Now That’s a Spicy Meatball!

Hot Turkey Italian Sausage

Growing up, sometimes as a special treat, Mom would make spaghetti with spicy Italian sausage. It was yummy — as all of Mom’s meals are — but it was a very occasional treat because pork Italian sausage is so fatty.

So many years ago, I was THRILLED to find spicy turkey Italian sausage in my grocery. Both Butterball and Jennie-O make Italian sausages, available as sweet or hot. I don’t care for the sweet Italian sausage — never have — but the hot turkey Italian sausage is YUMMY, peoples! Whenever I would find it for sale, I’d stock up on it, wrapping the sausages in cling wrap and freezing them.

Hot Italian Turkey Sausage

Over this past year, though, despite searching stores everywhere — including Tyler — I’ve only been able to find the sweet turkey Italian sausage. I can find spicy pork Italian sausage, but I really don’t want to spend the calories on it.

Remembering that I’ve made breakfast sausage in the past, I began wondering if I could make my own spicy Italian Sausage. I wouldn’t bother with putting it in the casing, because that wouldn’t really be necessary for my purposes, but I did want to be able to use it for Fabio Viviani’s “Lazy Meatballs,” where he squeezes bite-sized pieces of Italian sausage from the casing, rolls it into a meatball shape, and drops it into simmering pasta sauce to cook.

Also, of course, I would still be able to brown the sausage to use in any other recipes. The only thing I wouldn’t be able to do without the casing is make an Italian sausage sandwich, but given that I hardly, if ever, make those, I think I’ll be fine without the casing — and I could always make a Lazy Meatball sandwich, which would be similar. (NOTE: If you want your sausage in a casing, you can get them for use at home, and stuff them by hand or, if you plan on making a huge batch of them, you can get a machine that will help you stuff them.)

So, I began Googling recipes. Many call for using pork shoulder or pork butt, which is finely chopped/ground in either  a meat grinder or food processor. There are a variety of spice combinations, also, from very basic and simple (salt, fennel, and red pepper flakes) to a myriad of spices and methods (including toasting spices and/or infusing them in olive oil) combined for a more complex flavor. Most of the recipes yielded anywhere from 2 to 20 pounds of sausage, but I only wanted to make a pound, especially on my maiden run.

After reviewing a variety of recipes, methods, and descriptions, I devised a plan to

  • Use extra lean (90/10) ground turkey,
  • Include a splash of olive oil (which I thought would help with the texture and flavor),
  • Employ a variety of spices to make a flavorful “sausage,” and
  • Give the “sausage” a couple of hours in the refrigerator for the flavors to meld before using it in a recipe (some recipes used the sausage mixture right away, others insisted it must be mixed one or more days ahead).

I thawed out a pound of ground turkey, made a list of the spices and their amounts that I wanted to use, mixed it all together, and then put it back in the ‘fridge for a couple of hours. To test it out, I made Fabio’s Lazy Meatballs with a Lucini pasta sauce (I opted not to make my own pasta sauce this time, as I wanted to focus on the “sausage” and its flavor).

Peoples: It. Was. YUMMY! Beloved loved the spicy flavor and the texture, and we’re both very happy to have Spicy Italian Sausage back in our lives!

Some notes:

  1. I used extra lean (90/10) ground turkey, but you can use ground chicken, ground pork, or even extra-lean ground beef. You could also use ground turkey breast or ground chicken breast, but you’ll get a richer flavor and better texture, I think, with 90/10 or 93/7 ground meat.
  2. If you use ground breast, I think I would add in a bit of finely minced carrot and onion to improve the texture and provide moisture.
  3. The recipe is for a pound, but you can scale it up or down fairly easily. If you like, you could make a large batch and freeze it in desired portion sizes for use later.
  4. Although you could probably use it right away, I do think giving it a couple – three hours (or overnight) for the flavors to meld and enhance will make for a more flavorful mixture.
  5. Making this yourself, of course, you can adjust the level of spice and heat. We like it spicy and hot, but if you want it milder, you could cut back on the red pepper flakes and/or the paprika, as well as the cayenne (or leave it out all together). And of course, if you want it hotter, you could add in more red pepper flakes, paprika, and/or cayenne. For us, the recipe as presented here gave us a yummy, fragrant, spicy, but not too hot, flavor.
  6. Dried herbs (as opposed to fresh) are the better choice for this recipe. With the exception of the powdered herbs and the pepper, I crushed/rubbed the herbs between my palms to make them finer and release more of their flavor. You could also whiz all the spices together in a food processor, if you prefer, before sprinkling them on the meat.

