Snowflake Day

It’s no surprise how I feel about Christmas. I mean, there’s other reasons besides what I posted in my last blog. I’m not someone who gets attached to tradition. I’m not a fan of routine. Doing the same thing, every year in and every year out isn’t my bag. I’ve been celebrating Christmas every year for decades, people. I’ve been decorating trees, baking treats, cooking turkeys. When it comes to Christmas, I’ve done it all. Time for some new traditions.

Enter Snowflake Day. This isn’t an original idea, it’s lifted from a cartoon that only aired for a season back in the early ‘naughts. We stole the idea, because that’s one tradition we’re keeping. If the early Christians can steal the idea of Christmas from the pagans, then we can certainly steal this holiday from a failed animates series that features most of the cast from Scrubs.

Snowflake Day is the holiday replacing all other holidays during the winter months. By trying to avoid offending anyone, you manage to offend everyone, which is a win in my books. The story of Snowflake Day tells the tale of Snowflake Jake the pirate. In a quest to make the holidays open to anyone, Snowflake Jake captures all the other representatives of the holiday season and threatens to make them walk the plank if they keep up their traditions. They agree, Snowflake Day takes the place of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.

Instead of gifts, you exchange spices. Instead of turkey, stuffing, and gravy, there’s lamb tacos, cocktail weenies wrapped in pastry, and jerky balls. And instead of a Christmas tree, you light up a non-denominational snowman. So we took it the full nine yards. We decided to throw a party and have lamb tacos, cocktail weenies wrapped in pastry, and jerky balls.

Lamb tacos? Easy peasy. Now, instead of pure lamb, we went with a mixture of lamb, pork, and beef, because the flavor of lamb is a potent beast. I went with a straight up Tex-Mex blend of spice to throw in there, garlic, oregano, cumin, and three different kinds of dried chilies. Threw in a little pico de gallo, some fresh peppers, and some home-made tortillas, and you’ve got a tasty taco feast taking place in your domicile.

Cocktail weenies wrapped in pastry. This was the easiest item on the list because it was the one I cared the least about. I took hot dogs and wrapped them in store-bought pastry, the kind that comes in a can and explodes if not handled properly. There’s actually a warning on the packaging, telling you to point the lid away from people, children, and small dogs. Technically, it was the most dangerous dish to make on the list, but I still managed to pull it off without a hitch. Once the pastry is out, all you’re doing is wrapping the weenies. Feel free to insert your favorite tubed meat joke.

The toughest item on the list, without a doubt, was the jerky balls. Partly because I had no clue what a jerky ball was. I could have gone with beef jerky balls, but this presented two problems. One, jerky is drier than sand, so getting it to stick together in a ball would be a challenge. Two, beef jerky is crazy expensive. What happens to be cheap right now is turkey, so I went with ground turkey mixed with Jamaican jerked spice. I purchased a utility turkey and decided to debone it. I’ve deboned a number chickens in the past, so I figured this would be a cakewalk. Two hours later, and turkey gunk in every corner of the kitchen, I had a bunch of turkey with no bones in it. Two hours after that, I manage to grind the meat and mixed in the spices. Turkey jerky balls are now done.

The rest of the party is straight forward enough. Most of the Snowflake Day songs are simply knockoffs of Christmas tunes, so we decided to play MIDI versions of famous Xmas songs (if you’re unfamiliar with the MIDI audio format, it’s what predated the mp3 format. It’s mostly known for being incredibly crappy). Little pirate hats were made for various objects in the apartment, and snowflakes were hung from the ceiling with care.

People came, we exchanged spices, lamb tacos were noshed, and Snowflake Day Carols were not sung. I put a kibosh on that right away (sorry Kat, I’m only willing to go so far for a joke, and that boundary is singing).

Will we be doing it again? I’m not one for traditions, but I’ll honest, lamb tacos are the bomb and turkey jerky balls, although a hassle to make, are pretty tasty. I might do something a little more extravagant next year, with stewed lamb meat done as a curry. So yeah, we’ll be celebrating Snowflake Day again. If you’re lucky, and you’ve been good all year, maybe you’ll hear the YoHoHo instead of the HoHoHo, and Snowflake Jake will bless your home with a bounty of cumin and basil.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Truthfully, if I have the opportunity, I’m going someplace with a beach for Christmas. Tradition can take a back seat for sunshine and sand.

p.s.s. Holy shit, is it a goddamn pain in the ass to debone a turkey. I swear, the turkey fights back. I could have worn the thing like a cape.

