Tag Archives: sausage

taking a deep breath… tuscan beans with tomatoes & sage

Folks, I’m taking a deep breath.  This post is about one of the easiest, most laid-back dishes in my repertoire.  While I did snap a few photos, I didn’t stress about the lighting or try to style the food or plating.  I just wanted to do an easy-breezy blog post since it’s been a while.

Most everyone I know has a lot going on- everyone has periods where things get crazy, time is maxed out, and they feel completely spread thin.  So I try not to go on TOO much about how nuts everything feels, because it’s like “boo hoo, you’re not the only one who has a million things to do and no time to do them in”.  But the past couple weeks were frantic even by my standards.  Blogging, of course, didn’t even make the list of things to do during this time, but I hope to rectify that in the next week or two before things get busy again with my sister’s wedding.

The Friday morning of Memorial weekend, I left for my sister’s bachelorette party in Nashville.  I had worked all week and tried to get things ready bit by bit- shopping for gifts, laundry, making sure there was food for the cats, a trip to the library for books on tape and Nashville guides, and all the other little pre-trip things that needed attending to.  Packing and straightening the house, of course, always gets left until the last possible minute.  So, as I was trying to get things together at 10:30 Thursday night, I got an unexpected call from my friend Youn, an old acquaintance from my Toulouse days.  He and a friend were traveling around the U.S. and wanted to know, could they possibly come and stay for a few days?  Of course! I replied, while inwardly starting to panic.  The house was reasonably tidy- I don’t like to come home to a mess- but it was nowhere near “house-guest clean”.  I would have to drive 10 hours, then spend a few hours cleaning Monday night, because I had to work on Tuesday and they were arriving that evening. Also sandwiched into the week’s schedule were two Scarlet Oaks shows, one of which was in Cleveland.

Long story short, I pulled everything together the best I could and we had a nice time (more about their visit in a later post), but coming back from a trip and then entertaining for 5 days left me wiped out.  Sunday I wanted to cook, but I knew I needed to do something hyper-simple.  My mind jumped to this dish of white beans with tomato and sage (one I’ve made many times before) because of the abundance of sage in my herb garden right now.  This is one of the easiest dishes I know, and it goes great with some grilled Italian sausages.  Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate so our sausages were pan-grilled in the cast-iron skillet, but that actually made things even easier.  I threw together a green salad as well as some cucumbers with labneh (thick strained yogurt), scallion, lemon and parsley, we cracked open a bottle of red, and reveled in our simple feast as we breathed a sigh of relief at not having anywhere to be or anyone to entertain.  While I love having guests, a quiet evening with my sweetheart was just what I needed to get grounded and catch my breath.

If your sage is blowing up right now too, check out this post from Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini on 45 things to do with fresh sage!

Tuscan Beans with Tomatoes & Sage (adapted from Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites)
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This recipe is originally from a low-fat cookbook, and you can certainly choose to make it that way, but I of course like it with generous amounts of olive oil.  Obviously, you can cook the beans from dried, or use fresh tomatoes if in season, but the point is that you can open a few cans and have a pretty tasty and respectable side dish ready in about 15 minutes.  For the vegetarian folks out there, you could certainly serve this alongside veggie sausage or even some risotto to get the complete rice+beans protein combo.

2 15 or 19-oz cans cannellini beans*, rinsed and drained (I prefer the bigger cans if you can find them)
1 28-oz can good quality diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved*
3-6 cloves garlic, depending on size, to yield about 2 Tbs minced
about 25-30 washed sage leaves, to yield 3-4 Tbs minced
olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

*Another type of white bean can be substituted if necessary.

**My version appears more “saucy” because I used whole canned plum tomatoes and just squished them up with my hands as I added them to the pot.  Remember, this dish is all about whatever’s easiest.

Put a few Tbs of olive oil in a medium-sized heavy saucepan over medium-low heat.  When warm, add the garlic, stirring frequently (you want it to soften but not brown).  After a couple minutes, increase the heat slightly and add the sage.  Cook for a couple more minutes, then add the drained tomatoes.  Cook for a few minutes to blend the flavors, then add the beans and cook until heated through.  If the dish seems too dry, add a bit of the reserved tomato juice.  Drizzle a little more olive oil on top if desired, and serve.

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chorizo & potatoes in a sherry broth, and the ruhlman standard

On the weekends, I am all about those hours-in-the-kitchen types of dishes; trying new things; looking at cooking as a “project”.  During the week, however, because of my schedule, I’m lucky if I can make myself a big salad or scramble a couple eggs and call it dinner.  Much has been made lately over “having time” to cook- Michael Ruhlman wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post “calling bullshit” on people who claim not to have the time, and others have been recycling the quote (I think it was originally attributed to Marcella Hazan) that “saying you don’t have time to cook is like saying you don’t have time to bathe”.  I could go on at length about this topic*- the short version being that I mostly agree with Ruhlman but think he comes off as elitist and unrealistic (uh, he’s a writer, he makes his own hours, most of us do not!). But instead, let me tell you about someone who does live up to what I’ll call “the Ruhlman Standard”.

My friend Amanda is a role model for all of us who would aspire to prepare homemade meals on weeknights. Despite having two jobs (a full-time office job AND giving music lessons after work in the evenings), she manages to put together amazing weeknight dinners on a regular basis. Take Monday night, for example.  She invited me for dinner and I was treated to a simple but amazingly flavorful dish of chorizo and potatoes in a garlicky, sherry-spiked broth.  A salad, bread and good cheese rounded out the meal, and a bottle of rosé from Provence was the perfect foil to the spicy chorizo.