So here you go — homemade Spicy Italian Sausage. Buon Appetito!

Hot Italian Sausage (Makes 1 pound, easy to scale up or down)

  • 1 pound lean (90/10 or 93/7) ground meat (I used turkey)
  • Splash of olive oil (I used garlic-infused olive oil)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon basil (rub between your palms)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano (rub between your palms)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed (rub between your palms)
  • 1 teaspoon parsley (rub between your palms)
  1. Place ground meat in a bowl. Add in spices and drizzle with olive oil. Mix together thoroughly. (I wear disposable, non-powdered gloves — like those for first aid — when doing messy chores like this.)
  2. Cover and place in refrigerator for two or three hours or overnight for flavors to meld.
  3. Refrigerate or freeze after cooking OR freeze, uncooked, for later use.

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Posted in Beef, Chicken, Main Dish, Pork, Turkey | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Potato? No, Pâté!

Céad míle fáilte! (A hundred thousand welcomes!) 

As per usual, my beloved and I celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day this past Friday, and happily, my mom felt well enough to join in the festivies. As Wikipedia tells us:

Saint Patrick’s Day (Irish: Lá Fhéile Pádraig) is a religious holiday celebrated internationally on 17 March. It is named after Saint Patrick (c. AD 387–461), the most commonly recognised of the patron saints of Ireland. It originated as a Catholic holiday but is now celebrated by Protestants also. It became an official feast day in the early 17th century. Over time, Saint Patrick’s Day has gradually become more of a secular celebration of Irish culture….

Originally, the color associated with Saint Patrick was blue. Over the years the color green and its association with Saint Patrick’s day grew. Green ribbons and shamrocks were worn in celebration of St Patrick’s Day as early as the 17th century. He is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish, and the wearing and display of shamrocks and shamrock-inspired designs have become a ubiquitous feature of the day. In the 1798 rebellion, in hopes of making a political statement, Irish soldiers wore full green uniforms on 17 March in hopes of catching public attention. The phrase “the wearing of the green”, meaning to wear a shamrock on one’s clothing, derives from a song of the same name.

This year, I decided to try out some new things as part of our celebrations, either with new recipes or by cooking something familiar in a different way.

While the potato famine made potatoes one of the foods synonymous with Ireland, Irish cuisine is also known for its seafood. Inspired by some recipes I found at http://www.ireland.com, I decided to give Cliff Academy: Lesley Keogh’s Smoked salmon pâté a try.

“Guinness is good for you!” in Celtic

Of course, me being me, I made a few adjustments, mainly substituting Neufchâtel (reduced-fat cream cheese) for the full-fat cream cheese and using dried dill instead of fresh.

Our Saint Patrick’s Day lunch was an al fresco affair with an assortment of Irish cheeses, assorted crackers, fresh fruit, a variety of olives, and this Salmon Pâté, which is now officially one of my favorite things. Oh, and of course, we had some Guinness on hand — because, as we all know, Guinness is good for you! (Please forgive me, as I have absolutely no idea how to get these images to be side by side. *sigh*)

A trio of Irish Cheeses: Dubliner, Aged Cheddar, and a Gouda.

The Salmon Pâté takes center stage!

Blueberries, Strawberries, and Two Types of Seedless Grapes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the next time you are looking for a delicious but special appetizer that comes together 1-2-3, then give this easy, elegant Salmon Pâté a try. Because it calls for equal parts smoked salmon and cream cheese, it’s very easy to make as much or as little as you like! I made mine with 6 ounces of smoked salmon and 6 ounces of reduced-fat cream cheese. I think it might also taste delicious on a bagel — just call it Lox Pâté. 😉

I promise you, it tastes so yummy, you’ll break out into an Irish jig!

 

Salmon Pâté

  • Smoked salmon
  • Reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel)
  • Horseradish to taste (I eyeballed mine — use pure horseradish, NOT the horseradish “sauce” or creamed horseradish)
  • Lemon juice to taste (I eyeballed mine)
  • Dried (or fresh) dill to taste (I eyeballed mine)
  1. Place EQUAL PARTS of smoked salmon and cream cheese into a food processor. Season to taste with horseradish, lemon juice, and dill. (Remember, you can always add in more, but you can’t take it out.)
  2. Whiz together in your food processor until smooth. Taste; add additional seasonings if needed.
  3. Serve with crackers, cocktail breads, or cocktail-sized toast squares or points. Refrigerate leftovers, tightly covered.

