Archive for the ‘Lunch’ Category

How to make an stuffed acorn or butternut squash from scratch

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

I love it when the weather starts to turn, and the evening fare starts to shift to heartier more savory meals.  One of our favorites are stuffed winter squashes.  In our neck of the woods, acorn and butternut squash are plentiful and inexpensive.  Talking to friends, I was kind of surprised to learn that these squashes are a little daunting to a lot of folks, so I thought I’d share my approach to what is realistically a 40-minute meal, start-to-finish.  You can alter the ingredients based on what you have on-hand, and/or make in advance and refrigerate or freeze for a quick, easy meal later.

Quick, easy stuffed squash. These are acorn and butternuts, stuffed with a sage-infused millet, kale and pear stuffing.

I didn’t think to photograph this meal step-by step, but it’s straightforward to describe, and pretty easy to reverse-engineer just by looking at the finished product.  My version is vegetarian and gluten-free (omit cheese and butter for vegan version).  But you can alter all the inputs – I used millet as stuffing base, but it could have just as easily been rice, or wheat berries, or other grain of your choosing.  Tonight I put pears in my stuffing, but you could omit, or use apples, or dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, etc).  Likewise, I had kale in the house, but any green would be equally good.  Read my recipe and feel free to modify or substitute liberally.  If you want meat, add some cooked crumbled sausage to the stuffing mix prior to baking.

Acorn and Butternut Squash, Stuffed with Sage-infused Millet, kale and pear

1 Acorn squash, halved, seeds scooped out
1 Butternut squash, halved, seeds scooped out (cut off area above hollowed out bowl and use in other dishes)
1 cup millet (uncooked)
1 Medium onion, chopped
2 cups chopped kale
2 pears, chopped
1 tbsp dried sage, or several fresh sages leaves, minced
1-2 tbsp butter (omit for vegan)
1-2 tbsp oil (olive oil, canola, etc)
1/2 cup grated semi-hard or hard cheese (omit for vegan)
salt and pepper to taste

Arrange the squash cut side down on a large plate with enough of a lip to add a bit of water (submerge squashes a couple millimeters).  Cover plate and squashes tightly with plastic wrap.  Microwave them for 5 minutes to steam them.  Alternatively, you could steam the squashes in the traditional way, which would take about 15-20 minutes.

Cook the millet, covered, in 3 cups water with sage and salt to taste.  At a low simmer, millet takes about 25 minutes.  All the water should be absorbed, but if not, drain excess.

Saute the onion in a bit of oil and/or butter.  When nearly translucent, add the kale and pear, stir till wilted, about 2 minutes.

Mix the cooked millet with kale mixture.  Add a TBSP butter and stir till melted.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Stuff the grain mixture into the squashes, and top with cheese.  bake in a 375F convection oven or under broiler until cheese is lightly browned.  Serve hot, or save for later.  these will keep for a week in the fridge, or months in the freezer.

Cost analysis:

Squashes were $1 each at farmers’ market.  Millet about $0.25.  Onion and kale $0.25.  Pear $0.50.  Cheese $0.75.  Butter $0.25.  Sage $0.10.  EVOO $0.15.  Total $4.25.  Made (4) servings = $1.07 per serving.


How to make strawberry jam from scratch, WITHOUT SUGAR OR ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS

I started this blog to help people do kitchen things that are different, unusual, or downright difficult, things that are neglected topics in the world of food instruction.  With the plethora of book, blogs, YouTube videos, etc out there, it’s usually pretty easy to find information and/or instructions on many, many things, even if actually doing them isn’t exactly easy.

Making traditional strawberry jam (or even novel recipes with sugar as sweetener)  is one of those topics that’s extraordinarily well covered.  While I hesitate to say there is nothing new to add to the subject, it’s safe to say that *I* personally have nothing new to add to the subject.

