Archive for the ‘Food’ Category


July 6th, 2014 No comments

For some reason I’ve been thinking about sandwiches. Over the years I’ve had very few good ones. The kind with a balance of flavors. The kind with enough meat and not overloaded with lettuce and mayo. The kind made with decent bread.
Here are the best I can remember:

  1. A genuine Jimmy Buff’s double Italian hot dog. With peppers, onions, potatoes, and a touch of mustard. Only available in New Jersey.
  2. The “Brookside Special” at Brookside Pizza in Concord, NH. Steak, pastrami, and sausage on a cheap roll with no vegetables to screw it up. Just meat and bread.
  3. The Lobster Club at the Waterside Market in Vineyard Haven, MA. Lobster. Bacon. Homemade ciabatta bread. Perfect.
  4. The BLATT wrap at In a Pickle Cafe in Waltham, MA. BLATT = Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado, Tomato, and smoked Turkey. I normally avoid wraps. For this one I make an exception.
  5. The Chinese BBQ Pork sandwich from the Bon Me food trucks in Boston. The bread is crispy, the pork is juicy, and the pickled vegetables have a perfect crispy tang. Excellent!
  6. The Cochinta Pibil at Tortas Frontera (locations in Chicago, including O’Hare Airport and one in Philadelphia). The salsa is good and spicy and the flavors are fresh. I get one on every trip through Chicago.
Categories: Food Tags: ,

First Brisket in my Bradley Smoker

March 30th, 2012 6 comments
This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Bradley Digital Smoker

I’ve been working on perfecting my bar-b-que for almost 20 years. During all my trials, tests, and experiments, I’ve worked almost exclusively on pork. Perhaps a little bit of chicken here and there, but mostly pork shoulder and ribs. This weekend I decided it was time that I tackled a brisket. In the most basic sense, brisket is just like any other bar-b-que. A cut of meat is rubbed with a flavorful rub and is slowly cooked over indirect heat for many hours, in the presence of smoke. The main difference from something like a pork shoulder? The kind of wood used for he smoke (mesquite instead of hickory) and perhaps the seasoning in the rub (usually more of spices like black pepper and cumin).

But for some reason, my casual research shows that brisket is more perplexing than pork bar-b-que. Perhaps it’s because brisket is a Texas specialty and there are fewer people who practice the art. So there may be fewer “experts” spreading the advice and knowledge that would make people more comfortable cooking brisket. Who knows… But I certainly see quite a few message board postings where people are asking for help after a brisket disaster of some sort.

I decided to start simple, with no long marinades or overnight rubs or odd smoking sequences. And I decided to use my Bradley Electric Smoker, both because my big pit is way too large for a single brisket, and because it was 40 degrees and raining this weekend. I searched for recipes for brisket specifically done in a Bradley smoker and every one that I found used some form of “crutch.” The crutch is a technique where whatever meat you’re smoking is wrapped in foil and then left either on the smoker at bar-b-que temperature, or finished in an oven or left in a cooler for some amount of time so that the carryover heat finishes breaking down the connective tissue without overcooking the meat. The term “crutch” is usually used disparagingly, juxtaposed with whatever state or regional style of bar-b-que that you don’t like. As in the “Texas Crutch” or the “Carolina Crutch.” I wasn’t going to use the crutch either.

What I have learned over the years is that the main base upon which good bar-b-que is built is the meat. Specifically, meat with a good amount of fat and connective tissue. If you start with a piece that is too lean it will never survive the long hours that bar-b-que requires, crutch or no crutch. And in this category, brisket is a particular problem. In the United States most brisket becomes corned beef or its smoked cousin, pastrami. Or, in my adopted part of the country, some god-awful usually inedible and under seasoned concoction called New England Boiled Dinner. What these dishes all have in common is that the meat is braised (or boiled) for a long time, which lends itself to tenderizing. But when all the cooking liquid is reserved, fat becomes a problem – it just messes up the gravy. So most brisket is sold ready for the braising pot and is trimmed of its fat cap. This is where I think most bar-b-que brisket cooks go wrong  they start with a cut that is too lean and then dry it out on the smoker for far too long.

