Home Made Is Best

Homemade pork sausage with fennel!
This required two pounds of home ground pork shoulder and a large bulb of fresh fennel, roughly chopped.  Added pulverized fennel seed, black peppercorns, red chili flake, kosher salt, minced garlic, and a dash of white wine.  The proportions came out perfect – the sausage has a perfect balance of herbal flavors and heat.
I prefer to leave sausage meat loose (no casing) as it’s less work and more versatile. For example, here I molded some of the result into a pair of sausage patties and fried them for lunch. Note that there is very little grease in the pan. Delish! Pork shoulder is fatty, but compared to store-bought sausage it doesn’t weep grease and it’s an explosion of fresh flavor when eaten!

Pork Fennel Sausage

2 lbs Ground pork shoulder

1 large fennel bulb, chopped rough

1 tsp ground fennel seed

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp red chili flakes

2 tsp kosher salt

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon white wine.

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Grinding Meat at Home – A Word of Praise for the Food Processor

A homemade burger, using ground beef made with the food processor.

The ideas and dishes shared on this blog have two goals in mind: to allow for better quality dishes, while not breaking the bank.  One technique which combines both goals is to grind your own ground beef and pork at home.

A lot of people never think about doing this because they don’t want to buy a meat grinder, or a meat grinder attachment for a mixer.  Actually, you can put that concern to rest by simply using your home food processor.

The Cuisinart DFP-14NRY. A 720-watt motor, $159 on Amazon.com.

While I wouldn’t recommend using a blender or a Magic Bullet to do this, most any food processor can grind meat into hamburger so long as it’s already chopped into cubes. If you have a less-powerful food processor, be sure to place less beef in it at one time. (Less powerful = a processor that handles less than 11 cups of food at a time, or with a smaller than 720 watt motor.)

There are several cuts of meat that will work for grinding but by far the easiest and most commonplace is chuck steak.  When you get the steak home, start by trimming off as much of the silver skin and hard, knobby fat as you can manage. Don’t worry about trimming off fat that’s soft and pliable.

Chuck steak’s location on the cow. Relatively tough, weight-supporting muscle but oh-so-tasty.

Next, cut it into cubes slightly larger than one inch on a side.  Once again, if you spot any silver skin or hard fat, take the time to remove it.  This ensures that your ground meat is smooth and not gristly.

Place 1-2 cups of the meat at a time into your food processor and pulse-chop it a few seconds at a time until you get ground beef with a relatively rough, loose texture.  The grinding process releases a ‘sticky’ protein that will allow you to compress the meat into shapes like patties for your burgers.

If you don’t need to use all the ground beef at this time, your best bet is to divide it into 1-pound sections and place each one in a plastic freezer bag.  Properly stored ground beef lasts 3 months without a problem in the freezer, and a great deal longer if you use a form of vacuum food storage.

There are several advantages of grinding your own beef.  Supermarket-ground beef has a higher risk of contamination, as it’s made from muscle tissue taken from dozens or hundreds of cows. If you like (as I do) hamburger cooked with a bit of pink inside of it, then your risk of food poisoning drops significantly since you know exactly what’s going into your burger and how fresh it is.

On the left, home-ground beef. On the right, the denser, stickier, and slightly drier ground beef one would buy at the supermarket.

Supermarket ground beef is also more densely packed.  The sticky proteins have been wrung out like water from a wet towel, making the meat ‘mealy’ and leading to denser, less juicy burgers and meatloaf.  Definitely, from a quality standpoint, self-grinding is the way to go.

From a price perspective, self-ground beef is much more budget-friendly so long as you exercise patience when you shop. Where I live, ground chuck at the local supermarket runs around $3.50 to $4 per pound. Chuck roast is usually more expensive than that.

However, chuck roast regularly goes on sale for $2 per pound. When that happens, a little cutting, grinding, and freezing a dozen pounds of hamburger will save you some money, get better quality meat to work with, and allows you to know *exactly* what’s going into your food!

Chow Mein Ramen Noodles

One of the fastest, easiest and inexpensive Chow Mein dinners for two ever.

It is made using chicken or beef pieces. As I have mentioned before when I buy large cuts of meat I save the smaller trimmed pieces for other dishes like soups, and stir fry. The dish shown is with beef pieces.

