I was just writing out some kitchen resolutions for 2012: things I want to learn how to do, things I want to get better at doing, and things that I really enjoy and want to make sure that I keep doing. I realized I have a perfect year of cooking laid out, with one big project for every month, things like…. learning how to make fresh pasta (I’ve only done it a handful of times in the past) and learning how to make cheese (never done it!). It’s a year of from-scratch-do-it-yourself-local-fresh-inspired-homestead-kitchen skills.
In 2010, I loved reading the Hungry Tigress’ Can Jam, and learning how to make bacon with the Charcutepalooza last year was absolutely spectacular. I want to continue challenging myself to tackle new projects and skills, keep my cooking inspired, and my kitchen and pantry filled with amazing treats.
Instead of focusing on one specific technique for a year, I’m planning a year of twelve different skills, mainly centered around making foods from scratch that I may not currently be doing, or that I want to do more of, especially thinking about those last few ingredients that I still buy at a store, even though we supply most of our own vegetables, canned goods and fresh eggs. I’ll be posting the results here, with recipes and photos like usual, but some tutorials for people who may have little or no experience with that particular area of cooking.
I’m not interested in spending a lot of money on fancy equipment and ingredients or doing work that doesn’t make me all warm and fuzzy inside. It should be fun. These ideas are also about consciously budgeting time to do things I enjoy, so that in October, I don’t look in the pantry and wistfully think about how I wish I’d made some time to pick blackberries for jam.
P.S. Grow it Cook it Can it turns one year old today, and it’s so much fun looking back at the cooking projects from this year. Thanks you for reading and I’m excited for another year of flowers, jam, tomatoes, prosciutto, pickles, chickens and all that other stuff that’s so much fun.
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.
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!
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
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
Cooking time: 20 minutes
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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)
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
Cooking Time: about 45 minutes
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!
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:
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
Last year, before I had my own food blog, I watched the Tigress have an amazing Can Jam with a group of really talented cooks and jam makers. Each month she suggested a new fruit, and all the participants made up their own recipes and posted them for the world to see. Fantastically creative! Now that I have my own blog like a real grown up, I was hoping to find something similar to participate in. About a day after I quit eating meat for one of my new year’s resolutions, I found the challenge that called out to me: Chartcutepalooza, in which every month offers a new project resolving entirely around meat.
Homemade fresh bacon.
Sorry, those three words, I can’t argue with that, it’s too exciting, I’m in. As a way of honoring my resolution, I will try to use only animals that were wild or raised by someone I know, and as little from conventional grocery stores as possible.
free-range and organic: wild duck
So far I have wild duck prosciutto hanging to cure, and with any luck I’ll have some pork belly to work with tomorrow
I’m excited for this challenge, but nervous too; I have literally no experience with charcuterie, but I guess you have to start somewhere. All the participants purchased a copy of Michael Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie, so I have a good set of instructions to work with. Wish me luck! I’ll post duck proscuitto results and recipes in a week or so.