Saturday, March 17, 2012

r.i.p. mac

Mac succumbed to her wounds last night.

You were a great layer of huge eggs, a beautiful Barred Rock, a true friend to Ginger, and a brave brave girl. May your next life be surrounded by clover pastures and a feast of meal worms. RIP friend.

Able-Bodied Girl


Thursday, March 15, 2012

smokin', slicin', and pricin' bacon

So, now you have a salty slab o' meat, right?

Smoke it!
There are plenty of smoker boxes on the market for all sorts of grills, as well as a variety of types of wood chips. There are also stand-alone smokers specifically for smoking, but I don't think we're quite that serious about our smoking just yet.

So, here are the basics of smoking your belly:
  • Get the chips wet
  • Heat them on high heat until they begin smoking
  • Turn down your heat until you can maintain a 200deg covered grill temperature
  • Put your pork belly in (not directly over any heat source)
  • When the belly reaches 150deg internal temp, it's done! (approx 3 hours)
We have a gas grill, with three long rows of racks and burners across the grill. We put the smoker box on top of the back burner (rack removed), and only used that burner during the process. On high, the grill got up enough heat to get the chips burning, and on low the grill was able to maintain 200deg. Perfecto! We placed the meat on a cool secondary rack (one that hadn't been in the grill during the warm-up process) to avoid any grill marks or too much heat directly on the meat. That secondary rack (which was really a fish grill rack, scrubbed really well first) went onto the front of the grill, where the burners had been off all along. We checked on the temperature after a while, and right around the 3 hour mark, it had reached 150! (Ok, and by "we" in this entire paragraph, I really mean Able Bodied Boy :))

We let it cool down a bit, then rinsed the salts off, then stuck it in the fridge to harden up a bit for slicing. We might have licked our fingers.

Slice it!
Of all the aspects of making bacon, this was probably my biggest worry. I know someone with a slicer... someone that lives 500 miles away :-P So we were going to need to find a slicer, find another slicing method, or hand-slice the meat.

Luckily, I happened to be at a friend's house, touring through their recent renovations, when we stopped to chat. Lo and behold, there was a slicer at our feet! I immediately claimed it (thank goodness they are nice people and understand my quirks), with promises to return it.

If you don't know how to use a slicer, for the love of all things fingered, look it up! Be safe; these are dangerous machines. The only good thing about how wonderfully sharp they are (besides cutting, you know, meats and cheeses and such) is that any body parts you lose to it will probably have a clean cut and can be taken to the ER with you... Sorry if that grosses you out, but seriously these machines are dangerous.

Anyway, we picked a thickness we liked and it only took a few minutes to create 6 lovely piles of a half pound of bacon.

If you don't have access to a slicer, just remember that the world won't end if the slices aren't perfect. And use a sharp knife. And you could probably briefly freeze the meat to make it a little more solid.

We found that one end of our belly was rather fattier than we would generally like our bacon, but I don't fault the pork shop for that. First, I imagine they take the better cuts of belly for their bacon. Secondly, there are two directions we could have sliced the bacon in... long side or short side. I told Able Bodied Boy to use the short end, so we'd have sandwich-length pieces of bacon, and more slices for dividing amongst our 6 piles. If we had cut on the long side, each piece would have had one end fattier than the other. *shrug* I divided the fattier pieces amongst the piles. We can always save the bacon drippings for future cooking. If you were looking for healthy bacon... move along :)

Price it!
This may vary for your area/sources, but here's what we were working with...
  • $7.50:  3.5 lbs Pork Belly  
  • $0.83:  .5 lbs Kosher Salt ($5 for 3lbs)
  • $2.40:  4oz pure maple syrup ($.60/oz)
  • $1.00:  a handful of wood chips
  • $3.91:  ($11.73 total for 3 lbs of bacon)
Granted, this math doesn't factor in the actual smoker box we invested in (and have used several times), or the time and energy. But the local pork shop sells their bacon for around $4.50/lb and, provided they don't use curing salts, we feel like it isn't any more/less economical to buy their pork belly versus buying their bacon.

