Friday, April 27, 2012

Homemade Cured Bacon 4 Ways [Zack]

My friends Steve, Pete, Mike, and Adam are holding their own "Beer and Bacon" festival in Boston this weekend since they were not able to get in the official one.  Something tells me the party that they are throwing will be better/more intense/funnier....

Since I live across the ocean from them and can't attend, I'm jealous.   The only way I can combat their skype-taunting session is to throw something equally fun back in their faces.  One thing that could possibly make them jealous is to cure my own bacon (4 different ways) and drink some Belgian beers.

I first got the idea to start curing my own bacon when I purchased Michael Ruhlman's book Charcuterie.  I've always been interested in how food was produced before big companies took over and started processing food.  Bacon is one of the most simple cures to try, and it happens to be one of my favorite foods, so it was a no-brainer.  I have made many iterations of cures and have found experimenting with different seasonings methods to be really rewarding.

Knowledge bomb:  The curing process goes back until ancient times as a way to preserve meat (way before fridges existed).  When you salt a piece of meat, the salt pulls the water out of the meat through a process called osmosis.  After curing your bacon, you will notice there is a lot of liquid in the bag.  Thanks, salt!  I have no idea how this works scientifically, but the end result is to flavor the meat, slow the oxidation process, and make it a tough place for bacteria to grow.  Boom.

There has been a bacon craze on the internet for the past 3-5 years.  This heavenly meat certainly deserves all of the accolades it has been receiving.   I know this post is late to the party, so I figured I could add a bit of flair by doing 4 different renditions of dry cures.

Taste test results are at the end of the post.


How to cure bacon:

Curing is similar baking - you have to have the right proportions of salt and seasoning to meat, or else you will end up with a bad end product.  The process is the same for all of the below cures - you just need to cure it, smoke it, slice it, and then cook it!

Get a nice pork belly from your local butcher shop.  Mine was 5 pounds, and skin-on is okay.  If you would like to try the 4 different types of cures, section your pork belly into the appropriate weights.  If not, just choose your favorite and leave the belly whole.

Weigh out and measure your ingredients.  The most important thing to get right is the proportion of salt (pink and kosher) to the weight of the pork belly.  I have also provided measurements in the recipe in case you don't have a scale.

Place each of the different pork bellies into an individual zip-lock bag, pour the dry cure in, and mix it around so the cure contacts all sides of the meat.  Squeeze out all of the air from the bag and seal it.  Place the bags into baking dish in case the liquid drips in your fridge (that's a gross mess to clean up).  You'll want to flip the bellies every day or two in order to make sure the meat is curing evenly.

Curing time depends on the thickness of the belly.  For me, it took 1 week.

To test to see whether it's finished, press on the belly and it should feel firm like a well-done steak.

How to smoke/grill cured pork belly:

Take the bellies out of the bags, wipe off the cure, and place them onto a pre-heated grill to 250F.  You'll want to use indirect heat to slowly smoke the bacon.  Turn on one burner at one end of the grill, and place your bellies on the other side.  Or if you have charcoal or wood chips, pile them all on one side of the grill.

After an hour or 2, take the bacon off of the grill and remove the skin if it's still attached.

Congratulations!  You have just made bacon!  I bet it tastes way better than the store-bought stuff.  You can either freeze it whole, refrigerate it, or get to cooking it right away.  I'm guessing it won't last very long in your house - even if you live alone....

How to properly cook bacon in a frying pan:

Slice the bacon in even thickness.  Since you worked hard to make this, you can slice it as thick as you want!  You'll need a sharp knife.  If it's still difficult, you can put the bacon in the freezer for about 45 minutes to make it more firm.  

The best way to cook bacon is to start the slices in a cold pan on low heat.  If you try to cook it too quickly, you'll end up burning the outside.  The cold pan allows the fat to render out of the bacon.  Once enough fat has accumulated, it will fry the bacon and produce crispy results.  Don't rush it - good things are worth the wait.

