The ultimate ‘from scratch’ burger

This blog is all about how to make your own homemade burgers. I don’t only mean the meat part. I mean everything that goes into them: the condiments and the buns as well.  Well,  maybe not the cheese, and you may be buying your own tomatoes and onions too. Nor is there a beer recipe for an accompanying brew.  This is  about everything else: the pattie, the bun, the condiments.

I know that can sound a little silly given what most people do:  head down to the store, grab some buns and some patties, cut up a few tomatoes and cheese. Barbeque. Dollop store bought  ketchup, mustard, and relish on them.

This blog is for those who want to kick up their culinary game and  do it all from scratch. So if you crave the adulation of your foodie friends impressed with your culinary DIY wizardry, then read on. In addition to the meat, I’m including a lentil burger recipe for all the wonderful vegans and vegetarians out there. I’m also covering mayo and dijon mustard, as I know lots of you like those on your burgers too.

It may seem quite daunting but really, its not. Everything except the buns are all made ahead of time. I’ve got other blogs where this is all referenced. However, I’m putting up the recipes here so you can stay on this page and make a batch of 6 burgers plus all the trimmings from what’s here and have a great time. You can dig into my other blogs for more details and refinements.  So let’s go into each of these pieces that makes up the quintessential American burger and look at how each one is done.

Before we start… know this…. I use a weigh scale and everything here is expressed in grams….

The buns (2 hours total time, 20 minutes of hands on time)

Let’s start with the buns because the buns are the only thing you need to really think about the day of. After all, if you’re going to all this trouble, why ruin it with buns a day or two old?  I’ll assume that you’re somewhat familiar with baking but if you’re not that’s okay too. I’ll separate this into a note for those of you comfortable with making breads and another for those of you not so familiar: A fail safe bun recipe. The quickie recipe may be a good option for those of you ‘already bakers’ but pressed for time.

You are already a bread baker

Familiar with bread already? Make up your basic bread dough – whether its yeast, sourdough or something hybrid. Prepare your dough as you usually do. When it comes time to shape, cut the dough into 110g or so chunks and let them rest while you get other things ready. Prepare a cookie sheet big enough to handle your buns. Line it with parchment paper or a silpat liner. Pour out a mound of sesame seed on the counter. Gradually press out the burger bun into the sesame seed and gently press them out until they have reached the desired burger shape. Egg white wash is optional, as is a brushing of oil on the top. Cover with a damp cloth until they have risen  – as you would for your usual bread. Bake for 12 minutes at 450 – you may need to adjust this depending on your local situation, but the buns should register beyond 190 degrees when done.

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Baking is new for you

Basic bun recipe: For 6 burgers, and using instant yeast, do as follows: (total time: 2 hrs from “OK lets do this! to “Wow! They look amazing!” ‘Hands on’ time – about 30 minutes )

Ingredients

  • 250 ml tepid or room temperature water
  • 10g instant bread yeast
  • 390g flour
  • 8g salt

Method

  1. Mix 10g instant bread yeast with 250g of tepid water. (You can use a lot less yeast too – like 3g -, and it will yield a more complex and tasty result, and take a lot longer to rise – like 8 or more hours.)
  2. While the yeast begins to develop, mix the dry ingredients: 390g flour (all purpose, whole wheat, a combination – your choice), 7g salt.
  3. Combine the water/yeast with the flour/salt and knead for about 5 minutes. Cover with a damp towel and leave to rise until it is clearly rising. This will be approximately 45  minutes to an hour depending on the room temperature: the warmer the room, the faster the rise.
  4. Gently remove the dough and knead by stretching the dough and folding over itself. (View this video between the 4:50 and 5:30 mark to see the technique) Do this about 2-3 times, until the dough tightens up. Divide the dough into 6 even pieces and let it rest. Prepare a couple of baking sheets: either oil the pan or use parchment paper.
  5. Pour out a generous quantity of sesame seeds or what ever else you want to have appear on the outside of your burger.
  6. For each pattie, do a final stretch and fold, roll into a ball, press into the sesame seeds, gradually working the pattie until it assumes the size and shape of your ideal burger pattie. An egg white wash or brush with oil is optional and will result in a glistening top.  Place on the cookie sheet and cover with a damp towel. Turn on the oven to 450.
  7. Once they are all on the sheet, leave about 20 minutes with a damp towel on top (for this quantity of yeast. If you decided to go with a lot less yeast and a longer rising time, plan on up to an hour).
  8. Bake at 450 for 12 or so minutes. Do check the buns after 10 minutes as the time will change according to both your oven and how many buns you cook at once. They should register at least 190 degrees when done.
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Buns on parchment paper about to go in oven

The burgers (30  minutes if you are using mince; about 60 minutes if you are grinding raw meat yourself)

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The ‘burger factory’

Burgers are  really  sausages without skins. There are a lot of burger recipes out there that involve bread crumbs, flour, eggs and the like, but when you approach it like a sausage you get a really rich tasting and satisfying burger. I follow Michael Rulhman’s sausage recipe in Ratio as a base. If you use my sausage calculator  – see my blog on sausages – you can use it to adjust your ingredients and quantities. Here is a recipe for 6 x 100g patties:

Mix together:

  • 425g mince
  • 65g fat (i.e. total of 980g that is a combination of meat and fat. This can be bacon grease you have saved, chicken fat from soups, suet, even butter or coconut oil, though meat fats are preferable. Keep in mind there will be some fat already in the mince.)
  • 25g very finely diced onion (about a quarter of a small onion)
  • 8g salt
  • 1g (about 1/8 tsp) pepper
  • 13g pressed garlic (about 1 clove. More can be added.)
  • 60g red wine (about ¼  cup). Beer would work too – maybe a nice porter.

