You know, a smokehouse of this caliber doesn’t just throw itself together! While Darren was working diligently, I went ahead & processed some of the meat by making two more sausages that don’t have to be smoked…breakfast sausage & chorizo. Since we had venison, we used a 60/40 blend, meaning 60% ground pork & 40% ground venison. If you use too much venison, the sausage will be dry & tough when cooked…pork fat rules (just ask Emeril)!

As for the herbs, I ground the whole peppercorns, sage, thyme, & rosemary in a spice grinder…you can use a coffee grinder…to ensure they would be finely ground & could be evenly distributed. If you don’t have fresh herbs at your fingertips, you can use dried. The ratio is generally 3:1, fresh:dried…I know, you have to do math…you hate math…I’ve taught math, so I’ve heard it all! You can do it! (or you can Google the conversion!) You can still grind the dried herbs, if you so desire…after all, this is cooking, not baking, so you can do what you want…’cuz you’re a thug!

One last tidbit…I portion the breakfast sausage in one pound packages & wrap them in plastic wrap, as shown below. They turn into these nice little logs, which you can slice into patties…just like the pros!

Oh…one more last tidbit…I like to do the mixing by hand. The mixture is really thick & this way I can feel that the liquid is evenly distributed…you have to use your eyes to tell if everything else is evenly mixed!

Breakfast Sausage

5 pounds pork roast, coarsely ground (or 3 pounds ground pork and 2 pounds ground venison)breakfast sausage

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon pepper

4 teaspoons fresh sage

4 teaspoons fresh thymeimg_3391

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoons cayenne

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 cup water

Method

Combine all, mix well. 

 If you’re going to eat it fresh, it’s best if allowed to chill overnight before cooking & enjoying!


…Instacure, one of the many names used in the food industry for sodium nitrite or a blend containing sodium nitrite. In my previous post, I discussed the use of sodium nitrite for curing meat. In addition to Instacure, it is also known as pink curing salt, Prague powder, Morton Tender Quick, & saltpeter. Using some sort of cure in sausage is important for prevention of bacterial growth. After some research, I learned there are many natural sources of this important chemical…celery, for one…& spinach. Some would argue that these should have the same effect on me if they contain the same chemical. Well, they don’t. I have never had any problems eating celery or spinach, even in large quantities. Knowing we needed to use some sort of cure, we opted to puree the celery we had in the fridge. After much research, with very little success…no one wants to be liable if it doesn’t work…we opted to use one ounce of celery puree per pound of meat in each recipe requiring cure…so far, so good! I have been able to enjoy our sausages,

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Ground venison (top) is much leaner than ground pork butt (bottom)

without side effects, & haven’t gotten food poisoning!

 

Now for the sausage making…If you’ve ever made venison sausage, you know that you have to mix the venison with something fatty, usually pork, because the venison is too lean to make juicy, delicious sausage. If you’ve never made venison sausage, now you know…mix it with some pork! Because God is Jehovah Jireh, our local supermarket had pork butt on sale for 99¢/pound right when we needed it…so we bought 40+ pounds to mix with the venison.

The first thing I wanted to try was Pepperoni…I said previously, I love me some pepperoni pizza! Unfortunately, pepperoni is not traditionally smoked…who knew?!? So the shiny, new smoke house will have to wait!

Pepperoni

3 pounds ground venison

2 pounds ground pork

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Pepperoni drying

½ cup dry milk

3 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons paprika

1 tablespoon cayenne

1 tablespoon anise seed, or fennel, crushed

1 tablespoon pepper, coarsely ground

1 ½ teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon garlic powder

5 ounces celery juice

½ cup red wine

Method

1. Combine all ingredients; mix well. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

2. Stuff into casing.

3. Ferment at 68ºF for 72 hours.

4. Cold smoke for 8 hours, optional.

5. Dry age at 54º-60ºF for 6-8 weeks.

 


‘Round these here parts, the holidays are synonymous with hunting…deer, dove, duck, hog…take your pick! Once the hunters return, however, it’s time to get to work processing what they bring home. Recently, we were blessed with a deer to process. Since I’m unable to eat commercially processed meat (we’ll talk about that in a sec), we decided we would grind all of it & make sausage with most of it…the rest we are just using as ground meat.

