Monday, July 21, 2008

Birthday Sausages

Well, we've just returned home from the big birthday bash detailed last week in my post "35 people, 5 Meals, 3 Days." I believe it to have been a resounding success, and great fun. I so enjoyed the planning and prep, but more importantly all of the people who were able to come. And they came from all over. We had out-of-staters from Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon and people drove 4-8 hours from Palm Springs, Los Angeles, Red Bluff, and the Bay Area, not to mention those a bit closer in Lincoln and Marysville. It made my birthday all that more special to share it with all these people and actually get some time to visit and reconnect. And everyone pitched in to do their part, prepping, cooking, serving, cleaning, bartending. I could go on and on, but this is a food blog, so I'll get down to the basics. I will try, over the next couple of weeks, to put up recipes of the items that I made and that were served at the party. All got rave reviews. There are a few things that I don't have recipes for, as I do tend to go about things in my own way without directions, so I apologize in advance for that.

Starting off with Friday night dinner, here is the menu that was served;

Friday Night
Salsa/Chips + Crudite + Perlini Bruschetta
Fred Burgers
Homemade Sausages
Corn on the Cob
Green Salad
Make-Your-Own Sundaes

Brilliant Daughter made the salsa, which I wrote about in a post called "Salsalicious" last May. It always gets rave reviews, and someone even asked to take home the little bit of salsa that was left over. It's not a difficult salsa to make and can be adapted for many palates. This version was not too terribly spicy, but the smokiness from the roasted tomatoes and peppers came through loud and clear. The perlini bruschetta is something that Brilliant Daughter invented almost two years ago. I wrote about it in January of 2007, and you can get the recipe here. Unfortunately, there was so much food that this dish did not get served. However, we brought it home and worked on it Sunday night, and I will probably use the leftovers in either a hot pasta dish or a cold pasta salad. Waste not, want not.

The Fred Burgers are legendary around here and available at Schaub's Market at Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto. The almost black hamburger patties are made from Schaub's famous Fred's Steak, a marinated tri-tip, that is ground with chuck to made a succulent, tasty burger that many swear is the best they have ever had. It is a top-secret family recipe, so no luck in sharing that one with you. So first on our list is the homemade sausage that I made with the help of Brilliant Daughter, Mr. B, and our friends Jen and Jason Ko. We all got together earlier this month and spent the afternoon in the kitchen, making sausage and herb salts for the goodie bags. It was a good time, and it tested out my new KitchenAid 600 series mixer, my version of a power tool.

We started with a pork shoulder from Robert's Market, which Butcher Son put through a grinder for me. If you have a local butcher, you can have this done, but buying regular ground pork should work just as well. Butcher Son also brought home the sausage casings, which always seem deceptively small in size and volume, but are always more than I can use. I had trouble deciding on recipes, but knew I wanted one made with beer, one that was spicy, and one that was mild but flavorful. After extensive searching, I finally decided on a Sundried Tomato/Mozzarealla sausage recipe that I found on the internet, and then developed a spicy beer sausage of my own. Nothing like testing a recipe on 35 unsuspecting family members!

Sausage is not difficult to make and if you don't want to put it in casings, you can make it into patties to cook and serve. The most time-consuming part is stuffing the meat into the casings, which requires a meat grinder with attachment (hand or electric), a standing mixer with attachment, or a sausage-stuffing machine. The attachments for my KitchenAid cost about $20-25 (it requires the grinder and sausage attachments). It is quite a process to push down the mean through the tube into the casings, but with lots of hands in the kitchen, it doesn't seem arduous, and the result is oh-so-very satisfying.

The first recipe is from The Spicy Sausage website. It caught my eye as something a bit different. I do think it is a bit tricky putting cheese into a sausage. When grilling this type of sausage, if the casing pops or bursts at all, the melting cheese rains down – so you not only lose the cheese, but it makes a mess of the barbeque. Because these are raw sausages which take longer to grill, I suggest you pre-boil them for 15 minutes. Then you will only need to grill them to reheat and crisp up, with less chance of the fire or flame causing holes in the casing.

I couldn't find a spicy recipe I really liked the look of, so I went ahead and developed my own recipe. It wasn’t quite as spicy as I would have liked, but given the variety of palates being served, I think it was a good choice.

The basic process of making sausage, in very simplistic terms, is:
• mix up the meat mixture (I prefer to do this with latex-gloved hands rather than a spoon)
• do a test fry – form a small patty and fry up. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed
• assemble sausage stuffing equipment
• grease up the sausage attachment (vegetable oil works fine)
• thread on the casings
• stuff the casings, winding into a large circle (see photos at right)
• once done, twist casings to make the individual sausages (alternating clockwise and counterclockwise)
• Voila, done…..

