Monthly Archives: December 2010

Cold-Smoking: Garlic and Sage Pork Chops

Cold temperatures and some much-needed spare time over the holidays provided the perfect opportunity to fire up the smokehouse and do some cold-smoking.  We decided to do some pork chops and turned to our favorite smoking resource for a brine recipe:  Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

Roughly following the recipe for the Garlic-Sage-Brined Pork Chops, we mixed up the following brine:

  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 c. kosher salt
  • 3/4 c. packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 T. fresh sage leaves (we used ground sage and only about 3 T.)
  • 2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
  • 1 T. fresh ground black pepper

After mixing up the brine to dissolve all the ingredients, we placed 6 thick bone-in pork chops in a gallon Ziploc bag and put them in a cooler in the garage to soak overnight.

In the morning, we put the brined pork chops on the steel rack in the smokehouse and let them sit for a few hours to dry.

Jesse eventually fired up the firebox and smoked the chops for about 5 hours with apple wood. The smell was mouth-watering.

The chops were grilled on New Year’s Eve in 15 deg F weather. As usual with a finely cold-smoked meat product, the meat was pink all the way through the chop from the smoking, the brining kept the chops moist and flavorful, and a side dish of sauerkraut or applesauce were great complements. A cold Blue Moon beer was the finishing touch to a great meal. If only Jesse’s little brother would have sent us a nice hand-crafted box of chocolate truffles ( for Christmas, the meal would have been perfect!

Happy New Year!



Filed under Food, Smokehouse, Smoking

Seed Catalogs…Already??

I was surprised when I opened the mailbox today and found a large bundle of mail, even by Christmas card season standards.   Assuming that we have received most of the Christmas cards that we will this year, I was curious about the contents of the bundle.

Amongst all the normal bills, junk mail, etc., I found these…

Seed catalogs?!!  Already?

In all honesty, I am a seed catalog junkie.  I pour over them, mark pages, make lists, plan, and daydream about the upcoming gardening season.  But it is not even January.  I still have my Christmas tree up and have not even recovered from the holiday.

Is it just me, or is this a little too early to be receiving seed catalogs?



Filed under Gardens

More on Building a Smokehouse

As it turns out, my original post on building our smokehouse has been the number one hit that brings people to my blog.  Based on the level of interest and/or lack of information out there on the web, I thought I would try to post some more information for people interested in constructing their own smokehouse.

The most helpful resource we found when researching how to build a smokehouse was a little publication by Storey Publishing appropriately titled, Build a Smokehouse.  It is available on Amazon for $3.95, a real bargain, or visit their website at and search for “smokehouse.”

This great little book goes through some basic information on smoking food, explains the differences between hot-smoking and cold-smoking, and provides a helpful description of how smokers and smokehouses work. There are also detailed instructions for building a block smokehouse similar to the design that we used, and some smaller smoker projects if you don’t want such a large structure. The “hot smoke pit” is cheap and easy to build anywhere. In addition, the “barrel smoker” and the “box smoker” are also very good alternatives for cold-smoking smaller quantities at a much lower cost.

Feel free to ask questions in the comment section and we will do our best to answer them.



Filed under Outbuildings, Smokehouse, Smoking

Snow Bird

Yesterday I noticed a robin in the crabapple tree just outside our kitchen window.  I was a little puzzled because I thought robins migrated south in the winter.  The bird seemed out-of-place in this frozen land, but I assumed that it must surely be on its way south sometime very soon.

We had a “major weather event” here in Minnesota starting Friday evening and continuing through today with lots of accumulating snow and strong winds.

The snow kept falling all day long and by this evening we had somewhere around a foot of fluffy new snow!

While making breakfast in the kitchen this morning, I looked out the window and was shocked to see that poor little robin back in the crabapple tree.  Braving the snow storm, it was hopping around the tree and eating the crabapples.

Worried that there was something wrong with this bird that was still around Minnesota at this time of year and in these conditions, I did a quick internet search to see if it was “normal” for a robin not to migrate south.

I was surprised to read that robins apparently do not always leave in the winter, especially if there is a food source like crabapples or berries to sustain them.

They keep themselves warm with thicker feathers and by shivering.

So, I guess this robin has decided to stick around this winter and snack on the crabapples on our tree.

The robin will be doing a lot of shivering tonight, as temperatures are predicted to plunge to -15° F.  Tomorrow does not look much better with a high of 3° F and wind chills of -35° F.  Poor little thing!

As I sit inside tonight with my kids, playing games and enjoying a warm and cozy fire, I am glad very glad that I am not that robin.  And if I were, I would never be crazy enough to stick around this state through the winter…even if there were some crabapples nearby.

Cozy and warm in Minnesota,


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Filed under Daily life

Making Sausage: A Family Tradition

My husband and I have hung out for a long time:  we dated for 8 years and have been married for 20 years.  Early on in our relationship, he introduced me to his family’s mostly-annual tradition of making German sausage.  I do not remember the year I was first invited to join in the tradition, but I do remember being amazed, and maybe even a little shocked by the process.  Although I too was a farm kid, I had never thought about how the sausage that I ate was actually made.

