Friday, July 15, 2011

How to half-ass a weisswurst | Charcutepalooza, challenge no. 7

I am participating in Charcutepalooza, a year of meat which entails twelve monthly challenges to prepare dishes using various charcuterie techniques.  For more information about charcutepalooza, click here.  To read why I decided to partake in the meatmaking festivities, read my first post here.
Usually I approach my monthly charcutepalooza challenge like a celebration, with days of planning and eager anticipation.  This month it was hard to muster up a similar level of enthusiasm.  Not that I was unhappy with the challenge.  On the contrary, I had been anxiously awaiting the emulsified sausage challenge, for which I had planned to create my own version of the Chang Dog, completely from scratch with homemade buns, kimchee, bacon, and of course the hot dog.  But when the challenge finally rolled around my heart wasn’t in it.  With a big trip to Maine approaching all I could think about was seafood.  For the first time since this year of meat started, I just wasn’t craving any.
Beside all that, finding time to get upstate where we have access to the smoker, which we needed to make hot dogs, was simply not feasible.  Not only was I occupied with all the normal things that need to be taken care of in the weeks before traveling, but ken managed to come down with a bad three week long summer cold which left him for all practical purposes, incapacitated.  I never realized how much ken does to make my life easier and better until he went out of commission, and everything just started falling apart.
At first I considered skipping this challenge altogether, but couldn’t justify it to myself as we had all the equipment necessary plus about a lifetime supply of hog casings in the freezer.  We chose to make weisswurst mostly because it was simple enough to do in the limited time we had, and mild tasting enough for ken to eat on a queasy stomach.  So on a day that ken was feeling well enough to help out, and I had a few free hours to kill before running out to meet some people at a party (gay pride - this year you couldn’t live in ny and not celebrate!), we banged out three pounds of weisswurst.

Unlike the fresh sausages we made last month, the meat in emulsified sausages is ground twice, the second time with ice, and then whipped into a stiff paste before being stuffed into a casing.  Maintaining the temperature is extra crucial because the meat is so extensively manhandled.  Otherwise, the process is pretty much identical.  And the practice we had making the fresh sausages paid off - we had a surprisingly easy time making these weisswurst.  It still took a lot of time, but everything felt like it came together rather seamlessly - even the pastry bag technique felt less onerous.  I guess it’s really true what they say that doing is the best form of learning. This may be an obvious lesson to most, but I’ve always been the type to over-think any potential undertaking.  I had owned and sporadically read through Charcuterie for years, but all that reading and learning didn’t teach me how to make sausages.  It was only by using the grinder, and stuffing sausages regularly the past couple months that I finally started to get the hang of it.

That’s not to say that we are experts, or even particularly good yet.  I mean, check out the air pockets in the casing!  But the process is finally feeling a little more routine, and less like a huge and unpredictable endeavor.

Once, years ago, after cooking a huge multi-course meal for my family, I asked my grandmother what she thought.  Her reply was that it was good but that I was a “fun cook”.  At the time, I was confused, and probably slightly offended, but I now understand what she meant.  Any reasonably skilled cook can make a great meal when it is for an event or a meal that they are excited about planning and preparing.  The true test of a good cook is how well they can put together a meal when they are tired or cranky, or would rather be doing other things.  Although we’ve made sausages successfully a couple times now, it took making them when neither of us were at all excited about eating them (ken ate reheated soup that night and I went out), to finally start feeling proficient at it.  

I thought I could muster up the enthusiasm to make homemade pretzels and mustard to go with them the next day, but after waking up with the worst hangover in existence, it was clear that was not going to be an option.  So without further ado, our charcutepalooza dish: weisswurst and, um, sliced bread.

I sincerely hope a recipe is not necessary.

And just so I’m not a total downer, here are some of the things we were actually excited about this past month:
lobster roll that we ate on our way out - first meal in Maine!
the view from our home away from home
fox living on premises, who made an appearance every day
around cocktail hour

learning how to humanely dispatch a lobster
cooking shellfish on the beach

fried clams that we ate on our way home - last meal in Maine
With a headcheese challenge on the way, I can assure you, I’ll have more enthusiasm for next month’s charcutepalooza post!

P.S. If anyone knows how to better control the spaces between pictures in blogger, please please please let me know.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Farmer's Market Finds

I am in the midst of packing for a week long trip up in the wilds of coastal Maine.  While there, I hope to be completely offline except when absolutely necessary, and yes, that includes twitter (eep!).  Before disappearing I wanted to share a couple things I've been working on.  

The warm weather and amazing produce at the Greenmarket has been pushing me to experiment more with color in my artwork.  This past wednesday I finally made it out to the market early enough to have my pick of the goodies at Honey Hollow Farm.  Most of their produce is foraged, so it is highly seasonal, susceptible to vagaries in the weather (as I learned when I attempted to buy morels this past spring), and like all scarcities, are in high demand.  There have been times that I've gotten to the market around noon, and find their stand completely wiped out.  

This time, however, by stopping off before my early morning printmaking class, I had all of their early summer bounty to choose from.  Here are some sketches of what I picked up:
Daylily Buds

Happy Fourth of July!