Country Ham

E9DC9326C68D4C11B3695AE43D2564D1.ashxMy first recollection of country ham is as my favorite entree from Cracker Barrel.  I love the salty, fried center slice.  I deboned my ham, so no slice of femur and little morsel of marrow for this project.  I’m still hopeful it will be so delicious that the Cracker Barrel ham will seem like fast food.

My mother-in-law shared her recipe for country ham.  Her maiden name is Hamm, so I figure I’d be nuts to second guess this one!

For 1 hog (2 hams), combine 2 cups salt, 8tbs brown sugar, 2tbs black pepper and 1tbs crushed pepper.

Marc Andrews and I set out our hams from last fall to thaw on Tuesday.  Today, we mixed up the cure, substituting raw sugar for brown sugar and adding a little cure #2.  We wrapped the hams in parchment paper and hung them in ham nets in his outbuilding aka Marc’s Meat Locker.  We penciled in March 8, 2013 for the date to pull them down.  From there we can eat as cured, smoke, or dry age.  Or, more likely, try all three with different pieces.  We’ll see what happens in March.

Lobster Ravioli Dinner Party


Thanks to Andrew & Sam and Nate & Lisa for a delightful evening!


Charcuterie board — Salami sliders, black forest ham, coppa, lonza and a few cheeses
Salad — greens, tomatoes, olives, red onions and homemade croutons with caesar dressing
Bread — cast iron dutch oven bread with whey brushed with olive oil and grey salt
Ravioli — tomato cream sauce with lobster stock and cognac and chopped lobster tails
Wine — KJ chardonnay

My last ravioli post was all about making the pasta, so this one will be about the sauce.  I sautéed onions and garlic in olive oil until golden and then added the chopped lobster tails and sautéed for a bit longer.  The next part is my favorite… I added the cognac and lit it on fire to burn off some of the alcohol.  Hi, my name is Scott and I’m a pyromaniac.  Once the fire was out, I added lobster stock and canned seasoned tomato sauce from the garden.  I pulled the lobster meat out after a couple minutes to keep it tender.  I reduced the sauce by half while the ravioli cooked.  When the ravioli was done, I stirred cream into the sauce and then added the ravioli to coat the pasta before serving.

Nate proposed to me after dinner… I guess he liked it.


Why am I Fat? New Thoughts on Being Overweight

I’m reading a new book. Or, as so many people like to give me a hard time about my audiobook listening, I’m having a book read to me.  Either way, it is very enlightening so far.

Here are a few thoughts to ponder… more posts on this subject to follow…

Sloth and gluttony – two of the 7 deadly sins – are we fat because of them or do we give in to them because we are fat? If the latter, then why are we fat?  This book discusses the idea that our biochemistry drives our behavior rather than our behavior driving our biochemistry.  I think it is a cycle, but there is more to the story… sugar.  Too much sugar screws up our biochemistry which in turn drives us to eat too much and sit on the couch.  Cut out the excess sugar and our biochemistry returns to normal and we feel full and energetic and go do fun, active things while eating less.  To that I would argue that you could simply say, “It’s still my fault that I’m fat because I choose to eat all that sugar that screws up my biochemistry.”  I’m going to make a concerted effort going forward to pay attention to sugar in everything I eat and feed my kids.  I’m curious to find out how easy or difficult it may be to cut out excess sugar.  I think I will be shocked by what I learn.  Want a sneak preview? Check out the cereal boxes in your pantry and compare them to the statistics below.  No wonder my kids are happy to eat cereal for dinner.

Statistics to consider: In 1900, we ate less than 30g of sugar a day (5% of calories per day).  Now, the typical adolescent eats (or drinks) 150g of sugar a day (30% of calories per day).

Lobster Ravioli

IMG_9732This is a long overdue project.  Some good friends asked for a lobster ravioli dinner invite and went so far as to give me a Martin’s gift card to help pay for the meal.  That was over a year ago…hopefully better late than never!

I started the adventure with three live lobsters weighing 1.5, 1.44 and 1.29 pounds at $11.99/lb for a total of $50.72 of lobster.  If I’m going to make this stuff, I’m going to make enough for a couple meals.  Into the hot tub they went for 12 minutes so they’d be slightly undercooked.



