Category Archives: sausage

Getting Better all the Time

I’m trying a new thing. It’s called Let’s Try Not to Waste So Much Time Doing Dumb, Useless Stuff.

I started a new job a couple months ago and one of the many wonderful things about it is the renewed sense of productivity I seem to have gained. When I walk out of the office at the end of the day, I don’t feel like collapsing on the couch as soon as I get home and only getting up to relocate to my bed. Considering I get up insanely early AND have a 40 minute commute, this new development is indeed headline worthy in my little corner of the world.

I’ve been running the errands that typically cut into my weekend. I’ve been cleaning. And exercising! Exercising, people! As in moving around in a healthy-like way. More than that, I’ve been taking the time to do a few things that just make me happy. Enjoying a little retail therapy at the end of the week. Browsing the library, cracking the spines on musty books and discovering new worlds. Sitting at the kitchen table carefully painting my fingernails with my favorite tunes or podcasts on in the background. Snuggling up with Eric on the couch and watching movies we both enjoy. I know that stuff doesn’t sound particularly productive, but seriously, I don’t think I’ve felt this all around awesome in a long time. I think it’s because I’m pushing myself a little harder, but rewarding myself at the same time. Balance. That’s the word.

The most surprising side effects of this new found productivity, aside from feeling like a rock star, is the way I’ve unplugged. Instead of picking up the remote, I’m picking up a book. Instead of the two us in different rooms on different laptops, we talk and laugh and spend time together. Instead facebooking and tweeting and email checking, I’m leaving my computer closed. For hours at a time. This is unheard of!

Unfortunately, unplugging is not so good for blogging. It’s the one area I haven’t quite figured out how to work into this new balance. I get distracted by all the things I’ve spent hours not looking at when I’m trying to post and while I’m off doing other things my Google Reader is exploding. My twitter handle is silent. I’m not commenting enough. I’m not pinning enough. I’m not engaging in the blogging community I love so much which is, by nature, ummm…plugged. Yes. This has put a slight damper on my productivity excitement.

So how do you guys do it? How do you balance your blog and everything that comes along with it? Tell me about how blogging fits into your busy life because I desperately need the advice of experts! That’s YOU! I’ve been doing this for almost four years and I still do it wrong most of the time 😉 So give me your secrets. Just don’t say give up watching Parenthood. I mean, I can let Pan Am and possibly The Office go, but I gotta draw the line somewhere. 😉

While you mull that over, let’s eat! Here’s a simple pasta dish fitting for any productive person who needs to get that silly dinner thing out of the way so she can move on to more important things – like painting her nails. 😉

I’m a big fan of sauce-less pasta. If the pasta has enough flavor, it really doesn’t need a thick, goopy sauce masking all the deliciousness. Here we have quite a few textures and flavor profiles combing into something truly outstanding. The broccoli lends a fresh, earthy flavor. The jarred roasted red peppers, a bright, briney tang. Spicy sausage brings meatiness and sustenance and Romano cheese, a salty, nutty bite. Tossed together with chewy orecchiette pasta, it is so completely satisfying. So satisfying, I must say, that I made the entire recipe and ate it for lunch and dinner in one day not once but TWICE before it was all gone. That’s good eating people. And so simple and quick. Add a loaded green salad to up your veggie intake and put this entire meal on the table in 30.

On to more productive things!

ORECCHIETTE WITH BROCCOLI, SAUSAGE AND ROASTED PEPPERS (Recipe adapted from: America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 ounces hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 cup jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed and chopped (about one 12-oz jar)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bunch of broccoli (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1 inch florets
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 pound orecchiette pasta
  • 2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh basil, for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot for the pasta.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the sausage in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it up as it cooks, until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the peppers and garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 15 seconds.
  3. Stir in the broccoli, 1/2 teaspoon salt and water. Cover the skillet, increase the heat to high and cook until the broccoli begins to turn bright green, about 2 minutes. Uncover the skillet and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has evaporated and the broccoli is tender, about 5 minutes.
  4. When the water is boiling, stir in 1 tablespoon of salt and the orecchiette. Cook, stirring often, until the pasta is almost tender but still a little firm.
  5. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Site in the sausage mixture, cheese and oil, tossing to coat. Add the reserved pasta water as needed to loosen before serving. Serve with chopped fresh basil and additional cheese, if desired. Serves 4 to 6.