Mix thoroughly.

These quantities assume it’s according to taste and preference.  Typically, patties weigh in around 100g  which is slightly less than a quarter pound. But doing it yourself means that you can do whatever you want – though if you make them too thick and big you may have logistical issues with your bun, and risk them being uncooked on the inside and charred on the outside. I probably wouldn’t go less than 90g nor more than 150g. That all said, a 50g pattie makes a great breakfast sandwich slider, with eggs and cheese.

If you wish to get more creative or change up quantities, check out my sausage calculator

To freeze, shape the mix into patties, individually wrap in wax paper, put in freezer bag and then into the freezer. To defreeze, microwave to raw (1 minute for 1st pattie, 20-30 secs for each additional pattie,  spread out on a plate). AAAND they’re ready for the  bbq.

To serve fresh, cover and refrigerate until needed.

Lentil Burgers (about 1 hr, 40 minutes hands on)

For all the vegans in the crowd, my lentil burger recipe. This is based on a Chef Michael Smith recipe I have messed with, but its definitely different enough for me to call it my own.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • hot sauce/pepper/ to taste
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • optional: salsa to taste
  • Method
  1. cook lentils with 2 cups of water and a little salt
  2. cut and dice onion, saute in oil with a little salt and the herbs/spices
  3. grate 1 large carrot
  4. combine cooked lentils with carrots and onions and simmer, boiling down the extra liquid
  5. add other ingredients and keep simmering until oats have disintegrated and the mix is getting thick and sticky. ALWAYS keep stirring to prevent burning. The idea is to achieve the thick stickiness needed to hold the pattie together when cooking.
  6. shape into patties and refrigerate or freeze, or leave as a mix and form into patties right before cooking.

Freezing tip for burgers  – and anything else like this:

You know how frustrating it is to extract just one frozen pattie, or piece of fish, or bun or what have you from the package in the freezer? Here’s how to avoid that. Spread the wrapped  patties on a baking sheet and put that in the freezer for an hour, then bag them in sealed plastic bags. They will freeze in such a way that they will not stick together when you retrieve them.

Tomato ketchup (20 minutes)

Tomato ketchup is pretty easy.  It’s essentially tomato paste + vinegars, salts, sugars and flavorings. I usually make a batch of green tomato chutney each year, at the height of the green tomato season and for my ketchup I use a cup of that plus a  small 125 ml can of tomato paste. My blog on the chutney describes that preserve, and what I have done here is to distill that recipe so that you have measurements for 1 250 ml jar that you would combine with a single can of tomato paste.

Green tomato chutney 2012 (7)

setting up for green tomato chutney

Green tomato chutney: 1 single jar (the calculated weight is given, along with an approximation of how much of the fruit)

Ingredients

  • half a green or a fairly dry tomato (93g)
  • ¼ onion (46g)
  • ½  tart apple  – like a granny smith (46g)
  • 1 tbs raisins or currants (5g)
  • 1 clove of garlic mashed and pressed
  • 1 tsp of finely minced fresh ginger (1g). (really fresh good quality garlic and ginger powder can also be  used)
  • 5g salt
  • a pinch each of cloves & turmeric
  • 23g brown sugar
  • 28g vinegar

Method

If you want a jar of chutney, roughly chop the tomatoes, onion and apple using the pulse function of a food processor until they are the size and consistency you like. Add in the other ingredients. Leaving it for a week or two will help meld the flavors.

For the ketchup, puree all the fruit and vegetables, then add and mix in the sugar, vinegar, spices and a small 125ml can of tomato paste.

Relish (10 minutes)

Relish essentially is pureed pickles plus sugar. If you taste commercial relish you will see the truth of that very quickly. It’s also salty so there’s sweet, salt and vinegar and that’s why we love it so much.

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Pickles & sugar is all you need.

To prepare the relish, weigh out the pickles and then add 10% of the pickle  weight  in sugar and 10% of the pickle weight in the pickle vinegar brine.  Although there is already salt in the brine, I suggest adding a little more – to taste: 3% of the pickle weight. Using the pulse of your food processor, chop until it is the desired consistency. You can experiment with other additions: garlic, spices, apple come to mind.

An example of this would be: 300g pickles, 30g sugar, 30g pickle brine, 9g salt.

Mustard

Hot dog mustard – AKA yellow mustard (20 minutes)

I’ve been having a lot of fun with mustard lately as you can see in some of my other blogs. Recently I came across a recipe for hot dog mustard by Joshua Bousel. He has you mix yellow mustard powder with water, and add  salt, vinegar and some turmeric and garlic, then cook it briefly for about 5 minutes. The recipe here gives you almost a cup and it’s also weighed in grams which is the way I like to do business.

