Monday, December 5, 2011

Cold smoked cheese

This weekend I was down at the coast and made a side trip over to the Tillamook Cheese factory to get some fresh cheese and squeaky cheese. What's squeaky cheese? you're probably asking. It's simply cheddar cheese curd. It's called squeaky cheese because of the texture, when you eat it, it squeaks on you teeth. Well unless of course you haven't brushed your teeth lately :-) Anyway, it's only available at the factory because it only has a shelf life of a couple days before it dries out and gets nasty. So I picked up a couple packs of curds and a few mini-loafs of my favorite flavors.

Here's what's going on the smoker...
Curds, Garlic Chili Pepper Cheddar and Garlic White Cheddar.Sorry about the mini-loafs being cut, I just couldn't wait to get home and had to sample them on the road.

I've had an A-Maze-N smoker for a while now, and this seemed like a great time to try it. If you haven't seen an A-Maze-N smoker before, it's a cold smoke generator that is built like a maze and uses wood "dust" to generate up to 10 hours of cold smoke. I haven't had a chance to use mine yet, as I said, so this is my trial run on it.

I chose pecan dust for this trial and filled up 3 of the 5 channels will dust, since I figured I'd only smoke this for about 2 hours and didn't need a full load. The fourth channel is just spillover and not full.

I loaded it up and got a nice cherry going with my butane torch. Once that was done I loaded up the cheese and a handful of curds onto my modified splatter shield that I use to smoke things that are too small to fit on the smoker grates.

Into the smoker they go....

This is being done in my Bandera smoker, and I think it should work pretty good as far as keeping things cold. With the A-Maze-N smoker in the side fire box, it should be able to dissipate most of the heat by the time it reaches the cheese in the top of the smoke chamber.  So far so good, it's been in for about 30 minutes and the temp is holding at 48-49 degrees, which is actually 1 degree colder than it was when I first put the temp probe in.

After 2.5 hours of smoke, here's how the cheese looked.
I sampled a piece of the squeaky cheese, and it had a nice amount of smoke. But it was really harsh, like kissing someone that's just taken a drag on a cigarette. But that wasn't unexpected. For some reason when you smoke cheese it has a really harsh smoke flavor to it, but it will mellow out if you let it age for about a week or so. I decided that these had had enough smoke and pulled them out of the smoker. In 2.5 hours I had burned just over 1/2 of one of the channels in the A-Maze-N smoker.

I wanted to save the rest of it (it'll soak up moisture really quick if left out and become unusable), so I knocked the ash and the burning wood out of the tray and I'm letting the rest sit for a bit. Once I feel comfortable that it's not smoldering anymore I'll pour it back into the zip-top bag with the rest of the wood dust.

Here's the finished product.

From here, it got sealed up in the vacuum sealer and will sit in the fridge for a week to mellow out. I can't wait to try it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Death Dusted Pumpkin Seeds

Habanero Death Dust Pumpkin Seeds
Death Dusted Pumpkin Seeds

Awhile ago Oakridge BBQ offered up a limited time release of a special rub they make, called Habanero Death Dust. Now, any of you that know me know I like things with some heat to it, so I decided to give this stuff a try. I sent in my order and a few days later... package #20 of the limited run of 150 showed up on my door step.

Normally, even though I like heat, I steer away from anything "habanero" as it just means "heat" but not a lot of flavor. A little finger tip sample of this showed that it was different though. While it had some nice heat to it, there were also some nice subtle flavors that gave it an overall pleasing taste. Even my cat seemed to like it. Well at least until he made that funny face and ran around the room and ended up sitting in the corner licking his lips!

So I spent some time trying to decide what to try this out on, and being Halloween time, I figured why not try some Death Dusted Pumpkin Seeds? Now, the downside to this plan is the pumpkins. For whatever reason the guts of the pumpkins are my kryptonite. Just the smell of it makes me gag. Somehow I was able to talk my lovely wife into gutting the pumpkins for me. Thanks Honey! Otherwise this experiment probably never would have happened.

After she removed all the seeds from the two pumpkins we had, I gave them a good rinse and then spread them out on some paper towels to dry for about an hour or so. Then I placed them in a medium bowl, and added about a tablespoon of olive oil and gave them a good shake and stir to coat them in the oil. I added 2 teaspoons of Death Dust, one at a time, and gave things a good stir to mix it all up. They didn't quite get as evenly coated as I wanted to, but it all worked out in the end. The oven was fired up to 350 degrees, and I got out my trusty old baking sheet. Well actually I grabbed the new one since it's not as scratched up. I gave the sheet a good coat of butter, yes, real butter, to keep things from sticking and then spread the seeds out in a even layer.

Into the oven they went, and baked for about 25 minutes. At about the 15 minute mark I gave them a good stir and then back in the oven until they were done.