ENJOY! 🙂

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Filed under pasta, sausage, veggies

Man’s Best Friend

This post is dedicated to a few of my neighbors.

This post is for the happy, loveable yellow lab across the street. She sits in her yard, head cocked to one side, staring longingly across the road when we pull up to our mailbox. Oh, she’s thinking, I want to come and see you SO bad, but there’s this electric fence in the way. Oh please, oh please, come say hi to me!

This post is for the bulldog next door. With his feet turned in slightly, I imagine the low, lumbering notes of a tuba playing in his head as he strolls about, sniffing the grass with his pudgy little nose.

This post is for the dynamic duo from two doors down. An inquisitive pair I have affectionately nicknamed the Tweedle Twins. Occasionally, the Tweedle Twins are seen wandering about, not afraid to explore beyond the boundaries of their own yard. Tweedle Dee is the clear leader – a small-but-fiesty, salt and pepper colored shih tzu. He’s always first to step off the curb and trot down the road en route to some mighty adventure in a neighbors yard. Trotting behind, as if playing a never ending game of follow the leader, is Tweedle Dum, a black lab mix with a rather empty but affectionate gaze. When Tweedle Dee chases a squirrel up a tree, Tweedle Dum does the same. When Tweedle Dee wanders the edge of the forest, Tweedle Dum follows closely behind, exploring each twig and weed as Dee did just seconds earlier. They are a couple of best friends out making neighborhood mischief. I love watching them through my windows.

It’s true we don’t have any pets of our own, but when my pal Branny put the call out for entries for her second Souper Bowl charity event, I just knew I had to participate this time around. See, Branny is a true animal lover and for every entry of a delightful bowl of soup she receives for this event, she will donate $1 to the ASPCA – a definite worthy cause and one I fully support. In the spirit of giving, this post is dedicated to all the furry, four-legged residents in our neighborhood. 🙂 It’s not too late for you to participate too! All you gotta do is whip up some soup, which you totally had planned this week anyway, right? Being that it’s January and all that. Check out Branny’s blog for all the details. 🙂

This Lasagna Soup is like a man’s best friend. Spicy sausage? Yes. Pasta? Of course! Cheesy goodness. Duh. See, totally man-friendly. My man, skeptical of soup most of the time, loved it. I did too. It really does mimic the flavor profile of lasagna. With chunks of spicy Italian sausage, juicy tomatoes and rich ricotta, it’s got all the goodies without the all the spreading and layering of a traditional lasagna. The best part is the generous dollop of ricotta that dots each serving. The ricotta is mixed with some freshly grated Parmesan and mozzarella, and when plopped into the steaming bowl, begins to melt almost instantly, creating a creamy richness in each bite. Oh, it is SO good. Best enjoyed on a cold, snowy January night, of course, where you can warm your hands on the side of the bowl. Maybe even with a furry friend asleep at your feet.

LASAGNA SOUP (Recipe Source: Adapted from Closet Cooking)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 pound curly pasta
  • 4 ounces low fat ricotta
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan, grated
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 handful basil, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes, breaking it apart as it browns. Remove sausage from the pot to drain. Discard all but about 1/2 tablespoon of the drippings in the pot.
  2. Add the onion to the reserved drippings and saute until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and fennel and saute until fragrant, about one minute. Return the sausage to the pot.
  4. Add the chicken broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 to 10 minutes and remove from heat.*
  6. Meanwhile, combine the ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella in a small bowl. Serve the soup garnished with a tablespoon of the cheese mixture and top with chopped basil. Serves 5 to 6.

