WE ALMOST HAVE A KITCHEN

After about 6 months of working hard every weekend, we finally almost have a kitchen.  It has been a lot of hard work but so worth it.

We began with just an idea and a garage.  We talked to the health department, building department, zoning and neighborhood committee.  We got permission and the OK from all of them.  We drew out plans, got permits, hired contractors where needed.  We framed, we wired, we plumbed, we hung drywall and taped it, we painted it.  We made dirt and cleaned it up.  We bled and cursed and laughed and joked….  and finally we are getting down to the final stages of finishing up our kitchen.

We still have some painting to do, some lights to hang, and we still need our plumber to plumb all the sinks.  BUT.. we are so close.  There is light at the end of the tunnel and I am so excited.

It won’t be too long now and we will be finalizing recipes for our MAC and our BACON.  We will begin building our website and putting together our marketing campaigns.   Keep your eyes open for more updates.

In the meantime here are some pics of our progress.

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THE SMOKEHOUSE

SmokehouseMy brother and I finally put our heads together and started a build.  We are also putting a full blown kitchen into part of my garage just for curing and smoking meat and making awesome mac ‘n cheese! (in fact plumbing was run into the space yesterday)….WOOT!

 We designed the smokehouse so that the floor of the smokehouse is at exactly the same level as the door into the kitchen.  Eventually we will have a covered walkway between the kitchen and the smokehouse.  This way, we can load up racks with meat in the kitchen and just roll it straight into the smokehouse.  Easy!

 

Firebox:  I converted a 55 gallon drum into a firebox using a kit you can purchase at a hardware store.  I lined the inside with fire bricks. (purchased on craigslist for $15 and then power-washed, inside and out)

THE FIRE BOX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Floor:  We decided to raise the floor of the smokehouse up onto concrete footings.  The floor is made out of 2×6 untreated lumber and wrapped in aluminum flashing to keep it protected from the weather.

 

THE FLOOR

Framing:  We framed the walls with 2×4 lumber (untreated) from the local hardware store.  In one of the pics you can see how the door of the smokehouse will line up with the door of the kitchen.

 

FRAMING

 

 

We’ll be able to walk right out to the smokehouse.

 

Door:  I picked up an old closet door for $10 bucks and some old pallets for free.  I decided to face the old door with pallet boards and then treat the exterior facing boards with marine grade poly (spar varnish).  The inside of the door is lined with 1/4″ untreated plywood.

 

FREE PALLETS = DOOR.  YES!

Walls:  We found untreated cedar fence slats at the local Home Depot for $2.49 each and grabbed up a bunch of them.  We also grabbed a few 2×6 cedar boards and used a table saw to slice them up into 2″ wide strips.  We used the cedar pickets and cedar strips to do a board and batten wall design. (got that idea from this site!!  THANKS!!)

Roof:  I had some old tin roofing out in my barn.  The roof is 1/2″ untreated plywood covered in the tin roofing.

 

Eventually there will be storage under the overhang.

 

 

 

 

Inside the house.  Ain’t it perty?

Almost there:  We still have a few things to do, like add shelving under the overhang for storage of wood, etc.  I have run smoke through it a couple of times and it drafts well.  I think I need to add a damper to the chimney to control the flow of smoke out of the house.

I am also thinking about getting a programmable PID controller and hotplate so that I can have better control over the internal temp when I need it.

Here are some current pics.

 

 

Won’t be too long now before we can start smoking and selling bacon!!

KEEPING YOU POSTED

MACnBACONKEEPING YOU UP TO DATE on what has been going on for the last few months.  My brother and I have decided to jump in, take the risk, and start our own business; MACnBACON, LLC.

My brother makes awesome mac ‘n cheese and I have been making some of the best bacon available for a while now.  So, our goal is simple… ‘To make the best gourmet mac ‘n cheese and the best tasting bacon anyone has ever eaten.’

OK, maybe the goal is not so easy after all, but we truly want to serve the absolute best products we can.  Everything we make will be scratch made from only the best ingredients.  The bacon is dry-cured using an old school method straight from the farms of rural America.  We have even invested in building our own smokehouse so that we have control over every stage of the curing and smoking process.

