Event 11 - I Left my Heart... (San Francisco Firehouse Spaghetti)

by Dave MichelMarch 22, 2015

The "I Left My Heart..." event was the ultimate cooking sabbatical event. That means it was the last event of my sabbatical ("terminal event" would be another way of putting it, but I thought that might send the wrong message). Yes, my Cooking Sabbatical is officially over. Maybe a few more blog entries and I'll truly be done. But that's for later - here's the scoop on the final event.

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Near the end of the evening, Kris said "Shoot - I forgot to take pictures of food". Both of us had been hopping around trying to keep things running smoothly (no Anna to help host due to a theatrical performance), and so the only picture of food we had was me holding this can of tomatoes. There were a lot of shots of guests eating and having a good time. As I reflected on this the next day, I came to the realization that this was completely appropriate. My Cooking Sabbatical wasn't really about cooking - it was about people.

This isn't really a new thought for me. There's a very good reason why so many brilliant conversations and creative interactions happen when you eat with others. But I had initially come at this whole adventure from a different direction. I wanted to expand my cooking technique toolbox, and then I began feeling like it would be a lonely month if all I did was experiment by myself in the kitchen. Having friends and family over would at least make my sabbatical a bit more interesting (and keep the leftovers down to manageable levels).

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What I found was that it's the stew of new and old friends, people who might not otherwise cross paths, and the connections that ensued that was the most satisfying part of this sabbatical. Every event made me feel blessed to have so many great and talented friends and family members with whom to share food and time. Kris and I had many conversations about how fun it is to have people over (and question ourselves why it was that we've done that so infrequently in the past). I don't know what our hosting groove will look like in the future, but I'm hoping that we continue to realize that we truly enjoy doing this kind of thing.

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Speaking of which... It's so great to have a partner like Kris to support my crazy notions. Not only did she not complain about the amount of work involved, but she only got semi-testy when I would goof a schedule or otherwise screwed up. Seriously, I couldn't have done something as nuts as this without her. Thanks for "enabling" me, Toasty! I love you.

 

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Concerning the food... This was about as simple as I felt I could make it. All prep was done the day of, except for brining the salmon Friday night. I smoked the fish Saturday morning while I ran out for ingredients, then got the sauce going (with the sausage I made and froze a month ago). The fish came out great, and I had plenty of time to assemble the salad beforehand (much better timing than this event). Parboiling the spaghetti meant I could finish cooking it in about a minute and keep a nice al dente texture - I stayed in the kitchen and kept making small batches as people went through the line.

I had ordered the sourdough from Boudin Bakery in San Francisco on Wednesday, and it arrived on Friday as promised. Sourdough always takes me back to my formative years (6th grade through high school)) in the Bay Area.

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We topped off the evening with some Lund's Tiramisu Gelato and cookies, and then the Spaghetti Trio (Phil Kadidlo, Dan Horvath and me) played a bit. Robin Cain sang "All of Me", too. As Dan said the next day, "Good people, food, and music- hard to top that!"

 

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There were a bunch of new friends from the National Lutheran Choir in attendance. Eldri was the main instigator (she's the one that hacked my system and registered the other choir types). I had the above picture of the Drapers hosting a dinner party on my initial invitation email, so Eldri showed up with a really sharp looking pointy bra (I mean really sharp, like I'm still a little sore from a hug). After the party, I found that Don Draper was still hanging around like a bad penny. Jesus somehow felt compelled to wash Don's feet. Way to go, you slimy, silver-tongued ad man!

 

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The day after the event, Kris and I staged a plate so we could at least have a photo of the food (and lunch afterward). Yep, this whole cooking sabbatical thing really was about the people. Thanks, everybody, for participating - you're what this journey was all about!

 

Event 10 - Ides of March (Soups)

by Dave MichelMarch 22, 2015

The Ides of March was the next to last cooking sabbatical event, and featured a house concert by Undlin and Wolfe (click to read about and listen to my demo of Siri Undlin). It was also the first of two extra events added after I realized that I had left out quite a number of invitees due to my exquisitely poor timing (you can read about that here). We had 21 invited guests, and were expecting a couple of invited crashers.

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Prep for the day started innocuously enough. I ran out for ingredients in the morning and got the chili simmering by 1:00 PM (we started the event at 5:00). Three more soups and two salads to go.

