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.

Cabbage Rolls, Deconstructed

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I am completely aware that the term “deconstructed” is overused these days, but that’s exactly what innocently came to mind when I first thought about this recipe.

Cabbage rolls have always been a favorite of mine – mostly because of all the varieties of stuffings potentially hiding inside. Ground pork with rice and raisins, reminiscent of dolma, or sausage rolled in cabbage, smothered in red sauce – all delicious, comforting, and reliable.

There’s nothing tedious or challenging about making cabbage rolls, but it’s easy to run out of the nice big cabbage leaves.

So I was staring at a cabbage the other day, and thought I could simply parboil the cabbage, and create a layered “casserole” of cabbage and sausage. But I also needed a white sauce and cheese.

I not only was thinking of traditional cabbage rolls, but also a recipe I made which was bacon and mushrooms in béchamel and wrapped in cabbage leaves – more of a side dish than a meal, and deliciously rich.

So here’s what I did, combining the components of both recipes.

Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls
printable recipe below

1 large head of white cabbage, about 3 pounds
1-2 tablespoons oil or bacon fat
2 pounds Italian sausage
1/2 pound ground pork
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Approximately 4 cups of bechamel, double this recipe
Grated Gruyère, about 16 ounces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Have a large pot of slightly salted water heating on the stove. Slice the cabbage in half and remove the core.


When the water comes to a boil, add the cabbage halves and keep them submerged. I used a plate with a weighted lid.

Cook the cabbage for about 6-7 minutes, or until the leaves soften a bit. Place the cabbage in a colander to drain and cool. When you can handle the leaves, separate them slightly and let them drip dry on a dish towel or paper towels.

Meanwhile, cook the sausage, pork and onion over medium-high heat, along with some oil, until barely any pink shows; don’t overcook.


Add the fennel seeds and white pepper. Taste for salt.

Lightly grease a 9 x 13″ baking dish.

Begin with adding cabbage leaves to the bottom of the dish.

Next add one-fourth of the sausage mixture, topped by one cup of bechamel, and sprinkle with about 4 ounces of grated cheese.


Repeat these layers three times or, if your baking dish is shallower, form only three layers, using thirds of the sausage mixture, bechamel, and cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes, until golden. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before slicing.


Serve with some buttered potatoes for a really hearty meal!


One could certainly add celery, carrots, and parsley to the meat mixture.

Or, go a different direction with seasoning the meat component to make it Italian-inspired. There are so many options.

note: This deconstructed cabbage roll casserole would be just as good with a red sauce instead of a cheesy white one, and definitely less caloric, if you worry about that sort of thing.

 

 

 

Pasta with Sausage and Fennel

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I’ve never been a huge fennel fan, and for just that reason, I planted two fennel plants in my garden. I figured that if I could harvest it personally, I could figure out how to showcase its unique flavor.

Ideally, if one loves the anise/licorice flavor, fennel is eaten raw, shaved in a salad, for example. But I thought that gently sautéed and caramelized in olive oil, with pasta and sausage, would still highlight this unique plant properly.

Harvesting the fennel is just a matter of pulling it out of the ground. I read that the fennel bulb should be the size of a tennis ball.


The recipe is not mine – I found it on Epicurious.com, and adapted it slightly.

Orecchiette with Sweet Italian Sausage and Fennel

1 fennel bulb, about 7 ounces, plus some fronds
12 ounces orecchiette
Salt
Olive oil
16 ounces sweet Italian sausage
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
White wine
Freshly grated Parmesan


Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside, along with 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage until lightly browned and cooked just through.


Remove the sausage to a bowl and set aside.

Add the fennel slices and saute them in the remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel softens, about 5 minutes.

Continue to cook, adding a little wine as necessary to prevent the fennel from sticking to the skillet. You might have to do this a few times. The resulting fennel should be soft and caramelized, about 15 minutes more.

Add the cooked pasta and reserved liquid to the skillet, along with the sausage. Stir well and let cook, until the liquid has reduced to a creamy sauce, about 4 minutes.


Add Parmesan and season again if necessary.


Also sprinkle some of the fronds over the pasta.

The fennel still reminded me of Pernod, which I dislike, but it was better slightly caramelized and cooked in the wine.

The Parmesan wasn’t in the original recipe, but I felt like it needed cheese.

Heavy cream would also be a fabulous addition!