Sun-Dried Tomato Sausage
5-lbs ground pork
3/4-lbs whole milk mozzarella, cut into 1⁄4” cubes
1-bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped
6 1⁄2-oz sun-dried tomatoes in oil, coarsely chopped
1-tbsp dried basil
1-tbsp fennel seed
1-tbsp coarse black pepper
1-tbsp salt
1-tbsp ground coriander
3⁄4-cup dry white wine

Mix all dry seasonings together with wine in a large bowl. Add in the meat, tomatoes, cheese, and parsley. Mix thoroughly and stuff into casings. Makes about 25-20 sausages, depending upon size.

Susan's Spicy Sausage
5-lbs ground pork, coarse grind
8oz bottle beer
1.5-tbsp coarse ground black pepper
1.5-tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp white pepper
1.5-tbsp cayenne
4-tbsp smoked Hungarian paprika
2-tbsp salt
2-tbsp whole mustard seeds
1/8-cup minced fresh garlic
1 1/2-tbsp garlic powder
1-tsp ground bay leaves
1-tsp coriander
1-tsp ground thyme
3 T brown sugar

Mix all the spices and garlic into the beer. Pour the spiced liquid over the meat. Mix thoroughly and stuff into casings. Makes about 25-30 sausages, depending upon size.

The sausages seemed to be a big hit at the party. They got cooked, along with the burgers, on the biggest Weber barbeque that I have ever seen (and one that had most of the guys at the party drooling). I served them with three types of Sierra Nevada mustards, adding to the taste quotient. I would definitely make them both again, and encourage you to try your hand at making sausage. You'll be pleasantly surprised, I promise.

Also, a big thanks to Jen and Jason Ko, Brilliant Daughter, and Mr. B for their time and assistance, Butcher Son for his consultation and providing the raw ingredients, and my friends and family for sharing this weekend and this meal with me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

35 People, 5 Meals, 3 Days

I am in the last throes of planning a party. A big party. A 3-day party for 35 people at a hotel/retreat in the Sierras. And I am amazed at the amount of planning, the amount of food, and the amount of cooking and prep time it is taking. Just astounding. There is about 65 pounds of meat alone, including Schaub's famous Fred Burgers, two kinds of homemade sausage (sundried tomato/mozzarella and spicy hot), breakfast sausage, turkey and pork/beef for the two kinds of chili, and the beef tenderloins (four big 6-pound hunks). A flat of strawberries and 8 melons, along with 40 ears of corn and 6 pounds of asparagus. Three kinds of homemade cookies, totaling 150 scoops, which I then IQFed (individual quick freeze) so that I can bake them fresh up at the party. Three pounds of homemade dark chocolate almond bark with vanilla sea salt, 40 individual shortbreads, and 40 fruit gelees. And the list goes on.

Brilliant daughter and I have worked tirelessly, but happily, in the kitchen. I even treated myself to a new KitchenAid mixer. My old one, eighteen years of hard use, is still operational but very very tired. It will be passed to my daughter, who will, no doubt, get many more yearsmichael-apron.jpg of service from it. But I needed something with more power and a bigger bowl to facilitate sausage making and larger batches of everything. So I bought a KitchenAid 600 series in pearl metallic. It’s a beauty and has worked great thus far. Happy birthday to me…..

In addition to aforementioned homemade sausage, chili, cookies, almond bark, and shortbread, we have also made salsa, strawberry sundae sauce, pickles, and perlini bruschetta topping. We'll also be making Café Beaujolis coffeecakes on Saturday and pain perdu on Sunday. This ought to be one fat and happy crowd when all is said and done.

My brother and sister-in-law even had aprons made for the party. (see brother modeling one at right in his newly remodeled kitchen which is wonderful) They have the theme of the party embroidered on them "eat.drink.merry." One for every guest to go in their "goodie bags" which include homemade herb salt and Scharffenberger chocolate, among other things. Which reminds me, I need to get back to putting those together and packing up all the food. Meanwhile, here is the complete menu for you to see:

Friday Night
Salsa/Chips + Crudite + Perlini Bruschetta
Fred Burgers
Homemade Sausages
Corn on the Cob
Homemade pickles
Green Salad
Make-Your-Own Sundaes
Gordon Biersch Beer, Margaritas, and Mojitos

Saturday Breakfast
Pecan-Buttermilk Coffeecake
Sausages Links
Fruit Salad
Peet's Coffee
Tea – Herbal and Regular
Juice – Orange and Cranberry
Bloody Marys

Saturday Lunch
Black Bean/Smoked Pasilla Chili (pork/beef or turkey)
Cornbread with honey butter
Soda and Iced Tea
Homemade chocolate chip/pecan, Triple Ginger, or PBJ

