Saturday, December 29, 2012

DIY Homemade Bacon

The difference between homemade bacon and store bought bacon is incredible. You just have to taste it to believe it.

When you buy a pound of bacon at the store, after it's fully cooked leaves about a quarter pound of meat to eat. That means you just cooked off over three quarters of what you bought. What you are buying is water. They inject the meat with water to increase the weight per package so they get more money and you get less product. At four dollars a pound when bought, means you are eating the finished product at sixteen dollars a pound. Now that is some expensive meat.  If you don't believe me look it up. It is all about marketing.
Same with the bag of chips you buy. The bag looks full at the store, but when you get it home and open it the bag is only half full of chips and the rest it air. But yet you still paid full price.

Homemade bacon is also a lot better tasting. I describe it as "Richer" in flavor than the store bought stuff.  Once you bite into your bacon there is no turning back. It will ruin you and regular store bought stuff will never taste good again. Kinda like farm fresh eggs compared to those nasty store bought, runny, unflavored eggs. Once you eat them right out of your nest boxes no other egg will do. 

This kind of bacon is also better for you. The feed fed to the slaughter pigs and our other meats we buy at the store has so many bad things added to it I am surprised it's not pulled off the shelves. Your own bacon can have whatever you desire in it and can have the flavor you want being fed from your own garden scraps or the plane grass fed taste. The flavor of your pork is up to you. You think I am kidding, just try it. Compare two pork chops side by side cooked the same way with one being pasture raised and the other feed lot raised and you can taste a difference. Then add in a store bought pork chop and you see and taste a really big difference.

Saying all that, I have had requests on how I did my own bacon so I thought I would post about it. This is what I did.

You need to have some pork belly to make bacon. Canadian bacon is from another part of the pig, but for this post we are talking about Real Bacon from the pigs belly. You can either raise and slaughter the pig yourself, buy a pig already processed or just buy the pork belly from the market.
My opinion is, the cost is a little more to raise one yourself, but the end results are much better and you know what's in it the meat.

After you get your pork belly you need to trim it into more manageable rectangles. I ended up with four pieces about five pounds each.
Next I washed each piece and patted them dry. Then I put them in their own two gallon zip lock bags.
In a bowl I mixed up for each bag,
3/4 cup of sugar, 3/4 cup of brown sugar, 1 heaping tablespoon of pickling salt, 1 heaping tablespoon of black strap molasses 1 heaping tsp of pink curing salt and 1 heaping tsp ground black pepper.
After it was all mixed up I put this mixture into each zip lock bag with the meat and placed in the refrigerator.
Each day you have to take each bag out, flip it and massage the curing mixture into the meat, then put them back into the refrigerator. Do this for 7 to 10 days.
Being that my pork belly was a little thinner I chose to take it out on the 7th day. If your cut of meat is thicker then you might want to go the full 10 days before you take it out.
Another way to tell if your meat is cured, it should be firm to the touch. If it still feels like raw, thawed meat then you need to add a little more salt and keep it in the curing mixture a couple days longer.

When you are done curing, take each chunk of meat out and wash it, dry it and then put in back into the refrigerator uncovered for another day so it can rest.

When it comes to cold smoking there are many different ways to do it so I will only cover the way I do it.
I use Hickory, but you can use whatever you want to flavor the meat like apple, oak, maple, plum or peach. Remember that mesquite is very strong and really does not taste that good on bacon.  I made my own cold smoker a while back and if you search the blog you will find a couple of posts about it. Being it is made out of wood I have to keep the temps down or the pine will bleed into the meat.                  
Depending on how strong you want your smoke flavor depends on how long to smoke it. Usually the rule is two to four hours so I do mine at three hours and it seems to be just right. Of course the thicker the meat the more smoke you want. If you have real thin cuts you may just want a couple hours of smoke or it will be way to smoky.

I cut the hickory into chunks and soak them in water about an hour before they go on the fire. I start my fire with oak and when I get a good bed of coals going I put on the hickory chunks. Then add the meat to the smoker. I never let the smoker get over 130 degrees with the best temperature being around 110. Remember, you don't want to cook the meat, just flavor it. 

