In the past couple of months, I've managed to lose that 20 pound spare tire I was carrying around my middle. Sweet Lady Wife and I have been focusing on eating healthier and as a result I've taken up the challenge to be able to make healthy tasty whole grain bread in my Zojirushi breadmaker.
Making white bread in the breadmaker is easy. Making whole grain bread in the breadmaker is harder. Making whole grain bread in the breadmaker that is tasty enough that you want to east it is harder yet.
You may have been told that baking is chemistry and that you must not deviate from the recipe. nope. I've got news for you. When it comes to making whole grained bread, the recipe is just the starting point. For example, here in the Arizona desert the humidity is very low, and as a result I need to add more liquid than the recipe calls for. How much? the only way to find out is trial and error. In the past couple of weeks, I've made several whole wheat loaves. Some have been 'meh', some ok, and one was so bad that even the birds wouldn't eat it.
The loaf you see here is my latest effort and the best so far. This bread is tasty enough that I would choose it over store-bought white bread. The lesson learned from making this loaf: The flour must be fresh. Unlike white flour, whole wheat flour contains everything that was present in the wheat grain, including minuscule amounts of oil. If whole wheat flour sits for an extended time, the oil turns rancid and the result is a bitter tasting loaf of bread.
All of the reading I've done tells me that the very best whole grain breads come from flour you grind yourself. Wheat grains go into the mill. When the flour comes out it goes straight into the mixing bowl. You can't get any fresher.
I did a lot of research into flour mills and picked the Nutrimill shown here. I bought it from Pleasant Hill Grain, a bunch of absolutely fantastic people. I have a feeling I'm going to be spending a lot of money with them in the future.
The nutrimill sounds like a vacuum cleaner when it's running, but it will turn out 3 cups of flour in about 90 seconds. I am very pleased with it.
I've found a local source for hard red wheat. A 25 pound bag was $20. Between Whole Foods and other local specialty markets it appears that I can get the other grains I'll be using in small quantities for a reasonable price.
The recipe that produced the loaf above still needs a little tweaking, but each loaf I make is a little better. Once I have the basic whole wheat recipe perfected, then it will be time to add small quantities of other grains (oats, rice, millet, quinoa, etc) to achieve multi-grain.
This recipe is straight out of King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking. The freshly-ground flour made a huge difference in taste.
While processed white flour can be stored indefinitely, the same is not true of whole wheat flour. The oils in it turn rancid and impart a bitterness to the taste. (Whole wheat flours from good companies have a 'Best if used by' date stamped on the package.)
All my research however shows that the best flour is that which was wheat just one or two days ago, and this recipe proves it, I think.
A long time ago, on my first business trip to the UK, I stumbled down the hotel stairs that first morning still suffering from jet lag. Fortunately the breakfast buffet was wel stocked. That was my first introduction to British Bangers. I'd never tasted a sausage quite like them before. Instant addiction.
Since that day, I've eaten bangers every time the opportunity arose. Unfortunately, here is Phoeniz, AZ that opportunity does not often arise. We havce a couple restaurants that server great bangers and mash. We have a specialty supermarket and some specialty sausage-makers that claim to offer bangers. Unfortunately they are bangers in name only and taste nothing like authentic bangers. I did manage to find a company on the Internet who offers real authentic bangers. But at $9 per pound they are just to expensive to eat on a regular basis.
I decided to learn to make my own. With some searching, I found this article from The Paupered Chef and this video by Heston Blumenthal to be very helpful. Essentially everything I know about making bangers comes from these two sources. I bought a meat grinder and a sausage stuffer, and made a bunch of traditional American pork breakfast sausage links in order to learn how to make sausage. Finally, last weekend I felt I was ready to make Bangers.