Ingredient List for the 4 cures I made:
(All proportions remain constant - if you want to cure a larger piece of belly, do a little math)

Cure #1: The Traditional - Brown Sugar Cure
A no-frills delicious bacon that is very versatile
2.5 lbs pork belly (900g)
1/8 cup kosher salt (25g)
1 tsp pink salt (6g)
1/4 cup brown sugar (50g)


Post-cure and after smoking

End result

Cure #2: The Asian Sensation - Ginger, Garlic and 5-Spice Cure
A unique blend of Asian flavors that would pair well with duck or Asian-style chicken 
2/3 lb pork belly (300g)
2 tsp kosher salt (8g)
1/2 tsp pink salt (2g)
2T brown sugar (20g)
1/2 inch diced ginger
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp 5 spice


Post-cure and after smoking

End result

Cure #3: The Smoky BBQ Burger Sidekick - Smoked Paprika and Garlic Cure
Perfect if you don't have a smoker - a flavorful addition to a burger or with eggs in the morning
2/3 lb pork belly (300g)
2 tsp kosher salt (8g)
1/2 tsp pink salt (2g)
2T brown sugar (20g)
1T onion powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 cloves minced garlic


Post-cure and after smoking

End result

Cure #4: The Ole School "Pancetta" - Juniper Berry, Rosemary, and Garlic Cure
A savory cure similar to pancetta - great for pastas like carbonara
2/3 lb pork belly (300g)
2 tsp kosher salt (8g)
1/2 tsp pink salt (2g)
1.5 tsp white sugar (6g)
1 sprig rosemary, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
8 juniper berries, cracked open to release oils


Post-cure and after smoking

End result

The Verdict:

Sven - Asian, BBQ, Juniper, Traditional
Lauren - Asian, Juniper, BBQ, Traditional
Zack - Asian, BBQ, Juniper, Traditional

Song:  Addicted to Bacon - A Sizzlin Rap Song

p.s. I think I love bacon as much as this kid

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

10 Breakfast Shake Ideas [Zack]

Mama always said "you have to eat good amounts of fruit and vegetables every day".  I'll let you in on my secret to completing this mission: breakfast shakes.  You can pack 2 or 3 servings of fruit into one drink - even the occasional vegetable!  I knock out a good part of my health "requirement" before 10am.  The blender is an endless canvas for your creativity and it always tastes good!

A few tips:
  • use frozen fruit if you normally add ice
  • bananas add creaminess and are a pretty normal installment in my shakes
  • frozen bananas are awesome (make sure to peel them before freezing, or else they will be a pain to use)
  • you can add protein powder if you are drinking one after a workout (go for the natural stuff)


Popeye's Punch
1 banana
1 cup of loosely packed fresh spinach
1/3 cup raspberries
2/3 cup skim milk (or any other milk)
2/3 cup peach juice


Smooth and Juicy
1 banana
2/3 cup frozen raspberries
1/2 cup yogurt
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup milk


Fresh N Fruity Coconut
1 banana
1/3 cup frozen raspberries
1/3 cup frozen blackberries
1 cup coconut milk
10 large mint leaves

Spicy Ginger Berry
1 banana
3/4 cup frozen blueberries
10 large mint leaves
1/3 inch ginger
1 1/4 cups milk


Banana Hammock
1 banana
1 small handful mint leaves
1/2 mango
1 cup rice milk


Mango Man-Friend
1 banana
1/2 mango
1/2 cup blueberries
1 cup rice milk
small handful of mint leaves


The Handlebar Mustache
1 banana
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 cup yogurt
1 cup milk


Pineapples and Such
1 cup chopped pineapple
1 banana
small handful of mint leaves
1/2 cup yogurt
1/2 cup milk


Avocado Adventureland
1 banana
1/2 avacado
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 inch ginger, very finely minced
1.5 cups milk
1 T honey


Matt's PBBR
2 bananas
1.5 cups almond milk
2 heaping T of peanut butter
1 cup frozen raspberries

Monday, April 23, 2012

Düsseldorf Altbier - Batch 1 - Part 1 [Matt]

The Koulermos family reunited in Europe for a week of mayhem and debauchery. We visited a handful of cities throughout Belgium and Germany - I took it as a personal quest to find the next beer to emulate.
Antwerp had the best Stella that has ever trickled down my gullet, but the best beer I had on the trip was the Düsseldorf Altbier: Uerige Flasche.
Upon arriving back in the states I began my search for a recipe that would mimic the distinctive taste that I enjoyed so much. Luckily the shop that supplies all my brewing needs had just that (SIDE NOTE - the guy who runs Culver City Home Brew actually goes to Düsseldorf three times a year to have this beer fresh). Altbier has a unique history and has been brewed in the region for a very very long time.
I used CCHBS's basic recipe with a couple alterations out of necessity. On the grain bill I used German Carafa III (3oz) instead of Debittered Black Malt (2 oz), and for the hops I used #1 Magnum 15.2% (0.65 oz) instead of #1 Northern Brewer 10% (1.3 oz). To get the wort's temperature down from boiling to 75f in shortest amount of time I used my new wort chiller (copper pipping that cool tap water flows through). The faster the wort chills the better the beer's clarity.
For the fermentation I had to build a custom cooling system since the carboy needs to be in an environment of 50f to 65f. My apt is generally right around 70+f, so in order to deal with the heat I made a box below my wall unit AC that the carboy sits in. I rigged a system of fans to create focused air circulation that passed through the box that contained the 6 gallon carboy.
The fermentation has been quick and vigorous. The finished beer should be done in about a month and I'll be posting Part 2 on its taste and label.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Roasted Red Pepper Lasagna Roll-Ups [Tom]

We received this wonder gift, Roasted Red Pepper lasagna from Don and Silvia.
What to do? Okay, so we went for roll-ups staying with the red pepper theme.

