Homemade Beef Jerkey

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Even many jam and pickle county fair blue ribbon winners don't like to mess with preserving meat.  While canning books assure newbies that they're unlikely to kill someone with strawberry jelly gone wrong, just preparing meat for dinner involves sanitizing your cutting boards and knives.  Trying to preserve something that wants to spoil so readily feels like asking for food poisoning.

But even if you're just starting out, I encourage you to attempt to dry a batch of your own beef jerkey.  Not only is it delicious and handy for hikes and car trips, by making your own you can control what goes into it.  You'll have a jerkey with ingredients you can actually pronounce!  

While drying your own jerkey has its pitfalls, they're relatively easy to avoid.  

For starters, I highly recommend reading “Making Jerkey at Home” from the University of Oregon Extension.  It's much more thorough than its USDA counterpart, and lays out several methods of safe jerkey making.  Some other tips include:

  • While you can play with the spices you use to flavor your meat, try to keep the salt in the recipe you chose at least close to the same.  Some recipes don't bother, but I always toss in a bit of curing salt as well, for extra insurance.
  • Make sure you're heating your jerkey to the right temperature.  Get an oven thermometer to check that your oven or dehydrator is really as warm as the dial says.
  • Heat treat your jerkey to 275 degrees for 10 minutes when it's finished, and then let it sit in an airtight container for 2-4 days to allow any remaining moisture to redistribute.  This will help even out any overly dry or moist spots.  If condensation forms on the container during that time, you'll also know that your jerkey needs to go back in the oven for more drying time.
  • Lastly―and this is just a good rule for life, really―don't eat moldy food.  If, after storing it for a bit, your jerkey smells “off” or is growing critters, toss it out.

Here's a simple jerkey recipe to get you started.  It's a salty/sweet combination, but if you want a bit more of a kick add some red pepper flake or increase the amount of adobo sauce.

Homemade Beef Jerkey 

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds round steak or similar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon “pink” or curing salt 
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 cup water

Directions

Put the meat in the freezer for 2-4 hours before your start; it will make it easier to slice.  Once the meat is about half frozen, use a sharp knife to slice it into strips that are about 1/8 inch thick.  It's more important that the meat slices are of similar thickness to each other than it is that they're all of perfect thickness.

Once the meat is sliced, place it in a plastic baggie and add the remaining ingredients.  Remember, you can play with the spices, but keep the salt at least close to the same.  Seal the baggie, place it in a large bowl (in case of leakage), and pop the whole thing in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, spread the meat out evenly on dehydrator trays or on racks in your 150 degree oven.  Dry until the meat will crack, but not break when you bend it.  That should take approximately 6 hours in a dehydrator and may take double that time in an oven.

Either way, finish the jerkey by heating it for 10 minutes in a pre-heated, 275 degree oven.  Allow the jerkey to cool, pat off any oil that has collected, and place in an airtight container for 2-4 days for conditioning.  Give the container a shake once a day―this will help distribute any moisture left more evenly―and if you notice condensation forming on the container put the jerkey back in the dehydrator or oven to dry more.

Store the jerkey in a cool, dark, dry place.  It will last a few weeks at room temperature, a few months in the fridge, and for up to a year frozen.

Thomas Jefferson Inspired Mac'n'Cheese

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Thomas Jefferson―who would be a youthful 271 years old today if he were still alive―has plenty of well-known achievements.  But my favorite bit of historical trivia about the author of the Declaration of Independence is much more humble:  Jefferson was partly responsible for importing the recipe for macaroni and cheese to the United States.

Before he became president, Jefferson spent about 4 years as ambassador to France.  In addition to his diplomatic duties, Jefferson used the opportunity to study French food, wine, and agriculture.  Jefferson specifically brought James Hemings, a slave, with him to learn French cooking.  The two made an agreement that if Hemings would become an expert chef and then train another slave when the two returned to the United Stated, Jefferson would free him.