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The Big Ragu!

laverne__shirleyIf you ever watched Laverne & Shirley, then the chances are good that you’re familiar with Carmine “the Big Ragu” Ragusa, one of the recurring characters on the show portrayed by Eddie Mekka.

While I’ve learned to make a yummy Bolognese Sauce, there are times when a meat sauce — or a Ragù Carne (I’ve also seen it as Ragù di Carne — as I’m not an Italian speaker, I don’t know which is correct, or if they both are) — will do just fine, such as when making lasagna or Penne al Forno con Ragù Carne (Baked Penne with Meat Sauce).

A few months ago, I was going to be out for the day, and I wanted an easy supper. We wanted spaghetti, and so I decided to try making my meat sauce (Ragù Carne) in my slow cooker. I kept it simple: browned meat (extra lean ground turkey, ground beef, or even lean ground bulk sausage will work), onion, carrot, a tin of diced tomatoes, a tin of tomato paste, splash of Worcestershire, healthy splash of wine, and seasonings.

Peoples, it…was…YUMMY! Although not a Bolognese Sauce, it does made a lovely, thick, rich tasting sauce. This is currently my favorite way to make meat sauce!

And of course, if you like, you can add in some additional vegetables to the sauce — in making the sauce today, for example, I added in some fresh mushrooms that were reaching a “use or lose” status.

In December, I made a double batch of this sauce — a mix of ground turkey and ground bulk turkey sausage — and made two lasagnas: one for us and one as a gift for a friend.

If you don’t have time to put this sauce together in the morning, you can brown the meat the night before, put everything in your slow cooker, and put your slow cooker in the ‘fridge (or just refrigerate the browned meat and then put it all together in your slow cooker in the morning, or put the mixture all together in a separate container and refrigerate, then transfer it to your slow cooker in the morning).

TIP: To make clean-up easier, I suggest you use a slow cooker liner, lightly sprayed with cooking spray or oil. I use one even in my removable crock slow cooker.

VEGETARIANS: To make this sauce meatless, you can just leave out the meat, of course (and the Worcestershire sauce, if you want), although you might want to add in a small can (8 ounces) of tomato sauce or about 6 ounces (3/4 cup) of V-8 juice to increase the volume of sauce, or you can add in vegetables in lieu of the meat, such as a 10 ounce package of frozen spinach, diced eggplant, mushrooms, and/or diced zucchini. Because the additional vegetables will add additional liquid, you might want to double the tomato paste.

This sauce is SO EASY and yet SO YUMMY, I’m sure that Carmine “the big Ragu” would approve. 🙂

 

Buon Appetito! Salute!

Slow Cooker Ragù Carne (Makes enough for one pan of lasagna or approximately 6 servings over pasta) (Vegetarians: See note above)

  • 1 to 1.25 pounds extra lean (90/10 or greater) ground beef, ground turkey, or lean/reduced-fat ground bulk sausage
  • 1 can (14 – 15 ounces) diced tomatoes, UNDRAINED
  • 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
  • Splash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Healthy glug (1/4 to 1/3 cup) dry red wine (white wine would likely work, also) OR splash or two of red wine vinegar
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 to 1 onion, finely diced (I whiz mine up in my wee food processor)
  • 1 carrot, finely mined/diced (I whiz mine up in my wee food processor)
  • Minced garlic, if desired
  • Seasonings to taste: bay leaf (1 or 2), basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, garlic powder, red pepper flakes (for a bit of fra diavolo flavor)
  • NOTE: IF USING FRESH HERBS, stir in after sauce has cooked, UNLESS you want to add in a sprig or two of fresh rosemary, then remove the sprig after the sauce as simmered.
  1. Brown ground meat. If desired, add in some minced garlic and sauté for a minute or two once meat has browned.
  2. Stir all ingredients into slow cooker. (I recommend using a liner for easier clean-up.)
  3. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours. (NOTE: It won’t hurt the sauce if it cooks a little longer.)
  4. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.

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Posted in Beef, Main Dish, Pasta, Turkey, Vegetarian/Meatless | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Traditions

christmas-holidaysFor most of us, that’s what holidays are about — tradition!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love festive occasions, and I especially love the fall and winter holidays. Holidays combine the traditions and history of our culture with the memories of our childhoods.