*I always find myself conflicted when it comes to cooking pasta IN soup. On the one hand, I like it, because I think the pasta release just enough starch into the soup to give it a touch of silkiness. On the other hand, there’s Sponge Syndrome to deal with. You know, the next day rolls around and you’re ready to ladle yourself up a big bowl of soup leftovers (which are the best leftovers EVER) and, much to your dismay, you find you no longer have soup. The pasta has absorbed the liquid – just like a sponge! D’OH!

I will say, I DID cook the pasta in the soup this time around and I DID have a major case of Sponge Syndrome the next day. However, it is easily restored to it’s former soup glory by mixing a bit of chicken broth spiked with a shot of tomato base in a sauce pan, adding your leftover “soup” and reheating gently on the stove top. Good as new. You may also cook the pasta separate and add that to the soup at the end, if you prefer. 🙂

ENJOY!

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Filed under pasta, sausage, soup

Under the weather

Ugh. I’ve been sick. It’s one of those dreaded, lingering sicknesses that grabs on when you least expect it and just will not let go. For the last week, I’ve been sniffling, sneezing and coughing my way through germ filled haze. And due to a particularly intense, deadline-heavy, work week there’s been little rest for this weary soul. It’s Sunday night and I’m still exhausted. I still can’t breathe. My throat still hurts.

When the Cold from Hell comes a calling all I want is soup. Not fancy little shooters of creamed imported truffles garnished with foam. I want hearty, homey, soothing soup. A bold, spicy combination that tastes good even when you can’t taste anything at all. The kind that wraps you like a favorite blanket, that eases a raw, scratchy throat, that you pour into a giant mug and eat curled up on the couch with a full DVR.  The kind of soup you just fall into at the end of the day.

Soup like minestrone brimming with pasta, beans, meat and veggies swimming in a flavorful tomato broth. Oh yes. That’s comfort in a bowl.

I did not get to eat this minestrone this week as I made it months ago and all remnants are long, long gone. I just didn’t have the energy to put in the effort to make it. But I dreamed about it. I craved it something fierce as I lopped off the top of a boxed soup from the grocery store and dumped (squeezed?) the contents into a saucepan. It has that kind of slow cooked flavor you expect from your grandmother’s kitchen. I loved the use of Italian sausage here and the slight anise flavor that comes through from the fennel in it. The fresh herbs make it special. And the crusty, cheesy baguette slices? A must. Don’t skip them.

This recipe has a long list of ingredients but it’s really not difficult to make. Just get out your biggest stock pot and start simmering. I made a couple of changes to the original recipe. First, I skipped simmering a head of garlic in the chicken broth. I just pulsed 4 or 5 cloves in the food processor with the other veggies. Also, I had a Parmesan rind on hand, so I tossed that in while the soup simmered. It adds a great salty, cheesy flavor.

This recipe makes a ton (as most soup recipes do) but the flavor only improves over time (again, as most soup recipes do!) It’s the perfect feel better meal. You know, if someone else is making it. 😉

HUNTER’S MINESTRONE (Recipe Source: Tyler Florence via FoodNetwork.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1/2 pound small pasta (I used shells)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 3/4 pound loose sweet Italian pork sausage
  • 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 Parmesan rind (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 bunch fresh parsley leaves, finely minced
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • 12 slices baguette
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
  2. Chop the carrots, celery, onion and garlic in the food processor. Set aside.
  3. Pour 1/4 cup olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the fresh herbs and heat the oil over medium heat to infuse it with the flavor of the herbs, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up until well browned.  Add to the saucepan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.
  4.  Stir in the crushed tomatoes, bay leaf beans, chicken stock and cheese rind. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
  5.  Cook the pasta in the boiling water until just tender, it should be slightly underdone. Drain and stir into the simmering soup. Add the parsley, and salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste. Discard the bay leaf and herb sprigs.
  6.  To serve, preheat the broiler. Put the baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with the Parmigiano and broil until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Ladle the soup into bowls and float a couple of the baguette slices on top.
    Serves 6 to 8.

