St. Mary’s Sausagefest

Out here in north Texas, when the Fall hits we get to take our choice of festivals every weekend.  From cooking competitions to fundraisers and heritage celebrations, we get a decent selection of weekend activities within  a quick drive for just about anyone in all of the north part of the state.  One of the best you can find is right in Young County held every second full weekend in November.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church started making homemade sausage in the 1970’s after one of their parishioners who had a German family recipe for sausage came up with the idea for a fundraiser.  Originally, they harvested the pork in the local fields as hog hunters would provide the meat.  As it grew, though, the church had to go to a more reliable source of pork.  Decades later, the annual fundraiser lives strong, and the entire church turns out to lend a hand to pull off the impressive event.  The church will feed 1,200-1,500 people hundreds of pounds of homemade sausage made over a weekend.  Named “Sausagefest” (funny name acknowledged), folks from all over flock to the church to eat lunch on Sunday and buy the uncooked sausage for their freezer so they can have it all year long (or at least until summer when they run out). Here’s a little tour behind the scenes.

The week before the festival, the pork roasts arrive in boxes.

The roasts are then taken out of the boxes and cut up into small chunks by volunteers.

The church has a large commercial kitchen in its annex where all the magic occurs.

The chunks of pork are loaded into large tubs, which are stored in a refrigerated storage container, retrofit with a large air conditioner.

The chunks are then fed thru a commercial grinder not once but twice.  The pork is dusted with the special secret seasonings that includes cayenne pepper and garlic before the first grind.  The smell is overpowering when you walk into the kitchen.

There’s a guard over the grinder to avoid injury.

The pork after the first grind:

And after the second grind:

And here’s the grind:

Then the casings have to be filled.  What are casings?  Well…if you don’t know, it’s probably best I don’t explain it.  Let’s just say that the sausage is all natural.  The casings are soaked in warm water:

Then loaded onto PVC pipes so they are easier to push onto the sausage filler…

And then the casings are filled.

The sausage filler is pretty ingenious.  You load the barrel with the the ground pork

Which is powered by a water hose attached to a water faucet outside.  It’s a pretty cool system…the pressure on the water builds up, you slowly release the water into the barrel and the sausage shoots out of the cap:

The casing is loaded on the spout and the pressure inflates the casings with delicious spiced pork.

Want to see it in action?  Check it:

The sausage is then moved to tubs…

…and then hung in the refrigerated storage container to cure for a couple days before it’s cooked.  The sausage is hung on 1″x1″ boards that run the width of the container.

Outside the kitchen is a commercial smoker with 12 rotating racks.  On Sunday morning, the sausage will go on and given the perfect combo of heat and Texas smoke from wood cut down and seasoned locally, usually a combo of oak and mesquite.

And lo, we have sausage.

It’s a delicious bite all the way thru with the perfect blend of spice and flavor.  The ladies in the church also make a special secret recipe of sweet mustard, as well as fresh cobblers for the crowd.

And there you have it…St. Mary’s Sausagefest. You don’t want to miss it.

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Trav’s Corner: Cream of Hatch Chile Soup

First, assemble the ingredients:

1 cup Hatch chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded & diced

¾ cup chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 roma tomatoes, diced

1 large avocado, diced

½ cup chopped cilantro

Juice of 1 lime

2 cups half & half

1 cup chicken broth

In a large saucepan, sauté the onion in some olive oil & butter until soft and translucent. Add the chiles and garlic and sauté briefly. Do not allow the garlic to brown. Add the chicken broth and bring to a rolling boil for two minutes. Add the half & half, lime juice, tomato, avocado, and ½ the cilantro. Bring to a simmer for 30 minutes. Put into bowls and serve with a sprinkle of cilantro and a twist of lime.

Trav’s Corner: Pork Loin Roulade Stuffed w/Crawfish in a Cajun Butter Sauce

Our South Texas chef buddy, Trav, checks in with another great recipe. For more info on Trav’s culinary offerings, services and contact info, visit his Facebook page.

1 pork loin section

8 oz crawfish tails

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 onion, chopped

Chopped parsley

Celery seed

Old Bay

White wine


First, make the filling. Drain the crawfish tails and sauté with the onion and bell pepper in a little olive oil. Season with Old Bay and celery seed. When the onion is translucent, deglaze with a little white wine, squeeze in a little lemon juice and reduce til the liquid is almost gone. Remove from heat, toss in the parsley and set aside.


Next, make a roulade with the pork loin. Using a long, sharp knife, start cutting the loin the loin about an inch from the bottom, like so:


Continue cutting, turning as you get to the sides, maintaining a constant thickness until you have a flat sheet.



Season the meat with salt and pepper, then spread the crawfish filling on the loin.


Roll up the loin and tie with butcher’s twine.


Season with Tony’s, the roast in a 375 degree oven until a thermometer inserted to the middle reads 160 (about 30-45 mins). While it is cooking, make the sauce:

White wine

Lemon

Shallots, minced

Chicken broth

Cream

Diced tomato

Paprika

cayenne

1 stick of butter, room temp, cut into pats

In a small sauté pan, boil the shallots in half and half mix of white wine and lemon. Reduce to a glaze, and then add a little chicken broth, three times as much cream and the paprika, cayenne and tomato. Reduce to a sauce like consistency, and then strain. Whisk the butter into the hot sauce, one pat at a time, until completely incorporated. Keep the sauce warm, but not hot. If it gets too hot, the butter will melt and the sauce will break.

When the loin is done, slice, plate, and pour the sauce over the top. Serve immediately.



Victual Files: La Taqueria Mexicana

If you like to visit different towns to take in and experience the local culture, there’s not a better way to do it than to test out the local food. A community is defined by what they eat and how they eat together. Especially in small towns, the available food is a large part of the definition of that community itself. Anytime we travel, we try to find out where the locals eat. You’ll usually get the best food, the best value, and the heart of what makes the community so much different than others.

The food culture in Texas follows no general rules, as each local town could best identify with BBQ or homestyle cuisine or even Mexican food. In the Old Town area of Graham is home to a non-so-hidden but probably mostly unknown treasure:  La Taqueria Mexicana.

Right on 4th street, residents have probably driven by it hundreds of times without much thought at all. Those who haven’t ventured in have really done themselves a disservice, though, because in the unassuming and relatively small taco shack you’ll find a delectable meal with “authentico” written all over it.

First of all, any Mexican food place that serves menudo on Sundays is as authentic as it gets. For those who aren’t familiar with menudo, it’s a stew that’s noted for its ability to help calm the aching head and rumbling gut of a late-night Saturday spent on the bottom side of a beer bottle. It’s not for the faint of heart, though. Menudo is a spicy broth made with chilis, tons of herbs and spices, and glistens with fat that’s rendered from its main ingredient: tripas, or tripe. Specifically, menudo is made with the honeycomb reticulum tripas from a beef’s second stomach. That’s right…one of the best hangover cures in Texas and all points south is a spicy beef stomach stew. Sounds disgusting, right? It’s definitely an acquired taste, but if you appreciate real Mexican cuisine and don’t pale at the sight of offal on your plate, then give menudo a try.

I’m not here today for the menudo at Taqueria Mexicana, though. It’s the tacos. If you like tacos (and every non-insane human loves tacos), then this is the place you need to head.

When you walk in the front door, you see the kitchen behind a front counter, and off to the right you have a small dining area.

Taqueria Mexicana has a solid reputation around town as a great place for breakfast burritos (which are more like the size of what we consider to be a taco). There’s nothing wrong at all with coming here for those, because they really are outstanding. Your choices for breakfast burritos include:

Pick either egg with meat or potato with meat. You can’t go wrong with these, although I’m a big fan of the potato with chorizo and egg. A closer look at the full menu:

This is the first page but you can see that you’ve got a pretty good choice of how you want your dish. I’m here for the taquitos, or little tacos. They are served on corn tortillas, which are made fresh back in the back. If you order the burrito, you get a flour tortilla, which is also made in the back. I love either one, and depending on my mood I’ll order either or both. Specifically, I’m here for the tacos al pastor.

Tacos al pastor are made with pork over a rotisserie. The meat is cooked similarly to the way that gyro meat in greek cuisine is made. The meat is cut into small bite-sized bits with just a perfect amount of chewiness and toothiness to make you want to take as many chews as possible to extract the most flavor.

Fresh onion and cilantro highlight the spicy flavors on the tacos al pastor.

While I was there, I went ahead and picked up a handful of the brisket tacos, too. It’s a different flavor profile completely, but it’s a formidable back up to the tacos al pastor on the menu

A close-up of the tacos al pastor:

Roll this over so you have a tight cigar, and you have a compact blast of nuclear Mexican flavor. The soft chewiness of the meat, the crunchy fresh onion, and the perfume of the fresh cilantro is unbeatable.

This is the part that I love…the mouth-coating grease from the pork falls right out the back. The seasonings, a mixture of chili, cumin, and oregano, make for a finger-licking cleanup.

Those brisket tacos I was talking about? They make a great mild compliment to the spicy pork.

Laying these out, you can see the perfect amount of meat, laid perfectly into the center of the taco.  No cheese, no sour cream, no ancillary or superfluous filling to take away or confuse the flavor.

Other menu items of note:

-The gorditas are incredible. They take the same meat as the tacos and put them in a purse of masa (like the texture of a tamale, but not steamed and round like a large ravioli).

-If you think you can handle it, try the chicharrones on your taco. Those are “pig rinds”, or pork skin cut into strips. The texture is like stiff gelatin.  Unless you’ve had them before and know you like them, go ahead and hold off on those until your third or fourth trip to TM.

-The salsa (labeled as “big container of hot sauce” on the menu) is superb. They serve a single serving with each taco/burrito, but you can also buy it in bulk. It’s fresh and delicious.

-You can buy the flour tortillas by the dozen. Homemade tortillas are unbeatable anyway, but the ones at Taqueria Mexicana really are tasty.

-During the week, they have lunch specials served with rice and beans.

Authentic. Homemade. Delicious. Taqueria Mexicana in Graham, Texas.

The Best Soup I’ve Ever Tasted

I love soup, and when the weather starts turning cool I try to eat soup as often as possible. A lot of people will choose the salad when given the choice, but I often go with the soup as a first course, especially if it’s all made from scratch.

My three favorite soups:

3) Cream of Artichoke soup at  The Messina Hof Vintage House in Bryan, Texas. The restaurant there is hit or miss, but the cream of artichoke will change your life.

2) Red Chicken Curry at Samui Thai in Plano, Texas. I judge thai food joints based on their curry, and Samui always is rock solid.  The bamboo shoots and aubergine are incredible.  I’m not sure if you can really count this as a soup, but it’s my list so I make the rules.

1) Chicken and Mushroom soup. Right here, right now. Buckle up.

Here is the ingredient list (for the most part):

Make a classic mirepoix, which is diced onion, celery, and carrot. I cut these in random sizes for texture. Melt 3tblsn unsalted butter and then throw in the mirepoix and salt. Caution: you are going to add a lot of salt to this dish, but you want to do a little as you go. The salt will help reduce the vege.

Once the carrots start getting soft, add a bunch of garlic. I did four cloves here, but you could go with more if you are a garlic geek. Keep it moving so it doesn’t burn. We are going to use three types of mushrooms here: shitake, oyster, and plain ol’ white button mushrooms, all sliced in a rough chop. Clean the mushrooms WITHOUT water (rub them down w/a towel to remove the dirt). Once you get them sliced, toss them in. Shitake:

Oyster:

Button:

And into the pot with more salt. The shitake have this great beefy taste, the oyster a buttery chewy taste, and the buttons are just a great all around mushroom. If the vege start to look dry, add a little bit of olive oil. It should look like this:

When the mushrooms all start looking soft, add a tspn of red curry paste.

This is what I use. Now, it’s not a thai dish, but we do want a bit of the thai spice that it’s hard to combine with anything other than the paste.

Add the curry paste and toss the mixture to make sure it’s good and mixed in. Let it cook down for a few minutes, then add some white wine. How much? Hell, I don’t know. About that much:

Let that simmer for about five minutes and then add ½ chicken, chopped up. I just used one of those rotisserie chickens from the grocery store. I think the flavor was Garlic Herb. By “1/2 chicken”, I mean ½ breast, a leg, thigh, and then all the dark meat from the back. That’s some of the tastiest meat on the bird.

Then add 6oz of tomato sauce.

And about 6oz of chicken broth.

Simmer for 5 minutes or so, stirring regularly. We are looking for the liquid to reduce down quite a bit. Once you get it so that you can see the moisture but it’s not standing in broth, add 1c of heavy cream:

And 1c of half and half:

Of course, you’ll need to add more salt. Go ahead and grind some pepper in this as well. Let it simmer for 10 minutes or so, add chicken broth to keep the liquid at a soupy consistency. It should look like this:

Get some parmesan cheese (not the cheap powdered crap…get grated parm), and add a cup or so. How much? Hell, I don’t know. About this much:

Cut the heat down to low, and let it simmer for yet another 10 minutes.

The cheese should finish off the flavor. Toast up some French bread and sprinkle on some fresh parsley, and you have one of the most delicious things you’ve ever tasted.

That’s it. The best soup I’ve ever tasted.

Bob the Cook’s Pit

One of my favorite things to do in life is to cozy up with a beer on a Texas afternoon and do some outdoor cooking. It’s what Arcadia is all about…sharing what you know and do well with your friends and neighbors. In my case, I love seeing the creations that my fellow Arcadians come up with and the crazy things we make different cookers out of. My buddy down in Madisonville made a smoker out of a barrel; my dad’s fish cooker is made from an old gas water heater; and one of my favorite outdoor cookers is my plowdisc wok. I can do fajitas and breakfast tacos on that thing to feed a small army and/or a group of tailgating Aggies.

Across the country, you’ll find cooking competitions of all sorts: chili, BBQ, steaks, or even full chuck wagon competitions where you have multiple dishes as part of the submission. One of the most well-known of the outdoor cooks in our neck of the woods is Bob the Cook out at Wildcatter Ranch. Bob is an incredible gastronomist. He knows his food and knows his wine. If you ever get a chance to make your way to Young County, Texas, make sure you stop by Wildcatter Ranch and let Bob pair up a bottle of his favorite wine from his extensive wine list with a slab of medium-rare Texas beef and then top it off with his banana pudding in a Mason jar.

Bob the Cook (or “BtC” as we like to refer to him) recently catered in ribeyes to a function in downtown Arcadia. Never passing up an opportunity to sidle up to a genuine Texas cooking rig built and used by someone I regard so highly, I got a chance to snap a few pics and talk to BtC a bit about how he goes about making ribeyes for so many people at once.

It starts with his pit. He made this out of a U-shaped pipe that he had bent to a box. Now, this thing has been used time and time again and had to sit out in the Texas weather, so some of the original features aren’t quite as functional as they once were, but the design is still awesome. BtC used a design idea from the great Joe Allen in Abilene, but put some proper modifications on it to increase efficiency for an outdoor unit.

Here this bad boy is with the lid up:

You’ll notice that the grill grates are on a slant. That’s key for a steak cooking pit so you can adjust the amount of heat on the meat. Steaks with less marbled fat are going to cook much faster than the ones that have tons of flavorful fat, so you want to put them in a cooler spot on the grill or pull them earlier. Also, notice the lip that folds over in the front. That has two functions: first of all, it allows for easy access to the cooking surface as well as for moving the grills to an angle. See the bar on the inside of the lip? You can put the grates on that for an even cooking surface when you are doing things like sausage. The other function it has is that it can be propped up from underneath so you can use it as a flat working surface for your tools or bins holding the meat you are putting on the grill.

The firebox has two entrances in for proper flow, and you can adjust the flow in on both sides. There is a chimney on the back side of the lid, but BtC admits that the design is somewhat flawed. Moreover, the chimney just acts as a stop for the lid so it doesn’t flop all the way back.

You can see how easy it is to get to the working surface from here. BtC puts the beef onto the grates before he seasons them so that the meat warms up and absorbs the seasoning all at once. Also, he keeps the meat that will cook faster on one side so he can properly tell how well done the meat is. The fire is well enough away from the meat so you don’t have crispy char on the steaks.

You can see from the backside that there was a pulley system at one time to raise and lower the fireplate, but years of use and weather rusted out the bottom. BtC had to have an additional plate welding in recently for repair, so the pulley system is non-functional now.

This is BtC’s trailer, specifically built for the cooker. He can haul and move this all by himself, which is remarkable because the cooker itself weighs hundreds of pounds. He took an old axle from a junk pile and made a long tongue on it for counterweight. Then, he welded a stinger that pins onto the cooker itself.

Right by the door on the side cooker, you’ll see a halfpipe. Also, on the trailer you’ll see bars that go across. BtC engineered this so the bars on the trailer go into the halfpipes on the cooker as a latch. With the trailer tongue up in the air, he latches the pin in place on the stinger and can pull the tongue down and attach it to his truck. The tongue is counterweighted perfectly so you have a zero balance right on the axle.

Using rebar and pipe, he engineered a hinge system as well as a poking bar all in one. You can see the bar there…he’ll use that to close the doors on the fire box as well as to reach up with the hook to pull the lid down during the cooking.

Secure pins are chained to the side so you don’t lose them. This is a great shot of that lip in the front.

There you have it…a Texas steak pit, fully mobile and as efficient as you can get for outdoor cooking.