After you are satisfied your meat has received enough smoke and flavor then its time to get it off the smoker and let it cool. Some put it in the ice box for a couple of hours to firm it up even more, but I just let it sit on the counter until I get everything out and ready for the slicing and vacuuming.

After everything is set up I take my little meat slicer and get to work. This way I can make each piece the same thickness every time. I like mine a little thicker than what you buy at the store. I would guess they are about and 1/8 inch think.
If you use a slicer you will eventually get down to where you can't slice it anymore. I take that strip of meat and cut it up into chunks, vacuum those so I can add them to a pot beans later. The other night I add a few chunks to a pot of white beans and wow, you could really taste the bacon in there with each bite.

    After all four pieces of cured and smoked pork belly was sliced up into bacon I weighed out the pieces into one pound piles and then vacuumed each one.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Smoking Bacon And Making Water

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and I wish the same for New Years.

I have lived in North Texas for forty one years and I can now say I have seen two White Christmases. We had some really bad storms come through followed by a bunch of snow that has completely shut down this part of the country.

I finally get to go back to work tomorrow, but sitting around these last few days has been, well, boring. I have done what I could, but other than that my main job has been to keep wood in the house and the fire going.

With deep freezes on a homestead, problems can occur even with the best plan laid out. You still have to go out twice to three times a day to break ice so the animals can get water. The sewer sprinklers still freezes and you have to conserve water use. You still have to drip water in the sinks so your pipes won't freeze and break and the list goes on and on. Add in Christmas and the kids down the road get a new 4-wheeler and want to run through your yard and now you have many more problems.

 Christmas Eve I started early by cold smoking my own bacon. I have waited all summer to do this and that day was the day to do it.
The pork belly has been curing in the icebox for the past seven days and I had perfect weather to get it smoked.
I used Hickory to flavor the meat for four hours at a low temp then took the smoked pork in the house to slice up as bacon. When it was all done, the summer pig made twelve pounds of the best tasting bacon you ever had.
I can tell you this, if you haven't had home made bacon before you need too. It is so much better than that store bought crap.
Next is the hams but that takes a little longer to do.  

While the bacon was on the cold smoker I went ahead and set up the Bio Sand Filter. I know I said I would not do this until the spring, but I do not have any patience and needed to get it out of my shop anyway.   
 After 150 pounds of pee gravel and 500 pounds of sand, I had water. I ran through about 20 gallons of water and it turned pretty and clear.
I won't be able to start using it until the spring, but at least it is out of the shop.

Other than that it has been just fixing one thing after another. The solar heater in the shop had it up in the sixties while the sun was out yesterday, but today the sun has been overcast and it stayed cold in there so not much work has been done in the shop.
One a good note, the kids got me a really nice framing nail gun for Christmas that I really did need so I am excited about that. I am getting ready to get started on the little condos for them, but first I need to find the money to buy a generator so I can go down to our old house on the farm and start disassembling it so I can use that lumber to build the condos. I just can't afford one right now.

That's all I got for now. I wish you all a great new years. It looks like new years dinner is on me this time so I am sure we will have a house full.     

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Post To Say I Posted

I asked the wife to send me some pictures of what she took this weekend and you can see how that turned out. Yup, no pictures.
So I will just post without them. I guess I could have took them myself, but being that I am not a slave to my phone like all them others, I don't carry it with me. I do not have a separation disorder when it comes to my cell phone. I could care less if I saw my phone for days on end, so saying all that I will get along with the post.

The sawdust fire log press is, well,  pressing. I should have made several presses so it would not take as long to do one log. This new mixture should work out just fine. I will know soon enough.

The wife added three more hens to her little yard family. We are not going back into the chicken business by no means, but these new hens will supply us with the much needed eggs we are lacking. The ones we have now are getting upwards to four years old and are not laying as much as they did when they were a "spring chicken", (if you got it, that was funny right there)   
Last weekend I had to buy eggs and I don't like buying eggs.They taste awful and have no color.

