Let’s Get the Meatball Rolling

shortcut sausage meatballs

hot and fresh out tha kitchen

Happy New Year, people! So far, it seems that 2014 is only about one thing: the cold.

Seriously, there’s something called a polar vortex screwing up all the weather across the US. The South is cold, the Northeast is freezing, the Midwest is like the Arctic. So, when it’s this cold out, I can think of only one thing to really warm me up: some hot – and fast – comfort food.

But first, let’s talk about meatballs.

I know. Everyone has their favorite meatball recipe. Grandma Whatever used to make them with so-and-so ingredient, and that means they’re the best meatballs on the planet. Sure, sure. We’re all entitled to our favorite meatball recipe. But sometimes you don’t have the time to let your meatballs slow-cook away all day in a pot of sauce. Sometimes you just want to stuff your face with meatballs before your nose falls off from frostbite. True story.

So when that happens to you, put Grandma Whatever’s recipe away, and whip up these bad boys instead. And in no time you’ll be enjoying heavenly little sausage meatballs, cooked (quickly) in a flavorful sauce.

Shortcut Sausage Meatballs
1 lb of Italian sausage (I used hot)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
½ bunch of scallions, diced
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Your favorite pasta (I used spaghetti)
Grated Parmesan, for garnish

Start by removing the sausage from the casings. Place into a medium bowl and gently mix together. Roll cherry tomato-sized meatballs and place on piece of wax paper.

shortcut sausage meatballs

hey fellas

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the meatballs and cook until they’re brown on all sides. Add the scallions and oregano, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Next add the crushed tomatoes, ½ can of water and the bay leaves, and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes until the sauce slightly thickens and the meatballs are cooked through.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pot of salted water until al dente. Then drain.

Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. (Remember to remove the bay leaves before serving.) Plate the pasta, top with a few meatballs and spoonfuls of sauce, garnish with some grated Parmesan, and eat.


200th Post: Ciabatta Breakfast Pizza

ciabatta breakfast pizza

put an egg on it

Well folks, here we are: Post Number 200. I really can’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d ever make to 100, but then I did. And now there’s 100 posts more. Wow. A gigantic THANKS to everyone who’s egged me on over the past 2+ years.

I’m very happy that this little endeavor of mine has evolved from an egg-centric blog to one that now includes everything – cookies, chicken, baked goods, ice cream, brussels sprouts – that I love to make and eat. This ciabatta breakfast pizza fits in quite nicely. It’s comforting and easy, a little spicy and cheesy, and puts a new spin on a classic dish – French bread pizza. Plus, it’s something you can eat for brunch or supper, which in my book means it’s a truly awesome dish.

Ciabatta Breakfast Pizza
1 demi loaf of ciabatta bread, cut in half lengthwise
2 to 3 links of hot Italian sausage, casings removed
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
4 slices of hot pepper Colby Jack cheese
3 eggs
Garlic powder
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Scallions, chopped (for garnish)

Heat your oven to 450º.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, breaking it into pieces, and cook until brown and no traces of pink. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 more minutes.

Place the bottom half of the ciabatta bread on a baking sheet, and put the other half aside for another recipe (or make 2 pizzas). Lightly drizzle the bread with olive oil and a sprinkle of garlic salt. Place the cheese slices on the bread, allowing them to slightly overlap, and then add the cooked sausage on top. Bake for 10 minutes, until the cheese melts and the bread crisps.

While the pizza bakes, fry the eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Gently place the eggs on top of the pizza and garnish with chopped scallion. Cut into pieces and eat.

ciabatta breakfast pizza

a slice of eggy heaven

Thanks again everyone. Here’s to 200 more posts!

Serving Up Sausage

pork breakfast sausage

let’s play patty cakes

While I was getting the makings for Mexican home fries, I decided to forgo the usual stuffed-inside-a-box breakfast sausage and get ingredients to make my own. Because if you can’t be snowed in (or rather, rained in) without a good meal, what’s the point? Making your own sausage patties is surprisingly easy. Just mix your seasonings – the ones below are what I used, but by all means, adjust to your own tastes – and fry ‘em up. It’s best to cook a small piece up first to see if you like the flavor combo, since nobody wants imperfectly seasoned sausage patties for breakfast.

