Monday, December 30, 2013

Foray into Sausage

For Christmas I got the meat grinder and sausage stuffing attachments for my Kitchen Aid mixer (I love that mixer). Before you go and say that is a horrible gift, I actually asked for them due to the sausage making class I took earlier in the year at Sur la Table. Also making sausage is not that hard if you have mechanical help.  I would not be making sausage if I had to use a hand grinder, because that would be too much like work. 

Meat grinder attachment grinding up the pork

So today I made my first batch of sausage. I made one pound of sage breakfast sausage.  The recipe called for pork butt (I used pork stew meat), fat back (I got rid of that since the stew meat had plenty of fat), sage, parsley, black pepper, thyme and salt. I also added some garlic and some cayenne pepper it to give it some kick.  I cut the meat up into 1 -2 inch cubes mixed the meat and the spices together then ran it through the grinder twice, the first time through the course the second time through the fine.  I then took some and made a small pattie to cook so my husband and I could taste it.  It is rather tasty but I’ll probably refine the recipe a bit for the next batch.  I then took the meat and sandwiched it between two pieces of wax paper and rolled it out to get a uniform thickness then used a large glass to cut patties. That is the simplest way to make sausage patties. I got 18 patties that are about 3 inches in diameter about ¼ inch thick which are now in the freezer.  The whole process took a bit over an hour from start to finish. 

Sausage patties ready for the freezer

The next thing I’ll be making is sausage in a casing. The hard part of that one is going to be finding sausage casings they just don't sell them around here.  I already have a recipe for Italian Sausage what I need to find is a recipe for Kielbasa.  Sadly neither my great grandfather (who was a butcher) nor my grandparents wrote down their kielbasa recipe it was all done by taste.  Thus I will have to find a recipe for a base and go from there. 

I may not make sausage everyday,  but I think I'll make it for special occasions like holidays. However, I'll have to work on perfecting my recipes till then. I just need to find willing volunteers to taste and eat my sausage creations. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas thoughts

My Grandparent the foundation of many of our family Christmas traditions.
The Holidays a time to gather with family and friends and be filled with Holiday cheer. So as I do my final preparations for Christmas, I realized nobody I know ever has a Norman Rockwell painting type Christmas, they are more like the Griswold family Christmas, without cousin Eddy.  Everyone has their family traditions, and quirks but those are what make the holidays special.   Family traditions are steeped in history, and can come from the old country, can be passed down from generation to generation or just ingrained into your psyche as the only proper way to do things because “they have always been done that way” thus shape your view of the world. The traditions are what makes things feel like home or the occasion is complete.  So as we gather with family we should all take a step back and reminisce about the good times, and realize people grow up/old, traditions morph as the family changes and grows but never forget were we came from or how we got to where we are.  We should also not fear change as things aren't frozen in time and will never be perfect no matter how hard we try.  Just remember it is not perfection that makes the holidays special, it is the imperfections that make it special. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Movies

I looked at the TODAY show’s Christmas Movie bracket and have to disagree with the selection of the best Christmas movie of all time. I’m sorry the best Christmas movie of all time is not “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  I know it is a well-loved Christmas classic, and people adore it, but it just not the best. I would of preferred to see a “Bishop’s Wife” with Carry Grant with that has many of the same themes, but it couldn’t of one because it wasn’t even on the bracket.  I also believe their bracket was flawed since they were missing numerous Christmas movies.  They were missing many of the great classics such as:

Then they could have had a whole side of the bracket dedicated to the different versions of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” from 1948 to the one with Patrick Stewart version.  No instead they filled the bracket with some very lousy movies that many people don’t consider classics.  I don’t think of “Home Alone” as classic or the movie “The Elf.”   Also I’m unsure how, “Home Alone” beat out the holiday classic “White Christmas”, how does a kid beat out the classic styling’s of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.  
Maybe I’m old fashioned (I’m in my mid 30’s) or maybe I was just brought up with a different version of classic Christmas movies. But I really think there should be a redo.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Holidays at the Botanical Gardens

