Charcutepalooza: Lamb Sausages With Garlic Scapes and Mint

This month’s Charcutepalooza challenge was to make sausages in casings. I give you:

Lamb Sausages Seasoned with Garlic Scapes, Mint and Lemon acommpanied by a salad of Baby Greens, Roasted Plums and Chevre

I still can’t really believe that I made real sausages completely from scratch.  It was a battle.  I manifested something terrible by watching the Texas Chainsaw Massacre right before I went into the kitchen to start grinding the meat and stuffing the sausage.  Blood and bits of gristle ended up everywhere, and the project nearly fell apart into chaos and disaster several times. This is also the first month that I’ve been doing a charcuterie project in the hot summer temperatures, so I had to fight to keep the equipment and meat as cold as it is supposed to be when you are making sausage.   I felt complete panic, standing in the kitchen with a gristle-clogged sausage grinder, feeling the meat beginning to warm up, and, to my total horror, noticing the flies starting to buzz around me and the pool of blood. My dogs were in a meat frenzy, feverishly staring at me with wide eyes and drooling open mouths.

I shouldn’t be writing this on the internet to share with the whole universe. It was too awful.

I persevered.  Like any horror movie heroine that lives to see the end of the film, I tried to ignore the blistering summer heat, the blood on my hands and bits of fat and gristle on my clothes and in my hair (!).  You must continue on, since giving up is simply not an option. (Not when the meat cost as much as it did.)

Here I am, though, feeling slightly violated by the whole project but enjoying my sausage nonetheless.

I used a lamb shoulder that I got from the Owen Family Farm. They have wonderful free-range, high quality meat that fit the bill for a charcutepalooza project.

 

My original plan- which I still intend to make- was to grill these sausages and wrap them in warm pita bread with a yogurt-cucumber dressing (like schwarma, but in a sausage). I spiced the lamb accordingly, with garlic scapes, mint, lemon, allspice, cayenne, and coriander. I was cooking for one last night, though, so I just made up a simple little salad for myself and I’m going to do a big dinner some other night. 

the graceful curve of a garlic scape is one of my favorite shapes in the garden right now

I used fresh garlic and grated shallots from the garden, and ground together a selection of dried whole spices. I used J.’s coffee grinder for spices, which I haven’t told him yet, and drives him crazy. The coffee will taste like allspice for the next five batches, but I don’t care. I need to buy a mortar and pestle, it’s true.

Mix the spices with the ice cold meat and it’s ready to go through the grinder.I put all the metal pieces of the meat grinder into the freezer for an hour before hand, hoping to fight off the heat as best I could.

In between these two pictures, everything completely went to shit. When I made pork sausage for last month’s challenge, I just chopped the meat into pieces like you’d use for stew and it ground up just fine. I did the same thing again, but somehow this time the sinew and fat immediately got tangled up inside the grinder. If anything like this happens to you, make sure to put the rest of the meat back in the freezer while you’re doing damage control. I ended up having to cut everything down into much smaller pieces and remove some of the sinew, and after a lot of swearing, I finally ended up where I was supposed to, with a nice bowl of ground meat nestled in a bigger bowl of ice.

After I mixed in some lemon juice and cold white wine to create the primary bind, it was into the casings, which had been soaking in the fridge for a few hours.  I purchased casings from Avedano’s Holly Park Market in San Francisco, a fantastic little butcher shop in Bernal Heights.

hog casings... there's nothing quite like playing around with intestines

I stuffed the casings by hand, which was messy and disgusting. I have a stuffer attachment for the meat grinder but I was so annoyed by the whole machine that I gave up on using it anymore.  At last though…  Sausage!

sausage in a pool of blood and pureed meat... delicious

The biggest things I learned from the issues that arose during this project?

  • If you need to stop grinding for a few minutes, make sure to put your meat back into the freezer to make sure it doesn’t warm up.
  • Michael Ruhlman mentions this in Charcuterie, but I can’t stress it enough: work clean. I kept making a huge mess but I kept putting the meat back into the freezer to clean it up. This is especially important if it turns out you have flies in your kitchen that also want to take part in the charcutepalooza.
  • Be patient and keep going. It will be worth it in the end.

Lamb Sausages with Garlic Scapes and Mint

Makes: about 6 sausages

Cooking Time: um….  allow plenty

Ingredients:

  •  2.25 lb. pork shoulder
  • 1/2 c. ice cold white wine
  • juice from one large lemon
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. shallot, grated
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tbs. garlic scape, minced
  • 1 1/2 tbs. fresh mint leaves, minced
  • 1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp whole allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. whole coriander
  • 1 tsp. dried whole cayenne pepper (a small piece of the pepper)
  • 1/2 dried bay leaf
  • pinch of mace
  • 5 feet of hog casings

1. Soak the hog casings in some cold water for atleast 30 minutes, changing the water atleast twice. Hold one opening up to the tap and run water through it to rinse it out. Set aside (in the fridge) in some cold water until ready to use.

2. Cut the pork into small cubes and put it into the freezer until it’s stiff but not frozen, about 30 minutes.  Combine whole spices (allspice, coriander, bay leaf, cayenne) in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the wine and lemon juice. 

2. Run seasoned meat through a meat grinder using the plate with small openings. Make sure to grind the meat into a bowl set in ice so that the meat stays cold.

