Baby Gastronomy in Italy is Positively Genius

The bambinos there really know how to eat! Proof:

I love how the living animal (happy to be food!) is prominently displayed. Packaging here in the US rarely shows that — even for adult food. I wish it did. Farms make me hungry.

And, for the even more adventuresome palate:

Horse: the meat you can also ride.

Do they ship internationally?

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Adventures in Pork: Prosciutto Update

Yesterday, after seven long months, one of the two “Salumi” prosciuttos hanging in the curebrewzer emerged! The other one will continue to “ripen” for a few more months, until I can properly plan an event that revolves around all the fantastic dishes that contain prosciutto.

Prosciutto #1 (from Salumi); wrapped in cheesecloth, lard and black pepper

Prosciutto #1 (from Salumi); wrapped in cheesecloth, lard and black pepper

If you recall, at the beginning of the process, after curing in salt, the hams were coated in a layer of lard and covered in cracked black peppercorns. Then, they were wrapped in cheesecloth and set to hang in the curebrewzer where the temperature and humidity is controlled and kept at approximately 60 degrees and 60 percent humidity.

During this time, I periodically checked the hams by visual inspection only. I did not, as some people recommend, attempt to insert a metal skewer inside the ham to check it.  Despite hanging at temperatures well above refrigeration for a period of many months, these hams have very low risk of spoiling, versus something like an air-cured salami. Plus, I figured that some vague description (“the removed skewer will smell ‘cured’”? Thanks!) of how to do it and what I would be looking for wouldn’t help me very much anyway.

A ham is a whole muscle — very tightly packed protein. At curing the flesh takes on a significant amount of salt while losing a lot of its water weight. It becomes even more dense. Nasty aerobic bugs have no way to penetrate inside the ham and survive. Poking holes into a ham basically equates to opening a door for these icky bugs, and even if the risk if fairly low, it didn’t seem worth doing.

All of the cheesecloth wrapping, lard and pepper from the ham is removed to expose the "rind'

All of the cheesecloth wrapping, lard and pepper from the ham is removed to expose the “rind’

I completely unwrapped the cheesecloth. The cheesecloth, lard and pepper covering is supposed to provide a protective layer while permitting some exchange of moisture so the ham can continue to mature and lose a little extra water weight. The more moisture that is lost will concentrate the ham flavors, make it a bit chewier and saltier. The aging will impart a nutty flavor and aroma to the meat.

The cheesecloth did develop some patches of multicolored mold on the surface, but as I anticipated, the mold never got close to penetrating past the layer of lard. I treated these areas with a spritz of white vinegar and a dusting of sea salt, which killed the mold and kept it contained.

During unwrapping, I avoided contamination with any viable mold spores by removing the cheesecloth and throwing away the parchment sheet that I was using as a surface for the ham. Then, when I scraped off the lard, I replaced the second sheet of parchment that the ham rested upon, so that once the rind of the ham was exposed, any residual contamination was gone and the ham was on a clean sheet of parchment. Finally, after scraping, I took a few paper towels to remove the last smears of lard, fully exposing the rind of the ham.

Since this prosciutto was being given to a friend, but I wanted to do a “quality check”, I cut off just one small portion of the rind, which had oxidized a bit and taken on a light tan/ochre coloration, to expose a deep pink rose colored flesh, with a tint of peach that was more prominent after shaving into thin slices.


How did it taste? Fantastic. No off flavors at all, just a warm and earthy “pig” aroma, the slightest hint of iron and butter, and a clean balanced saltiness that really typifies a good salt-cured ham. It is not more salty than other good prosciutto or Serrano ham that I have tried, and the texture is also very nice, a bit more tender than your commercial domestic “prosciutto” examples which are sometimes quite chewy and hard to bite through. A thin slice could be easily pulled apart with the fingers and had a nice “melty” quality on the tongue.

In other words, I’m really proud of it, and it will be not be easy if I ever stop making this stuff and have to go back to relying on Costco or Trader Joe’s for prosciutto. Most of the domestic salt-cured ham just isn’t anywhere close to the real deal, and even imported prosciutto is not the truly high-end ham that you can only get in Italy.