*Note*: This soup freezes great! If planning to freeze, I recommend only making enough pasta for the servings you plan to eat so that the cooked pasta doesn’t turn to mush. While reheating from the freezer, just cook up a bit more pasta and it will taste just as good as it did the first time around.

ENJOY! 🙂

 

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Filed under pasta, sausage, soup

Crazy Hot Dog People

I remember being quite nervous as my now husband, then boyfriend, and I got ready to head up to the Chicago area from Champaign so he could meet my parents for the very first time. That’s never an easy situation. Would everyone get along? How many long awkward pauses would there be? Would baby pictures make an appearance? Home videos of me singing the Super Bowl Shuffle in all my three-year-old glory?

I actually had no doubt in my mind that the meeting would go swimmingly. He was a fine upstanding young man on the straight and narrow path to success. My parents were about easy going as they come. Even so, I felt the need to warn my adoring boyfriend of one small detail before we embarked down the road to meeting the parents.

Thing was, I wasn’t sure how to bring it up. It was so….stupid. I knew he had to be ready for it, but I wasn’t quite sure how to tell him about it without sounding like a total nutcase. We’d only been dating a couple months at that point – not long enough to completely come to terms with the other’s particular brand of crazy. This could have been a total game changer.

I decided to just put it out there. He could either go with it and laugh about it, or stop returning my calls. Either way…

I just turned to him and blurt it out. “Eric, I need to tell you something before we go!”

I watched his expression change. His eyes dropped sideways, his finger drumming nervously on the side of his thigh. I can only imagine what he thought was about to come out of my mouth next. Her parents are closet cat hoarders. Her dad cuts off the fingers of St. Louis Cardinals fans. They live in a van down by the river.

“Eric,” I said slowly, calm and cool, “when we get to my house someone in my family may ask you…” I stopped, unsure of how to continue.

“Ask me…” he prompted.

It came up fast, words clawing at my throat, tumbling out my mouth. There was no turning back now. Out with it, out with it!

“Someone in my family may ask you if you put ketchup on your hot dogs!”

He looked at me for a second, confused and surprised by just how silly I sounded. He lasted about 2.7 seconds before busting into a fit of laughter.

When he finally stopped laughing long enough to tell me, no, he doesn’t put ketchup on a hot dog, I knew we were a match made in heaven. I had gotten that out of the way, I was ready to bring my boyfriend home to meet my family and he was going to charm the ever-loving pants off them. Sans ketchup.

Ketchup on a hot dog is a touchy subject in Chicago. It’s just not done. The 10 and under set gets a free pass but everyone else gets the side-eye if ketchup gets anywhere near that dog and it’s bun. With Eric not being from around those parts, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing he wasn’t about be banished for eternity for his hot dogs sins.

I, however, may be banished for mine after sharing this hot dog concoction I whipped up (Sorry, family). Now, there’s no ketchup, but there’s also no piccalilli relish, no sport peppers or pickle spears. No sprinkling of celery salt, no tomatoes or tangy raw onions. There is a poppy seed bun, because, well, come on. That’s a given. 😉 But other than that, I took everything I know about a hot dog like a good Chicago(area)in should and tossed it right out the window.

Forgive me, for I have sinned.

This sweet, savory, tangy dog is smothered in shredded white cheddar and dijon mustard and then topped with a delectable topping of leeks and apples braised in cider and bourbon. The combination is out of this world delicious. It’s meaty, it’s juicy, it’s cheesy and it’s got a nice kick from the dijon. The leek and apple mixture includes caraway seeds (totally under used and under appreciated little seed, by the way. I happen to love it) so it gives the entire thing a definite sauerkraut feel, but without that whole acquired taste thing. I just loved the combination of flavors here and I think you will too. Totally classed up tailgate food. All the components can easily be made ahead and reheated. I promise no one will miss the ketchup (pssshh…sinners.) 😉

Now, in case you were wondering if someone in my family did actually ask my husband if he put ketchup on his hot dog within the time frame of their very first meeting the answer is….YES! After a few hours of lovely conversation, my very dear mother did in fact ask Eric that very question, just like I told him they would.

