Monday, February 27, 2012

Homemade Sausage

My husband and I received a Kitchen Aid stand mixer as a wedding gift, and while I was thrilled because I've always wanted one, I wasn't quite sure what to use it for. Since I don't have a sweet tooth and I'm not eating much bread at home I just didn't know what to make. It turns out that the mixer is great for making sausage. I used the last of our giftcards to buy the meat grinder and sausage stuffer attachments and got busy with some leg of lamb I had in the freezer.

Since I had lamb on hand I decided to make a merguez, a fresh North African lamb sausage. I mainly used this recipe, although of course I ground my own meat instead of starting with ground lamb. I also used prepared harissa. There is a great Mediterranean restaurant in my area called Cava Mezze and they sell a line of hummus, tzatziki, harissa and other Mediterranean condiments at local Whole Foods. I love harissa, it's a great dip for pita  (if you want to eat pita) and a really good marinade for chicken. It's also what gives merguez it's awesome flavor.

Anyway, the first step for making sausage was to take the lamb out of the freezer, and put the stainless steel bowls (one from the mixer and one extra) and all the metal parts of the grinder in the freezer. Everything I've read said that sausage works best when everything is as cold as possible. I basically just let the meat thaw enough so that I could cube it and then ground it while it was still partially frozen. I also put my casings (I used Eastman Outdoors casings I ordered on Amazon) in a bowl of warm water to prepare them.

After I had the meat cubed I but it in a bowl along with the flavorings (cilantro, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, coriander, and harissa) and a few pieces of pork fat. I got the fat from the butcher at Whole Foods, I just asked for some trimmings and they actually didn't even charge me for it. It's good to have on hand because sausage needs to be about 40% fat or else the texture gets weird.

Looking back, however, I probably did this in the wrong order. i should have added the seasonings after the meat was ground. I think that would have been cleaner and easier overall. 

After adding the seasonings I passed the meat through the grinder once, using the larger die. This is what it looked like:

I stored the ground lamb in the freezer while I put the stuffer attachments on the mixer. At this point my casings had been soaking for about 30 minutes and I had rinsed them a few times to try and get rid of the salt they were packed it. I chose to use the larger of the stuffing tubes and loaded on my casing. 

Next came the actual stuffing part. This was a little tricky, and I could definitely use some practice. I think I was letting the casings out too quickly and not letting them fill up enough. Overall it's easier than it looks though. The machine really does most of the work for you. Here's my finished product: 

This is actually only about half of the sausage I made that day. I started with about 3 pounds of lamb and ended up with about 20 links. We ate the ones pictured for dinner that night. I just put them in a pan with water and a little bit of oil. The water cooked them through and when it evaporated the oil crisped the skins. 

The sausages were delicious. Spicy but still very fresh tasting. They were much less red than other merguez I've had before, and I'd like to think that's because I didn't use any artificial ingredients. They still tasted just as good as any merguez I've eaten before though. I served them with green beans and a roasted carrot and parsnip soup. 

Next I think I'll try a beef chorizo. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Garden DIY

Although I'm really excited about gardening, and I know (or hope at least) that my efforts will save me money in the future, the start up costs have not been insignificant. So far I've probably shelled out close to $200 on seeds, containers, fertilizer, and soil and besides some sprigs of herbs, I don't have any food to show for it. I'm very hopeful that the vegetables will start rolling in a few weeks from now, but it the meantime I'm trying to save money where I can. There isn't much I can do about the cost of seeds or soil, but I have made some of my own planters.

For herbs, I've been saving two liter bottles and turning them into hanging planters:

It's really pretty easy and the only tools you need are duct tape, string, a hole puncher, and a drill. I also spray painted my bottles with chalk board paint in the hopes of labeling them, but that step isn't necessary. I found the tutorial at Urban Organic Gardener

I've also repurposed some wooden wine boxes into small raised beds. These weren't free, I got them each for $5 at Total Wine, but they are still relatively inexpensive and certainly much more attractive than most of the plastic planters at Home Depot. 

These were also really easy. I just drilled some holes in the bottom then varnished them. I found the instructions at Life On The Balcony. I have four boxes total, but I've only planted one so far. I transplanted my arugula and kale seeds outside to make room for more seedlings inside. I also planted new seeds in rows next to the seedlings in the hopes that I can have a more continuous harvest.

Here's another picture of the transplanted seedlings:

In other news, I think I've found the trick to starting seeds: plastic containers. So far I have not managed to get anything to grow in the Jiffy pots I bought specifically for that purpose, but anything I've put in an old plastic tub or the bottom half of a soda bottle has done great. I planted broccoli seeds weeks ago in Jiffy pots and they didn't do a damn thing. This Saturday I put a few more in the bottom half of a 20oz plastic bottle (I cut the top off) and covered it with Saran wrap and the next day I had sprouts. I think it must have something to do with keeping the moisture in the soil.

In addition to broccoli, I also planted cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and tomatoes this weekend. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

I have baby plants!

Even though it's just barely February, I've already started some seeds. I know it's probably too early, but I'm impatient and if these don't work I still have plenty of seeds to play with. Plus, it's been a mild winter, so I'm hoping the growing season might start a little sooner this year. Anyway, I've been wanting to garden for SO LONG I just can't contain myself anymore.

So far the only seeds I've had success with are kale and arugula. They both popped up almost immediately and have been growing well for a few weeks.

The one on top is the arugula and the one on bottom is kale. I just have them in old cheese containers with some holes cut into the bottom. I also started some basil, cilantro, parsley and broccoli but those haven't come up yet. Hopefully they will soon. I'm going to be sad if this starting plants from seed thing doesn't work. 

I also started some cherry tomatoes in the Aerogarden I received for Christmas. They are growing well. 

The more I think about it though, the less I like the Aerogarden. It uses electricity and prepackaged nutrients and isn't actually that sustainable at all. At the end of the day I just don't really think it jives with what I'm trying to do. I'll keep using it because I already have it, but I doubt I'd ever buy another one. I guess it's still better than buying cherry tomatoes from South America or something though, so that makes me feel better. Also, I'm currently using the Aerogarden as a grow light for my seedlings, so I guess that is helpful. Now if my herbs would just sprout I'd be really happy.