The event took place at his parent’s house and I managed to avoid participating up until it was time to weigh and package the newly ground sausage.  Someone handed me a big stainless steel bowl of fresh sausage and instructed me to start weighing and packaging the sausage in one-pound packages.  Being a teenager, and new to the family besides, I felt like I had no other choice than to roll up my sleeves, wash my hands in bleach water, and get started.

The sausage-making tradition has continued through the years, taking place in different locations and with different combinations of family members in attendance.  The equipment has been upgraded, the recipe is always being altered/improved, and the process continues to be refined.  Over the past several years, we have hosted the event at our home on the day after Thanksgiving.  We choose this weekend because people are free for the holiday weekend and the temperatures are typically cold enough that we do not have to worry about keeping the meat cold throughout the process.

Although I am unsure how far back this family tradition dates, I know it goes back at least to my husband’s childhood when they used to make sausage at his grandma and grandpa’s farm.  The recipe is of German origin, but has been changed over the years based on available ingredients and in response to discussions about possible improvements.  One thing has remained the same however, this family knows how to make good sausage.

Cleaning and Setting Up

We hosted this family event at our house again this year.  The preparation process is a long one and requires completely cleaning out our garage, mopping the floors with bleach water, hauling equipment in from various storage locations, and setting everything up.  We place clean plastic on all the tables and wipe them down with bleach water.  Cutting boards, knives and containers are also washed.  We do all this prep work on Thanksgiving evening, so it helps us work off that big turkey dinner.

Mixing the Spices

In addition to the cleaning and setting up, another important preparation that we do the night before is to mix the spices.  My mother-in-law purchases all the spices, mostly in bulk, and works with our three kids to measure them out into pint jars.  Each jar is enough spices to season 30 pounds of sausage.  The kids stand in a line and she gives them the measurement and they pass each ingredient down the line, placing the correct amount in the jars in front of them.

My mother-in-law is in charge of the recipe so I don’t know the exact ingredients, but the spices at least include various amounts of salt, black pepper, sage, coriander, summer savory, all-spice, fennel seed, cayenne pepper, sugar and clove oil.

Sectioning and Cutting

In the morning of sausage-making day, someone goes to the locker to pick up the hogs.  This year we ordered 2 whole hogs, each with a hanging weight of around 220 pounds.  Our oldest son and an uncle both got a deer during hunting season this year, so we purchased an extra 30 pounds of pork trimmings to mix with the venison to make sausage.

Once people start to arrive, the cutting begins.  The hogs are cut into sections and the people cutting are given sections from both the front and rear quarter for cutting.  The idea is to get a good blend of the different cuts of the hog, mixing together both the premium and more standard meat.  The meat is cut off the bone into cubes or chunks for grinding.  We had three tables set up for cutting.

Whole Hog Sausage

Sausage is commonly made from the scraps and least desirable cuts of the hog.  In contrast, the sausage we make is a “whole hog” sausage, which means that it includes all parts of the hog, including the premium cuts: ham, tenderloin, shoulder, etc.


As the meat is cut off the bone, the chunks of meat from each table are moved over to the grinding area.  A few years ago, the family purchased a 1.5 horsepower commercial grinder to improve the process.  It has been a great addition to the sausage-making equipment.

The ground pork is put into a tub and weighed.  The batches of sausage we make consist of 24 pounds of ground pork mixed with 6 pounds of ground beef.  Once there are 24 pounds of ground pork ready for processing, the mixing begins.


Each 30 pound batch of sausage is seasoned with one of those pint jars of spices mixed the night before.  A quart of ice water is also added to the mixture to add moisture and to help distribute the spices.

The mixing is done by hand, usually by two brave people.  The sausage is really, really cold and the spices make your skin itch and burn.  There are discussions about purchasing a hand-crank mixer for next year to improve this part of the process.

Bulk Sausage

After the sausage goes through the mixing process, it is ready to be packaged as bulk sausage or eaten.  We always try out the freshly made sausage for lunch.  It’s always really yummy, even though the spices have not had a chance to fully set.

The grand total for the pork sausage this year was around 300 pounds – 10 of the 30 pound batches.  Of that 300 pounds of sausage, we wrapped about 120 pounds into 1 pound packages of bulk sausage.

Link Sausage

The remaining bulk sausage is processed into links.  I find this part of the process…ummm…interesting.  Mostly because of the use of hog intestines.

The vessel for stuffing the sausage is hog casings, the intestines of the hog.  They are removed during the butchering process, rinsed and packed in salt.  We purchase the casings from the meat locker where we get the hogs.  My daughter and mother-in-law have the job each year of giving these casings another rinse before they are used.

In the first several years of my exposure to the sausage-making tradition, I truly found this part of the process disgusting.  Just the idea of it.  I had a hard time eating the link sausage because of it and would often peel off the casing.  Over time, I have gotten over it and I just try not to think about it too much.  🙂


After the casings are double-rinsed for good measure, they are put on the stuffer.  With one person turning the crank and the other holding the casings, the bulk sausage is stuffed into the casings.

