Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Delicious Sausage Pasta Born out of Confusion

When I invited my in-laws over for dinner, I knew that I would face the challenge of what to make in order to suit all palates.  I don't eat fish, my sister in law doesn't eat beef or anything spicy, my husband hates celery (really, just celery) and my brother in law doesn't express an opinion.  So I began an exhaustive back and forth text chain with my sister in law to determine what foods she and I would enjoy in common (clearly the women are the problem in this particular equation).

What I came up with on the common "yes" list was:
Italian sausage - Yes if not spicy
Cream Sauce - Yes
Nuts - Yes

OK genius, now what?

Here is the recipe that was born of this conundrum:

Fettucine with Sausage and Walnut Cream Sauce

1 Lb Fresh Fettucini (**cooked to the package instructions)
1 Lb Bulk Italian Sweet Sausage
2 Tbs Olive Oil (1 for sauteing sausage, 1 for sauce)
3 Tbs Butter (1 for sauce, 2 for finishing)
1 Medium Shallot (chopped finely)
1 Large Clove of Garlic (unpeeled and smashed)
1/3 cup of Dry White Wine (I used Orvieto Classico)
2 Tablespoons Frangelico Hazlenut Liquer
1 &1/2 Cups Heavy Cream
1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese
1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Walnuts
Chopped Flat Leaf Parsley (to taste)

In a large saute pan, cook sausage in 1Tbs olive oil over med-high heat, breaking it with a spoon into small pieces as it cooks.  When browned nicely, remove with a slotted spoon to a plate with a few layers of paper towels to drain.

Pour off the sausage grease (leaving the yummy brown sausage bits behind in the pan, of course) and add remaining Tbs of olive oil and 1 Tbs butter. Reduce the heat to medium and  when the butter has melted, add the shallot to the pan.  Cook until the edges start to just brown then drop the smashed garlic clove into the pan.  Saute for a minute or until you can smell the garlic.

Add the white wine and Frangelico and turn the heat up to medium high, scraping any bits of sausage from the bottom of the pan as the wine and liquor reduce. When you have reduced to about a third of the original volume, remove the garlic clove and add the heavy cream.  Continue cooking until the cream starts to thicken a bit, then add the sausage to the pan and throw in about 75% of the walnut pieces, reserving the rest for garnish.  Cook about 2 minutes to heat the nuts and sausage through.
Taste, then *season with salt and pepper.

Add your **cooked pasta to the pan of sauce and toss to coat.  Throw in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, some chopped flat leaf parsley and a handful of Parmesan, again, reserving some of the parsley and cheese for garnish.

Taste for seasoning, adjust if necessary and garnish with remaining cheese, parsley and nuts.

*I season on the conservative side at this step as the pasta and its residual water and the Parmesan will add more salt to the dish when you incorporate it.

**I under cook the pasta by 1 minute as it will cook in the sauce.  I don't strain the pasta, but remove it from the water with tongs, allowing a little of the cooking water to come with it.

This is an original recipe and  is protected under copyright laws.  Please cook and enjoy, but don't publish as your own.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Labor Day Look Back

Today is Labor Day and while the rest of America is grillin and chillin, I am looking back at my history of cooking and thinking about where I go from here. What wild craving will send me into the kitchen to find a way to scratch its itch?  Today it's peach pie.  So, while a peach pie bubbles away in the oven, I am thinking about the things that I have cooked in the last year and wondering why I did not enjoy them more at the time.

One of the things that I find to be less of a saying and more of a truism is that hindsight is 20/20. I know this to be true because in the moment, whenever I am baking or cooking, the defects and minor imperfections are magnified in such a way as to obscure my enjoyment of whatever it is that I am making.  Yet, when I look back at pictures of dishes past or I try to get a sense memory of what it was like to serve and eat a particular item, I almost always recall it with positivity and love.

Sure, there were some clear cut failures that ring out in my memory that no amount of time can glaze over.  Like the time I accidentally made some gorgeous chocolate muffins that had the salt and sugar ratios reversed.  They were picture perfect muffins with a gorgeous crown on them, their moist interior hinted at by the studding of chocolate chips that poked out of them..until you bit into them and they tasted like the Bonneville Salt Flats. My kids particularly enjoy recounting that failure.  Or the dozens of burnt cookies and un-risen cakes that I dumped into the garbage in my earliest attempts at baking.

For today, I will focus on the things that I made over the past year, but at the time, was too myopic to really enjoy.  In honor of Labor Day, her is a photo look back at some culinary labors of love:

Croque Monsieur
Silly Halloween Cupcakes
(not a decorating triumph, but a very delicious cupcake)

 Hand Rolled Cavatelli
(made at a cooking class in Rome)
 One of several Apple Crumb Pies
 Lasagna Bolognese
 Another Apple Crumb Pie
 A couple of Ribeyes getting cozy.
 Antipasto platter.
 An absolutely epic Chili Cheese Dog.
 Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.
 Mille Crepe Cake
 Mac N Cheese Chili Casserole
 Panna Cotta with Berry Sauce

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Bandwagon Can Bite Me ( A love story and a recipe. Well, a recipe anyway.)

