Monday, April 20, 2009

I have pizza envy.


Damn you Michael Rulhman! Damn you and your beautifully presented site. Damn you and your pizza post. Why, you ask, am I damning a man I really admire? Because I’ve been working on this post for a few days and he goes and cuts my legs from under me. There’s a spy in my house, has to be. Or it could be that pizza is just one of those wonderful things that can makes everything in the world seem better, and making it and writing about it just has to be done.

My current little obsession is the pursuit of a spectacular pizza dough. I thought I had found “the one” but now I’m not so sure. I am going to have to try out at least 2 other recipes before I can make a final call. The recipes in question are Rulhman’s dough from his book “Ratio”, referenced in his post linked above, and the Peter Reinhart recipes from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”.

The “one” I am talking about currently is straight off of, from “Jamie at Home”, That’s Oliver, Jamie Oliver. He’s British you know.

Flour, water, olive oil, sugar, yeast, and salt. See the link above for the copy written, all rights reserved exact recipe.

The recipe calls for bread flour or a mix of bread flour and Italian Tipo “00”. I like the blend and I have ready access to 00 flour, (Thanks Tom) so that’s my poison.

The steps are really quite easy, shift the flour and salt into a bowl or on a work surface. I think the bowl is less messy since I also don’t have a huge counter top on which to make a well in a giant pile of flour. (Chasing flour around a counter top is a pain.) All the other ingredients go into a big measuring cup. For a little added flavor I swapped out the sugar for a locally produced honey.
I use Fleischmann's RapidRise yeast, and even though you don’t need to let it bloom, I do anyway.

So pour all the wet onto the dry and mix… By hand is preferred, but you can use the paddle on a stand mixer. In a couple minutes you get a “shaggy” dough, I don’t have a picture cause my hands were encased in dough and I have yet to master using a camera with my elbows. Once you have the dough in a form you can turn out of the bowl, do so onto a nice clean work surface. I have a pseudo-granite topped kitchen cart that I use. I’m considering a having a wooden top made for it, but I digress.

Knead until the dough starts to get smooth and really quite elastic. If you’re kneading by hand your shoulders will clue you in to when the dough is kneaded enough. I know mine do. You can use a mixer to knead with a dough hook but I like the tactile interaction with the dough. I am totally a bread novice but I am starting to get a feel for when the dough is “right”.

When you are done kneading plop the dough into a clean bowl and either dust with flour or spritz with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and clean up your flour coated kitchen. In an hour your dough should have at least doubled in size.


And look something like that.

My next step to to portion the dough. Preferred method to get even portions, is a scale.

I weigh the entire mass.


Divide by 6 and use a bench scraper to cut the dough into equal hunks, by weight.


After all the math involved in portioning I need the calming activity of shaping the dough into balls.


Pull the top of the dough ball down over itself. Kinda like turning a sock inside out. Then pinch the bottom together.


Sorta like that.

I like to further shape the ball by cupping my hands over the ball and moving them in a circular motion on the counter. Lightly force the dough to drag against the counter so that it pulls together in a tighter ball.

Repeat 6 times and then line up the balls into neat rows so you can take a picture,


or if you aren’t an obsessed blogger, just stick em in zip top bags or wrap in plastic wrap.


As the recipe states, you can use the dough immediately or let it rest in the fridge until you are ready to use it. I like this idea. It builds flavor. Flour + water = crackers, flour + water + yeast = bread, flour + water + yeast + time = flavor.

Store the dough in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for… um I don’t know how long it will keep in the freezer cause it’s never around long enough to need to be frozen.

When I am ready to use a dough ball, I take it out  of the fridge and let it warm up a little, 15 – 20 minutes usually does the trick.


Flour the work surface,


and press the dough into a rough disk to start the shaping.


I’d love to show you a video of me tossing dough into the air and spinning it across my shoulders like that guy in the Visa commercial (the music is a little iffy but mad skills) but that’s not happening. I will show a couple pictures of me stretching the dough.




