Sausage Stuffing

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When I started following food blogs, I realized some authors had initiated them for the purpose of cataloging family recipes. Therefore the blog was their family cookbook essentially.

I didn’t think much of that concept, because I really didn’t have family recipes. My recipes were those I followed after I got married, when I began cooking seriously, based on saved recipes, those from cookbooks, or these days, recipes online as well.

Every day or two that I cooked, I made a new recipe. Thus my motto – so much food, too little time! There was always something to learn from a recipe, whether a technique or new ingredient.

And then there were holidays, like Thanksgiving. Of course I always made a turkey, but I never made it the same way, which also led to various-tasting gravies. But the side dishes were always different. When my daughters were really young they didn’t take part in the leisurely Thanksgiving meal, so it was an opportunity make new festive dishes – sometimes embracing our favorite global cuisines!


But when my daughters got older, they had Thanksgiving requests. Fine with me, but then I had to figure out what they were requesting. Like their request recently for sausage stuffing. No clue. What kind of sausage? What else is in it? No memory. Was it cornbread? Sourdough? Not sure.

Well great. Now I’m wishing that I’d documented this mysterious Italian sausage stuffing for my own purpose! So this recipe is one I’m (maybe) recreating so that next year I can remember it! I’m pretty sure it’s French-bread-based, and I remember using cognac and cream in the stuffing, inspired by a French recipe ages ago.

And the reason I didn’t post it before Thanksgiving is that I don’t only cook turkeys in November. This stuffing doesn’t have to be stuffed in a bird, either. It makes makes a nice side dish, prepared in a baking dish.

Italian Sausage Stuffing
Serves 4

1 baguette
2 tablespoons butter
16 ounces Italian sausage, crumbled
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup of cream, or more
1 tablespoon cognac
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon white pepper

If you’re baking the stuffing in a baking dish, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and grease an 8 x 8” baking dish; set aside.

Remove the crusts from the baguette and crumble the bread. Measure 2 cups; set aside.


Heat the butter in a
large skillet. Cook the sausage over medium heat until no pink shows. Using a slotted spoon, remove to a bowl.

Using the remaining fat, saute the onion for about 5 minutes, now allowing too much caramelization. Stir in the garlic, and place the sautéed vegetables with the sausage.

Stir the bread crumbles into the sausage mixture gently, then pour the cream and cognac over the top. Stir again gently, and check to see if the stuffing is moist. You don’t want it wet, but it also shouldn’t be dry.


Add the remaining ingredients. Spoon the stuffing into the baking dish and bake, uncovered, for approximately 30 minutes.

The top should be golden brown.

If you prefer, any kind of whole-grain bread can be substituted for the French bread, and I’ve even used raisin bread in stuffings.

Plus, pecans and dried cranberries can be included as well.

And as I mentioned, you don’t only have to make stuffing on turkey day. Here I’ve served it with a turkey cutlet, but it’s just as delicious with chicken.

The stuffing is moist but not mushy, which is to my liking.

Mushroom Toast

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My readers know that, maybe because of my advanced age, or perhaps because I’ve always been on the stubborn side, food trends turn me off. But I do know that stubbornness can get in the way of experiencing good food.

Case in point – avocado toast. Perhaps avocado toast didn’t excite me much because avocados are my biggest source of protein, not being a huge meat eater. I didn’t need to serve them on grilled bread to appreciate the wonderful food that they are.

Until I did have avocado toast, that is, and I have to say that they were thoroughly enjoyable!

Recently online I saw a headline for the “new” avocado toast – mushrooms on toast. I immediately envisioned sautéed mushrooms that I top my husband’s steaks with occasionally.

So that’s what I did to make my version of jump-on-the-bandwagon mushroom toast.

Mushroom Toast

Bread slices, like sourdough or French
Olive oil
Mushrooms, sliced, about 1 pound
Butter, about 1/4 cup
Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
2 cloves garlic, minced
Cognac or brandy, optional
Garlic pepper
Dried thyme
Salt
Pepper
8 ounces Crème fraiche

Brush some olive oil on the bread slices and toast them, either over fire, in a skillet, or in the oven. They should be crispy. Set them aside.


In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over fairly high heat until bubbling, then add the mushrooms.

Keep the heat high, and stir only occasionally while getting some color on the mushrooms. If they stick at all, add a bit more butter, but keep the heat high. This keeps the mushrooms from requiring an inordinate amount of fat.