Ingredients (Joshua’s recipe with metric weights yielding a cup of mustard)

  • 150ml water
  • 35g dry ground mustard
  • 60g white distilled vinegar
  • 2g all purpose flour
  • 4g kosher salt
  • Large pinch turmeric
  • Pinch of garlic powder
  • Pinch of paprika

Method

  1. Place water, mustard, vinegar, flour, salt, turmeric, garlic powder, and paprika in a small saucepan over medium heat and whisk until smooth.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Allow mustard to cool, transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Dijon mustard (10 minutes, but it should have a week or two for the flavours to meld)

My standby basic Dijon mustard is as follows – but check my blog for other options

Ingredients

  • 75g (combination of) yellow mustard powder, crushed yellow mustard seed, crushed brown mustard seed. (I keep a coffee grinder for grinding spices and nothing else)
  • 75g apple juice
  • 75g apple cider vinegar
  • 3g salt

Method

Mix these together to yield a 250ml jar. It will be quite hot. If you want it calmer, put the mix in a pot and heat it up, tasting until the heat is at a level you prefer. Leave it at least overnight for the mustard to absorb the liquid.

Mayonnaise (10-20 minutes depending on how much persuasion the emulsion takes)

Some people love mayo on their burgers. For you, here’s mayo. This is Michael Ruhlman’s take on it, as described in his inspirational Ratio book.

This will yield 1 cup of mayo, so I usually double it as it is tricky and labour intense. You spend the same time and labour making a double batch.

Ingredients (1 cup mayo)

  • Beat in this exact order.
  • 1 egg yolk at room temperature
  • 1 tsp water
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp salt (but taste at the end)
  • 1 cup oil: You want a really mild almost tasteless oil, as it will impart whatever flavour it has to the mayo. DO NOT therefore use cheap, harsh  olive oil. My preference is grapeseed oil.

Method

Start with the largest bowl in your possession and a good big wisk. Have all ingredients prepared beforehand as once you start whisking you are committed to the end. Also strategize and position the bowl so that it is held in place while one hand whisks while the other pours. Some ideas about this are: sitting and wedging the bowl between your tummy and the table edge, or using a rolled towel to sit the bowl in.

Whisk until emulsified:

  • 1 large egg yolk at room temperature with 1 tsp water at room temperature. The successful beating of the water and egg yolk is critical to everything else that happens. If this does not emulsify, the rest of it won’t either. If this is proving difficult, make sure your egg is relatively fresh, and also that everything is at room temperature.
  • Keep whisking and add in this order:
  • lemon juice, vinegar, salt. Add these slowly, making sure your emulsion holds. (I like using both lemon juice and vinegar. It wants the lemony taste, but with a little vinegar kick. )
  • Add the oil in a slow stream to the whisk.
  • Optional: 1 tsp – or 2 of Dijon mustard. Indeed you can add whatever you like at this point to make your own unique artisan mayo.

If you mess it up, and it breaks, pour all the mayo into the oil cup, and start over. Add a teaspoon of water and another yolk and try again, whisking until emulsified. Slowly add in the broken mayo, whisking continuously.

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The assembly

Burger all done!

The reward

Well – That’s it. Sure it would be a massive undertaking to do all of this on one day. And you are also likely to be serving other stuff as well  -snacks, dips,  salads , desserts, etc. Just keep in mind that everything but the bread can – indeed should be – easily be prepared ahead of time, and the buns can be done while you are doing other mealtime prep.

Enjoy your burgers and all the praise & awe from your gathered friends!

The mustard experiment

A few months ago I was talking about mustard with Laura of Cottage Country North – a wonderful and imaginative jam maker in Owen Sound. We were talking about how strong mustard is and that it always seems to be so much stronger when its first made. All mustard makers know this to be true. Still some mustards are milder than others. Why? Something she heard was that the initial and subsequent strength of the mustard is dependent on the initial temperature of the liquid added to it. Apparently higher temperatures decrease the volatility of the mustard so this experiment will test this.

A little bit of research:

Yes! You get more than a recipe here. I wanted to find out a bit more about what makes mustard tick  – or rather why mustard makes US tick. If you want to delve deeper into the hidden truth of the mustard plant click on the links and go on a journey.

What is mustard?  Mustard is a member of the brassica family  – same as cauliflour, broccoli, and brussel sprouts. Its leaves are eaten in salads, and its seeds are made into prepared mustard. There are 2 varieties of mustard, white (Sinapis hirta) and black (Brassica juncea) In terms of providing your daily dietary needs, it is particularly blessed with phosphorus, though you would need to eat an awful lot of it to get there.

Where is it grown? Canada produces the most mustard in the world  – 27% of the world’s crop.

How does it work? The seeds themselves have no heat on their own. Its only when water comes into play and interacts with the sugars (sinigrin or sinalbin) and the enzymes (myrosin) in the seed  that the resulting reaction  releases their powerful taste.  This also is going to happen if you put it on your tongue, (don’t) or put it into your cooking which will have water that does its catalystic action.

What factors affect the heat and taste of mustard?

Heat of liquid: the cooler the liquid, the hotter the mustard. That’s what this little experiment is all about.

