Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Home Made Sausages- vegetarians beware*

I like to know how to do things. It doesn't matter too much if I actually DO the things I know how to do, in fact, it's sort of a family joke that my sisters will say about me "Oh, she doesn't have to do that, she read a book about it." I particularly like knowing how to do things that other people don't know how to do, or don't know how to do anymore.

I'm not sure where making my own sausage falls in that description. Around here, lots of people make deer bologna in the fall, after hunting season, so I guess making sausage doesn't really put me too far out of the norm for central Pennsylvania. Well, at least the sausage making doesn't put me there, I can't speak to the rest of what I do...

Layla and I have been having a conversation about a kind of Eastern European sausage called cevapi, and another kind Chuck and I bought last week with our lepinja. That conversation reminded me that I wanted to write about our sausage making experience.

Last May, I bought Chuck a sausage making kit from an online source as an anniversary present. (He bought me a mozzarella cheese making kit, and was quite surprised when I told him that's what he got for me!)

When the kit arrived, I got out what I thought was my grandmother's meat grinder, only to discover it was this tool. Stymied, we went to our local downtown hardware store where everything, including the kitchen sink is sold, and bought a grinder for about $30.00. It has turned out to be a VERY useful tool, by the way.

The Amish farmer from whom we get our lamb, pork and sheep milk cheese also does chickens during the summer. The year before, I had frozen a bunch of chickens at the end of the season, but was unsatisfied with that- they kept leaping out at me when I opened the freezer door- and a 5 pound frozen rock landing on your foot is not fun. It was as if they were punishing me for eating them. This year I thought to preserve them in a less lethal (to me) way.

I had in mind a sausage made with chicken, with feta cheese, spinach and Greek seasoning. I purchased sheep milk feta when I picked up the chickens.

Chuck removed the meat from the bones of 5 chickens, and we ran it through the grinder on a coarse setting. Then we ground it again on a fine setting, adding two pounds of raw washed spinach, a pound of feta, and 1 pound of bacon. In the first grinding, the mixture had seemed dry, and my Internet research had suggested adding fat was a solution. Chuck mixed in about 1 cup of Cavender's Greek seasoning with his hands, like he would a meatloaf.

Then came the interesting part. Our kit came with natural hog casings. (Yes. Cleaned hog intestines. 'Nuff said.** ) They were packed in salt to preserve them. I washed the salt off, and soaked the casings in a bowl of warm water. By the way- the flecks in this picture are from the spinach, not from anything unsavory. This picture was taken after we had already done some sausages and Chuck had put his hand in the water.
(My mother tells me that cleaning the intestines for sausage making was her job when, as a child, she visited her grandparents farm at slaughtering time. She didn't enjoy it.)

The grinder has a tube attachment. Fish an end of the casing out of the bowl, slip it on the end of the tube just like, well, you know what it's like. Look carefully at my picture, and notice how the just end of the casing is slipped on the tube, while the rest of the intestine is trailing off into the bowl.
Now DON'T DO IT THIS WAY! Experienced sausage-stuffers are busting a gut laughing now. This was our first attempt. What you need to do is slide the entire length of casing onto the tube, so it's all bunched up. Leave about 6 inches hanging off the end, and tie a knot- otherwise you will have sausage stuffing shooting out across your room.

Unless you want 1 long hank of rope sausage, it will need to be twisted off into links. According to the directions, when an appropriate length of meat is in a casing, grab it and twist to the right a couple of twists, closing off that link. When the next appropriate amount is in the casing, twist to the left. Keep alternating.

For us the sausage stuffing was a 2 person activity. Chuck cranked and pressed the meat through the grinder, I guided the sausages, and twisted them off. I was not adept at the twisting, and could not make the links uniform in size. With practice, I think I can get it. However, the alternating twist thing was a problem for me. Unless I held all previous links in my hand and twisted them together, something always untwisted. I need to work on that.

From our 5 pounds of chicken, we got 40 variable sized links, most roughly 6 inches long. In the picture you can see the dark flecks of the spinach and the white pieces of feta. Next time, I would add more feta and cut back the seasoning- the flavor was overwhelmed by it. I might just use rosemary, oregano and a little lemon.

