Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The House That Built Me

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It is my favorite song. Sung beautifully by Miranda Lambert. It is about a 20 something (she must be young) who is trying to find herself and goes to her childhood home. Well I'm not 20 anything, I found myself a long time ago, but for some reason as I plan my next move to our 8th residence in a 24 year marriage, I get a little nostalgic. This is the house my kids will most remember. But it is the house that "built" me I lovingly remember.
I spent my preschool and elementary years in Clinton, Iowa. By the time we moved I was entering high school and was the only child at home. So the house in Clinton that was full of family is the one I pine for. It is a gorgeous English Tudor sitting on a large hill with views of the Mississippi River. It was once a retreat for an order of monks which explains the cross mowed into the lawn. It sat on an acre of property, most of it woods, and had a beautiful stone patio, an enormous screened in porch and a balcony from my parents room. The wood was heavy and dark, and every room had built in closets, dressers and shelves. The windows are were all leaded glass and there were 2 huge picture windows. In the spring there were dozens of lilac trees and bushes of peonies. In the summer we would have thousands of monarch butterflies and in the fall we would collect hedge apples and pine cones.

Christmas was magical. My dad would string the big Charlie Brown bulbs all over the hedges and when the snow would fall they would glow in bursts of color. Our huge tree would proudly stand at the living room picture window. We would have cut it down ourselves and decorated with the dozens of family ornaments and tossed tinsel all over it. I never thought to look for the Christmas presents hidden on the screened in porch, but many years later I learned that was my mom's favorite place to hide them.

Of course the house had a basement, and a pit in the garage that my brothers used to learn to work on their cars. And my favorite spot was the breakfast room with its octagonal shape and all the leaded windows. No one could come in either driveway without being seen. My last bedroom (I had to wait until the older sisters went to college), had a wall of windows that looked out over the river. It was such a magical place. I have the photographs and the memories, and this time of year makes me think of a particular cooking memory. In the Betty Crocker cooky cookbook that is falling apart, are the many recipes we made. I blogged about it before and decided that it was the perfect time to make Pumpkin Cookies. These are the cookies I made on September 24, 1976. The note next to the recipe says "couldn't go skating". It was a sad day. Every fall we had a roller skating party and it was the one night a year a 7th grade girl (in 1976) could hold hands to a Shawn Cassidy song and roller skate a memory. But alas, I didn't clean my room, and the meanest mom in the entire world made me stay home. She probably launched my love of baking and journaling through recipes. I remember the night clearly. It is, after these many years, a very happy memory. Needless to say I couldn't make the recipe as it is written, so here it is with my changes.

1½ cups brown sugar
½ shortening (I'm using butter)
2 eggs
1¾ canned pumpkin (this is one, 15oz. can)
2¾ cups flour
1 T baking soda
1 tea cinnamon
½ tea nutmeg
½ tea salt
¼ tea ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla (this is my addition)
1 cup raisins (yuck!) (I'm using 1 ½ cups mini chocolate chips)
1 cup chopped pecans (I am using walnuts)

Okay, my changes. Shortening does make a really soft cookie, but butter just tastes better. And I think raisins are yucky in a cookie, so chocolate chips, perfect replacement. The recipe says the cookies can be iced with a thin butter icing. Would you ice a chocolate chip cookie? I mean, the recipes are very similar. I say enjoy the pumpkin! This recipe makes about 6 dozen and they do not spread, so you can really cram them on the baking sheets.

So, what are ya waiting for? Get in there and bake!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Home Made Italian Sausage

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I have always wanted to make sausage. My dad makes hundreds of pounds every year with the neighbors and my brother as he has all the equipment from the old grocery stores, a commercial grinder, a stuffer, even the antique butcher block. Well I have one of those blocks too (although it is purely decorative and no help making sausage), and darn it, I decided I wanted to try my hand at Italian sausage! So my parents came for a quick visit, and although we had plans for museums and guilty shopping, we headed to my favorite cooking store where I buy everything without any promise of endorsement, and make a small hourly wage as a part time employee.

I have been a Kitchen Aid stand mixer owner since I was married 24 years ago and have never owned an attachment although I have used plenty at the aforementioned store. It was time. I bought the food grinder attachment which is a necessary attachment for making sausage and needed for many of the other attachments, and the sausage stuffer attachment.

We decided to start small, so I bought 5 pounds of pork shoulder and my dad carefully trimmed it up for me. I surfed all over the internet looking at various sausage recipes and decided I was going to have to wing it. Alton Brown had a good basic recipe that looked like it needed a little doctoring and I was sure I could make a spicy version as well.

My Morphed Alton Recipe
2½ pounds pork butt
1½ t fennel
2 t salt
1½ t black pepper
1 T parsley, fresh
1 t garlic powder
¼c. ice water

Alton doesn't put garlic in his, and I think it needs it. The next batch was made spicy with the addition of cayenne, red pepper flakes and white pepper instead of black. I also omitted the fennel in the hot sausage. And hot it is! But delicious. We started first grinding the meat. What a disaster. We put the cubed meat in the freezer for about an hour until it was firm but not solid. It grinds much cleaner this way. We chose the large hole grinder. Then I mixed all the spices and water in the meat and let it rest for about an hour. While the meat rested, we cleaned out the hog casings. They need to be rinsed inside and out. Gross. Really. But they are the only way to go if you are going to all this work. We lubed the stuffer attachment with a little Crisco and slid a length of casing on the stuffer. It takes a little practice to get it going, but we got cranking pretty well. I don't know how I could ever do this alone. I am trying to figure out which family member has the potential to step up as assistant sausage maker when Gramps isn't around! I chose to make little sausages, because they are kind of cute and a little better portion control. If you don't want to deal with hog casings, then make patties. I think the hot Italian will be fabulous on home made pizza and the regular will be delicious with eggs and toast.

Next up is a lower fat chicken sausage. I pay a fortune for those artisan sausages at the grocer and am so excited to make my own flavors! And this grinder is going to get a workout. Hummus, pimiento cheese, nuts for nut bread. I can think of so many uses for this new attachment, I am sorry I didn't buy this years ago! So, what are ya waiting for? Get in there and cook!