Packing Challenge – FAIL

It’s been a while since I’ve had an epic failure in cooking. This one seems to be it.


My Charcutepalooza challenge this month was to make a paté of some sort. I opted for the English Pork Pie – ground up meat encased in a flaky pie crust.


But I blow at baking pastries. I’m not sure what it is exactly. Maybe I’m too impatient. Maybe it senses my fear. Maybe it knows I don’t like it. Maybe because I don’t practice enough since most pastries tend to be sweet and I’m too much an umami fan boy. Whatever the case, baking has never been an absolute enjoyment to me. As a result, my finished product tends to be ‘meh’ at best, English pork pie notwithstanding.


The general directions for the pie crust were simple. Mix in 8oz of cold butter and lard with 1lb of flour. Add in a cup of egg/water mixture.


Everything still looked like it could work at this point.

My experience? The dough was way goopy when I started adding the lard. I just used a touch of the egg/water mixture and added a little more flour. It was definitely going to be a flaky dough.


As for the meat filling, that was simple. I’m good with working with meats most of the time anyway. (I’m an umami fan boy remember?) There isn’t too much too write about this, it’s fairly similar to the sausage making process.


Before the bake... this could still work...

The problem came with the baking.


You see, flaky crust may taste great in a cobbler. But when it’s supposed to provide ‘structural support’ to keep a meat filling in, it’s quite A FAIL. Throw that in with a really juicy meat filling and things go to crap fairly quickly.


Things going to crap. The crust cracked resulting in a lot of juices going all over the pan. That in turn led to really wet and soggy crust. Not a good thing.

So this attempt at cooking something didn’t go according to plan. I’m a little upset. Then again, it’s in the failures that we learn. It’s cliché, I know, but I truly believe that.

It still looks half decent thanks to staging work. Meat tastes delicious though, as fatty pork shoulder always should.



Making a Cheap Cut Look Posh – The Very Affordable Ham Hock Terrine

Pork Hock Terrine

Pork hocks. I love them. They’re a delight to stew them with beans, slow cooked vegetables such as collard greens, or one of my favorite, stewed and then fried. Plus they’re ridiculously cheap. Pork tenderloins at the local farmer’s market will probably set you back $18-20/lb. Pork hocks, $2/lb. It’s cheap. I’m cheap. I’ll take it.

While I do favor the rustic preparations of pork hocks, there are ways to make them look more posh. In this case, I made a terrine. It doesn’t mean I like them better, they just look more presentable and perhaps palatable to some. Rather than gnaw on the bone, one can elegantly eat it with a fork and knife.

If you didn’t grow up with exposure to European food, chances are, the idea of a terrine may seem a little foreign. Heck, every single one of my friends didn’t really have a clue what I was talking about when I was talking about making them. (I live in Texas.) The definition may even seem complicated since they fall into broad categories. Generally, as per Ruhlman and Polcyn, it’s a big sausage cooked in a mold, dough or skin. In my instance, it’s shredded meat set in gelatin.

Back to pork hocks. Pork hocks are delicious. Pork hocks are also fatty and rich in connective tissues. This makes them ideal for releasing rich gelatinous goodness which is necessary in making some terrines. And so the process is simple – boil the hocks long enough to extract the gelatin into a flavorful stock called an aspic. Pull and shred the meat of the pork hocks. Set the meat in a pan. Pour on the aspic over. Put it in a fridge to set. Remove, cut it, and eat.

Alright, that’s simple in theory but in reality, there are a few more details. Let’s get into them shall we?

Let’s start with the stock/the braise of the hocks. I’m using some real simple aromatics here, just the usual carrots, onions, celery, garlic, bay leaf and pepper. Here’s my MEP (MEP = mise en place, which is just a fancy way of saying preparing your ingredients and having them in place before putting them together. Using the term mise en place makes you sounds like you’re a foodie. Saying mise makes you sound kinda bad-ass cool. Shortening that to MEP just means you’re too lazy to type.)

The aromatics portion of the MEP

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 Pork Hocks

2 Onions, quartered

2 carrots

2 sticks of celery

1 Tbsp of peppercorns

1 Bay leaf

2 cloves of garlic

1 sprig of thyme

water (guesstimate this)

3/4 oz of gelatin

1 cup of parsley leaves

Salt to taste

The hocks are ready for braising. That chunk of ice on the bottom left is from the chicken stock I threw in.

