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Did you know that there is an add-on you can buy for the KitchenAid meat grinder that stuffs sausage? And did you know that that attachment costs a mere $10? Well, April and I sure didn't when we started this project.

It turns out that pushing 6 or 7 pounds of meat through a funnel and into a temperamental tube of animal tissue by hand is quite tedious. But after several hours of fussing and many glasses of wine, we did manage to produce two batches of very respectable-looking sausages.

The meat starts out looking like this, diced and seasoned. Then you just grind it, and you're halfway done, right?

No, actually, not at all. You may be halfway though the instructions, but you are nowhere near the middle of your project — that's because the second half of the instructions involve casing. Somehow none of the recipes we read managed to mention that casings are somewhere between those holiday light strands that your *unnamed family member* was responsible for putting away last year and that over-oiled spaghetti that won't stay politely curled on your fork: incredibly easy to tangle, impossibly long and slippery, and just generally unmanageable.

The recipes call for flushing the casings with water, but just how do you fill what is essentially a slimy 10-foot-long balloon animal with water? We initially put the casings in a bowl and tried to run a little bit of water through them at a time, but as we lifted each section of casing, pushing the water along, the remaining sections twirled and twisted, creating impossible knots farther ahead. We eventually got things sorted out, but I think next time I am going to rig some kind of spools to keep the tangling to a minimum.

Once we got the casings bunched up on the base of the funnel, sort of like putting the world's longest nylons on the world's shortest leg, the procedure was much more straightforward, if a tad slow. We simply pushed the ground meat in, massaging out air bubbles and trying to neither over- or under-fill. The last step is twisting off the links — I broke the casing in a few locations, but it's easy enough to twist off a section and make a new link out of any escaped filling. Of course, after all that work, we couldn't resist frying and consuming our results right away. We were in such a fever to eat that I completely neglected to photograph the meal, so you'll have to settle for that cooking shot up top, but trust me, they were beautiful.

April made a rabbit sausage recipe from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, while I made bratwurst from Charcuterie. The flavor of the rabbit sausage was bolder than we expected, and the texture was velvety-smooth with the addition of eggs, cream, and breadcrumbs. It was made in lamb casings, which were slimmer and more tender than the pork ones we used for the bratwurst. The bratwurst was mild but richly porky, with a satisfying bite to the skin. Both were excellent sausages, certainly better than any off-the-shelf varieties I've tried. For the price and effort, even with the hand-coaxing of the meat into the casing, this project was satisfying and worthwhile. All the same, next time I'm investing in the sausage-stuffer.

 

Since the nice long holiday break gave me a couple days to run errands and fart around the kitchen, I decided to take on a project more time-consuming than any I've done since we moved — confit.

It may be time-consuming, but it's not exactly difficult. If you can set your oven for 200 degrees and leave it there for a few hours, you can make confit. I started by buying two ducks and removing their legs, saving the breasts and carcass for another meal. I also scavenged all the skin and fat from the ducks. The legs I cured with salt, pepper, cloves, garlic, and bay leaf for two days in the fridge, as per Ruhlman and Polcyn.

The morning I made the confit, I took the fat I had salvaged from the ducks and chopped it and rendered in the oven on low heat. As the guy at the butcher shop had suggested, the ducks I got were rather too lean to supply enough fat to cover the legs — luckily he also gave me a supplementary tub of duck fat. I added that to the fat I had rendered and poured it all over the rinsed and dried legs, making sure they were completely covered (I had to poke a few air bubbles out from underneath the skin to convince them to stay at the bottom of the pan). I turned the oven to 200, popped em in, and forgot about them until bedtime, approximately eight hours later.

But to really make confit, you can't just cook the duck in fat, you have to age it there too. The legs get transferred to a crock, and the fat is poured on top (carefully, so the settled cooking liquids don't make it into the crock), where it hardens and solidifies when refrigerated. Some weeks later, you remove the legs, heat them and crisp the skin, and enjoy - but that's for another entry.

 

Now that DIY projects like homebrewing and canning are becoming so popular, it seems to me that it is only a matter of time before candymaking gets its moment in the sun. Most of the materials are inexpensive, the processes are simple enough to learn that you can get started in an evening, but they are difficult enough to master that it's never dull, and it's open to infinite variations. Best of all, the results can be damn near professional looking.