A Few Words About Rusk
Normally, you want sausage with no filler. Not true with bangers. A ground bread product called Rusk is an essentiall ingredient to bangers. Rusk is a dry cracker-like thing normally given to toddlers when they are teething. If you google 'rusk' you'll see lot's of references and even several recipes. The Indian and South African variations of rusk use buttermilk as the liquid. British rusk uses water. I made the rusk using The Paupered Chef's recipe:
A few quick words about the amount of water:
If you are already a breadmaker then you already know this. If not I'm about to save you some frustration. The amount of water in any recipe is just a starting point. The actual amount required depends upon temperature, humidity, and a bunch of other factors. Start out with the recommended amount. If the ingredients remain dry and crumbly then add a little water. I live in Arizona. It's really dry here. When I added water to this rusk recipe, I did so a tablespoon at a time.
I rolled the dough out to about a half-inch thick and placed it on a non-stick baking pan and baked it at 450F for ten minutes. I pulled it out of the oven, cut it into half-inch thick strips, put each strip on it's side and put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes. After that I flipped each strip over and gave it another 5 minutes in the oven. Then pull it out of the oven, let the strips cool, and then let them sit on the counter for a day. Yes, you want them to be stale. The next step was to run the rusk strips through the food processor until they are the consistency of course meal.
After grinding the pork shoulder, I added the rusk, chicken stock, salt, pepper, ginger, mace, nutmeg, and sage according to The Paupered Chef's recipe. Into the sausage stuffer it went and out came these beautiful links:
My Sweet Lady WIfe thinks they are fantastic. I think they are good but need a little tweaking of the ingredients. In a few weeks I'll make another batch and report back.
My second step was to start reading and educating myself about food photography techniques. The third step was to dump the lousy little point-and-shoot camera I was using. I got a great deal from B&H Photo on this used Nikon D5100 and the exact pair of lenses I need.
The third step is practice, starting today.
A bacon butty is a British bacon sandwich, and is one of those simple pleasures in life that everyone should experience at least once.
British bacon, not American bacon. My British friends practically go on a rant when the subject of bacon comes up. Now I know why: There is a world of difference between American bacon and British bacon.
American bacon comes from the belly of the hog, is sliced thin, and is very fatty. It's also typically fried until it is crisp.
British bacon comes from the back of the hog (That's why it is also called 'back bacon'), it's sliced thicker and is much less fatty. It s normally fried until it is just brown around the edges and not until it's crisp. Another back bacon is Canadian bacon, so if you want to make a bacon butty without hunting down British bacon you could use Canadian bacon.
I ordered my bacon from Balson Butchers. It's too expensive for daily consumption ($14/pound) but for an occasional treat it is wonderful.
Traditionally, the bread is thick slices of a coarse English bread and not the light thin (almost air) sort of stuff we buy in an American supermarket. I used a toasted English muffin, not because the English muffin is English but because of the flavor and texture.
Butter only. when they smother the bacon in a sauce (usually a brown sauce) it's to mask the fact that they used poor quality bacon. Use high-quality bacon and a little butter is all you need.
Whoever originally said that British food is boring and the British cannot cook does not know what they are talking about. A bacon butty tastes a bit like a ham sandwich that's been taken up a couple of levels. The ham flavor is there, but it's not been overpowered by the saltiness you normally get from salt-cured ham. Combined with the sweet taste of the butter and the crunchiness of the English muffin and you have a really delightful meal.
Eat one of these and you'll never be happy with an Egg McMuffin again.
After stuffing one sleeve of hog casings, we had exactly enough sausage left over for a patty, which I promptly fried up. I served half to my Sweet Lady Wife who said, "Oh I don't want all that, I want just one little bit." Three nanoseconds after popping that little bit in her mouth she said, "I've changed my mind, I do want all this." We pronounced our first sausage-making experiment a success.
My wife's sister loaned us the little manual meat grinder (shown on the left side of the photo). I bought this sausage stuffer. (Shown in the photo behind and to the right of the pork). The pork shoulder was $1.75/pound for 15 pounds of it at Costco. The spices were from Spice Barn.(If you need large quantities of fresh spices then Spice Barn is the place. And finally, hog casings were bought from Syracuse Casing Company.