Mom, From Before I Was Born -- Beautiful, Isn't She?

Mom, From Before I Was Born — Beautiful, Isn’t She?

My mom loves the fall and winter holidays, too. She’s the reason I enjoy cooking and why I pay attention to things such as setting a table properly even for the most casual of meals. She built many happy holiday memories for us.

One holiday tradition that Mom always did for Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings when I was growing up is making us a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Another is her absolutely delicious Broccoli with Cheese Sauce, which always made any meal a special one.

When Googling around for some new ideas and/or ways to make holiday meals easier, I came across a recipe from McCormick for Broccoli-Cauliflower Casserole.

This recipe appealed to me for several reasons:

  • It calls for frozen vegetables (fresh could be used, I’m sure, but fresh frozen are typically more affordable)
  • It can be made up to a day ahead
  • It reminds me of the yummy flavors of my mom’s Broccoli with Cheese Sauce, but unlike that dish, it doesn’t have to be made at the last minute.

So, I decided to give it a try. Of course, me being me, I made a few changes and adjustments, making the dish a bit lighter and more suiting our personal tastes.

Let me tell you, peoples — it was YUMMY! Mom said she likes it better than her own Broccoli with Cheese Sauce! I’m not sure about that, but it is mighty good.

McCormick’s suggests two seasoning variations — either all Italian Seasoning or a mixture of lemon pepper and basil seasoning. I went the lemon pepper and basil seasoning route, as I felt that would complement my Thanksgiving menu better, but the Italian seasoning would be yummy, as well.

I also think that a two pound mixture of almost any vegetables of your choice would be yummy, too!

And while it’s too early to tell, I’m thinking I may have started a new tradition with this dish! 🙂

 

So the next time you’re looking for a yummy but easy side dish, give this Broccoli-Cauliflower Casserole a try — it just may become a new tradition for you, too!

Broccoli-Cauliflower Casserole (Serves 10)

  • 1 slice wheat bread run through a food processor and turned into crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (VEGETARIANS: Substitute another cheese)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning PLUS 1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves, mixed together OR 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning
  • 1 package (16 ounces) frozen broccoli florets, thawed
  • 1 package (16 ounces) frozen cauliflower florets, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons flour
  • Squirt of yellow mustard
  • Sprinkling of garlic powder to taste
  • Sprinkling of coarse ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 1/4 cups milk (I used 1%)
  • 4 ounces reduced-fat (Neufchâtel) cream cheese, cubed
  • 3 or 4 ounces shredded or sliced cheeses of choice (Use an assortment of whatever you have on hand)
  1. In a large non-stick skillet or Dutch oven, sauté onion in 2 tablespoons butter over medium to medium low heat until onion is tender, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in flour and 1 teaspoon of seasoning (either the lemon pepper/basil blend or the Italian seasoning), lightly browning flour. Stir in a squirt of yellow mustard. Gradually stir in milk, stirring all the while to prevent lumps and scorching. Stir in cubed cream cheese and other cheeses, stirring constantly over low to medium heat, until cheeses melt.
  3. Gently stir in thawed broccoli and cauliflower. Season to taste with garlic powder and coarse ground black pepper. Pour into lightly buttered (or sprayed with cooking spray) 3 quart (13″x9″) baking dish.
  4. TO BAKE LATER: Cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours, then proceed to next step. (You can prepare and refrigerate the bread crumb mixture.)
  5. Mix together the bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of seasoning. Sprinkle evenly over top of casserole. Drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons of melted butter.
  6. Bake at 350F until heated through and bubbly (about 40 – 45 minutes in a pre-heated oven; about 55 minutes if oven isn’t pre-heated).
  7. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Refrigerate leftovers.

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Pssst…Wanna Cheat?

potatoesWell, cheat on Potato Salad, that is. 😉

As with many foods, there are numerous variations on Potato Salad. As Wikipedia tells us:

Potato salad is a dish made from boiled potatoes that comes in many versions in different regions of the world.

It is a popular menu choice of cooks preparing food for a large number of people, because it is easily made in large quantities, it can be prepared in advance and refrigerated until needed, and requires inexpensive ingredients.

[In the United States,] Potato salad is often served with barbecue, roasts, hot dogs, fried chicken, hamburgers and cold sandwiches. Although it is enjoyed any time of year in the United States, it is commonly associated with summer and picnics. White and/or red potatoes are commonly used; it is customary to leave a bit of the skin on red potatoes—especially when Americans make it German-style.