But making strawberry (or other fruit) jams without sugar, and without artificial sweeteners, well, that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.  While I have no health reasons for wanting sugar-free jam, I personally just don’t like how sweet traditional jams are.  For a few years, I tried reducing the amount of sugar in traditional recipes, and wound up with tasty syrup.  My jam just wouldn’t set.  I tried recooking it with more pectin, to no avail.  For two years, I poured my strawberry jam onto toast and sandwiches instead of spreading it with a knife.  So in 2010, I made my last batch of strawberry jam.  Until today.

What happened between then and now was a simple but life-altering discovery: Pomona Pectin.  It is different than the pectin you can buy most places – that pectin only works if the correct amount of sugar is added, so that after cooking there is not enough water present to keep added pectin dissolved, and thus upon cooling, the pectin will gel.  Pomona is a calcium-activated pectin, so when calcium (included with the pectin) is added, it will gel regardless of the amount of sugar present.  Now that you know the secret, you can Google it and read up on the topic yourself.  What I will tell you is that while Pomona pectin works like magic, it IS different to work with and requires some experience and experimentation if you want to wander off the reservation and make your own recipes.

Let me show you how I made some strawberry jam with honey today.  Note that it is NOT my intention to teach you to make jam, or to do basic canning; I assume you are competent in this regard already.  I’m also not trying to teach specific recipes, though I hope you will like mine and the variations of it described here.  The point of this post is to teach you how to do what you know how to do already, except WITHOUT SUGAR.

Here are the main ingredients: 3 lbs strawberries, some mint from the garden, local honey, and the Pomona pectin with its calcium activator (more detail on that on a minute). Not pictured is a little lemon juice and some Meyer lemon rinds. I also added cracked black pepper and balsamic vinegar (separately and together) to a few jars.

My friend Katie sent me some Meyer lemon rinds from her tree. I use them in everything. They are beautiful and tasty.

OK, this snap technically has little to do with making jam, but I wanted to point out the difference in waste you achieve by using a huller instead of a paring knife. the difference is about 4 grams per berry. Doesn’t sound like much, except when you consider that for every hundred berries, you wind up with almost an extra pound of fruit using the huller. That lesson is consistent with the other thing we want to teach here: how to minimize waste and thus cost.

This post isn’t really about the basic mechanics of making jam, but at this point I mashed the fruit (3lbs), added 2c honey, 3 TBSP chopped mint, and a few TBSP lemon juice, then cooked gently for about 10 minutes. If you are planning to use sugar, don’t add it just yet – you can use it as a carrier of sorts for the pectin powder. Now we’re ready for the pectin, but adding it is a multi-step process that definitely *is* possible to screw up, so pay attention.

First you will need to dissolve the pectin powder (NOT the calcium) in hot water, mixing well to dissolve. IF YOU ADD THE POWDER DIRECTLY TO THE FRUIT IT WILL CLUMP AND RUIN YOUR JAM. Seriously. Guess how I know? If you are adding sugar, you can mix the sugar and pectin powder at this point, and fold it into the fruit, but that is still potentially problematic for clumping. Dissolve in water and you will be happy. In this case, I used 6 tsp pectin powder and 3/4 cup very hot water.

Here’s what it looks like dissolved – like a thick paste. Fold the paste into the cooked fruit.

Now you need the calcium activator. Add 1/2 tsp calcium power to 1/2c water and mix well.

Here’s the calcium water. You won’t use it all at once, and it keeps for months. I add about 4x as many tsp calcium water as I do pectin. In this case I used about 20 tsp calcium water – just add it to the fruit mixture containing the pectin. You should notice the jam begin to start setting. It won’t get stiff. Use the plate test to judge whether the set is sufficient – before starting, put a ceramic plate in the freezer. When you reach this step, take the plate out, and shmear a tsp of the jam on the plate. It will set to the consistency you will get in the jar. If set is insufficient, try adding more calcium water. If that doesn’t do it, add more dissolved pectin. Iterate till it’s right.

Jar your jam in the usual way. Here’s the batch I made today. This jar had a little cracked black pepper and balsamic vinegar added. The set was perfect, and the jam is delicious – not too sweet!

