Monday, May 31, 2010

Hog Wild Whole Hog: The Biggest. Sausage Party. Ever.

Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little. But it was really, really, crazy big! Here's the story.....

Soon after I had yet again upped my pig-buying quantities from 1/2 to 3/4 of a pig (my friend Ondine took the other quarter,) I received an offer from my rancher friend Mary ( that I somehow just couldn't refuse. I had recently made the run up to Bud's Cut and Wrap facility in Penngrove, CA to pick up a Prius load of meat: a whole young pig and three whole lambs - (one for me, one for my friend Rebecca, one for my friend Heidi) and had crammed my share into my freezer. The freezer already contained some grass-fed organic beef from Mike and Sally Gales of Chileno beef in Petaluma..... well, that freezer really was very full. Then my friend Ondine and I held a pork sausage-making party with some of our pig in December, and I blogged about it here. (I also held a lamb sausage-making party with my friend Heidi, but I haven't written that one up yet!)

So, after I sent the link to Mary about the pig sausage party, she wrote back to me: her three sows were "going out of business;" she was going to raise three new piglets to be the next Mamas. The sows were too big and old to sell to her usual subscribers for chops and hams, but perfect for an enormous sausage-making venture. She could sell them to a meat-broker, but she hated to have the girls traumatized, and it was just too much meat for her and her husband, Chris. (Their boar was also ready to be replaced, but she thought he was too stinky to offer to anybody else; they were going to eat him themselves.) Was I interested?

Wow. For days I vacillated; I mean, it was nuts to even think about it, wasn't it? After all, I had just bought most of a good-sized pig! On the other hand - what an opportunity! Finally, I thought; I'm going to check in with Ondine. If she thinks it's nuts, I'll know it really is. However, if she thinks we should go for it - then, game on!

A word about Ondine; honey, as hard as it is for me to admit - she's foodier than me. And chances are, she's foodier than you, too. And I just love the way she inspires me on to new heights of food fanaticism. Suddenly, food fantasies of mine go from being crazy to being brilliant in one conversation. There's no way on earth I would have done what I wound up doing if Ondine hadn't agreed to be my porcine co-conspirator, my soul-food sister.

So, obviously, what she said was "Yes! Let's do it!!!!"

Then ensued weeks of planning, discussion, and the like. How would we do it, where we would do it? Who should we invite? How many recipes, which ones to choose? What would our costs be, how much pork would we wind up with? (We received estimates that were all over the map - 150 pounds, 200 pounds, 300 pounds, 400 pounds, and in the end we didn't actually know how much there was until they were loading it into my friend Nina's station wagon; the final tally was on a slip of paper in one of multiple banana boxes full of ground pork in a walk-in freezer in Penngrove, and no, they wouldn't go into the freezer to check that piece of paper for me!)

There were some interesting twists and turns and drama along the way; we were under the impression that the pig wouldn't be ready for some weeks longer. Then came the word that it would be THAT week - we scrambled to finish our arrangements! Then came further complications; two pigs were despatched on that day, but one, (the pig formerly known as "Hanako") was found to have a serious internal injury; a ruptured bladder, probably suffered during birth. Unlike in the commercial meat industry, where that pig would most likely have been packaged up anyway, Mary couldn't in good conscience let anyone eat her; she was given a burial in a field. Ultimately, the other buyer kindly let us take all of "Rita" so that we could still hold our party. Instead, he will take the third remaining sow in the Fall. Thank you, kind stranger! Thank you, Mary!

So, what did we wind up with, and what did we do? It turns out that those big cardboard boxes held 300 pounds of ground pork, plus another fifty pounds or so of back fat. We had Bud's smoke 70 combined pounds of linguisa and Polish sausage, and friends bought shares of it. Several friends took shares of ground pork home to make sausage with later. And then 9 more friends - Nina and her twin sister Ann, Kim, Alison, Lisa, Brooks, Natalie, Ondine and Ruth, converged on my (not very big, old fashioned kitchen, which has literally 4 square feet of counter space!) on a Sunday to make 150 pounds of fresh sausage, using five different recipes, which I adapted to make in five pound increments. Phew. But in the end, everybody left with lots of absolutely delicious, top of the line, hand-made sausage. And maybe, just maybe, a little inspiration!