As if this all wasn’t enough, she was generous enough to let me take some home!  I hadn’t brought my camera to her house so I have no shots of her lovely table with the cheeses, salad and wine, but I got to snap a few shots of the leftovers- I love the way the creamy potatoes look in the bright red sauce, with a scattering of cilantro for contrast of flavor and color.  If you’re in need of an uncomplicated but decidedly un-boring after-work recipe, look no further: all you have to do is chunk up some potatoes, chop a little onion, and you’ll have this simmering on the stove in no time.

*Anita over at Married with Dinner had a very thoughtful response to this which pretty much sums up my feelings.  She is doing a series called Dinner on a Deadline, in an attempt to provide realistic solutions for people who want to find time to cook after work.  Hop on over there for more ideas.  I also have a Fast and Easy category here where you might find inspiration for after-work meals.

Chorizo & Potatoes in a Sherry Broth
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1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
4 oz bacon or pancetta, cut in small strips or cubed
12 oz Mexican (fresh) chorizo (see note)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry sherry
1 ½ lbs small waxy potatoes, scrubbed and skin-on, halved or quartered depending on size
4-5 cups boiling water (a tea kettle is handy for this)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh cilantro (if you can’t abide cilantro, substitute parsley)

Note: This recipe was originally intended to be made with Spanish chorizo, a cured, dry sausage.  However, Amanda made it with fresh, and as fresh chorizo is much more easily obtained (not to mention less expensive) here, I have adapted the recipe accordingly.

Directions: Preheat the oven to 400°.  Put water on to boil.  Heat a Dutch oven or other large oven-safe pan over medium-low heat.  Add the bacon or pancetta and cook until it begins to render a bit of its fat.  Add the onion and garlic. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened.

Raise the heat to medium-high and add the chorizo by squeezing it out of its casing in bite-size pieces (think small meatballs/coins).  Let the pieces of sausage “set” for a moment so they don’t break apart when you stir them.  Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring gently. Add the bay leaf, sherry, and about 1 tsp salt; stir. Add the potatoes and pour over enough boiling water to cover the potatoes about ¾ of the way.

When the liquid has come to a simmer, put the dish, uncovered, in the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Check it half way through that time to make sure it hasn’t dried out too much, and give it a stir (if the liquid looks low, add another splash of water and sherry).

Remove the dish from the oven and taste the broth. Season with salt and pepper if needed, or if it tastes at all watery, you can further reduce the cooking liquid by simmering on the stovetop.  You’re not really looking for it to be a soup, but you definitely want several spoonfuls of the flavorful broth with each serving.  Ladle into 4 shallow bowls, and garnish with some chopped cilantro.

chicken sausage for dad

sausage plated
sausages cooked on plateAs the years go by, I find it increasingly difficult to come up with gift ideas for my parents, especially my dad.  There isn’t a whole lot that he needs or wants that he wouldn’t just pick up for himself, so when it comes to gift-giving time, I’m always a bit stumped.  To make matters even more difficult, his birthday falls within a week of Fathers’ Day.  This year I decided I was done going to the mall and spending money on some useless object that would end up in the back of a closet.  So for Father’s Day I planted some herbs in his garden, and for his birthday I made him a few pounds of sausage!

sausage on grill squareMy dad is very health-conscious- he rarely eats red meat, and usually goes for the low-fat option when possible.  He also loves to grill, so I thought what better gift than a bunch of homemade chicken sausage?  I found out through reading online that most of the chicken sausage you buy in the store is actually not that low fat, but by making it at home, you can obviously control what goes into it and make a much healthier product.  Milk powder is supposedly the “secret ingredient” to keep things moist.  (Also, apparently cooked white rice is a great fat substitute, although I didn’t try it.)

Italian spicesI’m not going to lie- making sausage at home is a labor of love, and the two main reasons to do it would be a) controlling the ingredients, and b) making some creative flavors that you couldn’t find in a store.  The meat counter at my local grocery makes sausage on-site, and has a decent variety, so until now I never felt much need to make my own.  But I always like to try new and challenging food projects, so this was as good an excuse as any!  I made two varieties, a chicken “bratwurst”, and a sweet Italian-style sausage.  The bratwurst recipe was adapted from this one, and I didn’t use a recipe for the Italian sausage- I just added a bunch of fresh garlic, fennel seeds, a few red chili flakes, basil and oregano.   I used a 2:1 ratio of boneless thighs and chicken breast- I wanted it lean but not totally dry.sausage stuffing 3

meat plunger

I’ve used my meat grinder attachment before to make chorizo, but had never used the sausage stuffer before, so that was a new frontier.  The first time around, I had some trouble with getting the timing down, and ended up with some air pockets, etc.  Fortunately, the second time went a lot more smoothly, which encourages me to repeat the experiment, knowing it will get easier with practice.  The directions tell you to grease the nozzle before putting the casing over it, but I found that if the casing is wet, that works much better than grease.

sausage stuffing 1

sausages diamond plate 1

You have to really be cool with playing with intestines to make your own sausage.  It’s fun, once you get the hang of it and get over the fact that what you’re putting meat into was formerly a thoroughfare for “waste material” as we’ll delicately refer to it.  Rinsing the casings is entertaining- you fit one open end over your faucet and let the water flow though, and it inflates like a water balloon.  Fun stuff!

intestine in hand

intestine balloon

sausage & beerI haven’t gotten any feedback yet from Dad, as I think he put the sausages in the freezer for later, but Marvin & I grilled a few leftovers the other night and I was pretty pleased for a first-time effort; enough so that I’m inclined to attempt it again before grilling season is through.  I’ve been dying to try a Vietnamese sausage, and maybe even a boudin noir if I can get my hands on some pig’s blood (anyone having a hookup should email me!).  If you want more info on making your own sausage, check out the blog Saucisson Mac, or if you’re really serious and don’t already have the book Charcuterie, go pick that up at your local bookstore.