Once the dough is shaped, it goes onto a peel dusted with flour or corn meal. (You can use a over turned cookie sheet if you don’t have a peel. The whole thing a can go into the oven)


Then it’s ready to be dressed.


One of my favorite toppings lately has been pancetta. It helps that I make my own but you can use the store bought stuff. It goes well with shaved garlic.


I use a truffle shaver to get paper thin slivers of garlic, which stick to each other and your fingers like crazy, but it’s worth it.


Little grey sea salt, little fresh ground black pepper, little fresh chopped flat leaf parsley and a kiss of olive oil - and the whole lot is chucked into a 550 degree oven for about 4 to 5 mins.


2 minutes in and the crust is rising nicely and the pancetta has started to render a little.

I intended to pull this pizza at 5 minutes but the phone rang and it turned into 6 minutes.


Little more done than I wanted but still…


Look at that crispity goodness.


Once you have a crust like this under your belt the possibilities are endless. Shaved fennel and shiitake, shaved onions and black cerignola olives, a simple pizza margarita.

I even did a pizza with eggs on it. Parmigiano Reggiano, shave onions, and 2 eggs, (HAH! Rulhman with your single egg… <sigh>), and a little sprinkle of cayenne.


Pizza dough is a thing of beauty. So simple to make and so wonderfully flavorful. It amazes me that Chef B. still makes a boxed dough. And people buy it!!!! WTF?

Get some flour, make some dough, join the food revolution.



Thursday, April 9, 2009

Feed the cheerleader, Feed the world.

You guys all should know by now that I am a fan of Michael Ruhlman and his writings. Well, he just released a new book called “Ratio”, all about how much of this goes with how much of that. He is promoting this new offering by partnering up with Share Our Strength. Share Our Strength is a great organization trying to end childhood hunger.

He’s giving stuff to 3 donators as incentive. He also asked his fellow bloggers to link back to the SOS site. So I did.

Buy a book, make a donation, do something. I did.



Monday, April 6, 2009

Will cook for food

I love to cook. It might be obvious from the fact that I actually take the time to write about the act. I cook all the time, but I have never had a job in a professional kitchen. I read books and blogs about professional kitchens, I occasionally get to meet the chef in a really groovy restaurant,

Wylie Dufresne

but I don’t cook for a living.

Last night I got a tiny taste of what it might feel like to work the line.

My friend Claudia had procured some steaks from an Italian heritage breed and had planned a dinner party to see how they rated. She invited me to dinner along with 8 other guest. She let me know she would like a little help with the meal and I was happy to help. She was also excited about some of the pork products produced from the trip to the farm.

On the appointed day I gathered up my dishes: pork liver terrine, blood sausages, and pizza dough, packed my apron and hopped in the truck.

When I arrived there were so many things to get done. Unpack steaks, trim artichokes, plate the terrine, preheat the ovens. Nothing too difficult but time was pressing. People would be arriving soon.

I am not going to detail out every step of the night but I had a blast shaping pizza dough, prepping the chokes, slicing various and sundry meats. It was quick and lively, people swirling around the kitchen, chatting and laughing.

A big highlight of the night for me was praise from a culinary professional. My blood sausage was a hit even though I was a bit apprehensive about how it turned out. The pizza dough, straight off of had fans. The terrine was attacked with relish.

The absolute best part of the night was seeing everyone dig in and eat, and eat and eat. The round of applause was a little embarrassing but heartwarming.

I was, by the end of the night, thoroughly exhausted, stuffed and exhilarated. A great time was had by everyone. Thanks for inviting me Claudia, and thanks to everyone else for all the kind words.



Monday, March 30, 2009

This little piggy stayed home.

This Piggy

Okay so right out of the gate let me say to my loyal subscribers, “I’m sorry!”. I know, 4 months is a long interval between posts. I have reasons: Holidays, met someone, work, broke up, lazy. When I say lazy, I don’t mean I have been lazy in the kitchen, just lazy about the blog. I will try to do better I promise.

Now on to the makeup/apology post. It’s a big one.

