Sunday, May 24, 2009

My New Toy, Eh, I Mean Tool

Look at what I got! No, it's not a medieval torture device, it's my new LEM 5lb vertical sausage stuffer. I have finally moved up in the world with this sausage making hobby of mine. Not that I didn't like my Kitchen Aid stuffer but it was pretty slow and made stuffing even small amounts of sausage a time-consuming chore. But I do still love my grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer. It works great for what I need in a grinder.
My new stuffer is so easy to use. I can load up to 5 pounds of meat in the cylinder and crank out the sausage. The first thing I made with it was smoked venison snack sticks using Nepa's snack sticks recipe. You can visit his blog: Blue Smoke and BBQ.
The snack sticks came out beautiful and delicious. I could not wait to make something else. On the Bradley Smoker Forum, Nepas also posted a Bratwurst recipe that I had to try. Using 3 pounds of ground venison to 2 pounds of ground pork, I followed the recipe and cranked out 5 pounds of "Brats" stuffed into natural hog casings. I even tried making links which was a bit of a challenge this first time around.
We grilled some of these guys up over indirect heat for 8 minutes on each side. They were wonderfully tasty and juicy. Now I'm pouring over recipes looking forward to what I'll "stuff" next. I promise I will share it with you.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Hard Week to Be a Bird

I don't know if it is because of the warmer weather or what but this last week has been a tough one for the birds that we raise on our place. We do allow our birds to truly free range during daylight hours which carries its own inherent risks of course. But to lose 4 birds in a little over a week's time is a bit of a heart break.
First off we had one of our Toulouse geese just "disappear". Usually there is some feathers or something to mark the crime scene but this time there was nothing. We came up with a theory that she may have been plucked out of the pond by either a bald eagle or great-horned owl. A couple of days later out theory was disproved right before our eyes when a coyote grabbed our other Toulouse goose and spirited it away before my husband could get his hands on a gun to get a shot at the predator.

Luckily the following morning, I just happened to look out the window to see a coyote stalking some wild ducks in our pond. My husband had no problem getting the animal this time around but when he shot it, I noticed another coyote running away in the distance. Most likely a mated pair.
Not to be outdone by the goose tragedy, I lost 2 of my chickens. One shortly after the first goose disappeared. This time around there was the telltale signs of the abduction...a pile of buff-colored feathers. It was one of my younger pullets that I had hatched on my incubator test run.

A few days after the coyote was dispatched I lost one of my precious cuckcoo marans that I hatched from eggs that I had shipped from Ohio. Oh, and did I mention is was one of only three pullets that I got from my twelve eggs? This time it was the neighbor's dog who was the perp. It was strange because this dog has come here before and showed zero interest in the birds running around. But being that the marans are so young I think they made an easy, irresistable target.

Can't blame the dog or my neighbor too much. The dog was being a dog and the chicken was being an easy meal. The dog brought the chicken home and my neighbor called saying he thought his dog killed one of my birds. I appreciate his honesty, some folks would not have called us and he paid me what the birds go for on Craigs List.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Here's the Beef! All Two of Them!

In my former life as a Californian there is one thing that I never would have guessed I'd be doing in a million years and that is raising my own beef cattle. I do not fancy myself has a true rancher of beef because I only raise 2 or 3 steers a year. We raise one for ourselves that we usually end up splitting with friends or family. The other ones are sold to friends , too.

We purchased our first heifer out of necessity right after we purchased our home here in North Idaho. Our property taxes are reduced if we have some sort of consumable livestock grazing on it. So, we could raise cattle, sheep, pigs or goats to have our place designated as "dry grazing" land.