See. Told ya so. 🙂

CHEDDAR DOGS WITH CIDER-BRAISED LEEKS AND APPLES (Recipe Source: Bon Appetit, July 2009 via Epicurious)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 2 cups (generous) thinly sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • Pinch of ground allspice
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 1-1/4 cups apple cider
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 6 grilled hot dog buns (Hey! I made my own! Recipe coming at ya in the next post!)
  • Dijon mustard (Side note: I’ve become quite the fan of Boetje’s since moving to the QC and that’s what I used here. Made right here in Rock Island for more than 100 years! A true local favorite.)
  • 6 grilled all-beef hot dogs
  • 2 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (1/2 cup packed)

DIRECTIONS:

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and apple and stir to coat. Cover and cook until the mixture is tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add caraway seed and allspice; then season with coarse salt and pepper. Add cider and bourbon and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, until most of liquid is cooked away, about 16 minutes.

Spread buns with mustard, then top with grilled hot dogs. Sprinkle with cheese and top generously with leek and apple mixture. Makes 6 dogs

ENJOY! 🙂

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Filed under beef, fruit, sausage

Love and Laundry

I’m the one who gets to do all the exciting stuff around here. Like laundry. Oh boy, does laundry get my juices flowing. Cleaning the lint trap, accidentally throwing that expensive wool sweater into washing machine when it is clearly labeled dry clean only, chasing away those silly sock stealing gnomes, dropping a pair of underwear on the stairs that ends up going unnoticed for days – not to mention all that super fun folding and hanging.

Oh yes. I just LOVE laundry.

Hey Sarcasm. Say, have you seen Erin anywhere? Tell her we’re waiting on a recipe here. Thanks.

The only good thing about laundry is I get to decide when my husband’s gray pocket t-shirts have crossed over from Okay to Wear Out To Menards And Maybe Red Lobster If It’s Been A Long Day to Unacceptable For Anything Except Sleeping. These are the ones that are covered in stuff – paint, holes, burn marks (don’t ask, even he can’t explain that one). The collars are frayed, the hems are ripped, the pockets are hanging by a thread, all floppy and pathetic like. The fabric is stretched paper thin and soft from years of wearing and washing…

These are the most delicious sleeping shirts ever. I’d be lying if I said these snuggly pillows of shirt weren’t highly coveted by both of us for  their superb slumber time comfort qualities.

But *I* do the laundry. I load ’em and I fold ’em. That means I handle these shirts on a regular basis. When I find a perfectly worn, soft as silk, old t-shirt, I do a little jig of joy and promptly place it in the PJ drawer in my dresser. Sorry Eric, you’re out of luck. Occasionally I miss one, and a sleep shirt ends up back in Eric’s dresser by mistake but I always get it back. Oh yes. They belong to ME!

Sometimes, for just a second, I feel kind of bad for hoarding my husband’s t-shirts. It’s kind of selfish and mean. I’m sorry. I should be ashamed of myself. In my defense, he has plenty of other pocket tees to choose from…it’s not like he’s running around half naked. He can spare ’em. 😉

I do make up for it though by feeding him hot dogs wrapped in pretzel dough. This man clearly doesn’t have anything to complain about, right? 😉 Every now and then, I take a break from veggie-sneaking and just make something for Eric I know he will love. Nothing funny, nothing fancy.

Soft pretzel dough is insanely simple to make. Seriously, in about 15 minutes, you’ll have a lovely ball of dough rising away. If you’ve got a mixer with a dough hook, it does all the work for you! Now, the shaping and boiling step does take a bit of time and then there’s the agonizing 15 minute wait while they bake. While these pretzel dogs are little involved for a weeknight endeavor, you can easily make them ahead and reheat later.