Pork Breakfast Sausage
– 1 to 1 ½ lbs of ground pork
– ¾ tablespoon of dried sage
– 2 teaspoons of dried marjoram
– 2 teaspoons of dried thyme
– 2 teaspoons of cracked red pepper flakes
– ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
– 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
– ½ teaspoon of salt
– ½ teaspoon of pepper

In a large bowl, mix together the pork and seasonings. A pair of clean hands works better than a spoon – just wash your hands after mixing. Heat a skillet over medium heat and cook a small, spoon-sized amount of the sausage on both sides for a few minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Then form the sausage into patties – grab a small amount with your fingers, roll into a ball and then flatten – and fry for about 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through.

Gratin to Something Good

chicken sausage, mushroom & potato gratin

it’s gggggratin

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving last week. I’m just now coming out of my food coma due to four solid says of eating and relaxing with my family. And what have I found since snapping back to reality? It’s cold. Very cold. I wasn’t expecting that, or the snow flurries we got yesterday. One mild winter and your entire sense of the seasons change! Anyway … when it’s cold, I like to eat things that are warm and hearty and cheesy. This gratin (which is a fancy term used when something baked has a nice, golden crust on top) delivers on all that big-time. It’s got so many of the flavors that I love too: mushrooms, potatoes and sweet apple chicken sausage. If you’ve never tried that before, you’re really missing out. The brand I used has maple syrup in it, adding a little touch of sweetness. Eating this almost put me back into my food coma. Hmm. Maybe I’ll eat more and stay in there until spring.

Chicken Sausage, Mushroom & Potato Gratin
– 4 to 5 Al Fresco Sweet Apple Chicken Sausages, casings removed
– 1 large onion, chopped
– 4 oz of sliced mushrooms
– 1 ½ lbs of small red potatoes, halved and quartered
– ½ cup of low-sodium chicken stock
– ¾ cup of shredded Swiss cheese
– Garlic salt
– Pepper
– Olive oil
– Cooking spray

Heat your oven to 400º.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook for 6 minutes, stirring to crumble, until browned and cooked through. Remove the sausage from the skillet and place into a bowl; set aside.

Add a little olive oil to the skillet and then add the onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, season to taste with garlic salt and pepper, and cook for about 10 minutes, until slightly soft and just starting to brown. (Cook longer if you want them really brown – just make sure the potatoes don’t get too soft or stick to the skillet.) Stir in the sausage and chicken broth.

Place the mixture into a 9×7 baking dish (or similar) and top with the shredded Swiss. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes, or until golden. Let cool slightly, and then eat.

All in the Family

zucchini & sausage skillet casserole

the family that eats together, stays together

This past weekend I went home to Texas. As far as my parents were concerned, it was just a summertime visit where we’d eat and drink and get plenty of pool time. But secretly, my brother and I had organized a surprise 40th wedding anniversary party for them. (Well, he did most of the heavy lifting since he lives down there.) We invited all of their friends, our neighbors and as an extra special surprise, my aunt, uncle and cousins flew down too. I was a little stressed getting them out of the house on Saturday afternoon, but it all worked out and the party was a great success! Since my relatives were in town, that meant more family time on Sunday. It was the first time in a many years that we were all together, and it was awesome. Even in our 30s, it’s still fun to splash around in the pool with your brother and cousins.

Anyway, long story short, being together made me realize (remember?) what a great family I have and all the years of happy memories, funny stories … and great food. My cousin and aunt kept talking about this zucchini casserole they’ve been making all summer. It’s fitting, because it seems a lot like our family. There’s some Italian sausage (that would be for my Dad’s side of the family), plenty of summer veggies so everybody gets what they like, and some wine, which I’ve added to my version because there’s always wine or beer or booze flowing when we get together. And since nobody likes to wait a long time to eat, this casserole is quick and easy, and needs only 1 skillet.

