Sep 042017
 

Thank you so much for sticking with me and following along on this process.  I’m really enjoying this project and I would especially like to thank Bob for allowing me to use his blog.

So let’s cure this piggy’s belly! I’ve cut it up into smaller pieces so we can try a couple of different cures.  I’m using a recipe out of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie.  I love this book and even if you aren’t even going to cure meat, it’s great reading.  I also recommend their Whiskey-Glazed Smoked Chicken and their Smoked Scallops.  I’ve also made their chorizo and someday I will try their Canadian Bacon recipe.


As I posted yesterday, the first ingredient in any cure is the pink salt or Prague powder.  But then you get to add ingredients on top of that depending on the flavors you like.  Ruhlman’s recipe calls for the following ingredients per 5 lbs of pork belly:

  • 1/4 cup Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons curing salt #1
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup

A word about the maple syrup.  The Crown maple syrup was on sale at the grocery store and I’m a sucker for bourbon barrel-aged products.  I don’t drink bourbon, but I love the flavor.  And this stuff is nectar.  If you get a chance to snag a bottle, do it. It’s not that much more expensive than ordinary maple syrup (which already costs a fortune).

My pork belly weights about 7 1/2 pounds so I adjusted accordingly.

These pork bellies came with the skin still attached.  You can slice it off now, but  I’ve found its easier to cut it off after it is cooked.

Mix all the ingredients and then slather on the belly.  Rub it in so it comes into contact with as much the surface as possible.

Then the belly goes into a plastic bag for the next week to 10 days.  I stock up on the 2-gallon plastic bags when they go on sale and use painter’s tape for notes.  Since I’ll be doing 4 more cures, it helps distinguish the different recipes once they go into my fridge.  Tomorrow, I’ll show you a recipe for pepper bacon.

Sep 022017
 

by @WidowPage

Before I show you the curing process, we need to talk about salt and how it turns pork belly into bacon.  Curing doesn’t happen without salt.  If you look back into the history of bacon, humans all over the world were packing pork belly into salt to preserve the meat.  The Chinese and Europeans started curing meat as early as 1500 BC.  According to the Pork Board of America, Hernando de Soto’s herd of 13 pigs sparked early conflicts with Native Americans who developed a fondness for the taste of pork.  His herd eventually grew to 700 hogs, not including those that were eaten or ran away to breed and become ancestors of today’s feral hogs in the Southeast.

While I don’t know the exact process de Soto’s contemporaries used to cure bacon, they had to have used salt.  Today, everyone uses pink salt or Prague Powder or Curing Salt #1.  Some might confuse it with Himalayan salt.  Don’t do that.  These are 2 different substances.

Both could be called pink salt, but only use curing salt for bacon.

Most Himalayan salt comes from Pakistan which means it should really be called Pakistan salt, but that doesn’t quite have the mystery or cache of Himalayan salt.  Thanks marketing team!  It is purer than table salt, but it is the impurities that give it its pink color.  Some people claim it has special health benefits, but I just find it tasty on baked red potatoes.

Curing salt was trademarked back in 1925 as Prague Powder by Karl Max Seiffert.  He turned around and sold his patent to Griffith Laboratories in 1934.  Here’s the super cool thing about this…I am not from Chicago but I lived here for more than 20 years and love Chicago’s history.  Griffith Laboratories was started in Chicago in the 1900s by a father and son who assumed ownership of a pharmacy.  The son backed out of attending agricultural school at U of Illinois and went Northwestern to study pharmacology.  Once he graduated, he and his father changed their company direction to “bring science to the food industry”.  They initially focused on bread and baking, but in 1934, they bought Seiffert’s patent and began distributing it across the country.  Griffith Labs still exists today as Griffith Foods and their global headquarters are in Alsip, Illinois.  You can buy Prague Power directly from them OR order it off Amazon.

Curing Salt #1

My curing salt came from Williams Sonoma.  When you buy curing salt for bacon, make sure you get Curing Salt #1.  Curing Salt #2 is meant for cuts of meat that cure for longer periods of time.  Think pastrami or ham.