3.  Slip the end of the casings onto a sausage funnel and slowly push the ground meat through the funnel and into the casing until all of the meat is inside the casing. Tie off the far end and twist the meat to form individual sausages. Once the sausages are formed, tie off the other end.  If there are any air bubbles you can pierce them with a pin.

Roasted Sausage with Baby Greens and Plums

Serves: 1

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lamb sausage
  • a small bowl of assorted baby lettuces
  • a few pea shoots
  • 3 plums, sliced in half
  • 3 tbs. crumbled goat cheese
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. champagne vinegar
  • fresh cracked black pepper and sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Go pick some lettuce and pea shoots, and give them a quick rinse.

2. Toss sausage and plums in 1 tsp. olive oil and roast on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes or until the sausage is cooked through.

3. Drizzle greens with oil and vinegar. Top with sliced roasted plums, sausage and goat cheese. Season with some salt and pepper and maybe one last drizzle of olive oil.

Stay bloody, all you charcutepaloozers!


 

 

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May Charcutepalooza: Grinding… Honey Biscuits and For Real Homemade Sausage Gravy

My Charcutepalooza project is late. I don’t really care, though, because I was just eating biscuits and sausage gravy, and that’s all that really matters in life.

honey biscuits and sausage gravy

This month’s challenge was a saga, which seems to be the story of the Charcutepalooza in general. I have doubts…  I think I lack the intense love of meat that some of the participants seem to have.  I have an intense love of projects, like canning peaches or growing tomatoes or building my own bookshelves.  Because of this DIY fixation, I gladly jumped on board for the meat adventures. Honestly though, I am a wimpy meat eater and waver between being a vegetarian all the time. I  love love love biscuits and gravy though, so somehow right when I’m about to quit, I get pulled back in.

Before I start in on a speech about how pork fat is the most delicious flavor in the universe, I want to mention a few reasons as to why I barely ever eat it.  First of all, I am a farmer and a gardener. I spend almost every moment of my life keeping things alive, and I have a fundamental feeling of guilt when I contribute to an animal’s death. The chickens that I raise for meat are pastured and lead very happy chicken lives; their eggs are an incredible source of protein, vitamins and minerals, and healthy omega fats, as well as a pleasure to cook with.  And no animals are dying to feed me.

the cookbooks out on my counter right now seem to sum up everything

The next big issue is price and availability.  It’s taken years of work to get where we are, but the farm is finally a place of abundance, with fruit trees, vegetables all year round, a fully stocked pantry with both canned and dry goods, chicken eggs, and wild plants. During the summer I make beautiful curries, soups, stews, salads, and more, and I never really miss having meat around. I hate spending money, and if I have to spend money to get meat, I often go without it. Plus, buying a humanely-raised, organic, free-range piece of meat is often incredibly expensive.   Small farms can’t take advantage of economy of scale (meaning that it’s more cost effective to butcher 1000 pigs than 2), so the meat at the farmers market, while it is high quality, humanely raised, and delicious, has a huge price tag. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining about the prices- you absolutely get what you pay for. I simply use the prices to justify cutting way back on how much meat I eat.  If I really cared about it, I would start raising a few pigs and turkeys on the farm. I’ve thought about it, but somehow it always takes the back burner to more pressing things, like getting my new blueberry bushes planted.

garlic and sage from our garden, and a bone-in pork shoulder roast from Lover's Lane Farm
garlic and sage from our garden, and a bone-in pork shoulder roast from Lover's Lane Farm

Enough talk, though. I still haven’t decided what I want to do about meat eating, but I know thatLover’s Lane Farm raises tasty happy pigs and we will definitely eat the hell out of the sausage I made for this months challenge. If meat starts going to waste or sitting endlessly in the freezer, I vow to quit doing charcuterie projects.

I knew that out of all the sausages I could make, a simple, no frills breakfast sausage would be the best for our household.  I used Michael Ruhlman’s recipe for sage breakfast sausage from Charcuterie, omitting the ginger (we had none) and adding more garlic (we had a lot).

The process of grinding meat was definitely kind of gruesome, but I’m really happy that I know how to do it now. No more Jimmy Dean; breakfast sausage has joined the ranks of bacon which we will only be making ourselves from here on out.

gross gross gross

Things started looking a little more normal after that…  more like sausage.

That brings us to the recipes. Since Lover’s Lane also sells honey, it seemed appropriate to bring honey into the mix here. I bring you… Honey Biscuits with Country Pork Sausage Gravy!

Honey Biscuits

This is an adaptation of Deborah Madison’s Angel Biscuit recipe in Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone. I’ve changed a few things around, but her concept of using yeast, baking soda, baking powder and salt results in quite the lovely biscuit.

Makes: 12 very large biscuits

Cooking Time: about 30 minutes (I put them in the oven and made the gravy while they were baking)

Ingredients: 

  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 4 c. flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 lb. cold butter
  • 1 c. almond milk
  • 1/8 c. honey

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a small bowl, stir the yeast and 1 tsp. of sugar into 1/4 c. of warm water. Set aside.  