The gardens are all prepped and ready for the new growing season, the greenhouse is also clean and prepared for seeds next month.
I have a new way I am going to plant the taters this February because the potato towers did not yield as much as they should have last year. I will show that when it's time. 

The Bio Sand Filter is coming along and will be set up this weekend. I won't put it in operation till the spring but at least I will get it out of my shop.

I have to re-do all the elements of the solar pump box that attaches to the rain water harvesting system and waters our gardens and animals because,
Number 1, when winterizing everything a week ago I didn't do the pump good enough and it froze and broke the housing. $89 bucks down the drain, my fault.
Number 2, my oldest girls dog thought the cord to the solar panel was a play thing and ripped it out of the back of the panel, it is unrepairable. Another $80 dollars lost in the wind, but still my fault. 

I took this Friday off work. Do you know why? No it's not because I'm afraid the end of the world is coming, I am afraid of all the ones that do. When did they say it was going to happen, I think it was around 10 or 11 in the morning? Are they taking in account daylight savings and what time zone was that?
I think after it's all over I might run down and pick up a new fire arm or two just because I still can. I bet we won't be able to say much longer.  

Can you tell I'm a little agitated today?
I think it's because I had to cancel my vacation to Bora Bora this morning. I had it all set up with reservations and then I converted the Franks over to American money and had to cancel. Did you know a week there would have cost me eighty thousand dollars? For one week! 

Other than that, everything is peachy. The bills are still coming in the mail, The dogs still bark, The pig still eats too much and I am still working way too many hours, but I am breathing and everyone is healthy. (Knock on wood)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Over Possessive Father With Seperation Issues

My next big project was going to be a network of step down porches outback with the one closest to the house being inclosed for the wife's plants and coffee room.  I also need the cooking and entertaining areas to be a little more functional than they currently are.
The designs have been drawn out, material lists have been made and the start date was not too far off on the first phase, but....

I get a call from the oldest daughter last week and she said she is changing her major and after getting her degree at A&M she is moving back home to get her Doctorate at the local college. Of course I am all for it and before she was finished talking the little wooden wheels in my head had already started spinning.

I asked her if she was wanting to live in the house or what was she planning.

"Dad, I will be 23 years old and I really don't want to live in the house unless I have to". Is what she said.

I fully understand that and support her decision on it, but it would be a waste of money for her to rent a place in town when she is within driving distance to the college. So, the next best thing is to build her an apartment out back.

Now, by that time the middle daughter will be 21 and attending the local college as well. I do not see any reason she needs to waste money on rent or housing either. So the plans include a small condo type of building. Yesterday while at work I quickly drew up a little floor plan on two 12X12 rooms with a build in desk.   

 I know this picture is hard to see, but if you turn it sideways you get the idea. The condo will not have a bathroom in it because the bathhouse is only thirty feet from it. Plus the main house will be there for them when they need it. Momma will still do the cooking, but they will have their own refrigerator and microwave in there for quick meals.
I was thinking on putting on a small community washroom in the back they could walk into so they will have a quick place to do there makeup and brush their teeth, but I am still undecided on that one.

Here is the problem with the design. By the time all this takes effect, the youngest will be nineteen and will be graduated high school and going into her first year in college. Now I don't know if I should go a head and build three in a row or just the two and tell the youngest to stay in the house.
Ultimately it is their choice to stay or go, live there or live elsewhere, but if I was to give them a free spot to live they can call their own and could save money until they started their careers, then they might stay around for a little while and still have the freedom of living on their own, kinda.

I know this is a big build and one that is kinda possessive. No, I never want my girls to leave, but I do know eventually they are going to. I am just thinking while they are in college this would be a great way we all stay together and they save money.

What's your thoughts on this? Is this over the top and I have possessive and separation issues, or is this something that a good dad would do to help his kids out?  Would you have lived in something like this while going to college if it were an option?
I am in the middle on this one.
Thanks for your feedback.        

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Welcome New Members

Hear are some new folks I wanted to welcome to the Modern Day Redneck family.
Coffeekittie, lisa.berry01 and Rhonda

Welcome and Thank y'all for hitting the button and becoming a part of this mess. If you have any questions my email is on the right side of the blog or you can just leave a comment. I always respond.