1. Put the hocks and aromatics into a pot and fill it with water. That chunk of ice you see there is from a little chicken stock I added for good measure. I was making room in my freezer. Bring everything to a simmer and simmer. I just left mine in a 160F to 200F (I changed the temperature) oven for a few hours overnight because I was sleepy. Overnight seems long and it probably is. Gelatin breaks down with prolonged cooking. But I had powdered gelatin to work with, not a problem.Next, remove the hocks, cool them down and then shred. I like large chunks. Put aside any fatty parts and tendons aside. Discard or eat them. (I roasted the bones and the tendons and ate them. Not the whole bone mind you, just the marrow.)

Straining the stock. I guess there was about 3 qt of liquid, way more than enough for my needs.

2. Strain the liquid at least twice. Four times is better.

The hock meat is ready for some aspic. Note that the meat fibers are all facing one direction. This allows for easier cutting and eating when served.

3. Mix the shredded meat with some chopped parsley and salt. Ideally, season the meat when it’s cool since the terrine will be served cold. The human tongue tends to be less sensitive to seasoning when eating cold foods. Pack the meat into a mold such as a terrine. I don’t have a terrine (it’s a container) so I used a bread pan.

Testing the aspic. I'm using a shot glass in an ice bath with salt. I tested with 1/4 oz of gelatin at a time. I didn't want the terrine to be too rigid.

4. In the mean time, mix in some gelatin with the aspic. Test the aspic by putting it on a cold dish or a bowl set on ice. (I used a shot glass.) It should be firm enough to cut but soft enough that it almost melts in the mouth.

5. Pour the aspic over the meat mixture. Place a plastic wrap over and place in the fridge to set overnight.

Terrine ready to be sliced. It's jiggly.

6.Remove the terrine from the pan. If there’s any difficulty, place the pan in some warm water to melt some of the gelatin until it slides right out. Then slice the darn thing to eat. (If it’s hard to slice, put it in the fridge or freezer for just a little longer to firm up.

7. Serve cold with some kind of acidic sauce to cut the richness of the terrine. Here, I’m using a raisin & onion chutney courtesy taken from Charcuterie.

Totally Stuffed Up – Duck Neck Stuffed Sausage

Three weeks of travelling and a week of catching up with life made me exhausted. But it’s now back to the saddle, cooking and creating once again. While traveling, eating great food and catching new sights are both inspirational fun, it’s doing the things that I really love that energize me.

So anyway, onto June’s Charcutepalooza challenge – stuffing and making poultry sausage links. And I’m going to start off with a HUGE claim – this is easily one of, if not the, most delicious thing I’ve ever cooked.

What I claim to be one of the most delicious things I've made. Yeah, bold but I stand by it.

Continue reading “Totally Stuffed Up – Duck Neck Stuffed Sausage”

It’s Quite a Grind

The Chorizo Grinding Challenge

Charcutepalooza challenge – bulk sausage. Nothing too complicated here – just meat that’s been passed through a grinders, seasoned and consequently cured. Basically this stuff is sausage meat sans the sausage casing.

WTF Makes is a Sausage?

According to McGee’s On Food and Cooking (which shall hence forth be known as THE BOOK on wtfamicooking), the word sausage has it’s root in the Latin word for “salt” (sal salis). Sausage is simply chopped meat and salt (plus seasonings) stuffed into some sort of casing. The salt plays two roles in sausage – the first being to preserve the meat and the second is that it dissolves one of proteins (myosin) which in turns binds the pieces together just like a glue. The sausages are almost always stuffed into some kind of casing. There are several types of sausages out there such as fresh sausages, emulsified sausages, fermented sausages, smoked  and dried sausages just to name a few.

Even though they are not stuffed into casing, bulk sausages are would fall under the category of fresh sausage. According to THE BOOK, because they are unfermented and uncooked, they are highly perishable and should be cooked within a day or two of being made/purchased.

Chorizo ready to be ground. It's important that the meat's real cold at this stage.

The Importance of Chilling Out

The texture of the chopped/ground meat is really important in sausage. If left to warm up, the fats and the proteins in the sausage could separate. This results in a very coarse and unpleasant texture. There are a few steps that ought to be taken to prevent this.

  1. Keep the meat cold. I tend to leave meat in the freezer for say 10-30minutes, depending on the quantity, before grinding.
  2. Keep the grinder or food processor that you’re using cold. I store mine in the freezer most of the time but if you’re short in freezer space, just leave it in there overnight before grinding large bulks of meat.
  3. Grind at a low speed. There’s a lot of friction in grinding which in turn produces heat.
  4. Keep storage bowls cold. I store the bowl for the ground meat in the freezer prior to the grind. Alternatively, you could put your storage bowl on top of another bowl of ice.
  5. When introducing liquids to your ground meat, use cold liquids. This will help maintain the low temperature of the meat.
Mixing the sausage post grind

How I Made Chorizo
Probably one of the more common bulk sausages in North America is the Mexican style chorizo. Seasoned with a variety of chili powders and various other seasonings, this is a rather unique sausage compared to most if you ask me. It takes on a smoky flavor not from actual smoking itself but from the dried chili peppers, in this case adobo.

