Cider Braised Sausages with Apples and Collards

Pork and apples… mmmmm….

Pork and apples might’ve been my first foray into the world of food pairings. I’m not sure what prompted me to ladle apple sauce over my leathery pork chop that day in my college cafeteria. But I thought I was a genius. It wasn’t till later that I realized pork and apples is a tried and true culinary couplet.

Cider Braised Sausages with Apples and Collards
inspired by America’s Test Kitchen and Epicurious

1-2 T bacon grease, lard, ghee, coconut oil, as you wish
4 medium or spicy sausages, as you wish
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 firm baking apple such as granny smith, cored and chopped
1 cup apple cider*
1 bunch collards, washed
1/4 cup apple or pear butter
3T  apple cider vinegar
a pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Remove the large ribs from the collards by holding them by the stem and stripping them up the stem, much as you would a stalk of rosemary. Gather the leaves together and chop roughly. Set aside. Bring a large skillet over medium high heat and melt1 T of the fat. When it sputters, add the sausages, leaving space in between each one so that they don’t steam. Let them sizzle without moving until a good crust is formed, about 1 minute. Then use tongs to flip them and brown another minute. Remove to a plate. Add the onions and garlic, if necessary add the rest of the fat. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and let them saute for about a minute, until the onions are slightly translucent and the garlic begins to color. Pour in the cider and scrape the bottom to remove the flavorful fond. Stir in the vinegar and red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer. Add the apples and another pinch of salt. Replace the sausages and add the collards and stir until they cook down a bit. Put a lid on the skillet and reduce heat to low. Braise for about 10 minutes. Remove sausages again (sorry…)  and keep warm. Add cream and apple butter. Stir until it thickens into a lovely silky sauce. Replace the sausages and rewarm if necessary. Serve with cornbread to mop up the sauce.

* I used leftover spiced cider I made for a party. However, you could use a favorite hard cider or even apple juice. Though if you do use juice, make sure to get a good quality one, preferably unfiltered, for the most apple-y taste.

Posted 12 years, 7 months ago at 6:10 pm. 4 comments

An Impromptu Autumn Salad

I admire people who can “do” impromptu, whether acting, singing, joke telling, or speeching. For me to agree to do any of those things I would require ample amount of time to prepare. (And even then, you probably only have a hope of convincing me to speak publicly.) Thinking on my feet is not one of my stronger qualities.

In the kitchen, however, I am much more adept at improvising. I love the magic of off-the-cuff meals– when disparate ingredients come together into a delicious punchline of a dinner.

That’s what happened this past lunchtime. I gathered together what sounded good: lettuce with the crispness of fall morning air, golden raisins the color of its afternoon light, and toasted almonds smelling of its evening fire. Toothsome pears and leftover pear brandy cream sauce completed the cast.

Posted 12 years, 9 months ago at 7:35 pm. Add a comment

A Snow Day and Pesto Chicken and Rice Soup

The weather here has shown an uncharacteristic propensity for white this winter. While she often indulges in her love for the sparkly white of frosts, she usually only dons the honest-to-God white stuff every four or five years. This season, which isn’t over yet, she has waltzed out in the swirly white dress no less than twice.

While I fully intended to make the trek to the farm, it seems that pregnant scooter-riding farmers get a snow day. With the unexpected day off, my thoughts turned to good snow day activities.  I was having trouble staying warm… it seems Hemingway is taking all my body heat too. So, instead of going all the way outside, we did our snow activities from the window. While Mr. Quotidian held the window open, I leaned out and made our snow avatars. A tall snowman in Mr. Quotidian’s likeness was easy enough, but I had trouble with the pregnant snowife. So, as a compromise, I fashioned a little Hemingway snowman separately.

Nothing could be more of a soup day than a snow day, so I turned my attention towards dinner. For me, soup must include two things if it’s to be classified as a snow day soup. It must be based on real broth that has been simmering all day, and it must not require any ingredients other than what’s already in my fridge, freezer, or pantry. (Extra points for being able to use leftovers.) The requirements, though they might seem random, actually have some reason behind them. The on-hand ingredients stipulation is for the obvious reason that on a snow day you either can’t or don’t want to make the journey to the grocery store. The broth specification has to do with the anticipation factor. Snow days typically involve long stints under blankets  punctuated by brief stints of outdoor frivolity. When I’m home all day, there’s something about slowly becoming aware of the aroma of stock simmering on the stove, attending it throughout the day, and then enjoying the rewards at the end of the day. That pleasure is compounded when my hands are cold from snow and they slowly thaw as I stir the stock, leaning next to a warm stove. Obviously these aren’t real conditions and don’t absolutely have to be followed to have a successful soup. For me, they are just what distinguishes a Snow Day Soup from any other run of the mill soup.