We have two more whole fresh hams from a second pig, waiting to be cured in the same manner. These hams are quite a bit larger than the first set, and so I will have to modify the process a bit to accommodate the extra size. I think that I have also learned that I can be a little bit more judicious with the amount of lard and number of layers of cheesecloth to use in wrapping the hams. I think just a little less would permit slightly better moisture exchange, which may be important since the next two hams will be almost twice the size of the first two.

A very successful first trial!

Homebrew Equipment Review: Kegco 5-gallon Ball Lock Strap Keg


About eight weeks ago, I started another upgrade to the home brewery: the kegs.

When I started out with home brewing, I did the thing that most people do, which is also cheapest (and lower in quality): bottling beer. It’s a huge pain. You either must buy empty bottles or you have to save bottles from beer that you buy at the store, and then remove the labels, sanitize the bottles, fill them with beer, use a priming solution to get the beer to carbonate in the bottle, and cap each bottle. A 5-gallon batch of beer requires at least 55 clean 12-ounce bottles. Plus, getting the carbonation right is difficult, so that you often wind up with flat — or vastly over carbonated — beer.

It didn’t take long to make the jump to kegging, and I started that by (again) doing what most people do: buying refurbished Cornelius kegs from the local homebrew shop.

Refurbished kegs are a good deal, but they have some issues: first, they originally are used by soda manufacturers. So when you get a “new” one, it smells like root beer or Coke, and you must carefully sanitize the keg just to make it usable. Then, cosmetically, it looks pretty beaten up. The rubber bumpers on the top and bottom are a little like working with old tires. You get black (or red, or green) marks all over your hands. Also, used kegs must sometimes be “tinkered with” to get them to keep a seal. Gaskets and rings are made of rubber, and break down over time. You have to keep them in good shape in order to use them properly.

Getting brand new kegs is the next step. They cost at least twice as much as the reconditioned ones, but they’re new; they will last forever if you treat them well, and keep them clean, and they arrive shiny and fresh for beer!

kegcoIn my kegerator, I can fit three of the reconditioned soda kegs, but I jumped on four of Kegco’s Ball Lock Strap Kegs for three primary reasons: first, they had no rubber bumpers that would eventually degrade; the entire keg is metal. Second, I could increase capacity by fitting four kegs in the kegerator instead of three at a time. And third, they had good reviews on Amazon.

I took delivery of the kegs and filled them with beer. I placed them into the kegerator to chill and carbonate. We drank the beer.

Turns out these kegs are a disaster. First, on one of the four kegs, a weld around the gasket split apart, creating a situation where it wouldn’t hold a seal unless the pressure was set above about 15 psi. This is fine when you’re carbonating beer, but most home brewers reduce the pressure for serving, down to about 5 psi. At 15 psi, beer will be extremely foamy (you’ll never get a full glass) unless your draft line tubing is rather long.

But, even more alarming, after using each keg for only one or two batches of beer, I began to detect a metallic flavor. It was a ferrous — blood-like — flavor and aroma, most prominent on the head, and positively disgusting in my mustache. It tasted and smelled like I had a bloody upper lip.

Initially the metal flavor/smell was present in just one keg, and then it began to spread to the others. When my wife noticed it too, I began to get alarmed. I took apart the entire draft system, breaking down each and every piece in the system and thoroughly sanitizing everything. It took hours. I couldn’t believe that an all-new, “stainless steel” keg could possibly be the source of the flavor, so I looked at everything but the kegs. But when nothing else (I even looked at ridiculous things like hydrolysis of lipids from improper grain storage, some change in my water source, or off flavors from using a slightly oxidized copper wort chiller) could explain the metal flavor, I began to examine the kegs.