I've made nougats, fudges, chocolates, brittles, and caramels, but this is my first attempt at a plain hard candy. Ribbon candy is a particularly neglected variety of sweet; in fact, the only recipe I found is at about.com. That's the recipe I followed, and I was really delighted with the results.

Ribbon candy turns out to be fairly straightforward project, but surprisingly beautiful at times. After a few pulls and twists, the clear molten sugar becomes a shimmering, opalescent cord, reflecting light from every internal layer until it appears to glow. I used a less-refined variety of sugar, which resulted in the uncolored portions of the candy being a charming old-fashioned shiny tan sort of color that was particularly surprising: as it was pulled, it transformed from a brownish liquid to a firm golden-cream colored rope that glinted warmly.

As for shaping the pulled candy into ribbons, canes, or lozenges, it's a bit of an acquired skill — and one that I clearly haven't acquired. You have to move quick, and know how much candy you can shape at a time before it begins to be brittle and crack. Ok, so my results this time didn't exactly look professional, but they tasted fantastic, crunchy and bright with mint, and I think maybe next time I'll be able to manage a few more ribbon-shaped ribbons and a few less lump-shaped ones.

 

One of the first things I had to do to make the new kitchen feel like my own was start a batch of pickles or three. Last month I saw a bag of tiny purple pearl onions and picked them up on a whim, and by the time I was at the checkout counter I had decided to make some cocktail onions.

Cocktail onions have a reputation as, well, an old man's accoutrement. But when it comes to cocktails, I may be a little bit of an old man. Scotch on the rocks, gimlets, and martinis (both gin, how could you even ask?) are my favorites. I might venture into old fashioneds, pimm's cups, fizzes, and negronis if I am feeling adventurous. If I'm feeling specifically like an old Italian man, I might drink slightly warm lambrusco out of a juice glass. So yeah, bitter, herbal, spicy, I'm all about it.

Traditional cocktail onions apparently are made with tumeric and paprika, but when I googled for recipes, I came up with this intriguing page. I wanted to make brine, rather than vinegar, pickles, but I started from this list of spices. After trimming and peeling what felt like a million onions, I ended up with two cups of onions (and about four cups of skin). I added three bay leaves, a sprig of rosemary, a piece of star anise, three small dried chilies, and a sprinkling of juniper berries, mustard seed, cardamom, ground nutmeg, and peppercorns. I was fresh out of vermouth, and I just plain forgot about the sugar, so I just covered the onions and spices with brine — the standard 3 Tbs sea salt per quart of water, per Katz. I weighted the onions down with a dish to keep them well under the brine, covered them with a lid to keep in the rather potent smell of the fermenting onions, and left them to their devices for the next three weeks.

And this weekend, finally, I canned them. I drained off the brine and strained it through some cheesecloth, then added some sugar to the brine to make up for my earlier forgetfulness. Then I processed like standard pickles: hot sterilized jars, boiling brine and a ten-minute boiling water bath. Next week: the cocktail!

 

The French Laundry Cookbook's veal stock has been on my to do list since before I started this blog, but apparently it wasn't enough of a challenge on its own: I had to put off making it until conditions were particularly difficult. When we first returned from Asia, in May, we sublet a studio apartment for a month. The apartment was lovely, in a beautiful neighborhood, and was endowed with a kitchen that we probably could have fit into the suitcase we were living out of. Seriously, I could barely fit my copy of The French Laundry Cookbook in there with me &mdash I tried putting it on the floor, but then there wasn't room for my feet. If I had two copies, I could have re-tiled the whole room.

But I had the veal bones, the stock pots, and, most importantly, the time. Plus, I had the model provided by one of my fave bloggers. So I plunged ahead, spending the better part of two days simmering, straining, and simmering again.

Of course, I also failed to locate any of my homemade tomato paste, so I had to resort to canned... without the help of a real can opener. Can you tell from the photo that I was never a boy scout?