But for those who haven't paid attention lately, bacon is up between $5 and $6 per pound at the grocery, and don't forget that they've pumped it with extra goodies...

Up next on my list of home-makins... dairy products. Are there any products that you're curious about how it's made, and if it can be done fresh at home?

Much Love,
Able-Bodied Girl


Monday, March 12, 2012

playing chicken doctor

5:45 am on Thursday, I woke up to pee. I do this most mornings before the sun comes up. It's annoying. But I digress...

5:45am, I've stepped away from the sound machine which keeps me asleep all night. And then I heard it. The screams. Of chickens.

I ran stumbled down the stairs, Bella bounding after me. In the dim light of pre-dawn, I could see the chickens flying around the run, in a panic, and still screaming. As I rushed off the porch, I saw something prowling around the fence. Something that looked vaguely fox-sized and fox-colored.

By the time Bella and I even made it into the grass, it was gone. But there had clearly been a struggle. Feathers circled the grass around the fencing, indicating that there had been quite a fight. The girls were in a panic, but it was still too dark to see. I left Bella out to keep guard and, heart racing, went back in the house for proper clothes and to report to Able-Bodied Boy.

He left for work and I went out to assess damages. Holy crap. The animal must have raced around the outside of the fencing until it snagged one with a claw through the holes. Mac was moving slowly around, obviously in pain, and I could see a bit of blood on her chest. In the house, I texted Able-Bodied Boy, then called work, to say I'd be a little late after doing a little wound care. All fairly calm and glad that things weren't too bad.

But I went into a panic when I saw Mac's wound up close.

** Warning: Graphic Description ** You know what a raw whole chicken looks like, right? You're familiar with how the flesh and the skin look? You know that the skin is fairly loose and apt to slide around? Yeah. It's the same on a live bird too. The gash in her chest left her breast bone and muscle exposed, the skin around it bare from the de-feathering claw of our predator, and curling with fat. The exposed area, when she was standing (and the weight of her skin stretching it open) was about 3 inches long by 2 inches wide, or more. Of exposed flesh and bone. ** End Graphic Description **

I texted Barnhenge Mama, then called Able-Bodied Boy. Then I went online to look up advice, pretty much assuming the worst.

Surprisingly enough, I found one woman with a couple of articles that actually made it sound like we could handle this at home, without a vet (although vet care was also an option), and that Mac would heal up just fine. This one, and this one, both by Nathalie Ross if you're curious.

So, I called in to work for the day (yeah, have you ever called out of work because of a CHICKEN? me either, until now). I prepared a "hospital room" for Mac in the dog crate. I prepared a "surgical tray" of our medical supplies. And when Able-Bodied Boy arrived home from his short day of work, we retrieved Mac and set to work. We rinsed with Hydrogen Peroxide. We rinsed with Iodine. We smeared with Neosporin with Pain Relief. We kept her isolated and clean in a covered "room".

The next day, she was up and drinking water and eating food. Good signs. And by now, her wounds are scabbed over and she's definitely more alert and active during the day.

I'll keep you posted, but it looks like she's on the right track for making a full recovery... then we'll just have to worry about re-integrating her into the flock, where she'll start back down at the bottom of the pecking order (she and Ginger were definitely in charge, although Babs keeps thinking that all she needs to do is get the better of Bella).

Any scary close-calls for you lately?

Much Love,
Able-Bodied Girl


Sunday, March 11, 2012

green eggs, or how dr seuss came to town

Able-Bodied Boy sent me this picture last week while I was at work.

Bunty had laid her first egg, and it was GREEN!


Isn't it adorkable how much amusement these chickens bring us?

Much Love,
Able-Bodied Girl


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

w/mo2h #5: curin' bacon

Ok, so now that you have your pork belly...

