Oct
24

“So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”*

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It has come to my attention that I’ve not posted much in October. Believe me, it has nothing to do with a lack of interest or a lack of material. Rather, it has to do with too much real life. About a month ago, I received a notice my month-to-month lease for my apartment was not being renewed, and I was not offered a long-term lease. After 12 years here, I had to find a new home.  And finding a new home is made even more difficult thanks to 5 little complications: Clarence, Purrl, Marlin, Norman, and Phoebe–my cats.

Though I originally planned to stay in my current city, it suddenly hit me I didn’t have to. Thanks to being a freelancer, I could move anywhere. Well anywhere there’s Internet access. I turned to Craigslist and found several promising leads. I also found several scams. By the way, apparently the Nigerian scams have expanded to houses on the Internet. I soon learned if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.

I finally settled on 2 possibles and put down a deposit on the one I wanted to move. Then I got an e-mail saying she couldn’t rent it to me; she needed to rent it to a friend. I contacted the other possible, and it was gone. I can’t blame him. After I paid my security deposit, I sent him an e-mail saying I wouldn’t be taking it. So I was back to square 1.

Last weekend I looked again at Craigslist and found one that sounded like a great option. And the cats were no problem. Tuesday, a friend of mine went to see it. Oh the potential! It’s not fancy schmantzy, but then nor am I. The kitchen (my most important room) is big. And there’s lots of counter and storage space in the kitchen. It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a kitchen with so much space.

Oh, and the kitchen is colorful.

1021141146It’s a little more orange in real life, and I love it. It has been so long since I’ve had anything other than plain, boring off-white or beige walls.

There are counters on both side walls as well as shelves. I hope to make “curtains” for the open shelves. The table can go next to the window, or I could put it in the middle of the kitchen as more workspace. Options! I love options!

So why am I saying so long and thankful for fish? Well, I’m moving. But I’m also changing my lifestyle considerably. I’m moving from an urban area to a former mining hamlet in the Adirondacks. There are no businesses (at least that I could see on our visit) and about 250 people. There are empty storefronts that would be perfect for my dream bread bakery, jam, jelly, butter, cheese, sausage, ferment, etc. shop, including one next to an old cemetery. Depending on weather, my self-sustainability can come in very handy.

I am keeping this blog, of course. But I’ll also be starting one that will cover this life change. A publisher has shown interest in a book about it, so I will be blogging with that in mind. Once I have the blog set up, I hope you will visit it and comment often. But don’t forget The Enabling Cook. I’m moving next week, and I’m hopeful I’ll be back up to speed with posts here soon.

 

*This is the title of one of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guides, as well as the theme song to the film, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

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Oct
10

Let the Imagination Run Free

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I knew it was going to happen. So why did it surprise me when my brain filled with visions of sausage flavors?

Well, that’s exactly what has happened since I made my first sausage in casings. It’s as though I opened the floodgates of sausage flavor goodness. I keep trying to find something that tastes good (duh) and allows me to show some creativity. And if I can get some smoky flavor, all the better.

I’m lucky to have an indoor smoker and a nice selection of woods. But I don’t always want to smoke my sausage. My breakfast sausage, for example, is one I prefer not to smoke. But the other day, I thought, I want some smoky flavor in my breakfast sausage. I think that would make a great sausage gravy. But I still didn’t want to smoke it.

One alternative to smoking the sausage is using ingredients that have a smoky flavor themselves. One of my favorites is cumin. I use it so much I buy it by the pound. You can also buy–or make your own–smoked paprika. Even roasted red peppers can impart a very slight smoky flavor.

You can also smoke ingredients going into the sausage. Smoking the ingredients takes less time than smoking the sausage. Smoked onions or onion powder, smoked peppers, and smoked pecans work.

Smoked pecans?

