cooking, homemade, homemade pizza, pizza, recipes, sausage

Making the Perfect Italian Sausage

Often when things quiet down for a minute on the homestead, we take on a new challenge.  This usually happens in late winter, when we have had enough of the snow. We just want to stay by the wood stove drinking coffee all day.  A few years back we decided to try our hand at making our own sausage.  Because I am Italian we started with sweet and hot Italian sausage.

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In our minds we could see sausages hanging everywhere, maybe we would even branch out into a sausage business.  We do love to dream big,  usually we are brought back to earth very quickly.  We did some research, and found that there was a large price range for the equipment needed.  We dream big but don’t spend big, so we chose a meat grinder that attached to our kitchen aid mixer.  After that we ordered our natural hog casing, picked up some pork shoulder and wine, then waited for the weekend.  As it turns out red wine is a must when making sausage, it makes the whole process feel more like a party rather than stuffing an animal back into its own intestine.  We make our own food because we like to know what goes into it, so instead of ordering a spice mix we came up with our own recipe.  We used as many  ingredients from our garden as we could.  Then we set out to make a sausage you could not buy from a store.  We set up the mixer, cut up the pork shoulder, and poured the wine.  It is definitely best to keep the meat very cold this makes it grind much easier.

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We used two pork shoulders which gave us 15 lbs of ground pork .  The casing comes packed in salt, so while the pork was being ground we took the casing out of the salt, and soaked it in cool water.  Something we learned right away was that casing gets tangled. We found that if you put it in a big metal bowl, and untangle it before soaking you will save yourself a lot of trouble. Once the pork was ground, we mixed in the spices by hand wearing rubber gloves.  Pork is fatty, and its hard to wash all that fat off of your hands.  We then took the casing out of the water and put it in a strainer, next you have to run water in one end of the casing and push it through the entire length of the casing.  This helps get the salt out of the casing, we usually run the water through three times.  Then came the moment we were waiting for, it was time to do some stuffing.  We lubed the stuffing tube with oil, slid on the casing, tied the end, and poked a small hole with a knife in the casing to let the air escape.  I pushed the meat through the grinder with the stuffing tube attached, while Tracy caught it and twisted the sausage into links.  It is important to twist the links in the opposite directions each time you make a link, or they will come undone.  We then poured our second glass of wine.  Very quickly it became apparent that the stuffing was going to take a long time.  The stuffing tube on the grinder was not the best tool for the job, but this didn’t stop us from enjoying the time spent together.  If you can make sausage without making inappropriate jokes you are a better man than me.  We spent the next half hour laughing, sipping wine, and stuffing our first batch of sausage.

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Finally when all of the sausage was stuffed, we placed it in the refrigerator to sit overnight.  This allows the flavors to come together.  The next day, we pulled some peppers out of the freezer and grilled up our first batch.  We were pleasantly surprised, it was good, but we wanted great.  Over the next several months we made sausage tweaking the recipe each time.  Finally we arrived at the perfect recipe.

 

Along the way we learned a few things.  The first was that a real sausage stuffer was a must.  It makes the whole process quicker and easier.  Second, the casing needs to be soaked for at least an hour to make it easier to work with.  Third, casing comes in packages that make 25lbs and 100lbs of sausage.  The 100lb is much more economical, but the 25lb is easier to work with because the lengths are shorter. Fourth, fresh ingredients matter, we always use fresh garlic, and as many fresh herbs as possible.  Finally, wine will make the whole process easier on you and your spouse.  There is no wrong recipe for sausage, everyone has different tastes.  But when you make it yourself it will always be just right.

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Once we made one type of sausage we could not stop.  We now make kielbasa for Oktoberfest, breakfast sausage, venison pepperoni, and have even dabbled in andouille.

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It is always fun to learn a new skill, especially one that involves eating delicious food.  So the next time the winter blues have you down.  Get some wine and pork and make your own perfect sausage.