Then they went for a “polar plunge” in the ice bath to stop them from cooking more.  They posed for a glamour shot and then were broken down for the filling and lobster stock.






I ended up with a little over a pound and half of lobster meat and a pot full of shells for the broth.  I reserved 2 of the 3 tails for the sauce, and I chopped up the rest for the filling.

IMG_9748I sautéed the lobster meat in butter and olive oil with shallots, flat parsley, salt and pepper.

IMG_9749I added the lobster sauté to whole milk ricotta and grated parmesan and chilled the filling in the refrigerator while I made the pasta.

IMG_9752I made the first couple of dozen with a form and then finished the rest freehand.  The form makes them a little smaller, makes better use of the pasta sheet, and keeps the ravioli uniform.  However, it takes a bit of patience to get the ravioli off the form.  With such a large batch to make, I could keep the process moving faster with hand formed ravioli.




I had leftover pasta dough and leftover parsley and the perfect idea from a pasta book I got for Christmas: laminated parsley pasta.



IMG_9762I’m excited to put some of that in some broth for a soup or in a little alfredo sauce.

The ravioli are in the freezer and the pasta is drying.  The big dinner is Tuesday night… tomato cream sauce with lobster and cognac for the ravioli.  Can’t wait!





Homemade Sour Cream aka Crème Fraîche & Pastured Chicken

50mm f/2.5 Macro at f/4, 1/25, ISO 800

The first thing you’ll notice is that it melts and soaks into the potato and runs out on the plate… and then you taste it.  The best way I can describe it is the taste of sour cream and the texture of melting butter.  When I tasted store bought sour cream after eating the homemade stuff, I found myself licking the roof of my mouth like a dog eating peanut butter.  Daisy Sour Cream is labeled “pure and natural” and, indeed, the ingredient list says only “Grade A cultured cream.”  I can’t really complain about the taste of the Daisy Sour Cream because I do love sour cream.  The homemade stuff was just a little bit brighter, slightly more sour of a flavor.  Combine that with the idea that it was melted into the potato with the butter instead of an obstinate blob of condiment on top… ok, so maybe I’m a little biased with my own creation and I’m getting carried away… It was good and I liked it because I made it even if the store bought stuff tasted just as good.

50mm f/2.5 Macro at f/3.2, 1/30, ISO 800

I enjoyed the sour cream taste test potato with a brined and roasted pastured chicken from Marc & Calla Andrews, who helped me butcher the pigs this past fall.  Thanks again, Marc & Calla!


250-mile Road Trip for Cerulean Indy… Worth Every Mile!


Destination dining done right.  We loaded up the car and drove the 125 miles from Warsaw, the home of the original Cerulean, to Indianapolis, the home of the new Cerulean in CityWay not far from Lucas Oil Stadium.  Disclaimer: my brother works at the restaurant in Indy, so I had extra motivation to make the trip.

IMG_9470Inside, the restaurant has a great atmosphere with several distinct spaces that flow well from one to the next.  We sat in the main dining room but “The Nest” will be a request on our next trip (no photo… you have to see it for yourself… very unique and eye catching!).

IMG_9476My brother, like the natives in far off lands, believes that if you take his picture, you will steal his soul with the camera.  So… I was only able to sneak a shot of the logo he proudly wears.

IMG_9507They brought out Logan’s chicken from the kids menu as soon as it was ready.  I love it when restaurants serve the youngsters first to keep them well behaved.  As you can see from the photo, kids are foodies too.  Logan’s take on being a restaurant critic: “I dipped two in the honey and one in the cranberry and I liked the honey better.”


Similar to Cerulean in Winona Lake, here you also order bento version of the midwestern “meat plus three” meal.  I chose the beef pot roast, green beans, noodle salad, and brussels sprouts.



Yes, brussels sprouts.  Those vegetables everyone talks about even though most have never even eaten one.  Let me just say – I almost ordered more for dessert.



I will let the food speak for itself…



We had a party of 7 and all the food came out together with flawless presentation and service.  Between the 7 of us, we ordered 4 of the 8 “main” dishes and 9 of the 11 “side” dishes.  I already raved over the brussels sprouts above, and the roasted carrot soup also deserves some fanfare as well as a dish that elicited unexpected ooh’s and aah’s and mmm’s.  My pot roast was more than fork tender and full of complex, rich flavors.  For those of you that think chuck roast, packet of lipton french onion soup, and some chopped veggies in the crock pot when you hear pot roast… don’t let the name fool you.  Filet mignon isn’t just a piece of steak and this dish isn’t just a roast.  I highly recommend it when you visit.