The sausage links are then weighed for record-keeping and to help figure out the amount available for distribution to all the workers.  The total link pork sausage processed this year was 200 pounds.

Venison Sausage

Once all the pork is ground up and mixed, the crew starts cutting up any venison that we have for the year.  This year we had about 60 pounds of venison.  The venison sausage is also mixed in 30 pound batches, with 20 pounds of venison and 10 pounds of pork trimmings.  The rest of the process is the same as the pork, even the spices used.  We make all of the venison into link sausage.


The last step in processing the link sausage is cold-smoking.  This family tradition of making sausage is the primary reason Jesse decided to build our smokehouse.  Interestingly, my post on building our smokehouse is the primary search term that brings people to my blog.  If you are interested in building a smokehouse, check out the post here.

The 300 pounds of link sausage is carried tub-by-tub out to the smokehouse and placed on racks for drying.

The sausage is hung in the smokehouse to dry overnight to form a pellicle.  The pellicle refers to the tacky surface that develops when food is dried and to which the smoke sticks, thereby adding the desired smokey flavor.

Early the next morning, Jesse fired up the smokehouse to start the cold-smoking process.  The art of cold-smoking is to keep the meat below 70 degrees F to inhibit bacteria growth and to not cook the meat.  (Refer to this post about building our smokehouse for more information on how our smokehouse works).


After about 5 hours of gentle cold-smoking, the link sausage is finally finished and ready for wrapping.  A work crew assembles once more to cut the links into 1 pound servings for packaging in freezer paper.

We divide the sausage between the various individuals and families according to their preference ratios of bulk versus link.

The grand totals of sausage processed for 2010:

120 pounds of bulk pork sausage

200 pounds of link pork sausage

90 pounds of venison sausage

So, after a few long days of hard work and good company we are done making sausage for the year.  In addition to the great family memories we create each year through this tradition, we get to enjoy some amazing sausage over the next 12 months.

Does anyone else make sausage as part of a family tradition?  Please share your stories in the comments!




Filed under Food, Smokehouse, Smoking

If She Only Knew…

Our dog Sofie is a Golden Retriever, a hunting dog.  She lives to go bird hunting in the fall.  Every time the boys get out the guns and their blaze orange vests, Sofie runs to the back of the truck and waits to get in.  She whines and she paces.

We often take her on walks down the road from our house and if there is a pheasant anywhere in the vicinity, she manages to pick up their scent.  If she is not on the leash, she takes off and inevitably flushes them out of the tall grass.  If she is on the leash, she pulls, tugs and whines for the opportunity to find the bird.

A few Easters ago, we had family over to our house for dinner and an egg hunt.  After dinner we walked around outside, showing the family the various projects we were working on.  To our surprise, a rooster pheasant flew out of the hayfield right towards us and landed a short distance away on the driveway.  Before we could even react, Sofie had spotted the bird and took off after it.  The pheasant took flight and headed for the woods.  Sofie took off in that direction and our oldest went after her.

None of us are sure what exactly happened over in the woods, but unfortunately the pheasant did not survive the ordeal.  Our son saw her disappear over the river bank and she eventually came back up proudly carrying the pheasant in her mouth.  It was a victory for her.  This is, after all, what she is supposed to do, right?  Well, not exactly, especially when it is not hunting season.

Knowing her love of tracking down and “catching” pheasants, imagine my mixed emotions when I glanced out our back living room windows today while working on my computer and saw this…

A rooster pheasant right in our back yard!  I knew Sofie was outside somewhere and I hoped that the bird would go unnoticed by her.

The pheasant seemed unconcerned about predators as it waddled its way through the snow.

I grabbed my camera and started to take pictures.  He looked so stunning with his vibrantly colored feathers against the bright white snow.  He continued to make his way across the back of the house and up along the side.  I started to get nervous for his safety as he moved closer to the house because I suspected that Sofie was on the front porch.

Something eventually spooked the bird however, and he took flight.  As beautiful as these birds are on the ground, they are even more magnificent when airborne.

Once the rooster was safely in the air, I turned to look out the window for the dog.  This is what I saw…

Sofie was fast asleep on the front porch, enjoying the sun, with her beloved deer leg that she salvaged out of the woods nearby.  She had absolutely no clue that this bird, her absolute favorite critter to hunt, had wandered so dangerously close to her.

She must have sensed my presence, or heard the snapping of the camera through the window, because she popped her head up to look at me.


“Ha,” I thought to myself.  “If you only knew.”

Our cat Tiger, on the other hand, he could care less about what is outside during the day.  Especially when the sun is shining and he is laying on the back of a comfy chair inside the house.

His only concern was the noise I was making with the camera.

I was annoying him.

He was tired.

He yawned…

And then he tried to ignore me and get back to sleep in the sunshine.

It’s just another day in the country.



Filed under Animals, Daily life