It is economical About $1 per serving, as far as time, total time 15 minutes. Ingredients, simple and best of all a one pan dish cleanup.

Recipe:

1 tblsp oil

approximately 7 oz of thin sliced chicken or beef

2 garlic cloves minced

2 ramen noodle cakes I use the top ramen packages (discard seasoning packets. I save for something later.)

7 oz of shredded cabbage

3 green onions cut into 2 inch lengths

1 cup of water.

Note* You can add bean sprouts, water chestnuts slices,small corn if you want. You also may need a bit more liquid but wait and see if after adding the noodles it is a little dry. I added some beef stock.

Chow Mein Sauce:

1.5 tblsp light soy sauce

1.5 tblsp oyster sauce

1 tblsp Chinese cooking wine

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp sugar

Directions:

  1. Mix sauce in a bowl
  2. 2. Heat oil in large skillet over high heat.
  3. Add garlic. After 10 seconds add the meat.
  4. Cook for 1 minute then add cabbage and the white part of green onions
  5. Cook for about 1 1/2 minutes, until the cabbage wilts then push everything to the side and put in the two ramen cakes.
  6. Add water, after 45 seconds turn over the ramen noodles. After about 30 seconds break up the noodles and add your vegetables. Toss for about 2 minutes until all the noodles are covered with the sauce. If the noodles are not quite done you may want to add a bit mor water of chicken or beef stock.

Ready to eat immediately.

Sushi! It’s About the Rice.

When I talk to people about sushi a common response is: Eww, I don’t eat raw fish!

First of all, sushi is not raw fish. It is the vinegared rice. Along with the vinegar, a small amount of sugar and salt is added to cooked rice.

Sushi may be made with raw fish but also can be made without meat or with cooked seafood as long as it uses vinegared rice.

In some countries, the terms sashimi and sushi may be used interchangeably, but this is incorrect. Sashimi, is usually thinly sliced very high grade fresh raw meat or seafood.

Sushi wrappers are made from dried seaweed sheets called nori. There are other wrappers made from soy, vegetables and some fruits. This provides an array of colors. Wrappers can be used for an inside wrap with a sushi rice outer casing.

The most common way it is served uses nori as an outer wrap. This dark sea green surrounds the rice in a tight wrap so it can be cut into bite sized pieces.

Sushi chefs go through years of training and apprenticeships to become a certified sushi chef. They learn all species of fish and the subtleness of their flavors. The best way to slice the meats that are used and the basic chemistry of the sauces they make. Even the technique used to when sharpening their knives. Sushi knives are flat on one side of the blades edge and scalpel sharp.

However, making sushi at home is a fun way to incorporate art and taste into one. With the help of molds and shaping devices almost anyone can make a passable sushi plate.

Recipe for sushi rice.

1 cup cooked basmati or sushi rice

2 tablespoons of rice vinegar (or 3-4 tablespoons of sushi vinegar)

1 tablespoon of sugar

¼ teaspoon of salt

While the rice is warm, room temperature is okay. Just don’t use cold rice. When working with the sticky rice (It has to be sticky or it will not stick together and you will have a mess) make sure you work with wet hands to prevent the rice from sticking to your palms.

Pack the rice into a mold on the bottom and the sides leaving a center space for your filling of choice. Imitation crab meat cucumber and avocado are good choices for beginners. Don’t over pack! It’s tempting but leave room for the rest of the rice to cover the filling.

Next press the rice into the mold firmly so that the rice is tightly compacted.

Turn out the compacted rice onto the nori or other wrappers and fold or roll until each end overlaps. Wet the edge and refrigerate to firm it up. When cutting use a very sharp knife and make sure to wet it for each cut. Plate your creation in and artistic presentation.

Sauces used with sushi

Soy sauce, wasabi paste, chili paste, ginger paste

Make your own;

2/3 cup of mayonnaise

2 tablespoons of Siracha sauce I use Sambal

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon of sesame oil

Don’t give up if the first few tries aren’t perfect. You get better with practice. I still occasionally make a mess of things and I have made sushi numerous times.

Living High On The Hog

Baby back ribs are a favorite of mine! I prefer them to the typical pork spare ribs found at the majority of BBQ joints as baby backs are the meatier of the two.