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After what seemed like a couple of hours of chopping and other prep, I had two more soups (turkey wild rice, and vegan lentil) going, and lemon bars in the oven. The cream of broccoli soup was last, since it was going to come together so quickly (uh, huh). Suddenly, it was about 4:15, and I hadn't started on either salad. In honor of Caesar, I wanted to make his salad, but reprioritized and finished the cream of broccoli and the green salad by 5:00. We actually had a bunch of other practical prep to do (plating desserts, setting up beverages and cutting bread), so it was great when my cousin Jane Miller and her daughter Julia were the first to arrive and pitched right in. Not long after that, Tink and Robert came, and rolled up their metaphorical sleeves. It's really nice to have help when you're in a pinch.

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I didn't really look at a clock after the rest of the guests started arriving, but I suppose we started about half an hour late. As usual, though, there was so much socializing going on that it seemed to make no difference.

It was fun to serve a variety of soups; most people tried at least two kinds. I felt like I could get a job at Eddington's if this computer thing doesn't work out.

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The highlight of the evening was a house concert by Undlin and Wolfe. They sounded characteristically fantastic, and were enthusiastically received. There were a number of other musicians in the crowd, so it was cool to see connections being made afterward.

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Jocelyn Hagen and Abbie Betinis both stuck around after everyone else left and had a bit of a "composers rule" moment. I guess they were done with making nice music.

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Anna has been a huge help for a number of these events. Thanks, Kiddo!

Other than my misplaced sense of how long prep takes, just about a perfect evening.

Event 9 - Crown Rack of Pork

by Dave MichelMarch 8, 2015

The Royal Feast was to be the "event to end all events" concerning my sabbatical, so I originally designed this menu with an exclamation point. Alton Brown said that you use a Crown Rack for its "shock and awe" value. My shock and awe moment was the day before the event, when I went to Clancey's Meats (highly recommended) to pick up the two pork racks I had ordered a month earlier, and found out that it was an awe-inspiring 15 lbs. of meat (at almost $14/lb, there was a considerable amount of shock, too).

After a bit of wondering what I was going to do with all that meat (I really wanted to do a Crown Rack, which requires two racks, so I didn't look at having just one rack as an option), Kris and I decided to expand the number of seats to 12 guests. The automated emails went out the evening before the event:

Dear FirstName,

Due to the incredible girth and generosity of Mr. Pig, I am adding five more seats to the Saturday, March 7 Crown Rack event (TOMORROW!) Yes, this is the Royal Feast, and you're invited (though I don't think there will be any real royalty in attendance).

In the fashion to which I have become accustomed, there was a small flurry of activity and all the spots were filled within a couple of hours. I went to bed knowing that we'd have a full house, and also that I hadn't done any of these recipes or even looked seriously at the racks. They were already Frenched (meat removed around the bone) with chine bone removed, and individually tied by Clancey's, but not put into a crown. I had wanted to do that part on my own.

I was up the next morning at 6:30 to start on Cherry Turnovers and smoking the salmon I had been curing overnight, as well as tying the crown and seasoning it so it could rest for the day. But I couldn't bend either rack past 90 degrees - no way could I fashion them into a circle. Clancey's doesn't open until 10 AM, so (panicking slightly) I search for info on the Web that might give me a clue on what I needed to do.

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Not surprisingly, there are a lot of postings and videos on how to do a crown rack of pork. Some of the butcher-oriented ones looked really good, but my cuts of pork looked much more substantial (and stiffer) than any of the videos I found. After about 45 minutes of anxiety, I found this video by the Black Belt Butcher, which showed how to make a crown with a single rack by slicing partially through each chop part of the loin. He also demonstrated how to remove the remnants of bone that would be a nuisance to eat around. Armed with this information, I started on making the crown.

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After tying the ends together and then binding the circumference of the crown a couple of times, I seasoned with thyme, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper. The great thing about this recipe is that the potatoes and shallots cook with the pork, and a most delicious sauce is made from the pan drippings and the apples baked with the vegetables. No additional seasonings required!

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Inverting the crown during the high-temperature (475 degrees) phase of cooking keeps the exposed bones from burning and infused the meat with a beautiful succulence and seasoning from the fat cap at the bottom of the crown.

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Just about ready to put the roast in the oven. To the right are the cherry turnovers, which were served with vanilla bean ice cream and the reserved cherry reduction. I reheated the turnovers immediately before serving. Potatoes and shallots were in the roasting pan, along with the apples used for the sauce.

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Halfway through cooking, I added apple cider to the vegetables and put the crown right-side-up to finish at 300 degrees. The bottom of the crown already had a lovely crispy texture - all we needed to do is get the top browned and the inner temperature to 140 degrees.