These little nuggets of deliciousness did not disappoint. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t eat these two nights in a row. The pretzel dough is perfectly golden, salty and chewy. Paired with the meaty, juicy bite of an (all beef) hot dog and nice spicy brown mustard- they are totally addicting. Perfect party food or as an occasional treat for kids, I promise you’ll be coming back to these again and again!

PRETZEL DOGS (Recipe source: As seen at  Fake Ginger, originally from A Dash of Sass)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package dry active yeast
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt, kosher salt and/or poppy seeds, for topping (Hey. I come from Chicago – the bread product that surrounds a hot dog has poppy seeds on it. Always.)
  • 8 hot dogs, cut in half

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine the warm water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes, until the yeast is foamy and begins to smell of yeast.
  2. Add the flour and butter to the yeast mixture. Attach the dough hook to the stand mixer and, on medium-low speed, combine the mixture until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and appears shiny, roughly 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Spray a large bowl with non-stick spray (or lightly grease with vegetable oil) and place dough in greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Place bowl in a warm area and let dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Spray parchment paper with non-stick spray. Set aside. Meanwhile, bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a roiling boil in a large pot.
  5. Place the dough on a greased surface, and divide into 16 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope, roughly 12 inches long. Carefully wrap each piece around a half hot dog. Pinch the ends together to seal.
  6. Boil the shaped pretzels and pretzel dogs, one at a time, in the baking soda water for 30 seconds each. Using a slotted spatula, remove each pretzel dog from the water and place it on a drying rack to allow any extra baking soda mixture to drip off.
  7. Place the boiled pretzel dogs back on a parchment lined baking sheets. Brush with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with desired toppings. Bake until golden brown, roughly 14 to 15 minutes. Transfer pretzel dogs to a cooling rack for a few minutes before serving. Makes 16 pretzel dogs.

ENJOY!

One Year Ago: Quiche Lorraine with Simple Salad
Two Years Ago: Chicken Piccata

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Filed under appetizers, bread, sausage

Flex it.

Flexibility. I think more people need to rally behind this underrated concept. The world would be a happier place, don’t you think, if everyone maybe just took it down a notch and stopped getting so upset when things don’t go according to plan.

Flight delayed? Sit down, put your feet up and read a smutty novel. Take it easy, stop answering work emails because you’re supposed to be mid-flight anyway, and eat a three dollar candy bar as an I’m-allowed-because-I’m-super-irritated treat. Maybe stop yelling at the person behind the desk like the snowstorm in Chicago that is preventing you from getting to Atlanta is all her fault.

Unexpected traffic jam? Turn up your favorite angry 90s girl power jam and belt it like its 1997 and you’re 15 again.*  Ugly cry and tear up a picture of your crush if you have to, but remember there are others stuck in traffic too and they *may* quietly judge you. Or film you on their phone and take you viral. Just do whatever you have to keep from obnoxiously honking at nothing or getting out of the car and punching out someone’s driver side window.

*Not that I’ve ever done this or anything. Alanis’ Hand in My Pocket is totally NOT my personal anthem. Uh, yeah…totally not. 😉

So, I guess what I’m saying, in a round about way, is maybe we wouldn’t all have our undies in such a bunch if we just read more smut and sang more 90s pop.

Um. Actually, maybe a few cliches will communicate my thoughts better. Go with the flow. Relax. Chill out. The glass is half full.

See, this is why I love cooking. Cooking is insanely flexible. Cooking and I get along like two laid-back roommates. Peppers don’t holler when you decide to add tomatoes to a recipe that didn’t actually call for them. The peppers are chill, yo! Look to the pepper, people! See the light. 🙂

Here’s a really fast and flexible meal. Not too mention very good! I took some liberties, decided I didn’t *love* my liberties, but posting it anyway because I will definitely make this again. Hey, I’m flexible like that.

This Mexican-style, one skillet meal starts with an interesting technique – toasting dried pasta in a bit of oil in the pan before cooking. The noodles get all golden brown and nutty. It really infuses the pasta with a different and fun taste.