Takes 2 hours from start to serving.

Here we go:

We made 8 Roll-Ups. This may serve 4 peeps - 2 each or serve 8 peeps 1 - each, if you serve something along side and or an appetizer.

June and I enjoyed 1 Roll-Up each accompanied by a side salad. That was enough. It is not a heavy dish, but very fullfilling.

Your shopping list includes:

~ Roasted Red Pepper Lasagna
~ 1 - 8 oz Container of Ricotta Cheese
~ 1 Egg
~ 4 oz of crumbled Feta Cheese
~ 1 - 8 oz package of shredded Mozzarella Cheese - Divid in half
~ 1 - 12 to 15 oz jar of Roasted Red Peppers diced - Divid in half
~ 1/2 cup of chopped fresh Spinach
~ 1/4 cup of diced Onion
~ 2 - Cloves of minced Garlic
~ 1 - 15 oz can of diced Tomatoes
~ 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
~ 1/4 teaspoon of Salt
~ 1/2 teaspoon of Pepper
~ 1/4 cup of Parmesian Cheese

Beat the egg in a large bowl. Add the chopped spinach, 4 oz mozzarella, parmesian cheese, 6 to 7 oz diced red peppers, ricotta, feta cheese, 1/8 teaspoon salt & 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Mix well. Cover and store in refrigerator.

Place a large pasta pot with water on the range to boil. Water should take 15 minutes to boiling.

Place the olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, not burning add the onion and garlic. Sweat down for 2 minutes. add 6 to 7 oz of the diced red pepper and diced tomatoes. Add 1/8 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Stirring ocassionally. Hold at a slow simmer. This sauce cooks in 20 to 30 minutes.

When the water boils add pasta. Cook to package directions.

Rince the pasta in cool water so pasta is cool enough to handle.

Coat the bottom of a 9" x 9" roasting dish with the sauce.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lay on pasta sheet on a flat surface. Spread a thin layer of the ricotta mixture over the sheet. Be careful not to use too much, you have 7 more to do. Start rolling form one end to the other. Place in roasting dish. Continue until all eight are complete. Spoon sauce over roll-ups and coat with remainder of mozzarella cheese. Cover with alumium foil. Bake for 30 minutes with foil and 15 minutes without foil.

Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Apple Crumble in a Skillet [Zack]

As I generally lack baking skills, this is one of my favorite desserts to make. You can knock this one out while nobody is looking and it's healthier than eating a piece of cake for dessert. You most likely have all of the ingredients around your house at any given time. I did the below batch in my oven, but you can be captain fancy-pants and grill it in a skillet to brown the topping as well.


Grab your 2 apples and slice ~1/4 inch-wide pieces, removing the core. Start a pan on medium heat, and add the apples, butter, cinnamon, a pinch of salt, and brown sugar. Cook for 10 minutes until the apples soften.

Pre-heat your oven to 350 F / 175 C. Cube your cold butter and place it in a bowl. Pour the flour, oats, sugar, salt, and hazelnuts right on top. Use your fingers to combine the ingredients - you want it to be lumpy.

Once the apples have finished softening after your 10 minutes, take the pan off the heat and sprinkle the topping all over.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the topping has nicely browned and it's heated through.

Apple base:
2 apples sliced into 1/4 inch wide pieces
1T butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon (to taste)
small pinch of salt
1T brown sugar

2T butter
2T oats
2T flour
2T chopped hazelnuts
1tsp sugar
small pinch of salt

Creativity options:
Add some dark rum to the apples while cooking for a nice kick
Shredded coconut in the topping
Use a variety of different fruits (raspberries, blueberries, peaches, pears, pineapple, etc)
Grill it!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Scrambled Eggs for Cyclists [Zack]

I love cycling- it's always a tough challenge.  I get to see way more scenery than when I go running, it makes me feel great, and it's a very "Belgian" thing to do.  I recently joined a riding group in Brussels named GS Fartlek.  They are a great bunch of guys who ride at a strong pace.  We typically stop at back-country bars or cafes for mid-ride hot chocolate breaks.  Clearly, I'm getting my culture by the bucketful.