"Brand new" dip tube, corroded down to base metal, after just one batch of beer

“Brand new” dip tube, corroded down to base metal, after just one batch of beer

If I’d looked at the kegs first, I’d have saved myself hours of work and days of anxiety. I removed the metal post from the beverage connection on the keg with the most prominent metal flavor, and I immediately smelled that terrifically bad metal odor in the air. I looked down at the dip tube to find it corroded down to the base metal. You could actually see the corrosion all the way down the tube. I removed the metal posts from the other kegs, and it was the same story with each of the four dip tubes. They were in various states of corrosion, and at least one tube had a warped and cracked flange at the top.

Another keg dip tube, broken/warp flange, corrosio

Another keg dip tube, broken/warp flange, corrosio

I swapped out one tube with a clean one from one of my old refurbished kegs to see if that would resolve the problem. The metallic flavor/smell was less prominent, but still present. I concluded that the dip tubes could not have possibly been stainless steel, and whatever finish was on the outside of the kegs, the inside was imparting very undesirable flavors and aromas into the beer.

This was just a week or so before Easter, by the way, and I was panicked about the possibility of 15-20 gallons of ruined beer!

So I quickly cleaned and sanitized four of my old reconditioned kegs (thankfully I did not already sell them) and transferred the beer to see if it could be salvaged. The beer, for the most part, was drinkable, but it did suffer some unnecessary oxidation from the transfer. All the beer actually tasted and smelled significantly better in the old reconditioned kegs, despite being jostled. It saddens me that we served several entire batches of beer that were not at their full potential, due to using these cheap kegs. I prepared a new keg of Religious Liberty (from Megabrew) for Easter, so that no one would have to drink the metal beer.

These Kegco kegs are made in China. They are advertised as stainless steel, but even without the corroded dip tube issue, I am certain that the metal lining the kegs interacted with the beer, muting flavor and aroma. Avoid them like the plague, if you care at all about the way your beer tastes and smells.

The Quartermaster has done his duty in the fight against bad beer. This has been a PSA.

Proposed Amendment to the California Code of Judicial Ethics

If officially adopted, would bar sitting judges from participating in the Boy Scouts of America, because the revised Code would classify the Boy Scouts as practicing “invidious discrimination” against gay people.

Generally, each state adopts two codes of legal ethics — one for judges, and another for lawyers. Lawyers obviously have more autonomy than judges, because judges must avoid any appearance of misusing their official public position. Usually judges are held to the “highest” standard, although legal professionals have a duty to conduct themselves ethically at all times. Besides, ethics codes merely recite what a professional should already know and follow.

Don’t be deceived: the fight for “gay rights” isn’t about tolerance. It’s about making approval of gay lifestyle compulsory for participation in public life. The ultimate aim is about crushing dissent and expelling anyone who does not surrender their conscience. People have a hard time walking away from their livelihoods. Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals are next: various codes of professional conduct are being rewritten right now to say that there are no conscience protections for anyone on the issue of gay rights.

At each politically expedient turn, the revisions will be proposed, dissenters will be shamed, ridiculed, and ultimately destroyed, and Catholics — and any other people of conscience who remain — will lose any remaining places at the table.

This might explain Everything about the Mess we’re in

In the United States, 86 million full-time private sector employees “sustain” 147 million “benefit-takers”. The 16 million government employees who also comprise the American workforce don’t count as “sustainers” for the “takers”, because the government doesn’t actually produce anything and is not an enterprise from which tax revenue is derived; their incomes are all derived from the taxes paid by those in the private sector. Interestingly, 52% of Americans say their taxes are too high. If you consider that half of all Americans don’t pay any income tax, what you have is a national workforce that is entirely overburdened by regulation and excessive taxation, and all of this is before President Obama’s complete implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The ratio is 1.7 “dependents” to every 1 private sector worker. It’s unsustainable.

Why an “Octave” of Easter?

Baptistry and Font, Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome

Octagonal Baptistry with Baptismal Font in Center, Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome

Alleluia! Happy Easter! Today is Easter “Monday”, the second day in the “Octave” of Easter.

In our family, we struggle a little bit against the trend of front-loading the celebration of holidays that secular culture “shares” with Christianity.