I didn’t make that mistake. I had to ask the butcher specially for it, but he managed to find me an untrimmed 6 1/2 lb. brisket flat (as opposed to a point cut or “deckle” cut) with a nice thick, maybe 1/2″, fat cap. This I knew would survive the smoker without use of a crutch.



So all I did was set up the Bradley smoker at 11:00 pm and let it heat for 30 minutes at to 220 degrees. I rubbed the brisket with a basic rub of 1 part salt, 1 part turbinado sugar, 1/2 part paprika, 1/2 part black pepper, and a 1/2 part combined cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder. Then I set the smoker for 9 hours and 40 minutes (the maximum time), plopped the brisket on a rack in the middle, and loaded up 2 hours of mesquite bisquette, followed by alternating hickory, alder, and more mesquite for a total of 6 hours of smoke. Then I went to bed.

The next morning I increased the time and kept an eye on my Thermoworks thermometers. No basting, mopping, spritzing, or anything. 11 1/2 hours later the internal temperature hit 180 degree and I took the brisket off and let it rest for 30 minutes. It had a great bark and carved easily across the grain. And man was it good. It was fork tender from end to end and the bark had a great flavor. If anything it could have taken even more smoke, so next time I might go with 5 or 6 hours of all mesquite. But it was definitely a success and something I will make again.

Here’s the final product:

The Final Product

The Final Brisket


Categories: Food, Grilling/BBQ Tags: , ,

Treasure From the Basement – Rehabbing Cast Iron Pans

August 3rd, 2011 No comments

Griswold Logo

I was cleaning out my basement this weekend and ran across a box I had forgotten years ago. When my parents finally sold our old farm in Pennsylvania I managed to salvage some of the more unique cookware that they had collected. This apparently included a couple of cast iron pans including a #10 late-model Griswold skillet. For those up on the latest cast iron news, Griswold was an American manufacturer of cast iron cookware from 1865 to 1957. Some of their pans are quite collectible. Mine isn’t, it has a small logo, but it’s still a decent cast iron skillet.

The problem was that they were rusted pretty badly. So I needed to bring them back to life.

There are all kinds of recommendations (this and this for example) about how to clean cast iron if you’re collecting it. But I don’t collect it – I cook in it. So I went with my tried and true method for getting a quick season back on the pan. See below:

Steps to Rehab Rusted Cast Iron

1Start with a very rusty pan. Rinse with water and scrub with a scotch-brite. Steel wool will work if you have it. I was trying to avoid having to sand blast it.
2Give it a scrub with Bar Keepers Friend. (BKF is also great for cleaning stainless steel.)
3A quick wipe-down with canola oil.
4I heat my grill to about 500 degrees, then give the pans about 10 minutes to heat up. Then give them another good coating of canola oil and place them face down on the grill and close the lid. I use a grill rather than an oven because who really wants the smell of smoking hot oil in the house.
5Let the pans bake for 30 minutes, then turn down the heat and let them cool.
6Here are the pans with a nice smooth season on them.

Categories: Food Tags: ,

Sappy Days are Here Again

April 9th, 2011 1 comment

Homemade Maple Syrup

What’s the point of living in New England if you can’t make your own maple syrup?

Among products from the garden, maple syrup may be among the easiest because maple trees kind of take care of themselves. If you have any on your property, the rest is pretty simple. Collect the sap, boil it, filter it, and pour it on pancakes.

Getting Started

There are bunch of resources about how to make your own maple syrup at home. Some are on the web, published by state agriculture departments, but most are in print. Maple Syrup is an old-timey tradition – the kind that doesn’t jump to the Internet easily. For Internet resources I found this one from the Michigan Maple Syrup Association, and this one from a website called Rural Vermont.