Yes, smoked pecans. I decided to make a pork sausage with maple syrup and smoked pecans. I did a 10-minute cold smoke of the pecans using maple wood chips. When finished, they had a slight smoky flavor. Almost like you know there’s something different about it, but you can’t quite put your finger on what that “something” is. Just the way I like it!

Maple Smoked Pecan BreakfastI chopped them fine and added the maple syrup and other ingredients. I prefer my breakfast sausage in patties, so I rolled and wrapped it rather than put it in casings. After I took the above picture, I realized I should have wrapped it like my baloney, so I rewrapped it. Then into the refrigerator for a 24-hour nap.

Patties of maple syrup with smoked pecans breakfast sausage were featured for breakfast the next morning.

Maple smoked pecanAnd mighty tasty they were. The rest was wrapped well in plastic wrap and then foil before going into the freezer. I can slice off patties as needed.

Many people are hesitant to try unfamiliar flavor combinations. But this is one of the great things about doing it yourself. I don’t know about you, but I’ve not found smoked pecans in my supermarkets, and certainly not in sausage. Think about what flavor combinations you enjoy and try them with other foods. For example, like cranberries and oranges in your Thanksgiving cranberry sauce? Add them to a poultry or poultry and pork sausage. Try a little cinnamon or cocoa in a sausage you’ll use for chili.

It’s likely not all combinations will be successful, or at least as successful as you’d like. But you’ll know. And you’ll probably hit on a great combination from time to time.

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Oct
02

Welcoming Delicata

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One of my favorite parts of participating in a CSA program is discovering new foods. The past couple weeks I’ve had delicata squash in my share boxes. This one was completely new to me. I’d not even seen it in grocery stores, and I don’t remember seeing them at the farmers’ market. But since I’m not a huge squash fan, I may have simply overlooked them there.

Delicata Squash

Delicata Squash

I looked online for recipes, and apparently you can use it like other winter squashes. But I couldn’t find anything that really interested me that much. Then the farm that provides my CSA posted a recipe for a delicata breakfast hash. Now that grabbed my attention! But of course I had to tweak it a bit.

I peeled, seeded, and chopped the squash. Then I chopped onion and apples. Of course the hash called for sausage, so I made little meatballs out of the bulk sausage I made a while ago. Now those things were part of the original recipe. But that’s where my path veered away. First, I added additional ingredients, like apple cider vinegar, cinnamon extract, and paprika. And I wanted to cook it on the stove. So I added a bit of water. I also added some kale.

Delicata

For my first foray into delicata squash, I must say it is a huge success! And this comes from someone who’s used to eating winter squash with lots of butter and brown sugar. I was a bit concerned about how the apple cider vinegar would work, but I love the slight tang it gives. Of course you could leave it out. And if you want a vegetarian option, leave out the sausage.

If you’re looking for a different way to make squash, give this a try. It will work with any winter squash, and the options are vast. Here’s my recipe.

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Sep
27

Sometimes a Shortcut Can Be a Tasty Thing

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I woke up this morning craving cake. Specifically a spice cake. That’s pretty unusual for me. When I awake with a craving (which gratefully doesn’t happen often), it’s usually for something savory. But there was no fighting it this morning. There had to be cake.

When I was looking through things the other day, I found a boxed spice cake mix. I have no idea when or where I bought it, but I wasn’t going to throw it away. But I knew there had to be a way to make it better. Oh, and this would be a great way to use my Wilton 2105-4827 Easy Flex Silicone 4-Cavity Mini Fluted Tube baking pan. I think I got it the same time I bought the cake mix. Hmmm . . .

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Now how to “fix” the cake mix. The first thing seemed obvious. I added about a teaspoon of my vanilla paste. There’s also about a tablespoon of freshly ground grains of paradise now int there, too. There was an extract I wanted to add, but unfortunately, we’re about 5 weeks from readiness. Oh well, this would work.

Mini spice cake

And it sure did. Well I had to perform quality control, didn’t I?