Basic ingredients for traditional American potato salad include: cubed, boiled potatoes (typically russet potatoes), mayonnaise or a mayonnaise-like substitute such as yogurt or sour cream, yellow mustard and/or mustard powder (dry mustard), black pepper, salt, celery seed, sugar, dry dill, chopped pickles (pickled cucumber), chives, finely chopped red or white onion, chopped green or red bell pepper, thinly sliced/finely chopped celery and sometimes chopped hard-boiled egg whites (usually one egg per batch of salad). Vegetable ingredients (not including the potatoes) are incorporated raw and never cooked. The salad is often topped with paprika and chives, and generally served cold or room temperature.

I myself have several variations, including an Oil and Vinegar Potato Salad, a garden potato salad (it has lots of additional veggies), a baked potato salad I make with fat-free Greek yogurt instead of the more traditional sour cream, and a German-style potato salad. But when it’s just hubby and me or just a small crowd, I sometimes want a smaller, easier batch of potato salad.

And that’s where those boxes of dehydrated potato casserole mixes come in! You know the kind I’m talking about: the box contains dehydrated potatoes and a seasoning packet, and there are typically a variety of flavors available, such as scalloped, au gratin, baked potato, and so forth. You add boiling water, milk, and a bit of butter. Me being me, of course, I use reduced-fat milk (typically 1% or 2%) and cut back a bit on the butter.

Inspired by a recipe on the back of a box of a store-brand of boxed potatoes, I make a potato salad from it, and let me tell you — it was tasty, relatively easy (no slicing, dicing, or peeling of the potatoes!), and it can be a fun, easy way to vary up the flavor of your potato salad.

Also, it only makes about 5 to 6 servings, so it’s perfect for a smaller group, such as when it’s just my hubby and me (it gives us potato salad for a couple or three meals).

IMPORTANT TIPS:

  • The recipe is based on a boxed casserole mix that provides 5 (1/2 cup) servings. If your mix has more or less, adjust the recipe amounts accordingly.
  • I’ve made this with scalloped potato casserole mix, sour cream and chives potato casserole mix, jalapeno cheddar potato casserole mix, and Applewood smoked bacon potato casserole mix — it’s really fun to mix up the flavors.
  • Vary the add-ins to suit your tastes, what you have available, and what you think will best complement the base flavor of the casserole mix.
  • I used the same pan for all the steps: cooking the potatoes, hard boiling the eggs, and then mixing the seasoning packet.

So go ahead — the next time you find yourself craving some ‘tater salad, but you wanna take it easy on yourself, don’t be afraid to cheat. 😉 And don’t worry, there’s no need for your heart to feel guilty. 😉

 

Easy Potato Salad (Serves 5 to 6)

  • 1 box (5-serving size) potato casserole mix (e.g., scalloped, au gratin, sour cream and chives, whatever flavor you choose)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon oil (suggest canola oil)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar (or 3 tablespoons, if you want it tarter)
  • 1/4 cup light salad dressing (such as light Miracle Whip) or reduced-fat mayonnaise (I eyeball it)
  • Squirt of yellow mustard (approximately 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • Sliced celery to taste (1 or 2 stalks)
  • Other additions as desired, such as chopped onion, chopped chives, chopped green onion, radish slices, grated carrot, crumbled bacon, etc.
  • Coarse ground black pepper to taste
  • Paprika (if desired)
  1. Empty potato slices into a saucepan. Add 3 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest for approximately 3 minutes. Drain. Rinse gently in cold water until cool enough to handle. Drain, place in bowl, and refrigerate.
  2. Mix together the seasoning packet, 1/2 cup water, and the oil. Cook over medium heat until it comes to a boil (it will begin to thicken). Remove from heat and cool. (I rested my pan in a sink with cold water.)
  3. Once cooled, stir the salad dressing or mayonnaise, the vinegar, and the mustard into the seasoned sauce. Add in coarse ground black pepper to taste.
  4. Gently toss together the potatoes, hard boiled egg, celery and any other desired additions (onions, chives, pickles, crumbled bacon, whatever), and the dressing.
  5. If desired, sprinkle the top of the salad with paprika and/or crumbled bacon. Or, if you prefer, reserve one of the hard boiled eggs and use sliced or diced hard boiled egg as part of the garnish, or sprinkle with some chopped chives or green onions — really, whatever you like that seems to fit with the flavors of the salad.
  6. Refrigerate leftovers.
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Feeling Retro?