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Presenting the crown. Asparagus came out of the oven about two minutes later. The asparagus was crusted with parmesan and panko crumbs. Though delicious, the recipe was tweaky and required a whole lot of prep, so I probably won't use it again (at least for a large crowd).

It was a fun group of almost all Bethlehem guests, with Nancy bringing a neighbor who had been in the wine business for many years. Soren and Anna also supped. Happily, just one rib left over.

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Event 8 - Barbecue in February

by Dave MichelFebruary 26, 2015

This posting is for the "Barbecue, In Minnesota, IN FEBRUARY?" event.

Thursday, February 26, circa 7:00 AM (the day before the event)

This blog entry will be more or less in real time. Yesterday I smoked a test rack of ribs. Today, I got up early and got the first of the pork butts in the Weber - the second one will go in this afternoon. Later today I'll be making coleslaw and potato salad for the event tomorrow. The pulled pork will be finished off in the oven tomorrow while the ribs are smoked and after I've baked pies. Oh, yeah - I still have to get pie plates.

By the way, pork butt is sometimes referred to as pork shoulder, which is actually a bit more descriptive a term. "Butt" is the name of the barrels that the pork shoulders were shipped in, and became synonymous with the cut of meat. Most butchers still call it "butt" (maybe because it's fun to say).

Thursday, February 26, 9:40 AM

There have been a couple of cancellations, I've been updating the web site, managing email and setting up this blog (I took some pictures that will be coming soon to a blog near you), But I'm still in my PJs, and I gots to get a move on if I will gets done whats I need done today.

Thursday, February 26, 12:38 PM

All cancellations have been filled again. Free food is still popular Wink But I'm behind schedule after visiting Text Study with Don Luther, Chuck Lutz and Jeff Barber (amongst others) and running out to buy pie plates. I've got to at least get the second pork butt in the Weber and finish the potato salad and biscuits today.

Thursday, February 26, 7:20 PM

I got both pork butts smoked today, and am 90% done with the potato salad, but that's all so far. A haircut and a retirement party (no, not mine) took up a chunk of the afternoon. I'll finish the potato salad tonight, and possibly the buttermilk biscuits, but the coleslaw is going to wait until tomorrow, along with ribs, pies, cleanup, setup and errands. Can I do it? Maybe. Probably. But for now, I'm beat.

Friday, February 27, 5:51 AM

Woke up with clarity this morning that the oven is today's resource constraint, since I need to do biscuits, pies and pulled pork so they're done by 5 PM. But before I get going on that, I thought I'd post about the way I've been smoking in a standard Weber kettle. This is all inspired by Alton Brown's use of a PitmasterIQ temperature control unit that I saw on his Good Eats show on Netflix. It seemed so obvious, practical and, well, geeky, that I had to try it. It really works, and is one of the highlights of my whole sabbatical.

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I took a bunch of photos yesterday as I was setting up for smoking the pulled pork. When I started, it was 0 degrees outside (the temp on the right). Outside temperature seems to make no difference to the smoking process.

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This is about five or six hours' worth of charcoal. The hickory chunks are for flavor. The white block on the right is a parafin starter. No lighter fluid in the kettle, please. I found during testing that it is supremely important to light the minimum number of coals, otherwise the kettle can go into thermal runaway (getting hot enough that air is drawn in through leaks in the kettle and the control unit can't stop it). This happened to me yesterday with the second butt, when I added more charcoal to the already hot embers. I needed to douse about 2/3 of the fuel with water to get back to manageable temperatures (i.e., cool enough that the PitmasterIQ could regulate).

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Here's the main unit - a PitmasterIQ 110. The temperature probe clips to the grill inside the kettle (I cut a small slit in the lip of the kettle for probe leads). The box contains the electronics as well as a fan that pumps air through the tube to a silver manifold that covers one of the grill vents. All other vents are closed or blocked with metal duct tape. The unit regulates temperature by adjusting the flow of air to the inside of the grill. Basically, it turns your kettle grill into a quite accurate oven. In fact, the temperature inside the grill is more stable and accurate than our nice Jenn-Air (no knock on the Jenn-Air, which is a really great oven).

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Since barbeque is all about managing temperature over time, I've got a wireless dual sensor thermometer that gives me the temp of both the air in the grill and the food. I just twist-tie the transmitter to the PitmasterIQ.

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Lit and ready to go. Three temperature sensors: the thermometer has the sensor in the food and the sensor to the right that measures air temperature in the kettle, and the PitmasterIQ has the sensor closest to you clipped to the grill.

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The haze of smokey goodness. This will be done smoking when the food probe reads 150 degrees, about five and a half hours. I finish it off in the oven the day of the event.