TARGET DATE:  We are shooting to start selling in early spring of 2016.  We will sell on our own website, at local farmers markets and swap meets, and from the door of our kitchen, located out in the sticks of Missouri.

WHAT HAVE WE BEEN UP TO LATELY:  During our free time, when not at our 9 to 5 jobs, we have been building out our kitchen and smokehouse at my house in Union, MO.  We are converting a portion of my garage into a Health Department approved and inspected kitchen and building our smokehouse.

CHANGING UP THE FORMAT:  I am changing up the format of this blog to keep everyone up to speed on the progress of out new venture.  So, check back often for updates on where we are at with the kitchen build, the smokehouse build, with the website and, most importantly, when that awesome bacon and mac ‘n cheese will be ready to order!!!

Porchetta Bacon?….What is Porchetta?

porchettaStanding in line in Montalcino, Italy at an open air market… waiting hungrily for a slice of that whole, deboned, herb rubbed, salty, roasted pig on the butcher’s counter.  The one with the perfectly crispy skin.

“Sliced or on a sandwich’ the server asks each patron in Italian as they step up to the counter.  ‘Sliced’, I say when it is my turn.  He grabs his knife and slices away at the aromatic roast until I tell him to stop.  He hands me pork slices, wrapped in butcher paper, and I cannot wait to sit down and dig in for my first taste of porchetta.

So, what exactly is porchetta?  It is a dish that originated in central Italy in the province of Rome.  It is a whole pig, deboned, arranged in layers of meat and fat and salt and herbs and then roasted to perfection.  The skin is crisp, the meat is salty and tastes of herbs like garlic, and thyme and rosemary and fennel.  It is pig perfection.

I took inspiration and created the recipe for my ‘Porchetta Bacon’.  The dry cure is filled with savory herbs that lend themselves well to the flavor and aroma of this bacon.

Ventreche? – WHAT IS IT?

I’ve been researching bacon from around the world.  I mean, the U.S. is not the only place that cures pork into the delicious awesomeness that is bacon.  The Italians have pancetta, the Irish have rashers, and evidently the French have ventreche.

What is it and what makes it different than all the other bacons?  Well, I am glad that you asked.  Apparently, in Gascony they have a lightly cured bacon called ventreche.  Unlike the bacon we are used to here in the U.S., ventreche is lightly cured using salt only.  No nitrites and other herbs and spices during the curing process.  It is very simply pork belly rubbed with salt, placed in a cool place to cure for 2 to 4 days, rinsed, rubbed down with black pepper and then smoked.

Ventreche is used in many recipes in Gascony from soup bases, to vegetable dishes, for searing meat like duck breast, or wonderful things like mushrooms seared in the rendered fat…  although I see no reason why we can’t use it in New England clam chowder, or on a pizza, or maybe even fried up crisp along-side some sunny side up eggs.  MMMmmmm mmmm good.

So, I tried my hand at it.  Admittedly, I had to borrow a recipe I found online here.  It was very simple to cure and I love any recipe which enhances the flavor of the main ingredient.

After curing, I smoked it lightly with hickory and cherry.  I then let it cool and sliced into it.  I fried up a slice in a skillet and tasted it….  wow, so good.  Unlike what we think of as bacon, it was more like really good roasted pork belly.

Gonna have to try some recipes using it as a base…  render it down and saute some veggies or something.

BTW – the picture is of the ventreche that I made.

Happy eating.

A NEW ADVENTURE

Today I had the pleasure of meeting with two great guys from the Franklin County (Mo) Health Department.  They came out to look at my home, specifically my garage, to tell me if my idea of turning my garage into an inspected kitchen would work.