I do try to include costing info with each post to refute the notion that cooking with fresh, high quality ingredients is expensive.  I bought the strawberries at the farmers’ market for $12.  I buy my honey by the half gallon, and estimate I may have use about $3 worth.  My mint was free from my garden, but if you bought it I would have paid about $1.  The lemon juice and pectin may have been $1.  So for about $17, I got (12) 4-oz jars and one large (32-oz) jar (ran out of small jars!).  So 80 ounces of jam for $17 is $0.21 per ounce.  That’s about $1.70 for 8 ounces, which is a typical supermarket size that will run you from $3-5.  And the store jam won’t taste as good, or be as good for you.

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How to make turkey soup from scratch – and can it!

November 26, 2011 3 comments

Our Thanksgiving bird was, once again, wonderful.  We go to a lot of trouble to buy a high-quality bird (a Bourbon Red in our case), from a farmer we know.  And we pay a lot, compared to that insipid supermarket stuff they call turkey – $87 for a 12 lb bird, to be precise.

I get as as much as I can out of that bird.  It’s not just the money, either – it’s a matter of respect for resources.  And one of the ways we stretch the use is to start a big pot of turkey soup while we’re cleaning up from dinner.  Literally, I’ll break up the roasted carcass into a soup pot, add water, put the pot on a small hob and lowest flame, and start a simmer that will last nearly 24 hours.  Here’s the pictorial.

Here's our bird out of a two-day buttermilk marinade. 12 lbs or thereabouts.

Three hours later, heat has worked its alchemy. Once dinner is over, I remove all the meat from the carcass and save for sandwiches, pot pie, etc. But I retain the carcass, too. While we're cleaning up, our tradition is to start making soup. Simply break up the carcass and put it in a soup pot full of water. Put it on a small hob, with a low flame, and start a simmer that will last about 18 hours.

Here's the stock after an 18 hour simmer. I did not add any meat - that's all what comes off the carcass (and there's more, as you'll see in the next photo.

Here are the bones pulled out of the stock pot. There is nothing left of them. In case you're wondering, these bones weigh 641 grams, or about 1.5 lbs of the 12 lb turkey weight. The pink plate is full of bits of skin and such that will go to the dogs (250 grams). So of a 12 lb bird, we're looking at 1.5 lb bones, 0.5 lb dog scraps, so that leaves about 10 lbs of usable turkey.

Here are the vegetables we'll add. The stalks are retained from bok choy we steamed last week. It's every bit as good as celery, and we have it around, why not use it? We also added lots of root veg which are on season now - rutabaga, carrot, turnip and Jerusalem artichoke (not pictured).

Here's the veg chopped. Add it to the soup, simmer for another 30 minutes or so. Ladle soup into sterilized jars (half solids, half broth), leaving 1" head space. Close jars tightly.

Put the jars in a pressure canner, add a few inches of water, and take it to 15 PSI.

Process at 15 PSI for 1 hour.

Yields about 20 servings of soup.

One awesome quart jar of soup for the pantry.

Note that you need lots of headspace – 1 inch, no kidding, if you want to assure all jars seal (one in this batch did not).

Costing notes:  This turkey yielded about 30 individual meals, which is fairly unheard of for a bird this small.  Total cost, then, is $2.90 per serving (that does not include dog food).  The trick is to not waste any. We hope this post helps you do that.

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How to make pancetta… starting with a five-hundred-year-old pig

November 21, 2011 2 comments

OK, the pig itself was not 500 years old.  But my pancetta project started 5 centuries ago, give or take.

Pancetta, for the uninitiated, is an Italian version of “bacon”.  It starts with a pork belly, but unlike American bacon, it is salt-cured (along with garlic, pepper and other spices), not smoked.    Pancetta is typically cubed and rendered to provide flavor for any number of dishes, and to my taste is more enjoyable than American bacon, mainly because it tastes more “porky”.

Ossabaws at Cane Creek Farm, the place we bought our breeding stock.

Before I became determined to make pancetta, I became infatuated with a hog.  Not just any hog, an Ossabaw Island hog.  These pigs are descendants of the legendary Iberica swine, and were deposited by the Spaniards on Ossabaw Island, off the coast of Georgia, in the 1500’s.  As an isolated, feral herd, they are now the most genetically  pure European swine on the planet.  These are not your ordinary industrial hogs.