1. Find a Maple Tree

Before you make any other decisions, you’ll need to answer one important question. Do you have access to maple trees, preferably sugar maples? Ideally you will have figured this out in the spring, summer, or fall, when the leaves are visible and identification is easy. But if you’re like most people you’ll wait until late winter and have to figure it out the hard way.

There’s nothing that I can really add to information you can find Googling “how to identify maple trees.” Doing it in winter can be tough, but I do have a trick. Narrow down the area by looking at leaves on the ground … you may have to dig through snow if you live far enough north to have maple trees. Then, on that first really clear day in early spring when you’ve had a cold below freezing night and a nice warm day, go outside.

See the dark spot -- that's sap running!

You see, maple sap runs best and strongest when a cold night is followed by a warm day (see this from the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association for an explanation). And on the first sap running day in the spring, you can often see trees begin to weep sap. Here’s a picture I took on one such day this February. This is a small tree but is shows the point … on the left branch of the “Y” you can see a dark stain. A wet spot. This is the sap running. A definite sign of a maple tree. This is one of the best ways of confirming if a tree is a maple in the dead of winter.

2. Figure Out How Much Work You Want to Do

You are going to have to collect a lot of sap for your syrup. It takes some 30 or 40 gallons of raw sap to make 1 gallon of finished syrup. If you’re retired and have lots of time to collect, filter, transfer, boil, filter again, and package syrup, by all means, tap all the trees in your yard and go nuts. Me, I have a day job, so I started small. Three trees. Over the course of a six to eight week season these trees gave me  about a pint and a half of finished syrup.

3. Get Your Gear On

It’s not hard to search the Internet for all the stuff you need. And you don’t need much. In fact, the only specialized gear you need are spiles … the taps that go into the trees. The rest of the stuff is optional. But here’s a quick list to get you started:

  • Spiles
  • Buckets to collect sap (can be re-purposed, like old milk jugs)
  • Lids to keep out rain, etc.
  • Collection vessel (you’ll get several gallons of sap from each tap in a good week)
  • Filters (can be specialized or even coffee filters if you have a lot of time to wait for sap to drip … also paper towels, cheesecloth, old rags, etc.)
  • Drill & bits
  • Boiling pot or specialized evaporator
  • Heat source (fire pit or burner)
  • Funnels
  • Thermometer (a candy thermometer works well … I use my Thermapen)
  • Container for the finished sap

My Maple Grove

I went for specialized spiles and collection buckets that I bought from the Leader Evaporator Company in Vermont. They make all kinds of kits for the home hobbyist, so I sprung for 3 plastic sap buckets for $8.50 each, 3 plastic spouts for $2.05 each, and 3 lids for $3.60 each. That’s $41.85 for the whole kit, plus shipping. Compare that to some starter kits with the same stuff that cost upwards of $80.

Here’s a picture of my buckets hanging in my little maple grove late in the season.

4. Hang ’em High

Once you find your trees and have some buckets to collect your sap, just hang ’em up and wait. When you have the right weather, the sap will run. In fact, if you have chosen your trees correctly and the season is right, you will usually see sap running as soon as the tree is tapped. If you want to be careful, you should sterilize your drill bit between drilling holes by dipping it in a mild bleach solution (just a few drops of bleach in a quart or water). Follow the directions that came with your taps for the correct size bit and depth of the hole to drill.

5. Wait. And wait. And wait. And Collect the Liquid Gold

When the weather is right, you’ll get a gallon or more of sap from a 10″ diameter tree in a single day. When the weather isn’t right you won’t get a single drop. This is nature, so it’s not predictable. But every day you should go out to your buckets and collect the sap. When our season started in February, we still had 30″ of snow on the ground, so here’s a tip for people living up north, make sure you will be able to get to the trees you select in winter.

Sap is like any natural product … it can go bad if not properly handled. So you should collect it regularly and keep it cold. If you collect a lot you might be able to store it outside while it’s cold (many people use a clean plastic garbage pail as a storage tank). I filtered it (to get the bugs out … yes, as the season progresses into March the first bugs start to appear) and stored it in either old milk jugs or old 2 liter soda bottles in my refrigerator.

