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Saturday, August 6, 2011

So Today We Went Fishing



After being boatless all summer, we finally completed the repairs to our boat, and with Mamute in town, what better way to spend a wonderful Saturday than out on the James River.  The bite was a little slow, but we did manage to snag a couple of Croakers as well as some Catfish (the “we” part of the preceding statement refers to my wife, and she out-fished me by far).  So now what to do with the fishes?  As if it was even a question…grill em!  Whole, head on, fresh fish.  The catch is, I've never grilled whole fish before.  So here we go… After cleaning and scaling the Croakers, and simply cleaning the Catfish (leaving the skin on)  I prepped a simple marinade: kosher, cracked pepper, celery seed, coriander, granulated garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice.  Next, I scored the fish to allow the marinade to penetrate, and then I gave them a good rub down.  Now to the grill.  Make sure you light your coals 20-25 minutes ahead of time to ensure said grill is nice and toasty (if you have a gas grill, I’m sad for you).  After an hour in the fridge the fish goes into the “fish basket” (the thingy where the fish is sandwiched between two metal grates).  Next I stuffed the cavity with fresh basil, oregano, sliced onion, and lemon slices.

Fish (1 of 1)

  I reserved the excess marinade to baste the fish while cooking, placed the basket six  inches or so over the prepared coals and walked the hell away.  After three minutes or so, I basted the fish with the excess marinade, after six minutes flipped the basket over, and basted again.  Then I cooked it all for an additional six minutes (basting after three minutes, then covering for three and a half minutes).  Ahh, perfection!  The most delicious fishes I've ever eaten!

Fish (1 of 1)-2

And if it’s not great enough to have a wife who loves to fish, she even painted the name on our boat!

photo (1)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mociutes Duona

Grandma's Rye Bread

Written by Sigita Miltier (My lovely Wife)

Duona (1 of 1)

Every culture has its own bread prepared and baked following very old and time honored traditions. Because so often in the history of humanity bread has been a life saver and the main staple, every culture, every region, and even every family took enormous pride in their bread making tradition. Each bread maker used seasoning, loaf-shaping and even the crust markings all unique to his or her tradition. Traditionally Lithuanian women baked their bread using mostly rye flour due to the fact that rye was a perfect fit for Lithuanian climate--winter frost is necessary for the rye plant to produce solid grain. Just one of the paradoxes of nature, I suppose. This recipe is the closest I can get to the one used by my Grandmother, and although I may never be able to reproduce the perfect flavor of her bread (no wood stove at my disposal, no wooden bowl saturated with the wonderfully sweet and sour aroma of the dough, no aromatic leaves of the native plants to lay on the bottoms of the pans), the least I hope to accomplish by making my Grandmother's bread is giving my children a taste of my culture, literally feeding the tradition centuries old with their breakfasts or lunches.  Just the other day, a had full-circle experience I will cherish for ever.  My mother flew all the way from Lithuania to visit us for a few short weeks, too short to make up for the past two years of being away from each other, but we did something I had planned and dreamed about for a long time.  We baked rye bread together.  Everyone attended—my grandmother, whose bread I remember, and generations of women who had passed down the tradition to each other.  I am unable to decide what I enjoyed more, the baking or the first slice of the bread.  Perhaps no choice is necessary in this case because I am convinced of one simple truth that one would be impossible without the other.

3 lbs. dark rye flour

3 tbsp. dark rye flour for the yeast starter (wheat flour can be used as well)

1 clove finely chopped garlic for the yeast starter

2 packages dry yeast

Warm water (enough to wet the flour)

3 tbsp. dark rye flour for sprinkling

10 tbsp. sugar

2/3 cup caraway seeds

Pinch of salt

Yeast Starter

Rye bread requires a yeast starter which can be made days and even weeks before making the dough. It can keep in the refrigerator for several weeks and be taken out to get to room temperature while you are preparing the dough. To make the starter mix the dry yeast with a few tablespoons of warm water. Add the finely chopped garlic, add the 3 tbsp. rye flour, mix it in and allow the mixture to rise in a warm place for an hour.

Once it doubles in size, mix it again and put in the refrigerator.