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut the cold butter into the the flour mixture with whatever your preferred method (hands, stand mixer, a fork, two knives… it all works) until coarse, pea-sized crumbs are formed. Gently stir in the almond milk, honey, and the yeast mixture, being careful not to overwork the dough. 

3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it for a few minutes to make sure it’s nice and smooth. If you care about pretty biscuits, you can use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to about 3/4″ thick. I use a cup as a biscuit cutter; pick out one from your cabinet that is the size of the biscuit you’d like to make. After cutting out the biscuits, transfer them to a greased cookie sheet to rise for 15-20 minutes. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Caroline’s Country Sausage Gravy

The guy in this commercial isn’t talking about Direct TV, he’s talking about my sausage gravy. Go to 0:32 to see how you will feel if you make it and understand what I am talking about. (I just linked to a commercial, how messed up is that??)

Makes: 2 servings

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. breakfast sausage, preferably homemade
  • 2 tbs. flour
  • 1 c. pork stock (see note*)
  • 1 c. creamy beverage of your choice- milk, skim milk, almond milk, soy milk – it all works fine. (I used rice milk this time because I’m going through a strange bout of paranoia about radiation in California cow milk… I should be over it soon though).

In a saute pan, brown the sausage. (If you’re using crappy sausage from the store, add in a few cloves of minced garlic and some freshly cracked black pepper at this step to fix the seasonings). When the sausage is fully cooked, stir in the flour.  It will coat the sausage and soak up the fat in the pan. If everything looks brown and kind of burned, it means you’re doing it right.

With the heat on medium high, pour in the pork stock, stirring as you go. It will get really bubbly and hot and should thicken up really quickly.

Now stir in your milk product. (Most people will probably use cow milk for a recipe like this – just don’t use half and half or heavy cream or the gravy will be too heavy).  Keep cooking the gravy on medium high heat, stirring continuously, until it has thickened to whatever consistency you like.

Now pour the gravy over your biscuits. If you don’t want to bake, it’s also delicious over mashed potatoes with a side of braised greens.

*Note: The cut of pork that I bought came with a bone, which was a blessing. Instead of using chicken broth, I kept the bone and made a small batch of stock with it while I was grinding the sausage. You could certainly substitute chicken broth if you don’t have pork bones around though.

Enjoy!

Ginger-Orange Smoked Salmon Tacos with Avocado, Tomatillo Salsa, and Roasted Sweet Meat Pumpkin

I’m about to embark on a few weeks of travels, which somehow means that I’ve actually planned in advance and finished the April Charcutepalooza challenge a whole week early.

By this point of the Meat Festivities, I pretty much sit next to the computer like a crazy person waiting for the next month’s challenge to be announced.  When I read “Hot Smoking”…. I groaned. Ugh. Really? J. just bought a new smoker a few months ago and it has been Smoke City at our house, with him literally emerging from a cloud of smoke to wander indoors and ask if we have any more meat in the fridge that he can smoke. It’s not that I don’t think the taste of a slow-smoked chili-garlic-brown-sugar rubbed pork shoulder that drips with juice and falls right off the bone isn’t amazing… I just drank a touch too much champagne one night, happened to eat a lot of these smoked goodies, and now, let’s just say that the smell of smoke in my hair and on my clothing can sometimes make my stomach turn. It’s a pungent aroma, to be sure.

Instead of tackling the more complex charcuterie assignments (curing and smoking a pork loin to make canadian bacon or a pork shoulder to make tasso ham) I opted for the apprentice challenge: hot-smoke a piece of salmon.

I have to rewind here, and explain how we go about the whole process of smoking at our house.  Making smoked meats isn’t difficult, but it is time consuming.  Instead of grilling at high temperatures with charcoal briquettes or gas, hot smoking uses aromatic woods to create an indirect, smoky heat.  The long cooking time  and low heat results in moist, incredibly tender meats.  A pork roast or a chicken will be very dark and smoky looking on the outside, but juicy and pink on the inside.

Using the Smoker


There are so many different methods for smoking (you can use a simple Weber grill too), but I want to explain a little about ours.  J. did a ton of research and ended up choosing the 22.5 ” Weber Smoky Mountain Cooker.  It’s a large smoker with lots of versatility without completely breaking the bank. (I did see him gazing wistfully at the massive $2000 metal beasts, but I don’t even know how we would have gotten one home.)  Learning how to use the smoker and get a good fire was much more challenging for me than actually smoking some salmon.  Here’s the general process that I’ve figured out:

Soak the wood chips.

Now put a pile of charcoal briquettes into the chimney starter. Crumble up a few pieces of newspaper underneath it.
Use a long match to light the newspaper, which will start the charcoal burning.

Don’t mess with anything until the charcoal is hot. It will look like this:

Now dump the coals into the metal ring on the bottom grill rack.

The basic concept of all this is to get a really consistent heat going first, and then put your wood on top of the coals after that.  Since you want the coals to burn for a long time, when you put your hot coals on the grill you should also put some new cold ones on top of these.  We also use added a few big chunks of lump charcoal that burn for quite a long time.

Now you can put the middle section of the smoker on top of the base.  Inside this section is a large metal bowl that needs to be filled with water, helping to keep the meat moist while it smokes.

Replace the front cover, put on the lid, and go do something else for an hour or two.  The goal is for the temperature to be around 200-250 degrees.  Don’t get all antsy and try to start cooking right away; If you wait for it, the coals will create the right kind of low heat that we’re looking for.