Photo Credit -

At some point, this tough, green lawn ornamentation became America's "it" food.  With me being naturally averse to things that look like landscaping of the plant kind or a lack of pre-bathing suit landscaping of the human kind, this curly cruciferous bundle of old lace and chlorophyll has never found it's way on to my plate. Until very recently, that is.

I have to be honest,  I have purposely avoided Kale at all costs because it's a bandwagon food.  Any food that gets too much hype or that my sister-in-law attributes the high quality of her "movements" to is an immediate NO for me.  I have managed to live a great many years without this "super food" and quite happily, I might add.  Then we went on vacation and I got sideswiped by my husband's order of a kale salad at dinner one night.

Me: Kale salad?  What the *#ck?
Him:  I wanna try it.
Me: It's the substance that Ariel says makes her crap like a show pony.
Him:  Exactly.
Me: You can finish this vacation alone. Waiter!  Another vodka and soda please.
Him:  I want to see what it's all about.
Me:  OK, but you have to sleep in the car tonight.

When our entree salads arrived, I looked down at my bowl of chopped Cobb Salad and realized, I am eating a similar bowl of rabbit food (this was after the chili cheese tater tots as an appetizer, of course).  What's the real difference, other than the fact that his is much greener and looks much more like it was shaved from someone's nether regions?  Let's put mind over matter and try it.

I tentatively stuck a fork into his salad and retrieved a dark green tumble of vegetation.  It looked angry, frizzy and menacing.  My expectation was that it would be as bitter as my 8th grade math teacher and about as enjoyable.  Mr Toscano be damned! It was actually somewhat more tolerable than hearing him prattle on about right angles. My assessment on the spot was that it was not as bitter as I expected and it was nicely dressed (that helped) but chewing through it was somewhere south of a burlap bag in terms of tenderness. It needed a lot of jaw work, but not totally terrible.

My husband, a friend to all vegetables except celery, loved it of course and proclaimed that he will be eating more kale salads going forward.  "Oh goody"  I thought, this gives me more quiet time and less access to the bathroom.  If he is going to eat this, I need to find a way to make it more palatable, so that I can hold my short-order, "everyone eats something different" cooking to a minimum.

So here's what I did to make the topiary tolerable:

Red Cabbage and Kale Slaw w/Sweet Red Onion Vinaigrette
1/2 medium head of red cabbage, shredded, washed and spun dry
1 medium Bunch of kale, stemmed and shredded, washed and spun dry
1/4 of a small red onion, sliced thinly

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 of a small red onion roughly chopped
1 tbs sugar
1 tbs honey
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Pulse ingredients for dressing in a mini chop or food processor until emulsified.

Pour all vinaigrette over veggies and let sit in fridge for 1 hour to overnight.  Toss and redistribute dressing before serving.

In  closing, I fear that there is little to be concerned with in terms of theft of this recipe, because...kale.  However, it and all other poorly constructed and unpolished writing on this site are, of course, copyrighted.

At the end of the day, kale still has a taste and texture akin to zoysia grass but the dressing is quite tasty and you'll probably crap like a show pony. For some (like the guy that gave me a ring all those years ago and my sister-in-law), that's really all that matters.

Pictures of the festively shredded confetti of plant matter below.

Just so that you don't think I've gone all nuts and granola on ya, I served the kale salad with twice baked, french onion soup stuffed baked potatoes and a big, hairy steak. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cupcakes to Soothe an Aching Soul

The past year has been just awful.  There's been sickness for some of my nearest and dearest, work is an unrelenting shit-pile of politics and hateful people and the hits keep coming.  This is not to say that I am not grateful for what I have and to have a job, but if you asked me what year I would love to play over, these past 12 months would not make the top 40.

Because of the drag on my emotions and the fact that last year was a really fun and fabulous birthday, when this year's birthday came around, it felt a bit, meh.  I had a wonderful time celebrating with my family, but I felt a longing for something homey and traditional.  On reflection, I realized that I was craving birthday cake.  I had some wonderfully delicious cakes in celebration of my birthday.  There was a Tira Misu, Chocolate Blackout and a spankingly fresh Strawberry Shortcake just mounded with whipped cream and berries.  Spectacular, each and every one.  However, there is something about a homemade vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream that is so comforting to me.  It's like a hug for the soul and I decided that I would make one as a birthday gift to myself.

I have two favorite vanilla cakes for this application - I love a good vanilla pound cake or a good old fashioned 1-2-3-4 cake.  I went with the latter.  This is an old time recipe that includes 1 cup milk, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour and 4 eggs, hence the name.  There are recipes all over the internet and they are all basically the same thing.  If you want to try one, go here or here or here.

Sitting back with a glass of wine and a cupcake in my belly, I feel better, maybe even optimistic.  Let's see what tomorrow brings.  I think I will pack a cupcake with me when I head off to work.  Things are not likely to be so great, but with that sweet nugget at the ready, I can put a band-aid on my scrapes and bruises and retreat to the gentle hug of a nostalgic bite of comfort.

The Birth of a Cupcake

Tins are lined. Flour is sifted. Patience is low.

Butter and sugar are beaten into submission.

 Eggs, flour and milk are added to make a very thick and luscious batter.

Sprinkles are tumbled in because I wanna.

 Sprinkles are now part of the "in crowd".

 Batter up!

Starting to get dressed.

 Now we all fancy.

 Aaaaahhhhh.  That's what I was waiting for.