Capital Building at Botanic Gardens' Holiday Display
Every year the National Botanical Gardens put on a holiday display made of all natural/organic materials. In the main area they have scale models of important Washington DC landmarks including the Capital building, the White House and the Washington Monument all surrounded by poinsettias.  Then they set up a model train display in one of the wings of the building. This year’s theme was the “World’s Fair” which showcased the many of the architectural achievements from each of the fairs such as the Eiffel Tower and the Space Needle.  My husband and I went to see the display last Sunday when it was snowing in DC. Actually one of the best times to go to some of the museums and exhibits is when it is snowing since locals don’t go out in the snow and the city seams almost deserted.  As little as an inch of snow seems to throw people around here into a panic. I'm from the north, so snow doesn't bother me, plus we have the metro here so it is even better no driving. 


I photographed some of the exhibit. (Botanic Garden Gallery)  It was a bit challenging due to the lighting. It was not exactly dim but the lights used through off metering. I ended up using an ISO around 800 to 1600 to compensate for the low light conditions but I was unable to really capture the trains how I would have liked. The nonmoving items came out ok. I also realized shooting at a high ISO isn’t that bad grain wise, especially since I don’t plan on blowing any of these photos up to poster size.  So they are perfect for the internet, basic photo sizes and card.   This showed me I don’t need to be afraid of high ISO values in the digital world. 
Botanic Gardens' Holiday Display

Holiday Party

Our little Christmas Tree
On Saturday we hosted our annual holiday party. While this is a small party in size it still does not diminish
the amount of work one must put into the preparations, since I do the cooking.  None of that catering for use everything is homemade from the ham to the cookies, except the chips (I have to draw the line somewhere).  This year we made ham soaked in orange rum (it was one drunken pig) with cloves and dried Valencia orange peel.  I also made Swedish meatballs with ground beef and pork sausage for the sauce I use the McCormick seasoning package in conjunction with the scratch recipe it makes for a more flavorful dish.   In addition to the two main dishes we had the traditional vegetable tray with ranch dip, a summer sausage with cheese tray which included a goat cheese wrapped in cranberries, pita chips, warm artichoke dip and cheese puff biscuits. I was surprised at the flavor and texture of the goat cheese, which was similar to a cheesecake texture and the tanginess, went well with the cranberries.  For deserts we had snowberries (white chocolate chip & cranberry cookies), traditional sugar cookies, orange rolls (like cinnamon rolls but with orange) and nut roll.   And of course drinks which I’ll discuss later.

I made most of the stuff the day of, and realized when I actually get a house I want a double oven, even if I don’t use it that often.  I also wished I had an industrial dish washer that can do dished in 5 minutes, because I did dishes around 5 times that day, while following the adage,
“clean as you go”.  Three other use full items where the disposable aluminum roaster for the ham (clean-up is so much easier), the crock pot liners (again clean-up is a snap), and finally the lowly mechanical mini scoop (it holds a little less than a tablespoon of water).  The little kitchen hand tool made dishing out cookie dough, biscuit dough and forming meatballs so much easier, provided a uniform size and sped up the process.  I love that thing.  Oh and the other thing that made my life easier is my large wooden kitchen board that I can place over the sink to increase counter space. I so need a bigger kitchen.

The little scoop

Now on to the that on thing that can make or break a party sometimes, the drinks.  This year we had several varieties of Scotch out from the not peaty to the very peaty. We also put out the special Scotch glasses, called the Glencairn glass, which is supposed to enhance the flavor of the Scotch. (Watch this video if you’re curious about the glass.) We also had Prosecco out, chardonnay, gin and elderflower liquor.  We actually mixed the elderflower liquor with the Prosecco (suggested on the liquor) to make a cocktail, then moved on to mixing the liquor with gin and tonic, both were good combinations. So everyone was in the holiday spirit so to speak.


Overall the party was a success. People liked the video of the  Yule log burning in the fireplace on the TV, it added to the Holiday Spirit. Overall people enjoyed themselves and I had very few leftovers.

Trip to Acadia National Park

Stop along the Park Loop Road ISO 400, Focal Length 20mm, Aperture F8, Shutter 1/400s Last weekend my husband and I went up to Acadia N...