Once the temperature gets around 200 degrees, open the front and put your soaked wood chips on top of the coals.  In a few minutes, a really impressive cloud of smoke will start billowing out of the grill.  You’re ready to cook.

And Now… A Recipe

Pigs are great and all, but you must try these fish tacos, with citrusy-spicy-smoky moist chunks of salmon, ripe avocado, sweet red onion, tomatillo sauce, roasted sweet meat pumpkin, topped with sour cream and fresh cilantro.  Not only will these totally blow your mind, but …. shhhh….. a healthy charcuterie recipe? It’s true. Don’t tell anyone.


Ginger-Orange Smoked Salmon Tacos with Avocado, Tomatillo Salsa, and Roasted Sweet Meat Pumpkin

There are several components to this dish, which you by no means have to replicate exactly. Store-bought salsa would be fine, as well as a different winter squash.

Serves: approximately 8, depending on portion size

Cook Time: 1 .5 hrs, not including time to heat up the smoker

Ingredients:

  • Citrus Smoked Salmon (recipe follows)
  • 20 small corn tortillas
  • 3 ripe avocados, diced into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/2 large red onion, minced
  • 1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 4 oz. container of sour cream (creme fraiche would be good here too)
  • Tomatillo Sauce (recipe follows)
  • Roasted Pumpkin (recipe follows)
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges
  • salt and pepper
  • about 1/8 c. extra virgin olive oil (for a quick drizzle before serving)

Heat corn tortillas.  You can do this several ways- either on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven, placed on the grill, or directly on the burner of a stove.  Each method only takes a few minutes, just to heat the tortilla and give it a light toast.  (about 8 minutes in a 350 degree oven, 2 minutes on a hot grill, or 1 minute right on the burner of the stove).

Fill heated tortilla with whatever looks good to you out of the ingredients listed above.  If you want to make them similar to what I did, one tortilla would have about 2 ounces of salmon, 2 tbs. sour cream, 1 tsp. red onion, 1 tsp. cilantro, 1 tbs. tomatillo sauce, 3 cubes of pumpkin, a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lime, and a tiny pinch of salt and pepper sprinkled over everything.

Serve with cold beer or lemonade on a hot day.

Citrus Smoked Salmon

Cooking Time: 1 hour (not including time to start the smoker)

Serves: 8 or more, depending how much fish you put in the tacos

Ingredients:

1 small side of wild salmon, about 2 lbs.*

approximately 1/2 lb. applewood chips, for smoking the salmon

Spice Rub:

  • 1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. orange zest
  • 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed cayenne pepper (feel free to use a little less)
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander seed

Soak applewood chips and start the smoker.

Combine spices together, and rub onto salmon.

Put salmon on the smoker, skin side down, and smoke at 225 degrees for an hour.  If you want a more pronounced smoky flavor, leave the salmon on another 30-60 minutes.  Take the salmon off the grill. Cut into rough chunks to put into the tacos. (I like the skin, but you can remove it if you want).

*This happened to be the nicest piece of salmon I had access to; the size is really quite arbitrary.  Normally I would have bought just one small filet and made less of the spice rub.

Tomatillo Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 dried cayenne chili, crushed
  • 15 oz. can of tomatillos, including the liquid
  • 4 tbs. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 c. roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tsp. lime juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a saute pan, heat up the olive oil on medium heat. Saute the garlic and crushed chilis for 2-3 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan and simmer for 5-6 minutes (just to heat everything through and blend the flavors together).  Transfer ingredients to a blender or food processor and give the sauce a few pulses, but not enough to completely puree.  Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot over the salmon, or chill and serve as a cold salsa.

Roasted Pumpkin

Roasted pumpkin pairs well with the salmon. It tastes clean and light but still has a rich sweetness.  I used Sweet Meat, which I think has a great texture.  You could also use butternut squash or sweet potatoes.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 small pumpkin, with the seeds removed
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the pumpkin, cut side up, on a cookie sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Roast for one hour, or until the pumpkin is completely cooked through.  Remove from the oven and cool for about 10 minutes (or until it’s comfortable to handle). Slice into 1/2″ cubes.

Kale and White Bean Stew

We’ve been busy… planting zinnias, carrots and camelias, getting compost ready for May planting time, making orange marmalade and so much more.

grow!

This stew is the “holy crap I’m way too exhausted to cook anything elaborate but I really want to eat something healthy with vegetables and not just pasta” dinner.  If you have a lot of kale in your life right now, this is a good dish to make. Also if you happen to be short on time, energy or money.  It’s can easily be made vegetarian or vegan if you want. Such a simple list of ingredients, too: greens, broth, noodles, beans, cheese.