IMG_9517After driving 125 miles, you eat dessert.  Period.  All three desserts have a wine pairing option, and I chose the ricotta cheese cake because it seemed the best match for a glass of wine.  And, yes, it was after 5 o’clock somewhere.  Again, between the 7 of us we tried all 3 desserts.


The “bomb” inspired the same reaction several times: “Oooh! There’s something in the middle!”  You’d think the ladies were opening jewelry at Christmas, but it was the “chocolate mousse bomb” that made them say it.  For my part, I thought the cheese cake and muscat were decadent and a perfect way to cap off a perfect foodie road trip.

We asked to see the dinner menu before we left.  I almost sat at the table for four hours so I could eat dinner, too.  Next trip, next trip.  I loved the local touch on the last page of the menu giving credit to the farms and farmers that lovingly raise the food served so well at Cerulean.

IMG_9523So who is going with me for the dinner road trip???






A Family Tradition Reinvented

Whenever my mom asked me what I wanted for dinner, I always said, “hamburger stroganoff.” Birthdays typically came with dinner selection honors and that was my perennial choice. I haven’t done the baked potato sour cream tasting yet, and the homemade sour cream aka creme fraiche has been calling to me. I thought a scratch made version of our family’s tradition was a worthy taste test.

The traditional recipe:
Brown hamburger and drain. Add a can of cream of mushroom soup and half a can of milk. Season with garlic salt and onion salt. Add a dollop or two of sour cream at the end and serve over egg noodles with peas on the side.

The reinvented version:
Brown the hamburger from the Amish (no draining required) and transfer to a plate. In the same skillet, melt half a stick of butter. Sauté a small onion, finely chopped. Add a a few teaspoons of minced garlic and sauté a bit more. Add 8oz sliced mushrooms and cook to release moisture. Season with salt, fresh ground pepper and thyme. Stir in 1/4c flour. Stir in 1c raw milk and simmer until thickened. Return the ground beef to the pan. Add 4 healthy spoonfuls of creme fraiche. Add 3/4 to 1 cup raw milk to desired consistency. Cook egg noodles and add a cup of peas during the last 2 minutes and then drain. Serve stroganoff over the noodles and peas.

I did all that in under 30-minutes and thoroughly enjoyed not opening a can and knowing that I was using REAL food for everything. Of course next time I’ll have to use homemade noodles to really call it scratch made. Either way… that is my idea of comfort food: a full belly of warm ‘n tasty food, the satisfaction that comes with scratch made food, and fond memories from childhood all in one meal.

Vintage Cream Cheese

A vintage recipe from “Directions for Cookery, In Its Various Branches – Tenth Edition, with Improvements and Supplementary Receipts” by Eliza Leslie published in 1840.


The cheese so called (of which numbers are brought to Philadelphia market) is not in reality made of cream, but of milk warm from the cow, and therefore unskimmed.

Having strained into a tub a bucket of new milk, turn it in the usual way with rennet water. When it has completely come, take a clean linen cloth and press it down upon the firm curd, so as to make the whey rise up over it. As the whey rises, dip it off with a saucer or a skimming dish. Then carefully put the curd (as whole as possible) into a cheese hoop, or mould, which for this purpose should be about half a foot deep, and as large round as a dinner plate–first spreading a clean wet cloth under the curd, and folding it (the cloth) over the top. Lay a large brick on it, or something of equivalent weight, and let the whey drain gradually out through the holes at the bottom of the mould. It must not be pressed hard, as when finished a cream cheese should be only about the consistence of firm butter. The curd will sink gradually in the mould till the whole mass will be about two or three inches thick. Let it remain in the mould six hours, by which time the whey should cease to exude from it. Otherwise, it must be left in somewhat longer.

When you take out the cheese, rub it all over with a little lard, and sprinkle it slightly with fine salt. Set it in a dry dark place, and in four or five days it will be fit for use. When once cut, it should (if the weather is warm) be eaten immediately; but if uncut, it will keep a week in a cold place, provided it is turned three or four times a day. Send it to table whole on a large plate, and cut it when there into wedge-shaped pieces as you would a pie. It is usually eaten at tea or supper, and is by most persons considered a delicacy.