Using a large wooden spoon or spatula and a large bowl mix half of the rye flour with enough warm water to produce a very wet dough (similar in consistency to breakfast oatmeal). Mix in the yeast starter, sprinkle 3 tbsp. rye flour over the surface of the dough, cover the bowl using a lid that fits but does not completely seal, wrap it all in a warm blanket and keep the bundle in a warm place (over a warm air vent or outside on a warm sunny day, just to name a couple of options ) for approximately 12 hours. Then, undo the bundle, add the rest of the flour and knead the dough pushing down with your fists for about 20 minutes. This is the most difficult part of bread making as the rest is just waiting for the dough to rise. A piece of advice--"enlist" someone to hold the bowl for you while you knead the dough, which will become very sticky. Add the sugar, salt and caraway seeds, knead for several more minutes until everything is evenly incorporated, then scrape your hands clean with a spatula. Dip your hands into some water and smooth the surface of your dough. Cover the bowl, bundle it up in the same fashion as you did the first time and let it stand in a warm place for about 6 more hrs. or even longer if the dough has not doubled in size. The dough will be sticky, so have a bowl of water ready to dip your hands occasionally as you form the loaves. You may want to use greased loaf pans and be sure to smooth the surface of the dough with wet hands. Cover the pans lightly with a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place for approximately 2 hrs. Preheat the oven and bake the loaves for 45 minutes until the the crust makes a hollow sound when tapping it. Turn the oven off and allow the bread to cool slowly in the oven. For a wonderful and crispy crust, make a simple syrup (dissolve a few tbsp. sugar in cold water) and brush it onto each loaf. Once the crust is dry, take the loaves out of the pans by placing one hand on the surface of the loaf and turning the pan over with the other. Allow the bread to cool on a rack for at least one hour before you dig in because warm rye bread does not slice well. This type of bread is fabulous with some butter and thinly sliced smoked or aged meats, gourmet cheeses, tomato or cucumber slices, and even fruit jams.

lonzino (1 of 1)-2

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I'm Still Here


Well its been quite a while since my last post, but for anyone in the landscape industry spring, and summer are chocked full of free time.  But during an unusual weekend off I had some time to pull some goodies out of the curing chamber.

First out was the Skilandis.  The taste was spot on, garlicky, peppery, the flavors were all there although the execution left a little to be desired.  There are three things that I will change the next time I make this (next month).  The first is the size of the mince, I will actually coarse grind the meat to gain a more salume-like texture.  Second the casing I will go with a smaller diameter casing, speeding up the drying time and allowing more control over air pockets, although I only had one little pocket.  The third adjustment will be More Smoke, I was a little timid with the smoking, but next time ill let it rip.  Overall I think it was a success , but my Lithuanian mother-in –law flies in next Monday so I’m sure I will get some valuable pointers.

SKilandis (1 of 1)-3

SKilandis (1 of 1)

SKilandis (1 of 1)-2

Next up were some Lozino that had been resting comfortably in the curing chamber.  I did several versions that each had their own qualities and characteristics.  One brined with sea salt, another, cured with fennel, and one with a little chili cure.  each was tasty in their own way , but there is always room for improvement.

lonzino (1 of 1)-2

lonzino (1 of 1)-3

lonzino (1 of 1)

Check back, late summer and fall are going to be nuts.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Finally Time to Taste


Lonzino Affumicato

So after about two Months the Lonzino finally weighed out, and let me tell you it is wonderful.  The fennel stays laid back and almost turns to a sweetener that is balanced out by the smoke.  Its like a porky Lox…Simply delicious.

Lonzino Affumicato (1 of 2)Lonzino Affumicato (2 of 2)



There are no words…The fresh rosemary, the salt…Olive oil and parmesan, I'm in heaven!!!

Bresaola (11 of 12)

Bresaola (12 of 12)

Thursday, March 10, 2011



Now that this has become quite the habit, it seems as though I start to have withdrawals when I don’t have some sort of meaty concoction curing, drying, or smoking.  So, onto my next challenge Bresaola.

Hailing from the Alpine region of northern Italy, Bresaola is a dry-cured log of beefy goodness with a beautiful deep red (almost purple) color and an aromatic headiness that makes my mouth water just thinking about it.  In my preparation I used an eye of the round roast picked up from one of our local farms.  Next I trimmed it of all visible fat and silver skin.