Surely you’ve heard the historical myth that Easter and Christmas aren’t actually Christian, but rather pagan celebrations that were co-opted by the early Church. Insert Yada-yadda and Something-something about the Church consolidating power and misleading the ignorant tribals of pre-Enlightenment Europe.

Without explicitly saying so, the Something-something crowdset aims to re-paganize the holidays, so that if they were ever not Christian, they may be so once again. The result is empty: today’s age celebrates buying and consumption while past gnosis plumbed to the shallow depths of the day’s length or season’s climate.

The Church reminds that what God desires from us is our free choice to follow and serve Him. We are all the unworthy servants of Luke’s gospel — doing what we are obliged to do does not carry the expectation of favor from God. (17:10). We can’t repay God anything. It’s not for Him that Jesus hangs upon the wood of the cross. Thank goodness, we can take joy in this fact!

When we truly value a relationship, we take action. God values the relationship – He gave His only begotten Son. We show how much we truly value a relationship according to what we will give up for it. On Good Friday, our brother suffers. How do we show God how much we value His friendship and love?

The Christian who pretends that the journey to Heaven is possible without some measure of sacrifice seeks not a literal baptism by sprinkling, but a figurative one: “Jesus, make me damp, make me a little bit wet, let me dip my toe! Give me just one iota of salvation! But do not immerse me in the waters of your mercy! Do not drown me in faith! Do not drench me in the graces pouring from your side!” If someone knows true joy, why would they ask for just a little bit of it?

The point of Lent cannot be reduced to causing ourselves pain so that it feels good when we stop. Any sacrifice that we offer for the good of relationship with Jesus isn’t for Him, but rather, for us. We benefit not from the pain, but from the discovery that the thing being sacrificed has no real value compared to Jesus. It is this discovery that makes the Christian free.

The spiritual fruits of Easter — like Christmas — come through the removal of obstacles that block pathways to deep Mystery. There is no limit to how far God will draw us up into meditation upon the Mysteries of Incarnation and Resurrection, but ourselves.

Today we can take joy that Easter has only begun. The Resurrection is the “Eighth Day” — the day after creation, the beginning of the new creation. Baptism is directly tied to the new life of Easter as the Eighth Day. Baptistries or baptismal fonts are frequently found to be octagonal in form, symbolizing that the New Creation comes to us through Jesus, to whom we respond in baptism.

Easter is the bridge between the old creation and new, given by God for us! Alleluia! 

Poem for Holy Saturday: Limbo


The ancient greyness shifted
Suddenly and thinned
Like mist upon the moors
Before a wind.
An old, old prophet lifted
A shining face and said:
“He will be coming soon.
The Son of God is dead;
He died this afternoon.”

A murmurous excitement stirred all souls.
they wondered if they dreamed-
Save one old man who seemed
Not even to have heard.

And Moses standing,
Hushed them all to ask
If any had a welcome song prepared.
If not, would David take the task?
And if they cared
Could not the three young children sing
The Benedicite, the canticle of praise
They made when God kept them from perishing
In the fiery blaze?

A breath of spring surprised them,
Stilling Moses’ words.
No one could speak, remembering
The first fresh flowers,
The little singing birds.
Still others thought of fields new ploughed

Or apple trees
All blossom-boughed.
Or some, the way a dried bed fills
With water
Laughing down green hills.
The fisherfolk dreamed of the foam
On bright blue seas.
The one old man who had not stirred
Remembered home.

And there He was
Splendid as the morning sun and fair
As only God is fair.
And they, confused with joy,
Knelt to adore
Seeing that He wore
Five crimson stars
He never had before.

No canticle at all was sung.
None toned a psalm, or raising a greeting song,
A silent man alone
Of all that throng
Found tongue-
Not any other.
Close to His heart
When embrace was done,
Old Joseph said,
“How is your Mother,
How is your Mother, Son?”

-Sister Mary Ada
The Reign Of Mary -Vol. XXV, No 76