Our season runs from mid February through March. On a good week I collected about 4 or 5 gallons of sap from my trees. On a slow week, only 2 or 3. For the slow weeks I waited 2 weeks in between boiling sessions.

6. Watch Your Pot Boil

My Watched Pot Actually Does Boil

I typically waited until I had 4 or 5 gallons of sap ready for boiling. I did my boiling in an old pot over my propane turkey fryer burner, and finished on the stove. It typically takes 5 to 6 hours to boil down 5 gallons of raw sap.

The reason most boiling is done outside is because you are going to drive off a lot of water … more than many home vent systems can handle. So if you try this in your kitchen, prepare for steamy windows and lots of condensation.

The secret to boiling sap is to make sure that it doesn’t cook too much and become maple sugar. Because the boiling point of a liquid (in this case mostly water) increases with the concentration of stuff dissolved in it, it is possible to determine when the sugar concentration is correct by monitoring the boiling temperature of the liquid. People with experience have calculated that the optimal sugar concentration happens when the finished syrup boils at 7 degrees above the starting point of the sap. But the sap is mostly water and it should boil at 212°F, right? Wrong, that temperature changes with the air pressure which is in turn a function of both weather and altitude. For example, at my house on most days, water boils at 211°F. And so did the sap when I first started boiling it. So my final temperature was 218°F.

Finishing Up

There’s not really much more to this step. Fill your pot, light the fire, test the temperature when it boils, then keep adding fresh sap until your supply is gone and then keep it boiling until the temperature is 7 degrees F higher than when you started. As I said, I usually finished on the stove where the temperature was easier to monitor.

By the way … if you didn’t filter your sap when you collected it, do it now. Bugs make for bad flavor!

7. Pour and Enjoy

In addition to water and sugar there are other compounds in maple sap, and as the solution boils down and concentrates, they precipitate out. People call this “niter” or maple sand. And it needs to be filtered before the syrup is packed. There are special filters that make large production easier, but you can also use cheesecloth or other filters if you have really small batches and time. I used a combination of paper towels and cheesecloth.

The result is a nice clear syrup … which may vary in color depending on the species of tree tapped and the time of year. I got a nice dark syrup seen here.

Liquid Gold

By the end of my 6 week season, I ended up with about a pint and a half of finished syrup in the refrigerator. If you have much more, you’ll need to think about a safe storage method, like hot canning it in sterile jars.

Me, I’ll eat it before it goes bad …

Good luck!

Categories: Food, Gardening Tags:

Updated BBQ Rub (Again)

August 19th, 2010 1 comment

I’ve been preparing for my upcoming annual summer BBQ party, the Carnivore’s Carnival. According to e-Vite, we can expect about 35 to 40 grown-ups and another 20 kids.

21 lbs. of rubbed butt!

I typically prepare 21 lbs. of pulled pork and four racks of ribs, along with a couple dozen burgers and dogs and some assorted chicken and sausage. There are sides of course (I make a bacon-infused, cracklin’ cornbread for example). My wife is in charge of vegetables and salads …

Anyway, over the last year I’ve fine-tuned my recipes, among them my rub. As I mentioned in my BBQ guide post, most people won’t tell you their “secret” rub recipe. I’m not most people. So here is my updated and current favorit rub for shoulder, ribs, and chicken.

  • 8 parts Turbinado sugar
  • 3 parts kosher salt
  • 2 parts dark chili powder
  • 1 part sweet paprika
  • 1 part cumin
  • 1 part coarse ground black pepper
  • 1/2 part garlic powder
  • 1/2 part onion powder

I prefer the turbinado sugar over processed brown sugar for one main reason: it comes in crystal form and doesn’t clump and form a brick like fine ground brown sugar. So it’s much easier to use outside in the humid weather where I typically barbeque. I usually mix up my rub a few cups at a time and apply with a dredge with large holes that I picked up on eBay.

