Thursday, September 24, 2020

Smoked Sausage Casserole

Ready for the oven. Lots of colors and textures.
 
AUTUMN is certainly casserole season. Hearty meals of humble ingredients that are easily assembled and easy on the wallet. Often, they can be prepared the day before and are on the table in no time. Usually baked in one pan or dish, clean-up is not complicated. They are comfy and filling. What's not to like?
 
I have been making this casserole for the past week. Day after day. Honestly, I have not tired of it. I love the flavor. I love the long slow cook in the oven and smell of the sausage and seasonings as it permeates my apartment. Every ingredient just naturally complements each other: potatoes, carrots, onions, string beans.
 
No green beans in this one, but just as good!

 
The first time I made it, I couldn't get the seasonings right. The first try was awful. I was out of Italian seasoning, so I used Herbes de Provence. Big mistake. After a few tries, I think I got it just right. Of course, feel free to add your own. But don't skip the celery salt.
 
Look for sausage when it is on sale or BOGO. And stock up/freeze. My preferred brand is Hillshire Farm smoked beef sausage. I prefer it to Ecrich. A pound of sausage with veggies can satisfyingly feed several people. But this is also a simple dish to prepare for just one or two. Or, in addition to making a larger dish, make a smaller one, too, to share with a friend or neighbor. 
 
This is really more of a process than a recipe. Add how many veggies you would like. Go easy on the dried seasonings. A little goes a long way and remember it will bake for two hours, so that is a long process for the tastes to mingle. Avoid slicing your sausage too thin. You don't want it to dry out while it cooks.

  • 12-16 ounces smoked beef sausage
  • 3/4 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 3-4 medium red potatoes, scrubbed, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup baby carrot pieces 
  • 1 cup fresh string beans, cut in half or thirds 
  • Butter
  • White wine, (optional)
  •  Sour cream for serving (optional)
  • Seasoning:
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
  • A good pinch or two of each: dried thyme flakes, rubbed sage leaves, dried marjoram leaves
  • A shake or two of garlic powder (not much)
  • A shake or two of celery salt
  • A few grinds of pepper
  •  
Cut the sausage into 2-inch rounds. Add to a bowl. Add the vegetables and seasonings. Mix to coat. Add to a 11x 7-inch baking dish or pan. Dot with butter. If desired, sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons white wine. The onions will tend to break apart and as they bake they almost disappear into the sauce, so keep that in mind.
 
Cover tightly with aluminum foil or lid. Bake for two hours at 300F degrees (I've also baked for three hours at 200F).  Remember, the sausage is already cooked, you are really just cooking the veggies and creating a sauce.
 

If your butter is soft, just add to the mixture to coat. That's what I did here.


Remove from oven. Keep covered for up to 30 minutes. Carefully remove the foil avoiding any steam that may escape. Stir. Serve, if desired, with a bit of sour cream on the side.
 

Here is a "small" version where I only used potatoes and onions. Delish!





Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Blueberry Pie

 

I was organizing my computer when I came across a file of blueberry pie pictures I had taken several years ago. But, for some reason, I never posted the recipe. I think I was going to do some research into blueberry farming and then got waylaid .... You know how that goes.



This recipe is based on America's Test Kitchen. It uses several handy little secrets. First, to keep the filling from spilling and spreading when the pie is cooled and cut, it uses a grated Granny Smith apple. Genius. The apple is loaded with natural pectin and acts as a thickener without having to mix in copious amounts of starchy additives such as flour, tapioca or corn starch. You will not taste the apple as it just kind of melts into the blueberries. Lastly, to concentrate the blueberry flavor, this recipe makes a kind of "jam" to use in the filling. I rarely have tapioca on hand, so I just skip that and add a few tablespoons of flour. I also substitute lime for the lemon. It makes for a "fresher" tasting pie. I think.

I rarely make my own crust. It's just as easy to purchase the pie dough at the grocery store. Just use a reputable brand. Easy-peasy. The ATK crust uses vodka.

Here in the South it is difficult to get what I call "real" blueberries unless they are trucked in from the cooler and wetter mountains to a local farmers market. Heat and berries just do not go well together. I've never used frozen or canned berries.

I hail from Southwest Michigan where growing conditions are perfect for growing blueberries: sandy soil and plenty of water.  Michigan annually produces 92 million pounds of product.

The most difficult aspect of preparing a fruit pie, for me, is gauging the amount of sugar to use. Of course, it all depends on the sugar-content of the fruit you are using. Add too much, and the fruit flavor is lost; too little and you end up with a too-tart pie. If my blueberries are plump, juicy and sweet, I use less sugar.

I am not a believer in a big fruit pies. I use smallish pans and never pile the fruit a mile high. I like a good ratio of crust to fruit which one gets in a smaller pie. A ten-inch fruit pie can often just fall apart--and that's why one makes cobblers in oblong pans.





For one 9-inch pie:

  • 6 cups fresh blueberries (about 30 ounces)
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated on large holes of box grater
  • 2 teaspoons grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon (I use limes)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces) [depending on sweetness of berries]
  • 2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, ground (I just use flour)
  • Pinch table salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces 


Measure 3 cups of berries into a saucepan and over medium heat. Using a potato masher or similar tool, mash berries several times to release juice. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, line a 9-inch pie plate with dough of your choice. (Hint: if you are using a ceramic dish, I suggest lightly greasing or buttering it.) Place the grated apple in a clean towel or dish rag and wring/squeeze out the juice until all that remains is the pulp.

Place the apple pulp in a large bowl. Add the cooled blueberry mash, remaining fresh blueberries, citrus, sugar, tapioca or flour, salt. Gently fold to combine.

Transfer to your pastry-lined dish. Dot with butter. Roll out your top crust. Crimp edges under bottom crust and securely pinch together using a fluting method of your choice. You don't want all the juices leaking out. Cover the edges with a tin saver or tinfoil to prevent over browning.

Be sure to vent the top crust so the steam can escape. Here, I cut out a small circle and then made four slashes. I always use for to coordinate with the directions of Earth.

Bake in a 400 F. degree oven for 30 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 and finish baking another 30-40 minutes until crust is golden brown. If your is smaller, you will need to adjust baking times.

Cool completely before cutting.




Because blueberries prefer a slightly acidic soil, their autumn foliage can be breathtaking, especially if  it covers acres of land to the horizon.