Mr. Charlton Goes Hog Wild for Sausage

Let’s make some sausage people. LET’S MAKE SOME GODDAMN SAUSAGE!!!!!!

There’s a lot of bullshit when it comes to cooking. There’s this myth that a kitchen is a sacred place, where chefs shouldn’t be questioned, and time-honored practices shouldn’t be questioned. Sushi is incredibly hard to make and should be left to a professional. Steaks should be done on a grill. Mushrooms soak up water, so brush ’em off one by one. These aren’t facts, it’s bullshit, perpetrated by an industry with its head up its ass.

Sushi, steaks, and sausage all have something in common, and that’s skipping rope. You’ve got a rope? Good. Go try and skip rope. Seriously, get off your fat ass, grab some rope or an old Playnendo controller and try skipping rope. I’ll wait…

Now, you’ve probably not done the above instructions, and I commend you for not doing as I say. The world has enough sheep. I do have a skipping rope, though, and I’ll put it bluntly; Skipping rope is hard. It takes practice. It took me a week of doing it every day before I could even put five consecutive jumps in a row. Now, sushi, steaks and sausage are similar because you’re not going to be any good when you start. It takes practice. You’re going to fuck up occasionally. The beautiful thing about sausage? If you make a mistake, you have a bunch of flavored ground meat. With that being said, let’s stuff some meat into tubes, people.

Mr. Charlton’s Curry Chicken Sausage

We’re going to whip up up some tasty sausage, with a twist; We’re using chicken this time. Why? Because this sausage is a request, and Indian spices are awesome. Here’s what you’ll need.

Tools:

  • A cutting board
  • A paring knife
  • A bowl, or two
  • Spice grinder (coffee grinder or pestle and mortar work)
  • Something to grind the meat
  • Something to stuff the sausage

I’ve got a stand mixer with a meat grinder / sausage stuffer combo. Works A-OK.

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 pounds of chicken, with the skin (I just grabbed a whole chicken)
  • Hog casings
  • A bunch of salt (2-3 tablespoons worth)
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 tablespoon Cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons Cardamom seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Coriander seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Fennel seeds
  • 1 – 3 dried chiles (depending how much you like heat)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tumeric powder
  • 2 – 3 garlic cloves
  • Hunk of grated Ginger (about a tablespoons worth)

Note 1: Nobody is going to really notice if you use powdered garlic or powdered ginger. Except me. I’ll notice.

Note 2: If you’re lazy, you could get away with replacing the spices with curry powder, but it will absolutely make a huge difference.

Making the damn sausage:

  1. Grab that chicken. Grab it! You need to get all tho bones out of that sucker. Explaining it in words would be almost goddamned impossible, so I’m going to let a pro show you how it’s done.

I’m not going to lie, this gets me excited.

  1. You got the bones out of the chicken, right? Cut up the chicken into 1 inch pieces. Keep the skin. KEEP IT! It’s fatty, and you need fat in sausages. Chicken is all kinds of lean, anyways.
  2. Save the bones for delicious chicken stock, or throw them away. I don’t care.
  3. Put the chicken onto a cookie tray, then stick it in the freezer for twenty minutes. Put the meat grinder stuff in the freezer, too. You’ll want it cold.
  4. All those seeds, cloves, and chiles? Put ’em in a pan and toast them for a bit. When    your house smells like a tasty Indian restaurant, grind them up.
  5. Mince the garlic and ginger, set aside.
  6. Chicken should be ready to go, so take it and the grinder out of the freezer. You want it almost frozen, like a meat popscicle. You don’t want it solid, though.
  7. Assemble the grinder, get a bowl and get ready to grind!
  8. Grind the meat. Throw the chicken into the hopper and push it down.
  9. Once the meat is ground, throw all the spices, garlic, ginger and salt in the mix and toss it with your hands. Put it in the fridge.
  10. Clean up the grinder.
  11. Get the casing ready by cleaning it. Smells funky? That’s because it came from the end of an animal’s asshole.
  12. Now that it’s been rinsed out, put in on the sausage stuffer, tie off the end, then get the meat.
  13. Stuff the ground meat into the hopper. This is the tricky part, and it’s a whole pile easier if you have someone to help you. It’s not something that’s easy to explain, but after the first batch you’ll get the hang of it, I promise.

Here are some pictures of the chicken sausage I made. With time, practice, and some equipment, you too can bask in sausage glory.

20161023_181619

Chicken: Deboned

20161023_181652

The spice must flow.