Here are our recipes, including the adjustments we made in seasonings at the party:

Italian-Style Sausage with Rosemary and Grappa

Adapted from Bruce Aidells's Complete Book of Pork

5 pounds of medium to coarse ground pork, of which 20-25% is fat
4.5 tsp kosher salt
3.5 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 3/4 tsp fennel pollen or ground fennel seed
2 TB finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 TB + 2 tsp minced garlic
1 third cup dry white wine
1 TB plus 1 tsp grappa

New York Style Spicy Hot Italian Sausage

Adapted from Bruce Aidells' Complete Sausage Book

5 pounds of medium to coarse ground pork, of which 20-20% is fat
3 TB + 1 tsp anise liqueur
3 TB + 1 tsp anise or fennel seeds
1 TB + 2 tsp minced garlic
1 TB + 2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 TB kosher salt
3.5 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2.5 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/3 cup water, as needed

Rancho Chorizo

Adapted from California Rancho Cooking
by Jacqueline Higuera McMahan

5 pounds of medium to coarse ground pork, of which 20-25% is fat
1/4 cup minced garlic
2.5 TB dried oregano
2.5 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp cumin seeds, crushed very fine
2.5 TB sea salt
3/4 cups New Mexico or California chile powder
1/2 cup plus 2 TB paprika
1 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
5 TB port wine

French-style Fresh Garlic Sausage
Adapted from various on-line recipes

5 pounds of medium to coarse ground pork, of which 20-25% is fat
1 cup dry white wine
5 tsp salt
2 TB minced garlic
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cayenne
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 TB ground sage
1/4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Yankee Sage Breakfast Sausage

Adapted from Bruce Aidells' Complete Sausage Book

5 pounds of medium to coarse ground pork, of which 20-25% is fat
3 TB ground dried sage
2 TB plus 1/2 tsp kosher salt
4.5 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 + 1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/4 + 1/8 tsp dried summer savory
1/4 + 1/8 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 + 1/8 tsp dried thyme
1/8 generously rounded tsp ground ginger
1 generous pinch ground cloves
1/3 cup water

A repeated note from me about fat content: commercial sausage contains from 30-50% fat. Don't submit to your internal Puritan's directive to use less than the 20-25% listed in these recipes! Most of the fat will cook out of the meat, where you can drain it away. If there is no fat, the other liquids will drain away and leave you with dry, tough, (well-seasoned) meat. Plus, if you have done the right thing, and purchased a good pig directly from a rancher instead of a cheap Con-Agra commodity pig, that fat is gooood eating, and much healthier for you than you might think. Follow this link to read more about why pig fat is a much maligned foodstuff, and about how my friend Mary raises her Duroc pigs:

In all cases, combine all of the dry seasonings together in one small bowl, and mix well. Combine all of the wet seasonings (including garlic) in another small bowl or cup. Put the meat in a very big, very clean bowl, and sprinkle with all of the dry and wet ingredients. Using your hands, (we used disposable food service gloves on our very clean hands) mix until all is well incorporated. You want everything to be well-combined, but, as with pie-crust, not worked to the point where the fat is melting. When you have reached that point, fry up a little patty and make sure you like the way the seasoning is balanced; all ten of us tasted, discussed, and reached somewhat of a consensus on the seasonings. This is a living document! You can make changes! Bear in mind that the flavors will meld and improve in a couple of days.

When everything is as you wish, package it up in the increment size most useful to you; I like patties of about 1/4 pound each. Much as I hate to use plastic, I like to use "Press 'n Seal" to make my little portions; it is a self-sticking plastic wrap which can be easily sub-divided. Then I put it in a well-labeled, heavy zip-style bag to protect against freezer burn. Freeze what you aren't going to eat that night right away. Now you have big bucks in your food bank, perfect for the nights when you can't think what to make!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Drink Me!" Artemesia Cocktail: Fit to be Thaied

The inspiration for this new cocktail came to me while I was cross-country skiing. I kept thinking about my ginger liqueur, and Thai coconut soup - coconut milk, ginger, lime juice...... And about the recent impulse purchase I'd made at the Farmer's Market from the nice young men of Coracao chocolate - coconut sugar! They explained to me how coconut sugar was nectar extracted from the coconut blossom, then cooked down and dried, that it's low on the glycemic index, and easily dissolved. It has a texture and flavor that's reminiscent of maple sugar; crumbly, brown, faintly redolent of coconut. They use it in their raw, organic chocolates and other treats. (Coconut blondie bar - off the hook!)