Water/vinegar: Mustard will always eventually lose its pungency. However, the presence of an acid will halt its decline. AnnMarie MacKinnon recommends adding a vinegar once the hotness has dissipated to a point you want.

Type:  Of the two, black mustard is stronger. Putting it all together, fine grinding black mustard, making a thick paste of water, letting it sit 15 minutes, then adding some vinegar to ‘fix it’ should result in a mustard that will leave some searing body memories in your nasal cavities.

How is it used medicinally? Canada’s First Nations peoples added it to animal fat for joint and sprain issues (Rodale Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs). Currently mustard plasts are used to relieve chest congestion. Place the mustard plaster in a cloth and apply the cloth to the skin. Do NOT place the mustard  directly on the skin. Always remove it if irritation is felt.

My process:Mustard experiment (1)

I’ll be making up 3 250ml jars. Each one will have my typical mustard ratio 1:1:1 mustard/apple juice/apple cider vinegar, each at 75 grams, with 3 grams of salt (see my previous mustard blog). I’ve decided to do just three jars because that should show clearly the difference if there is one. The vinegar/apple juice poured into the first jar will be at room temperature  -it was a little warmer than that  –  25 degrees. The second liquid addition  will be at 60 degrees, while the liquid for the third jar will be where it is at a rolling  boil. I will do a  taste comparison after a day, after two days and after a week.Mustard experiment (4)

In order to keep things really consistent: 225 grams of dried mustard, 9 grams of salt mixed in. Likewise, the wet ingredients:  225 grams of apple juice and 225 grams of apple cider vinegar. Before the pot is heated, 150 grams of the apple cider vinegar/apple juice for the first mustard jar is mixed in. The remaining liquid was heated to 60 degrees then added. Since there was considerable evaporation occurring with the boiling, additional apple juice and apple cider vinegar were added to ensure there was at least 150g to pour into the 3rd. jar.  The jars were mixed, labeled and stored at room temperature.

Results:

Day  1

25 degree jar: Really very hot, but not inedible

60 degree jar: There was a slight coolness compared to the first jar

100 degree jar: the coolness was more pronounced, but it was still similar to the room temperature jar.

Day  2

25 degree jar: The heat is immediate and intense; it will tend to clear out your sinuses  but dissipates.

60 degree jar: initially seemed a little mild, but then the heat struck, especially at the back of the throat.

100 degree jar: initially mild, then it gets hotter, and then dissipates.

Day  

(These results are still to come. I’ll update the post in a week. )

25 degree jar: Its still quite hot – not much change in the week. Its turning out to be a quite classic mustard.

60 degree jar: there is not a lot of difference between this and the 25 degree batch. This is slightly cooler.

100 degree jar: Again its a little mellower than the other 2, but its still good and strong.

Next steps:

Although the liquid temperature did have an effect, there were other issues at play here that may be more profound – notably making a water paste first, then fixing the vinegar when it has achieved the correct heat level.

  • prepare a jar in which the mustard paste has been boiled briefly
  • prepare a jar where the juice/water is added first, then add the vinegar once the heat dissipates, making note of the time.
  • Experiment to compare the relative heat of the black vs. white seeds.

Some other take aways from this:

  • Rodale’s ‘double hot  mustard’ from Rodale Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs: boil 1/3c cider vinegar, ⅔ cup cider, 2 tbs honey, 1 tbs red peppers, ⅛ tsp tumeric, 1 tsp salt. (Based on information  here, this would be even hotter if it were not boiled.)
  • Joshua Bousel’s hot dog mustard recipe: 1/4cup water, 4 tbs dry yellow mustard, 3 tbs white vinegar, ½ tsp all purpose flour, ¼+tsp salt, ⅛ tsp turmeric, pinch garlic powder, pinch paprika
  • AnnMarie MacKinnon’s hot mustard: 1/8 cup (30mL) whole black mustard seeds, 1/8 cup (30mL) apple cider vinegar, ½ cup (125mL) ground mustard, ½ tsp (2mL) salt, ¼ cup (60mL) additional apple cider vinegar, cold * 1 Tbsp (15mL) honey, Enough cold water to smooth out the mustard. Be sure to click the link and check her process. 
  • Although I still really like my ratio approach to mustard, I can now see how my outlook can be broadened: how the heat can be better regulated through a combination of the type of mustard, the temperature, and the process – both boiling the mustard and adding the water before adding the vinegar at the desired heat level.

My DIY week

Sometimes I wonder what kind of monster I have created in committing myself to make everything from scratch wherever possible. Things have gone from a novelty to dependence, and I seem to be doing more and more of it. I do recognize that the only reason I can is because I work out of my home. If I had a 9-5 job, I could probably do the bread and yogourt, and that would be about it. Yet, I also know that if I planned it right I could likely do it. I could also train family members to pick one item to take responsibility doing as well.

I’m not buying less food as a result, but I am buying cheaper, and in considerable bulk: a 10 or 20 kilo bag of flour, or a 4 litre 3-bag of milk. I’m definitely not dependent on running out to a grocery store for a last minute ‘must have’.

When I look back on it, it all began with tomato sauce 25 years ago. A friend said, “why don’t you do it?” and the local Portuguese hardware store was more than pleased to help me get set up. I’m still using the same manual grinder I used to.