Once there is good caramelization on the mushrooms, turn the heat to medium, and add the garlic. Stir well for a few seconds.

Immediately add a splash or two of cognac and let it ignite. Shake the pan until the flames extinguish.

Turn the heat to the lowest setting and cook until most of the liquid has cooked off, if there is any.

At that point, season the mushrooms to taste.

Remove the skillet from the heat, let it cool a bit, then stir in the crème fraiche. Heat through.

Place some mushrooms on the toasts using a small, slotted spoon, then pour a spoonful of cream over the top. Serve immediately.


If you want decadence, sprinkle a little finely grated Gruyere, Fontina, or Parmesan on top of the toasts.

Top the toasts with some fresh thyme, parsley, or chives, if available.

If you’re serving these for company, don’t put too many out; they must be warm. There’s nothing much worse than cold mushrooms.

Not only would these be good for hors d’oeuvres, they would be wonderful served with soup. So much better than plain bread!

Verdict: These toasts are fabulous, and any mushroom lover will love these. The toasts would work with finer chopped mushrooms, or even a duxelles.

Simplicity

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Many different cuisines do “simple” well. I think it’s because of how regional “cuisines” began in the first place. It was about feeding your family – from milking a cow, killing a chicken, to picking ripe tomatoes and lemons. It’s about what grew and what you farmed.

But today in the wide world of all things culinary, things have become a little more fancy. We’re responsible for this, really. I mean, from my computer at home, I can now order just about any ingredient that 20 years ago I’m not sure I’d ever think I’d see in person.

And our demands for more upscale and modern meals at restaurants these days are relentless! There is more and more pressure on chefs to outperform even themselves. Maybe it’s good to keep the chefs on their toes, but as a result, I feel food has gotten a little complicated.

An appetizer, for example, that is built up like a tower 6″ tall, with no way of eating it politely. Or a beautiful piece of fish that has 8 different kinds of sauces drizzled artistically around it. Fun, but a little too much for me. In fact, I think of this example, because when my husband and I would go to Hawaii, I would ask for the fish to simply be grilled or pan fried, and for all of the accessory items to be omitted. This seemed to always take a lot of instruction, like they really didn’t believe my request. But I just wanted to taste the fish. I don’t get just out-of-the-ocean fish where I live.

Of course, a lot of this has to do with trends, like how foam is so popular now. But for me, I just want the best quality food, made from the freshest of ingredients, simply prepared. I don’t care if it’s a meal in my home, at a fine dining establishment, or in a little hole-in-the-wall pub.

Simplicity. And I honestly think the Italians do it best. Something divine, yet made with only a few ingredients, like the hors d’oeuvres I’m offering in this post. Simple grilled breads topped with ricotta and baked. Sure, there’s a little salt, pepper, and olive oil, but that’s it. Simple perfection.

This recipe is quite common, and there are many ways to make it, but I’m inspired by this book by Lorenza de Medici, called Antipasti. It’s an old book, but I just checked and it still can be purchased on Amazon.

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This recipe is adapted from the book above, to serve only two people.

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Bruschetta di Ricotta

1 small loaf French or Italian bread
Olive oil

5 ounces ricotta cheese, well drained, whole-milk only
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or Asiago or Romano
Salt
Pepper
Fresh thyme leaves, optional

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the bread approximately 1/4″ thick, and place the slices on a baking sheet. Brush some olive oil over one side of the slices. Toast the bread slices in the oven until they are lightly golden.
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Meanwhile, place the ricotta cheese in a small bowl Add the egg.
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Stir the ricotta and egg well, using a whisk if necessary. Ms. de Medici also includes the olive oil with the ricotta-egg mixture, but I left it out to drizzle over the crostini later. Then stir in the grated cheese.
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When the bread has toasted, place a teaspoon or two of the ricotta-egg mixture on top of each crostini, then return the cookie sheet to the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes more.
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The ricotta should be slightly yellowed and firm. Let them cool a little.
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Sprinkle the crostini with a little salt and lots of freshly cracked pepper.

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Drizzle the olive oil on the top, and then sprinkle with thyme leaves, if you’re using them.
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The bruschetta are also good at room temperature.

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I’m also offering a sweet twist of these crostini on Monday, so stay tuned!

note: Just think of all of the variations possible with these bruschetta! You could add fresh or roasted garlic, lots of herbs or a little pesto, bits of things like sun-dried tomato… So simple.