I have many, many variations on meatloaf.

OOOPS! Wrong Meat Loaf. Sorry, Mr. Loaf! 😉

I mean this kind:

While many of my meat loaf recipes don’t require a meat loaf pan, my recipe for Old Fashioned Meatloaf bakes up best in a meat loaf pan, and the drippings can be used to make a delicious gravy, if you so desire.

As with most meatloaves, it is VERY IMPORTANT that you let it rest for 15 minutes or so before serving — otherwise, you’ll have meatloaf crumbles instead of meatloaf slices. The crumbles will be just as yummy, ‘though not quite as pretty as the slices. 😉

Along with adding lovely nutrients and a bit of fiber, the vegetables (always onion, and then a bit of whatever other appropriate vegetables I have on hand, typically some celery, and sometimes a fresh mushroom or two or a bit of grated carrot) impart a delicious flavor and moisture to the meatloaf (a boon, as I use lean ground meats), as does the ground sausage.

Taking inspiration from the re-printed Betty Crocker’s Big Picture Cook Book that my mom gifted me several years ago, I use one pound of extra-lean ground meat (beef or turkey work equally well) and 1/2 pound reduced-fat bulk ground sausage (pork or turkey sausage work equally well), which yields a flavorful, moist meatloaf. The sausage is an easy way to add lots of flavor, and it also adds a nice texture to the meatloaf, as well.

Leftovers make excellent sandwiches — I like mine on wheat or grain bread with a bit of steak sauce.

I typically give the veggies a whiz through my mini food processor to help give the meatloaf an even texture.

Using your favorite steak sauce or barbecue sauce as part of the liquid and the topping in this meatloaf adds some sophisticated zip, and it tastes so yummy, it’s no mystery why you’ll find yourself feeling nostalgic for this meatloaf! 😉

Old Fashioned Meatloaf (Serves 6)

  • 1 lean (93/7 or greater) ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1/2 pound reduced-fat bulk ground sausage (pork or turkey)
  • 1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • Plain bread or cracker crumbs as needed (equivalent of 2 or 3 slices of bread)
  • Healthy splash of liquid (I like to use a splash of wine and a couple of splashes of my favorite steak sauce or barbecue sauce)
  • Seasonings to taste: Worcestershire sauce, squirt of yellow mustard (this complements the sausage nicely), parsley, sage, garlic powder and/or minced garlic, & coarse-ground black pepper
  • 1/4 to 1/2 onion (red, yellow, white), finely chopped
  • Finely chopped celery (1 to 2 stalks)
  • Finely chopped or grated carrot (OPTIONAL, approximately 1/2 to 1 carrot)
  • Finely chopped or grated mushroom (OPTIONAL, 2 to 4 mushrooms)
  • Your favorite steak sauce or barbecue sauce, for topping
  1. Place bread/cracker crumbs in a bowl. Beat in egg, healthy splash of liquid (you can add in more later if need be; ditto with the bread/cracker crumbs), and seasonings to taste.
  2. Stir in minced/chopped veg.
  3. Add ground meat and mix thoroughly. Add more liquid and/or bread/cracker crumbs and other seasonings if needed.
  4. Spread into meatloaf pan.
  5. Top as desired with your favorite steak sauce or barbecue sauce.
  6. Bake at 350F for 1 1/2 to 1 and 3/4 hours.
  7. Let rest at least 15 minutes before serving.

Make It Ahead of Time: You can mix up the meatloaf and place in meatloaf pan, cover, and place in ‘fridge for up to 24 hours before baking.

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Charlotte Knows Her Apples!

Apples_supermarketI first became intrigued with making Apple Charlotte after Mrs. Patmore’s refusal on “Downton Abbey” (due to her failing eyesight) to attempt to make the recipe when Lady Cora requested it for Sir Anthony Strallan. Apple Charlotte is also the dessert proposed for the Heritage Christmas Dinner in my Williams-Sonoma Complete Entertaining Cookbook. 

