Saturday, July 30, 2016

Making Homemade Tasso

      One of the delicacies I stocked up on while in Louisiana last winter was Tasso, a specialty chunk bacon-like meat seasoned and smoked by Cajuns that is used in many dishes such as Gumbo, Jambalaya, Grits, nearly anything that strikes your fancy.  It adds a mild sweet & smoky, seasoned flavor to any dish.  Unfortunately I only bought 2 pounds which doesn't last long if you love to cook Cajun as I do.  So, after a bit of research as well as calling the folks at Poche's in Breaux Bridge, LA I decided to try my hand at making my own homemade Tasso. 
      Tasso is made from Pork Shoulder or Butt, which is the fore shoulder of a pig.  I purchased two 'butts' in the 4 pound range. 

      Then it is just a matter of trimming the pork of excess fat and cutting into manageable pieces of your desired size.  I cut mine into sliced chunk pieces of about 1/2 to pound.  Remember.....dried, smoked meat will shrink. 

For my total of 4 pounds of pork the seasoning recipes includes:
3 TB  salt
3 TB cayenne pepper
1 TB freshly ground black pepper
1 TB white pepper
1 TB paprika
1 TB cinnamon
1 TB garlic powder or granulated garlic

After mixing all the dry ingredients I rub the pork liberally with this and place on a tray.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least overnight.  Preferably several days; I did mine for a week. 

Prepare the smoker by firing it up adding several pieces of seasoned wood (I used cherry) to build a bed of coals and establishing a temperature of about 225 degrees in the main chamber.  I will place the pork in the vertical stack #2 chamber which maintains about 100 degree lower temps. 

I use an Oklahoma Joes Wood Pit Smoker I have had for 23 years.  High quality welded iron, dependable, and cooks like a dream.  A very large horizontal main chamber that will hold 2 large turkeys, several briskets, or several racks of ribs at once.  The 20" vertical #2 chamber has several shelves that cook about 100 degrees cooler.   I use this chamber for smoking fish or hanging larger chunks of venison or pork.  Low and slow smoke.  You can drape the pork over rods or lay flat on grills.  I laid mine flat on the racks, turning occasionally. 

Maintain the smoker temp at 150 degrees for the first 2 hours and then 185 degrees for the final 2 hours.  I found that putting the Tasso in the vertical chamber during the first two hours and finishing up the final two hours at higher heat in the horizontal chamber worked well.  When finished the Tasso will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 10 days and it also freezes very well for those future winter meals. 

Gumbo, grits, jambalaya and many we come! 

"Somewhere lives a bad Cajun Cook, just as somewhere must live one last ivory billed woodpecker.  For me I don't expect to encounter either one" 
                                                                 William Least Heat-Moon

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Retirement Remodeling at the Ponderosa (Part 1)

      Sometimes I find it a bit odd that we decided to do most of the remodeling we always wanted to do on our house after we retired.  Most folks would have probably done such a task while still working, but like others we figured we would always have time.  This, apparently, is that time.  So we have dedicated ourselves to a part of this endeavor each summer.  In all actuality this should be called Part 2 as we bought the house in 1999 and our first big remodel project was adding the front porch and shutters in 2004.  We have a 117 year old farmhouse that Barb LOVES with the second story being added a mere 70 years ago.  As with any old house comes 'old problems' and we have had our share.  From plumbing to septic to heating to just about anything.  We have a master plan and this is year one:  flooring.  We have researched this for several years now with the help of my best friend in Wisconsin who is an expert in the industry.  We have decided to go with a synthetic vinyl covered flooring, US Floors Coretec who is a leader in the market.  This is a synthetic core tongue and groove-matched plank flooring with a vinyl covering that is guaranteed for life against anything, including warping, scratches, and moisture.......and it is waterproof.  After hours of online looking at many different styles and colors we decided on Gold Coast Acacia.  We felt it would match well with our farmhouse interior oak wood design and Robin's Egg Blue walls. 