Fortunately for me (who lacks a farm), I have a friend as crazy as I am.  Bruce is the fourth generation on his Hillsborough, NC farm, and he agreed to raise a some Ossabaws.  We bought some gilts from Cane Creek Farm in Snowcamp, NC, later found a boar from another farmer, and soon enough we had piglets.  Bruce’s young son took care of the piglets, and in October we harvested the pig that was subject of this post.

While our piglets were bulking up, a couple of food bloggers created the Charcutapalooza Challenge.  The gist of it is that they proposed one charcuterie challenge per month, and dangled a big prize for the person who completed all the projects in an exemplary way.  They managed to get Michael Ruhlman, author of the amazing book Charcuterie, to be a consultant to the project.  As soon as I saw the project I knew I needed to be involved.

Sadly, however, I’ve only had time for one challenge – duck prosciutto – till now.  I posted on that one several months ago.  In some ways, knowing that I can’t compete for the prize was liberating.  I am now free to focus on my art, the way I want to.  And I thought that it would be pretty unusual for anyone to make Ossabaw pancetta, let alone from a pig they’ve grown.  In addition, I decided I would do the hog processing myself.  Here’s the photo tutorial.

It all starts with a hog. Bruce wisely talked me into letting him take the hog to be killed, scalded, and halved. The harvesting itself isn't such a big job, but the scalding is. So this half hog is how I took delivery of the pig. Note the beautiful fat on this pig, including the leaf lard in the viscera.

Here's the mid-section of the hog after I liberated the ham and shoulder. Since this isn'a post about how to butcher a hog, I'll focus just on the task of separating the belly that we'll turn into pancetta. Note that you don't need a lot of heavy cutting equipment to butcher an animal - a sharpening steel, a good boning knife, and a bone saw will do the job.

We start by separating the loin from the belly. We'll separate out the tenderloin, then turn the loin itself into three roasts.

We isolate the belly by removing the ribs. I also trimmed off a lot of the excess fat (which I retained for more lard). This belly is now ready for curing.

Bruce was enthusiatic to have me turn his half of the hog into pancetta, too, hence there are two bellies here. Bruce's is a little oddly shaped because he was a little more aggressive about separating the ham from the loin. The glasses contain the curing spice mixture specified by Ruhlman: Instacure #1, pepper, garlic, bay leaves, nutmeg, thyme and crushed juniper berries. Ruhlman also calls for brown sugar, which I forgot. But I was very happy with the outcome, and would probably omit sugar on the future, too.

Here are the bellies with the curing rub on them. From here they went into a giant Ziploc, and into my reach-in to cure for a while. Ruhlman said a week, but I let them go for three weeks, just because I didn't have time to take them out sooner. I did take them out once or twice for overhauling (rubbing the spices into the meat).

After three weeks in the reach-in, the meat was ready to roll and cure. First step was to rinse off the spice mixture, and trim them to an appropriate size for rolling.

Pretty simple now... cut, and roll tightly. You could add extra seasoning now, but I didn't.

Now tie the roll TIGHT. If you don't know how to tie a roast, see this video:

Once they're all tied, hang them in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Ideal conditions are 50-60F and 50-60% RH. Because pancetta is cooked, hanging to cure can be an inexact science.

Because the weather in NC is highly variable (and warm for several days at a time), I built a simple curing chamber out of a dorm fridge. Basically I hijacked the controls and added humidification capability. It needs dehumidification, too. Next project.

After two weeks of curing, they were ready to slice and store. The vinegar was used to wipe off small bits of chalky white mold. I checked them every few days while curing and wiped off small mold spots when they popped up (which they did, because of the high humidity while I was curing). White mold is no problem. Green and black mold is the stuff you worry about, and I didn;t see any of that.

Here it is, all sliced up, ready to package. Beautiful, isn't it?

Couldn't resist a close-up.

Vacuum seal and store for 6 months, easy.

Now that you see how to make the pancetta, let’s do something with it: pasta carbonara.