At first we thought we wanted to breed our own beef cattle and purchased a hereford heifer from a local rancher. Part of the purchase price included a breeding back to his angus bull. After we had her for a few months he picked her up and pastured her with his herd. She was returned to us pregnant and the next spring gave birth to a baldy bull calf that we castrated ourselves. We raised that baldy steer and he was our first home raised beef.
We leased a beautiful hereford bull in trade for pasture when our hereford cow was ready to breed again. The bull stayed with us the entire summer and we thought for sure we would be raising a new calf the following spring. Unfortunately, our cow did not get pregnant and we had an entire summer with no beef calf to raise for ourselves.
So, this is when we changed our plan: Instead of breeding our own beef, we would sell our cow and purchase beef steers in the spring and slaughter early in the winter after the big fall rush at the meat processors. This has worked out well for us and it makes most of winter easier by not having to worry about feeding any livestock during the coldest monthes.
We have been blessed to meet a wonderful neighbor and his family that raise locker beef and pork for a living. Mike has become our supplier of steers and he has made purchasing them so much easier by shopping the auctions and picking out reasonably priced animals for us that have a gentle temperment and are not too flighty.
Also, we have a few loyal customers that purchase these animals from us at the end of the season. Last year, we raised 3 steers and kept one for ourselves. We are only a family of 3 so one steer that has a hanging weight of 600lbs can last us a couple of years or more quite easily. So, these two new steers will be sold to other families in January.

Raising your own beef is truly fun and satisfying. It's wonderful to have animals that can take acres of grass and turn it into food for your family. We do not have to buy hay until almost October if it is not too dry out to keep the grass alive. And with the cost of hay and grain this year it's nice to have to buy hay only for the last three months of the time that we are raising the steers.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Different Kind of Hunt

During the last week of April to about mid-May, depending on the altitude, is prime morel mushroom hunting time in North Idaho. We get so excited about morel season. If you're a mushroomer too, you are probably out there right now walking around in the woods scanning the ground for these little treasures.
We do most of our morel hunting on our 20 acres and our neighbor's adjacent 60 acres. We do have some favorite local public hunting grounds, too. But of course they are a secret! Here's my hubby and daughter after being caught "poaching" morels from our neighbors acreage last night. Actually we all jumped into the Kubota and he drove us to another great picking site on his land. What a great neighbor!
We get to see a lot of nature when we are out scouring the land for morels. Some of the flowers that are out at the same time are triliums, dog-tooth lilies, shooting stars and lady slipper orchids.
Another type of mushroom that we like to pick in the spring are coral mushrooms. They look a lot like a cauliflower and it's easy to harvest literally pounds of coral mushrooms if you find a good area for them. They are big and much easier to see that morels. Can you spot the morels in this picture? Sneaky little buggers!
Here's what we ended up harvesting last evening and we will be going out again tonight to see if we can find more. In a later post I will share my Cream of Morel Soup recipe but for now I will recommend slicing some morels rolling the slices in a little flour, salt and pepper then frying them in melted butter...YUM!
But remember, never ever eat any wild mushroom that you have deemed edible just from identifying from a picture in a book or on the internet! You need a knowledgeable living, breathing human being that has harvested mushrooms for a while to take you out mushroom hunting and show you what is safe to harvest and eat. I took classes at the local community college that included field trips where the instructor showed us what was safe in our local forest.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Jalapeno + Cheddar + Deer + Smoke = Yum!

I got a chance to smoke up a batch of our favorite deer sausage last weekend...Smoked Jalapeno Cheddar Deer Sausage. This sausage I hold near and dear to my heart because in my quest to learn how to make it I stumbled upon the Bradley Smoker Forum where I not only learned how to smoke sausage and meat but also met a group of some of the nicest folks in the world. I highly recommend the forum to anyone interested in smoking their own food if you own a Bradley smoker or not. There is an incredible wealth of knowledge to be found there.

This a great recipe that I guess could probably be used with elk or beef, too. The venison that I work with is already ground with 15% beef suet when I receive it from the processor. Since the recipe calls for 3 pounds of ground venison make any additions of fat to it before you weigh out the 3 pounds.