Kale and White Bean Soup

Cooking Time: 30 minutes minimum, but you can let it simmer longer

Serves: 6

  • 1 slice of home cured bacon or pancetta, diced (store bought is fine too, but it sure seems like there are a lot of people curing there own bacon these days… you could absolutely omit the meat altogether if you don’t have any in the fridge that day)
  • 1 tsp. butter or olive oil
  • 2 medium bunches or 1 very large bunch of kale, rinsed and roughly chopped (any variety will do; feel free to substitute chard, collards, mustard greens or even dandelion greens, taking care to adjust cooking time for the specific greens that you choose)
  • 2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 cans cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 oz. shaved parmesan or romano cheese
  • 8 oz. of uncooked chiocciole noodles available from Bionaturae (substitute large macaroni noodles)
  • salt and fresh cracked pepper

1. Bring a medium sized pot of water to boil for cooking the noodles.  Season the water with salt.

2. In a large soup pot, melt butter on medium heat. Add diced bacon and saute for 4-5 minutes, or until it begins to brown. Add the chopped kale into the pot and saute for 2-3 minutes, or until the kale begins to wilt. Pour in the stock and bring the stew back up to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, or until kale is tender. If too much stock cooks off, add some water to thin the stew out again. Gently stir in the beans, and cook on low for 10 more minutes to bring the flavors together.  Season with salt and pepper.

3. While you are cooking the kale, cook the noodles separately in the pot with boiling water (I cook them separately to avoid overcooking the noodles and ruining the consistency of the broth). Cook to al dente, drain, and set aside.

4. To serve, put hot noodles into soup bowls, ladle the stew over the top of them, and give a few stirs to mix everything together.  Top with a liberal amount of shaved parmesan cheese.  Sweet potato biscuits or sourdough bread are great with this if you’re feeling extra inspired, and maybe a beet salad.

Happy eating and have fun out in the sunshine!

UPDATE: 10/26/11

I wanted to update this post with a local source for my favorite beans in the universe. West Side Renaissance Market in Ukiah sells heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, a farm in Napa. They grow the best beans I’ve ever tasted- they’re meaty, rich, flavorful, and delicious simply simmered in some stock with few or no other ingredients.  Up until recently, I thought you could only buy their beans closer to the Bay Area, and when I discovered them at the WRM,  I bought a pack of their Cannelini beans and made this recipe.  The cannelini beans from Rancho Gordo are huge, the size of lima beans or butter beans. I don’t always follow the proper instructions for cooking with dried beans, but it never seems to matter. If you want to add dried beans instead of the canned beans the original recipe calls for, here’s the instructions:

Cooked Cannelini Beans

Soak dried beans for two hours. Drain. In a large stock pot, combine beans with a lot of water. I never measure…  I would estimate a ratio of about 1 part beans to 5 parts water. Keep an eye on the pot, if the water gets low you should add more water to keep the beans from burning. Add a liberal amount of sea salt and a few sprigs of fresh herbs like bay leaves or thyme.  Simmer the beans on very low heat for about 4 hours, or until they are completely tender but not falling apart. Drain, and set aside until you’re ready to combine them with the other ingredients in the stew recipe above.

The pound package of beans yields more than the two cans of beans called for in the original recipe, so I added another bunch of kale and a little more broth. Just eyeball it for whatever you’re in the mood for, though, and it will be fine.  If you don’t want to put in the full amount of beans, the Rancho Gordo website suggests puréeing the leftovers with some caramelized onions to make a spread for crostini, which sounds pretty divine. P.S. While I’m raving about Rancho Gordo’s amazing beans, I have to also recommend their Yellow Indian Woman Beans.  J. and I love making a huge stock pot of homemade chicken broth (the full deal, with bones, carrots, celery onion, leeks, and parsley) and then using the broth to make a big pot of the Indian Woman beans.  A nice loaf of bread and a salad from the garden complete the dinner, and we eat the leftovers with hot sauce and sunny-side up eggs the next day.

 

March Charcutepalooza Challenge: Brining

For the March Charcutepalooza challenge, we made corned beef, which then ended up in a whole bunch of dinners:

Corned Beef and Cabbage

This dinner pairs slices of corned beef with gently simmered vegetables right out of the garden.  That cabbage in the picture is the first cabbage I have ever grown in my life, which makes this that much more exciting.  I named her Cleopatra. Cabbages strike me as being pretty feminine  (in a Georgia O’Keefe kind of way.)

Reubens

Dinner #2 was the one I was really excited about, since sliced corned beef is ridiculously expensive at the grocery store.  Now that I know how to make my own (for significantly cheaper) I can have these perfect melty cheesy crunchy tangy sandwiches whenever I feel like.  My little brother is in town for spring break, and when he took a bite of his sandwich, all I heard was “mmffffff good smchh mmmm” through a giant mouthful of corned beef.  The homemade corned beef isn’t just cheaper, it’s also way more juicy and flavorful than the grocery store counterpart.

Corned Beef Hash and Eggs

Dinner #3 was the simplest and maybe the best.  It was one of the crazy nights where there wasn’t a lot of food in the fridge or time to cook dinner, but some scrambled fresh chicken eggs and a quick sauteed hash was way more delicious than I was expecting.

Three Weeks Earlier

To end up with all this food, I started out with a beef brisket that I bought at a great little butcher shop in Bernal Heights called Avedano’s Meats. When I walked in, I came face to snout with a whole pig on the back table that three of the guys that worked there were breaking down with huge saws.  Very nice.  The cases were lined with all sorts of gorgeous meats-  rabbit, duck, beef, and more. When I noticed the case filled with guanciale, pancetta, bacon and other cured goodies, I felt like these folks would like what we are doing. I purchased two beef briskets and a pork belly (now that we know how to make bacon, we can’t stop doing it), and headed back home.