I just happened to have a leftover whole chicken and some rice from last week that was practically begging to be made into soup. In the morning, I picked all the meat from the bones and set the stock to simmer. Later that evening, I sauteed some onions and garlic and stole a few ladle-fuls of the stock, leaving the rest to simmer overnight. I also added a bit of leftover whey to up the protein content (pregnant you know). Because I had time to spare, I added what I consider one of the secret weapons of a good soup: a Parmesan rind. These take awhile to melt in, but can’t be outdone in the savoriness  and body they add to soup. When the rind was melted, I added the cooked rice and shredded chicken. Then, at the last minute to preserve its color, I added a couple spoonfuls of homemade pesto. Perfect. Even though I hadn’t been out playing in the snow all day, this soup bore the same sense of comfort and well-being that a hot meal did after my childhood snow days. With this soup, the weather can wear white all she likes.

Snow Day Pesto Chicken and Rice Soup

1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, grated or chopped
2 Tbs butter
1 quart chicken stock (opt. part whey)
1 hunk Parmesan cheese rind
2-3 cups leftover chicken
1-2 cups cooked rice
2 Tbs pesto
salt and pepper
yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche

In a medium pot, melt the butter. When is sizzles, add the onions and garlic with a pinch of salt. Stir to coat them with the butter. Let them cook until they start to soften. Add the broth and cheese rind. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and let simmer until the rind is melted into the stock. If you have a few stubborn bits that refuse to melt, just fish them out. Add the chicken and rice and cook till heated through. Right before serving, add the pesto. If you add it too far in advance, it will loose its vibrant green. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with a swirl of yogurt and a dollop of extra pesto.

Posted 13 years, 6 months ago at 7:06 am. Add a comment

Zucchini Boats

IMG_2259Recipe names like this always make me think of the book Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.  I bet somewhere in the town of Chewandswallow, amidst all the chaos, was a perceptive mother. She saw the signs of an impending Act of Food and so decided to just let that zucchini in her garden keep growing. While the rest of the townspeople eyed her strangely as they indulged in falling pie and fried chicken, she ignored them, confident in her knowledge of what was coming.  Soon, it all changed. Pea soup engulfed the town. Stale bread filled the ocean. Meatballs fell from the sky. The rest of the town cobbled together peanut butter sandwich rafts that were doomed to water log. Meanwhile, this clever mother harvested her zucchini and herded her family inside, including the pet cat and Little Daughter’s fireflies. They were warm, dry, and well fed as their  zucchini ark was tossed about the ocean. Having grown her family to safety, this woman now lives among us, smiling politely at our weak jokes about zucchini boats.

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Posted 13 years, 10 months ago at 6:15 am. 1 comment

Tips for a Successful “Leftovers” Soup

IMG_2079Leftovers are the problem child of the kitchen. They throw tantrums and fall all over the floor when forced to share space in the fridge. They stubbornly refuse to go away and seem to bring out the worst in other family members forced to coexist with them. Clearly, something needs to be done about them.

While simply reheating that leftover enchilada or half serving of peas is certainly an option, I prefer to disguise my leftovers as soup. Depending on your perspective, this is either a creative and frugal way to reuse ingredients or a shady practice that comes dangerously close to being dishonest. I am loyal to the first camp, but must admit that some of my leftover soups have made me feel mildly criminal, as they tasted like I just dumped all my disparate leftovers into a pot of broth and called it soup.

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Posted 14 years, 3 months ago at 5:38 am. 2 comments

Lemony Shrimp Soup

IMG_2024I felt like Snow White while making this soup. While I hummed about the kitchen, ingredients seemed to wing out of the fridge and into the soup as if little adorable doe eyed woodland creatures were helping them along. Before I knew it, I had a beautiful soup that seemed to have created itself.

I love those days.

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Posted 14 years, 4 months ago at 7:23 am. 1 comment