We froze most of the links right on the cookie sheet- something else I will not do next time. I did it this way because I couldn't figure out how to cut the sausages apart to package them for freezing while they were still soft without having the stuffing come back out. This is how we freeze berries and fruit when we want individual pieces or portions. In this case, however, it was a bad idea. The damp casing froze to the sheet, and tore when I pulled up the frozen sausage. It wasn't that big of a deal, since we put the sausages on the grill frozen anyway, but if we had thawed them it would not have been pretty. Parchment paper should do the trick of keeping them from freezing to the cookie sheet. Or I guess I could have run a wash of water over the cookie sheet to thaw the part stuck to it.

All in all, they were very tasty. What we didn't eat that night we took with us on a family camping trip, and our children agreed that they were edible. We have since made Italian sausage with elk and pork, and pork beer brats. So far, the chicken spinach and feta remain my favorite.

For a HUGE list of sausage recipes, try this site. I haven't made any from the site, but plan to.

* I wonder if I could make a tofu sausage. Or a barley-buckwheat sausage. Or a tofu-barley-buckwheat sausage. Or a bean sausage...In a synthetic casing, of course.

**Actually, let me say more. I was amazed when my father said the idea of natural casings made him queasy. The synthetic casings make me feel a little off- I would much rather have the natural thing. Goodness knows there was enough salt in the package to kill any e-coli that might be lurking. I would have preferred to have had casings from my own hog, because I know they were pastured and did not come from huge hog CAFO's, but that wasn't part of the processing package. Perhaps another time. I could have gotten the stomach, though- a dish called Hogmaw, which is basically sausage and potato stuffed in a pig stomach and baked is a traditional dish here... I have neither had it nor made it, but I probably will. And then I will write about it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

2008 Devil Dog

A few weeks ago, my friend Julia said that she wanted to know more about the Devil Dog Wine. Here you go, Julia- way more detail than you probably wanted. I remember from our college days that you liked wine, but not with food.

When we moved into this house in 1997, there was a 20 year old Concord grape vine in the side yard. Chuck decided he wanted to make wine. We knew nothing about making wine, other than it came from grapes and people crushed them with their feet. It took us a few years, but in 2002 we harvested grapes and gave it a try.

In 2002 and 2003, he tried making a dry wine because that's what I like. It was not successful. The 2004 batch had an accident and went bad. In 2006, he decided to make a sweet wine. He was looking for a taste like Wild Irish Rose, or MD 20-20. He decided to label it Devil Dog 50-50, and put a picture of our dog in a devil costume on the label. The slogan that year was "Odds are even you'll get bit." The sweet wine was successful. We took bottles home with us for Thanksgiving, and family members seemed to like it. In 2007 we made a sweet cherry wine, that was also very popular. He continues to use the Devil Dog label, and changes the slogan. This year he made a pseudo Limoncello, the slogan was "Bad as a Junkyard dog."

The process for making wine is this:
Pick grapes: This past fall we picked approximately 45 pounds of concord grapes.

Stem and sort: In the past we have left the stems in, but found gave the wine some bitterness we didn't like.

Crush: We have tried using hands to crush, a feet to crush (very bad idea) and a method using two 2 liter bottles. This year we ground the grapes with the meat grinder- it worked very well, and we'll continue to do this.

Put juice into a 7 gallon plastic bucket. Check with a hydrometer for sugar content, called a Brix test. Certain yeasts provide certain amount of alcohol, and require certain levels of sugar to do so. We use a champagne yeast that yields a 19% alcohol, so Chuck adds sugar until the hydrometer shows 19, then adds a packet of yeast.

Cover the bucket, put in a warm dark place for several days. A crust made of dead yeast cells and grape skins and seeds will form on the top- It must be punched it down everyday- The house gets a vague yeasty smell.

After about a week, he checks again with the hydrometer, and keeps checking daily until it registers 0- at that point all of the sugar has been changed to alcohol. Usually the crust sinks to the bottom by this point. We let it sit with the skins in for another week because we like the dark color, but we don’t stir after it has reached 0.