Now, I really, really wanted to add chorizo to this dish per a suggestion in the recipe. I’ve never actually had it, but given my fondness for the encased spiced meats, I just know I’ll love it. I’ve never been able find it at my regular grocery stores, but now that I’m in a new (and bigger!) city, I’ll being scoping out the various specialty and ethnic stores which I’m sure are plentiful and chock full of exotic goodies to rock my country bumpkin world. I know there is chorizo in this town. I can just feel it!

I should have just gone veg and added black beans, another suggestion offered by the recipe but I wanted to give my loving husband his precious meat after rescuing him from nearly wasting away in bachelorhood for the last three months. (tee hee.) Since I didn’t have the chorizo, I added…breakfast sausage.

Erm. So yeah, that was probably a mistake. I mean, it wasn’t AWFUL (or maple-flavored), but if I had to do it over again, I would leave the breakfast sausage to the pancakes and egg casseroles. A shredded spiced chicken would have been a much better addition. Also the original recipe calls for cilantro, and we all know how I feel about that mess, so I garnished with scallions instead. Next time, I’ll use my go-to cilantro sub – parsley. A bit of freshness and brightness from a fresh herb would be a welcome addition here. If you are a cilantro fan, absolutely go for it.

Overall, I loved the spicy, toasty, smokey flavor of this dish. The sauce coats the noodles without being too loose and the chipotle peppers add just the right amount of kick. Add a sprinkling a smooth, creamy Monterey Jack and it’s a great mix of flavors and textures. This dish is satisfying, comforting and makes excellent leftovers. I need to make a couple changes for next time, but that’s okay. I’m flexible.

MEXICAN-STYLE SKILLET PASTA (Recipe adapted from: America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, pg. 244)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 oz. vermicelli pasta, broken in half
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes (I used fire-roasted, I really like the flavor)
  • 8 oz. diced chorizo sausage OR shredded cooked chicken OR 1 15.5 oz. can black beans (optional – you could leave all these out if you want!)
  • 1-1/2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 to 2 chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro or parsley
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, for serving (optional – I omitted)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat in a 12-inch skillet and add vermicelli. Toast the pasta until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to cool.
  2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet and heat over medium until just shimmering. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, your protein (if using), the broth and chipotle pepper(s). Bring mixture to a boil.
  4. Stir in the toasted pasta. Reduce heat to low, cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide among 4 serving bowls, top with cheese and cilantro or parsley. Pass the sour cream separately. Makes 4 servings.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Andouille Sausage & Shrimp in Creole Mustard Sauce
Two Years Ago: California Medley Pasta Toss

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Move it!

Here’s a bizarre but true story: There are currently five strange men in my house clawing through all my stuff. Touching things. Moving things.

Weird, right? Totes. (Yeah, I said totes. Don’t worry, I’ll do us both a favor and kick my own butt later for being annoying. Totes just felt right. It’s been a rough week.)

So yes. Guys in my house. I’m at a coffee shop because I can’t stand to watch. The thought makes go all squirmy inside, like thinking about spider and snakes and other creepy crawly slithery things that give me the heebies. If I try really hard, I can not think about it. Then all of a sudden it creeps back into my head. My brain tries to disguise it too, making me think about it  by telling me not to think about it. That sneaky brain! I’ll be minding my own business, enjoying a particularly engrossing passage in my latest novel of choice and then BOOM, a thought…”Hey, don’t think about those weird guys in your house and the several boxes of girly unmentionables you left under the sink they are probably touching RIGHT NOW.”

Uggggh. Awkward.

Why, you ask, would I allow such things? Because we’re moving. This is it. it’s really happening. New owners take possession of our current house on Monday. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess they don’t  want to see my girly unmentionables left under the sink either, so SOMEONE has to take care of that. And when your Kind of a Big Deal*, you don’t have to pack your own things. You have people do that for you. You have guys.