The next step was to make a brine.  Brines are simply salt solutions used to flavor meats or vegetables.  There’s lots of room for creativity when you’re brining something, all depending on what herbs and spices you infuse your salt solution with and how long you leave the items in the brine.  You can do a quick brine on pork chops or chicken for just a few hours before you’re ready to cook them, or you can do a long brine, where the meat stays in its salt batch for a week or more.  The texture changes, and the meat becomes very juicy and tender.

our homemade pickling spice, with all kinds of aromatic herbs like bay leaves, coriander, and crushed cayenne peppers from the garden

Once you’ve made the saltwater and infused it with spices, you let it cool, and throw in your meat or vegetables. Then, you wait….

The original recipe called to leave the brisket in the brine for five days, but there’s a small chance that I got really busy with a bunch of other stuff and almost left it in there for three weeks (yikes).  I was terrified that I ruined it.

beef brisket in the brine, day 20

The three week gap was a epic saga of farmers markets, marmalades, and a whole road trip to through the California Central Valley and the Sierra Mountains. The almond trees were blooming, and the air was filled with flower petals and bees.  I won $8 at slots in Reno at 2 a.m., with a really sad Journey cover band singing Don’t Stop Believin’ to one sad looking guy at the bar.  I drove through mountain passes, happy that the roads had stayed clear, but nervous about the 25′ snow banks on either side of the highway. Then back home, to the brisket.

The next step was to boil the corned beef.  I’ve found this whole charcuterie learning experience very confusing, because even though I know deep down that vinegar and pink salt (sodium nitrite) are preservatives, and that this big chunk of meat should be perfectly fine to eat, I still am slightly confused and baffled that the process works so well.  All I can think of is that if I put a piece of brisket in a tupperware in the fridge for three weeks with nothing on it, it would be a disgusting rotten mess.  Instead, when it sits in its herbal salt solution, it turns into this really delicious flavorful corned beef.  Crazy.

After the beef is boiled, it’s ready to eat however you want. I saved some of the cooking stock and boiled vegetables with it for our first big corned beef dinner, which turned out great.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Feeds: 6

Cooking Time: about 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 corned beef brisket
  • 1 large cabbage, split in half
  • 6 large red potatoes, split in halves or quarters
  • 12 large carrots
  • 6 cups reserved cooking liquid from the corned beef
  • salt and pepper
  • horseradish, optional, for serving

1. Pick vegetables.

2. Rinse and prepare vegetables. Put them in a large pot with the cooking liquid from the corned beef.  I cooked my corned beef separately from the vegetables, but if you haven’t boiled off the beef brisket yet, you could certainly cook everything all together, in one pot.  We’re goin for simple here.  Add water to cover the vegetables.  Cook for 45 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender.  In the last ten minutes, add the corned beef brisket into the pot to heat it back up for serving.

3. Season vegetables with salt and pepper, if needed.  Nicely arrange cooked veggies on a plate with a few slices of corned beef.  I like my carrots and cabbage with a little smear of horseradish on them for a spicy kick, but this is up to your own personal preference.  Eat up!

If that’s not an easy dinner, I don’t know what is. That’s been the wonderful thing about learning to cure and preserve meats; it tends to be a fair amount of time and effort spent up front obtaining ingredients and learning the process, but in the end you’ll have a large supply of items on hand to make lots of separate meals, which means I have more time to spend in the garden and less time in the truck doing errands.

And a preview: next months challenge in Hot Smoking, and J. totally coincidentally bought this massive new smoker three days ago.  It’s gonna get crazy!

When Life Hands You Lemons, Take A Bunch Of Cold Medicine And Make Bacon Cheeseburgers

It’s 4:55 a.m. right now, and I suppose this must be why they invented NyQuil, which I currently have none of. I have lots of other cold medicine, which I am taking, and which doesn’t seem to be particularly effective. By which I mean that it’s completely not doing anything.  So, since I can’t sleep, you know…  I might as well write my Charcutepalooza Bacon Challenge Post. Right? (NO? I should go back to bed? Lies. The bed is not working for me right now).

This is gonna be a crazy post.

For the February Charcutepalooza Challenge, we turned fresh pork belly into delicious, home-cured bacon.  It was a Star Wars Meets Lord Of The Rings-style epic journey trying to get my hands on fresh pork belly and the pink salt needed for the curing process.  I know a lot of farms that raise pigs, but for some strange, strange reason, everyone that I called wanted to – get this- keep their pork belly and sell the bacon since bacon basically sells like winning lottery tickets, or free vacations to Hawaii, or, you know…. NyQuil if they were in my house right now. The point is, bacon is one of the most popular items at all the local farmers markets, with vendors often unable to even fill the existing demand, and no one had any spare pork belly lying around.  Totally weak.

Well, I ended up being in San Francisco, and I went to a great butcher shop that had piles and piles of it, right there, all for me.  Normally I like to know exactly where my meat came from, but there was a bit of a language barrier.  Even getting past “Do you sell pork belly?” and “Yes we do” was pretty impressive, so I bought two and considered it a victory.

at the butcher shop
duck!

 

much higher quality than the grocery store stuff....

