chopped rosemary and poured it over the pork that was now resting on top of the browned vegetables.

Then I popped the whole thing in a 375 degree oven for about fifteen minutes and dinner was served!  And my sister was no longer making a face like 'if you don't feed me something besides jam I will just eat you.'

Win-win, I say.
I should mention that I made pancetta as well but it's not quite ready to taste yet.

I have big plans for that puppy though so stay tuned!  Also I wanted to take this time to thank all the organizers of Charcutepalooza for being supportive and building such a great learning community. Well that’s enough bacon talk for today.  Time to start thinking about getting my brine on.  Can't wait!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Guess what?  Today's post is about rings.  Woot!  When I was planning our wedding a lot of the posts I came across on wedding blogs were about engagement ring alternatives.  That's what I'm going to present here to you.  Lucky!  If you're not interested, come back later this week and we'll talk about bacon.  A lot of these rings could easily be non-contractual jewelry however, and Valentine's Day is just around the corner so stick around... just kidding... None of these will get to you by Monday.  You are definitely screwed.

Anywhoo... here we go!

First up is definitely my favorite. It's a beautiful cushion cut aquamarine stone set in rose gold.  I am totally in love with cushion cut.  It's an antique cut (according to people who know these sorts of things...) but I feel like it's actually quite modern looking.  Also, my engagement ring is cushion cut and I just love it, so there.

One Garnet Girl on Etsy

I love the look of this ring so much.  If you want to buy it for me, you totally can!

This next ring is from a designer that I truly love.  Bario-Neal is a jewelry designer out of Philadelphia that uses ethically sourced diamonds as well as environmentally friendly and recycled or reclaimed metals.  The jewelry is incredible too.  So you can feel good in your heart and good on your finger! Win Win, I say!

This ring is a three stone garnet engagement ring flanked by two yellow diamonds.

Its a custom designed piece but Bario-Neal also has some beautiful non-custom pieces like this awesome rough cut diamond solitare.

How cool is that?

Finally, Bario-Neal has some beautiful gemstone rings like this Cala Sapphire ring.

I love bezel settings and this one is particularly unique.  You know whatever you get from here will be gorgeous and one of a kind (or at least pretty damn close to it)

These rings, from Etsy seller Secret Charm are beautiful stackable gold.  If one ring says "I love you enough to marry you," can you just imagine what nine rings say?

Secret Charm on Etsy

These would make great wedding bands or just nice finger decorations in general :)

OK there you have it!  Sorry for the lack of posting lately.  Luckily I was guilt tripped back into posting regularly.  Up next?  BACONY GOODNESS

Friday, February 4, 2011

Man Presents!

Happy Friday my little cupids!
Here is a round up of presents for the menfolk this Valentines Day.  Guys have a tendency to be hard to shop for but in reality you're just picking out things that you want them to wear or carry while tricking them into thinking they like it :)  Devious!

Ok here we go...

A lot of the boys I tend to pal around with are at least vaguely outdoorsy.  They also tend to enjoy coffee, at least as a vehicle for caffeine.  Here's an interesting little gift that will serve them well when camping or if they find themselves lost in the wilderness with nothing but the coat on their back and a bag of freshly ground Bolivia Buenavista organic beans!

GSI Outdoor * $20

A stovetop espresso maker that can be used on camp stoves!  Pair this with a bag of your their favorite beans and what more could they ask for?

Next up!  A nice briefcase that doesn't look like it's filled with crackers.  (Good job to those of you that got that without clicking the link - two points!)  I mean lets face it - men wish they could carry purses... but they can't.  Mostly because we'd make fun of them and it would be emasculating.  BUT if you get them a nice "briefcase/carryall" they can put all their stuff in it and maybe some of yours too!

BillyKirk * $320

This one from Billy Kirk is nice looking, not too fancy and neutral-y colored without being boring.  Plus you could totally borrow it for a weekend bag.

In culling together all these gifts I have come to the realization that man gifts are sort of boring.  So I'm gonna throw in this sweater for good measure (what is more exciting than sweaters?)

JCrew * $59.50

JCrew seriously makes some hot mens clothes and I have felt these sweaters live and in person (All this hard work - for you my dear readers) and can attest to their coziness.  Plus what is hotter than a boy in a sweater?

OK! Phew... being this boring is hard work people.

Hopefully up this weekend: Unisex gifts and some bacony goodness!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Gift of Love

Hi Friends!
Do you all do anything exciting and romantical for Valentine's Day?  We tend to write this semi-silly holiday off however I have several friends that are extremely into Vday celebrations and I find that pretty cute as well.  Its always exciting when Vday falls in the early stages of your relationship, non?  I decided, in honor of my friends who have major vday spirit to do a fun gift-guide.  Since we don't really do much, I thought this would be a fun way to internet window-shop without it looking like I was hinting for something I'd like. (In fact, this blog is pretty much one big *hint* :)

Today, for the chickies:
I'm going to dip my toe into the blogging water today and start with something you all already know I love. That's right, Birchbox! Birchbox is great because it is literally the gift that keeps on giving.  You get a monthly package of fun makeup related goodies to try out.  They have three different gift subscriptions (3, 6 and 12 months) and your loved one is reminded monthly of your good taste!  How can it fail?

It is so very easy to snag a gift certificate to a store you know your love is fond of so that she can pick out something that will definitely suit her but its a bit impersonal, don't you think?  Instead, go with this lovely bag.

One Sydney Road  * $85
 The simple but clean style and the perfect size for work to happy hour will be appealing to all types of go-getters. It's made from a mix of sustainable organic and recycled fibers.  Plus the colors remind me of a warm summer afternoon... and who doesn't miss warm summer afternoons at this point?

Another option is to go with a piece of hand-crafted jewelry.  One of my favorite jewelry designers is Made by Sam on Etsy.  She makes lovely individualized pieces that you will definitely treasure but are still affordable. She made all the jewelry for my wedding and could not have been easier to work with.  Here's one of her newer pieces, a pendant necklace with a peacock style charm and an intial.  She will also interchange the stones for you with your lady's birthstone.

Made by SAM * $42.98
Perfect way to prove how well you know your love.  Look! I remembered your first initial *and* your birthstone!

Finally, since girls aren't all makeup, jewelry and purses (wait, what?) here is a gift that is truly awesome...

Amazon * $67

If your girl doesn't like this, hopefully she has the wherewithall to pretend she does or else she's probably a terrorist.   First of all, Ken Burns is amazing and so is the series of actors he got to narrate this bad boy.  Secondly, its about our national parks... and they are really amazing... and you actually probably have no clue just *how* amazing they are until you watch this.  Thirdly, its so beautiful and timeless, you will never get tired of watching it.  Plus, it supports PBS... and PBS rules all.  Actually, come to think of it... PBS has a ton of awesome things.  Just ignore this gift guide, go there and buy something cool and support public broadcasting! Woot!

Check in tomorrow and I'll blow your mind with gifts for humans with weiners :)