Saturday Dinner
Cheese Tasting
selection of cheeses, mixed olives, baguette, and accompaniments
Beef Tenderloin Served with blue cheese compound butter
Roasted Herbed Fingerling Potatoes
Steamed Asparagus with lemon aioli
Dessert Trio
Nana's shortbread, dark chocolate almond bark with vanilla sea salt and fruit gelee
Champagne, Wine, Open Bar

Sunday Brunch
Pain Perdu
Melon Duo
Peet's Coffee
Tea – Herbal and Regular
Juice – Orange and Cranberry

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's All About the Lemons

Meyer lemons, that is. Our trees, which normally bear the bulk of their fruit in November and December, with fruit available through February, have been dragging their feet this year. November gave us barely a one, December brought enough for our own use and some special Meyer lemon salt that I make for gifts. In January, they started ripening quickly, which allowed Brilliant Daughter and I to make two batches of lemon curd and to send some up to my Meyer-deprived friend in Seattle (which she kindly blogged about).

But February is the month when we pulled the most fruit, making more lemon curd, sharing with more friends, and cooking and serving everything with lemons: scones, cupcakes, roasted chickens, potatoes, Dutch Babies, salad dressings…. (apologies for not blogging about all these, but I promise I had a good reason.) March is shaping up to be almost as good as February, which brings me to today's post…all about lemons.

It is Butcher Son's birthday. Instead of a simple lemon meringue pie, I decided to try a recipe that Jen over at Eating Plum wrote about several weeks ago. You might remember Jen and her new hubby Jason from my recent post, Interactive Dinner, where they came over to help cook Sunday dinner. Jen and Jason love food. Jen works for Food Buzz (read her recent thrill "My dinner at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon"), as well as writing Eating Plum. Husband Jason recently joined the ranks with his own food blog lovingly called Cooking For My Wife. (A big 'ahhhhh' here.)

Anyway, in her post titled "My Affair with Meyer Lemons," she wrote about a Meyer Lemon Cake that she had made. Now this is a more involved recipe than I normally post, but because it was a special occasion, and I like to spoil my children with good food, I decided I would attempt this cake. Needless to say, I went through 3 mixing bowls, 3 measuring cups, 3 spatulas, 3 pots, an electric juicer, 2 types of electric beaters, measuring spoons, cutting board, and a few other utensils. It also involved folding stiff egg whites into a lemon/yolk mixture, as well as folding in flour, and also the melted butter, resulting in 5 folds in all. If I have a weakness, other than making pie crust, it is the folding of egg whites. I don't know if I am too impatient, or have bad technique, but usually foods of this nature do not turn out quite right. But today I was determined and I think I got it right. Jen had warned that flour lumps could occur, so to minimize this I went to extra lengths. Specifically, after the first flour fold (prior to the first egg white fold), I made sure I got all the lumps out. Then during the first egg white fold, when it was halfway folded, I began sprinkling in flour every 5-6 folds. By gradually adding the flour in small amounts, it appears that you can eliminate the lumping issue. Proudly putting the cake in the oven, I turned my attention to the glaze and candied lemon slices.

The syrup was easy—just lemon juice and powdered sugar, cooked until the sugar melted. (You may need to reheat this a bit if it is too stiff to pour on the warm cake.) The candied lemon slices brought about an unexpected bonus. I wanted all the slices to be perfect, without big seed holes, so I primarily used the outer 1/3 of each side of the lemon, cutting of the ends and slicing thinly. This, of course, left me with lots of center lemon pieces. Waste not, want not. I got out a knob of ginger, peeled it with a spoon (so easy), and cut it into slices. Ginger, lemon pieces, water and a couple of tablespoons of honey went into a pot and cooked for 5-10 minutes. I cool it, strain, and put in the refrigerator for sick days. Reheat and you have a great remedy for colds. Hot, full of vitamin C, sweet with honey and a zing of ginger. We've been lapping this up of late, keeping the cold bugs at bay. Also a byproduct of the candied lemon slices is the simple syrup left once the slices were cooked. Why throw it away? Strain it and put it in a mason jar to use to sweeten hot or cold tea or make lemon drop cocktails. Hmm…I could use one of those right now….

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Banana Bonanza

I am not a banana eater, never have been. I used to keep them in the house all the time when the kids were around. I would smash them up when they were babies, chunk them as they got older, and then whole bananas were the thing to have for son who played soccer. Whenever there were brown/black bananas I would make banana bread, always a favorite around my house. But lately we don't see too many bananas. Last time I baked banana bread for the butchers, my son asked if I could do it more often. I told him if he brought me home the rotten bananas from the store that I would be happy to do so. Well, he took me at my word and on Monday he brought home about 20 pounds of bananas. Really, no kidding. The kitchen reeked of bananas.