I became further interested in preparing an Apple Charlotte when I saw Jacques Pepin and Julia Child prepare one as part of a “Cooking in Concert” program that also includes a turkey roulade:

http://www.pbs.org/video/1333042208/

So a few weeks before Christmas, when I was searching the grocery store for a rib roast (also a facet of the Heritage Christmas Dinner), I texted my hubby to ask him to please double-check the recipe for me in regard to the size of the roast. (Not that I needed a roast of the size specified in the recipe, but I wanted to make sure I was gauging the number of servings properly.) He verified what the recipe told me, and then a few minutes later, he texted back and asked if I would also be making an Apple Charlotte with brandied whipped cream and apricot sauce.

He had been teasing, and thought I would respond with a sarcastic “Oh, yeah, right!” but instead I said, “Yes, I could do that.”

And what’s more, I was confident that I could make it sugar-free successfully, and also with less fat. Some Apple Charlotte recipes call for a very rich bread — such as sliced brioche — and most all recipes also instruct that the bread be dipped into melted butter. Given how much butter the bread would absorb, I thought that simply brushing on some melted butter would still make the bread a lovely golden brown and also keep the apple filling from soaking through the bread, but would reduce the amount of butter needed overall, and also make the bread a bit easier and less messy to handle.

There seems to be doubt as to the origins of Apple Charlotte — is it another version of Charlotte Russe, perhaps? — but regardless of its origins, Apple Charlotte is essentially a thick, thick filling of apples encased in buttered bread mold.

It is that simple. And oftentimes, simple flavors are the best.

There are, of course, many variations on Apple Charlotte, but based on my research and my recent experience in making — and eating! — this for the first time on Christmas, here are what I think are the key points to making the delicious dessert:

  • The filling must be thick, almost like a puree or overly thickened apple sauce. You CANNOT simply substitute pie filling.
  • You need the right kind of apples. Williams-Sonoma recommends McIntosh, Empire, or Rome Beauty apples. I could not find those, and so after my hubby did some research for me (I was at the store, he Googled away at home and texted me answers), we opted for Honey Crisp apples. Fuji apples would also likely substitute well.
  • Use a good white bread that is sliced about 1/4″ thick. I purchased a sliced Italian loaf (about 14 ounces) from the WalMart bakery for $1. It worked great.
  • Taking a tip from Jacques and Julia, I placed a circle of parchment paper in the bottom of my baking dish, as well as a strip of parchment (rather like a “handle”) that extended beyond the edges of the dish. This help ensures that the Charlotte will remove from the dish.
  • If you want to break up the labor of making this dish, prepare the apple filling a day (or even two!) before and gently reheat it before assembling the Charlotte.
  • The Charlotte must cool for at least 30 minutes before un-molding. You can make it earlier in the day, let it rest, and then gently reheat it in a warm oven for about 15 – 20 minutes — while you prepare the whipped cream and the apricot sauce, say — and then un-mold it.
  • Place your bowl and mixer beaters for the whipping cream in the freezer for at least 30 minutes (to several hours) before whipping the cream — it will whip up better!
  • I suggest you make 1 1/2 to 2 times the recommended amount of whipped cream — because yes, it’s that good!
  • If you can’t find fresh apricots — I couldn’t! — you can reconstitute dried apricots by pouring boiling water over them and letting them soak several hours or overnight. (Thanks, Mom, for that suggestion and for reconstituting the apricots!)
  • Use the proper-sized baking dish.  You need a baking dish that holds 6 cups. I used my two-quart (8 cup) Pyrex baking dish — sans the lid, of course!
Pyrex Baking Dish, 2 Quart

Pyrex Baking Dish, 2 Quart

This dish has simple flavors, but is elegant in presentation. Williams-Sonoma claims the recipe serves 6; I would venture to say it can serve 10 – 12 easily.

To break up the labor on the dish, I pared and prepared the apple filling the day before, then reheated the apples and finished assembling the Charlotte the next day. The apples were a bit too juicy, I thought, to serve their purpose as the firm filling, so I stirred in a few tablespoons of cornstarch before reheating them, which turned it into the nice, thick filling it needed to be.

This turned out utterly delicious and impressed the heck out of all of us.

So the next time you’re wanting an elegant dessert with simple flavors that’s sure to please, give Apple Charlotte a go. You can watch an episode of Downton Abbey or listen to Charlotte’s Song as you pare those apples. 😉

Although the recipe looks as though may be complicated, it REALLY isn’t it — it’s apple filling in a buttered bread crust with whipped cream and an apricot sauce!