A week in the DIY life

So lets take a look and see what I have done in the last week, with links to blogs I’ve published on these items in the past. Perhaps you may be inspired to try out a few of them.

Bread: I’ve made bread a few times in the last week, including this morning. I use my own google sheet ‘app’ for sorting out my quantities, and I now have my default infallible sourdough loaf down.

Ketchup: Last Thursday, I did up some ketchup. My go-to ketchup recipe is pretty simple: 250ml of green tomato chutney, pureed with a 6oz can of tomato paste.

Yogourt: I make yogourt about once a week. I’ve noticed that my starter just keeps getting better and better. We were away for the weekend so I made it when we got back on Sunday night.

Granola: is one of those items everyone has come to depend on just ‘being there’. I get reminders when the jar gets low. This morning there was none, so time to make up a new batch.

Dog food: I just put out my dog food post before this  – and that is this afternoon’s task. I’ve got to put together the meat portion of it.

Pasta: Although we do have a jar of old fashioned dried pasta, if I am cooking it for  a family dinner, I’ll always make it from scratch. Tonight, my wife will be in need of some serious comfort food – so pasta, it will likely be.

What’s ahead?

Last weekend I bought some ‘cultured vegetables’ from the market, and I can’t wait to do my own. I’ll be posting about this shortly.  I also want to make up another batch of puff pastry and croissants. There’s a couple of bunches of rhubarb defying me in the fridge. I don’t know if I will do jam, chutney or both there.

When I think back on it, I would not do it any differently. I know I would feel I had let myself down if I bought a bag of granola or a loaf of bread. I also know that I can’t complain either. My family members would look at me and say, “Well just go and buy it”.

I’m curious to see who else out there approaches their food this way. I’m sure there are though I don’t know anyone in my immediate circles. Drop me a line and send me to YOUR blog!

Burns

 

DIY organic dog food

The background

The other week I took my dog to the vet for her annual checkup. She was pronounced in excellent health: great coat,  excellent teeth,  nothing wrong with her at all. Then I disclosed that I make all of her food from scratch, its all raw, and give her raw (frozen) marrow bones. Upon hearing this, she looked concerned she said, “You may not be giving her everything she needs and terms of vitamins and minerals.”

I responded with “Didn’t you just say this dog was in perfect health?” to which she replied “You never know. Commercial dog food is formulated so that that stuff is all taken care of”. It was better not to engage. I was not going to see her for a year. Needless to say I have not taken her advice to give extra vitamin supplements and dog is still in excellent health.

Some philosophical considerations

I want to go back a little bit and explain how I arrived at the diet that I’m giving my dog. It started with our last pooch who in her dying days, gradually gave up on eating.In response to that I started giving her offering her better and better food. This briefly worked but ultimately it was her time to go.

This started me thinking about what is appropriate for the family pet in this day and age. We expect our pets to be cheaper to feed than we ourselves are, yet so often people agonize about the minutiae of their pet’s diet in a way they don’t about their own. I have a feeling they have been beguiled by the pet food industry.

So one has to ask: Is the pet a member of your family? If the answer is “yes” then the next questions are:

  • What entitlements around food does this involve?
  • Does one apply the same level of food care to your pet as you would to the members of your family?
  • What if anything should be the per person cost differential?

While these are questions someone contemplating this should answer, my answers were essentially that the family dog is entitled to the same as the humans, and that the cost should really be less.

What to feed

I did some research on the net not a lot but enough to find out what ratios people tended to do with their pets and I arrived at a 1:1:1 carbs/meat/vegs ratio. I talked this over with another vet way back when when I was first beginning it and he suggested that I try a 20:40:40 ratio (meat:carbs:vegs) and I use this ratio currently. I did go through some shifts in how I prepare it, however, and hopefully my experimentations will save others some trouble.

I began by making a rich vegetable soup using marrow bones. This was, frankly, time and electricity consuming. One day, I decided to grate raw vegetables instead. The result?  a perkier dog. I’ve never looked back on that one.

I also initially cooked the meat. That was my vet’s idea as he said you can never tell where its come from and what its been through, so its safer to cook it.  However, I do know where my meat comes from. I am very fortunate to have a butcher up in Grey County (Ontario) where I go frequently. Country Meadow Meats goes hoof to table: they are a beef and lamb farm that butchers their own grass raised, antibiotic free, animals. Often I even know when the animal I’m buying from was butchered. Following the success of the raw vegetables, I decided to try raw meat as well – and again noticed a slight but none the less discernable rise in energy. She’s really as energetic as one could possibly wish a lab to be.

For carbs, its whatever is going, from rice, to homemade bread.  I always have a jar of organic brown rice on the go in the fridge, be it for humans or dogs.

Where’s the beef?

My monthly meat order costs me about $50-60. It consists of a beef tongue and heart, 1kilo of liver, and about 2.5kilos of beef trim. There’s lots of organ meat in that, as well as muscle and fat.

How much?

Our pooch is a black lab weighing about 30kilos. In terms of quantities, I settled on 100 grams of meat 200 grams of vegetables and 200 grams of rice per meal, twice day. This seems right: she’s staying on her her weight, is looking wonderful and healthy.