Cube a wheel or two of that pancetta.

Render it.

Cook some pasta. Yes, I was lazy and used boxed pasta. Sue me. Be sure to reserve a little of the water from boiling the pasta (maybe 1/2 - 1 cup), you'll need it later.

Get some other stuff ready: a big hunk of butter (1/8-1/4 lb), a big mound of hard cheese (2 cups pecorino romano), a couple eggs, and wine (optional, for drinking, not cooking).

Heat a big pan in the oven while the pasta is cooking. When pasta is al dente, throw the butter in the hot pan to melt.

Add the pasta, cheese, and eggs to the hot pan with butter. Yes, one of my eggs was a double-yolker. Bonus.

Mix well, adding a little retained pasta water till consistency is correct. Normally I would have added pancetta in same step, but I have one vegetarian in the house, so I mix it up veg and plate hers first.

Add the pancetta, mix well.

Plate and enjoy!

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The world’s best pork chop biscuit, from scratch

The World's Best Porkchop Biscuit. Seriously. Lousy photo. Awesome biscuit.

My work on this planet may be just about done.

After a dinner of the Best Porkchops Ever (from heirloom pigs we selected, crossed with a farmer’s hybrid boar from friend farmer Tim, grown with love by our friend Bruce at his farm), I asked daughter Courtney what she would like for school lunch tomorrow.

Answer: pork chop biscuit.

Be still my heart.

So I set about making biscuits.  Only to have Southern grandma-channeling daughter Emily hop up to coach me on my biscuit prep skills.  Because this girl can make her some biscuits.

And together, we made the World’s Best Porkchop Biscuit.  I have eaten me some porkchop biscuits in my time, including the famous ones at the NC State Fair.  And I am not exaggerating, this is the best ever.

And it dawned on me, how many of you have never had a porkchop biscuit that didn’t come from Hardee’s?  Or Biscuitville. Whatever.  This is another one of those foods that is crazy-easy to make, and everyone loves.  So here’s how to do it:

Biscuits (Alton Brown’s recipe, it’s the best):

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 1 cup buttermilk, chilled


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don’t want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter (or a little bigger), being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that’s life.)

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

For the porkchop:

Obtain the highest quality porkchop you can find.  A thick one, at least 3/4″.   None of that boneless crap, either.
Brush it with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper (I like smoked salt for this).
Grill it till about 155F.  Just a little pink inside.  Yes, it’s safe.
Remove bone and excess fat. Slice it about 3/8″ thick (probably in half).  Cut such that it fits on the biscuit.

Place porkchop slices on biscuit and prepare for the magic to happen.  A little pat of butter on the biscuit first won’t kill you.  Quickly.

Try it paired with a nice of of Nicaragua El Limoncillo Pacamara Peaberry from Muddy Dog Roasting Company.

Rabbit and Kale Pie from scratch

January 24, 2011 4 comments

Great book. Author is from the UK, so the book is mainly European-style pies (savory), though there is a chapter dedicated to American pies (sweet).

Meat pies are under-appreciated in the USA.  Rabbit (as food) is under-appreciated in the USA.  So you can imagine how much rabbit pie is under-appreciated in the USA.  When I had the opportunity to pick up a couple fresh rabbits from In the Red Farm at the NC State Farmers’ Market last weekend, along with some beautiful fresh kale, I was inspired by Tamasin Day-Lewis’ fabulous book, Tarts With Tops On, to turn it all into a rabbit pie.  I did a mash-up of a couple recipes in her book to come up with this.  Of course this entire procedure is in keeping with the purpose of this blog: to take under-appreciated ingredients that people think are difficult, and show you how easy it is to do something spectacular with them.

Start by making a shortbread pie dough. It's as easy as pie (ha!). Seriously, 300g flour, 150g butter. Pulse till it's crumb. Turn the processors on and add 2-3 TBSP ice water slowly till it turns into dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refirgerate at least 30 minutes, longer is better.

Here's the finished dough. The pinch was my oldest daughter sampling the goods.