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backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading

Building a chicken coop, the cornerstone of your homestead

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One of the most important buildings on any homestead is the chicken coop.  On our homestead we eat eggs every morning.  Pound for pound the chicken coop is the undisputed champion of providing meals.  Our coop is located where we can see it from our back door.  So when it came time to build it we knew it had to look good too.  We chose to make it look like a small rustic cabin, and were able to acquire rough cut hemlock for the exterior.  This also saved money in the end, as the lumber also has some natural resistance to rot.  The next challenges when building a coop are to maximize space and ease of use.  We chose to put the nesting boxes directly in front of the door, this made it easier to get breakfast in the morning.

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The floor space behind the door can be used by the birds when the door is closed.  We also made a “chicken door” to the outside with a sliding piece of plywood to close it.  This is also located in close proximity to the entrance.

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Next we put in the roosts, because we had left the whole right side open, we were able to stack the roosts.  This allowed us to have space for a few extra birds.  We also built a platform just to the right of the door to put food and water on.  A raised platform helps to keep bedding out of the food and water.

The entire design makes it very easy to tend to the chickens in the morning.  Cleaning is also easy, we just pull the bedding toward the door and scoop it into a wheel barrow.  We left space under the nesting boxes so we can scoop up bedding without knocking it into the boxes.

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The next challenge was window placement, we decided to use two windows to increase ventilation in the summer, and light in the winter.  We used 1/2″ hardware cloth that was permanently affixed between two boards.  When winter rolls around we have Plexiglas panels that we screw in behind the cloth.  We also added a solar powered light.  It is very helpful in the winter when we are collecting eggs in the dark.  It was an inexpensive (thank you, Harbor Freight!) modification that we really can’t live without.

We really love our chickens, and we enjoy our homestead.  Our chicken coop is a focal point, so we have landscaped it, stained it, and we even built a nice rock walkway around it. We did not know it when it was built, but a year later, it became the welcoming entrance to our small vineyard. We often take pictures of it in different seasons.

No project on the homestead is ever perfect.  There is always something to learn.  The very first winter after we built the coop we realized our mistake. The first time we slammed the door with snow on the roof, we got an roof full of snow down the back of our neck.  Lesson learned, as far as lessons on the homestead go this one wasn’t bad, at least there was no trip to the doctors office.

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Our chicken coop is now the cornerstone of our homestead, and we are so thankful for the meals it provides us.  So when it comes time to build or upgrade your coop, grab a glass of wine, sit back in a lawn chair, and envision the coop of your dreams.  You and the girls will be happy you did.

 

 

 

cooking, cooking venison, cooking wild game, homemade, homesteading, recipes

Venison Chili The First Kiss of Wild Game

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The most popular dish at any hunting camp is always Venison Chili.  In fact, I would bet that this is the way most people have tried venison for the first time.  I suppose venison chili is like the ultimate first impression, get it right and you have a venison lover, get it wrong and a half bowl of chili goes to waste.  I guess this is what has caused us to refine our recipe over the years.  A great venison chili starts when you are butchering the deer.  We have learned the more deer fat in our ground venison, the more gamey it would be.  We make sure not to put any of the silver skin in our ground venison either, and we vacuum seal  it to keep it nice and fresh.  We also use fresh, frozen, dried, or canned  vegetables from our garden.  The result is a homestead meal that anyone would be proud to serve for dinner or at camp.

Venison Chili

2 Lbs. Ground Venison

1 Tbs. Olive Oil

1 Small Onion (chopped)

1 Large Bell Pepper (chopped)

1 Qt. Canned Crushed Tomatoes, drained of any liquid

1 cup dry back beans, soaked overnight in 3 cups cold water

1 cup of frozen corn (optional, but very yummy!)