After cooking I let them cool for a little bit and then gave them a taste test. Hmmm. Not exactly what I expected. Most of the subtle flavors of the Death Dust were gone. Just tasted like plain roasted pumpkin seeds, and some nice heat on the back end. I was a little disappointed to tell you the truth. Maybe I didn't use enough Dust. But oh well, I like the taste of plain roasted seeds and these had some heat to them, so not all was lost. I put them in a zip-top bag and let them sit on the counter. The next day I grabbed another handful, and WOAH, what a difference! That great flavor was back and the pumpkin seeds were awesome! With a really nice heat kick at the end. I'm not sure what effect letting them sit overnight had, but they are definitely much better. Maybe when they were still warm the temperature was covering some of the flavors. Whatever it was, these are really good now. My only wish is I had a couple more pumpkins to make more seeds, as these won't last long!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bacon Brittle

The other day I was perusing one of my favorite blogs, Cowgirl's Country Life and I saw a recipe for Bacon Brittle. While I had some left over bacon from my Halloween party this weekend, so I decided to give it a try.

Her recipe is...

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2-3/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup cooked bacon bits (about 12 ounces uncooked bacon)
 I didn't have any pecans, but I did have some smoked almonds that I made a while ago. They were a little over smoked, and on the verge of being burnt. Not really so good for eating, but I kept them around for just an occasion like this. I figured they'd go good in this.

The first step is to add the water, sugar and corn syrup in a medium pot and stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture boils. Then add a candy thermometer and heat over high heat without stirring until it reaches 290 degrees. I think my thermometer must be on the fritz or my technique sucks, because by the time it hit about 260 degrees the mixture was a sticky gooey, lava-like blob and was starting to burn. So I decided to pull it off the heat and continue with the rest of the recipe.

Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the rest of the ingredients. When it stops foaming, pour it into a well greased cookie sheet, and spread it thin with a silicone or grease spatula. Cool for at least 10 minutes and then break into pieces.

Here's what mine looked like finished.
(click to zoom)

It was pretty dark in color, and it was that way right from the beginning. I think it's because I used dark brown sugar. Next time I'll try it with light brown sugar, or even just regular sugar. Also, next time I'm going to cook the bacon just a little bit more. There are pieces in there that are not quite crispy and it takes away from the "brittle" experience.

Overall, it's very good, and I'll definitely make it again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Vacation at the coast

Way back in July (seems like years ago already) my family and I spent a week camping at the north Oregon coast, and I'm just now getting around to making a post about it, so please forgive me for my tardiness.

We stayed at Fort Stevens state park and spent lots of time exploring the different forts and museums in the area.

Fort Stevens was built during the civil war to protect the mouth of the Columbia river and was in use until after WWII. We also ventured across the river to the Washington side and visited Fort Columbia, Fort Steven's counter part on the north side of the river. Had a great time, even though the weather wasn't the best.

Fort Stevens holds the honor of being the only main-land military installation to receive hostile fire during WWII. In June 1942 a Japanese submarine fired 17 shells at Battery Russell, but caused no damage except taking out the backstop at the baseball field and several telephone cables.

My youngest step-son Mattie playing in a jeep at the museum at Ft. Stevens
Loading Mattie into a cannon

Looking down on the West Battery @ Ft. Stevens from the Commander's Station

Walking up to the Commander's Station

In the commander's station

Back side of the cmdr's station

Looking over to Battery Pratt from the cmdr's station
On top of Battery Pratt. On the left is where the disappearing gun would be. I apparently didn't get a picture of it but they have a replica of the gun in there. It was down out of view from the river, and would pop up to fire, then drop back down for reloading and to keep the crews safe.

Inside battery pratt. The rails on the ceiling were used to haul the ammunition from the storage rooms over to the pulleys where they'd be hoisted up to the crew on top for loading.

Closeup of a sign at Battery 245 @ Ft. Stevens
Mattie posing in the tool room inside btry 245

Steven playing zombie in the Shell room of btry 245

Mattie posing at the rifle range @ ft stevens

better view of the rifle range. This is the "down range" side where the crews would hoist up and take down the targets.
The boys posing on a huge anchor outside the Columbia River maritime museum.

Boys playing on a small beach as a Bar Pilot ship comes back into the marina

The Astoria Column above the city of Astoria.
Yes, I did haul my fat butt all the way up to the top. My legs were jello for a good two hours afterwards! lol. Looking south from the top of the column. Just outside the picture to the right is Ft. Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark spent 106 days from December 1805 to March 1806.

A pair of Bald Eagles flew past as we were on top of the column

We also stopped by the "Goonie" house in Astoria, if anyone remembers the movie The Goonies from the 80s

On to Fort Columbia on the Washington side of the river.

Panorama of Battery Murphy @ ft columbia

Looking up at the barracks and mess hall from btry Ord

Back side of Battery Ord

the boys playing "jail" inside the battery

Coming up from inside Battery Murphy, gun emplacement on the left

 One of the replica guns at Battery 246

Mattie posing with the gun at Btry 246

We also stopped by one of the many light houses while up in Washington. I'm surprised I didn't get an overall picture of the lighthouse, but here's one from the base looking up.

Me and the boys posing at the base

The lightkeeper's station

Me with the two fuel storage houses from back when they used oil burning lamps in the lighthouse

Looking south from the lighthouse. You can see the north and south jetties of the Columbia river in the distance.

And of course being at the beach we couldn't help but do some playing in the water.

Looking south on Indian Beach. For you "Twilight" movie fans (my wife is a huge fan) you may recognize this. This is the beach they filmed the surfing scenes on, and where Jacob tells Bella about the Cold Ones.

Well, that's all I have for now. In all it was a great camping trip, and I can't wait to do it again soon!