Siphon the wine out of the bucket into a 5 gallon glass jar (carboy) leaving the dregs in the bucket.
Add 1 Campden tablet (potassium metabisulfite) per gallon to stop any yeast growth. An air trap on the top of the bottle lets the wine breathe but doesn’t let anything come in from outside. Chuck then lets it age and clarify a month or so.
Siphon over to another carboy, leaving any dregs in the first one. Add more sugar to taste, and 1 Campden tab per gallon to stop additional fermentation. (This is how we lost the 2004 batch- we added more sugar, didn't stop the fermentation and the bottles popped their corks. It was a mess.) Some people do this several times- over several months, Chuck doesn't bother. One month of fermentation is OK with him.
Bottle, cork and seal. I have short videos of these processes. I apologize for the sideways orientation- I didn't realize when I made them that I wouldn't be able to rotate the screen without distorting the sound.
Filling bottles. We got 3.5 gallons of wine from 45 pounds of grapes. This was the first year Chuck didn't add any additional water.

Corking bottles

Sealing Bottles

When offered a glass of wine, Boodles revealed that she is a tee-totaller.

A Google search on Making Wine will yield lots of results, if this has inflamed your imagination.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Apple Upside Down Cake

Ever since posting about the cast iron skillet last weekend, I've had upside down cake on my mind. Since I don't live in Hawaii, though, I can't claim pineapple as local. However, a quick look through The Joy Of Cooking by Erma Rombauer, found a recipe called French Apple or Peach Cake. We still have stored apples, a little soft by now, but still excellent for applesauce or baking. I adapted the recipe rather heavy-handidly.

French Apple or Peach Cake
Joy of Cooking p. 661
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
Grease the bottom of a deep 8 inch pie pan or ovenproof dish and cover the bottom well with:
2 cups or more peeled, sliced apples, peaches or other fruit. (I used 3 apples, unpeeled but sliced very thin, and a #10 cast iron skillet)
Sprinkle the fruit liberally with:
2/3 cup sugar
cinnamon or nutmeg (No nutmeg here)
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon (I did not have a lemon. However, I did have some dried lemon peel, and a jar in the refrigerator full of the ground lemon left over from Chuck's experiment making a Limoncello-like liquor this fall. I used 1 Tablespoon of the dried peel, and 2 Tablespoons of the ground lemon)
Dredge with:
1 Tablespoon all purpose flour (I just sprinkled this over the top)
Pour over surface:
2-4 tablespoons melted butter (What if you used a half and half mixture of coconut oil and butter?)
(I also sprinkled 1/2 cup chopped pecans, and 1/2 cup shredded coconut* over the apples.)
Prepare the following batter. Sift together:
1 cup all purpose flour (I used 1/2 cup unbleached white, 1/2 cup white whole wheat)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon double acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Beat and add:
2 egg yolk (I used 1 whole egg)
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1/4 cup milk. (I used 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt, thinned to a milk-like consistency with water)
Beat these ingredients with swift strokes until blended. Cover the fruit with the batter. Bake the cake for about 30 minutes. Reverse it onto a platter. Cool slightly.

This was marvelous- there was a delightful light lemon flavor. The texture was doughy, sort of like a big pancake.

*No, the coconut is not local. However, my local structure is: grow it myself->buy from the farmer->buy from a local independent store->buy from a local chain->buy from a national chain.
The coconut came from my local Mennonite bulk store- a local independent store as did the flour, baking powder and sugar. So it's not too far up the scale. The lemons are not local, either, but came from the farmers market earlier in the fall.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Another cool tool

Recently a friend gave me a 10.5 inch cast iron chicken fryer. When she told me about it, I was expecting a frying pan, maybe one that was higher in the center of the pan, like an old teflon chicken fryer I used to have. What she gave me was a really cool frying pan with another frying pan for a lid.

The lid is hinged on the back with a little hinge that unhooks. I've never seen anything like it. I've looked at the new cast iron skillets, and they all have regular lids- this one is so much more interesting.