Salad and Giving Thanks

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This year I didn’t get the opportunity to cook Thanksgiving dinner, which is fine. The typical American Thanksgiving meal is quite involved, especially if you’re trying to make everybody happy and satisfy their requests. You can spend days in the kitchen.

But what one misses out on is Thanksgiving leftovers. And I really missed them this year. Fabulous, hearty and delicious food that reheats well, and is perfect for winter weather.

So I was inspired to create a salad inspired by Thanksgiving dishes, even though I had no leftovers. No problem. Grilled turkey, sausage, rice, wild rice, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, and more.

So the following recipe is more of a guide for a Thanksgiving-inspired salad using your favorite Thanksgiving ingredients. Not all of them – that could get quite messy!

Use rice, barley, wild rice, or even quinoa. And then just have fun with the ingredients. Serve at room temperature with your choice of vinaigrette or citrus-based dressing. Here goes.

Salad for Giving Thanks

Combination of brown and wild rice, cooked
Mini Italian sausage balls, cooked
Cooked Brussels sprouts
Turkey tenderloin
Sliced celery
Toasted pecans
Dried cranberries
Vinaigrette of choice

Have a serving platter large enough for the number of eaters. Plan on large servings, because this salad is delicious and addicting!

Have your rice cooked, and make a layer with it on the platter.
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Add the sausage balls, followed by the Brussels sprouts.


I cooked a piece of turkey tenderloin in a skillet, seasoned only with garlic pepper. Many Americans use poultry seasoning. I browned the turkey on both sides, then put on a lid and cooked it until it was 155 in the thickest part.

Place the turkey on a cutting board and let it rest. I sliced the tenderloin, but you could cut it up as well.
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Add the turkey to the salad. Then add the celery, pecans, and dried cranberries.

Serve the salad warm or at room temperature, topped with the vinaigrette.
an equal amount of sherry vinegar. I poured the mixture in a blender jar, added one clove of garlic, some salt, and about 2/3 cup of olive oil. Blend and go!

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note: I wouldn’t recommend using 100% wild rice, which is actually a grass and not legally rice. And because of that fact, too much of it creates a texture similar to alfalfa, which I can only imagine eating.

Sweet Potato Pasta

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A while back I mentioned that I have a lot of respect for dried pasta, and always try to pick up a few different shapes and flavors when I’m shopping at a gourmet food store. That’s how I ended up with olive pasta recently for dinner, and also mentioned I’d purchased sweet potato pasta.

Here’s a photo of the box. The brand is Viviana, and it contains 8 ounces of fettucine. Cooking time 11 – 14 minutes.
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I didn’t want to smother the pasta in a red sauce, because I wanted to enhance the sweet potato flavor. So I decided on a simple ricotta cream sauce, with the addition of Italian sausage, plus peas to make it an all-in-one meal. Easy, and easily made within 20 minutes. Here’s what I did:

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Sweet Potato Pasta with Italian Sausage in a Ricotta Cream Sauce

8 ounces sweet potato fettucine
1 cup ricotta whole-milk ricotta
1/3-1/2 cup heavy cream
12 or 16 ounces Italian sausage
4 cloves garlic, minced
Frozen peas, optional
Grated Parmesan

Cook the pasta according to package directions. I cooked the pasta more al dente, because I wanted it to absorb the lovely cream sauce. Drain the pasta.
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Meanwhile, whisk together the ricotta and cream in a large bowl, large enough to hold the finished pasta dish. Add more cream if you want the sauce less “stiff.”
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Add the hot pasta to the cream and toss gently but enough to coat the strands of pasta with the ricotta cream sauce.


Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the sausage. Slowly begin cooking the sausage. If you start slowly, no other oil is required. Once the sausage renders some fat, you can turn up the heat to get the sausage browning.
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At least once while you’re cooking the sausage, give the pasta a gentle stir. Add a little more cream if necessary.

Then add the garlic, give the sausage a stir, and remove the skillet from the stove.
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Add it to the pasta, as well as peas, if you’re using them.



Serve with grated Parmesan.

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The sweet potato pasta really shined served in this way. I’m going to buy some more because it’s so pretty and tasty.