20161023_183818

Chicken: Organized

20161023_185452

Grinder, looking for meat!

20161023_191015

Chicken: Ground and Spicy

20161023_205817

Separating a pig’s asshole

20161023_210218

Getting ready to stuff

20161023_214952

Almost done!

20161023_215810

Finished product

20161024_095444

Breakfast the next day

The big question; Is it worth it?

Eh……..

I love making sausage because I love being in the kitchen. The truth, you’re not going to be saving any money by making these. Even if I’m using super cheap cuts of meat, I’m still breaking even. On the other hand, my sausages are far, far better than anything you’d be buying at the supermarket, mostly because even the cheapest cuts are better than the leftovers most sausages are made out of.

In the end, if you love to cook and you appreciate good food, give it a go. If cooking’s a chore, then all I’ve done is give you a job you aren’t going to enjoy.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. I did two sausages recently. Chicken might be my new big thing.

p.s.s.  There’s both a Dune reference and a Judas Priest reference in the pictures. Because I’m topical.

Mr. Charlton Throws a Sausage Party

Sausage. People have been stuffing meat into tubes since human beings were scientifically classified as human beings. It’s the artful method of preserving the meat and blood of an animal with salt, encasing it in the intestine of the same animal. Making sausage predates agriculture, which makes it one of the oldest foods people have prepared. Put it this way, sausage is older than bread, the mighty staff of life. Who knew?

If you’re one of my Facebook friends, you’ll notice that I’ve thrown a ton of pictures up featuring the sausages I’ve been making at home. Since roughly the end of August, I’ve made a least six different batches of sausages, ranging from Bratwurst to Chorizo. It’s caught the eye of a couple of people, and they want to know how I go about making it.

Let’s rewind the clock back to Christmas of last year. It was the first year I spent away from my family, and I was up at a ski resort with Kat and her family. Being the wonderful people they are, her family surprised me with gifts. One of the gifts was a meat grinder and sausage stuffer for my stand mixer. This was both awesome and daunting because I’ve always, always wanted to make sausage, but had no clue how to go about assembling cased meat.

The grinder / stuffer sat on the shelf for eight months. It wasn’t until Kat bought me some sausage casings for my birthday that I finally got the nerve to make sausage. I didn’t know anything about the casings themselves, so I did some quick research after sticking them in the freezer. I made some coffee, sat down at the computer, fired the old beast up, waited the ten minutes until I could actually use it, then peppered some hog casing questions into Google. First big note on sausage casings was at the top of the list;

***DO NOT FREEZE THE CASINGS***

So I spat out my coffee, and pulled the casings out of the freezer. A little more research told me they could be stored in the fridge, in a salt brine. They were completely covered in salt themselves, so I submerged them into some water and started to pull them apart. I found out pretty quickly that natural sausage casings are pig intestines. After a good ten minutes of playing with hog entrails, I needed some answers from Kat regarding the casings.

“Hey, Kit-Kat, I know this isn’t exactly a polite question to ask in regards to birthday gifts, but how much did you spend on the casings?”

She seemed a little perturbed by the question. Naturally.

“They were a lot more than I thought they’d be.”

“Yeah, ok, that kind of makes sense. You got me a lot of casings.”

“I did?”

I was still hands deep in digestive guts. “Yeah, there’s only one little label on the package, and it says 30 x 36.”

She finally walked up and came over to the bowl of casings, as I rinsed my hands. She leaned up against the counter. “That’s all the butcher handed to me when I asked for sausage casings. I asked him for casings, he asked me if I wanted natural or synthetic casings. I went with natural. Are those the casings right here?”

“Yep.” I walked back to the bowl. “I think that label, the 30 x 36, is the number of casings times the length of each casing.”

Kat cocked an eyebrow. “What are you saying?”

I looked down at the bowl. “I’m saying we have over a thousand feet of pig intestines in our house.”

Because of this, I’ve been making sausage like mad. I don’t want to waste these casings, and even though they’ll be good for another couple of months, no problem, I still want to hustle and get them used up. Every weekend, I get myself a large cut of meat, grind it up, then stuff it into a sausage casing. This weekend was no exception.

Now, I was going to list a recipe here on how I go about making sausage, but I thought I might tell the story of why Mr. Charlton’s been going hog wild on the frankfurters. I made sausages yesterday and I’ll be making sausages tomorrow. The only question that remains is… What kind of sausages should I tackle tomorrow? Should I do a Caribbean jerk sausage? Maple bacon? If you fine and lovely people have any suggestions, let me know and I’ll try and make it happen.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. I did a chicken sausage yesterday, flavored with a Garam Masala spice I put together. It’s the biggity bomb, people.