I look forward in hearing from you and thank you again.

Monday, December 10, 2012

By The Fire

Eleven and a half hours at work on Saturday left me with little time to do anything this weekend.

After a very long and tiring week all I wanted to do was relax and sit by the fire.
While I relaxed and the wife and I sat chatted it up, I thought what a great time to see how the Pressed Sawdust Fire Loge would preform.

Even though it was fun and I enjoyed sitting out there relaxing, the fire log did not preform the way I wanted it to.
There is a happy medium in the blend of materials used and I didn't get it right.
The log refused to burn. That means I had too much sawdust in the mixture.  All the log did was smolder. I ended up having to break it up in order to get it to burn and even then it took forever.

I was thinking that if you had an unlimited supply of sawdust you could build one heck of a fire resistant room from these things. The insulation value would be through the roof. I guess you could use a mixture of water and ash as a paste for the mortar. Hu, that be something to think about.  
The next one I press will have less sawdust, more paper and more wood ash. If that don't work I might need to ease up on the down pressure and not get it so tight.

All Day Sunday was spent getting everything ready for the freeze. We have had a very warm fall and if I would have known that I would have planted more things in the gardens, but sure enough if I did it would have froze already.

That's all I got for now. Have a great week.    

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sunday At The Stove

I told you at the beginning of the week I wanted to break down the events of last weekend so I would have something to write about.
 Being I work till dark everyday and can't get much done in the evenings besides shower, shave and eat, I have been lacking on posts. I think I made up for it this week though.

After all the little things I did on Saturday like the Bio Sand Filter and the Sawdust Log Press plus some other odds and ends, I found myself without much to do on Sunday.
The first thing I did was install a men's urinal in my shop.
Yes, that is a funnel going out the wall held on by bailing wire. 

Next, my mom calls me and tells me the local grocery has potatoes on sell for 19 cents a pound. Being I did not have that great of a potato harvest this year I jumped on the chance to put some up. So I ran up to the store and got 55 pounds of taters.

I began by pealing every one of them by hand. Great for the compost bins, hard on the hands.

 Okay, I picked up this 1960s slicer at a garage sell for a buck. Now, I am around heavy equipment all day that can kill you and in my shop I operate all kinds of saws that can dismember and hurt you. This little thing right here is the most dangerous thing I have ever operated. All I could think of is my fingers being taken off a quarter inch at a time.

Enough of all that so I went and grabbed my meat slicer and went to town on those potatoes.

After blanching the slices and soaking them in lemon water for a few minutes I put them on the dehydrator. 

The finished product is several jars nicely filled with a serving of potatoes I can use in all kinds of dishes. 
I think the shelf life for these is four years.

I also shredded some and vacuum sealed them up for hash browns.

No, that wasn't all the taters, I dehydrated twenty pounds, kept ten pounds to eat, made ten pounds of potato salad, and shredded fifteen pounds for hash browns.
I can tell you this, my feet were tired when it was all done.

That's all I got done on Sunday and it's all I got for now.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bio Sand Filter

Even though I was a little bored this weekend and looking for things to do and after the sawdust log press idea was up and working I started on the Bio Sand Filter.

But first off I want to tell you about this. Remember a month or so ago I built a Solar Distiller and no matter what I did, the thing would not work? I finally gave up, excepting that it kicked my butt and it has been sitting there taunting me ever since.
You know I can't let it end like that. I refuse to let something kick me when I am down. I took the solar distiller apart weekend before last, redesigned it a little, then rebuilt it. You know what, the stupid thing works. Not enough to call momma about, but it works. Now it makes about a gallon of clean distilled water a week as long as the sun is out. Not bad for a two foot by two foot piece of glass.

The Bio Sand Filter will be a work in progress. I cannot fully set it up and get it working due to winter coming in. They don't work that well in freezing temps unless it is in an enclosed area or insulated to the max with some added source of heat. The living organisms need warm temperatures and oxygen to survive. So for the time being and since I was bored, I decided to go ahead and start building it.