I apply the rub after giving the meat a light coat of maple syrup (grade B) and a dusting of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. I feel that the Lawry’s dissolves very quickly due to the fine grain and along with the maple suryp, penetrates the meat to season it. The coarser rub sits on the outside and does a little seasoning of the meat, but mostly forms the basis of the beautiful bark on the outside of the shoulder after smoking.

I start smoking the shoulder tomorrow.

Belly Buster

August 7th, 2010 1 comment
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series bacon
Final Bacon

The Final Product

I’m preparing for my 8th annual summer BBQ party, the “Carnivore’s Carnival.” I normally spend two full days barbequeing meat for this party  including three full pork shoulders for pulled pork and four racks of spare ribs. This involves sitting and tending a fire for over 18 hours on at least one day, followed by another six hours on the next day. So this year I figured, since I’d be sitting and tending smokers, I’d do some bacon at the same time in my electric smoker.

I went to my favorite market in Boston, Savenors on Charles St. and picked up five pounds of pork belly for bacon. When I saw the $4.99 per pound price though I thought something was wrong. I know I’m paying city prices in Boston and all, and I was getting locally raised (in Vermont) organic pork, but still, I thought that was expensive.

Then I found this article by Curt Thacker in the Wall Street Journal online:

Pork Bellies Rise, Bacon Lovers Pay

… Prices for fresh pork bellies, from which bacon is made, are at an all-time high of $1.35 a pound, 53% higher than they were a year ago.

… The decision by North American swine producers to cut their losses by trimming their herds back in 2008 and 2009 is now feeding into cost pressures …

So that explains it. Also, Savenors sells its belly with the skin already removed, so that means more meat for the dollar too. But still, $5 per pound for what used to be ultra-cheap meat. Oh well, such is the price of quality homemade food.

Anyway, I have two pieces of belly curing in the refrigerator now following my recipe from my Makin’ Bakin 2 post. Only on one of them I added ground black pepper to make pepper bacon. I’ll give them 14 days to cure and then smoke them up. I can’t wait.

In a Pickle

August 2nd, 2010 2 comments

Taking on the tradition of Kovászos Uborka.

My father was Hungarian. Like many Hungarians in America, he came in 1956 without much. But he did remember a few recipies from his youth. One of them was for a half-sour dill pickle fermented in the sun. Making them every year was a project and involved a lot of stuff boiling on the stove and many one gallon jars which would sit outside in the sun for days at a time. There are many varieties of such ‘sun pickles’ in the world, and they are common to many eastern European cultures.

I don’t remember the exact proportions of his recipe, and he died a few years ago, but I remember the basic ingredients he used:

  • a salt-water brine
  • white vinegar
  • black peppercorns
  • bay leaves
  • fresh dill
  • garlic
  • rye bread

There is considerable debate about how these kind of fermented pickles can be made. Among the questions:

  • Is the vinegar necessary? What does it do?
  • Should the jars be sealed during fermentation?
  • Why use the bread? Is it needed?

I looked for recipes online and found a lot. A pretty authentic one it seems is on It doesn’t use vinegar but seems to advocate fermenting with the jars open. Another recipe from the Orange County Hungarians is similar, without vinegar and fermenting in open jars, and with a lot of garlic. Another recipe for Hungarian Summer Pickles on does use vinegar and ferments in a capped jar. Someone called June Meyers has a recipe on that also uses vinegar and an open jar.

After my research, I’ve thought about a few things and here is what I’ve decided to do for my recipe (the first jar of cucumbers and the dill came from my garden – I supplemented a couple jars from a local farm).


The vinegar is designed for two purposes. One, it does impart a flavor or tang to the final pickle. Although most of the tang ultimately comes from lactic acid produced during the fermentation, the vinegar adds a bit of extra kick. But primarily, the vinegar seems to be used as a hedge against alkaline water (pH greater than 7) allowing the growth of harmful bacteria. If you do a bit of research on sites like, you get the understanding that, it’s generally assumed that a lower pH will lead to a safer brine. So I’ll use a little vinegar in mine.