Joint the rabbit just like you would a chicken - cut the carcass at each joint. After legs are removed, split it down the spine, then quarter it. The liver in the photo made an excellent pate, by the way, or you could just use it in the pie.

I carmelized some red onion I bought from the market at the same time, then added the rabbit to the skillet with salt, pepper, herbs de provence and some dried orange rind. you can use any herb mix you like. Once it was browned, I added a cup of water, covered tightly and slid into a 400F oven for 45 minutes, then removed it, uncovered, and rested till it was cool enough to handle.

Reserve the jus (you'll need some for the pie, and the rest is just delicious stock), then pull the rabbit with a couple forks.

While the rabbit was cooking, I pan sauteed the liver, then put in the processor with a couple rings of red onion I took from the rabbit pot, and drizzle of balsamic, some parsley, sea salt and pepper. A few quick pulses made this fabulous pate. A drizzle of peppery EVOO finished it in spectacular fashion.

We have a vegetarian in the family, so I whipped up a veg pie while the rabbit was cooking. Blanched some baby tuscan kale that I got from Ben's Produce @WWFM, sauteed with red onion, then folded that into a small bowl and topped with hard cooked eggs. The girl likes crust so I gave this tart a bottom as well as a top. I used a shallow cereal bowl as a pie plate in this case.

Into the pie dish goes the rabbit, about a cup of the jus, a couple cups of blanched kale, a few hard-cooked eggs, and parsley.

Top the pie with a crust rolled to about 1/8" thick. Make sure the dough is cold and the surface well dusted with flour and it'll be easy, otherwise it will be a mess. Brush the top with a beaten egg. Bake the pie(s) at 400F for about 20-30 minutes or until nicely browned. remember, you don't need to cook the filling in this step, just the crust.

Here it is. Nutritious, delicious and beautiful, too. A wide range of wines complement it; I selected a cabernet.

Now here’s the thing: you could make this pie from any meat, and traditionally it’s done from a leftover Sunday roast.  It would be equally great with chicken.  You can also substitute any green veg – turnip, mustard, chard, etc will work just fine.

Cost per serving is admittedly higher than I like it.  The rabbit was $19, which I consider to be a bargain for an animal of that quality, properly processed (I got the liver, heart and kidneys along with the visceral fat, which yielded an appetizer for my daughter and I and a meal for my 2 dogs).  The butter for the crust was about $2, flour maybe 25 cents. I used a buck’s worth of greens, and about $1.25 worth of eggs.  Plus $2 for the onion, plus the Marco Polo ingredients.  $24.50, total.  We got 12 servings from everything you saw, so just north of $2 per serving.  We aren’t large portion people, so if you are, your cost might be $3 a serving.  Still pretty good for a meal of this quality.  Of course I added a $4 glass of wine to mine 😉

My after diinner espresso was the Sweet Jane espresso from

Categories: Dinner, Lunch, Meat, Recipes, Techniques Tags: , , , ,

Photoblog: How to make bratwurst sausage from scratch

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Winter is a great season to make sausage.  Just about every meat eater loves it, and when you make it yourself you can use any meat you like, any seasoning, etc.  Although it does take some time to make sausage, it’s pretty much all in the setup and cleanup, so if you  make a big batch and freeze it, it’s a good use of time.  At the end of the photos I’ve listed some resources I like for sausage making supplies and information.

I use an inexpensive attachment for my KitchenAid to grind meat and stuff sausage casings. You can buy more expensive gear, but unless you're making a LOT of sausage, this is all you really need.

Here are the ingredients. I started with a large pork shoulder, some hog casings purchased from my local butcher, and spices (in this case, pre-blended Bratwurst spice mix from Penzey's Spices)

Here's that shoulder broken down. It yielded about 6 lbs of 1.5" cubes, a small roast for dinner that night, and the remainder fat and bone. You can use any meat, and the amount of fat you like. This shoulder looked like it was marbled at about 20% fat, so I didn't add back any.

Grinders come with different size plates. This one has large holes and is good for a 1st grind. You can get to a fine grind in one step, but I find it best to grind coasrely, add spice, then grind fine to arrive at desired consistency while blending spices.