Time commitments in food prep

It is true that scooping out a cup of kibble is fast. Doing what I am doing is slower. I would also argue that having fewer vet appointments over her life from a more natural and healthier diet more than makes up for the time spent in the prep. The meat prep takes a little over an hour and a half a  month, and you need a meat grinder. The vegetables take about 15 minutes a week, using a large food processor with a grating wheel. The rice likewise takes about 15 minutes a week of your actual time.

Organic or not?

I would absolutely recommend using organic meat, vegetables and grains. You do not want your pet ingesting the various hormones and antibiotics found as a result of large agri business food lot meat processing. You do not want spray residue hiding in the leaves of a cabbage, and since you are not washing your veggies, you do not want any insecticide or hormonal residue on any of your other vegetables. In the case of meat , this is where costs can rise, and why its important to make a great relationship with your butcher. Much of the organ meat is a lot cheaper than even the cheaper cuts, and you want to get the absolute cheapest cut you can. My request is usually for ‘trim’ or else ‘what you would usually use to make sausages or patties’.

The prep

Still interested in reading on? Lets get to recipes.

Meat:

  1. Weigh the meat
  2. Divide the weight by 60 to get the amount of salt to add. (Use grams. Its easier!)
  3. Cut the meat into chunks that will go through your meat grinder, and sprinkle the salt over it. Mix it up –
  4. Portion the meat into sufficient quantities for one day each. I’ve found it most efficient to make them into large sausages wrapped in wax paper. These are easily cut in half, and you can then easily tell how much supply you have left. Most of this goes into the freezer, and is taken out a day or two before consumption.
  5. The grinder I use is a Cuisinart home grinder. Its not the best out there, but for my needs its fine.
Meat ready for grinding

Meat ready for grinding

Meat grinder setup

Meat grinder setup

Rice:

Make 3 cups dry (add 6 cups of water) organic brown rice, with a pinch of salt in it.

Vegetables:

There’s no getting around it. Dogs don’t like veggies. A carrot may look initially bone like and interesting, but in the end, its not. So you do need to make it so that the vegetables mixed in with the carbs and meat make the whole affair palatable to a hungry pooch. I weigh out 2 kilos of what I have: carrots, cabbage, broccoli ends, kale stems – anything that has good roughage and constitutes a decent variety. There is no need to peel or wash them. (just think of what goes in their mouths on a daily basis) I gradually mix in 40g (i.e.2%) of salt to help the taste along. Having a good sized food processor with a grating blade is essential. This mix lasts about 5 days and takes about 15 minutes to put together.

2 Kilos carrots cabbage

The 'slaw'

The ‘slaw’

Extensions

I frequently give the dog leftovers as part of her dinner (but always in her bowl, always as part of her regular dinner). These are inevitably things that are still fine to eat, but its clear none of the humans will consume them on short order. You could say that the dog is like the first order of composting. So lets say I have a grain casserole that is in this category. I would weigh it into the dog’s dish, and then add rice until the overall carb complement is at 200g. Or lets say that the leftover is a mix of grains and vegetables. Same idea: weigh it, then add in more or less even amounts of the slaw and rice until it is 400g.

Similarily with meat: Lets say you are preparing a chicken soup with bones from the roast. There’s inevitably all kinds of little bits of meat left from a roast chicken, both before and after the soup. I package it all in 100g packages and put it in with the rest of the dog food. I tend to mix it with the raw beef though as my sense is that once it has become soup much of its nutrition is lost.

Bones

Marrow bones are an equally important part of the equation. Not only are they going to be your doggie’s favorite chew toy, they are wonderful for their teeth and are a great source of essential minerals and nutrients. As our vet noted, her teeth were perfect after a year of raw marrow bones. I understand the issue of raw or cooked is contentious, as with the meat. I would argue that this is what they would be doing naturally, and as long as you trust your butcher and know their practices, raw will ultimately be better.

Consider it at least

So there you have it. Although it takes more time than your kibble, I’d argue that by doing this you  will know exactly what goes into its food, and be assured that it is getting the best organic, naturally prepared food you can possibly give, for about the same cost as cheap kibble. Once you get into the rhythm of it, and can plan ahead, it becomes a part of your regular routine. You also won’t be part of that enormous pet industry that is out there.

Most importantly, and based solely on my own empirical evidence, you will have a considerably healthier and  content best friend.

Your dog will always be there!

Your dog will always be there!

My bread baking log

Over the last number of months I have been refining my bread baking application. I’m definitely not an app developer – its just a humble Google sheet that helps me figure out how I want to do my bread.

If I bake bread, I usually use a sourdough preferment – so this involves that extra piece of calculation that results in a preferment. But I also will do bread from a 166% starter, and albeit rarely, from yeast. I also use up excess starter in making crackers and pancakes.

The APP sheets are formatted so that someone with an android phone with the Google Sheets App can view it easily on the phone.