Last summer I read a book many of you might have read. “The Omnivore's Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. It completely changed the way I think about food and where it SHOULD come from. So I started looking for farmers locally, that could supply me with the sustainably raised meat and vegetables I had read about.
I was sooooooo damn lucky too.

One Saturday morning this past Autumn I met a disciple of Joel Salatin, the very farmer profiled in “The Omnivore's Dilemma”, the farmer I had admired for his farming methods.

Weldon Hawkins was the embodiment of the farmer I was looking for. Passionate about being sustainable, and the treatment and health of his animals. I immediately became a fan of his products. Pork, chicken, eggs, beef and lamb, all raised on the verdant pastures of Emerald Glen Farm.

Green Grass

BUT! There is always a but.
But there was still a disconnect from the food. Eggs came in neat little cartons, pork and beef came in neatly wrapped packages, already frozen. Sausage was already spiced, mixed and stuffed. The only difference from the grocery store was that the person selling the meat was knowing the guy that raised it. Major difference I know, but I wanted more connection.

So what to do…? Well turns out Weldon is super cool and didn’t give me the “Are you barking mad?” look when I asked about the possibility of buying a hog on the hoof and processing it myself. Yeah you read that right. I meant to do ALL the work. A to Z. So to prove just how cool he is Weldon said that it might be possible to do the processing on the farm. After a check with other concerned parties, he came back with affirmative response. I slapped down my deposit right then and there. I was gonna slaughter a pig…?

OH SHIT!!! What had I gotten myself into? I had a couple of months to contemplate it.

Dateline March 09 – Idiot goes to KY to collect his pig!
The night before I packed up everything I thought I would need — knives, pans, towels, bell scraper, zip top bags, propane torch, work tables, .22 pistol and last but not least my courage. I set the alarm for 5am and trundled off to bed.

I was up and actually out the door by 6am as planned. Weldon had informed me that the farm was a solid hour and forty five minutes from my house, and he wasn’t pulling my leg. 2 hours after hitting the road I turned onto the farm driveway and had to brake to avoid a trio of lambs bouncing across the drive. I wish I had taken a pic of the sheep but I was a little preoccupied with the impending task.


Weldon was already doing some farmy tasks when I pulled up and after a few minutes of organizing we started to prepare. Introductions were made. Someone was feeling shy.

Shy girl.

She wasn’t shy for long.

Hey! What's up?

She happily rooted while other preparations were made.Rooting is natural behavior for pigs.


!!!!!!!! – WARNING!!!!!! GRAPHIC CONTENT -- !!!!!!!!

If you haven’t figured it out by now I went to KY to actually kill and butcher the above pig. If you are disturbed by images of animals being butchered you should stop reading now. I have not photo documented the actual kill process as I have too much respect for the pig and you, dear reader.

That being said here is the rest of the process.


Step 1: Fill a 55gal drum 3/4 full with water and set to boil, well almost boil. And the tractor was set up to lift the pig.

Step 2: Wait 2 hours for water to heat.

Step 3: Load .22 pistol

Step 4: Look pig in the eyes while trying to aim at the correct place to shoot and hope like hell that you don’t frakk it up and cause the animal undue pain.
This is where a commercial slaughter house has the advantage. They mostly use an electrocution system to effect the actual kill and there is less chance of not hitting the target.

Step 5: Try to calm down and pull the trigger… I got it right folks. I hit her in the correct spot and she slumped to the ground without making a sound. At this point I was shaking due to the massive amount of adrenaline pumping through my body.

Step 6: Stop shaking enough to cut the carotid artery so that she would bleed out.

Step 7: Wait. Calm down. Wish for a cigarette, or a shot of tequila. And not to get all spacey and new age on you but I also thanked the pig for her life. It was the least I could do.

Step 8: Carry out the rest of the butchering process.

If you grew up on a farm or in close proximity and was involved in this particular farm task, one that for most of recorded time was done on the farm, then you know that pig hair is something that needs to go before any other part of the process can take place. To that end the pig was hoisted by the tractor, rinsed off and dunked in the barrel of scalding water.





