Sunday, August 22, 2010

Snickerberry Pie

My Venture into Berries and Chocolate

Hello Blog Buddies! It's hot outside and nobody wants to heat up their kitchen by baking something. So, I decided to do a summertime dessert for today's posting.

I originally set out to make a Snickers Bar Salad. You know, the "salad" that contained chopped apples and Snickers? I think there are a lot of fruits that pair well with chocolate but an apple is not one of the first fruits that comes to my mind. So, I thought I would do my take on the "salad" and use strawberries and cream cheese. After much thought, I just could not bring myself to call this a SALAD. I'm a purist and that good, 'ol Snickers Bar Salad is nothing but a dessert to me. So, I thought I would dump it into a prepared pie crust and call it a pie instead.

When I was testing this recipe, I wondered:
1) Would the pie set up properly?
2) With all of the sugar in the filling, would the strawberries exude a lot of liquid – making the pie very weepy?
3) How much chunky stuff (the strawberries and Snickers) could the pie support? Too much and it would be too hard to cut and too little and guests would think I was being stingy with good stuff.
4) How large should I chop the chunky stuff. Small chunks are easier to eat but larger ones would have the texture contrast that I was looking for.
5) How chocolaty should the pie be?

To help resolve some of these questions, I made the pie and enlisted the help of co-workers, who are quite helpful in giving me input on recipes that I'm testing. Many of them felt I cut the Snickers too big so I cut them much smaller in the final recipe. One felt it would be tasty with strawberries and pineapple – and I very much agree. However, I would again be worried by how much juice the pineapple would give off since it's a particular juicy fruit. When I took it to work, I hadn't even named the pie. My good friend Sue offered "Snickerberry Pie" as a suggestion for the name and I loved it!

I was careful to use only the best strawberries in this recipe. Later, when I wanted to slice a strawberry for the garnish in the picture, I realized that I only had mammoth strawberries left. As you can in the picture, that stupid mammoth strawberry fills up half the photo! Oh, well. You get the idea. I'm not a sweets eater and I'm definitely not a chocolate lover but I think this pie tastes pretty darn good. On the plus side, it's a CINCH to make. When strawberries are in-season, it makes the pie even better. So, buy some fresh berries then chop down a Snickers tree and make this yummy dessert. Enjoy – and happy snickering!

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Snickerberry Pie
(Printable Version)

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk, chilled
1/3 c lemon juice, chilled
1 8-oz tub whipped topping
3 full-size (or 12 fun-size) Snickers candy bars, cut into small cubes
1 1/2 c diced strawberries, chilled
1 prepared graham cracker or Oreo crust (preferably a larger one)
Hot Fudge Ice Cream Topping (Optional)
Sliced strawberries for garnish (Optional)
Additional Snickers for garnish (Optional)

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sweetened condensed milk and beat until well combined, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the lemon juice and mix. Add the whipped topping and mix until just combined. Using a large spoon, stir in the Snickers and strawberries until incorporated. Spoon into a prepared crust and refrigerate for at least 6 hours before serving. When ready to serve, cut into slices and, if desired, serve with hot fudge ice cream topping and additional sliced strawberries and chopped Snickers.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Homemade Breakfast Sausage

My Venture into Sausage

Pork and I go way back. You know my thunder thighs? They're mostly ham. My blossoming belly? That's primarily bacon. And my roomy patootie? Now that's from all kinds of sausage from all four corners of this planet. Kielbasa, Spanish chorizo, andouille, mortadella, landjager, hot links, bratwurst, bangers, genoa salami, pepperoni, bologna, American hot dogs, snags and lap cheong – I love 'em all! However, good 'ol American breakfast sausage is still one of my favorites.

We all have preferences when it comes to sausage. I don't like sausage that's overly spiced with sage nor overly sweetened with maple. The spices I add to my sausage augment the flavor of the pork but do not overpower it. There is an Amish community about 45 minutes away from where I live called Yoder and they sell their own meats – including some great sausages of different varieties. They have mastered the art of sausage making and their sausage will beat mine any day.

Why make your own sausage? First, it's fast. It takes five minutes to mix up a batch of this sausage. Second, you can make it a LOT cheaper than you can buy it in the store. Third, you can control the fat, sodium, sugar, and nitrate content as well as the kinds of spices and herbs you add so as to better suit your health goals and flavor palate.

Be sure to read the notes at the end of the recipe below. I give several pointers on making your own bulk sausage – even an ultra-lean alternative preparation. You can use this sausage to make patties, sausage gravy, scrapple, facial masks, or anything else you might use bulk sausage in.

I wonder how the pictures turned out. I took two pictures and the batteries in my camera died so I'm recharging them right now as I'm writing this. I took the time to make some homemade biscuits to go with the sausage and I don't want to have to go to all of the effort of setting up a second series of shots when the camera batteries are recharged. If the above picture looks crappy, you'll know why! Sometime, I'll have to post my recipes for my Old Weigh Station Biscuits and Sausage Gravy. Both are very yummy. I'm still really busy at work so that will have to wait for another time.

You want to know a secret? Guess what kind of sausage is my favorite? Vegetarian sausage. YES...vegetarian sausage! I'm big enough to have my own postal code and you'd never believe I liked vegetarian sausage. Love it!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy today's post. You have to give it a try some time since it is so quick and easy-to-make. Enjoy – and happy sausage making!

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Homemade Breakfast Sausage

(Printable Version)

1 tsp table salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1/4 tsp ground marjoram
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp red pepper (optional)
2 tsp water
1 lb ground pork or ground turkey

In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the ground pork or turkey. Whisk until the spices are moistened. Add the ground pork or turkey and stir until thoroughly combined (I use my hands). If you have time, cover the sausage and refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow the flavors to meld. If you don't, the sausage will still taste great.

To cook, form the sausage into patties (or crumble if making sausage gravy). Cook over medium heat until the sausage has nicely browned on both sides.

1) I love this with ground turkey! I prefer ground turkey with a mixture of white and dark meat so the cooked sausage isn't so dry.
2) Buying ground pork from the grocery store is a big time-saver. However, it can sometimes be hit or miss. Commercially ground pork averages about 70% lean meat. Ground pork can come from various parts of the pig so you really never know what you're getting. If you have a grinder or food processor (or a nice butcher!), grind your own pork so you know what cuts are going into the sausage.
3) For an ULTRA low-fat version: Buy some pork tenderloin on sale and trim off all of the fat. I cut it into 1" cubes (1 lb of pork after trimming) and freeze it in single layer on a sheet pan for about 20 minutes or so. The outside should be firm but the inside should be pliable. While the pork is freezing, combine the other ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Sometimes, I substitute vegetable oil for the water (shhhhh!) when using this method so it is not as dry. Transfer the pork to a food processor and dump the herb mixture on top. Whiz the pork (scraping down the bowl as necessary) until it is as finely/coarsely ground as you like. Pork tenderloin is similar to a boneless, skinless chicken breast in fat content so this preparation is great for someone who wants pork sausage on a low-fat diet. As with many other ground, low-fat proteins, this ultra low-fat version can get a little dry and spongy when cooked. The flavor is great if you don't mind a drier sausage with a slightly spongy texture. It's not my favorite way to make it but I offer this as a very healthful alternative.
4) I, personally, like the clean taste of white sugar in sausage. Feel free to substitute brown sugar or maple syrup if that's your thing.
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