Now for commercially processed meat…cured meats contain sodium nitrite. Sodium nitrite inhibits bacteria growth & gives cured meats that characteristic pink hue…mmmmmm! There is lots of debate over the health risks of sodium nitrite…or the lack thereof. Being a science teacher, I approach things from a science perspective & I know that every chemical in common use has a Safety Data Sheet (SDS), as required by OSHA. A quick look at the SDS for sodium nitrite (Google it) shows that it is toxic by ingestion & poison control should be notified if ingested. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I want that in my food! Of course, the FDA supposedly regulates how much of this chemical can be used in our food. Do you really think they they can test every batch of every product? Now, dig a little deeper & you find that it causes tachycardia (elevated heart rate) and digestive tract “irritation”…nausea, abdominal spasms & pain, diarrhea… Without getting even more graphic, I will tell you that I have experienced all of these symptoms, along with others, after ingestion of commercially cured meats on multiple occasions, so I try to avoid it. However, I do love me some pepperoni pizza, sausage wraps, sausage jambalaya, summer sausage, sausage scampi…Darren to the rescue! Wth the deer we were processing, I asked, “Can we make sausage?” He said, “I guess so,” and got right to work building a smokehouse…what a husband!

Now, I asked if he could throw something together to improvise a tabletop-sized smokehouse. He just looked at me & laughed…this man doesn’t do anything halfway! So he built the one pifullsizeoutput_14e3ctured with a concrete pad for it to sit on (don’t want it to rot!) & tongue & groove cedar (that he cut the tongues & grooves on) to help reduce smoke leakage, a metal roof that matches our building, & an appropriate amountimg_3377
of redneck…the fire box that he fashioned out of an old wheelbarrow, which he cut in two, welded on hinges, & painted black. This thing is legit! Time to make sausage…

 


Wow! It’s been 3 years & 3 months since my last confession…I mean blog post! And how things have changed! Son graduated from high school, went off to college…then came back home. We’ve moved 3 times, I went back to work in the public school system, Darren changed jobs twice, & we lost my sweet father-in-law after an extended illness. It’s been a rough 39-month whirlwind. Things seem to be settling down a bit now…or perhaps just the calm before the next storm!

One of the best things that has happened in the last IMG_19793 years is that we were able to purchase 24 acres of land. These pictures show you a little of what it has to offer…open pasture with good grazing grass for cattle, few weeds & plenty of cover for wildlife, woods & a creek at the back (the picture shows an area we had to push in order to put up fencing…the rest of the woods are so thick you can barely get through & only if you follow the game trails), & a small pond at the front…which was already stocked with bass & catfish. We have built a place on it & have big plans…best laid, & all. We’ve named our little patch of dirt IMG_2095Hollydew Farm, inspired by some of the native vegetation…yaupon (or yaupon holly) & dewberries. I was raised a country girl & have been itching to get back to it for the 13 years we lived in town. Darren was raised in a small city, but has embraced his inner farmer & can’t wait to get this party started!  IMG_2223


Being Southern by birth & heritage, I grew up with my mom serving very specific foods on New Year’s Day. Supposedly, each food offered some sort of mysterious prognostication for the coming year. Our menu always included a pork roast with plenty of garlic, black-eyed peas cooked with bacon, cabbage with onion sauteed in bacon grease, candied sweet potatoes, & corn bread, also made with bacon grease. Now, I’m a sucker for a good tradition, after all, that’s part of the reason I went to Texas A&M! As such, I have carried on this tradition with my family, for the most part. Sometimes, however, the traditionalist in me is in conflict with my inner rebel…the rebel usually wins! That being said, this year I thought I would shake things up a little bit…but I couldn’t completely ignore the tradition!

Besides eating good southern comfort food, New Year’s Day has always been about college football & bowl games at our house. So what better way to celebrate than to combine the two? Are you ready for this amazing concoction? …wait for iiiiiiiiiiiiiit…Año Nuevo Queso…the latest sensation in New Year’s cuisine! It has everything…pork to signify prosperity, black-eyed peas for luck, greens for wealth, corn for those who might miss the cornbread, lots of cheese, & a little beer…we are talking football here! This is another one of those grandma-slappin’-good recipes! Notice, there are no sweet potatoes. That would be weird & I don’t think they are widely traditional…I think my mom just cooked them because my dad like them so much!