If you want to make your own spice cake, that’s fabulous. That’s what I usually do. Consider changing up the recipe from time to time. Add some grains of paradise or another spice of your choice. Change up your extracts, or even switch to a paste rather than an extract. Have fun with your food!

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Sep
26

Buying Memories

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After my In the Case post, someone told me it reminded her of when her grandfather made venison sausage. It was a happy memory for her, which made me happy. Besides nourishing the body, food makes memories that, in turn, nourishes the soul. At least that’s how I look at it.

I’ve also mentioned how much I love it when people throw off the shackles of a school mind-set and actually write in their cookbooks and on recipe cards. Posters in one of my Facebook groups have been sharing photos of their cookbooks and cards lovingly enhanced with comments from their ancestors. Although the notes might have been originally written down so recipe tweaks could be remembered for the next time, their effects have reached subsequent generations. Each time someone looks at that book or recipe, he or she is reminded of the person who cared enough to make notations.

When I was a kid, we ate basically the same dishes over and over again, so my mom had little use for a cookbook or recipe cards. My grandmother didn’t either. After all, she’d cooked for generations. Her recipes were never written down.

I missed not having a collection of well-worn recipes to refer to–to read like someone might read an ancestor’s diary. To compensate for that loss, several weeks ago I bid on some recipe collections on eBay. I was quickly outbid on all but 1 set. The excitement was almost overwhelming. Those of you who are collectors or love to cook likely know exactly what I mean. I bet you know what happened next. Yep, I was outbid at the last minute.

Again I was deprived of a culinary ancestry, even if I had to buy someone else’s. This made me very sad. Probably more than it should have. But we all have our priorities.

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Sep
25

Eggs in the Bag

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I couldn’t sleep the other night. So instead of lying in bed tossing and turning, I got up and checked out what was on Netflix. I landed on The Mind of a Chef. I don’t know how that show ever got past me. Its chockablock with information and quite entertaining.

I love poached eggs, but I seldom make them. I just can’t seem to get it right. Oh sure, I could get a special pan, but I certainly don’t have room for any more pans, especially unitaskers. Those silicone cups don’t work very well for me either. Alas, I felt doomed to eating them only at restaurants.

But then came The Mind of a Chef. One of the featured chefs made them in plastic wrap. Yes, that cling film many of us have in our kitchens. You know–the thing we curse out with almost every use. He made it seem easy enough, so I had to give it a try. Ergo, tonight’s dinner and this blog post.

You start out by placing in piece of plastic wrap in a cup or bowl. Make sure the wrap is large enough so it can be formed into a bag later. Spray it lightly with nonstick spray. Crack an egg into the plastic wrap.

HPIM1470You can add seasonings here, too.

Carefully draw the edges of the plastic together to form a bag, like you’re draining cheese curds or yogurt.

HPIM1471Twist the bags together tightly, but take care not to break the yolk. Tie securely with kitchen twine. Cut the twine, leaving about 6 inches. You’ll see why in the next step.

Place the eggs in a medium pan of boiling water, holding onto the strings. Take care they do not touch the bottom of the pan.

HPIM1473Let the eggs cook about 4 minutes. Remove them from the bags and place on your favorite serving vessel. In my case, toast made from homemade bread.

HPIM1474This photo shows I forgot 2 things. First, I forgot to add the seasoning to the eggs in the bags. And second, I forgot to spray the plastic wrap. The one on the left stuck, but the one on the right came out just fine, looking like a little mozzarella ball. Regardless of how they look they tasted great.

Incidentally, if you’re one of those who have trouble shelling boiled eggs, this will work for you. After all, there’s no pesky shell to deal with!

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Sep
23

In the Case

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It finally happened. And it wasn’t nearly as difficult–or scary–as I thought it would be.

So what is this achievement, long in coming but completely worth it? Here it is.

First cased sausageOkay, I can see you scratching your head or muttering, “Huh? What’s the big deal?”