The first night I finally put it all together - oh, baby. This is GOOD. It's so good I've forgotten to take pictures of it all three times I've made it. The pictures will just have to wait......

Fit to be Thaied

Makes one large or two small cocktails

2 1/2 jiggers (3 3/4 ounces) Artemesia Organic Ginger Liqueur
1 jigger (1 1/2 ounces) fresh-squeezed organic lime juice
1 jigger (1 1/2 ounces) organic unsweetened coconut milk (I like Native Forest)
2 tsp coconut sugar

Additional coconut sugar for rimming your cocktail glass, on a small plate

Put all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, and stir to dissolve the sugar and combine well. Take a quick taste once it's well mixed; does it need a little more sugar? Repeat. Now add several ice cubes.

Run a cut lime slice around the rim of your martini glass, then roll the moistened outer edges in the coconut sugar until it sticks.

Now shake shake shake the cocktail shaker, counting to "20 Mississippi." Strain into your glass. Try not to chug it down. Yeah, this is chick drink; that's okay once in a while.

Note: Coconut sugar is available at natural food stores, and by mail order through a number of stores, including Amazon.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Whole Hog: Marlena's Soup of Thai Broth, Fat Beans & Chorizo

You know those classical paintings where you see the painter from the rear, painting himself using a mirror, and the mirror continues to reflect the scene, on into infinity? This recipe is a little bit like that! Marlena Spieler, a food writer and recipe creator, recreated this recipe from the taste memory of a soup she ate in Paris. Then she wrote about the meal and the recipe creation in the San Francisco Chronicle. And now, here I am, reprinting the recipe in my blog.......on into infinity.

This recipe is really, really, really good. Now that we're all on a coconut milk/Thai curry paste/lemongrass/ginger roll, let's keep going!

I, of course, used my homemade chorizo from my sausage party with Ondine ( but for those who don't do pork, I hear from friends that soyrizo is actually very good.

Marlena's Soup of Thai Broth, Fat Beans & Chorizo

Serves 4-6 as a starter (CS note: serves 4 as a main course)

This soup was created in flattering imitation of what was served at Ze Kitchen Galerie in Paris.

* 4 to 6 ounces fresh Mexican pork chorizo or Soyrizo
* 4 cloves garlic, chopped
* 2 lemongrass stalks, tops cut off and tough outer layers peeled away; tender inner stalk thinly sliced crosswise (CS note: if you keep peeling, you will find that the center of the stalk really is tender - I hadn't realized it.)
* 1 15-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (see Note)
* 1 small or 1/2 medium onion, peeled and chopped
* 1 tablespoon chopped ginger
* 1/8 teaspoon yellow curry powder, to taste
* 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin, to taste
* -- Pinch turmeric
* -- Pinch cinnamon
* 2 to 3 tablespoons red curry paste, Thai House brand preferred (see Note)
* 1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
* -- Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
* 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked beans like Gigandes or pinto, or a 15-ounce can of beans, drained and rinsed
* 1/2 cup Thai basil leaves or regular basil, roughly torn or thinly sliced
* -- Lime wedges, for serving

Instructions: Brown the chorizo or Soyrizo with half the garlic and half the lemongrass in a frying pan, breaking it up into small pieces. Set aside.

For the broth: Pour about 2 tablespoons of the thick coconut cream (which rises to the top of the can of coconut milk) into a medium pan over medium heat. Add the onion and the remaining lemongrass and garlic; cook until the onions and lemongrass are tender.

Stir in the ginger, curry powder, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and half the red curry paste. Cook a few moments, then add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for about 15 minutes, or until flavors meld.

Add remaining coconut milk and half of the lime zest or more to taste. Cook a few minutes longer, then remove from heat. The broth can be made ahead to this point.

