Grinding! No, Not the dance: Fresh Ground Sausage

Whenever possible I prefer to use the freshest of ingredients.  Since I live in the mid-west, I have limited access, mainly mid-summer through autumn, to fresh fruits and vegetables that haven’t traveled long distances in who-knows-what kind of conditions to get to the local grocery store.  So, during Farmer’s Market season, I use as much fresh produce as possible and freeze what I can.  I hope to master canning this fall.  I do bring my herb garden inside in the winter, so I can access fresh herbs year-round.

We do have access to quality fresh meat thanks to the local farmers and hunters.  In our community, we have several great, high quality meat shops.  For this fresh ground sausage, find a large cut of pork shoulder butt.  If you can get it boneless, it will save you a little time and hassle.  Sometimes called just pork shoulder or pork butt, the cut comes from the upper part of the shoulder.  This cut is beautifully marbled with fat and connective tissue which helps the meat to be moist and flavorful.  I was able to purchase a 7 pound roast to use, and made two recipes: Maple Breakfast Sausage Patties and Italian Sausage.

The next thing you need to have is a meat grinder.  My stand mixer has a meat grinding attachment.

The two recipes have several spices in common including garlic, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  The other two spices typically found in sausage recipes are paprika and fennel seed.

Paprika is a mildly hot, sweet chili powder.  It is often named for the region the peppers are from.  They are dried and ground to a bright red powder.

Fennel seed comes from the fennel plant which resembles a fern.  The leaves, flowers, seeds, stems and roots of the plant are all used for a variety of purposes from ornamental, to medicinal to edible.  The dried seed has a flavor similar to the anise seed like black licorice.

To prepare the pork for the grinder, trim excess fat and cut into chunks.  Place in a large bowl.  Many recipes have you grind the meat and then blend in the spices.

However, I prefer to mix the spices into the chunks before they go through the grinder so that all of the flavors are evenly distributed throughout the meat.  Mixing some water into the meat and spice mixture helps to bind it all together.  Feed the mixture slowly into the grinder.

Be cautious, I discovered my meat grinder can throw raw meat about six feet across my kitchen! I found myself having to get the sausage out of my hair, off the wall and off of my clothing when I was finished.  Ha!

Maple Breakfast Sausage

3lbs Pork
2t Kosher Salt
1t fresh ground* Peppercorns
2t fresh ground Sage
2t fresh ground Thyme
1t fresh ground Parsley
1T Brown Sugar
1t fresh grated Nutmeg
1/2t Paprika
1/2t Fennel Seed
1/2C Maple Syrup
1/2C Water

Spicy Italian Sausage

3lbs Pork
4-5 cloves Garlic, minced
1t Kosher Salt
1t fresh ground Peppercorns
1T fresh ground Parsley
1/2T Italian Seasoning
1/2t crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/2t Paprika
1/2C Water

I make my sausage patties kind of large, 3lbs of sausage made about 26 patties.  I then freeze the patties and pull out as many as I need for a meal, many times that meal is brinner for us (breakfast for dinner!).

The Italian sausage became one of the many tasty ingredients on the homemade pizzas for my son’s birthday party.  I divided the sausage into 3 – 1lb packages.  I browned one for pizza and froze the remainder.

The biggest difference between purchasing store bought, ready-made sausage and making it fresh, other than being able to control the ingredients, is the texture.  Store bought sausage is almost rubbery in texture, where the fresh is tender.  Depending on how much trimming you did, you will also notice a difference in the amount of grease produced while you are cooking.  Making your own sausage is fun…so if you have the equipment, give it a try!!

Caps and Bleu Cheese Flatbread

One of my favorite restaurants has an appetizer called Bleu Cheese and Caps which is small sautéed mushroom caps served on a bed of large, crunchy croutons topped with melted bleu cheese.  I order it every time and eat every last bite! I have adapted the recipe and bake it on flatbread.  Preparing the dish on the flatbread allows for it to be served as a finger food that is much easier to eat.

This recipe incorporates two of my very favorite flavors: garlic and rosemary.  It is important to use fresh rosemary for its tenderness.  When dried, rosemary becomes quite brittle and sharp, and it doesn’t soften when used in cooking.  You can use whatever your choice of mushroom is.  There are a variety of edible mushrooms.  For a stronger flavor that compliments the garlic and rosemary, use a baby Portabella or even a Shiitake.  However, white button mushrooms work fine as well.  Mushrooms are not just perfect for adding flavor to dishes, they are also known for many health benefits and are a good source of vitamin D and fiber.  Mushrooms are like mini-sponges though, so do not wash them under water because they will absorb the water and become mushy when cooked.  Just take a damp cloth and wipe them clean.

Caps and Bleu Cheese Flatbread

2 Pieces of Flatbread (pre-packaged or homemade is fine)

2T Olive Oil (I use Garlic Infused Olive Oil from
4-6 Mushroom caps, button or baby Portabellas will work, sliced depending on the size
3-5 Garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4C Gorgonzola Cheese crumbles
1t fresh Rosemary, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lay the flatbread on a baking sheet.  Drizzle heavily with Olive Oil.  Layer the mushrooms, garlic and cheese on the bread.  Sprinkle with chopped rosemary.  Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 12-18 minutes until the bread is toasty, the mushrooms and garlic are soft and the cheese is bubbling.  Place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes to brown the cheese slightly.

Slice, garnish with a sprig of rosemary and serve.  This appetizer is great hot or at room temperature, so it is perfect for parties.