Sausages and Zucchini

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This recipe comes from a cookbook I was gifted by my family, Kitchen Garden, published for Williams-Sonoma. It’s exactly what you’d expect with that title – seasonal recipes using fresh garden fruits and vegetables, plus a chapter on chicken coops and bee hives. The author is Jeanne Kelley.
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Now, every one has enjoyed grilled sausages and zucchini, I’m sure, but this recipe caught my eye for a specific reason. After the sausages and zucchini are grilled, they are tossed with a green sauce. The sauce it not unlike a chimichurri, if you use that term loosely, but with the addition of fresh basil, oregano, and capers.

My husband hates capers and everything pickled. So for today’s recipe I’m omitting them. But I’ll probably toss a few on my sausages and zucchini when I sit down for dinner tonight.

Grilled Zucchini and Sausages with Sauce Verte
Adapted from Kitchen Garden Cookbook

Sauce Verte:
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
1 green onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons packed parsley leaves
2 tablespoons capers (or not)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 pound zucchini, trimmed and halved, or a variety of squashes
Olive oil, for brushing
Salt
Pepper
Italian sausages
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves

First make the green sauce by adding all of the ingredients to a food processor, except the oil. Process some, and then add the olive oil. I left it with some texture to it, but you can alternatively make a smooth puree. Although, if you want it really smooth, I’d use a blender.

Prepare a charcoal grill, electric grill, or whatever you’re going to use to cook the sausages and zucchini. I’m using my oven for the “grilling” because I have a wonderful roast setting on it that roasts both meat and veggies perfectly.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, if you don’t have a roast setting and want to use your oven.
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Place the sausages and zucchini in a roasting pan and drizzle some olive oil over everything. Place the pan in the oven and roast until the sausages are no longer pink, and the zucchini are fully cooked as well.
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Pour some of the sauce over the sausages and zucchini, and serve with extra sauce.

And add capers, if you’ve been forced to omit them from the sauce. I completely forgot about the capers, and it was delicious without them.
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I served the sausages and zucchini with slices of a ripe garden tomato sprinkled with salt. A lovely meal!
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Sausage Making

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To be honest, I’ve only made real sausages from scratch one time before. They came out so fabulously that I’ve been wanting to recreate them for years. I don’t know what stopped me, or at least, made me procrastinate. Somehow in the back of my mind I must have thought it was so taxing, that I dreaded the thought of doing it again. Sort of like childbirth.

But alas, I did it again, and I don’t know what all my fuss was about. It’s truly easy to make sausages. It does take a little time. But with proper footwear and favorite music on the IPOD, it makes for a fun afternoon. And what you get for all of your hard work? Sausages! Delicious, flavorful sausages with no preservatives or any of that other terrible stuff that’s probably in store-bought sausages.

The first thing you need is an electric meat grinder. Mine looks very much like this although it is an ancient model.
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A meat grinder is a very useful tool in the kitchen, especially if you like making terrines. I’ve also ground up brisket meat for fresh hamburgers, which has a perfect fat-to-meat ratio. Really, if you have any desire to cook with ground meat, like make meatballs, for example, it’s just so straight forward to use the meat grinder and grind up your own meat. That way, you can mix it up – chicken, and pork, for example. And this way, you’re not paying someone else to do the grinding for you.

The machine is quite noisy, which is my only complaint.

The meat grinder comes with two different sized attachments for making sausages.
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It had been so long since I’d made sausages that I almost didn’t find them in my kitchen… but I did. Phew!

For the sausage today I’m using a popular book as a reference for an Italian sausage recipe – Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman.

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For my first sausage-making experience I used a book called Home Sausage Making, but I think the book is trapped in the bookshelf behind our live Christmas tree. It’s been too cold to plant the thing outside, but hopefully it will be gone soon and I can reclaim some of my cookbooks!

note: The Christmas tree is gone. This post was written in the early part of January!

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The book is a very good primer on how to make sausages, including all of the necessary ingredients, the casings, storing, cooking, and so forth. I highly recommend it if you want to make sausage for the very first time.

Home-Made Italian Sausage
adapted from Charcuterie

1 – 7 pound pork shoulder, cut up, bone removed
3 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted
1 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted
3 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons dried sweet basil
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

3/4 cup chilled water
1/4 cup chilled red wine vinegar

To begin, grind all of the meat, about 5 pounds, plus any fat attached, using the largest holed grinder plate.
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Place all of the seasoning ingredients in a large bowl, then give them a stir.
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Then add them to the ground pork.
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Using gloved hands, if desired, stir the pork together well, mixing in the spices and herbs until they’re evenly distributed. Then add the chilled water and vinegar and mix well. Set aside the ground sausage mixture.
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The next step is to prepare the casings.
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I’ve owned this container of casings since the last time I made sausages, which is maybe 8 or 9 years back. They keep well refrigerated, but before you use them they need to be rinsed well because of the brine in which they’re stored.
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Place a good handful of the casings in a large bowl. You probably have pulled out too many lengths, like I did, but they’re just no way to judge. Better to have too many than not enough and have to do over this step.