How it works:

Open the sheet. You will see that the tabs are either LOG or APP tabs. Use the APP tab to figure out your quantities. You are only allowed to enter data in the highlighted cells. By adjusting the amount of starter, the starter ratio and the hydration, you can control how much bread you want, at what hydration.
If you do not like the result, just overwrite it next time you bake.
If you DO like the result and wish to replicate it, then go to the LOG sheet beside it. You will find that your entries on the APP sheet are in the 2nd row of the LOG sheet. Copy the whole row. Go to the next available row and select ‘paste special’. Then select ‘paste values only’. That will copy the data from that loaf you wish to remember without reference to the APP sheet.
I suspect that a few people might wind up reading this, and some will try it. If you like it, I would suggest making a copy of it (either as a google or an excel sheet) and then messing with it any way you like.
Here is the link…… https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Pgn0Glm5jTwAY3wuuJPCrMUB0EAK5i4QEH-r8jmfGnE/edit#gid=1960123605

I definitely welcome your comments on it. I’ve used it for a few months now, and finally I find I am not making little tweaks here and there.

My Sausage factory

A few weeks ago I looked in my freezer and noticed it was getting a tad empty particularly of burgers and sausages. Time to order more meat!

A little thought and a phone call to my butcher – and about $200 later I’m swimming in sausages once more. Or rather  – the meat to make the sausages with. I ordered about 3 kilos each of lamb, pork and beef. To be fair, the sausage meat itself – lamb, beef and pork cost $100.

This is about the 4th or 5th time I’ve gone on a sausage making binge. The difference this time is that I’m doing it over a few days and that I have developed a useful little spreadsheet to help me plan out my sausage making. Its more than just the meat, you see. Sausages become wonderful through other flavors: salt, pepper, garlic, wine in particular. I’m using Ruhlman’s sausage recipe for basic go-to garlic sausages for my base, though whereas he specifies a sausage ratio of 25%  fat, but I leave that choice to the maker. Feedback from family suggested this was way too much – mine are at about 15%.  Fat adds flavour, but some want their burgers and sausages leaner. His Ratio book was my inspiration to get started in this – and he’s such an excellent writer: (from p.135 of Ratio: “Sometimes I wonder if God didn’t create garlic specifically for sausage only to find out later that it went with a lot of other things too…”)

In this blog I’ll try to remember what it was like the first time out and imagine you are in the same situation. I’m also going to share and explain my calculator  – don’t know why I have not done this before!

What you need

So let’s imagine you are just starting out in sausages. Here is what you need:

  • A meat grinder with a sausage stuffing attachment. I started with a KitchenAid stand mixer with the grinder attachment. The retaining cap is made of plastic and it blew off after possibly 20 hours of use. I now use a cheap $100 Cuisinart meat grinder which is solid and metal but has a weaker motor than the KitchenAid.
  • a hefty sharp knife. I use an old, massive 10” Wusthoff. It’s not my usual light, nimble Japanese knife – but it works really well cutting through big hunks of meat.
  • a digital scale
  • lots of room on your counter
  • a microwave
  • several really large bowls
  • freezer bags
  • vinyl gloves. It can get messy. If you are averse to meat and fat caking your hands, use gloves.
  • wax paper – if you are making patties (because really, a patty is a sausage without the casing).
  • optional: a stand mixer. Beyond using a meat grinder attachment, you are likely going to want to mix your sausage mix thoroughly before stuffing. This can also be done by hand.

The basic food stuff to buy:

  • Meat. I don’t know a lot about meat cuts but perhaps I should. My usual request of the butcher goes like this: “I’m going to make my own sausage, so I’d like about 3 kilos of what you would use yourself (but specify the kind of meat you want).”
  • Sausage skins: These are made from the thin but strong intestinal skin. Buy these from the butcher. You will need about a package for every 3 or so kilos of meat.
  • Salt: Use sea salt or kosher salt. This is indispensable for flavour.
  • Fat: Sausages need between 10%-25% fat, as noted above. I save all mine from soup stocks, bacon cooking, other sausage cooking. Nothing goes to waste. I also roughly trim off any big hunks of fat from the meat so that my fat content is more truly accurate. if you really have no fat, get that too at the butcher.
  • Red wine gives your basic sausage a nice body and complexity
  • Garlic. Even if its not a “garlic sausage” it still needs a minimum amount of garlic.
  • Cayenne or hot sauce because all sausages should have a bit of heat.
  • Black Pepper is important too in the general mix.

These ingredients are what’s needed for a basic sausage. Its your base mix.

Other stuff to flavour it: herbs, spices, dry fruit, nuts even, other fruit, cheese. This is where you can get truly creative. That said, the more different flavours, the more intense the work.

Getting started:

  • Think about what you want to create. Let your palate’s imagination run wild. Once you have an idea, check out my sausage calculator. This is a sharable editable google sheet. If it gets messed up, I have a copy of it, no worries. Just email me if you accidentally mess it up. If you think the spreadsheet could be useful or if you want to mess with it and change up some of the basic formulas, I would suggest you download it as an excel sheet. If you come up with a better version, please let me know.
  • Prepare your work surface. Start spotless and clean. Set up your grinder and a bowl to catch the ground meat in.
  • I would also suggest you check out sausage making on YouTube.

Let’s do it!

