Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sausage & Rice Casserole

Some nights are made for cozy dishes like casseroles. When my sweetheart arrived home from work, the kitchen was all full of good smells from dinner and candles glowed cozily in the living room. The temperature has taken a definite downturn and it feels unquestionably of Autumn beyond the confines of the house. This sausage and rice casserole is my adaptation of one from the classic River Road Cookbook, put out by the Baton Rouge Junior League and relied on by cooks throughout the South. I served it with lima beans & a green salad. Easy peasy.

Sausage & Rice Casserole
1 lb. sausage (I used Bob Evans pork sausage, but you could sub any sort of sausage---even turkey sausage or veggie crumbles)
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. rice (I used jasmine; brown rice would be great, as would wild rice, but cooking times would need to be adjusted)
2 c. beef broth (I actually used 1 can of the 98% fat-free, reduced-sodium sort with enough added water to make up 2 cups)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (again, 98% fat-free, reduced sodium is just fine)
2 cans cream of chicken soup (healthier is just as tasty, again)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown the sausage. Drain. Add veggies & cook until tender. Meanwhile, bring the rice and broth to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 14 minutes. Fluff with a fork and stir into sausage mixture. Add soups and stir well. Spoon into a greased (I use cooking spray) 13x9 casserole and bake half an hour. Serves 6-8.

Breakfast for Dinner: Scrambled Eggs, Sweet & Spicy Bacon, Cheddar Muffins

Breakfast for dinner is quite popular at my house, as I expect it is at many of your homes. Sometimes when we have it, it's because other plans fell through, because nobody really feels like cooking, because I forgot to thaw the chicken for the stir-fry we'd planned to have. Other times, breakfast for dinner is 100% planned and intentional. This particular one is that sort of meal. However, it really doesn't take long to pull together and you likely have most of the ingredients already on-hand. It really is a scrumptious combination, especially if you like cornmeal muffins (if you don't, just sub all white flour)! I assume y'all have your own preferred way to make scrambled eggs. They were the very first thing I learned to make all by myself, standing on a chair in our tiny kitchen at the age of 5 or 6. So, I will leave you to your own methodology (or to Google) on that.

Cheddar Muffins
1 c. flour
1 c. cornmeal
1/4 c. sugar (me, I would go a little scant on this)
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4-1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (and I would lean more toward the 1/2 tsp. personally)
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. milk
1/4 c. butter, melted
1 c. shredded cheddar
Toppings (I left some plain---with a little extra cheese on top---and put pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds on others---not all together, but that'd probably be great)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease 12 muffin tin cups. Mix the dry ingredients and make a well in the center. Mix the eggs, milk, and melted butter. Add to the well in the dry ingredients, then stir in. Add cheese, mixing well. (if you'd like, it wouldn't hurt to add some chopped scallions) Stir until just smooth. Fill muffin cups almost to the top. Sprinkle with desired toppings. Bake 12-15 minutes. Cool on racks 5 minutes before serving.

Sweet & Spicy Bacon
1 lb. thick-sliced bacon (I used center-cut)
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. crushed rosemary

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place bacon in an even layer on a baking sheet (rimmed, please!) and cook 10 minutes. Combine the other ingredients until well-mixed. Turn over bacon and sprinkle evenly with the mixture. Cook until crisp & browned, another 5-7 minutes. Remove from oven and drain on paper-towel-lined plate. 

La Luna Cooks Gooseberry Patch Fall, Family, and Friends: A Beginning

So, I dumped the Amish cookbook. I just couldn't do it. But, with undampened enthusiasm for the idea of cooking all the way through a cookbook, I decided to choose another. My friend, Matteo, who lives in Italy and posts gorgeous photos of the food he is making, photos of which I am intensely jealous because I want to be able to create such beautiful photos, too (I suspect having the Italian countryside for a backdrop might help inspire me), gave his humble take: go out & buy the best ingredients you can and find recipes to go with them, rather than going about it the opposite way. My wife thinks he is right, with the added advice, "Buy whatever's on SALE." I love his idea, myself. The truth is, I am not so good at doing it that way. I lack the imagination. Not to mention that I love the idea of cooking through the whole dang thing. The problem has never been that I don't know how to figure out what to cook. I do just fine there. It's that I need a cookbook that won't make me groan at the thought of cooking 8 potato salad recipes, most with very little variation.

I decided that I would simply use my newest cookbook, purchased a little over a week ago and untried. It's the Gooseberry Patch Fall, Family, and Friends cookbook, a collection of harvest season recipes collected from folks around the country---but, presumably, tested prior to publication so I don't end up with 3 tbsp. lemon juice in my peanut butter pie or a recipe that stops after the making of the batter. I'm all excited about the project now and can actually picture myself not only eating the food I make, but really enjoying it!