Cooking on a Campfire – Part 1

“Are those meatballs cooked?” I asked. Mom had prepared a bunch of meatballs for camping. Meatballs don’t exactly strike me as camp food, but she was also bringing a round of brie cheese, which will tell you exactly what my mom thinks about camp food. “No, they’re not,” she replied. “We’ll slow cook them in a spaghetti sauce, boil up some noodles, and yum Yum YUM!” she stated afterwards. “It’ll be easy.”
See, one of the major issues I previously had with camping was camp food. Most of my friends who are hard core campers aren’t exactly gourmets. Everything is freeze dried and eaten out of a pouch. Sometimes they’ll bring out an MRE, the Meal Ready to Eat rations that are given to soldiers serving in the army. Eating oatmeal for breakfast every day isn’t my jam. I’m a prissy city boy hipster who’ll take up issue when I don’t have a selection of at least three kinds of lentils available to me. This is a fact about myself.
When my mother suggested spaghetti, though, something in the back of my mind started twisting. Spaghetti is easy to make at home. Out in the woods, on the other hand, there’re a couple of challenges that are presented.
1) Spaghetti noodles need a big ass pot to boil in. Noodles need a big pot to swim in or else the water gets starchy and the noodles suffer because of it.
2) If you’re cooking a spaghetti sauce with raw meatballs, it’s going to have to slow cook for a long ass time. The kinds of pots that are super lightweight for camping are also super thin – anything that stays in the pot too long will get burnt. Normally, the sauce should sit around for a period of time so all the flavours can get cozy and talk to each other. At the very least, the sauce should be cooking for an hour.
The problem I ran into was we’re cooking on a little camp stove. Don’t get me wrong, Kat spared no expense when she got the Primus camp stove. The stove can boil water in a minute. It wasn’t meant for low and slow, though. Not to mention the fact that the largest pot we have was meant for two people, not the seven I was feeding.
I made it work, but it was a goddamn hassle. I had to boil three separate batches of noodles, and I burnt the shit out of the bottom of the sauce. It was a total pain in the ass to clean up. Simple and easy my crotch. It also went through two bottles of propane. So it was a slog and it was expensive. Mom then mused if we should do butter chicken the next night. Tasty, but also low and slow.
Between the seven of us, we had three burners, and cooking anything was going to eat up propane. Low and slow was costly, inefficient, and I wasn’t having a good time cooking. We had to get away from the idea of using the stove to cook our big dinner feasts. I turned to the fire. If I had my way, every single meal out camping would be cooked over hot coals in the fire pit. After seeing how spaghetti turned out, I decided internally that we’d do most of the cooking over the fire. The stove would be reserved for side dished.
Cooking on a fire is pretty easy, once you get the hang of it. Start a fire, get it going until it doesn’t have a problem burning bigger pieces, then get some glowing coals going. You want those coals, that’s where the toasty, easy to maintain, heat is coming from. My brother Kelly was thinking the same thing I was because he brought a grill to put over the fire pit. Then you just have to cook on the fire. With those coals going, I was treating it like an oven that was only cooking from the bottom. Potatoes, corn, and fish went into tinfoil bags and then were flipped every now and again. Sausage and steak were cooked right on the grill, and everything came out all tasty.

Here’s the weird thing, though. Until this camping trip, there was a stigma that cooking over a campfire was this incredibly tough thing to do. There was this strange mystique to the whole procedure, that somehow this was going to be difficult. I was under the impression that people who cooked over wood fires were some sort of wizards. The truth is, cooking over the fire was one of the easier cooking tasks I’ve had to deal with. It was easy!

Some clown in a suit somewhere has convinced people that cooking over a fire is tough. I’m here to tell you it’s not. You don’t have to be stuck to hotdogs when you’re cooking on a fire. Get a cheap little stand grill, and you can start whipping up meats and veggies just like you were grilling at home on the BBQ.

But it begs the question. People have been cooking all sorts of things on the fire for centuries. You can do low and slow on the fire. You could get a bowl of rice with just some hot coals. Bread, aka the staff of life, has been around as long as people have lived in houses, and the electric oven isn’t that old. This can only mean there’s going to be some crazy experimentation in the future because I’ll be damned if I can’t make a tasty loaf of bread out in the woods.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Brie? In the woods? Totally a good idea.