See, my brother and I have been dreaming of starting our own business.  I have always wanted to do a business selling old school, dry-cured, artisan bacon and other smoked meats like sausages and maybe even different styles of bacon from around the world.  My brother, Tim, is big into gourmet mac n cheese.  He makes some sinfully good dishes out of those noodles and cheese.  So, we have the idea to open a business selling mac and bacon.  We even reserved the domain http://www.macnbacon.com.  🙂

The first step is deciding where to build out the space to prepare our mouth-watering creations.  We decided that since we both work full-time jobs, it would be best, for now, not to rent a space but to build out a kitchen at my house so that we can cook on the weekends and sell online and at farmer’s markets here in Missouri.

Today was successful.  The tentative approval was given to move forward.  We are just waiting on the results of a water test (I am on well water so we have to be sure it is safe for the business) and then we are good to go.

So, I will be posting our progress as we form the business, build out the kitchen, launch our website and start selling.

Wish us luck!!!

A Little Slicer of Heaven

Best Choice 10″ Commercial Grade Slicer

Finally broke down and spent a little bit o’ cashola on a new commercial grade slicer.  It is not a top of the line Berkel or Hobart but I cannot afford these, in some cases even used, so I went with one that I found on Best Choice Products website.  Here is a link to the one I purchased.

10″ Meat Slicer

I decided to go with this one because of the reviews I read on Amazon about this slicer.  I’ll include a link to the Amazon page as well if you want to read the reviews.  I purchased directly from Best Choice Products website because, at least at the time of this posting, it cost less, no shipping and no sales tax.  Sweet deal.

Amazon

I used the slicer for the first time today to slice up some Beer Cured Pork Loin Bacon and some of my home cure brown sugar and molasses bacon.  So, I thought I would write up a review.

Best Coice 10" Slicer

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

This thing is heavy and well built.  The only plastic on it is the guard on the tray.  Everything else is metal.  I am very impressed with the quality and I believe, if I take care of it and regularly maintain it, it will last me for years to come.

This slicer is a gravity fed slicer, which means that the meat tray is angled toward the blade so that the meat is pulled by gravity down toward the blade as you slice.

It comes with a built in blade sharpener (I have not had to use it yet so cannot review it) above the blade.  You can see it in the picture above.  The attachment has a sharpening stone built into it so that you can simply press a button on the sharpener to engage the stone against the blade when you need to sharpen.

I found the adjustments to be very easy.  There is a big knob on the side of the machine to adjust the thickness that you wish to slice.  It is very easy to turn and can really finely adjust the thickness.  You can also set an adjustment screw on the back of the slicer so that the slicing plate does not move out of alignment, giving you very consistent thickness of slices.

Adjusting the thickness.
Adjusting the thickness.
Setting the thickness stop.
Setting the thickness stop.

The meat tray is very heavy duty.  You can slice meat up to about 7.5 inches long (so for bacon, imagine 7.5 inch slices).  There is a solid metal holder with teeth that you can easily place on top or behind the product you are slicing to hold it in place and to add a little pressure to the product to help feed it into the blade as you slice.  It also has a handle so that you can slice by holding the meat tray or by the main handle on the front of the machine.

My only gripe is that I wish the depth of the product tray was a little deeper.  For the bacon slabs I was slicing, I had to place the guard on top of the pork belly until I sliced enough that it could go behind it.  Not a big deal really because it still sliced really well.

The guard with the handle.
The guard with the handle.
Belly in the product tray.
Belly in the product tray.

To power on the slicer you press a button on the side of the machine.  The button is plastic covered, which I found to be great for cleaning.  I didn’t need to worry about spraying it.

The slicer is super quiet.

Powering on the slicer.
Powering on the slicer.

SLICING

Slicing was super easy.  This is a belt driven unit with 1/3 horsepower.  I found it to be more than enough for slicing through pork belly as well as the pork loin bacon that I sliced today.  There was no hesitation in the machine at all, even through the thickest part of the pork loin.

As you slice, it is very easy to allow the sliced meat to simply fall into your hand, safely, behind the blade.  I caught the pieces as I sliced and just stacked them up as I went.

When you reach the end of the meat, there is a little gap between the guard and the blade (for obvious reasons, you don’t want that metal hitting the blade) so there is always a little bit of the product left that won’t slice.  I found it to only be about a 1/4 inch.  Not a big deal to me as I always use the scraps for recipes that I need bacon in.