Back when I didn’t have the flu, or whatever this is, I kind of intended on writing a little something about how supporting local specialty shops is a great thing to do, and how often do you find a proper butcher shop where they have high quality meats and they do all the butchering right there, on site, and you can talk to the butcher about the different cuts of meat and…. blah blah blah.  You see the pictures.  That meat looks darned good– try to find that at Safeway.

The Curing Process

So, first we had to find a special type of salt (Sodium Nitrite? I can’t remember. It’s pink, and usually just called Pink Salt).  The organic folks don’t always like sodium nitrite, since it’s definitely not organic, but in Charcuterie, Michael Ruhlman tells us that it’s completely safe in small quantities, and that you just wouldn’t want to use it like table salt. Which is why it’s bright pink, so that you don’t accidentally season your next big pot of soup with it. That salt was super hard to find, but for any San Francisco Bay Area folks, I finally found it at Village Market in the Ferry Building.  For people who actually plan in advance (the horror!)  the internet is also an available solution which doesn’t involve traffic, parking, lines, etc.

planning in advance and ordering pink salt off the internet would have avoided this

Once you finally have the pork belly and pink salt, the basic idea is to season the pork belly with a salt rub and then let it sit in the fridge for a week. (For the full set of instructions, refer to Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman).

pork belly

When the week is up, the pork belly is slow roasted in a low oven for a few hours.

cured pork belly before it goes into the oven

After that, you’ve officially made bacon, and you’re ready to cut of a piece, fry it up, and eat it!

The Recipe

What to make with bacon, well, besides the obvious?

farm fresh eggs and home-cured bacon

I think the real question is, what would I not make with bacon? (Sorry Deborah Madison.  I love your cookbooks but I am putting bacon in with those veggies.)  Back before I got sick, I had nice ideas about making some kind of pasta dish, with roasted pumpkin from the garden and bacon lardons, maybe some toasted nuts, fresh parsley, some asiago cheese…

ingredients for the dish that never was

The Fever and the Cold Medicine say that we’re making Bacon Cheeseburgers and that all that vegetable stuff is for losers.

The Best Bacon-Filled Bacon-Topped Cheeseburgers EVER!

These are the BEST cheeseburgers! I think the only reason I’m really sharing this recipe is all the cold medicine, usually it’s a big secret.  These burgers are juicy and packed with flavor (and super bad for you!)  Also, there’s a secret ingredient- grated fresh tomato! I stole this from a Middle-Eastern kebab recipe, because it’s works well in burgers too, and adds a ton of extra flavor and moisture.

In the winter I use a cast-iron grill pan to cook these burgers. In the summer, they go outside on the Weber grill.  You could also sear them in a cast iron skillet and then put them in the oven for about 10 minutes if you don’t own a grill pan.  

Makes about 6 burgers

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

For The Burger:

  • 1.5 lb. 80/20 ground beef
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 large onion
  • 1 small slicer tomato (not a cherry tomato, just a small tomato)
  • 1/8 c. BBQ sauce (whatever you have is fine)
  • 1 c. cooked, diced bacon (don’t be a baby, yes, I wrote ONE WHOLE CUP, just do it)
  • 2/3 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbs. garlic powder
  • a few tablespoons of grapeseed oil to season the grill

For the toppings:

  • lettuce, tomato, and onion
  • 8 bacon slices, cooked
  • 5 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese (about 1/2 block), sliced thinly
  • 6 hamburger buns, toasted (whatever type floats your boat is fine)
  • ketchup, mustard, mayonaise
  • homemade pickles

1. I like to preheat my grill pan on very low heat.  Turn on the flame and using a clean cloth, rub grapeseed oil all over the grill.  Any other high-heat oil will work (like canola oil).

2. Using the large holes in a box grater, grate the tomato and onion and put the resulting pulp in a bowl.  It will be watery and messy, just dump it all in the bowl.

burger ingredients

3. Add the other ingredients for the burger to the bowl with the tomato and onion.  Using your hands (wash them first!), fold all the ingredients together gently, trying not to overwork the meat, but still making sure everything is well-incorporated.

4. Form the mixture into six patties and set on a clean plate until you are ready to grill (these could be made in advance, if you wanted, and put in the fridge now).

5. On medium heat, grill for about 4 minutes on each side, or until burgers are cooked to medium.  When they’re two minutes away from being done, layer two bacon slices and about an ounce of cheese on top of the burgers, and cover for a minute to melt the cheese. (I just use big lid from a different pan, since grill pans don’t really have covers).  Very important: Since these burgers have a ton of moisture in them, they will fall apart easily on the grill.  Don’t mess with them! Just put it on the grill, wait four minutes, flip it, wait four minutes, and put it on a bun. Don’t rearrange the grill 900 times while you’re waiting for them to finish.