I dipped my toes in the water on September 29th with a recipe that, it turned out, completely skewed me out. Ha! So much for brilliant new starts! It should have been delicious, a cinnamon-maple nog, warm milk, sweet syrup, & autumn spices for a bedtime treat. I made a mug for each of us and neither of us could drink it. The flavor was A-OK by me, but something about the heating of the milk and the addition of the ground spices (cinnamon & allspice) make the beverage kind of grainy and weird. My sweet wife simply didn't like the cinnamon flavor. I might try it again using only whole spices and see if that is better. For Jeannene, I will simply heat milk with a little vanilla and a little syrup.

I've been really busy in October, making preparations for a secret & huge project, serving as matron of honor for a friend's wedding, and visiting my mama in West Virginia, so I haven't been working through the cookbook. Once we return from New Orleans, though, expect to see me blogging my way through this project!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Puerco Asado

As a Cuban, one of my favorite meats is pork and this is one of my favorite ways to eat pork. Last week, Jeannene came home with a pork roast and asked me to make puerco asado for dinner the next day, "please, please, please." I actually had a can of Goya's black bean soup on hand, to serve over rice. I did not have plantains for maduros, nor did I have any of Goya's frozen maduros, so we were bereft of those. However, the deliciousness of the avocado & onion salad completed the meal nicely. The simple Cuban-style vinaigrette is a fabulous way to dress a simple salad. This meal is my traditional go-to for our Nochebuena feast every year, with the addition of fried yuca.

Puerco Asado
5 lb. boneless pork loin
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. oregano
Salt & pepper
1/4 c. lime juice
1/4 c. orange juice
1/2 c. olive oil
A few bay leaves

In the morning, or even the night before, prick the roast all over with a knife. Mash the garlic and oregano into a paste, using a mortar & pestle (if you don't have these, you can process it in a food processor). Rub the pork with the garlic paste, salt, & pepper. Mix the liquids together in a large ziploc bag. Add the pork roast and bay leaves. Marinate at least 4 hours, turning several times. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove roast from bag and pat dry. Discard bay leaves, but save the marinade. Roast pork about 2 1/2 hours, to a 165 degree internal temperature, pouring reserved marinade over the roast about halfway through cooking and basting often. When cooked, tent with foil on serving platter and allow to rest about 10 minutes. Serves 8. 

For the avocado salad, I like to use butter lettuce (torn into bite-size pieces), avocado slices, and sweet onion slices. The dressing is 1/4 c. olive oil (Spanish is best for this, but not essential), 1/8 c. lime juice, 1/8 c. white wine vinegar (apple cider or red wine is fine, as well), salt & pepper, whisked together. That makes enough for 4-6 salads. 

Autumn Equinox Soup & Cranberry Cornbread

For my annual First Rainy Day of Fall Soup choice, I selected a recipe from the Gooseberry Patch cookbook through which I am cooking in the coming months. It turned out thicker than I would have preferred and with a bit of an odd undertone, but was still quite tasty. Of course, I cheated and put everything in together at the same time, when the recipe called for me to hold the creamed corn and onion soup mix back until the end of the 2 and a half hour cooking period. I was in a little hurry. Next time, I think I would simply omit the creamed corn and onion soup mix altogether. The dumpling recipe also made far more dumplings than I felt the soup needed, so I ended up throwing  away some of the batter. Next time, I will halve the dumpling part, as I have done here.

The cornbread, from the same cookbook, was delicious but overly delicate, rendering it nearly impossible to eat as anything but crumbs and bits. Further, it overflowed the pan and created quite a mess in my oven, although the pan was the recommended size and shape. I will unquestionably make it again, but probably in a cast iron skillet, rather than a loaf pan. I think using both self-rising cornmeal and self-rising flour, as called for, is probably a little much.

Therefore, here are my versions of these recipes:

2014 Autumn Equinox Soup
1 lb. ground beef (96% lean; can sub turkey or veggie crumbles)
1 onion, chopped
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
5 smallish potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cans Veg-All, drained (you can sub another brand of mixed veggies)
1 can corn, drained
10 oz. frozen lima beans
5 cups chicken or veggie broth (I like the reduced sodium version)
Salt & pepper
A pinch of thyme
1/2 c. cornmeal
1/8 c. self-rising flour
1/8 tsp. salt
Water, as needed (probably about 3/4 c.)

Brown meat & onion in soup pot. Drain any residual fat. Add tomatoes, potatoes, mixed veggies, corn, lima beans, broth, and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 1-2 hours. Mix cornmeal, flour, and salt with just enough water to make a stiff batter. Drop by flattened tablespoonfuls into hot soup. Allow to cook until they float to the top, then turn over. Cook a few more minutes. Serves 10-12. 

Cranberry Cornbread
2 c. self-rising cornmeal
1/2 c. flour
1 c. sugar (this can be reduced)
1 egg, beaten
2/3 c. dried cranberries (I used the lower sugar kind)
1 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. vegetable shortening, melted (I would use butter, instead)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all but shortening. Stir in shortening. Pour into greased cast-iron skillet. Place on baking sheet and bake for about an hour, until top is golden brown.