Once the casings are in the bowl, give them many rinses of cold water.

One note: they stink. I think it’s mostly because we’re dealing with intestinal linings here. The smell is expectedly not pleasant. It does, however, get more pleasant after they’re rinsed. So don’t be discouraged.

Then, it’s important to open up the casings and rinse out the insides as well. I couldn’t get a photo, with only two hands, but you can see the casing that I’ve filled with water in the bowl. Repeat as many times as you find casing lengths to make sure they’re all rinsed out.

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So now you have your sausage meat ready to go, as well as the casings. Clean up the meat grinder and the work area. All you need to do is install the medium-holed grinder blade and the sausage attachment to the meat grinder. For the Italian sausages, I’m using the sausage filler with a 3/4″ opening.

Then grab a length of casing (you can shorten them as you like) and place it on the sausage filler attachment. Yes, we all know what this looks like.

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Tie an end at the casing, just like you would a balloon.
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Then turn on the loud machine and begin adding the sausage. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to control the speed of the sausage coming through the machine, so one person can do this job easily. Allow the casing to fill with the sausage, but not overfill, for fear of the casing splitting open. This has actually never happened to me; they seem pretty sturdy.

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Allow the sausage to fill the casing, and when they’re about the right length, give the sausage a twist, and repeat. Today my sausages were turning out a bit on the squatty side, but it really doesn’t matter. It does help that they’re even-sized for cooking purposes, but that takes a bit more practice I’m afraid. I shouldn’t wait another 8 years to make sausage again!

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When you’re done with a length of casing, add a new casing, and make more sausages.
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Continue with the remaining sausage meat.
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I placed my lengths of sausage in a pan with a little oil drizzled on the bottom. I plan on saving half of the batch to use immediately, and freezing the second half.
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For any of you interested, we enjoyed the Italian sausages as is, once served with lentils, another time served alongside pasta with pesto.

For lunch one day I cooked up some black barley, added some cabbage, peas, chickpeas, and celery, tossed everything with olive oil and lemon juice, added sliced Italian sausage that was left over, and enjoyed a fabulous meal, shown in the photos.

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note: Fat is typically added to sausages when you make them from scratch. I can’t bring myself to do this. The original Michael Ruhlman recipe included fat, but I ignored it. However, what it does mean is that you absolutely cannot overcook the sausages or they will be dry. The fattiness keeps them nice and moist. And honesty, the fattier, the better. But for me, making them at home, I just can’t bring myself to add fat. To cook the sausages, I used a decent amount of oil in a skillet, browned them, lowered the heat, put on a lid, and cooked them through for about 5 minutes. And they were done. And moist. Alternatively, add fat to the pork, and no matter what you do to the little buggers, they will remain moist.

Toasting Seeds

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Toasting seeds, like cumin seeds or sesame seeds, is no more difficult than toasting nuts – pine nuts, for example. Except that the seeds are typically so tiny and weigh such minute amounts, that the toasting sends them flying off into oblivion. It’s much like trying to pop popcorn in a shallow pan without a lid. This is especially the case with oily sesame seeds; they really can pop!

So years ago I found a little stove top gadget that I adore. I think I found the same one here:
sestoaster

It’s about 5″ in diameter, so it can hold a lot of seeds in one layer. You simply pour the seeds inside the toaster, close the screen lid, and place it on the stove.

Today I needed to toast fennel and coriander seeds for tomorrow’s post on home-made Italian sausages.

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Place the toaster on the stove – I have a gas stove so the flames were at about 50%. Within almost seconds, you can smell the toasting, at which point just shake the toaster for a few more seconds, then remove it from the flames or heat source. Let cool.

As you can see, the seeds toasted nicely, and none were lost.

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If you don’t own one of these seed toasters, you can easily use a skillet and a splatter screen. A lid would work as well, but you can see through a splatter screen. In either case, be vigilant; don’t leave the stove during the toasting process or you’ll be left with a bunch of burnt buggers!