Bresaola (1 of 10)

Bresaola (2 of 10)

I did leave a few bits of silver skin on I didn’t want to mangle the meat that bad.

Bresaola (3 of 10)

Next the cure:

Eye of the Round Roast 1,233 grams  
Salt 25 grams 2%
Sugar 29 grams 2.3%
Cure #2 4 grams .3%
Fresh Ground Black Pepper 5 grams .4%
Fresh Rosemary 6 grams .46%
Fresh Thyme 6 grams .46%
Cloves 6 whole  

Remove the woody stems from the rosemary, then combine all of the cure ingredients into a grinder and, well, grind them up.  The resins in the rosemary will make the cure kind of sticky, but the smell is awesome.  Next coat the roast thoroughly with the cure.  Then into a zip top bag, removing as much air as possible, and onto to the fridge to cure for seven days.  Be sure to turn the meat every other day giving it a rub  down to make sure everything stays coated with the cure.


Bresaola (4 of 10)

After the seventh day remove the cured roast from the fridge and rinse it completely.  The meat should be quite firm now and much darker in color.  After you rinse the roast off, allow it to dry thoroughly for about three hours.

Bresaola (6 of 10)

Now, this could be where it all goes wrong, and if it does I will have no one but myself to blame.  To case, or not to case?  That is the question.  I answered not to case, just because I only had 100 mm collagen casings on hand and to get the proper size casing from Butcher & Packer would have taken days (#planbetter).  So I went sans case. I also tried for the first time to make a mold starter using Brie mold and dextrose, and after about three days it seems to be taking hold.  So without casing I tied the roast and of to the curing chamber.  I will keep you posted as to the progress.

Bresaola (10 of 10)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Playing Catch-up Two months of #charcutepalooza in a Day


Ok,  so I’m not an official Charcutepalooza blogger but in keeping with the spirit of THE YEAR OF MEAT I am catching up on my challenges.  First, the duck prosciutto. This one makes me very happy indeed.  Keep in mind that I post the process and that they are not done yet, but next weekend I am sure I will be a happy camper.   The one challenge I am missing is The Salt Cure. The first reason  is that most of our local farmers keep the bellies to make their own bacon (I cannot blame them- it’s delicious stuff). The second--my local butcher will not sell me substandard quality belly, so I have to wait…So, on to what I can do.

Duck Prosciutto

Following the recipe in Charcuterie by Ruhlman and Polcyn,   I prepared my  cure (in this case kosher salt only), approximately two and a half cups, poured enough salt in the bottom of a Tupperware container to ensure I would have an adequate layer of salt to absorb moisture (don’t skimp).  Finally I nestled my little duck breast in the bed of salt and covered for twenty four hours.  Once cured, I removed them from the salt, rinsed the breasts and patted them dry using paper towels.  Now here is where I diverge onto my own path.  Instead of dusting the duck breasts with white pepper I used finely ground black pepper, but not too much.  Also, after wrapping them in cheese cloth and tying I sent them to the smokehouse where my Skilandis was already bathing in the smoke of apple and juniper.  So there they rest, and in the morning I will transfer them to the curing chamber to hang for probably six to seven days.

Duck Prosciutto (2 of 9)

Duck Prosciutto (3 of 9)

Duck Prosciutto (5 of 9)

Duck Prosciutto (6 of 9)

Duck Prosciutto (7 of 9)

Duck Prosciutto (9 of 9)



Corned Beef

Next on the catch up list was  brining.  It is March and I love corned beef, so here we go.  Once again following the recipe laid out in Charcuterie by Ruhlman and Polcyn (instructions here) I prepared my brine. By the way, the smell of the pickling spice is amazing.  I let the brine cool and then inserted a beautiful brisket hand-picked especially for this event.  The brisket will brine for five days, and then it’s on to the cooking process.   As mentioned before, it’s not done yet, but you will know when it is. 

Corned Beef (1 of 4)

Corned Beef (3 of 4)

Corned Beef (4 of 4)

Stay Tuned……

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Skilandis Continued…This may take a while.