Well, for me it is a big deal. Yes, I’ve made lots of sausage. There are even some homemade sausage recipes on this blog. But previous attempts to get said sausage into casings seemed impossible. I have the sausage stuffing attachments for my KitchenAid, but once assembled, it’s a bit too tall for me to stuff the sausage in the hopper and control the casing as it comes out. All right, there might be a coordination issues here, too. I found a well-respected stuffer I like, but it is beginning to look like it will be a long time coming. So I needed another option or forget about stuffing sausage.

Then I found this, Eastman Outdoors Jerky and Sausage Maker Gun; Heavy Duty: Includes 2 Jerky Nozzles, Meat Barrel, 3 Sausage Stuffer Tubes

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It seemed like a viable alternative, especially since I wasn’t sure how interested I would be in actually stuffing sausage.

It worked great! The only problem I had was stuffing the sausage mixture into the tube without having air pockets. In a recent LEM’s catalog, I noticed they sell a tamper-like device to do that. The only complaint I have is that it doesn’t hold a lot. It’s not much of a complaint, since I do work in small batches. And should I decide to stay with this style of stuffer, there is a larger one available.

The other hindrance to stuffing sausage was the idea of working with casings. It wasn’t nearly as “icky” as I thought it might be. These are stuffed in hog casings. I want to try beef and edible collagen casings next.

Because I don’t have viable curing cabinet that allows for hanging sausage, I’m somewhat limited in the types of sausages I can make. But the flavor possibilities are endless, and that’s what’s important to me.

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Sep
18

The Honey Adventure Continues

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You might remember a while back I posted about fermenting garlic in honey.

honeygarlic1The idea was to use the garlic and garlic-flavored honey in cooking. And I did. Kind of. I think I ate most of the garlic cloves as snacks. In other words, it was a mighty tasty and obviously a very successful project.

I started another jar of garlic honey the about a month ago. But I expanded my honey horizons and started a jar of mostly hot peppers in honey. They’re mostly jalapeños, but I did add a few bell peppers that I grew in my garden.

And then I saw the pineapple sitting on my counter. I bought it to make pineapple shrub, but that particular day, it was sitting awfully close to some habaneros, serranos, and cayenne peppers. I’m thinking you can guess what happened next. Yes, I now have a jar of those peppers and cubed pineapple fermenting in honey. Incidentally, pieces of the pineapple core

HPIM1463are keeping the rest of the ingredients submerged.

As for how I’m going to use these, again I’m thinking primarily in cooking. Particularly in sauces. I’m still on the quest for the perfect barbecue sauce, and these may help me pull that off. Then there’s my hot sauces . . .

How long am I going to let these ferment before using? I’m not sure. I’d ideally like to go for a year. But I’m not sure I can be that patient. Stay tuned.

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Sep
17

A Sure Sign of Autumn: Pumpkin in Everything!

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Oh yes, it’s almost autumn. And I don’t just mean the changing colors of the leaves and the crispness of the air. Perhaps the best indicator of the change from summer to autumn is the line of customers at Starbucks, waiting for their Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Or maybe finding pumpkin-flavored ice cream at the grocery store.

I  have loved pumpkin since I was a child. I have one candle, and it’s a pumpkin-scented one. Yes, my love affair with pumpkins is deep. It does not, however, extend to pumpkin-flavored coffees and I confess I have a minor attraction to pumpkin-flavored ice cream. But there are many other ways for me to enjoy pumpkin. And ergo this blog post.

I love fruit spreads, often called butters. Last year I made a pineapple honey one to die for. And then there’s apple butter, of course. One of my biggest disappointments when I moved to New York was being unable to find my favorite apple butters in the store. That’s changed now, but not before I learned to make my own. This year I decided I was going to make pumpkin butter.

Pumpkin Butter

Pumpkin Butter

Before I continue, let me say I used canned pumpkin for this. In fact, I use it almost exclusively, much to the snide comments from purists. I try to keep several cans on hand, partly because I can use it for my cats’ occasional intestinal upsets. I also get more consistent results using it rather than pumpkin “on the hoof” so to speak.

