A Giggle and a Pinch of Lot’s Wife

If there’s any one important thing to remember about Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book is that it’s salty. Like really salty. The book itself secretes salt crystals if you don’t pay attention. I’m not complaining, I love me some salty food.

So, they had local pork shoulder on sale for cheap (on sale for CHEAP!). The pork shoulder was cheap but do you know what is hard to find? Pig fat. What the hell, Vermont? There are pigs everywhere. Most of the people I know who are raising and slaughtering their own pigs are ‘harvesting’ before winter comes and that means younger, leaner pigs. My half pig had hardly any fat. No leaf lard or fat back, the belly had more meat than fat. They shoulder came skin on and with some nice fat, but it wasn’t enough for a good 10% mix. But, meh, went with it.

First up was the spicy italian, page 121. It was definitely a step up from my own recipe and I’ll be making it again. The addition of the red wine vinegar was the real game changer. It really brought out the flavors of the herbs. I did not, however, appreciate the whole coriander seeds. I love coriander, I use it all the time especially in Indian food, but it was just wrong. It specifically called for coriander seeds, not powder. You’re sitting there all sucking down this italian celebration when POP a coriander seed gets in there and crunches. It just isn’t right. But that’s my only real complaint about the recipe. I didn’t stuff the sausage this time around, we’ll save that excitement for later.

Next up was breakfast sausage. For this one I used my own recipe. The recipe in the book called for ginger and too much sage. I just can’t imagine it all in my gravy and smothering my biscuits. Speaking of… my biscuit game is sort of slowly but not really getting better. I did use the salt ratio in the book.

Both sausages were pretty salty and I have to keep that in mind when I cook with them. It also had me grind the meat on the smaller plate and that was too fine for my tastes. I’m going back to the bigger plate next time. My dad just sent me a load of garlic from his garden and I will be making up a batch of the garlic sausage on page 116. Once Kristen thins the herd a bit we’ll have lamb meat for Moroccan merguez.

For the record, it takes approximately 8 Blue Moons to bust a 12 1/2 pound bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder down to 10 pounds of sausage. I kept the bones, as it had both the shoulder and the elbow joint in there and that means connective tissue and that means delicious, delicious asian soup stock. I also kept the skin which I will turn into cracklins the next time I fry up some chicken.

5 pounds italian sausage

4 pounds breakfast sauage

But it’s not all salted meats, sometimes you have to set your sights on the vegetables in your life. Decided to make some lactic acid fermented pickles. Instead of vinegar you soak your veggies in a 5% salt water solution and it makes some lactic acid which gives you pickles of varying levels of pickle-tude. First experiment was a mix of carrots, fennel bulb, fennel frond, jalapenos and serranos and the pickling spice from page 68. It was generally okay, not great, I didn’t take my pants off or anything. I did actually like the fennel bulb and carrots, they stayed nice and crunchy and absorbed a good deal of the spice from the chili peppers, they also managed to keep the salt absorption down. They weren’t so overwhelmingly salty. I did a batch of jalapenos, serrano and anaheim peppers in just a plain salt solution. Made some good crunchy pickled peppers but, again, very salty. The last experiment was actual pickling cucumbers. These sucked. They just plain sucked. Super salty and they got very soft and mushy. Nothing pickley about them, just 4 jars of impotent disappointment.

I’ll probably do the fennel and carrots again, but mostly I’ll stick to vinegar pickling.

Coming up… this is the Winter of The Shank, I’m going to dive into the art of the braised shank. For Shanksgiving I have a lovely pair of local lamb shanks. It’s a toss up between some sort of traditional red-wine-braised recipe or something Persian since I got me a Persian cookbook and also all the ingredients, even the weird ones (like angelica and mahlab). Kristen’s got a pair of pork shanks for Shanksmas and I’m hoping to get my hands on some veal shanks for the hell of it. I do really want osso buco.

And I’ve perfected the scone recipe. Not ‘made better’ or ‘yeah, it’s okay’. I have perfected the shit out of my scone recipe.

And we all fall down

I’m still working away at my bread baking. It’s slowed down a bit here in the dead of summer. I’d baked a pretty good basic hearth bread (The Bread Bible pg305) and a couple of mostly successful pugliese (pg 346). Last week it was time to get back to the basic white sandwich loaf (pg 244).

I’ve gotten in the habit mixing up my sponge and letting it sit and ferment for a couple hours and then I stick it in the fridge overnight. It adds to the flavor, yes, but mostly it allows me to not be so impatient with that first rising time. The next day I pulled the sponge from the fridge and popped the bowl into the stand mixer.

Everything was going so well. At the end of the 7 minute mix with the dough hook my gluten was amazing. It was really the best gluten stretch and window I’d had the entire time I have been working on my bread. The dough is enough for 2 loaves so I popped it into a 4 quart cambro and let it rise. AND IT ROSE!! At about an hour in it had risen to the top of the cambro, just filled it up completely. I was all pleased with myself! Look at what I did! My skills must be amazing, so very very amazing! I did a stretch and fold and put it in for a second rise. A second magical rise! Like what the hell, bread?!

Its shaped rise in the loaf pans was slower and not as dramatic but it was going well. In the oven I watched it through the window. I wanted to see it form the most perfect loaves I’d ever baked.

But they didn’t. They didn’t rise. In fact they were deflating. The sadness of my heart! What the hell happened to my magical bread? Just 4 hours earlier I was some sort of doughy bread wizard. I was magic. Now this? When they were done I took them out and let them cool before I sliced in. They were what you would expect, dense. Squashed and dense. But bread is bread and butter is butter and we started eating.

I was poking at the bread, I was reading my notes (I take lots of notes when I am making bread), trying to figure out what went wrong. Then it hit me, the bread didn’t taste right, it was kind of bland. I forgot the damned salt. There was no salt to keep the yeast under control and it pretty much proofed itself to death. That’s why it had risen so fast and with so much vigor. The yeast was just free to eat and fart and eat and fart as much as it could. Lesson learned and I am glad there was an actual reason. It wasn’t some mystery to beat myself up over, just a stupid mistake.

Once we get past this current mini heat wave I am going to try it again.

This past weekend my aunt and my cousin came to visit and I made chocolate sticky rolls with the brioche dough (pg 487 and 503). It took me too long to get the dough rolled out, filled and rolled up again before cutting. Everything got soft and moodgy. The cut rolls were popflopped into the pan and promised to be ugly. I fridged them overnight and got up early to get them out and risen before baking them. I was afraid that with all the humidity and heat the day before that I’d have killed the dough and we would be left with swirly chocolate paddles. No bad luck there. They rose as expected and baked up perfectly. We had chocolate rolls and ice cream and hot chocolate for breakfast. The brioche is futzy and time consuming but if you have the time it is definitely worth it.

Failures and successes, that’s the way it goes. The project clock is ticking and I have 18 months to learn croissants so I better get going.

Meat’n Greet

Corned beef! I want to write it all out in exclamation points. CORNED BEEF!!!

I made reubens and they were exclamation point fantastic. I used the recipe from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie, corned beef page 65 and pickling spice page 68.

The meat counter had brisket on sale so I popped over and asked for 5ish pounds. The guy behind the counter is not a butcher and did not really know how to deal with a full brisket. He didn’t separate the plate before cutting. He got me a 6 pound slab taken directly from the center where the plates overlapped. This meant I got that great slap of tendon running right through the middle. I considered trimming it myself but then I would have been left with two thinner slabs of meat and this is definitely the kind of thing I wanted to do with a honking chunk.

Made the brine, poured everything into a 2.5 gallon ziploc and fridged it for 5 1/2 days, flipping every 24 hours. I took that time to practice my rye bread.

I hated rye bread as a kid. There was nothing grosser than eating a good sandwich and having an entirely unexpected caraway seed explode in your mouth. Actually, onions and mushrooms are grosser, but…you know. I worked on my caraway seed acceptance by making cheese crackers with caraway seeds. It worked. I can deal with caraway seeds even if I am not a huge fan of them.

I used the Levy’s Real Jewish rye bread recipe page 325 of the Bread Bible.



You know what? It was good. A little underproofed and therefore a bit dense but for a first trial run I was very happy. Still trying to find the sweet spot on the oven dial. The oven cooks hot but not consistently above temp. I’m running anywhere from 10-25 degrees hotter than I’m setting it for.

A couple days later I did it again.

This is where my camera decided to crap out on me. Pictures were taken with my phone. My phone is made from old shoes and lost dreams and its quality can be seen in how crappy the pictures are. I’ve got my camera working again, my phone has just continued to decline.

Rye bread #2

Rye bread #2

Definitely better on the second try. Good chew, good flavor, not as dense as before but could have been given another 30 minutes or so to rise. Underproofing is my weakness. I’m so afraid of overdoing it and having it fall that I just cause the same problems but in reverse.

Went with a batard rather than a round loaf because I find round loaves to be futzy when I’m making sandwiches.

The day came to cook the brisket and I realized it was a good thing I upgraded from the 6 quart to the 8 quart Instant Pot. Six pounds of brisket takes up a lot of room. I rinsed the meat off and threw it in the Instant Pot with fresh water and 2 tablespoons of pickling spice. I used the slow cook function and let it go about 4 hours. Probably could have pressure cooked it but for a first time I wanted to stick to the recipe as well as I could. I was definitely worried about that huge tendon in there. As the day went on it just kept contracting itself and getting stiffer. After 4 hours I turned the temp down and let it go for 2 more hours. I pulled the meat out and let it rest about 45 minutes.

I used the Russian Dressing recipe from Epicurious. I didn’t have the time to make my own sauerkraut so the sauerkraut and swiss cheese were both store bought.

Then I sliced the meat.
Corned Beef

You can see the tendon there running through the middle. I’m glad I kept it in for an extra couple of hours. The collagen just about melted out. The mouthfeel was amazing. The meat was not in any way dry or chewy, it was full of flavor and the texture was better than I could have hoped for with a first brisket.

When you couple the pickle spice mix recipe with the super fresh spices from Penzeys you get a spice blend with a lot of flavor. You could really taste the allspice and cloves in there. The real problem was the saltiness. It was very very salty. Not inedibly salty, not by a long shot but still it’s something I’ll to figure out before next time. The brine is at about 12% salt solution, I might bring it down to 10% and see how that goes.

Corned Beef

The meat was rich, that’s the best word I can use to describe it. It was full and rich and a little overwhelming. I wanted to just cram those sandwiches full of corned beef, I wanted to make big monster sandwiches! But I really couldn’t, we’d have fallen into some sort of meat coma if I tried.


I’m counting the whole thing a huge success (except for the saltiness, we have to work on that). The best part is that when it cooled, half went right into the freezer. We can do it all again.

And next time I can tell you all about my bread superfailure!

Measure For Measure

I never baked very often. The precision was always a bit of a turn off. I like guessing and eyeballing and just knowing how it all works together. In deciding to take up bread making I knew it was time to get out the scale and get some accuracy in place.

Flour can be pretty erratic, how it’s scooped or sifted or compacted in its container can have a big effect on weight. I knew to expect that. I was pretty damned surprised by the salt, though. Everyone who cooks has a salt loyalty. You pick your salt, you learn it. You know exactly how salty a pinch of your salt is. I’m a Diamond Crystal person. I’ve used it for 2 decades, I know it. But what I know is how it works in small quantities, in applications where precision isn’t all that necessary. Pinch and toss it into a sauce or whatever. When I started weighing out my ingredients for the bread dough I found a huge discrepancy between volume and weight. To reach the correct weight I was hitting almost half again what was called for by volume.

I was suspicious but I followed the directions. The difference was crazy. There was an immediate difference in flavor and texture in the breads I was making. I had a chewier crust and a tighter crumb and the flavor… so much better. Years of bland loaves of bread and batches of buns rolled through my mind. I really should have started weighing ingredients years ago.

And if is important in bread then it’s doubly so with curing meats or making sausage. I got me a brisket and made up some corning brine and the difference between volume and weight for the salt was huge. Lesson learned, weigh your ingredients.

But that’s not the only thing to be measured and calibrated. My loaves have been coming out of the oven dark and with a bit of a hard, plank like bottom. Tried to adjust things a few times but not making much of a difference. Finally decided to get a damned oven thermometer. My oven regularly bakes between 15 and 25 degrees hotter than it’s set for. Dang.