As with most of my Charcutepalooza challenges, I adhered fairly closely to Polcyn and Ruhlman’s recipe in Charcuterie. First, I seasoned cubes pork shoulder with a variety of spices and let the mixture sit in the fridge for about half an hour to really chill. Following that, grind onto a cold bowl that was left in the freezer. (Note to self after ruining a Hanes V-neck Tee: do not wear white when grinding meat. It gets real messy to say the least.) Then mix in the liquid components of the sausage, in this case tequila and vinegar before mixing in a mixer for a minute. Taste (not raw but by cooking a small portion, silly) adjust seasonings, done.

  1. Chill meat
  2. Prep seasonings and then season meat. Chill some more. Let the seasonings sit for at least thirty minutes or preferably a few hours or up to a day.
  3. Grind meat.
  4. Add liquid components.
  5. Mix mixture till homogenous.
  6. Taste and adjust.
  7. Finish

You can use this formula for your breakfast sausages or whatever bulk sausage you can think of. You can use – food processor if you don’t have a grinder but the texture will vary a little. Just make sure that the food processor is really cold by leaving it in the freezer overnight. Alternatively, you could use pre-ground meat but where’s the fun in that?

Chorizo Frittata

Chorizo and eggs go together as well as pizza and beer, steak and beer, and even brats and beer. (I guess you now know where my priorities really lie.) You could serve them with over-easy eggs, in scrambled eggs or even an omelet. One of my favorite applications, however, is a frittata, which is basically a thick baked omelet. It’s great for so many reasons.

  • It’s awesome for unloading leftovers.
  • It’s not as finicky and requires less attention than an omelet but has similar eggy goodness.
  • It’s great when making something egg based for a large group of people. I made this for about 20 people.
  • It goes great with bread.
  • It’s delicious.
Goes great with home-made bread

How I do It
The main idea is to par cook your ingredients, mix them up with beaten eggs. Be creative and use whatever is in season or any leftovers the fridge. Spinach, green onions and even tomatoes can be good additions. Herbs such as basil, tarragon and thyme would do great too. You can’t really mess this up.

Ingredients (for 4-6 people):

8oz             chorizo

1/2              whole onion

8oz             mushrooms

1 /2             red pepper

1 dozen     eggs

pinches    salt

¼ cup       grated cheese

  1. Put a pan on med-hi and pan fry the chorizo till brown.
  2. Sauté onions on a med heat pan with a pinch of salt till half-way soften about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and peppers and soften too, another 5 minutes or so.
  3. Beat eggs and add a pinch of salt.
  4. Spray/oil the inside of a casserole dish or oven safe pan. Layer in the sautéed vegetables and chorizo and pour in the beaten eggs. Mix it up a little to distribute the mixture evenly. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
  5. Bake in a 350F oven till set, about 20minutes.You can test this by using a skewer and poking the center of the frittata and it should come up somewhat clean. You’ll want to remove the frittata when it’s very slightly underdone as it will carry over cooking.
  6. Let rest for 5 minutes, cut and serve with bread.
Let it rest before you cut into it... if you can resist.

Fun fact: this post was largely written standing up in the Moscow airport while waiting for a connecting flight.

Back At It Again – Canadian Bacon

April’s Charcutepalooza challenge was hot smoking pork loin or pork shoulder, to make Canadian bacon or taso ham. I went with Canadian bacon.

WTF is Canadian bacon?

Also known as back bacon, it’s bacon made from center-cut boneless pork loin. What we usually get at grocery stores is streaky bacon, made from pork belly. The curing process of both bacons is generally rather similar. First off, the meat is cured in a salt and spice mixture or a brine for a few days. The meat is then rinsed off, left to dry a little and then smoked.

WTF is Hot Smoking?

Generally, there are three kinds of smoking and they are mainly differentiated by the temperature. This is what I picked up in reading up from books and the Internet (especially Wikipedia).

My Old Smokey electric smoker. Easy, convenient and cheap off craigslist

Cold smoking occurs below 100F. It imparts flavor but doesn’t cook the food.

Hot smoking occurs between 165-185F. It cooks the food (duh).

