Sunday, December 29, 2013

New Year's Day Hog Jowl

If you live in the South, you know come New Year's Day you better have a pot of black-eyed peas, hog jowl, turnip greens or cabbage and corn bread. Otherwise, you are staring the new year down and asking for bad luck, no blessings and a lack of money to come your way. The hog jowl comes from the cheek of the pig. It's pretty fatty and the rind is tough as nails. I personally cut that off, but Andy leaves it on when he's fixing it. The taste is very similar to bacon, but just short of as good.

One of our vendors gifted all of us with a bag of dried black-eyed peas and a chunk of hog jowl to cook in the peas. I can guarantee that I will be cooking that up for all who come to eat with us on Wednesday. Mike shared that his understanding of the tradition dates back to the civil war. He said the South was so poor that the only things they had to sustain themselves through the hard times were dried peas and the scraps off the pig.

There's an old belief that the bigger the pig you eat on New Year's Day, the fatter your wallet will be. Who am I to tempt fate? In the poor South, it was believed that a pig represented health and wealth. One pig could sustain a family through the hard winter months. Another fact is that a pig cannot turn his head around without turning his whole body the pig is forward looking, possibly looking forward to a prosperous year.

During the war, black-eyed peas were considered animal food and not worthy of the Union troops. Therefore there was plenty of it. It is said that eating such a humble food on New Year's day will lead to being blessed.

The cabbage, collards or turnip greens represent your "green or folding money." It is said each bite of greens represents $1000 towards the upcoming year. Again, who am I to tempt fate?

Cornbread represents your pocket money because of the gold color of the bread.

About a week before the New Year, Andy hits the store and starts buying up several pounds of hog jowl. We always have it for breakfast at least once before the big day. We limit it because we know our blood pressure probably shoots sky high.

Hog jowl will curl up like crazy in the pan. Make little slits all down the "rind" side to make it easier to fry. I like to trim off the rind as there is no way to chew that up.
Fry up just like you would prepare bacon. I like to cook this on a medium-low temperature. Just look at the fat content and you can imagine how much grease is created. I also believe the grease from hog jowl is hotter and pops more than bacon. Fact or fiction? I don't know, just don't get "popped!"
Turn until both sides are cooked well. I like mine to be a little on the browner side. If the fat is undercooked, it's just too rubbery for me to eat. Let the hog jowl drain well on a paper towel lined plate.

This batch was served up with biscuits, fried eggs and molasses. On New Year's Day, we will be serving it with black-eyed peas, cabbage and cornbread.

Raspberry Almond Thumbprint Cookies

One of my favorite cookies to imbibe in at this time of the year are shortbread cookies. They're not overly sweet. Don't get me wrong, I do like a sweet treat like my chocolate oatmeal cookies, but if something's too rich...I just can't eat as much. :-) A few weeks ago we had to do a presentation for a local group. The lady who arranged the event included us in their lunch. The food was awesome, but the dessert she prepared was insanely good...simple thumbprint cookies.

Carla was kind enough to share her recipe with me and I couldn't wait to fix these wonderful treats. Julie, Chelsea and myself decided to fix our bosses each a tray of goodies for Christmas and these cookies were first on my list of things to include. I did not change one single thing from the way she fixes them. They are perfection as is. Another great thing is that I keep all of the ingredients on hand. Mmmm, I could  have been fixing these all along!

2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raspberry jam (I use Smuckers seedless Raspberry) 

1 cup powdered sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
This recipe makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies  

Combine butter, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract in large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy. Reduce speed to low; add flour. Beat, scraping bowl often, until well mixed. Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Heat oven to 350°F.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Make indentation in center of each cookie with thumb (I used a wooden spoon end. If you "wallow" it around a little, it makes the perfect pocket for the jam!) (Edges may crack slightly). 
Fill each indentation with about 1/4 teaspoon jam.

Bake for 14 to 18 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Let stand 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire cooling rack. Cool completely.

Combine all glaze ingredients in small bowl with wire whisk until smooth. Drizzle over cookies. I filled a sandwich ziplock bag with the glaze and barely nipped the end to drizzle the glaze. Once the glaze is set, place in an airtight container. **They won't last long!

Kix Candy Clusters

Kix candy clusters is one of those desserts that make you feel just a little less bad about eating. One of the main ingredients is Kix cereal, probably one of the most low-sugar cereals out there. It's hard to explain, but this simple tasting cereal sure is a great combination with the M&M's, white chocolate and the salty peanuts. They aren't super "rich" so you might catch yourself eating more than you should.When the boys were younger, they and their friends would go through a batch of these in no time. I didn't fuss too much because you know Kix are "Kid-Tested, Mother Approved." (LOL!)

This recipe came from Mrs. Wanda Kirby. The first time I ate one of them I immediately knew I had to fix them for Dale and Andrew. The original recipe called for just three ingredients...I added the M&M's later to give them a little kick. If you have someone who is allergic to peanuts, you can substitute them with pretzel pieces. I've made them this way before and they're good, but in our house, majority rules and they like the peanuts. This is one of the easiest things you can fix. Just be sure to cover a wide area on your counter with wax paper. This recipe does make a lot.

Kix cereal
1 package almond bark
1 medium bag M&M's
Dry roasted peanuts
In a glass bowl, break down 1 package of almond bark. Heat in the microwave to melt per the directions on the package. Remember to stir often and do not overcook.
Transfer the melted mixture to an extra-large mixing bowl. Start adding the cereal  Quickly blend cereal until it is evenly coated and before the coating starts to set up. I use about 3/4 of the box. You want to leave enough extra coating to accommodate the peanuts and M&M's.
 Stir in about 3/4 of a bag of M&M's and around 1-1/2 to 2 cups of dry roasted peanuts. Blend well. Again, do this quickly before the chocolate starts to harden.
 Once all the ingredients are coated well, using two spoons, drop spoonfuls onto a wax paper lined counter.
Let them sit until the coating hardens. Store in an airtight container or gallon ziplock bags.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Homemade Venison Summer Sausage

Last year, our brother-in-law Don started sharing his homemade deer sausage. We went nuts over the flavor and couldn't get over how good it was. Since then, Andy has been thinking about processing his own summer sausage.We have toured every sporting goods store checking out and comparing different meat grinders and sausage stuffing machines. And you know the spice options are just more than you can even begin to pick from. Since the weather this winter has been pretty miserable, Andy did some searching and came across "Bud's Homemade Summer Sausage" which used beef. It took him two tries, but Andy has hit a home run with his variation incorporating deer meat. And the kicker? If you're using ground meat, it doesn't require any equipment or a casing to process! The recipe below is for a 1 lb. roll. You might as well double or triple up. It doesn't last long.

1 lb ground venison*
1 Tbsp Liquid smoke
1 Tbsp Morton Salt Tender Quick
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds 

Day 1:
The day before you want to process the summer sausage, mix the meat and spices in a bowl. Place the seasoned meat in a gallon zipper bag and roll into a 2" loaf. Refrigerate overnight.
Day 2:
Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with some aluminum foil. Place a rack on top. Place the loaf on the rack.

Bake for approximately 2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Allow to cool completely. Vaccum seal and freeze or refrigerate and use.

*We used deer meat processed with a small amount of beef fat.