The only problem is- I hate eating right when I wake up.  My body doesn't want anything to do with food for the first hour.  The absolute worst thing to eat in the morning is oatmeal because it feels like someone is force-feeding me cement.  However, if I go out for a long ride on an empty stomach, I'm sure to bonk (run out of energy and get left behind).

This recipe is my solution to the early morning breakfast blues.  It takes no skill at all to make (which is a huge bonus because who wants to think at 7am on a Sunday morning?).  All you have to do is compile whatever omelet ingredients you want into a jar, then shake to scramble.

To round out the breakfast, I eat the scrambled eggs with something else hardy- like a few pieces of whole-grain toast smeared with peanut butter and honey.


Grab a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Crack 2-3 eggs into it (depending on how much you can force yourself to eat in the morning).  Dice whichever veggies or herbs you want in there. I chose roasted red peppers, red onion, ½ clove garlic, and cilantro.  I also added 1/3 cup of shredded motz cheese.  Close the lid tightly, and give it a good shake. 

Keep the pre-mixed jar in a very visible place in the fridge overnight so you can find it with your blurry morning eyes.  Simply dump the contents straight into a pan in the morning.  

Cook until the eggs are set and you are on your way!


2 or 3 eggs
1T diced roasted red peppers
1/4 of a medium onion, diced
1/2  clove of garlic
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese (or cheddar, etc)
1t chopped cilantro

Song: R. Kelly - I Believe I Can Fly
(A little background: we stopped in a very authentic Flemish bar for a mid-ride coffee.  There were old men playing Flemish Bowling in an outdoor shed (basically shuffleboard), there were old farmers drinking tap beer at 10am, not one word of English was being spoken (except for me :)).  Everything was perfectly authentic.  And then R Kelly's ballad began playing on the radio and threw me for a loop.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Addicting Lemon Poppy Seed Cake [Lauren]

WARNING: This recipe includes the drug opium as an ingredient – and the cake will make you feel delightfully high.

(Ok, ok… Before you expect some crazy “space cake” recipe – I should disclose that the opium exists only in trace amounts from the poppy seeds, and the high you’ll feel is solely from the deliciousness of the natural lemon flavor… But I promise you’ll still get completely “addicted!”)

I still remember the amazing lemon poppy seed loaves sold in the tiny cafeteria of the manufacturing plant I worked at in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. On stressful work days, I would treat myself to a moist, lemony slice along with a small cup of Puerto Rican coffee (believe me - a small cup is all you need… that stuff is STRONG!) 

After I moved away from Puerto Rico, I had to attempt to recreate the loaves myself. In the US, this wasn’t too much of a challenge; however when I moved to Europe I discovered that poppy seeds are not really prevalent in grocery stores.

So imagine my excitement when Zack and I discovered fresh poppy seeds for sale at a market while on vacation in Copenhagen! The little stand had loads of fresh herbs and spices, so naturally we stocked up on lots of essentials – including poppy seeds!


Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C. Butter and flour an 8-inch Bundt or cake pan, then butter the dull side of a piece of foil (this will later cover your cake while it bakes).

Beat the sugar, egg yolks and whole egg at medium-high speed until the mixture becomes much lighter in color and texture.


Beat in the lemon zest. Sift the flour, cornstarch and salt over the egg mixture and fold with a rubber spatula. Finally, beat in the butter, then the poppy seeds.


Pour the batter into the floured pan and cover tightly with the buttered foil.

Bake for around 30 minutes, or until you really start smelling the cake (this may not be a very scientific method- but it never fails me!). At this point – lift the foil to check that the cake has pulled away from the side of the pan, or insert a toothpick into the center of the cake to make sure it comes out clean. If the cake seems done - remove it from the oven and let it cool for around 15 minutes.

Flip the cake onto a cooling rack and let it continue cooling. Before serving, I recommend that you try one of the following finishing touches:

For a gentle flavor – dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar.
For a stronger flavor – squeeze fresh lemon juice over the cake, or serve with lemon slices for your guests to squeeze themselves.
For a sweeter flavor – mix some powdered sugar and lemon juice together to create a glaze. The thicker you want the glaze, the more powdered sugar you can add.


2/3 cup sugar
8 large egg yolks
1 large whole egg
Finely grated lemon zest (from 2 large lemons)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
Pinch of salt 
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup poppy seeds

Suggested Song – Suavemente by Elvis Crespo (a very talented Puerto Rican who I’m sure loves slices of tasty lemon poppy seed cake with his Puerto Rican coffee!)