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I can monitor the temperature of the food and the smoker in the comfort of a warm home. This thermometer allows you to set temperature alarms - I've got the food alarm set to 150 degrees.

Friday, February 27, 9:19 AM

Biscuits done. Pies in the oven. Gonna start on ribs. After they're in the smoker, make coleslaw. Pork butts go in the oven a bit before noon. Looking OK so far.

Saturday, February 28, 8:19 AM - Aftermath

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Sorry for the radio silence - got stuck in the moment there (for about 24 hours). So much for this being a real time blog posting. The event went really well. Both pork butt and ribs finished right on time (Friday at 5 PM). I was guesstimating on both, since I've never finished a pork butt in the oven the next day after smoking and refrigeration, and I've not done five racks of ribs simultaneously. Cole slaw and pecan pie were hits, and the meats turned out really well. Plenty of food for leftovers and gifts (even after the party crashers Tongue Out).

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Once again, a really fun mix of people, with Lutheran clergy strongly represented. There were some beer connoisseurs in attendance, with Bob Wertz bringing in a large bottle of sour beer. I'm not a beer drinker myself, but my first reaction on tasting it was, "I could cook with this". It had a nice vinegary timbre to it.

This is probably the event I've looked forward to the most food-wise, just because of (recent) prior success smoking in the winter. True to form, most of the salmon, pork butt and ribs I've smoked this month were done in single digit weather. Barbecue in February really works. Who knew?

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Tags:

Cooking | Sabbatical

Event 7 - Poulet rôti, pas dans le style Akroyd

by Dave MichelFebruary 24, 2015

The Poulet rôti event (roast chicken) was a hoot. A great group of people, a lot of stimulating conversation, and lots of Oscar opinions. Culinarily, the food was good, but two chickens take a lot longer to cook than one - dinner was about an hour later than I planned. Just another example of a smaller test run not providing reliable results with final quantities. Ya don't really know until you do it the way you're really going to do it.

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The surprise hit was the Spicy Brussels Sprouts with Mint, a recipe I just stumbled across on the Food and Wine web site. I hadn't practiced this one, but it came out beautifully. The only divergence from the recipe was that the Brussels Sprouts needed a bit of steaming to get to a crunchy doneness after charring. Oh, and next time I'll make sure to turn on the fan before sauteing the Rice Krispies and cayenne (there was a palpable zip in the air, and a few coughs and wheezes). Kris said this was the first time she's ever liked Brussels Sprouts, and then had seconds. Mighty tasty.

 

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I'm back to hitting .333 with Almond Cake. This time it was underdone and didn't come cleanly out of the pan after cooling. It still tasted great, though, so I served it in individual ramekins with lingonberry sauce and called it "Almond Cake Cobbler". Then I forgot to serve the Dunn Brothers coffee I'd already made. Sheesh.

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Honestly, though, the highlight of this meal was the conversation. Four hours flew by before we knew it (as Jan said when we realized the time, it was a "school night"). Thanks for a really nice time, Kristi, Tom, Patsy, Jeff, Jean and Jan.

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Sausages! Part Deux

by Dave MichelFebruary 19, 2015

My first attempt at making sausage went well, but presentation left a bit to be desired. I had a hard time getting a consistent girth on the links.

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Once I figured out a few details and got the hang of it, the presentation side improved. Don't be afraid of using a lot of water when sliding the casing on the stuffing tube, and using the larger diameter tube definitely works better than the small one I tried with the Andouille. You can also adjust sausage size as you go by adjusting the pressure on the casing as it is metered out during stuffing.

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Here are the final results of a batch of Italian sausage before making into links. Kris and I had a nice dinner of sausage and peppers that evening, along with a lovely Robert Hall Paso Robles Cabernet that someone brought to a prior event (thanks, whoever you are!)

If there's any general lesson learned during this sabbatical, it's that practice really does help make things better. And everybody likes sausage - especially Sadie.

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Tags:

Cooking | Sabbatical

Event 6 - Jambalaya, Fish a la Creole, and Red Beans and Rice

by Dave MichelFebruary 16, 2015

Mardi Gras was a special evening. It was the first large group event (19 guests), it was where I first served homemade sausage, and we sang love songs since it was Valentine's Day (thanks, Patrice, for bringing songbooks and leading). I was also able to play my sabbatical bass for a sabbatical event Smile

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Anna and Kris came up with expert decorations while keeping it simple. Even the Naked Lady was festooned with beads.