Apple Charlotte (Serves 10 to 12)

For the Charlotte:

  • 12 McIntosh, Empire, or Rome Beauty apples, peeled, cored, and cubed (NOTE: I couldn’t find any of those varieties, so I used Honey Crisp apples. Fuji apples would also likely work.)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 8 tablespoons butter (1/2 cup), melted
  • 3/4 cup Splenda granular or other artificial sweetener of choice (just make sure it measures spoon for spoon like sugar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Lemon zest from 1 large lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I eyeballed it)
  • Corn starch (2 to 3 tablespoons), IF NEEDED
  • White bread, sliced 1/4″ thick, trimmed of crust (I used a sliced Italian loaf from the WalMart bakery; it took about 2/3 to 3/4 of a 14 ounce loaf)

For the Brandied Whipped Cream: (Suggest you make 1 1/2 to 2 times this amount)

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup Splenda granular (or other artificial sweetener of choice)
  • 3 tablespoons brandy (optional, but I recommend it)

For the Apricot Sauce:

  • 1 cup sugar-free apricot preserves
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup brandy (optional, but I recommend it)

Garnish (Optional):

  • Apricot halves or orange peel
  • NOTE: If you can’t get fresh, dried apricots can be reconstituted by pouring boiling water over them and letting them soak for several hours or overnight

FOR THE FILLING:

  1. Peel, core, and cube the apples. Place them in a LARGE (12″), deep non-stick skillet. Add in 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook apples over medium heat, stirring frequently, until butter melts and apples begin to soften. Add in the 3/4 cup Splenda, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, the lemon zest, and vanilla. Cook, stirring to prevent sticking, until the apples soften and reduce, about 15 to 25 minutes. You should end up with about 5 to 6 cups of apples.
  2. TIP: If you prefer to break up the task of making the Charlotte, you can let cool and then refrigerate the apple mixture until the following day — or probably for even two days — and then rewarm it before assembling and baking the Charlotte.
  3. NOTE: If apple mixture is juicy/liquid at all, stir in two or three tablespoons of corn starch and simmer, stirring gently but constantly to prevent scorching, to thicken. I made the apple filling the day before, then added the corn starch to the apples before reheating them when I assembled the Charlotte the following day.

TO ASSEMBLE THE CHARLOTTE:

  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Trace and cut out a circle of parchment paper that will fit along the bottom of your baking dish and place it on the bottom.
  3. Cut a long strip — long enough that it extends from either side of the baking dish, like a “handle” of sorts — and place it along the bottom and let it extend up and beyond the sides of your baking dish.
  4. Trim bread crusts (reserve for another use or feed them to birds). With a pastry brush or sauce brush, lightly brush the side of the bread that will be placed against the baking dish/mold and assemble the bread in the mold. Do not overlap, but do fit bread edges together closely to prevent gaps. Trim slices as needed to fit gaps.
  5. Lightly brush the other side of the bread with butter (the side that will have the filling).
  6. Gently spoon in the apple mixture. Top with bread, brushing each side with butter.
  7. Bake on LOWER RACK of oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and bake for another 30 minutes, until bread is golden.
  8. Remove and let rest for AT LEAST 30 minutes before un-molding. OR, let rest for several hours and then gently reheat in a warm oven for about 15 to 20 minutes before un-molding.
  9. TO UNMOLD: Run knife gently around edge to make sure the Charlotte has not stuck. Place your serving plate on top of the Charlotte, then invert. Remove the mold and remove the parchment paper.
  10. Garnish with apricot halves and/or orange peel, if desired.

TO PREPARE THE BRANDIED WHIPPED CREAM:

  1.  For best results, chill bowl and beaters before whipping cream.
  2. Whip cream and 1/4 cup Splenda until soft to medium peaks begin to form.
  3. Fold in brandy, if desired.

TO PREPARE THE APRICOT SAUCE:

  1. Gently heat apricot preserves and water in a small saucepan.
  2. Stir in brandy, if desired.

TO SERVE:

Place individual servings on a dessert plate and garnish as desired with whipped cream and apricot sauce.

REFRIGERATE ALL LEFTOVERS.

Freshly UnMolded Apple Charlotte with Apricot Garnish

Freshly Un-Molded Apple Charlotte with Apricot Garnish

 

Apple Charlotte Topped with Some Brandied Whipped Cream and Apricots

Apple Charlotte Topped with Some Brandied Whipped Cream and Apricots

Apple Charlotte: The Thickened Texture of the Filling Keeps it From Collapsing

Apple Charlotte: The Thickened Texture of the Filling Keeps it From Collapsing

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