July 2009 Archives

Lydia, Queen of Sausages
By Lydia on July 23, 2009 10:37 AM| | Comments (7)
Just a quick warning, folks: If you are meat-sensitive, vegan, or easily grossed out, maybe skip this one.

There are few food projects, I think, messier, more laborious, and more emotionally taxing than sausage-making. I realized this watching the meat grinder birth mealy tendrils of pork, getting gummed up every so often with fat and white gristle as I pounded the stuff down the feed tube. The meat bloomed up from the grinding disc in an almost unbelievably huge mass before separating under its weight and falling into the bowl. I thought of fetuses, placentas, alien-life forms, and people losing limbs in industrial accidents. This was going to be good.

I first thought of sausages only because my new mixer came with a meat grinder and a sausage making funnel-tube-thing. Before that, unlike cheese, bread, and jam, making my own sausage was very much not on my list. I mean, I don't even eat sausage beside an occasional bratwurst or kielbasa at someone's "let's grill shit" party. But here came the mixer, with that little sausage-stuffing-tube thingy and everything changed. I didn't have a plan, really, but the possibility was there in the back of my head. I still wasn't planning to actually do it when I picked up a book at the library and spent a day reading up. It wasn't until I found myself staring at hog casings that I realized what I was preparing to do. It seemed like sausage was happening to me, that I wasn't any part in the causation. I mean, I had just picked up fresh oregano at the farmer's market, I had all the ingredients in my fridge, I had zombie walked into Meijer and bought a huge chunk of pig shoulder, and, yes, now I was fingering hog casings, but it felt like it was someone else doing it. 

First, I did my best to bone and de-gristle the pig. To be honest, this was the least gross part of the entire operation. I wrapped up my meat and shoved it in the freezer to make it easier to cut and grind. I sliced open the packet of casings (gritty!) and cut off a piece to soak. This is supposed to make it softer and easier to work, but when you put it in the water it balloons a little and suddenly there are all these veins and whoa! that's some intestine you got there! I admit a little thrill upon seeing this. I think it is a sign of my fetishization of DIY in the kitchen.  "Here's the intrepid farm woman, using all the parts of the animal!"

With the pork cut up and the flavorings assembled, then came the wrestle with the meat. This is not a gentle process. I was sweating by the time I had a full bowl of the greyish pinkish mush that used to be an animal. With my hands, I mooshed in the flavorings: parmesean cheese, white wine, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper. The hard part was coming next. I couldn't find the sausage-funnel-stuffing-attachment! The whole point of this wretched exercise was that I had this tool that would make the whole thing possible. I looked everywhere. I tore the cabinets apart, but I could not find it. So now I have an impossible pile of sweaty meat, my kitchen is covered with trichinosis, and I have no stuffing thingy. There was no way I was letting the grinding go to waste, so I cut the end off a funnel and put my bewildered-determined face on and started trying to gentle the casing onto the funnel.

I think maybe the best description for this step is easing a foot-long, tissue-paper condom on your arm, underwater. It is not easy. Then you tie the end of the casing, fill the funnel with meat-mix, and start shoving the stuff through into the intestine. This makes horrible squelching noises. Lots of air tends to get shoved in with the meat, so there is a lot of pausing and massaging of air bubbles, and then a distinct farting sound when the air is forced back out of the growing sausage. I managed, somehow, to make 4 roughly foot-long sausages, but looking back the whole thing is rather fuzzy. I can only explain my state of mind as zen-ish; I went to another place, and my hands stuffed intestines with what is, with brilliant logic, called forcemeat. And then suddenly I was done. I had, without thinking, lined the sausages up neatly on a pan in the fridge, bleached the fuck out of the kitchen, and poured myself a glass of wine.

This is how Ted found me, some time later, with a glazed expression on my face. He looked at me questioningly, and I said "I made sausage?" He sort of laughed, so I made him look in the refrigerator at my pale, fat, baloney smelling links. I was a surprised at how much they looked like sausage. Its really all sort of a blur. But they were delicious.
On Keeping Fruit
By Lydia on July 10, 2009 12:32 PM| | Comments (5)
I've been spending my morning eating cherries and watching Julia Child, and I've been thinking about how clueless I am regarding food. I care, and I try, and that's a good start, but I think I am a long way from the sort of effortless understanding of ingredients and techniques that I would like. I would like to have an encyclopedic knowledge of proper storage, prep and cooking method for each fruit, vegetable, fish, and cut of meat. I would like to not have to look up a recipe for biscuits. I would like to quit second guessing my cooking methods halfway through!

I assume this will only take time and practice, and by the time I'm 50 I'll be the Greatest Cook in the World. I think, though, that with the current glut of farmer's market produce (and cherries in my mouth) a good place to start is with fruit storage. I hope you don't mind reviewing with me.

Apple: If eating or using quickly, leave them out in a cool place. If storing for more than a couple of days, put them in the fridge in the driest possible spot.

Banana: Throw them on the counter, or better, hang them to avoid bruises and uneven coloration. Save way overripe ones in the freezer for banana bread.