1 Tsp. Paprika

1/2 Tsp. Cayenne Pepper (more or less to taste)

1/2 Tsp. Cumin

1/2 Tsp. Crushed Red Pepper (more or less to taste)

1/2 Tsp. Black Pepper

1/4 Tsp. Salt

2 Cloves of Crushed Garlic

In a large pot or cast iron dutch oven (our preference), heat olive oil on med/high heat and add garlic and saute until softened and lightly browned. Add onion and cook for about 2 minutes. Add venison, stirring frequently  to brown, and cook all the way through.

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Unlike beef, venison is so lean,  so no need to drain as there will be very little fat, if any.

 

Add green pepper, tomatoes, seasonings and beans. Stir to thoroughly combine. Bring the chili to a simmer and cover, stirring occasionally for 30-45 minutes or until beans are tender and cooked through.

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Finally, add the corn and stir. Enjoy with a hearty corn bread and top with whatever you like, although we find that we like to eat ours as is!

A big cast iron pot of fresh chili looks almost as good as it tastes.  There is nothing better to bring ice fishing and share with your friends, and every time we do it is gone quickly.  The next time you make venison chili, don’t forget It may be someones first taste of venison, so make it your best.

backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading, meat chickens

Raising Meat Chickens, you will never go back to store-bought again!

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If raising chickens for eggs is the gateway to homesteading,  then raising them for meat is stepping through that gate with both rubber boots.  Once you have raised your own meat, and see the difference from what you buy in the store, you will never go back.  We finally decided to raise meat birds after a few years of raising laying hens.  We decided to raise Cornish Crosses because of their excellent feed conversion rate.  You get one pound of meat for every two pounds of food you feed them. We also wanted to start with a bird that we were used to eating, and these are the same birds that the U.S. poultry industry uses.  Cornish Crosses also only take eight weeks to raise.  This would enable us to raise more than one batch in a year.  We ordered 25 chicks from Meyers Hatchery,  as this was the minimum number to receive free shipping.  Every dollar counts when you are homesteading.  We set up an eight foot diameter brooder, and we chose to make it a circle to keep chicks from getting stuck in corners and accidentally killed.  Finally our long awaited chicks arrived by mail.

They were so cute and fuzzy, and we wondered how we would ever eat such cute animals. We immediately realized that these chicks were much different than laying hens.  They ate almost non stop, and pooped almost as much.  We gave them unlimited food for a few days but quickly cut back to two feedings a day.  We learned with our research that they will eat themselves to death if you don’t restrict their feed.  After only a week, they had more than doubled in size and became something less than cute .

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In another week they were even larger and began to resemble a store bought chicken with legs.  They were a little stinky, so we were looking forward to getting them outside.

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We constructed a run with a place for them to get out of the sun, and waited for them to get their feathers so we could move them outside.

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They really didn’t move around much and were very happy to just eat and drink all day.  As they grew, we looked forward all the protein they would provide our family.

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They were also eating a ton of feed.  They truly had a one track mind.

We checked their weight regularly and soon they were ready for their big day.

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We read up on butchering, and watched videos.  It’s a really is a simple process.  The biggest issue is plucking, so we would recommend borrowing or buying a plucker.  We still don’t own one, but plucking 25 chickens takes two people most of a whole day, so we plan on purchasing one this year. Once the feathers are removed/plucked they begin to resemble the chicken we are all used to seeing in the store.  It only takes a few minutes to butcher and eviscerate (remove the innards) a chicken,  and then they are immediately cooled in ice water.

Once they are cooled, we wash them thoroughly and we place them in shrink bags which are inexpensive and easy to find online.  They are cheaper in bulk, so buy a few year’s worth at once to save a few dollars, again every dollar counts.