US Floors Coretec "Gold Coast Acacia" Sample Picture
      After contacting US Floors directly for advice we finally found several local distributors and installers that would give us an estimate.  We were very satisfied with the cost and honesty we received from Cash & Carry Flooring in Traverse City.  From tearing up and hauling off our old carpeting, surveying, leveling, and repairing (if needed) the existing underlayment, as well as moving the furniture during installation their price was the best (under $7000 for 728 square feet). We paid for our in-stock materials in advance as well as scheduled installation two months in advance so that we could get our fireplace hearth tile replaced first.  This would make it easier for the wood flooring installers to connect. 
      Fireplace hearth tile was installed by our best friend and master craftsman, Mark Zepplin.  He traveled from Waupaca, WI to do us the honor.  I was absolutely NO HELP here at all other than to play host, provide tasty meals, and play gopher whenever I could.  Mark is indeed an artist and skilled craftsman and watching him work was truly an experience. 

Tearing out the old crappy tile and subflooring

Initial design, prep, and 'first grout' of the Travertine Tile
The finished fireplace hearth with Travertine Tile
       Several weeks later the scheduled date of flooring installation finally arrived.  This was to be a multi-day project.  Even though the installers are responsible for moving furniture Barb and I got as many boxes as possible and moved much of the contents on the many shelves and bookcases out of the way.  One of the inevitable things about an 117 year old farmhouse is the plethora of issues that arrive when remodeling.  Once the flooring guys got all the carpet torn out they discovered what they thought was a 'soft spot', but was in fact a completely missing piece of subfloor that had to be repaired.  We also discovered an old power outlet that had been covered up.  We made sure it was NOT live before moving on. 

      Moving along while dodging the minor crappola, including those leveling issues that required several bags of self leveling patch the guys did great.  US Floors Core Tec simply snaps together and adapts to anything.  By the afternoon of Day #1 they had begun laying flooring in the dining room and by the completion of Day #2 they had completed the dining room and the living room.  This allowed us to get some of the furniture back into place and prepare to move the last of the (far) living room furniture for completion. 

      Day #3 marked the completion of the project by early afternoon.  The installers at Bay View Flooring and Cash & Carry Flooring Wholesalers are a class act.  They provided us exactly what we wanted at a very reasonable price, allowed us to schedule a date far enough in advance for us to also complete our fireplace hearth project, and installed the entire project within time guidelines by two guys that met every challenge easily.  It was obvious they loved their work; they sure are good at it.  Our entire project came in $3200 under what we figured in our original plans, but that is partly due in part to our naiveté'. 

      Although there is still quite a bit yet to do, this completes our summer #1 renovation projects.  Wheeeew, time for some kicking back, BBQing, and camping. 

"Living through a home renovation is like living in the do whatever it takes to survive"
                                                                      Author unknown

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Hog Island (more than an overnighter)