Somehow it all worked out, however, and I ended up with a beautiful, sultry stock that perfumed the small apartment. Unfortunately, all of that chopping on a floppy cutting board balanced on sink edges, moving stock pots in and out of the hallway, and having to walk out into the other room to consult the cookbook temporarily exhausted my patience for tiny kitchens, and rather than cook anything with the stock, I froze it for later. It promptly became too hot to even think about anything that you would ever want to do with veal stock. The mere mention of braising, for example, causes me to break out in heat rash. But the stock will return! And I'm thinking French onion soup.

 

Tonight, I cooked kidneys for the first time, and it was surprising at every turn.

Surprise number one: the little guys actually DO look like kidney beans. It's uncanny.

Surprise number two: raw kidneys are jiggly and yielding, a little like a resilient jello.

Surprise number three: There are little white connective tissues all throughout the organ that are a complete pain to remove (and re-reading all my recipes, it looks like it was unnecessary anyways.)

Surprise number four: These things are amazingly delicious! Dredged in flour and sautéed in olive oil with garlic and shallots, the chopped kidney pieces were like crisp little pillows of heaven. I can't think of another meat that is so light and smooth in texture. It was very mild, which is not what I expected from kidney, as it has the reputation of having a strong flavor. If I had to pin it down, I would say it tasted of young lamb with a touch of liver and bacon.

 

Sorry to take a partisan political moment, but I headed down to NYC for an election party (after voting, of course!) and just had to capture it.

After an anxious hour on the subway without election coverage, my first drink upon arriving at the party was to the decisive calling of Pennsylvania, an event which called for the ever-delicious PA native, Yuengling. The tequila shot is just icing.

For the main event, and speaking of icing, here is the election cake, a little the worse for the bus trip, but still delicious. I passed slices around the bar, and I wish I had made another dozen cakes to share with all the joyful Obama supporters we met celebrating on the streets of Brooklyn. It's a new world, and couldn't be more proud to be part of it.

 


I was surprised at the beauty of the chopped meat, glistening under a layer of beaten eggs and flour, browned corners of liver jumbled with marbled pink pork belly. The smell of rich liver and sweet shallots, sautéed hours earlier, lingered in the air as I put the meat mixture through the grinder. It rolled out of the die in long curling strands— I was finally making pâté!


I've been wanting to make pâté for a really long time. I bought Rhulman's Charcuterie, and Grigson's Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, and I leafed through their pâté sections over and over. But somehow, whenever I found the time, I didn't have the ingredients, and when I had the ingredients, I couldn't find the time. Finally, last weekend I decided I was going to just dive in. I was going to have to wing it a little, as I didn't have the exact compliment of ingredients for any one recipe.


Following a combination of pâté de campagne recipes from the two books, I started by marinating my meat with a combination of salt, pepper, bay and thyme. I had about three pounds of mixed chopped veal and pork liver, and, in a separate container, about a pound of meat trimmed from a piece of pork belly. I sliced the fatty part of the pork belly into thin strips and used them to line my loaf pan. After all this had had a few hours in the fridge, I browned the liver until it was crispy around the edges. Then I cooked some shallots in the remaining oil and deglazed the pan with a healthy splash of Jim Beam. I added the liquid back to the liver and chilled it again.


When everything (including the mixing bowl and food grinder) was nice and cold, I mixed together the meats, added some chopped parsley and the egg and flour mixture, and then ran it all through the food grinder. The resulting meat paste was mixed a little, then packed into the fat-lined pan and covered with more fat strips and foil. After a long, slow cooking in a roasting pan of water, the pâté was weighted and cooled overnight. The wait for the first taste was long and impatient.


The pâté, at the anxious moment of unveiling, was firm, with a smooth, strong liver flavor. It was sweet and clean, like a mild liverwurst. Unfortunately, I found that the pork fat slices lining the pan did not melt away quite the way I expected. The cooled pork belly fat was dense, chewy and bland. I am pretty sure this is because I didn't slice the fat quite thinly enough or pound it, but whatever the reason, I just removed the limp, cold strips. The resulting loaf of pâté looked lumpy and uneven, so I coated it in a thick layer of freshly-cracked pepper, which had the advantage of adding a spicy kick to the flavor. Greg and I enjoyed it for lunch with toast, chopped red onions and homemade pickles... we were only missing the champagne!

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