Thursday, March 31, 2011
I got a charcuterie cookbook for Christmas (called Charcuterie) so I decided to make bacon. What, you may ask, is charcuterie? It is the craft of curing meat through salting, smoking, and drying. The recipe for bacon looked easy enough. The most difficult part seemed like it would be finding the different ingredients. I was going to need to find some pork belly, some kosher salt, and curing salt. Luckily, living in Chicago, the population is high enough that stores can carry specialty materials. The kosher salt was easy, the curing salt I found in The Spice House, and the pork belly I found in a meat packing house in the warehouse district which is where restaurants get their meats and vegetables. The packing house was enormous, the storage area was refrigerated, and the bellies were in piles. I picked a relatively small one because this was going to be my first try. It ended up being six pounds. The recipe called for a belly of about three to five pounds so I cut the one I bought in half. I didn't notice it nor did I think about it when I bought it but when I was cutting the belly in half, the fact that it came from an animal became more real to me because the belly had nipples. I salted half of the belly and froze the other half for use later. I bagged it and threw it in the refrigerator for a week flipping it every other day. I was surprised at how much liquid it lost. After the week was up, I took it out, rinsed it, and cooked it at a low heat for about two hours. If I had had a smoker this is where I would have used it. I then cut the skin off and had to fry a little up immediately. It was great! While most American bacon is smoked, Canadian bacon is not so this tasted like Canadian bacon. I will have to explore more of the recipes in the cookbook. It is very cool to create something like this on your own and have it turn out well. I do need a smoker though.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Bill Kim is a Korean Kendall College grad who learned French cooking from greats such as Jean Banchet. He then spent time with Charlie Trotter (a lot of great chefs seem to have spent time with Charlie Trotter) and at Trio before ending up as executive chef of Le Lan, a French-Asian Fusion restaurant. Having an urge to go downscale, he started Urban Belly, a neighborhood Asian noodle shop in Avondale. Last year, he opened up a counter service BYOB in Logan Square called Belly Shack which is essentially a Latin-Asian Fusion sandwich shop (his wife is Puerto Rican but he also wanted to address the neighborhood). The building is located under the el and the design inside is very industrial. It has a big plate glass window in the front and there is a communal table in the middle of the space with several two tops on the sides and a cement floor. I have eaten here a few times and the flavor combinations are pretty interesting. I said that I would stay in this year so I will focus on when I went on January 2. As it is a counter service place, the menu is mounted behind the counter and it doesn't change from lunch to dinner. I had Korean BBQ Beef with Kimchi, Ssam Paste, and scallions served with flat bread. I also had maple glazed yams that were served in an acorn squash. The sandwich was spicy and sweet and very good but with the yams, I wish I had remembered that my phone as a camera (as poor as it is) because it was very pretty. It also tasted good but you can't taste a picture. As I said, this was my second visit, but it is a place that will get more visits from me. I eventually want to try the bacon chocolate chip ice cream.
Several years ago a journalist derided most blogs calling them forums for online naval gazing. He referred to them as grilled cheese blogs (blog writer writes that he had or was having a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch) meaning that reading most blogs is pretty pointless. In answer to that, several people started blogs that were specifically about grilled cheese sandwiches. So is this blog going to be about grilled cheese sandwiches as well? Yes and no. If I happen to have a grilled cheese sandwich when I am eating out, I will write about it. I will not however write about a grilled cheese sandwich I happen to make. What I will write mostly about is the restaurants that I have been to and my opinion of them at the time I went. I won't write about fast food or chain restaurants but sandwich shops are fair game. I will also write about my experiments in charcuterie (curing meat). As it takes some time (and effort) to cure meat, that will not happen frequently. While a lot of food blogs have a lot of pictures, my present camera phone is not great so in the beginning, pictures will be the exception and not the rule. I will also write about benefits that I go to if food is a key part of them. While I may mention the restaurants that were at the benefit, I will not do a major review because you really can't get the idea of a restaurant with one bite. I have been to a lot of restaurants so I need a place to start so I will start with the beginning of the year. Obviously, this means that I have some catching up to do so I should probably get started.