Locally, baby back ribs run anywhere between $3.50 to $5 a pound. However, my local Randall’s grocery routinely has sales on their meats. That includes ribs pretty regularly. When ever they are on sale, it’s always worth grabbing at least one rack. (I’m sure if someone watched they would think it strange that I look through the entire batch in the display freezer before I pick out the one that I want!)

There are recipes where you can sous vide the ribs for 12 hours only at ~165 degrees. I prefer to sous vide my baby backs for longer at lower temps: 152 degrees for 24 hours. I do this for a few reasons.

First, I don’t have to worry about the tenderness of the rib meat. Second, at this time and temp, the silver skin on the bottom layer will effectively dissolve. That way, I don’t have to remove this membrane from the meat, which is a real pain for my arthritic hands. The final reason is that with only smoked salt and pepper, the natural flavor of the pork comes through. As an added bonus, the liquid that come from the ribs is full of flavor and usable for gravies, soups and sauces.

I finish the full rack in a 400-degree oven. I begin by brushing sauce on them then at 15 minutes intervals I turn over the ribs to let the sauce caramelize. I do this three times. Front to back and then back to the front.

The rack of ribs shown in the pictures represents about three delicious meals for two.

Left over meat taken off the bone makes delicious tacos, barbecue sliders, or an Asian inspired dinner with a side of steamed rice.

Crispy Fry Daddy

One of my quests in ‘deep frying’ has been how do you get that crunchy crust on chicken, crunchy moist inside potato fries, without over cooking. Then only to have them get soggy on the plate just before serving.

Or not getting the breading to stick to the bottom of the fryer.

This week I finally got IT!

Double frying. As simple as that.

The coating can be simply a dusting of flour, cornstarch or potato starch. If you want to get more into the batter, I will talk about that in another post. For now I will only get into the frying part.

I use a deep fat fryer, but a deep fry pan will work just as well. The advantage a deep fat fryer for me is the temperature control. I have a Hamilton Beach home fryer. I got it on sale for under $30.00. It has been used reliably for over three years.

Seasoning is a matter of choice. Me I like to season the meat before I do the coating. That way it flavors the meat and not just the outside crust. I usually let it set with the seasoning before coating for about 15 minutes. Then I dredge it in my coating. The chicken wings shown were dredged n potato starch after sitting in minced garlic, salt and pepper.

The oil was heated to 350 degrees. When doing the first fry you do not want to crowd the wings so you need to do them in batches. You place the ‘wings’ In the hot oil one at a time. Each time you hold the pieces so it is submerged about halfway in the oil for a few seconds to set the coating before letting it go. This will prevent it from sinking to the bottom right away and having the coating stick to the bottom.  Make sure you keep your face away from the hot oil because the chicken will pop. When it gets a light crispy brown take it out and let it drain, preferably on a cooling rack. Let it cool while you fry the rest of the batches.

When all the rest are finished do the second fry. This can have all of the pieces go in at the same time. Fry until they are a golden brown. Take them out to drain. They should be crispy.

To get the best results from frying the idea is moisture is the enemy. Whether you are frying potatoes or chicken the idea is the drier the better. Oil should be the right temperature. If the item is dry and the oil to temperature there is a minimum of greasiness to the food. Because it is in the hot oil a shorter amount of time.

Usually when the food is taken out of the fryer it is still cooking and releasing the water in the food. By letting it sit a few minutes the liquid boils out. The double fry method gets rid of the crisp killing moisture. So the next fry is dryer. Sealing in the moisture and providing a crisp outer skin with a moist and tender inside.

A Hungarian gift

The word for paprika comes from the Hungarian paparka. A variation from Bulgarian piperka which in turn came from Latin piper, for ‘pepper’. In the USA paprika simply means any nonpungent red chili.

Today Hungary produces both pungent and sweet paprika. Originally all Hungarian paprika was aromatic and quite hot.

The hybrid that most use in today’s kitchens is a cross of the sweet and the pungent peppers to come up with the benign type that is neither hot nor sweet. It is usually used as a garnish, mainly to sprinkle on top of deviled eggs or potato salad to give it the festive look.

In my opinion any paprika that is worthy of its history of exquisite taste varies with its strength from hot to pleasantly mild. Smoked paprika has a pronounced flavor that starts with a wonderfully rich aroma when toasted with other aromatics (onions, garlic, a little lard, oil or pan drippings).  Wonderful in goulash, paprikash, and chili recipes.