Making pumpkin butter is incredibly simple: pumpkin, brown sugar (light or dark; I used my homemade, which happened to be dark this time), honey, spices, and a wee bit of lemon juice. Put it in a pot and reduce. Seriously, that’s what it takes.

When it comes to spices, use what you like in the amounts you like. You can even use the pumpkin pie spice blend you can find in most stores. I used my Punkin Pie Spice blend. I happen to like a lot of seasoning in my pumpkin, but if I’m making it for someone else, I tend to tone it down.

When it’s thickened to your desired consistency, let it cool a bit before putting it in a jar. Let in come to room temperature, and store in the refrigerator. You may be tempted to can it. I do can most of my fruit butters but not pumpkin. Canning experts say not to can anything with pumpkin puree; it’s too dense. I figure they know more than I do, so into the fridge it goes. Besides, it’s so tasty it doesn’t last long!

Here’s my version of pumpkin butter.

 

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Sep
15

When Black Flakes Are Good

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Some of us are old enough to remember the early days of nonstick cookware. It was no longer necessary to use butter or some other fat to prevent sticking. After a while, we usually began to see small black flecks in our food. At first, we make have successfully chalked them up to black pepper we may have forgotten we added. But eventually, we came to realize this “wonder coating” was coming off our pots and pans and into our food. Not a good thing.

But there are some black things we do want to see in our food. The aforementioned black pepper is one of them. And vanilla bean flecks are another. Vanilla is one of my favorite ice cream flavors, and I also look for the ones with the flecks of vanilla bean. My long-term love affair with the vanilla bean led me to making my own vanilla extract. Now upward and onward.

When Laura of Square Peg Farm posted a photo on Facebook of her homemade ice cream, it made me hungry. But what really caught my attention was the jar of vanilla paste sitting beside it. I’d heard of it, but I’d never tried vanilla paste. That just wouldn’t do. After all, I love vanilla.

My first task was to find places to buy it. Uh, that can be some pricey stuff! And well, since I always have vanilla beans, because I make my own vanilla extract. The smart thing was to look for recipes. Found. I couldn’t decide which I wanted to try, so I decided to try both.

The Great Vanilla Experiment

The Great Vanilla Experiment

Most recipes call for sugar–sometimes a lot. But I found a recipe on Desserts with Benefits that uses agave syrup. It’s incredibly easy. Throw the vanilla beans, agave syrup, and vanilla extract in a food processor and whir until pulverized. Then strain it through a fine mesh sieve. Pour into jar and refrigerate. Done. The results are #1 in the photo above.

Number 2 above it the vanilla paste made according to the most prevalent recipes. You’ll need

  • 20 grams (about 3/4 ounce) vanilla beans; it was 7 of the ones I have.)
  • 60 grams (about 2.1 ounces) sugar
  • 60 grams (about 2.1 ounces) water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

I always wipe of my beans with a dry paper towel or cloth before beginning. Now you have a couple options. You can take  a sharp knife, cut a slit down one side, and take out the caviar (the lovely black bits). Or, you can rough chop the whole beans. Whatever method you choose, throw the caviar or chopped beans into a food processor. Add the sugar and process until you have a fine powder. Put the powder and the remaining ingredients into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer until you get a syrupy consistency. Pour into a jar, cool, and refrigerate.

So which version is best? Well I like them both. Number 1 has more of an extract flavor. Number 2 is more paste like, which is to be expected since you cook out much of the liquid. I see uses for both.

Speaking of uses, how do you use this stuff? Short answer: The same way you use extract. But this way, you’ll have those beautiful little black flecks that scream out, “I have real vanilla bean inside me!” Keep in mind, though, that you don’t do a 1:1 replacement. Experiment, of course, but you’ll probably find you need only half the amount of vanilla paste as you do extract.

Enjoy.

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