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We've hosted Mardi Gras parties before, so the food was pretty much a known quantity. The homemade Andouille was in the jambalaya, with another portion fried to top the red beans and rice, along with chopped green onions. The fish creole is always a hit. The only thing that didn't come out as anticipated was my first attempt at cooking a large quantity of rice in the crock pot - it was done nicely about two hours late. I just made a large-ish batch the regular (20 minute) way in a 5 quart pot, and that lasted the evening. I baked my first King Cake for this event, with a cinnamon nutmeg raisin filling (Kris decorated).

A lovely time was had by all.

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Event 5 - Eggs Benedict and Popovers

by Dave MichelFebruary 16, 2015

The "sabbatical hump event" was Brunch (Some Assembly Required), and my guests took the assembly required part pretty seriously. My in-laws not only attended, but came a day early to assist in getting ready with some deep cleaning and organization. Naomi and Steve whisked hollandaise and cleared tables. And the Millers were their regular, encouraging selves as I tried to keep up the appearance of being in control of the menu.

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This was my first solo event, as both Anna and Kris had church responsibilities that morning. For the smorgasbord part of brunch, I set out smoked salmon, Norwegian cream cheese (Snøfrisk), bagel chips (Norwegian bagels and lox - get it?), as well as some crackers, and Jarlsberg and Tilamook cheeses.

I have a suspicion I'll be smoking salmon pretty often when I'm done with this sabbatical. It's economical (comparatively), fun, and really tastes good. A great addition to a party. I'll have another blog entry sometime that just concentrates on smoking food in a regular Weber kettle (here it is).

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I had hoped to have the Hollandaise done before the guests arrived, but it was not to be. Not to worry - this was a very social group. The eggs benedict came out well, though I found out later that afternoon that many of the eggs had lost a bit of their whites due to sticking to the ramekins I used in the water pan. The flavor and texture of the Hollandaise was really good. I tried popover recipe #5, and we had some nice tasting dense, creamy and crunchy things that instead looked like muffins. Everyone was very encouraging. I hung my head, muttering, at least inside. I talked with Kris Potter about my popover travails, and she asked if I had all the ingredients at room temperature. I didn't, so that may be the next thing to try, even though popovers aren't on any more sabbatical menus. Steve Staruch said that he makes them in regular muffin tins, which I'd love to pull off myself some day.

We chatted until well after 1:00, on subjects as diverse as worship pacing, (lack of) silence in our culture, music, old cars and home repairs. Then, I had to get my head around getting ready for Mardi Gras later that same day.

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Event 4 - Pork Chops in Sage Cream Sauce

by Dave MichelFebruary 15, 2015

The "I Thunk This Up Mahself" event was to feature recipes that I developed. But I pored through all my notes and recipe books, and couldn't find my Pork Chops in Sage Cream sauce recipe. We think it might be written in some cookbook somewhere. In any case, I often made up variations every time. I ended up starting with a similar recipe from Organic Valley.

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This is an easy and classy recipe with Crimini mushrooms and wine that just has a classic feel to it. Add sauteed green beans, a salad and a wild rice casserole done beforehand, and it's a nice, manageable meal for eight, especially since I could do the chops and sauce in one pan. Great company and conversation, too, even if I didn't go to Luther College.

Back in the day when I was developing my own recipe, I made a roux and I braised the chops in the sauce as it thickened. Making a true cream sauce not only enhances the flavor and texture, but kept the chops nice and tender.

 

Sausages!

by Dave MichelFebruary 11, 2015

Today was my first attempt at sausages. I was planning on trying sausages later in March, doing homemade Italian sausage for the "I Left My Heart..." event, but I felt a little creative so I gave some Andouille a shot. I figured that if it turned out, I'll use it in Saturday's Jambalaya. Well, I haven't smoked it yet (that'll be later tonight), but it sure tastes good already [See the Mardi Gras blog post for results - Ed.]. I used Emeril's Andouille recipe, which I'd say is another keeper.

In my tradition of having something go wrong, the cheap but highly-rated food grinder I bought on Amazon clogged numerous times. The last time it clogged, I had a hard time taking it apart because my hands were covered with extruded meat. As I was trying to unscrew the die plate holder with mongo pressure, the suction let go and the whole (plastic) apparatus hit the floor, breaking a big chunk out of the hopper. A few minutes later, after a one star review on Amazon and a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond for a cast metal replacement grinder, I came up with what you see here. Yum!

About the author

Dave

Dave is a recording engineer, musician and software developer in Minneapolis. He's found that a cooking sabbatical is more work than normal life.

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