So after this soaking the hair is supposed to come right out. RIGHT! This is one of the more arduous tasks. Scraping the hair takes a looooooong time and a lot of energy. Luckily for me I was joined by my friend Matt who picked up a knife and jumped in to help.

Scraping Hair

For those of you who have been curious what I look like… That’s me in the blue.

I will not bore you with the 12 other images of pig scraping. Suffice it to say that we scraped for a long time. Nearly 2 hours. We even broke for lunch. Weldon’s family hosted us and it was a wonderful interlude in an otherwise stressful day for me.

Eviscerate…  Transitive verb - : to take out the entrails of

If you are a regular reader of this blog (when I get off my ass and post) you have already seen this process with the “Doe a deer” post. It’s basically the same.

Hang the animal by the legs


Rinse the carcass.


And then CAREFULLY open the belly using a wicked sharp knife.

Initial Cut

If you aren’t careful you can cut into the the viscera, which is just as unpleasant as it sounds. Especially if you get it on you or even less pleasant, in your mouth…Spit

One of the less enjoyable moments of the day. However the cackling laughter that surrounded me as the unseen watchers (my so called friends) peed in their pants, kept it from being too heavy a moment. Plus the fact that it was from the upper end of the GI tract made it less, EWWWish.

Much more CAREFULLY, I finished opening the body cavity.


There is a lot of stuff that has to come out of the carcass before you can get an actual recognizable cut of meat.




Caul fat

Caul Fat





I have to admit as I write this post , it’s a pretty gruesome process. However I think I have a responsibility to the sow to share this with as many people as have the stomach to read it. Pork doesn’t start out on a Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic.

In the spirit of the Nose to Tail movement that I support I removed the head for later processing.


I had help. As with every other part of this animal, the head was heavy.

Once the head was off and the sternum split I needed to make the big “draw” cut down the spine. I have a manual bone saw, and it is HARD to control. Very hard to control. So much so that if I ever do this again, my mother’s off hand comment about using a Sawzall for the task will be taken to heart.

This cut took about 10 minutes. There are 8 images but I decided the last one before the final stroke would be enough.


This is a “side” of pork.


And here is the side cut away from the ham.

Sans Ham

From this I cut the loin, belly (bacon), lardo, shoulder (Boston Butt), picnic ham, ribs, hocks and trotters.


I have already started to process some of the less used parts into tasty treats.


And some of the more common parts as well. The 30lb hams have been covered in salt and are on their way to becoming salt cured ham.


Ham - Saltbox

I wish I had a few more pictures of the butchering process but I had my hands full at the moment and my drafted photographer was busy at other tasks. I’ll have more shots of the raw cuts when I post other processes.
On the agenda; Canadian Bacon, Salt Pork, Lardo, Roast Loin, Sugar Cured Ham, and various and sundry sausages. Boudin Noir anyone?

So, was it worth all the work? I would have to say it was. I know the details of the life of the pig in these pictures. I am even more intimately acquainted with her death. I do not feel any guilt her death. It was clean and quick and quiet.
I don’t have a single qualm about eating any part of this animal.
I have no fear of solution injected meat or high fructose corn syrup in the sausages, or hormones and antibiotics infusing the meat.
I know that the farmer who raised her is as concerned with the health of the animals he raises as he is about the health of the people who consume them.

When I sat down to a plate of bacon and eggs the following day, it was with bacon I had already cured from pigs raised by a man I trust, eggs I collected from the hens he keeps on pasture and milk so fresh it might be illegal.

In a few weeks I’ll invite some friends over for my annual “Spring Smoke”. Pork will feature prominently on the menu, ribs, handmade sausages and maybe a Canadian bacon pizza from the grill.

My friends and I will sit around eating astoundingly good food, raised by an outstanding farmer, and prepared with all the care that the ingredients deserve.

I’ll raise a glass to the fine ole girl that gave her all to the feast and know that this is the only way to eat.



Special thanks to my guest editor for catching all the screw  ups.