Ahhh! Skilandis!  After curing our chunks of pork and beef for three days, it is now time to season and case.  Traditionally Skilandis is cased in a pig’s bladder, since pig bladders are not readily available at to me I went with a 100 mm collagen casing (sorry Skilandis purists but I think we will survive).  So, first off if you read my last post I was going to go with the cure and grind method, after discussing the grinding with Janina (my mother-in-law), I decided it was best to stick to tradition.  One of the things that I have found with any culture, or nationality  is that they know what they are doing.  If a method doesn’t work it does not become a tradition.  So as instructed I cubed the meat into cubes as big two of my fingers.  Next, I had to only add fresh garlic and fresh ground black pepper (no herbs). 
Weight of meat 1592 grams
Garlic (finely minced) 11 grams .07%
Black Pepper (coarse ground) 3 grams .01%
Skilandis (10 of 9)
Skilandis (11 of 9)
Skilandis (12 of 9)
Mix the pepper and garlic with the cubed meat, and stuff into the casing. Next I tied the Skilandis using butchers twine.  After tying the Skilandis I inspected the casing for any air pockets, pricking the ones I found. 
Skilandis (13 of 9)
Skilandis (14 of 9)
Skilandis (16 of 9)
Lastly I applied some pressure.  Following the advice of Juozas (my father-in-law) I employed to poplar planks and zip ties to put the squeeze on. I let it sit under pressure for a couple of days and then into the curing chamber where it will hang for a week.  After a week the Skilandis will cold smoke for forty eight hours then back in for a week the smoking and resting will be repeated 3 times, don’t ask me why I just do as I am told.  During the final smoking Juniper will be used along with Oak as the smoking agent.  After that into the chamber four three to four months, not sure how the weight loss percentage will work out but I will figure it when the Skilandis is  done.  I will update this post with picks after it is smoked as well.
Skilandis (17 of 9)

Sunday, February 20, 2011


 As I have said before I  spent about a year in Lithuania with my wife while she was finishing college, and one of the things I enjoyed the most was a traditional dry cured smoked sausage called Skilandis.  So since I have gotten into charcuterie you can bet this was top on my list to try.
Making Skilandis is about a four month process so I will start one or two now and then two more in a month or so.  So where do we start?  Well meat. In my research I found that Skilandis is traditionally made by using actual chunks of meat (no grinding), and grain alcohol along with garlic, herbs, and spices.  Some recipes do call for grinding, and omit the alcohol.  I think for my first try I will go with the latter. From what I can tell the meat used in Skilandis is a fairly lean product without the discernable fat of say a traditional salami, so I started with boneless pork loin with some fat on it as well as some lean beef, both of which are free-range grass fed all natural animals.
Skilandis (10 of 7)
Skilandis (14 of 7)
Second, the cure.  The cure for Skilandis is just your basic cure; salt, cure #2, and sugar (see table for ratios).  after I prepared the cure I cut the meat into 1.5” to 2 “ cubes, then added the cure, mixed well and into a zip top bag for three days.  In three days the meat will be ground and stuffed.  Skilandis is traditionally stuffed into a pig bladder but my efforts to procure one have been fruitless thus far.  We’ll see what I can pull of by Tuesday.  Stay tuned…
Skilandis (16 of 7)
Skilandis Cure
Pork Loin (unprocessed) 1592 grams 75%
Lean beef (unprocessed) 530   grams 25%
Salt 75     grams 3.3%
Sugar 10     grams .05%
Cure #2 6       grams .25%
There are a few other ingredients that go in after the initial cure.  I will post them along with the ratios when I get to stuffing!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Happy Pigs