Since there were plenty of bananas, I decided to branch out and try something new first. So I chose a banana/oatmeal scone. The butchers really liked the pumpkin scones I made in October, so I figured I could get away with something similar. I whipped up a double batch but the scones looked a bit boring in color and texture, so I scoured the cupboards to see what I could add. I had dried cranberries, five kinds of nuts, little caramel balls, but ultimately decided half should be chocolate chip and half should be with crystallized ginger. Chocolate makes anything better, and chocolate-covered bananas are really tasty. I love the tang of ginger, and used chopped crystallized ginger in the pumpkin scones to great satisfaction. In both cases, biting into them would yield a little mouth surprise, either sweet or refreshingly tart.

The recipe took very little time and yielded quite a lot, given the fact that I cut each batch in half and made smaller scones. Better for my waistline and easier for the butchers to grab and eat.

Banana/Oatmeal Scones

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups old fashioned rolled oats (I used 1-minute oats)
1/2 cup margarine, melted (you could use butter)
1/3 cup soy milk, plain or vanilla (regular milk will also work)
1 ripe mashed banana (I added 1 ½ mashed banana)
Optional additions: chocolate chips, chopped crystallized ginger, walnuts, pecans….

Combine dry ingredients; set aside. Blend mashed banana, melted margarine, and soy milk until fairly smooth. Add in dry ingredients and optional item and mix just until moistened. Pour out onto floured board. Incorporate more flour if dough is too sticky. Cut dough in half and roll or pat each half into a circle, about 7-8 inches around. Cut into 8 wedges. Place on silpat or oiled baking sheet. Bake 425 for about 10 minutes, until light golden brown.

Two days later, I made three loaves of my favorite banana bread. I added walnuts to two of the loaves and chocolate chips to the third. Needless to say, the basket came back empty from the butcher boys.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

'Tis the Season…for Crab!

While there has been a slight delay in crabbing season here in the Bay Area, due to the unfortunate crash of the Cosco Busan into the Bay Bridge in early November. The resulting oil spill endangered the season, but after due diligence and clearance from the Department of Fish and Game, crabbers started hauling in loads in early December. Per our annual tradition, we bought our fair share to eat on New Year's Eve, with a bit reserved for crab cakes on New Year's Day. The boys up at the meat department at Roberts of Woodside chose three nice juicy ones, which they kindly cleaned and cracked for me. (Thanks Will!)

We have typically eaten the crab in the simplest fashion: Cover the table in newspaper, ice down the crab in a big bowl, make some garlic butter and homemade cocktail sauce, and go to town…with a bit of sourdough on the side. The table is quiet, lips smacking as fingers pull the crabmeat out. We gorge ourselves, licking our fingers long after our tummies have told us to stop. While little compares to this little ritual, I chose a slightly different route this year.

What seems like a lifetime ago, we made a weekend foray up to St. Helena to do some wine tasting, staying over in a B&B in Calistoga. On the suggestion of my brother, we had made advance reservations at what was at that time a newish restaurant called Tra Vigne. The menu was overwhelming to us, but the one dish that stood out, something I had not seen on a menu before, was the Garlic Roasted Crab. It was a whole crab, which I couldn't quite finish on my own, that was heavenly. Warm, with browned bits of garlic on each piece, it was one of my more memorable meals. I have yet to get back there, or duplicate the recipe myself, but recently I found the instructions for it in the SF Chronicle. Hallelujah!

Simple with few ingredients and quick to prepare, it is worth the extra time (and the extra finger licking!). Since crab will be available for awhile longer, I heartily recommend you try this out. You will not be sorry. And if you feel really inspired, pick up Michael Chiarello's "The Tra Vigne Cookbook," which also has this recipe. I know you will find some tasty recipes in that one.

We used fresh Meyer lemons from our yard, which are late coming in this year, and in abundance, as well as some Meyer lemon sea salt that I made earlier this year. Added just a bit more flavor, IMHO.

Roast Garlic Crab

6 T unsalted butter
6 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T minced garlic
4 Dungeness crabs (about 1.5 pounds apiece), cooked, cracked and cleaned
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ c finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Heat the butter, oil and garlic in very large ovenproof sautĂ© pan over medium-high heat until hot. (You may need 2 pans.) Add the crab, season to taste with salt and pepper and toss well. Transfer to the oven and roast until the garlic turns light brown and the crab is heated through—about 12 minutes—tossing halfway through the cooking process. Pour crab into a large warm serving bowl, add the lemon juice and parsley and toss well.

A bonus for me was getting to serve the crab in my new red oval oven pot, a Christmas present from Electrician Son (who is currently sunning himself in Hawaii).