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Soon after my first sausage-making experiment, I went ahead and bought the sausage stuffer attachment for the KitchenAid food grinder. Now, this piece of equipment has a pretty mixed review history online, so I was a little worried that I might be cheaping out by not committing to a full-sized sausage-maker. As a serious gadgetphile, this kind of anxiety is always lingering around! Well, I can now honestly say, those negative reviews are absurd. This $10 set of tubes produced perfect sausage with no problems whatsoever. Leaving aside the fact that many reviewers were clearly using the attachment incorrectly (with the grinder blades still attached, perhaps?) I can't imagine how people found fault with this thing! I had no trouble creating a seal with the filling that prevented air bubbles from developing and I found I could easily regulate the shape and size of the sausage just by gently holding the emerging sausage. I imagine there are things on the market that make sausage creation easier, but let me tell you, if you think producing sausage with one of these things is hard, I direct you to the spoons and funnels method.

So what did I make for my test batch of sausage? A simple, recipe-less pork sausage of tenderloin and fatback with lots of garlic and a little nutmeg. The whole project took about 40 minutes, and the result was richly garlicky with that perfect snappy bite and a slightly nubbled texture. I don't think we'll be seeing storebought sausages around here anytime soon!

 

Remember back when I made gouda? Yeah, neither did I, it was fricking ages ago. I was almost shocked to find it, safely tucked away in its red wax coating, when we got back to the states and sorted through our kitchen stuff. It took us another month or so after our return to actually open it up, which meant that it had been aging over nine months — a bit longer than most gouda you find in the supermarket.

The cheese was on the tart and dry side of a regular gouda to begin with, thanks to my over-zealous pressing method, so maybe I should call it a "gouda". Whatever its real classification, the extra few months of aging did amazing things for this cheese. It was richer, stronger, and more nuanced than the block we tasted last December. It had even developed those delicious amino acid crystals that you find in a good parmesan (or good aged gouda). The only problem? This was the last block! I guess it's about time to break out my awesome cheese-press and make another batch.

 

After weeks of waiting, last weekend it was finally time to take our beer to our friendly little competition. Here are our beers, labeled and ready to go!

And here are all the competitors, lined up in the fridge.

The judging was single-blind, in three rounds. Unfortunately there were more people ready to give opinions (roughly 3,204) than people ready to write them down (1). Our poor statistician didn't see anything other than rows of these little blue cups all night, while the rest of us enjoyed a delicious selection of homebrews and dance music.

So, how did our beers do? Solidly middle-of-the-pack, 4 and 5 out of 10. I happen to like our beers a little better than that, but hey, I made a Belgian white because it's my favorite kind of beer, so it's hardly surprising that I like it!

There was also a label competition. The winner was charmingly named after this pop culture phenomenon, but I was also a fan of the small print on this one.

 

After brewing our beer, and waiting a few weeks, it was time to bottle it! Above you can see the hydrometer, which is used to measure the alcohol content of the beer— Greg's Chocolate Stout there is about 5.7% alcohol by volume.

This is what the beer looks like when you open it up:



and that is what it smells like. Like heaven, basically. Heady is the only word for it.

The next step is to add the priming sugar to the beer. This spurs a second fermentation stage in the bottle, where the CO2 produced is trapped and carbonates the beer. Not all beers use priming sugar, but it's a quick and easy way to produce carbonation. After the priming sugar is added, the beer must be quickly piped into well-sanitized bottles and capped with sanitized caps.

The nifty tool in the photo above is a spring-release siphon tube that releases beer when you press it against the bottom of the bottle and shuts off the flow when you lift it. On the other end of the tube is an auto-siphon, a little pump that starts the flow of beer through the siphon— once the tube is full of beer, physics takes care of pulling it through the tube into the bottle. All you have to do is make sure not to pick up any of the sludgy yeast residue at the bottom (or transfer the beer to a separate bucket first). As soon as the bottle is full, you clamp a cap on with another nifty little tool.

Voila! Bottled beer! And when we cracked one open about a week later? Complete success! Even my totally questionable, twice-boiled-over beer is pretty great (at least according to me— it's possible it's a beer only a mother could love). Greg's beer is, without reservations, the best chocolate stout I have ever tasted. I can't wait to taste all the other beers at the competition. If Greg and I can make one decent beer and one great beer on our first try, just think what some of the experts will bring to the party!

 

If there's a way to take an attractive photo of sauerkraut, I don't know it!

This was my second batch of sauerkraut, and it came out much better than the first, even though I didn't really do anything different. (You can find basic information on making sauerkraut on my original post.) The only change I made for this batch was that instead of using a mandoline, I cut the cabbage into 1/8" strips by hand, which turned out to be better all around.

Since this batch was so good, and also since it's not like we eat sauerkraut at every meal, I decided to can it. Sauerkraut cans like pickles, hot-packed and then processed in a simmering hot water bath for 15 minutes (for pints), according to Putting Food By, which is just about as easy as it gets. I can't wait to pop one of these open and top it with some brats and mustard!

 

Remember the Feed America on Sunshine shirt that I designed? Mine showed up last week, and I am really happy with how it turned out, especially since I pulled it together in one sleep-deprived evening. Now that we have a president-elect who has actually read (via kottke) the Pollan letter that inspired the shirt, I thought it might be time to show it off:

You can still buy the shirt on Zazzle, and 10% of the purchase cost (all of my proceeds) will be donated to The Food Project. I ordered my shirt on an Edun organic tee because I liked the scoop-neck, but I think I would ultimately recommend the more affordable American Apparel shirts, which have never let me down in the fit or fabric departments.

And I'm no moddle, but I couldn't resist:

 

When I made maraschino cherries, I had a lot of thick, sweet, delicious syrup left over. Drizzled over a fresh peach, it makes a perfect summer treat; the syrup mingles with the sweetness of the peach and simultaneously enhances its tartness.


 

The home canner's favorite sound is the satisfying plink of the canning jar sealing. When you hear the first metallic pop from the rows of cooling jars you can relax just a little, knowing that, whatever the contents of those jars taste like, you at least didn't screw the whole process up.


Whence comes that charming sound? As the hot content of the jars cools down, the volume decreases, creating a pressure difference between the interior and exterior of the jar. The sound comes from the convex canning lid turning suddenly concave as the pressure difference causes a vacuum seal. This seal protects your delicious jam, pickles, or what have you, from the ravages of wild microbeasties.

While I've canned a fair amount of jam, this was my first try at canning pickles. When venturing out of the kiddie pool of jam canning, I turned to Putting Food By, a book that will appeal to anyone who loves the feeling of walking into a well-stocked market, gazing into a full-to-brimming fridge, or that chapter in Little House in the Prairie where they blow up the pig bladder. You and your family will make it through that long, hard winter ahead!


The basic procedure for canning pickles is to remove them from their brine and pack them into sterilized jars, then to boil the brine and pour it over the pickles. The jars are then closed and placed in a bath of boiling water for a time appropriate to the size of the jar (and the altitude, if you want to get all technical). And that is exactly what I did with my mixture of pickled beets, turnips and radishes. Shockingly, the pickles retained their flavor and crunch, the jars sealed with resounding plinks, and while we may not be at risk for starving this winter, we'll be enjoying this fresh taste of summer all the more for it being homemade.

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