I have always cooked.  Ever since I can remember I enjoyed cooking, although I may not have done it well, I relished in the joys of preparing food.  I guess for the most part its an inherent trait--my father did most of the cooking when I was growing up.  So once I got married and had children I really started to take a look at where our food comes from.  I live in Wakefield Virginia, a small town that lies almost halfway between Norfolk and Richmond and twenty miles away from the famous ham country of Smithfield.  One would think that living in such a rural and famously porky area would yield fresh local meats at every grocer,  alas this is not the case.  Go to any local big box grocery chain and, sure, you will find famously branded products, lovingly pumped with sodium solutions or broth to “guarantee juiciness”.  What a shame that todays hogs that are grown in masses are so lean and tasteless that to even keep consumers eating it, it must be pumped full of additives and flavoring.  But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Recently a friend told me about Windhaven Farms a local farm that raises free range Berkshire Hogs and grass fed Angus Beef, no steroids, no hormones, no antibiotics.   They also cure and smoke some of the most gorgeous dry cured hams in the area, hands down!   And the real kicker is it takes me exactly sixteen minutes to get there from my house.  At first I was skeptical, I mean really how much difference can there really be?  Well…a lot!  First off, the normal pork loins that you will find in most supermarkets (if by chance you can find one that hasn’t been processed to death with added salt or preservatives)  tend to look pretty ugly, almost no exterior fat and if there is it’s a weird yellowish color and no marbling in the muscle itself.  Pretty much it is a piece of flesh void of all signs of flavor, a mere shadow of what pork should be.  No wonder they usually pump so much junk into it, if not, no one could cook the stuff and have it turn out edible.  The loins produced at Windhaven Farms are in short a thing of beauty.  The first thing you notice is the beautiful snow white cap of fat that lines the loin, and THIS my friends is flavor. Also, the striation of fat within the muscle itself….More flavor and Juiciness! 
pork (10 of 1)
beef (10 of 1)
Plus the fact that all of the animals are raised naturally, because in my opinion a happy pig is a tasty pig.  As for their beef products, one word BEEFALICIOUS! I know I made that word up, but that’s the word that comes to mind.  The steaks are amazing.  All it needs is a scant dash of salt and fresh black pepper, rushed with clarified butter and you're in steak lover’s heaven.  Absolutely the best Angus beef I have ever eaten.  Everything from chuck roasts, to oxtails (you can see that here), beef ribs, and ground beef, tastes absolutely amazing.  I guess in short we all have to go to the grocery store sometimes, but I would much rather support my local community, and have superior, natural product to feed my family, than succumb the the global food machine.  Remember a happy pig is a tasty pig!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Curing Chamber

After months of research I decided to really get serious about charcuterie.  So where to start?  The thing that worried me most about crafting and curing meats was proper drying .  Everything I read stressed the importance of temperature and humidity while curing.  So indeed a proper curing chamber was needed.  The idea was simple enough you need to control temperature (ideally around 55 degrees) and humidity (this can vary from 60% to 75% relative humidity depending on what your curing).  Inspiration was everywhere but I decided on using the concepts presented in both the cured meats, and Wrightfood blogs, although I did one or two things differently. 

First I scored a refrigerator from craigslist thirty bucks and its in great shape.  Then I hung the sign my daughters drew on a scrap piece of wood while I was getting it situated in my shed (hopefully it will bring good luck)

Curing Chamber (10 of 8)

Secondly The temperature controller.  the warmest I could get this fridge to run was about 45 degrees, much to warm for our purposes.  So we had to introduce a way to turn the fridge on and off as needed to achieve a slightly higher temperature.  I used this Controller from Johnson Controls, I got it on eBay for twenty three dollars.  Although its different from most of the units you see it is actually a wired switch, not the piggy back style plug in most people use.  It was a breeze to wire up.  Just search the web for keg temperature controller and bingo your in business.

Curing Chamber (12 of 8)

This thing is dead on Within 3 degrees.

Curing Chamber (14 of 8)

The bulb sensor mounted inside the fridge.


Next humidity, instead of using a cool mist humidifier with a separate humidistat I decided to go with an all in one unit to eliminate one more link in the chain where possible failure could occur.I picked up this unit for about a hundred dollars at Lowes.  at first I was skeptical about its humidistats accuracy but it has done exceptionally well. It also has a two and a half gallon tank which in my case lets me go a little over two weeks without a refill.

Curing Chamber (17 of 8)

I used a slim old work box which I had to modify to fit the cavity I created for the outlet wiring looks nice and clean.

Curing Chamber (15 of 8)

Thinking of putting a small fan inside for air circulation

Curing Chamber (11 of 8)

Signage and cheap little remote thermometer to give me a general idea of what's going on in there.

All in all I have about one hundred and sixty dollars invested in my curing chamber, and I’m thinking its money well spent.