Zucchini & Sausage Skillet Casserole
– 1 lb (4 links) of sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed
– 2 carrots, thinly sliced
– 1 small zucchini, thinly sliced
– 1 small yellow summer squash, thinly sliced
– 1 medium onion, diced
– 5 Roma tomatoes, diced
– ½ lb of green beans, blanched and chopped
– 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning
– ½ teaspoon of cumin seeds
– Cracked red pepper
– ¼ cup of white wine
– 1 tablespoon of grated Pecorino Romano
– Salt and pepper
– Olive oil

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the sausage, breaking it into pieces, and cook until brown. Add the onion, carrots, zucchini and squash, season to taste with a little salt and pepper, and cook until the veggies are soft, about 12 minutes. Add the tomatoes, green beans, Italian seasoning, cumin seeds, white wine and season to taste with pepper and cracked red pepper. Cover and let simmer about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Off heat, stir in a tablespoon or so of cheese. Let cool slightly and then eat.

mom & dad are excellent cake cutters

I just had to include a picture of my parents, since they’re the reason we all got together last weekend. Aren’t they cute cutting the cake together? Happy 40th! Love you guys!

Dad’s a Fungi

sausage stuffed mushrooms

like father, like son

Happy Father’s Day, everyone! Wait. Actually, just a Happy Father’s Day to my dear ol’ Dad, because this post is for him. My dad loves mushrooms. I mean, he really loves them. And so do I. So it’s been common practice for years that whenever we’re together and go out to eat, we order stuffed mushrooms. We happily stuff our faces while my mom and brother look at us disapprovingly, as they’re not into fungi what-so-ever. So in honor of him and his special day, here are some extra special stuffed mushrooms. They’re stuffed with hot Italian sausage, and are larger than the ordinary ones you’ll find a most restaurants. Seriously, you could eat these with a knife and fork. I think my dad – heck, any dad who loves mushrooms – would wholeheartedly approve.

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms
– 8 to 10 large stuffing mushrooms
– 3 tablespoons of Marsala wine
– 4 hot Italian sausages (about 10 oz), casings removed
– 1 small white onion, diced
– 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
– ½ cup of breadcrumbs
– 1 tablespoon of soft cream cheese
– ¾ cup of grated Parmesan
– Salt and pepper
– Cracked red pepper
– Olive oil
– 1 lemon (optional)

Remove the stems from the mushrooms and dice them. Place the mushroom caps in a shallow bowl and toss with about 2 tablespoons of Marsala wine. Set aside.

Heat your oven to 350º.

In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, breaking it into pieces, and cook until brown and no traces of pink. Next add the onion and diced mushroom stems and cook until the onions are slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bread crumbs. Add the cream cheese and 1 tablespoon of Marsala wine and continue cooking until the cream cheese has melted. Off the heat, stir in ½ cup of grated Parmesan and season to taste with salt, pepper and cracked red pepper.

Fill each mushroom with some of the sausage mixture and arrange in a baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese over each mushroom and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the stuffing is browned and crusty and the mushrooms are tender. Let cool slightly and then eat. Squeeze a little lemon juice over them for a touch of freshness.

One Skillet Wonder

so rustic, so tasty

It’s seems that every week I’m loving my cast-iron skillet more and more. I’ve had the one pictured for the better part of a decade, but only recently have I started using it more frequently. I love that it easily goes from my stove to my oven, and that it’s so rustic looking. I can imagine people using this very skillet 200 years ago. And you know what? I’m bet they could have made something very similar to this bake. The herbs and spices, the winter root vegetables, the chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), the sweet Italian sausage … it tastes just as rustic and comforting as the skillet looks.

Sausage and Chickpea Bake
– 1 lb of sweet Italian sausage with fennel, casings removed
– ½ of a large yellow onion, diced
– 2 carrots, chopped
– 2 parsnips, chopped
– 2 teaspoons of paprika
– 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
– ½ teaspoon of dried thyme
– ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes
– ¼ teaspoon of black pepper
– 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
– 1 ¼ cups of chicken stock
– 1 19 oz can of chickpeas, rinsed & drained
– ¼ cup of breadcrumbs
– Olive oil

Heat your oven to 350º.

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, breaking it into pieces, and cook until brown and no traces of pink. Next add the onion, carrots and parsnips and cook until the onions are slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the paprika, cumin seeds, thyme, red pepper flakes and black pepper and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic and cook 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock and simmer until the liquid reduces by about 1/3. Stir in the chickpeas, and then sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Let cool slightly, then eat.

check out all those chickpeas

This bake is perfect for a cold night. I love the way all of the flavors meld together, from the sweet sausage to the spicy paprika and cumin seeds, plus the soft and crunchy texture from the chickpeas is amazing.