Año Nuevo Queso

  • ½ pound breakfast sausage, or chorizo
  • ½ large onion, diced small
  • 2-3 jalapeños, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 beer, divided
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • ½ cup half & half
  • 12 ounces shredded cheddar cheese, or muenster, asadero, monterey jack, or a mixture
  • 1 can black eyed peas, or 2 cups cooked, rinsed & drained
  • ½ cup salsa
  • 1 bunch collard greens, about 2 cups cooked, diced small
  • 1 cup whole kernel corn
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • salt
  • pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Method

  1. Brown the sausage in a 4-quart pan. Add the onion; cook until tender. Stir in jalapeño & garlic; cook until fragrant.
  2. Pour in ¼ cup of the beer; deglaze the pan to get all the yummy little bits off the bottom & sides. Drink the remaining beer as you finish making the queso!
  3. Stir in cream cheese, half & half, & cheese. Stir until melted…do not boil!
  4. Mash black-eyed peas coarsely with a fork; stir into cheese mixture.
  5. Stir in salsa, greens, corn, sour cream, & lime juice. Salt & pepper to taste. Heat through.
  6. Remove from heat; stir in cilantro. Serve immediately with tortilla chips…& more beer!

Have you ever actually read the ingredients on many of the spice or seasoning blends that you purchase, and ultimately consume? Well, here are a few examples of what you might find.

Silicon dioxide…that’s ‘sand’ to us common folk, one of the main ingredients in making glass. This is added to many, many items as an anti-caking agent so lumps don’t form. Didn’t your parents tell you not to eat sand when you were a kid?

Cellulose powder (or cellulose in any other form)…commonly called ‘sawdust’. This, too, is used as an anti-caking agent…works for beavers & termites!

Then there’s the ever-popular MSG, or monosodium glutamate. This is a flavor enhancer…why add more herbs when you can just throw in a chemical that makes it taste like there are more herbs? Make sense, right? MSG has recently enjoyed a comeback with it’s new moniker, ‘umami’, but it is still the same old MSG that many people are allergic to.

Some of my favorites include ethoxyquin (also used as a pesticide), calcium stearate (also used as a plasticizer for making plastics and as a surfactant, which is the sudsy stuff in detergents), and carboxymethylcellulose (I don’t know what this is, but can you even pronounce it?)

These “ingredients”, along with propionic acid, malic acid, guar gum, and many others, are labelled by the Food & Drug Administration as “food additives”. On average, Americans eat their weight in food additives every year. According to the FDA, a food additive is “any substance the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result…in its affecting the characteristics of food.” In other words, they aren’t “food”, but they do things to our food. Many additives are actually derivates of foods, like paprika oleoresin, added for color…I mean, really…why not just use paprika, instead of a perverted form of paprika?

Because I want to ingest as little of this stuff as possible & because I don’t want my family to ingest it either, I make many of my own seasoning blends. This also allows me to control the amount of sugar & salt that is added to our food…I know, I’m a control freak…Son reminds me…often! Did you know that some Cajun seasoning blends contain over 30% salt? That means if you want more seasoning, you are also going to get more salt…a lot more salt, whether you want it or not. And many seasonings contain sugar or corn syrup derivates, but I don’t really want sugar in my tacos! So I am going to share with you my recipe for taco seasoning. It is sugar free & salt free, so you are free to adjust to your taste! This recipe is also free of sand & sawdust, so it may clump a little. Just break those little clumps up with a spoon & enjoy!

Taco Seasoning Mix

Servings/Yield: about 1 cup, enough to season 8 pounds of ground beef

  • ¼ cup chili powder (if you can’t find one at the store without all of the added “stuff”, try making your own with this recipe)
  • 3 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Method

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Store in an airtight container. Use 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) per pound of ground beef. Brown ground beef, add seasoning, water, & salt to taste; simmer for 10 minutes.


Cooler weather is here…it’s time to break out the long sleeves, jackets, & toe socks! And it’s time for some soul-warming soup, like Sausage & Cabbage Soup…not one of the most nutritious, but definitely one of the easiest & most comforting. To improve the nutritional value, make sure to use sausage that is free of nitrites & made from antibiotic & hormone free meat.

Sausage & Cabbage Soup

Yield: 8 servings

Fabulous with a piece of crusty bread to sop up all the wonderful flavors!

  • 2 pounds smoked sausage, thinly sliced
  • 1 head cabbage, shredded
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 soup cans water, or more
  • 8 ounces processed American cheese

Method

Brown sausage in a 5-quart Dutch oven. Add cabbage; wilt for 3-5 minutes. Stir in soups & water; bring to a simmer. Add cheese; stir until melted. More water can be added to achieve the desired consistency, just bring back to a simmer after adding. Serve immediately.