Lake Michigan View from Hog Island Beach
      We've been home for 9 weeks now.  Since we're past planting the garden, my cataract surgery, and waiting for the new flooring to be installed we thought we'd steal 7-8 days to get away to the Upper Peninsula.  Just across the Mackinac Bridge and then 40 miles to the west on US 2 is the Hog Island State Forest Campground.  This is used by most folks as an overnight on their way to somewhere else in the Great North.  We've been here before several times and there is actually quite a bit to do in the area (besides just relaxing and walking on the beach watching incredible sunsets). 
      This campground is host to some 50 sites that are able to accommodate up to 40 foot RVs at the nominal price of $13.  There is no electricity, but water is available via hand pump and vault toilets are throughout the park.  Each site has a nice fire ring and picnic tables as well.  Most of the sites are snuggled within the large cedar trees in the area, but about 12 sites are located directly on the northern shores of Lake Michigan.  I like to get one of these whenever possible for solar panel use.  The island itself is located about 200 yards offshore and is home to many shorebirds.  The water isn't deep; many folks either canoe or kayak out to the island, but some years it is possible to reach by wading as well. 
View towards Hog Island early morning
Home to many birds
      Most of the shoreline is rocky, but there is a large sandy beach of several hundred yards to the immediate east of the park......perfect for walking that pooch.  Within a mile to the east is the Hog Island Country Store, which besides it's quaint antique feel, is home to a small selection of essential groceries as well as local delights like fudge, fish, etc.  They also offer several small very nice cabins for the local traveler.   
Hog Island Country Store
      7 miles further to the west along US 2 is the village of Naubinway.  A full range of services including gas, groceries, hardware, firewood, etc. is located here should you need them.  If the 'golf bug' bites, the Hiawatha Sportsman's Club Golf Course is located just west of Naubinway as well. Barb and I were more of a mind just to kick back for a couple of days and relax.  No rockhounding this time.....walk on the beach, read, listen to music, see sunsets, and enjoy some fire pit cooking.  To my bride's surprise I kept the menu pretty simple this trip:  Tacos, French Dip Sandwiches, Brats, Finger Food Night, Hot Dogs, and Aus Spit Roasted Chicken.  I also brought along some French Breakfast Radishes fresh from our garden.  These elongated red/white beauties have a crisp snap and a bit of a pepper bite as well.  Additionally, the green tops make for a delicious addition to any salad.  They are a great addition to any meal or just for finger food snacking.  They are so prolific, we enjoy them all summer. 
French Breakfast Radishes
      The trip in was pretty uneventful unless you were headed the opposite direction with the other 234,000 tourists returning back home after the Independence Day Weekend.  The line to cross the Mackinac Bridge south was backed up to the west onto US 2 for nearly 2 miles.  In fact there was a portable traffic light set up about 15 miles west of the bridge also to help keep the traffic from backing up even further. 
      This is the first time we have taken our new rig McMansion into this particular campground.  Unfortunately we didn't fit into any of the lake side spots previously discussed so we set up camp in the drive through spot at the intersection of the two loops.  Not on the water, but within easy walking distance.  

      We did 'water up' at Straits State Park north of the bridge and arrived at Hog Island with 48 gallons of fresh water.  The wells were being repaired on this visit, but toward the end of our trip we were able to find free water for top off in the village of Naubinway at the Marina Harbor.  Just a matter of a 7 mile trip with 2  6 gallon jugs.  Besides just 'kicking back' we did get some geocaching in (although we were a sad 3 for 6) and Roux enjoyed walks on the beach, and in the water nearly every day.
Roux loving dat water!
      Like stated earlier I made a much simpler menu this week which made Barb happier as well.  We had 2 days of rain which necessitated some 'switch to inside cooking items', but still worked out just fine.  Camping food is always the best.  I did discover that I planned one meal 'short', but Naubinway has a wonderful Pasty Shop which always fits the bill. 
Aus Spit Roasted Chicken
Finger Food Night:  Gator Bites, Boudin, Cheese, Crackers, Dips, and Stuffed Olives
Steak Um French Dip Sandwiches

      It was a very nice week with temps running much nicer in the low to mid 70s compared to the high 80s low 90s at home.  We did have 2 days of rain which didn't allow for much solar power, but the Honda Generator made a couple of 'Movie Days' very nice anyways.  The campground had anywhere from 5-12 campers each day which is about normal for summer.  There was a large family reunion group coming in today, which made our planned departure seem nearly perfect.  Enroute home we ran into a huge line RVs waiting to 'dump' at Straits State Park so we headed 4 miles north of St. Ignace and dumped our 'stuff' at Kewadin Shores Casino which has a decent campground ($20), but a free dump station as well. 
Hog Island sunset
      We averaged a very nice 13.4 mpg towing on this trip.  We head home now to get straightened up and await the flooring installers that invade our home this week.  Only 79 days till we head south again before the snow flies.

"The dog is a reflection of your energy, of your behavior.  You have to ask what am I doing.  That's the right question to ask"
                                                                                Cesar Millan

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