*Aside: I’m not a big deal. I’m…no deal. I’m “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you there.” Also known as “What’s your name again?” Eric might be kind of a big deal. But don’t tell him I told you, he doesn’t like to talk about it. 😉

Although between stuffing my face with bonbons and watching soap operas while my people took care of everything, I did manage to pack my own underwear drawer. I mean, really. That’s a given. Please. 😉

In all seriousness, this move stuff? Sucks. Eric’s company is helping us out a ton and it’s still a stressful and draining experience. I will be over the moon when it’s finally over and we settled on the other end. For the last week, I’ve had to give up my two favorite things. Cooking and TV. We cut the satellite service and I had to stop buying groceries, less I wanted these movers to toss vegetables and cheese in a box and load it on a semi.**

**True. We’ve heard stories. Apparently these guys will pack ANYTHING, including but not limited to, the stuff in your fridge and whatever happens to be hanging out in the garbage can. Best to just not have it in the house.

THE HORROR! THE TORTURE! I cried a little inside every day. Mostly about missing the shows I like. Not so much about eating nothing but cereal, take out pizza, and peanut M&Ms for three days straight. I guess I was okay with that. You know, for the cause.

In an effort to keep myself away from the grocery store where I may be unable to stop myself from being pulled in by the allure that is goat cheese, I’ve done lots of pantry raiding and deep freezer diving over the last few weeks. When I realized I had everything on hand to make this wonderful sausage dish, I did a little happy dance for a couple reasons. 1.) I’ve made it before and it is so comforting and satisfying, perfect for when your life is collapsing in chaos all around you (drama queen, much?) 2.) It’s also super quick and easy. Again…good for chaos and what not. And 3.) It’s never been blogged and that is just not right! Since I obviously had to cancel that date with the Duggars marathon on TLC, I knew I’d have a little extra time on my hands to share this deliciousness with you. 🙂

This is my kind of meal – dark brown, caramelized, sweet and savory deliciousness. There is something about deep, dark sauce that I just can’t resist. It just screams flavor to me. It’s cooked in one skillet on the stove top making it pretty much the perfect one dish meal. The original recipe calls for sweet Italian sausage but I only had hot on hand I really enjoyed the bit of heat in the background with the sweet onions and braising liquid. You can serve it with just about any starch you have on hand, pasta, potatoes, rice. I bet it would be delicious with polenta. Couscous would work too. Whatever you’ve got!

I guess you could call this my last meal. What a way to go! WIN! My Iowa kitchen is officially closed. I hope the next owner enjoys it as much as I did! It’s hard to say when I’ll see you around these parts again because, as of today our house is empty and we don’t actually have a place to go on the other side yet. It’s a long story and I’ll spare you the details but just know all my kitchen stuff is likely to be held hostage in the back of a trailer (be strong, young KitchenAid Mixer! It will be okay!) for the next 30 days or more while we figure this out. (Thanks Short Sale House we fell in love with, you’ve been AWESOME so far!)

Blah.

Stress-level…RISING! I wish I had some sausage. That sure would help things.

BALSAMIC BRAISED SAUSAGE & ONIONS (Recipe source: Originally from Rachael Ray 365 No Repeats, as seen at What’s Cooking, Chicago?)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 links of sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 medium onions, sliced thinly.
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups chicken stock or chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons honey

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage links and brown on all sides. Remove the sausages and set aside.
  2. To the same skillet, add the onions, thyme and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook the onion mixture, stirring frequently, until they begin to caramelize and brown, about 10 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar, chicken stock , and honey and stir to combine. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then add the browned sausages back to the pan and braise uncovered until they are cooked through (10 to 12 minutes) and the sauce has reduced by half.
  3. To serve, plate the sausages (whole or sliced) with the starch of your choice and top with the onions and braising liquid.

ENJOY!

One Year Ago: Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecakes – with pretzel crusts!
Two Years Ago: Vanilla Cake Batter Ice Cream

Obviously, I don’t believe in cutting out the sweets after the holidays. My apologies. 😉

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