  • Ideally your sausage meat should be at about 1-2 degrees celsius – slightly above freezing. This will mean you can refreeze it safely. Check my blog on this issue from a couple of years ago.
  • The sausage skins now need to go into very salty water. This loosens them up and makes them easier to work with. (1 skin package for approximately 3kilos of meat)
  • Weigh your meat and enter the weight in the sausage calculator spreadsheet
  • Next, if you want to make a variety of different sausages or burgers, use the table in the sheet below the initial information entry to sort out what is going to go into each one.  The spreadsheet will show either my exmple or someone else’s use of it. Please overwrite these and input your own. It’s set up so that only the yellow highlighted cells can be changed.
  • Cut the meat into big thin strips that can go through the feeder of your meat grinder.
  • Add the salt, pepper, and garlic required per your meat weight on the sheet.
  • Weigh and add in the ‘extra’ ingredients
  • Give a final check to make sure your grinder works well, make sure you have a fairly fine grinding plate (the round piece with the holes in it)

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    This is a fine mesh coverplate.

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The basic mix before it all goes through the grinder.

 

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Let the fun begin! Note that the grind is really fine.

 

  • Start grinding!
  • Somewhere in the middle of the process, add the wine, and mix.
  • Add extra ingredients at the end. Be aware of what happens with things like onions. If you put onions through the grinder, you get onion puree. If you dice them and add them separately  you get diced onions in your mix. The same applies to any fruit or vegetable addition you use.
  • Depending on how much you are making, and the order you mix your sausage mix, you may want to use a stand mixer to thoroughly mix it all together.

Tasting

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My little taster. 20 secs in the microwave. You can add but you can’t take away.

Its important to taste your product. I put about a half teaspoon of mix in a small ramekin and microwave for 20 seconds. Taste for the ingredients you want to profile, beginning with salt, pepper and garlic. Then focus on the other tastes you want to bring out. Just remember: you can add but you can’t take away.

Patties

Think of a patty as a sausage with a different shape and no skin. If you are making patties, cut a number of sheets of waxed paper (the calculator will tell you how many based on your inputs) and spoon the required amount of mix. Roughly shape them, wrap, bag, label, and freeze. I prefer to wrap patties individually, as that’s how they are usually consumed around here.

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I usually weigh them for consistency

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They are wrapped in biodegradable wax paper. Try to keep it as dry as possible so they don’t stick to each other.

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The finished package. The labelling isn’t elegant, but it will convey the message when I am on the prowl in freezer. Don’t try to put a sticky label on the outside of the bag. It will come off.

 

Stuffing

Once you are happy with your mix, its time to stuff them.

  • Your skins should be nicely loose by now, so gently feed it on to your sausage stuffer and mount this on the grinder according to manufacturers directions. Feed out about a few cm of skin and start feeding in the sausage mix. Leave the end of the skin open to allow excess air to escape. It takes a bit to get the hang of it at first.
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In the middle of threading the skin onto the sausage stuffer. Make sure its been soaking in salty water, and gently thread ALL of the skin on. If you have extra at the end, thread it back onto the plastic it came with, and refreeze.

 

  • Once your mix is all done you should have a nice long sausage. Cut it off at the grinder, leaving about 20cm clear. Tie this end as close to the end as you can, make sure all the air is out, and now start twisting them off according to how long/big you want them. My personal preference is to prepare freezer bags of 3-4 sausages at a time.
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I’m definitely an amatuer, no question. For pros, they come out fast and perfect. I have to work at mine – massaging until the shape is consistent and what I am looking for. I recognize that I will never really have the technique completely down. I just don’t do it often enough.

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But…. I can at least get them to look like sausages in the end!

 

  • Once done, bag, label, and freeze, or enjoy.

Meatballs

Meatballs are another great DIY meat product to make while you are at it with sausages. Characteristically, beyond the basic sausage mix, they need breadcrumbs – about 20% the weight of the meat, and eggs at about 10% the weight of the meat. You can add whatever other flavoring you want to do with them.

One of the problems with meatballs if you put them into a freezer bag and slide them into the freezer is that they will be difficult to separate from each other. To work around this problem, put them on a baking sheet on parchment paper and then slide them into the freezer for about an hour. This will freeze them without them sticking to each other so that when you put them in your storage bag they will come apart easily when you are ready for them.

Bon Appetit!

I think I’m going to have enough sausages, patties and meatballs to last about 3 months. Using medium sized freezer bags, they easily accommodate both single serve and mealtime opportunities.

Perfect homemade pasta every time

This is going to be my shortest blog ever.

But it will show how you can make perfect homemade pasta each and every time.

Here is the trick. I’ll assume you have a pasta maker already.

Start by weighing your eggs (not your flour). 1 egg per person eating your wonderful ooh! and aahhh! homemade pasta.

Next divide the weight of the eggs by .6. This will be the weight of flour to use.

So if you are making pasta for 4 and your eggs weigh out to 215g, then 215/.6 = 358 which would be how much flour to add. The more precise you can be, the better will be your result.

This quite precise ratio will give you the precise amount of hydration to your dough so that when you put it through your pasta roller, it will be perfect. No extra flour needed, no extra water, no stickiness, no dryness either.

If you want to make something like spinach pasta, weigh the spinach or whatever it is, and add it to the weight of the eggs, because vegetables are 90% water so something like spinach would go on the wet side of the equation.

Finally this post assumes you know how to cook said pasta in a great big pot of quite salty water…..