The first time we butchered chickens it was a few days before we felt like eating one.  We were nervous and unsure if we would enjoy them.  The first thing we noticed is that they took a little longer to cook.  They are not injected with broth like the ones in the store.  They also were not slimy and didn’t need a diaper like store bought.  When  you finally taste one you know that all of your hard work was worth it.  Guess what? They taste like chicken,  they are not bland and have a wonderful flavor, and they also do not taste like salt like the ones from the store.  The second time you butcher chickens you will have one for dinner that night, in fact I get hungry when I butcher them now.  So if you have ever thought about raising meat bird, pull up your rubber boots and jump in.  You will be rewarded for your effort in legs and breasts, it doesn’t get much better than that.

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duck eggs, ducks, homesteading, raising ducks, Uncategorized

Raising Ducks in a Chicken’s World

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We have all been there.  Walking through your local feed store and placed strategically in the center are troughs full of chicks and ducks. They are all peeping away and oh so cute.  Who hasn’t looked down at them and wanted to bring a few home? One day on the way home from work, I stopped for feed and couldn’t take it anymore. I had to take a few of those fuzzy ducks home, six as a matter of fact, as they had a minimum.  So with no plan, I headed home.  Everyone loved them and since we had all the equipment from raising chicks, we were able to settle them in quickly.  We had a large brooder box, heat lamp, waterer, and feeder.  Our brooder is big enough that we could set the heat lamp fairly low and the ducks would be able to adjust their temperature by moving either closer or further away from the bulb. Their cuteness was overwhelming.  Ducks need constant access to water in order to eat.  After eating they need to clean their nostrils with water, so the water needs to be deep enough for them to put their beak under water.

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It didn’t take long for us to realize they were a little different from chicks.  They were noisy and seemed to poop twice their weight a day.  They would splash all of the water out of the waterer, and ate almost as much as meat birds.  However, they were still the cutest things ever.  You could not help pick them up, they were very skittish and ran from us like we would murder them.

After a few weeks, we decided to let them go for a swim. Baby ducks can swim well, but they lack the oil gland to keep their feathers dry, so after a short swim, they need to be dried and put back under the heat lamp. In the wild, their mother would preen them.

Once they were a little bigger, we would give them a small dishpan to swim in.  We also made them a ramp so they could get in and out easier.  They loved to have greens chopped up and put into their swimming pool.  Twice a day, they would splash all  of the water out of their pool and soak the shavings.  Ducks are a lot of work.  They are certainly not chickens.  We decided to put them outside and built them their own coop out of scrap lumber, because homesteaders have to be resourceful. Which also explains the siding made from scrap flooring!

Ducks do not need a roost and we thought they would like to live in the vineyard.  But being ducks, they decided they would not go in at night and we would have to wrangle fast ducks every night. Soon they just lived in the vineyard, because they refused to go inside.  Finally, they began to lay eggs and we were able to make wonderful fluffy bread with them.  Duck eggs are delicious and soon we were enjoying duck egg omelettes as well.

They were happy to be outside and you could hear them at night quacking away, until disaster struck.  Something killed 4 of them in two nights, so we rounded up the rest and put them in a safe pen. Luckily the two surviving ducks were male and female, so we borrowed an incubator, thanks to a fellow homesteader, and set off to raise the first animals conceived on the homestead.   We placed an egg a day in the incubator.  Duck eggs take 28 days to hatch, and we found that our hatch rates were better when we turned them by hand and not with the automatic turner. After several failed eggs we began to hit our stride and it was baby duck heaven all over again.  It was fascinating to watch them use the egg tooth on their beak to get out of the egg.

Then they began to hatch, one after another after another after another.  14 in all we named them all after nuts: Peanut, Cashew, Pecan, Pistachio, Macadamia, Almond, Left, Right (use your imagination here), Filbert, Hazel, Coco, Acorn, Butternut and Brazil.  This is a short video of one hatching.

Our duck journey had come full circle, there is nothing like going outside and always having a flock of ducks in your yard.  They keep the slug population down and they have now taken over the mowing in the vineyard.  Well all except one.

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There is nothing like a smoked duck.  So the next time you are in the feed store and you see those fuzzy little ducks, grab yourself a six pack to go along with them, you are gonna need it.