As you may have guessed by now, macaroni and cheese was one of the dishes Hemings learned to make.  It was later served at a few Monticello and White House dinners, and from there trickled down to the masses to become the comfort food we all love today.

While no copies of the recipe Hemings used exist today, historians believe that the recipe in The Virginia Housewife by Jefferson's daughter, Mary Randolph, is probably close.  As that recipe is extremely simplified―it's less than 50 words―I offer a more modern version below.  

Being the incredible innovator that he was, I have to think Jefferson wouldn't mind.

Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

Pasta and Add-Ins

  • 16 ounces penne or elbow pasta
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced.
  • 5 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained (or similar amount of a vegetable of your choice)

Sauce

  • About 2 Tablespoons reserved bacon grease
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 3 ½ cups milk
  • salt
  • About 8 sprigs of thyme, with the leaves pulled from the stems
  • 1 teaspoon stoneground mustard
  • 2 cups shredded Gouda cheese
  • 2 cups shredded Fontina cheese

Topping

  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 3 Tablespoons of melted butter
  • 2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Fill a large pot with water for boiling the pasta and begin to heat.  When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

As you're boiling the pasta, begin cooking the toppings and cheese sauce.  In a large skillet with high sides, cook the bacon over medium heat until the fat is rendered out.  Remove the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon.  Add the sliced shallot to the same pan and cook until it begins to turn translucent.  Remove the shallot and set aside with the bacon.

Now you're ready to begin the cheese sauce.  Hopefully there will still be about 2 Tablespoons of bacon grease in your pan.  To that, add 1 Tablespoon of butter, and heat until the butter melts.  (If you don't have enough bacon grease left, add a little more butter.)  Then, over low heat, add the flour and whisk like crazy.  You don't want the flour to brown, but it should start to bubble.

Once the flour is bubbling, add the milk.  Keep whisking for 5-6 more minutes until the sauce is thickened.  Then bring the sauce up to a simmer and cook gently―still whisking away―for about 10 more minutes.

Remove the sauce from the heat.  Whisk in the shredded cheese, thyme, mustard, and a pinch of salt to taste.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and pour it back into the pot you cooked it in.  Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta.  Add in the bacon, shallot, and artichoke hearts, as well, and mix until well combined.  Pour the mixture into a 9x13 inch baking dish.

Last, but not least, make the topping.  In a small bowl, mix the garlic, melted butter, breadcrumbs, and cheese.  Using a fork, mix until well incorporated.  Sprinkle the topping onto the prepared pasta and sauce.

Bake the pasta in your pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes.  You'll know it's ready when it smells amazing and the topping is starting to brown.  Scoop a generous serving into a big bowl and wish Thomas Jefferson a happy birthday!

A Week With Paw and Gramma Jill

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IMG_5416A slow week of just enjoying each other--naps, a lovely introduction to our new baby niece and cousin, shouts of "Make me fly, Paw!", again and again.  And just enough playing with the dog and adventuring--the gold mine, the train museum, Gramma Jill's prune orchard, the park--to make us feel like we had maybe earned our next yummy meal.

A big thanks once again to Lisa, K.C., Debra, and Stephinie for filling in here!  And congrats to Jessica, who will soon be enjoying some new Sparkle Stories fun.

Handmade Swap [Goodies Received]

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IMG_5192And then my box from Sweet Potato Claire's swap arrived last night.  My goodies came from Kasey in Northern Maine, who runs an Etsy shop full of vintage pretties called Happy Corner General Store.  

It always feels kind of silly to be a grown woman and be so tickled to get a box of surprises, but I always am.  This one was worth being a little silly about though.  All kinds of big beautiful seeds and pods, a clothespin holder, a pretty bookmark, and a big bar of chocolate for me; a sweet little stuffed monkey for the Kid (already adopted and getting cuddles).

Thank you, Kasey, you made our day!