I did notice the some small meat particles were being flung out the back of the slicer as I sliced.  I found that there is a little metal plate that can be adjusted with 2 screws, just behind the blade.  I adjusted it forward slightly (toward the blade) and this guard then prevented those little bits from being flung by the blade.

Overall it slices VERY well and I am completely happy with how easy it is to slice with this machine.

Sliced belly bacon.
Sliced belly bacon.
Sliced Pork Loin Bacon
Sliced Pork Loin Bacon
Packaged Breakfast Bacon
Packaged Breakfast Bacon

CLEANING

Many of the reviews that I read complained about the difficulties in cleaning this machine and in the lack of usable instructions.  (OK, the instructions are useless.  Translated from some language into gibberish).  However, I found cleanup to be very easy.  Yes, it is a little time consuming, but this is a commercial slicer with more moving parts, so it will take a little longer than a slicer designed for home use.  Still, it only took me about 10 minutes.

You unscrew a knob on the back of the slicer to remove a rod that holds the gauge plate on.  This gives you full access to the front of the blade.  If you wish, you can use a phillips head screwdriver to remove three screws, allowing you to remove the blade completely.

I found that I did not have to do this.  I could easily gain access to the entire front of, and back of the blade easily.  I simply used a sanitizing cleaner and sprayed down all the parts of the slicer.  I wiped it clean with paper towels, then sprayed again with a food grade sanitizer and let it sit for a few minutes, then wiped it down again.

I found that it was easy to get into all the cracks and gaps that I needed to in order to remove any debris and to sanitize the slicer.  Overall, I think cleanup and keeping the machine sanitized was rather easy.

Removing the rod to hold the meat deflector.
Removing the rod to hold the gauge plate
Removing the gauge plate
Removing the gauge plate
Slicer after finished slicing.  You can see the little meat debris under the blade.
Slicer after finished slicing. You can see the little meat debris under the blade.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I would recommend this slicer to anyone who wants a more commercial grade slicer but does not wish to break the bank.  I find it to be very well built, easy to slice the products that I need to slice and cleanup is relatively easy.  I am sure it will last for many years with regular maintenance.

CONS

This is not a high end commercial machine. It is not designed for day in and day out use and not designed to be run hour after hour.  However, it is still light years ahead of any of the ‘home kitchen’ models available.

It is made in China and is an off brand product.  So, getting replacement parts may prove to be a challenge.  (NOTE:  Best Choice Products customer support was very timely in answering any questions that I had about this product.  Their chat system on their website works well)

Vacuum Seal – A New Toy

I received the new vacuum sealer in mail today.  Since I sliced up the bacon yesterday I figured I would go ahead and vacuum seal and freeze what the wife and I would not use in the next couple of weeks.

I have to say, I really like the sealer.  Very easy to use.  AND, it makes the bacon look cool, like I bought it from the store or something.  🙂

Vacuum Sealing

I purchased an inexpensive Rival vacuum sealer from Amazon.  Here is what I bought.  Rival Seal-A-Meal  It worked great.  Super easy to use.  You can get all sorts of pre-sized bags or a roll of  the seal material to make your own custom sized bags.  I used the pre-made 8″ bags today.

I am not going into any great detail with this post.  I am just going to post some pics of the process.  They are pretty much self explanatory.

I first weighed out 12 oz portions.
I first weighed out 12 oz portions.
I added pepper to the edges of the Sweet and Spicy bacon.  it wasn't peppery enough.
I added pepper to the edges of the Sweet and Spicy bacon. it wasn’t peppery enough.
I then laid out what I needed to vacuum seal the bacony goodness.
I then laid out what I needed to vacuum seal the bacony goodness.
Then, I neatly placed the bacon into the bag.
Then, I neatly placed the bacon into the bag.
Following the instructions, I sealed the bacon up.
Following the instructions, I sealed the bacon up.
The final product.  Sealed up and ready to freeze.
The final product. Sealed up and ready to freeze.