6. Arrange the burgers on toasted buns with whatever toppings you like, and serve with pickles. Be happy.

bacon goodness

January Charcutepalooza Challenge: Duck Prosciutto

the finished product: duck prosciutto, sage cracker, olive oil marinated chevre, montmorency cherry jam and blood oranges

Where to start… I had huge problems trying to photograph and write something about my first Charcutepalooza project.  For one, the whole process – obtaining duck breasts, learning how to cure them, waiting for them to cure, and then finally knowing how to tell when the meat is finished and ready to eat – was long and very drawn out.  I got kind of bored mid way through, lost interest, and decided to make marmalade and plant flowers, and that was infinitely more entertaining.  That is…  until I sampled some of the finished product! Delicious revelations in cured meats! Needless to say I am on completely on board the charcuterie bandwagon again.  That was the second road block- the prosciutto was disappearing off the cutting board faster than I could go get my camera. In the end, though, this project was exactly what it should be- salty, buttery, melt-in-your mouth goodness.

As part of this year long journey, I am trying to use animals that were either farm- raised or hunted by myself or someone that I know.  I was able to trade eggs for a few of these:

wild duck

This is my favorite kind of transaction: A friend of mine wanted eggs. I have eggs. I wanted duck. He had a bunch of them. No money needed, simple barter of goods for goods.  An interesting point to take note of is that quality of the bartered goods- I can tell you with absolute certainty that my eggs have richer yolks and better flavor than any eggs you will ever find at the grocery store, or sometimes even at a big farmers market.  Large-scale poultry farms, whether they are free-range and organic or not, are not usually able to provide everything that we can.  Our hens have space and sunshine; they are able to forage for wild greens and bugs, and we amend their diets with lots of scraps from the kitchen and the gardens.  In the same vein, the wild ducks that I was able to get are leaner and less greasy than farm-raised ducks, they have a richer flavor since there is more meat and less fat, and I can eat them in good conscience, knowing that they lived happy duck lives in the wild, the way they are supposed to.  The moral of the story? If individuals strive to become part of a healthy food system either by having a garden, supporting local farms, hunting, foraging, canning or preserving, we will not need to rely on overpriced corporate giants like Whole Foods to have access to high quality, artisan, hand-crafted goods.  (Really, we won’t need grocery stores at all. The farmer’s market, our backyards and our neighbors backyards can provide all of the things we need for a beautiful, local, healthy diet).

With all of that insane preaching (probably to the choir), at the beginning of the project, I was so nervous about my meat choices and lack of charcuterie experience, that I ran out to the local Co-Op and picked this up:

Ridiculous! Despite how lame that was and as much as I wished that I didn’t buy it, using both farm-raised and wild duck breasts ended up being a really interesting experiment, and now that I’ve got a little more faith in my meat-curing skills, I don’t think I should have to cave in to the temptations of the grocery store again.   I cured four of the breasts, using the same process for all of them- first buried in kosher salt, and then wrapped in cheesecloth and left to cure in a cool, dark space.  (For a full set of instructions, refer to our textbook for the project, Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie).

duck breasts buried in salt

The resulting prosciutto was delicious, and it was really interesting to see the color variations between the two types of duck.  The wild duck’s darker meat became even darker, and it had a really vivid, rich duck flavor.  The farm-raised duck made more of a traditional prosciutto, with a thick ribbon of fat running across each slice and a less obvious duck flavor.
finished prosciutto: the wild duck is on the left, farm-raised on the right

For the Charcutepalooza, each participant is supposed to come up with a unique recipe for the meats that they have made.  Sampling the prosciutto, it became totally clear that ours wasn’t going into some fancy, complicated dish; we needed crackers, and some cheese, and we needed them fast, before it disappeared off the cutting board.  We ended up with a table full of warm, homemade crackers, olive-oil marinated local goat cheese, fresh herbs from the garden, sliced blood oranges from the farmers market, and a jar of my Montmorency sour cherry jam. The sweet-sour-salty combination of the meat, cheese, and cherry jam was amazing, with some fresh cracked black pepper on top for spice, a sprinkle of fresh thyme, and sliced blood oranges to brighten the whole thing up and make sure it didn’t get to heavy with fat and sugar.  I have to emphasize again: really, really tasty.

montmorency cherry jam

If you want to recreate something like this, a basic list of ingredients would be:

  • cured duck breast (it’s really incredibly easy!)
  • jam or jelly such as fig, cherry, or red wine will work the best with duck
  • cheese (I like goat cheese here)
  • crackers (Recipe follows…. scroll down)
  • fresh herbs
  • fresh fruit
  • pepper
  • olive oil

No need to be too fancy, just put all those items out on a cutting board and go to town. Enjoy!


Homemade Sesame-Sage Crackers

This was also the first time I’m made my own crackers. This recipe is so simple and cheap, I doubt I’ll ever buy them again.

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. flour (I used all-purpose white, you could use whole wheat too)
  • 2 tbs. cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 c. cold water
  • 2 tbs. sesame seeds
  • 1 heaping tbs. chopped herbs (I used mostly sage, with some rosemary, marjoram and thyme; whatever you have in the garden is fine)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp. paprika
  • 1/8 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt

1. Combine all the ingredients except the water in a food processor.  Mix until crumbly (like making a pie crust) and then slowly add in the water. Mix until the dough comes together in a ball (it’s okay to add a few tablespoons of water if you need).  The dough should just come together, and not be sticky.

2. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and roll as thin as possible.

3. Transfer dough to an ungreased baking sheet. Poke holes in the dough with a fork, and score with a knife if you want to break it apart later to have square crackers.

4. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Cool, and break into pieces.  I have no idea how they would store, since we ate them within a few hours.