Curing salt is also known as pink salt.  Manufacturers dye it this color to distinguish it from table salt.  Curing salt should NOT be consumed or used like table salt.  It contains 6.25% sodium nitrite which is what prevents the growth of botulism or the other icky things that grow in meat over time.  We will apply this salt to the pork bellies but will rinse it off once it does its job.  Do not use curing salt for any other purpose.

Tired of salt?  Fret not. Tomorrow’s post will be all about combining curing salt with other seasonings and getting on with the bacon process.  Lots of cool pictures and much fun.

Sep 012017
 

by @WidowPage

Yesterday as I muddled through a data reconciliation, my oldest daughter texted me “Your meat is here”.  My daughters aren’t really that interested in my bacon curing projects but they knew I had been waiting for 100 lbs of pork belly to arrive on my front porch.  My youngest even obliged me with a picture.  I couldn’t get home for another 3 hours and there was no way the girls would be able to carry that much weight into the house.  All I could do it count the minutes until I could get home and dig into the boxes.

I’ve worked for Morningstar for almost 11 years.  During that time, I’ve learned so much about markets, trading and economics.  Morningstar was founded in Chicago which, at one time, boasted of being the hog butcher to the world.  Frozen pork bellies were traded as a commodity on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange under the symbol PB (electronic symbol GPB) starting in 1961. There’s more info about commodity trading here.

 

3 of the pork bellies

If you are interested in following pork commodity information, Urner Barry Pork tweets a lot of market information under the handle of @UBpork.  Did you know there were $17.554 million of pork bellies in cold storage in July?  That sounds like a lot to me but this number signals an industry-wide shortage.  Urner Barry has the details which, even for a hobby baconista, are really fascinating.  They also cover egg, seafood and beef market trends.

Once I got home, I broke into the boxes and hauled the 4 frozen bellies into the houses individually.  Factory farm-raised hog bellies run around 18 lbs.  These bellies, raised on smaller farms with a little more care, ranged from 20-30 lbs apiece.  This was the biggest one (pictured to the right…underneath it is my 6-burner stovetop…just for reference) after I cut it up .  Once it was sliced into 4 pieces, the smallest piece weighed 7.3 lbs.

1 pork belly cut into 4 pieces

When these 4 pieces thaw, the next step is to apply a cure and let them sit for a week to 10 days.  I cut the belly up because over the next four posts, I am going to show you how to prep the following:

  • Maple-Cured Bacon
  • Red Wine-Cured Bacon (throwing in an experiment with port wine on this one)
  • Bourbon & Brown Sugar Bacon
  • Black Pepper Bacon

Stay with me folks.  If you like bacon, I hope these next few posts will convince you to start making your own.

Jun 112013
 

Yours truly, age 4, at the Illinois Railway Museum

I’ve loved trains ever since I was a little kid. I have no clue why – it goes back as long as I can remember.

From an early age, my parents fed this fascination by taking my brother and I to the Illinois Railway Museum. It’s an awesome place – the largest railway museum in the United States. They have lots of railroad equipment from a variety of eras, and many pieces operate on their demonstration railroad. It’s located in Union, Illinois, about 75 minutes Northwest of Chicago. If you’re ever looking for something to do in the area, I highly recommend it.

Last weekend I had the immense pleasure of attending a museum trip where they chartered a CTA train made up of 2200 series cars, the oldest cars still in service on the ‘L’ system (built in 1969-70). This was a fundraiser to help purchase and transport two 2200 series cars to the museum, as the CTA will be scrapping them later this summer.

We spent the entire day (10 hours) riding around nearly the entire ‘L’ system. Our tour guides pointed out all kinds of facts about the neighborhoods and the train route. For someone like myself who loves trains and local history, it was an amazing experience.

For anyone who’s interested, I’m happy to share the photos I took. They’re all geotagged and most have lengthy comments so you’ll know what you’re looking at. Enjoy!

Apr 092013
 

This month’s T-SQL Tuesday is hosted by…ME! I asked everyone to share stories of how they came to love presenting, and I have not one but two tales of my own. They both took place at about the same time: my freshman year at the University of Illinois. I can’t remember which one came first, so you get to read both!