Blackberries: Store unwashed in fridge for 1-2 days, in a single layer if possible. These don't ripen after picking, so you need to make sure the ones you buy are ripe, but then if you keep them in a pile, the bottom ones will be mooshed.

Blueberries: Make sure they are dry before refrigerating them (up to 5-6 days.) Damp berries will rot.

Cherries: Pick out any soft ones and store in the fridge for not more than a couple of days. Rinse just before using.

Grapes: Store in the refrigerator in their original, perforated, plastic bag. For best results, wrap them first in a paper towel to absorb even more moisture.  This trick is also very good with  perishable herbs, like cilantro and fresh parsley.

Mangoes: If you buy an unripe one, leave it on the counter until it's ripened, then store in fridge. It'll keep for half a week or so.

Oranges: Leave them unwrapped on the counter. If you expect them to be juicy do not refrigerate them, though they do keep a couple days longer.

Peaches: Ripen, if needed, by leaving them out stem side down. This end is the last to ripen, and will support the fruit better, leaving less bruising. This is the proper way to ripen tomatoes as well. Once ripe, store in fridge for not more than a couple of days.

Raspberries: These are very delicate. Like all berries, don't wash them until right before eating, as the damp makes the rot. Store them for as short a time as possible in a not too cold part of the fridge, like the door.

Strawberries: If you can manage it, these taste best when unrefrigerated, but they will not keep out of the cold. Pick out the mushy ones and store loosely wrapped in fridge.

So what do you think? Want to hear about the vegetables too?


Drinks for Summer
By Lydia on July 6, 2009 3:20 PM| | Comments (4)
Cutting pictures for belated thank-you notes, I just stumbled upon an out of date New Yorker article on the subject of hangovers. The author, Joan Acocella, makes the excellent point that science really should have found a cure by now, and freely quotes the brilliant Kingsly Amis. The article, though, instead of prodding me toward abstinence, has had the alternate effect, making me dream of all my favorite summertime cocktails. I am hoping that writing about them will quench my thirst for now, leaving my evening free of hangover. I'll get to that in the morning.

If You're Having a Party:
The Mojito:
I must admit my love/hate relationship with this venerable cuban concoction, stemming from how frequently I make them at work. That said, it is a delicious and refreshing combination, and one which is simply made at home, but rather impressive to serve. First off, you don't have to spend a lot of money buying mint at the grocery store, where it costs aproximately one arm and one leg. Instead, pick it up for cheap at the Farmer's Market, or for free at any number of places in town where it grows freely as a weed. My go-to spot is a secret, in case someone decides to care that I take it from there, but I'll probably tell you if you ask me in person. You will need 2 or 3 good sized leaves per drink, or more, if you are using pint glasses.

The leaves go into a glass with half a lime, sliced into quarters, and half a tablespoon of sugar. Using a wooden spoon (or a muddler if you have one, but who does?) moosh the limes to juice and bruise the mint. Contrary to what some restaurants would have us think, you do not want to shred the mint! The alcohol is going to draw the flavor out, and really, the muddling just helps that process along. If you do too much damage to the fruit and mint, you're only looking for bitterness. Add a couple ounces of rum (light is traditional, but dark can be wonderful) and stir a bit to disolve the sugar. If you are using simple syrup, you can skip this step and add ice right away. Fill the glass with ice, top with soda water, stir to mix, imbibe!

A quick note on ice: making drinks at home, many people use just a few cubes per drink, saving space for more liquor. I think it's nicer to ice the drink properly, and have a second. Your proportions will be more accurate, your drinks good and cold, and the second will be as fresh as the first.

If It's Too Hot for Dinner:
The Shandy:
This is basically taking beer with lime one step further. A shandy is a beer/lemonade mixture found under different names in much of Europe and its former colonies. The lemonade is best fizzy, but that can be hard to find in the U.S. (not so at our cottage in canada, where the IGA supermarket brand "Nous Compliments" comes fizzy in cans, even in grapefruit) so sometimes I use frozen lemonade concentrate instead. One spoon of that in the bottom of a glass topped with lager makes a weird twist on a float, but its fizzy and sweet and I love it.

If You Need A Trip To The Grocery Store for the AC
Tinto de Verano/Calimocho:
The preferred drink of spanish teenagers, both these drinks start with cheap red wine, iced. Scandalous!!! The former is topped with Sprite, the latter with Coke. More common in the south of spain than sangria (for the townies, at least) these drinks may sound gross or low-brow, but when it's too hot for pants, who really cares? Besides, I can guarantee that teenage spanish cred is cooler than fancy-pants wine snob cred.

Note: the wine must be cheap!!

If You've Given Up:
My boyfriend says brandy is the perfect drink for summer, because it gets better when it's warm. Of course, he says that in the winter, too. In all honesty, though, brandy can be rad on a summer bike ride along the river. Stick it in you pocket to keep good and warm, but keep the apple juice chaser in your backpack. For a treat, chase with ginger beer.

I hope this lovely day finds all of you well, and that we all avoid metaphysical hangovers in our little indulgences...