This skillet had belonged to my friend's mother, and she brought it home after closing her mom's house up and selling it this past fall. It was made by the Griswold Manufacturing Company, an old Pennsylvania company. She said she knew someone would want it because Pennsylvania people love Griswold cast iron. I had never heard of it, but then, like the Plain people who are "in the world but not of it", I am in Pennsylvania, but not of it. But I was so honored that she thought of me to be the new owner or the pan. I was worried about depriving her of her family heirlooms, but she assured me it wasn't an antique. We know the pan was made after 1957. Pans made before 1957 said "Erie PA" under the Griswold makers mark, pans made after that did not.

I know it's a chicken fryer because the pan tells me so...
Cast iron cookware has been around for a very long time- since the 1700's here in America. Because they are so durable, pans and dutch ovens were often handed down from one generation to the next. However, when non-stick coatings like Teflon became available in the 60's and 70's, cast iron lost some of it's popularity. It is heavy, and if not properly seasoned, food can stick.

However, many cooks are turning back to cast iron. Concern about health risks with non-stick coatings is one reason. Bird owners know not to leave their birds in the kitchen when cooking with non-stick cookware- gases released at high temperatures can kill a bird. A 2007 study done at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore recorded levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctoanoate, both chemicals used in making non-stick coatings in samples of newborn infant cord blood. The study found a correlation between higher levels of the chemicals and lower birthweight. Most interesting to me is that there WERE levels of the chemicals in the cord blood.

According to a February 2009 Kansas City Star article,
    In 2008 Americans spent more than $28.5 million on cast-iron cookware. That figure is up nearly 10 percent from the previous year, with consumers spending less money on stainless steel and aluminum cookware, according to the NPD Group Inc., a leading global market research company.
Beyond the health concerns, there are other reasons for using cast iron. The heavy metal is an excellent heat conductor, allowing the pan to heat evenly- no hot spots. Cast iron moves from the stove top to the oven easily (Pineapple Upside Down cake is best in a cast-iron skillet). There are also health benefits for those who tend to anemia- cooking acidic foods (like tomato sauce) in cast iron leads to an increase of iron in the finished food.

Seasoning cast iron is not that difficult, either. Rub your skillet with a vegetable oil, and heat it for 30 minutes to an hour in a hot oven- 300 to 500 degrees. Let the skillet cool. If you do this a couple of times, the skillet should be well seasoned.

Caring for cast iron after use is also easy. Opinions are split as to whether or not to wash your cast iron with soap or not, but all experts agree that you should never leave liquid in your cast iron. What's Cooking America has a wealth of information about seasoning and caring for your cast iron, as well as how to clean up old cast iron.

Chuck fried chicken in the skillet Sunday. It was just the way I like it- juicy and not dreadfully crispy. I know other people love crispy fried chicken, but not me.

He likes to keep some fried chicken in the freezer to grab on those nights we don't get dinner ready before he goes to work. He's certainly well set up now!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Making Milk Myself...

For those of you who arrived here expecting a post on breastfeeding, sorry. Been there, done that and the moment has passed. This is actually about making a vegan milk out of grains and nuts.

I have never liked milk. One of my worst childhood memories is of being served milk in anodized aluminum glasses much like these. It was awful- the metal of the glass had a scent that didn't go well with the milk, I would put off drinking it, the milk would get warm and the scent would get worse. Yucky all around. I would complain, and my mom would tell me I had to drink it until I was 12 years old, and then I could quit. Let me tell you, I never looked back once I passed that milestone. The only glass of milk I have had since that day was once during a pregnancy. My husband told me a glass of milk would settle my stomach. He lied.

My sister A told to me that she makes a breakfast smoothie using almond milk. I immediately wanted to do that too- why should she have a tasty treat and not me? Actually, just the thought of almond milk was entrancing. I also remembered, from our abortive experiment making tofu two summers ago, that we could follow the same technique to solidify a tofu from almond milk. I don't know about you, but almond tofu sounds unbelievably good to me.

I could buy almond, oat, hemp, rice or soy milk at the store. But I always like to make things myself, and this is no exception. I looked online, and found recipes. I decided I would make my own barley milk (since barley is a Miracle Food!) and almond milk. At the Mennonite store I bought a pound of rolled barley, a pound of raw almonds, and because they had them, a pound of raw cashews.