Many recipes allude to the bread being used to introduce yeast to the brine. But that’s ridiculous – bread is baked and contains no live yeast – at least no more than is present on any other object. My theory is that the bread actually introduces complex carbohydrates and starches to the brine, giving the yeast naturally present something to chew on. So I will use bread.

Open or Closed

Some people believe that an open jar is necessary for safety – allowing the brine to remain oxygenated will prevent the growth of botulism. I’m not sure that is a real issue – the salinity and low pH (since I’m using vinegar) should be enough. More importantly, an open or at least loose cap will allow the brine to escape when the jar heats up in the sun. So I’ll use a loose lid on a 1 quart Ball wide mouth jar.

The Recipe

In the end, here is what I am trying.

For each one quart jar, you’ll need about 2 cups of brine due to the volume taken up by cucumbers.. So, for each quart of brine needed:

  • 2 T salt (3 T kosher salt)
  • 3 T white vinegar

Dissolve these in 1 quart water.

Slice the ends off of pickling cucumbers, and cut slits lengthwise, leaving about 1/8″ uncut. You will have quartered the cucumber, except the ends are slightly attached. This helps the brine reach the inside of each cucumber. Pack the cucumbers in the jar.


  • 1 hot pepper (or red pepper flakes to taste)
  • 12 peppercorns
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled)
  • A bunch of dill

Pour the brine almost to the top. Pack one piece of bread into the top of the jar and top off the brine liquid. Loosely cap the jar and place in the sun for three days. (I take the jars in at night so animals don’t get to them.)

They will get cloudy – and you can let them go for more than three days if you like a softer, more sour pickle. I like mine with a little crispness. Refill the brine level as necessary each day.

The Verdict

They turned out exactly as I remembered. I always thought that my father’s pickles tasted a little bitter, which I attributed to all the garlic he put in the jars, but I had the same problem with mine and I used much less garlic. Now I believe it might be the vinegar.

For the next batch, I think I will cut the vinegar in half and maybe add a bit of sugar to the brine. Not enough to turn them into Koolickles, but enough to take the bitter edge off.

Let me know in the comments if you try this.

Categories: Food Tags: , ,

The Tamale Experiments

June 13th, 2010 1 comment

TamalesI was craving tamales, one of my favorite foods and was taking stock of the ingredients in my cabinet. Unfortunately, I had run out of the all important Maseca flour needed to make the batter. And a trip to the supermarket yielded no results. But I did have  several cans of hominy in the cupboard. So I asked myself if I could turn canned hominy into the masa needed for a good tamale.

Since I searched for this question and found it asked all over the internet but never found it answered, I’ll answer it here. Yes, you can make tamales using canned hominy ground in a food processor.

If you’re not familiar with the different kinds of corn used for various Mexican foods (like tortillas and tamales) a good primer is this section of Understanding the nixtamalization process and the resulting products will help make sense of my recipes below.

I reasoned that the main difference between masa and hominy was the amount of cooking and therefore the  amount of water in the corn. The canned hominy was definitely wetter than fresh masa. But since tamale dough is really a batter where the masa is mixed with water or a broth, I figured the extra moisture present in the hominy wouldn’t hurt. I would just have to cut down on the broth I added when I mixed up the batter.

I experimented with a couple of dough mixtures until I got the recipe right. Here’s my recipe.


I usually make my tamales in two parts, over two days. I follow a basic recipe for the batter that is a cross between the recipe found in my old copy of The Joy of Cooking and in Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen.

On day one I make the filling, which is usually some form of stewed meat. I use the broth left from this phase to flavor the dough when I make it on the second day. I typically prefer chicken and pork for the filling and use whatever cuts I can find that are on special.

The Filling

Chicken With Jalapenos and Black Beans

  • 2 Split chicken breasts with rib meat.
  • 2 T Chili powder
  • 1 T Kosher salt
  • 4 – 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 t Cumin
  • 1 t Black pepper
  • 1/2 – 1 can black beans
  • 2 medium jalapenos, seeded & de-veined, chopped fine
  • 2 T Goya Recaito
  • 1 medium lime
  1. Place the breasts in a stock pot and cover with water.
  2. Add the chili powder, garlic, salt, pepper, and cumin.
  3. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 1 – 2 hours, until chicken is fully cooked.
  4. Remove the breasts and allow to cool.
  5. Strain the remaining broth and and reserve 2 – 4 cups.
  6. Remove skin from breasts and shred meat.
  7. In a mixing bowl, (or in the bowl of a food processor if you like a finely ground tamale filling) mix chicken meat, black beans, Recaito, chopped jalapenos, and juice and zest of the lime.

Chipotle Pork

  • 3-4 lb. pork roast (loin roast or whatever cut you prefer)
  • 3 T Chili powder
  • 1 T Kosher salt
  • 4 – 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 t Cumin
  • 1 t Black pepper
  • 1 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 3 T Goya Sofrito seasoning
  1. Place the roast in a stock pot and cover with water.
  2. Add the chili powder, garlic, salt, pepper, and cumin.
  3. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 1 – 2 hours, until fully cooked.
  4. Remove the roast and allow to cool.
  5. Strain the remaining broth and and reserve 2 – 4 cups.
  6. Shred the meat.
  7. In a mixing bowl, (or in the bowl of a food processor if you like a finely ground tamale filling) mix pork, chipotles (use a number based on your taste), and sofrito.

The Tamale Dough


  • 2 15 oz. cans Goya hominy
  • A few ounces masa harina
  • 4 oz. lard (chilled). Shortening may also be used
  • 1 t baking powder (double acting)
  • Up to 1 C broth (I use whichever broth came from the filling I am making the dough for)
  • Salt to taste


  1. Grind the hominy to a fine paste in a food processor.
  2. Using a stand or hand mixer, cream the lard and baking powder together.
  3. Begin to add the hominy, 1/3 at a time until filly mixed.
  4. Once incorporated, add broth as necessary to create a spreadable texture. How thick you make the batter depends on how fluffy you want the final tamale texture. The wetter the batter, the fluffier and softer the resulting tamale. (Until the batter is too wet and then it will never set up when cooked.) Some people like their dough the consistency of modeling clay, while others (like me) prefer a spreadable, cream-cheese or even lighter texture. I like the consistency shown in this video.

After this, it’s a matter of filling and steaming.

I was impressed with the hominy version. The texture is a little coarser or rustic than dough made from dehydrated masa, yet is is also fluffier or less dense. I encourage you to experiment.



Categories: Food Tags: , , ,

Smoked Easter Ham

April 6th, 2010 1 comment


This year for Easter I decided to make a ham and infuse it with some extra flavor by smoking it myself. So I searched my local supermarket for a ham that wasn’t already smoked, which is harder to find then you might imagine. Perhaps if I had thought about this more than one week in advance I could have found a true fresh ham, but I settled for a pre-cooked and spiral-sliced unsmoked ham.

Basically, I followed a simple recipe:

  1. Dry ham for four hours at 120° F in smoker.
  2. Smoke with maple smoke for four hours at 140°.
  3. Let rest overnight so smoke flavor can mellow.
  4. Apply maple syrup and mustard base with seasoned salt rub. Wrap in aluminum foil, add cider vinegar and brown sugar solution to foil pouch, seal,  and  and roast at 350° F in oven for four hours.
  5. When temp reaches 145° F, remove from oven and glaze with a seasoned brown sugar glaze.
  6. Place in hot 450° F oven for 10 minutes until glaze darkens and caramelizes.
  7. Pour off drippings, reduce, and thicken with cornstarch slurry.

The ham had a decent flavor, but I was totally disappointed in the Bradley maple bisquettes and the flavor of the smoke they produced. From the first wisps escaping the cabinet, something smelled wrong. The smoke was acrid and, well, smelled a little like an ashtray. After a few minutes it seemed to get better, but when the ham came out the crust tasted like an ashtray too. I was pissed. Maple was supposed to be a more mellow flavor than hickory, but in this case it was harsh.