There is the wonderful website named Sausage Mania that tells you everything you need to know. You can download an Excel spreadsheet with recipes for many different types of sausage. (That's how I knew what spices to order).
The Gory Details
While there is a famous quote about not being present when sausages are made, that certainly doesn't hold true in this case. I started by cutting the port shoulder into cubes, about 1-2 inches square. Drop the pork cubes into the grinder and turn the crank. About 15 minutes later I had a big bowl of ground pork.
While grinding 5 pounds of pork by hand was actually pretty easy, I can see myself making 30 pounds of sausage at a time and so based upon what I've learned, I think that this electric grinder would be a good choice. I also think that the meat grinder attachment for a Kitchen Aid or Viking mixer would work just fine as well.
Next come the spices. Sausage Mania's Excel spreadsheet provides the exact amounts of spices to add to the ground pork. Then it's just a matter of getting in there with your hands and making sure that the spices and the pork are evenly mixed. This is a job that turned out to be much easier than I thought it would.
The Actual Stuffing Part
This is the part of the job where you are cramming actual ground pork into actual intestines formerly residing in a hog. I had visions of exploding hog casings, a balky stuffing machine, and much language from the plumber's dictionary. No So.
This job really does take two people though: one to turn the crank on the stuffing machine and one to guide the hog casings off the little tube at the correct rate.
This small stuffer turned out to be perfectly fine for the task at hand. Even though I can see myself making larger batches of sausage in the future, I don't see a need for something bigger. If I had to make sausage alone or needed to make large quantities, I'd want one that was electrically-driven with a foot switch.
The other thing I learned is that before we use this machine again, I am going to mount it on a board so that I can clamp it to the counter during use. Turning the crank is an easy job. Turning the crank while wrestling with the whole machine to keep it in place is a whole 'nother story.
So with my Sweet Lady Wife turning the crank and me guiding the casings off the little tube at just the right rate (which turned out to be a no-brainer), we managed to stuff that five pounds of pork into hog casings in about ten minutes.
The End Result
So: The question has been answered. Yes, we can make sausages without much effort (and certainly for significantly less that it would cost to buy them). THe other thing about this is that we know exactly what's in the sausage: ground pork shoulder and some spices. That's it. No filer and no ingredients with names that are unpronounceable and 157 letters long.
And they are scruptous!
I'm going to start by trying to make about 5 pounds of simple breakfast sausage.
(I have the hog casings, I just forgot to put them in the photo)
Last weekend I roasted a whole chicken in the smoker. My wife and I ate part of it (one breast half and the wings). I carved the rest and put it in the refrigerator.
My wife then made a chicken and broccoli dish with it. Small florets of broccoli mixed with some shredded pieces of the chicken. THe smoked flavor of the chicken really added a lot to the dish.
I am seriously thinking of buying some boneless skinless chicken breasts, smoking them, and then just keeping them on hand for use in various dishes.
I roasted a checkin in the Bradley Smoker today and it culd not have been simpler or better tasting! I brined it for 2 hours, put it on one of thse 'beer can chicken' things so it sat upright, and then put it in the smoker for five hours at about 200 degrees.
I had a remote meat thermometer in the thigh so when the bird hit 170 degrees I knew it was done.
When I pulled it out of the smoker the skin was a deep dark read but I had been warned about that. I carved the chicken up and it was just about the tenderest most juicy chicken I'd ever prepared.
And the flavor. Oh.MyGod. It was WONDERFUL. I really like roasting chicken this way. It's easy and relaxing. (Much easier than roasting a chicken in the oven) The fact that it's done at the low temperature means that the cooking is slower and less hectic. 15 minutes more or less isn't going to make a difference, so if you are in the middle of something else when the thermometer hits 170 do sweat it. You've got all the time in the world.
Oh, and did I mention the flavor was orgsmicly good.