Smoke roasting is pretty much like roasting but with smoke. It can go in access of 250F

And of course, we can vary the characteristic of the smoke with not just the temperature but also the type of wood being used.

Making Canadian Bacon

The process, as mentioned, involved salting, drying and smoking.

I was actually a little excited for this project because after months of anticipation, a certain grocery storejust opened up in my neighborhood.

I would give a review of Revival Market but so much has already been done and I probably wouldn’t do it any justice with my words. All I can say is that if you’re in Houston, just go.

This project would mark my first purchase from the store, and what more appropriate an item than some pork.

Pork loin all ready to be smoked

Now back to the making of the bacon. As with my Charcuterie projects so far, I adapted the recipe from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie. I brined the pork loin for 3 days. Nothing new here since I’ve talked about brining before. Then I dried it in my fridge for a day. Then I smoked it with apple wood in my electric smoker. Sounds easy? Good, because it is.

WTF do you do with Canadian Bacon

Eggs Benedict from 'scratch'

I guess the most common application would be Eggs Benedict. It’s just a combination of things you know will go well together – English muffins, poached eggs, Canadian bacon, and Hollandaise sauce. A basic recipe and video can be found on the Culinary Institute of America’s website here.

What’s cool about Eggs Benedict is it’s fairly simple to make. Plus it looks elegant and impressive. At the same time, with so many components, going through the exercise of making one can be a great way to work on technique –making a dough, poaching an egg and making a hollandaise sauce.

Oh by the way, here’s a tip when poaching eggs to make them look good without flyaway whites – drain the thinner whites off. You could do that with a slotted spoon or a strainer.

Poached duck eggs. The egg on the left was cracked into the poaching liquid. The egg on the right was first strained to get rid of the looser whites (although I went a little overboard this time around)

Of course, eggs Benedict isn’t the only application for Canadian bacon. You could treat it like regular bacon in an English breakfast, use it in a fried rice, or even a pizza.

And to show you the versatility of Canadian Bacon, here’s one thing I did. I used it in laksa. Wait, what?

(Laksa is one of my favorite dishes from Singapore. It’s noodles in a thick and spicy coconut broth. )

Simply poach the Canadian bacon and add on top as a garnish.  Too much of a good thing? Nah, not too much yet.

Laksa with... Canadian Bacon

Brining Duck

Crisped poached brined duck with lentils


My first brush with brining came a few years ago while watching an episode of the beloved Good Eats, watching Alton Brown was brine a turkey. In my mind, I was thinking this was an earth shattering way of cooking. Why haven’t I heard of this before? I made a brined turkey for a thanksgiving dinner with my college friends. This was by far the juiciest turkey I’ve ever had. I was determined to keep this culinary method my exclusive secret.

But as time went by, I started reading more about brining as a cooking prep method. I’m not sure if it’s because I was reading more about food or if it was a food trend that was picking up. Either way, it seemed like it was the talk of the town to me especially during thanksgiving. I believe that one of the top search terms on Google was ‘Alton Brown brined turkey’ or something to that effect. And while I do enjoy certain brined applications (my favorite being duck in orange juice, another Alton Brown inspired recipe,) I probably do not do it more than a few of times a year. I just find that it takes up too much time and fridge space.

As some of you know, I’ve been involved in this blog movement Charcutepalooza. In the past month, it was all about brining beef and so I guess it was time to revisit this cooking technique.

Continue reading “Brining Duck”

Foongfest’s Salt Challenge Wrap Up – The Obsession


It’s been about a month and a half since I first got involved in this online cult known as Charcutepalooza. These folks are crazy. They believe in the god of cured meats. They tweet and blog excitedly about getting pork jowls (yeah, that’s the face/jaw of a pig), firm breasts (many claim it’s ducks’ breast), rubbing bellies (of a pig’s), “meating” up with each other, and they worship and adore of lard as though it’s the best invention since sliced bread. I’m proud to be one of them.

February marked the salt cure challenge. What the heck is this you may ask? Well, Cathy aka Mrs Wheelbarrow and Kim aka The Yummy Mummy are challenging us to cure bacon and/or pancetta or guanciale and blogging our results. Well, in the words of Barney Stinson, challenge accepted.

The main purpose of the challenges aren’t so much about charcuterie (that’s cooking devoted to prepared meat products) recipes as opposed to using what was made. But of course, with curing meat being such an integral part of the process, it’s hard to avoid writing about it.

What I didn’t know is that this unleashed some sort of strange passion within me.

Continue reading “Foongfest’s Salt Challenge Wrap Up – The Obsession”