I have used both the 38mm edible collagen casings and the natural hog casings. They both work well but prefer the natural hog casing because they are less likely to tear if you accidentally over stuff them. Also, they make a nicer finished product by adhering to the sausage contents when cooked. The collagen casing are edible but they tend not to stick to sausage during the cooking process and you instinctively want to peel them off when you eat the sausage. I do not have this result when making snack sticks using the 19mm collagen casings but I'm not sure why this is the case because I am buying both sizes of the collagen casings from the same source. Maybe someone who knows the reason can post it in the "comments" section at the bottom of this post.
3 pounds of ground venson already mixed with fat
1 cup of distilled water
3 TBS of Morton Tender Quick, (make sure to level each tablespoon but do not pack it)
3 finely diced large jalapeno chiles
1/2 tsp of garlic powder
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 tsp of whole yellow mustard seeds
1 1/2 cup cheddar cheese at about a 1/4" dice
6 to 7 feet of hog casings or 38mm collagen casings

I purchase a product called high melt temperature cheese which can be found at meat processing supply companies like Butcher & Packers. You can use regular cheese from the local grocery store but some of it will melt into the meat due to the temperatures reached during the cooking process. The high melt temperature cheese is wonderful to work with because it will keep its form during the entire process and it is lovely to see all the chunks of cheese in each slice of the sausage.

If you are using natural hog casings soak them for about an hour in cold water and set aside while you make your sausage mixture. In a large mixing bowl place the Morton Tender Quick, garlic powder, yellow mustard seeds, ground pepper and distilled water. Stir this mixture until the Morton Tender Quick dissolves completely. Once the Morton Tender Quick is completely dissolved you are ready to add the meat, cheese and diced jalapenos. Mix this very thoroughly in a big mixer or with your hands (preferably wearing disposable gloves).
Now you are ready to stuff the sausages. Rinse out the hog casings well after soaking and use whatever stuffing device you prefer, you can see my Kitchen Aid Mixer setup at the top of this post. I personally like to have some pre-cut butcher twine at the ready before I get my hands into stuffing.
Stuff to the lengths that you want and whatever fits your smoker best. I have a 4-shelf Bradley smoker and if I am smoking the sausages on the rack I usually make the sausages 16" to 18" in length. Once stuffed place them on a cookie sheet uncovered in the fridge overnight to cure.
The next morning, preheat the smoker to 130F and place the sausages in the smoker. Let the sausages sit at this temperature (with no smoke) for an hour or until the casings are dry to the touch. Once dry bring the temperature up to 165-170F and apply smoke for 2 to 4 hours depending on taste, I apply 3 hours of hickory smoke to mine. Leave in the smoker until the sausage reaches an internal temperature of 160F. Be careful not to let the smoker get above 170F or the fat will start to render out of the sausages. Once they reach the desired temperature, shock them in a large pot of ice-cold water. Now they are ready to eat and enjoy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Signs of Spring in North Idaho

After the last two longer-than-normal winters we have experienced here, it does not take one long to really appreciate the first signs of spring. The woods come alive with the thumping of ruffed grouse, the crowing of pheasants and the gobbling of turkeys. The chipmunks reappear from their long hibernation searching and scurrying about on the ground looking for food.
For us humans it's time to start planning our veggie garden, mend fences for the arrival of our beef steers and one of my favorite spring diversions, morel hunting. We found some of our first morels of the season just last weekend. Coral mushrooms come out during the second half of morel season and will post some picture of those then we find one.
I have to admit that I am running a little behind on the veggie garden but the weather is so cool this spring I think it will be okay. We will be planting this weekend sugar snap peas and lettuce. I have started my tomato plants on the first day of spring and they seem so tiny compared to the ones I see at the stores which are available right now. I seem to always cave in and buy a couple tomato plants because mine seem so small by the time I plant them the first week of June. But the funny thing is that small they may be the always end up as big as the store bought plants and produce more. I'm going to stay strong this year and resist the urge to buy any tomato plants. I have 20 started plants right now all along our south-facing window sills. Hopefully seeing the big trees out there will inspire them to grow big!
A One Pound Plus Moskvich
My two favorite types to grow here are Moskvich which is a Siberian beefsteak type hybrid and Red Agate which is a determinate saucing variety. I plant a lot of the other favorites, too, like Sungolds and Brandywines which also produce well during our short season.
Emma with a Red Agate
All the tomatos pictures on this post are from our 2007 season. We had tomatos last year but only few fully ripened to color in the garden and a majority of them had to be bagged until ripe. I attended the North Idaho Fair that year and did not see one red tomato! It made me feel so much better to see the blue ribbon winners were big green tomatos. Not that misery enjoys company but I figured if these folks that really know what they are doing still have green tomatos in August then I must not be too much of a failure after all!