Cream Cheese Tasting

50mm f/2.5 Macro at f/2.8, 1/80, ISO 800

The house appetizer at Formichella’s: Salami Sliders – pretzel chips, salami, cream cheese and pickle

The left pair is made with Philly Whipped Cream Cheese, the middle pair with the yogurt cream cheese and the right pair with milk cream cheese.

The Philly cream cheese is much saltier than the homemade versions. The texture also leaves something to be desired, partly because it is whipped and partly because of all the crap that goes into “shelf stable” food. The flavor is much less sour than either of the homemade versions.

The yougurt cream cheese, not surprisingly, has a noticeable yogurt flavor that makes me think of yogurt as I eat it. Because of that, I didn’t find myself wanting to add any salt to it to make it taste more like the store bought cream cheese I’m used to. It tasted “right” as a yogurt flavored cream cheese.

The milk cream cheese had the brightest, most sour flavor of the three that made it taste like a “new” flavor to me – not like store bought cream cheese and not like yogurt. I decided to salt this version to make it more of a cheese to my taste buds.

Both of the homemade versions felt like food on my tongue as opposed to the strange sensation left by the xanthan gum, carab bean gum and/or guar gum that is in the Philly stuff – mmm mmmm gotta get me some guar gum!

What now? Well, the salami sliders will get milk cream cheese on the Formichella’s menu. Yogurt cream cheese is faster and would do nicely for any recipe where the yogurt flavor could blend in with other ingredients. I’m sure Philly cream cheese will still show up in my fridge for non-foodie use but not for anything I’m cooking for dinner guests.

Stay tuned for the baked potato sour cream tasting…

Countertop Culture

No, it has nothing to do with pop culture or counter-culture. It’s raw milk and cream culturing on my countertop.

Canon 60D & 85mm 1.8 at f/2.8, 1/40 and ISO 400

For milk delivery #2, I’ve opted for cream cheese and sour cream. The engineer in me decided to make it an experiment of sorts. For the cream cheese, I will do a head-to-head comparison of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, yogurt cheese and cream cheese. The sour cream will be a head-to-head comparison of Daisy Sour Cream and sour cream. The cream cheese test will be an appetizer of pretzel, cream cheese, salami and pickle. The sour cream test will be a baked potato. Wow… that sounds almost too official to be fun… almost… I still get to eat all of this in the end.

On to the foodstuffs…

I am making the yogurt cheese by pouring a quart of Stonyfield Organic Plain Whole Milk Yogurt into a cheesecloth lined colander over a glass bowl to drain the whey off the curds.

I am making the cream cheese by combining 4 ounces of Marburger Farm Dairy gourmet Buttermilk and 28 ounces of milk (from 12/30/12). The jar is covered with a cloth held on by the lid ring.

I am making the sour cream by combining 1tbs of the same buttermilk and 1 pint of cream (from 12/29/12) and covering with a regular lid and ring.

I set all of this up on my counter on top of my seed starter mat to get the temperature up to somewhere around 73 degrees to keep the cultures happy. I expect the yogurt to be done draining early in the morning. The sour cream should be ready for dinner tomorrow. The cream cheese should be ready to drain Saturday night or Sunday morning.

Stay tuned for the taste tests!

UPDATE: yogurt cream cheese went into the fridge after 6 hours. One quart of yogurt turned into almost a pint of whey and a pint of cream cheese plus some evaporation. It was tasty – I can’t wait for the milk version!

UPDATE: sour cream (aka crème fraîche) wasn’t thickened after 24 hours on the counter, so I stirred in a tablespoon of yogurt in case the buttermilk doing it’s job.  After another 24 hours or so, all was well, and I gave it a good stir and put it in the fridge.  The milk for the cream cheese hadn’t seperated yet either, so I did the same thing with the spoonful of yogurt. That brings me to Sunday morning… cultured milk is now in the cheese cloth lined colander draining to become cream cheese later tonight.

UPDATE: milk cream cheese drained for about 8 hours and produced a little more than a pint of whey and a little less than a pint of cream cheese.  I salted the cream cheese a bit to mellow the sour flavor and to make it taste more like cheese and less like sour cream.