I tried to salvage the ham and wrapped it plastic with another splash of brown sugar and vinegar. I think that helped a little. The inside of the ham had a mellow smoky flavor, but the exterior crust was bitter.

After a day resting in the refrigerator things got a little better. And glazing the exterior helped even more.

In the end, I’d call this a mixed success. I think the idea was sound and smoking the ham clearly added flavor, but using maple was the wrong choice. So lesson learned. I’ve always used hickory for just about everything, with a little mesquite for chicken and some beef. And I think I’ll stick to those woods.

My bottom-line advice: avoid the maple bisquettes in the Bradley Smoker.

Makin Bakin 2 – Perfection Acheived

February 28th, 2010 1 comment
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series bacon

If you read my first Makin Bakin post you’ll understand my basic philosophy and method for making bacon at home:

  • Bacon is made from pork belly.
  • Bacon is cured with nitrites.
  • Bacon is smoked.

Pretty simple. But as with anything, the difficulty is in the execution. So after thinking about the delicious results of my first attempt at homemade bacon, I decided to adjust my recipe a bit. For my first try, I basically used this method:

  1. Rinse and dry pork bellies.
  2. Sprinkle with curing salt according to the instructions (I used pre-made cure from the Butcher and Packer company).
  3. Place in a Zip-Lok bag in the refrigerator for 5 days, rotating bag every 24 hours.
  4. Remove from bag, rinse in cold water, and allow to dry for several hours.
  5. Smoke in my Bradley Digital Smoker with hickory wood for 4 to 4 1/2 hours, starting at 120° F and increasing to 140° F for the third hour and and 160° F for the remaining time, until the bellies reach an internal temperature of 135° F.
  6. Trim the skin side off of the completed bacon.

The result of this process was good. But not great. I didn’t think the bacon was seasoned (salty or sweet) enough and I thought that it was extra smoked. So for my second batch I adjusted my recipe. And let me tell you, the results were outstanding! Here’s what I did, with major changes in red:

Rob’s Dry Cured Smoked Bacon

  1. Rinse and dry pork bellies. (This time I started with fresh, organic, Vermont-raised belly from Savenor’s in Boston.)
  2. Coat bellies on both sides with a layer of fresh New Hampshire maple syrup (grade B for extra flavor). <– New step
  3. Sprinkle with curing salt according to directions.

    Waiting for Smoke

    Drying Outside (temp was 31 degrees)

  4. Place in a Zip-Lock bag in refrigerator for 14 days. Turn bag every 24 hours. <– 9 days longer than first time
  5. Remove from bag, rinse in cold water, then let dry for several hours.
  6. Place in Bradley Digital Smoker for approximately 4 to 4 1/2 hours. Start at 120° F with no smoke for one hour. After one hour, raise temperature to 140° F and start hickory smoke for two hours. Then stop smoke and raise temperature to 160° F until bellies reach internal temperature of 135° F. <– New smoke & temperature profile
  7. Trim skin off of completed bacon.

The final result, shown here fresh from the smoke, was some of the best bacon I’ve ever had. It had enough of a cured taste to remind me of the bacon I’m used to, but, because it was dry cured over time and smoked with real wood, it was much firmer and the flavor was richer. Since most supermarket bacon is “cured” by pumping it with a curing solution and then “smoked” by sitting in an over for a couple of hours while being sprayed with liquid smoke flavoring, the taste of real dry-cured bacon is simply “denser” and richer. And when you cook it you don’t get all that milky liquid that cooks out of store-bought bacon, which is the reason for its watered-down flavor.

Final Bacon

The Final Product

The final step, since I can’t shouldn’t eat all five pounds in one sitting, is to let the finished bacon spend a night in the freezer to firm up and then send it for a trip though my electric slicer and then into several vacuum bags for future use.

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