It took me years to come up with this little innovation. A paper towel splatter shield will save your clothes and a lot of clean up time.

After the 1st grind, add about 1 TBSP spice per pound. Mix well with hand or spoon, then mount the finer grind plate, and regrind the whole batch.

Here is the seasoned, ground pork ready to stuff.

The casings need to be soaked in water for at least 30 minutes prior to use. I soak 'em the entire time I'm prepping, changing the water a few times in the process.

Finish prepping the casings by running water through them like a garden hose.

Remove the cutting blade and plate, and mount the appropriate sized stuffing tube. Thread the casing onto the stuffing tube and tie a knot in the end. Poke a few holes in the casing to let the initial bolus of air out.

Start the machine at low speed and feed the ground seasoned meat into the auger with the pusher. Work the air out of the sausages with your hand, and squeeze them down to appropriate diameter (you don't want the casing stuffed to capacity). At desired length, twist off a link and let the casing play out a centimeter or so between links.

Here's what it looks like once you get going.

Finished product!


Surprisingly, this is one of the more expensive foods I make.  All the ingredients (casings and spices prorated by number of portions) cost about $80, and I figure there were 25 servings of all things produced (the sausages, the roast, the leftovers from the roast), so grand total per serving is about $3.20.  Which, compared to a $6 sausage from Farmhand Foods in Durham, actually sounds about right.  And we frequently pay $9 or $10 for a 4-serving package of farmers’ market brats, so they are at least comparable.  But cheap meat is one thing the mass market does well (the cheap part, anyway), so making your own brats is going to cost more than buying a package of Johnsonville.


One of the biggest barriers I’ve heard to people doing this at home is “where do I get the stuff”?  Here are some resources I like:

For knowledge, there is one book that is unsurpassed: Charcuterie – The Art of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, by Michael Ruhlman.  This book will get you off to a running start, and is the “from scratch” source.

Equipment: many of us these days have a KitchenAid stand mixer, and I’ve found that the attachment available for grinding and stuffing has been adequate for my needs (for 17 years now, and I make maybe 25 lbs of sausage per year).  It’s only $37 at Amazon; you may have to buy the stuffing tube attachment for $9, too.  Of course, this assumes you have the mixer (or it’s a good excuse to buy one!), which is a bargain starting at $199.  Another source you may be surprised at is Northern Tool and Equipment, who sells heavy duty grinders and stuffers in their store in Cary as well as online, but you will easily spend $300 or more on great machines to make sausage, but nothing else.  eBay frequently has suitable equipment listed, but my experience is that it’s not a bargain and you run the risk of getting some pretty well-used stuff.  I’d buy new.

Meat:  Of course you can buy meat at your local supermarket – look for the Boston Butt cut of pork (which isn’t a butt at all, it’s a shoulder).  But I recommend you go to your local farmers’ market and ask a farmer.  They may not have the right cut with them, but can probably bring it to the next market.  The shoulder in this post came from Little River Ranch in Hillsborough, NC – they sell regularly at the North Raleigh Farmers’ Market.  Coon Rock Farm and Fickle Creek Farms are good choices at the Western Wake Farmers’ Market.

Spices: My go-to source for 20+ years has been Penzy’s spices.  I bought from them when the only way to do so was from a catalog, with an order form and a check!  Of course now you can shop them online, and they just opened a new store in Raleigh’s Cameron Village.  Penzey’s spice blends remain very true to classic recipes you find in the book mentioned above.

Sausage casings:  This is perhaps the most difficult item on the list.  You won’t find this in your average supermarket.  I like to go to a local butcher, in my case Cliff’s Meat Market in Carborro, NC.  Casings are also available through sportsman’s stores, such as Dick’s Cabellas, Bass Pro Shop, etc., or online at

Coffee: You know I couldn’t end this without a plug for our coffee company, right?  What does that have to do with sausage?  Not much, but I’m writing the blog post, so I get to include the plug.  Get the best coffee available at

Categories: Dinner, Lunch, Meat, Techniques Tags: ,