The process is similar whether using grains or nuts. For the barley milk, I used this oatmilk recipe from Recipezaar:


1 cup cooked oats (i use thick rolled) (Substitute barley here. I also don't know why you couldn't use any grain.)
4-5 cups hot water
1-2 teaspoon cornstarch (I would leave this out next time to see what happens)
1 tablespoon sugar (I used honey)
1 dash nutmeg (I left this out)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch sea salt
To cook steel cut or thick rolled oats, bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a small sauce pan, add 1/2 cup of oats and turn the heat down to med/low, they just want to gently simmer for about 10 minutes. Give it a stir to check to see if the oats have absorbed all of the water.

Bring 5 cups of water to a boil.
As you are waiting for the water to boil, add the rest of the ingredients to a blender.
As soon as your water is boiling add 3-4 cups to the blender. Be sure that there is room left in the top of the blender and that the lid fits securely or you could risk splashing yourself with hot water when you flip the switch.
Turn your blender on low and increase to high speed, blending for about 20 seconds or so. Check the consistency, add more water as necessary to achieve the desired thickness. The mixture will thicken a little as it cools off and eventually chills.

barley milkbarley milkbarley milk

The barley milk was a little thick and gelatinous- it didn't make a difference when making smoothies, but I can't imagine chugging a glass of this. I'm not sure how it would work with other cooking.

I used this recipe for the almond milk, also from Recipezaar:


1/2 cup almonds (I used 1 cup)
1 1/2 cups boiling water(I used 3 cups)


Soak almonds for about 12 hours, rinse. I added this step
Throw the almonds and the boiling water into the blender and blend for about 3 minutes at high speed.
Strain through muslin or cheesecloth.
The remaining pulp can be used in vegetable/nut loaves or burgers.

Shake milk well before serving.

The nut milks were terrific. The almond had a lot of residue that wasn't ground up by the blender. I saved it and toasted it for later use. The cashews completely vanished- there was nothing left. I didn't even bother to strain.

almond milkalmond milk
Almond milk Almond milk
left over almonds after blendingleft over almonds toasted
leftover almonds after blending leftover almonds toasted
cashews after soakingcashew milk
cashews after soaking cashew milk

cashew milk
I think next time I will combine a nut milk with a grain milk. Also, before I make the grain milk, I think I will put the raw grain flakes in the blender or food processor. Then I'll soak them overnight instead of cooking them. I suspect that will cut down the sliminess. I also might add a tablespoon of coconut oil to the blender, if I can find some that tastes good. I have some on hand here, but it has a "neutral" flavor.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I'm not Balkan at this Egg Sandwich!

There is an international grocery in a nearby town, run by Mersida, a woman from Bosnia. I don't get up there very often, but when I do go, I try to time it so I can get there to buy loaves of lepinja. Lepinja is a wonderful Balkan bread- sort of like pita, but without a pocket and not as flat.

While looking for a recipe for lepinja, I ran across a description of a dish, lepinja komplet, that really sounded yummy. The description was not very detailed, it simply said to slice the lepinja, spread it with kajmak (a soft cheese made from milk and heavy cream) or butter, crack eggs onto the bread and bake. So we did. Chuck spread the kajmak on the top and bottom of his bread, I didn't because that much milk fat would kill me. He put the top back on his before baking, I didn't. We baked them at 350 until the eggs set. (Apparently there is also something about lamb drippings- we skipped that part.)

Chuck's after baking

Mine after baking.

Chuck enjoying his
They were really good- the bread was crispy on the outside but still soft inside, the eggs were nicely done. Mine did get a little hard- I think it was wise of Chuck to put the top of the bread back on.
Man, I love egg sandwiches!

While playing around on utube, I found several videos with lepinja as the key word. One appears to be a traditional way of baking the bread, the other seems to be the making of these sandwiches. I have no idea what they are saying in these videos.

Sorry for the orientation on this one.

If you would like to try to make your own lepinja, here is a recipe: