Stay Cozy, Stay Home

Let Our New Sampler Boxes Re-Invigorate Your Holiday Menu Planning

By Meredith Leigh

Oh, the monotony of being at home! I’m lucky to have the hills and woods near Hickory Nut Gap Farm to play in, and the farm animals to entertain me, but it is still different this holiday season.

Before COVID, I was traveling the world teaching about grass-based livestock farming, whole animal cooking, and charcuterie. I remember the feeling of bounding off of an airplane and marveling at being the master of my own transportation when I finally got behind the wheel of my own car. And then, to be home! What a revelation. Even the dirty laundry was sacred. And cooking! Going to the farmers market, the Hickory Nut Gap Farm store, and taking it all home to cook homemade food from my own larder was like a spiritual experience.

What a difference a year makes. Now, the dirty laundry is definitely not sacred, and coming up with another meal idea sometimes feels like hard labor. And what is that law about a body at rest staying at rest? I think that means it is impossible for me to grocery shop again… which is definitely not as exciting as the HNG butchery or the farmer’s market. Ok, I know. I’m being dramatic. But some days I do kind of wither, especially with the holidays approaching, and not being able to gather in the way our family always has. Aunt Sarah’s sausage balls will be stuck in Kentucky with Aunt Sarah! Blast.

Well. Imagine my happiness when I found out that Hickory Nut Gap is shipping meat! Yes! Directly to the doorstep, in a cotton-based insulated box that is completely biodegradable. Therefore I can remain in my cotton-based insulation: my pajamas, and the meat comes to me.

So, where I might have been gearing up to gather, now I’m gearing up to get re-inspired at home. Since HNG has put together these sampler boxes and has shipping available, I can continue to support local, and feel good knowing that my family is getting healthy meat raised on healthy soils. Plus, I can send the meat I’m lucky enough to have access to here in Fairview to my distant family, as a gift. There are a total of 8 sampler boxes launching in December, including grass-fed steak and pastured pork selections, charcuterie, and grilling and BBQ cuts. The Pastured Pork Sausage Bundle is really calling out to me, and is one of the three bundles available now in the early phase of the farm’s sampler offerings.

I’ve decided to stay cozy while letting my memories of joyful gatherings inspire my cooking, and the HNG bundles have re-invigorated my planning. One recipe I can’t wait to make is a white bean and escarole soup with Italian sausage. It was one of the last things I made for a group of students I was teaching at an in-person workshop, and it reminds me of the inspiration and beauty of what people create when they come together to learn, and accomplish a shared goal. And of course, there will be Aunt Sarah’s sausage balls on Christmas morning. Bring on the memories, and bring on the doorstep meats.

Winter Soup with White Bean, Escarole & Italian Sausage

  • 12 oz. HNG hot Italian sausage links, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 head of escarole (or other bitter green of your choice), roughly chopped
  • 1.5 cups northern or navy beans, soaked and cooked
  • 2 quarts chicken or pork stock, or 1 quart water and 1 quart stock
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • Heavy cream (optional)
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil until it shimmers, then add the sausage, onion, garlic, and bay leaf. Sauté over medium high heat , stirring to prevent sticking and burning, to brown everything, about 5 minutes. It’s OK if the sausage isn’t cooked through at this point, you just want some browning on the outside. Now, dump in the wine. Let it bubble for a minute and reduce. Add the stock (or stock and water) and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat, add the beans, escarole or other green, and place a lid on the pot. Cook over low heat until the sausage is cooked through, the beans and stock are well-heated, and the escarole is evenly wilted (but not soggy!).

When everything is evenly heated and cooked, stir in the tomato paste, then salt to taste. I like to add a generous quantity of black pepper to this soup, up to 30-40 grinds of my pepper grinder.

The final touch is a generous pour of heavy cream, stirred in just before serving. To serve, ladle into bowls and top with fresh grated parmesan and a side of piping hot, crusty bread.

Aunt Sarah’s Sausage Balls

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 T. of butter, cold, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 (12 oz.) chub HNG breakfast sausage
  • 1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • Up to 1/4 c. buttermilk (only if needed)

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Using a small knife or a cheese grater, reduce the cold butter into small pieces. Mix thoroughly with your hands until the butter is in pea-sized (or smaller) granules.

Add sausage and cheese. Mix thoroughly— it actually works out better at this stage to use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and just really mix it well. If the mixture is looking dry or crumbly whatsoever, add in buttermilk 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture is moist and holds together well.

Roll the mixture into 1” balls and arrange on a parchment covered baking sheet.

Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes. We eat these on Christmas morning with our coffee, while the kids shriek and shred into presents, and we’re still coaxing our eyes to open.

About the Author

Over the past 20 years, Meredith has worked as a farmer, butcher, chef, teacher, non-profit executive director, and writer, all in pursuit of good food. She is the author of  The Ethical Meat Handbook: A Complete Guide to Home Butchery, Charcuterie, and Cooking for the Conscious Omnivore, and Pure Charcuterie: The Craft & Poetry of Curing Meats at Home. Meredith travels teaching charcuterie and food production and processing, consulting for farmer and food businesses, editing, and providing marketing assistance for values-driven business. She lives with her partner and four children in Asheville, NC. Learn more about Meredith Leigh.