My challah had a tough time of it.
Tangerine challah in a 4 strand braid

It was still delicious, tangerine and vanilla braid. Nice soft crumb but it was underproofed.
Tangerine challah crumb

The high temps are not completely consistent, I’m doing a lot of fudging and guessing. I’m hoping to reach a compromise with the oven without having to draw an ass on it so I have something to kick the next time it burns my bread.

Up next:
The corned beef begins

Brisket was on sale so I got me a 6 pound slab of ornery deliciousness. Brining it up for 6 days and planning on making corned beef next weekend. Homemade reuben deliciousness. I’ve never made rye bread before so I’ve got a sponge started for a practice loaf. I know it can be tricky. I won’t be making homemade sauerkraut, I didn’t plan ahead for that, but I’ll make the russian dressing and it’s about time to make more mustard so I might make up a horseradish mustard as well.

Reuben goodness.

The Triumphs At Our Sides

I have loved many people and objects in my life. I’m full of love (but don’t worry, also I am an asshole, so it all evens out) but I have to just give a shout out to Stan. Stan is my stand mixer, he’s been with me for nigh on 20 years now. He’s a work horse, he’s strong and faithful and he gets all the shit done.


He mixes dough, makes meringues, and beats cookie dough into submission. Also also also, he can roll and cut my pasta and grinds meat for sausages and burgers and soon will stuff said sausages into casings for me. I love him.

In conjunction with his fraternal twin, the food processor, shit in my kitchen gets done.

But back to bread! I’ve been steadily moving forward. I’ve taken some classes on Craftsy in the past, mostly yarn related things but I went over to see what they had for baking classes. Boom! The King Arthur Flour Essentials of Baking Bread! I was just about to sign up for the in-person class at the King Arthur facility, but this is cheaper AND I don’t have to put on pants or use my words with people. I managed to catch it on sale for $19.99. It’s definitely basic bread baking but I learned some new techniques and I found that mostly I’ve been doing things correctly.

Basic Hearth Bread

The Basic Hearth Bread again (pg 305 The Bread Bible). I keep working on it, not just to make it better but to use it to really understand the dough. I experiment with proofing times, kneading and folding, shaping, and baking methods.

Basic Hearth Bread

I discovered one baking method that I am going to keep forever. Basically stick the dough boule in the dutch oven on parchment paper, score, spritz well with water, cover and put in a COLD oven. Turn on the oven and only when it hits pre-heated temps do you start the timer.

Basic Hearth Bread

It has worked perfectly. I’ve found it works best if you leave the cover on the whole time. It produces and good shiny crust with lots of chew. The crumb is still a bit tight but it’s no longer super dense or doughy. Good, substantial bread that you just shove in your face!

The next experiment we do the same thing but without the dutch oven. Just straight up on the baking sheet.

The Raisin Pecan bread (pg 405) is pretty delicious. I used maybe 2/3 the raisins and pecans it called for and still I felt it was ‘overstuffed’.

The other bread I keep working on is the Basic Soft White Sandwich Loaf (pg 244). The recipe produces 2 loaves so this last time I decided on one loaf and 8 burger buns.

Cute little buns

I have cute little buns! Working on better shaping techniques. Made my spicy fried chicken sandwiches and these buns were perfect for that. Spicy fried chicken sandwiches is something else I am working on perfecting but it’s not bread so I’ll post it separately, some other time.

As for my loaf…

Misshapen loaf

Yeah, I need to be more mindful of the dough. I did my stretch and fold halfway through and it felt uneven but I figured it would work itself out. It still felt uneven when I went to shape it, but I had faith in the dough. The thing about dough is that it doesn’t need your faith, it’s just going to do its own thing. And it did. Lesson learned, be more mindful.

Heading down to Louisiana for a couple of weeks, I’m trying to figure out if I can fit the Instant Pot, the stand mixer and the food processor in the road brick. Maybe if I hold all the luggage on my lap I can get it all in. Also bringing my knives, half my spice drawer, the espresso machine and my coffee mug. When I return home I will start sausage making in earnest.