What do I need for curing?
  • Salt (Kosher salt is best)
  • Flavorings (optional)
    • Maple syrup (the real stuff, for the love of nature!)
    • Brown Sugar
    • Black Pepper
    • Other, as desired
  • A non-metalic covered curing vessel
    • A rig for keeping the belly out of it's own liquid. We used a large tupperware, with two small lids underneath the belly to keep it out of the pool.
    • Or, you can just use gallon-sized baggies (cut the belly in half if necessary... two bags, two different cures?). They will retain the liquid around the belly and possibly not get you as dry of a cure, but you're used to water-logged store bacon anyway (and you could drain the bag daily!). Be sure to double-bag to prevent contamination.
  • A spot in the fridge to keep it cold (and safe!)

Ok, let's get curing!
  • You do NOT need to remove the skin of the belly.
  • On a VERY CLEAN surface, rub both sides of the belly in a coat of salt. This is about a quarter-cup total for both sides. It doesn't need to cake, just coat. See photo above.
  • Rub both sides with your flavoring, a quarter-cup total. Brown sugar? Maple Syrup? Cracked Black Pepper? Your call!
  • Place in your curing vessel.
  • Daily, for one week:
    • Drain the liquid, if necessary
    • Add more salt to coat each side (1-2 Tablespoons total)
    • Flip over

Next up, smoking and slicing!

The weather has been great lately for doing a little winter pruning (I tackled our blackberries last weekend!). Have you been doing any outdoor projects?

Much Love,
Able-Bodied Girl


Sunday, March 4, 2012

w/mo2h #5: makin' bacon

Yup, you got that right.

We are making bacon. And it's super easy to do, from what we are finding.

Now, this was inspired by three things. First and foremost, the blogging goddess Crunchy Chicken and her post last month about her first bacon phase. Second and crucially, the fact that we have a full-service pork store just around the corner from our house, where all manner of fresh pork product is sold seasonally from September to April. Lastly and gratefully, Able-Bodied Boy's willingness to buy a smoker box for our gas grill (I swear I didn't bully him into it!).

How do you make bacon? The basics are as follows:

  • Obtain pork belly
  • Cure pork belly (let it sit with salt and flavorings like sweetness or spices on it) for one week
  • Smoke until the internal temperature reaches 150F
Seriously. That's it.

Why is this better than buying it from the store?

  • Store-bought bacon has evil additions.
    • Extra water, so that you are paying for more liquid than actual meat
    • Preservatives, namely sodium nitrite (see safety discussion below)
  • The source of the pork is unknown. We've all heard the horror stories about commercial farms: the feed, the anti-biotics, the conditions, etc.
  • Ultimate customized bacon flavors!

Is it safe to make your own bacon?

Yes, just as safe as you bringing home and cooking any other meat product: if you are mindful of cleanliness,  food-handling precautions, and safe cooking temperatures, than you are perfectly safe.

The FDA allows sodium nitrite to be used in the curing of meats. Sodium Nitrite helps in the prevention of botulism and keeps the meat a nice pink color. But it also, when heated, can form nitrosamines when heated. Nitrosamines are a carcinogen in lab testing. Now, there are some other products that can help prevent the nitrosamines from being created, so they pump ascorbic acid or erythorbic acid to help prevent that.  source


I don't know about you, but I don't want to use those products. I'm not selling my bacon and I trust my methods. So, sodium nitrite (aka pink salts, aka curing salt, aka Prague Powder) is not being invited to this party.

Where am I going to find a pork belly from a good source?

This may take a bit of leg-work, but here are some tips:
  • Google maps: sometimes just entering "pork store" will yield you some options
  • Website listings: try or see if your local area has a website with area farm/market information. For the Philadelphia and South Jersey areas, I found and
  • Farmer's Markets: just because your farmer's market doesn't have a pork vendor doesn't mean they don't exist. Ask around. Farmers know farmers. Farmers often don't bring with them what is too difficult to transport (say, heavy coolers full of meats and ice) if they don't reliably sell.
  • CSA's: same as the farmer's markets. Many CSA's have relationships with local dairy/meat farms and they may have a good contact for you to call
  • Know a local friend who lives around the corner from a pork store, or works in a butcher shop *winkwink*

I haz pork belly! What now??

Patiently wait for the next installment, when we start the curing process!

What's going on in your kitchen? Or, with this beautiful weather, have you made your way outdoors to the garden?

Much Love,
Able-Bodied Girl