The picture above is of the finished look. The five gallon bucket is mounted on the top of the 55 gallon drum. You can also see the outflow to the right.

Inside the five gallon bucket is a pipe with holes in it. This will filter out anything big and any heavy solids. Rain water will be poured into the bucket five gallons at a time or at a constant low flow.
On the underside of the lid and bucket combo a system of pipes and holes defuse the water as it's being poured into the top so the water will not disturb the living colony in the first few inches of the sand. This will let the water gradually enter the sand filter.
If more flow is needed then more perforated  pipe can be added. 

In the bottom of the barrel the collection system is made up of pipe with holes in it as well. This will be covered with pee gravel to about six inches and then sand up to two inches below the overflow.
All materials have to be washed and washed again before put into use.
A two inch layer of water will always be on top of the sand to keep the colony of bacteria eating organisms alive.

How this works is after the initial cleaning by flowing water thought it until it runs clear, three weeks or so the organisms will be alive and well. The unsafe water gets poured into to top, filters down through the sand and clean drinking water comes out the side. Fresh oxygenated water needs to be added weekly to keep everything alive and running right.
The flow on this filter will be determined after the set up and three week growth period. It should, without any problems, produce around 10 gallons of good water a day if not more.
Before I decide to drink any water this device filters, I will take samples from the source and from the outflow of the filter and take them to a lab. Even though I know this will work, I do not want to take any chances.

Around March I plan start the filter up. The idea is to have a float valve inside the top bucked and the rain water from the big tanks gravity feed the float. this will keep a constant flow of water and keep me in a constant supply of clean drinking water. This way I can increase or decrease my flow rate when needed.

I am not sure yet but I will probably still add a cap full of bleach to each gallon before storing. I will have to do some experimenting with that to see if it is needed.

That's all I got for now.  Check back and you see what my boring Sunday had in store.           

Monday, December 3, 2012

DIY Sawdust Fire Log

This weekends activities brought many adventures to the Mini Farm and instead of cramming it all in one post, I decided to share a little throughout the week. 

Believe it or not I found myself bored at one point during the two day weekend. I was sitting in my shop trying to think of something to do and coming up empty. I searched through my project list and soon found many items on the list that were still out of reach or they would have taken several days to build.
All I was looking for was a quick one hour job and I actually found it by tripping over it.

On my way out the door to stand outside, scratch my head and look around for my next great build I tripped over my sawdust bucket. I save all my sawdust in the shop for help with starting fires in the pit. The buckets were piling up getting in the way and I needed to do something with them. I also save all the shredded paper from the house for the same reason and also to put in the compost bin. I also save my wood ash from the fire place for the gardens and for the chickens to dust in. That is when it hit me. I needed something so I can get rid of this stuff and maybe combine them all together. That is when I can up with the Saw Dust Log Press.

I took some cedar 1x6 and some scrap 1x2 with a little hardware and started to build.

This picture is what I finally came up with. I didn't take the time to research this and I am sure there are many designs out there a lot better than this one but I think this design will fit my needs. 

 With the press built I was on a mission to gather all the materials and mix it up to see if this will work.
Taking a few big hand fulls of shredded paper, A two gal bucket of sifted sawdust and a couple of hand fulls of wood ash. I mixed all that with water to a soup like effect. 
 After letting the mixture sit for about an hour to soak, I took hand fulls of the mixture, squeezed out as much water as I could and then began to fill the form all the way to the top.
 Once the form was full I pushed the plunger down by hand as hard as I could to squeeze out some water and then placed a couple weights on the handle to give it some down pressure.
Whenever I thought about it I would go by and push down on the handle to expel out more water. I did this until there was no more water to push out.     

I let the form sit in the sun for a day and then disassembled it to reveal a nice pressed sawdust log.
The log will still need to dry for about a week just like an adobe brick to harden and cure. At this stage it is a little spongy, but it is stiffing up really good.
 I can't wait to see how this thing burns. 

So there you go, a quick and simple way to find another use for all that stuff you are saving. This log can be burnt all by it's self or broke off in sections and used as fire starters.