To serve: Heat broth to just bubbling around the edge. Add remaining red curry paste and stir through. Squeeze a teaspoon or so of lime juice into each bowl. Add several spoonfuls of beans; ladle the hot broth over, then top with a spoonful of chorizo. Sprinkle Thai basil around the chorizo and if desired, serve with a wedge of lime on the side. (CS note: Seasonal Girl just can't bring herself to buy Mexican basil in May. I made the soup without the basil - still quite delicious. I look forward to eating it with basil in a month or so.)

Note: If Thai House Red Curry Paste is not available, choose another brand but taste for heat and adjust downward if needed. (CS note: I used Thai House brand curry paste - it's wonderful. However, 2-3 Tablespoons is a LOT. I used about 1 tablespoon.) Low-fat coconut milk is OK, but the regular, full-fat version tastes richer. To use the coconut cream - the thick part of the coconut milk which gathers at the top - do not shake the can before opening.

Per serving: 306 calories, 12 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 22 g fat (16 g saturated), 14 mg cholesterol, 633 mg sodium, 5 g fiber.

Wine pairing: Asian flavors are not overpowered by heat from the red curry paste, so several wines will work. Look for something chilled and refreshing like a Prosecco or a rosé such as the 2008 Saintsbury Carneros Vin Gris of Pinot Noir ($15), or the just-released 2009 vintage.

Marlena Spieler is a freelance food writer and cookbook author who divides her time between Northern California and Europe. E-mail her at or go to her Web site, Follow her on Twitter @marlenaspieler.

Read more:

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Thai Chicken Coconut Milk Soup (Tom Kha Gai)

From the moment I first took a sip of this classic Thai soup at Manora Thai Restaurant in San Francisco, I was smitten. So rich, so creamy, so nuanced in flavor - a little spicy, a little sweet, a little sour, a whole lot of richness. But the flavor profile was so far outside my comfort zone, I never dreamed I could make it at home, especially not in 20 minutes with a short list of ingredients. I felt resigned to only eating it in restaurants.
But when an acquaintance kept talking about how she was going to whip up a batch for dinner for her family that night, after picking the kids up from swim class..... and then this recipe from a home cook turned up in Sunset Magazine's quick recipe pages - well, that demystified it quite a bit. I went for it. It was easy, it was fast, and it was delicious. All of these ingredients are available from a decently stocked grocery store. Don't be shy - you can do it, too!

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Thom kha gai or Gai Thom Kha)
adapted from Jiranooch Shapiro, Anchorage – Sunset Magazine, December 2008
1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk (Native Forest Organic is outstanding)
14 ounces chicken broth
6 quarter sized slices ginger
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 lb. Boned, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
1 cup sliced mushrooms (preferably oyster mushrooms)
1 TB fresh lime juice
1TB Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp Thai Red Curry Paste (Thai Kitchen is a good brand)
2 fresh lime leaves (optional - I pick mine in the back yard, but a good Asian grocery will have them)

Fresh basil and/or cilantro leaves for garnish

In a medium saucepan, combine broth, ginger, lemongrass, and chicken. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then simmer until chicken is firm and opaque. Remove the chicken from the pan, and let it cool until you can easily cut it into 1” chunks. Using a slotted spoon or “spider” remove and discard the lemongrass, and optionally, the ginger, and discard them.
Add the coconut milk, chicken and mushrooms, along with the remaining seasonings to the chicken broth. Bring the mixture back up to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until the mushrooms are cooked and flavors are melded. Test and adjust the seasonings. Serve, garnished with herbs.

Notes from Christine: while this is a lovely outline of the dish, I like to add a little bit more of each of the seasonings; please feel free to adjust this according to your taste preferences. For the mushrooms, I prefer oyster mushrooms, but other choices are delicious too – shiitake, crimini, button....

More notes: the recipe author leaves the lemongrass and ginger in the soup and serves it that way. Personally, I just got tired of fishing inedible bits out of every bite of soup and devised the filtering plan outlined above to eliminate the problem. However, leaving them in most likely imparts more flavor to the soup, and faithful reader "Miss Nati" has reported how much she likes eating the ginger. You be the judge!