Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cocktail Fail

Some of you may know, I contribute to a beer blog called Chicks that Dig Beer.  Last week I created a Caramel Ale Ice Cream that is absolutely amazing.  It has a delicate beer flavor brought out by a smooth caramel foundation.  I considered it a success.  It was so good, it kept coming to mind.  I couldn’t shake the thought that it had even more potential.  But, as what?  An accompaniment to a warm, winter root salad?  By pouring even more caramel over it?  I settled on what I always settle on. I got out the cocktail glasses. 

Beer Ice Cream Cocktail.  Sounds good.    The liquor cabinet was overflowing with possibility, following an over-indulgent trip to Surdyks.  Not to mention a miasma of half bottles.  Jewel toned schnapps in various faux flavors, most of which needed to be run under a hot faucet to be opened.  I began easy.  Vodka and ice cream.  Meah. It just wasn’t quite right.  Then, I tried whisky.  Still not it.  Each new concoction was pouring into two gleaming low balls that were whisked into the living room for my husband and I to try together.  Each one was followed by mutual looks of apathy and sometimes distain.  The glasses were politely discarded on the marble coffee table and I’d trot (or slink) back to the dining room.  Sounds of contemplation where followed by the clamor of ice in an aluminum cocktail shaker.

I tried to keep up hope.  This was just a tricky one.  I would need to think out of the box.  I tried all sorts of liquors and every mixer imaginable to compliment my wonderful ale ice cream.  Most of them overpowered the delicate beer flavor.  Some of them led to wiping our tongues on our sleeves to remove the taste…or texture… that had invaded out mouths.  There was a blueberry vodka contrivance that tasted like drinking beer out of a Caboodle that once stored erasers.  Soon, the living room began to fill with half drank, pungent glasses of separated booze and cream.  Some rimmed with sugar, all of them sticky.  Like a limousine after prom. 

Once we got over the house smelling like Lindsey Lohan hawking kettle corn for beer money, we did find one that we tolerated.  By tolerated, I mean we didn’t involuntarily re-open our mouths and let it fall out onto the rug… or the passing dog.  By this point, the subject was moot.  I had run out of ice cream.

The moral of this story:  Though happy people see potential in all their surroundings, not everything was meant to be a cocktail.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lingonberry Sausage

The week after the New Year holds mixed feelings.  Taking down the Christmas tree, hauling the carefully wrapped ornaments back to the attic and tossing the last cookie from the tin.  All those crumbs, remnants of delicious memories tinged with caloric regret.  Opening the fridge, you try to figure out how to make a healthy, optimistic, looking-forward-to-the-future meal out of half a pint of cream, a quarter bottle of flat champagne and those stupid lingonberries you always buy but never seem to do anything with. 
You’ve surely heard that legendary quote attributed to Otto von Bismark, "There are two things you don’t want to see being made—sausage and legislation."   Working for a non-profit for 10 years gave me a fair helping of legislation, and I’ve made sausage.   Frankly, sausage tastes better.  When I opened my fridge and saw those beady little lingonberries glaring at me I could hear them taunting me.  Whispering, “We got you again.  We were expensive. You bought us anyway.  And you’ll buy us next year too, so SHOVE IT!”  I’ll shove it, all right, right into a meaty sausage casing.   {Sidebar: Lingonberries are a small tart berry used in Scandinavian cuisine. They show up in grocery stores in Minneapolis around the holidays.  Their jewel like beauty always tempts me into buying them.  Grand schemes of lovely cheese plates and cocktail with glowing red lingonberries resting at the crux of a martini glass flash through my head as I reach for them.  Unfortunately, they float.  And….I don’t like lingonberries.}

Making sausage is one of those wonderful processes that allow you to be creative with the recipe.  You just need to follow a couple of rules.
     -Communicate with your butcher.  Tell them you are making sausage before they bring you your cut of meat.  Meats like pork shoulders make great sausage when they’re untrimmed, but if your butcher assumes you’re going to roast it, they will trim much of the fat off.
-It’s very important to keep your ingredients cold.  If it’s too warm, all the wonderful fat will just stick to the equipment, leaving you with dry sausage. 
      -Have enough fat.  Your meat should contain at least 35% fat.  You can use any meat combination you like.  But, if you’re using a lean meat, like lamb, you’ll need to add more fat in the mix.      Adding pork fat is a great choice. You can ask for it at your butcher.
-Keep your proportions right.  For every 5lbs or meat and fat I use 2 ½ Tbsp of kosher salt and 1 cup cold liquid.  Put in as much spice as you want.
-You don’t need to stuff your sausage in casing, but if you do, take the time to taste it first.  Get out a frying pan and fry up a little patty.  Adjust the seasoning as needed.

Lingonberry Sausage
5lbs untrimmed pork shoulder
2 ½ Tbsp Kosher salt
4 cloves garlic minced (about 2 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp ground pepper
1 Cup cold shiraz or good red wine
¾ to 1 cup whole lingonberries (you could substitute dried cranberries or even frozen wild blueberries)

8-12 ft hog casing, soaked in warm water 40 min and rinsed. (Don’t forget to rinse the inside)
A meat grinder with a sausage stuffer attachment.  I use the Kitchenaid attachment.  Make sure you have both the grinder and stuffer if you plan to make sausage links. They are often sold separately.

Cut the pork into cubes that will fit into your grinder.  Usually one inch cubes.  If the pork has a bone, reserve it for another use. Toss the meat with the salt, garlic, and pepper.  Cover and chill thoroughly, 2-24 hours. This is also a good time to put the wine in the fridge.
Set your grinder to the finest setting.  Set a bowl on ice.  Grind the meat mixture into the bowl.   Mix the mixture by hand or using a stand mixer for about a min.  Add the wine and the lingonberries and mix for 1 min more.  Do a taste patty.  Adjust the seasoning as needed.  Now you can make the sausage into patties or stuff into casing.
Stuffing sausage:
It’s really nice to have a partner when you’re stuffing sausage.  Not only is it more efficient, you need someone’s support when you realize what your doing could easily be misconstrued and the phrase ‘meat extruder’ makes you laugh like a 15 year old.  But, like sex, you can do it alone as well. 
Feed the casing onto the nozzle.  It’s surprisingly durable.  If you are getting kinks or knots in the casing, run a small amount of cold water through it.  That usually does the trick. 
Leave 3 inches of casing hanging off the end of the nozzle (sometimes called the ‘extruder’).  Give it a little twist or tie a knot.  Begin feeding the meat through the machine at an even speed.  Keep one hand on the nozzle releasing the casing slowly.  If you get very large air bubbles, prick them with a knife.  Small air bubbles usually work themselves out when you form links.  If you are seeing lots of air, the casing isn’t filling enough.  Release less casing.  If the meat is backing up around the outside of the nozzle, release more.  Once all the meat is stuffed in the casing, you should have a long coil of meat.  Don’t cut off the excess yet.
Clear out the machine and excess equipment. Figure out how long you want your sausages.  Start with the beginning of your length of meat. (Same place you started before.)  Measure your link and twist.  Measure another link. Don’t twist.  Measure a link.  Twist.   Got it?  Twist every other link and the in between links are formed by the twisted links.  It sounds strange, but will save you a lot of meaty heart ache.  When you reach the last link, twist the end casing and cut off the excess.
Eat your sausage!  It’s best fresh, but it freezes well for a couple of months when well wrapped.  Sausage making really is very fun. 
There are some great references out there for making sausage and other meaty delights.  One is Charcuterie ,by Micheal Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.