Physics Van

Shortly after classes began, my Physics 111 lecture was visited by Professor Mats Selen, who got everyone’s attention by putting a small amount of liquid nitrogen into a soda bottle. He capped it, threw it into a large plastic garbage can, and fastened the lid. Seconds later the lid touched the 20+ foot ceiling from the force of the explosion. He then explained if we were interested in doing things like this more often, come speak to him about joining the crew of the Physics Van. I was at his office within a day or two.

Demonstrating the power of atmospheric pressure with Magdeburg Hemispheres

The Physics Van is an outreach program that brings a free traveling science show to elementary schools and community groups, typically within an hour’s drive of campus. The hour-long program gets kids excited about science by demonstrating basic physics experiments, many with audience participation. Of course no science show would be complete without a few explosions thrown in as well!

Not only did I have an amazing time and meet some wonderful people, but Physics Van taught me a ton about stage presence and engaging an audience. I also learned how to be comfortable speaking in front of large groups, and that making something appear spontaneous takes lots of rehearsing. I’ll admit that getting up and talking in front of hundreds of people is much easier when your audience is in the 4th grade or younger. It’s also nearly impossible to not get kids that age excited about whatever you’re going to be doing. Whether they really enjoyed the show or were just happy to not be in class, we always saw tons of smiles from the audience. In my mind, it was the perfect environment to get comfortable with speaking.

Bonus! You may or may not find yours truly (circa 2003) in this video of a show. Disclaimer: it appears to require Internet Explorer (again, this was 2003.)

Being a Campus Tour Guide

One morning early in the year, my roommate and I were startled awake by the door to our room being unlocked. It opened quickly, we heard an “OHMYGODIMSORRY!”, it closed in an instant and we heard lots of people being shuffled out of the hallway. My dorm room had previously been the “model” room shown to tour groups (I knew this because I saw it when I cam for tours) and apparently some of the tour guides never got the memo.

My lava lamp collection was always a hit with tour groups. (And hey, check out those books I had even 12 years ago!)

This really didn’t bother me or my roommate. In fact, I went to the Campus Visitors Center and encouraged them to send tour groups to our room, as we could show them what a real, lived-in dorm room looks like. They liked that idea, so our room became a regular stop on the campus tour. The model room looked so fake anyway, with perfect furnishings all straight from the store. Ours may have been totally cluttered, but at least it was authentic!

Over the course of my freshman year, I made more contacts in the Admissions and Records office, and applied for a job as a tour guide for the following year (they don’t allow freshmen to give tours.) This ended up being my job for the next 4 years, and I loved it. Getting paid to share my love of the University with prospective students and their parents was awesome, and there were never any dull moments. I remember one time in particular where I was walking a tour group down the street and a good friend of mine saw us going by. She came up to me and started hitting on me like crazy in front of them. Told me to come by her place because she needed my help studying for her anatomy exam that night. The look on everyone’s faces was priceless! Another time I was taking my tour group into the dorm to show them my room, and my neighbor was standing at the front desk wearing nothing but a towel. He asked if he could speak to the group for a second, and then explained that his current state was a prime example of why you never forget your keys when going to shower, as his roommate had left and locked the door, leaving him waiting for the front desk to get him a copy!

Tour guides at U of I developed some great skills, like the ability to talk very loudly for an hour or more while walking backwards and not running into people or obstacles. We also had to be good at answering unexpected questions. Before or after each tour there was a formal question/answer session where several tour guides went in front of a room full of people and answered literally any question about the school that the audience could throw at us. As I’m sure you can believe, most questions weren’t simple ones, like “What’s a good place to eat?” The kids would ask questions like “Can we have members of the opposite sex in our dorm room?” Parents would ask “There seem to be a lot of bars near campus – how do I know that my Timmy isn’t going to become a drunkard?” It was an excellent exercise in coming up with appropriate answers with a positive spin, no matter how much we really wanted to say that as long as your roommate is cool with it, resident advisors aren’t going to care if your significant other spends the night or not.

So those are my stories. In both cases I had very positive experiences getting up in front of groups of people and speaking about things I love: science and the University of Illinois. When I think about it that way I guess it’s no surprise that I enjoy giving presentations about SQL Server as well.