Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How to Make Italian Sausage Like a Vendor

When I did my Sausage Cart Spaghetti post last week I was dismayed by how many people had never had an Italian sausage from a vendor's cart. I mean sure, they're greasy, sketchy and who knows when that license they have taped up (but covered in grime) was last renewed, but c'mon! Slightly charred sausage, soft and gently caramelized peppers and onions, it's deliciousness on the go, how can you even resist?

Or maybe it's that they don't have them around you, is that why you haven't had one? I'm told they are mostly a Northeast city thing, so if you don't live up here they might not be around. You might not know the dubious joy of waiting in "line", if the unruly mob around any given vendor can be called that, with impatient suits and bike messengers trying to grab a quick lunch (or breakfast), inhaling second hand smoke, first hand insults and thinking it will all be worth it once you get your sausage and all these fricking people just fricking stop fricking bumping into you. Or maybe that's just me... Anyway, here, let me show you how to recreate it at home.

All you need is around five ingredients; Italian sausage, peppers, onions, mustard (if you like) and rolls, and you're all set. First I should tell you though, different vendors make sausages different ways, there isn't one magic vendor method that makes some kind of delicious thing. But fortunately all the methods that I've come across are wicked easy, have a minimum of ingredients and can be done quickly. Almost as though the people who use them are in a rush and feeding people for money. Heh. Anyway, this is how I do it.

First, you've got to brown up your sausages. Or in this case, sausage. You should set the heat to medium-high, I like to use a steel skillet, although cast iron is good too. Don't be shy when you're cooking them, a good bit of browning means a good bit of flavor. Plus you want some fond because it will add more flavor to the veggies. Don't stress cooking it all the way through, it's going to get steamed some in just a minute, color is the main goal here.

Next add some sliced peppers and onions, sliced kind of medium thickness. I like red for both, but you can use any kind you like. Toss them around to coat them with some of the fat then pile them up on any fond you have. Now cover the skillet and let it steam for about five minutes or so, longer if you want the veggies softer or if the sausage isn't cooked through. It's not rocket science, kids.The veggies will let out some liquid which will deglaze the pan a bit, so when everything is cooked just toss them around some more to coat them with all that goodness. And that's it, other than toasting the roll and slapping on a little mustard. This is possibly the simplest way to make Italian sausage, short of just grilling them, and it's definitely my favorite. One great thing about this method is you can make just one or as many as your skillet will hold, it doesn't really change the length of time you need that much.

But that's it, that's how to make an Italian sausage like a vendor. For a more authentic experience I suggest making them for a crowd, that way everyone can stand around the stove, pushing and talking on cell phones, complaining that they have to get back to work and what's taking you so long anyway? How hard is it to fry a sausage?! This package won't deliver itself, douche bag! I've got a meeting in ten minutes!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Irish Macaroni and Cheese

1 tbl butter
1 tbl flour
1/2 cup warm milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar
1/4 cup Guinness
4 cups cooked macaroni
1/2 cup shredded corned beef*
1/2 cup chopped cabbage*
1 cup lightly smashed, cooked potato*
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper

*leftovers from a boiled dinner are perfect

Preheat the oven to 375. Heat a little oil in a medium sauce pan to medium-hot. Add the cabbage and corned beef, lightly brown them and set aside. Reduce heat to medium, add the butter and let it melt. Once it's melted add the flour and cook for about 2 minutes, constantly stirring, don't let it get too brown. Slowly add the warm milk, still stirring and let it come to a simmer. Add the Guinness, cheese, black pepper and cayenne. Turn off the heat and stir until the cheese is melted. Taste it and see if it needs more seasoning, add some if it does. Add the macaroni and fold until it's well combined. Spread the mixture in an 8x8 pan. Toss the potato with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and sprinkle it over the top of the pasta. Put it in the oven until browned, about 20 minutes.

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First, a disclaimer: that recipe up top is approximate. I had a detailed plan, I swear, but it went out the window as soon as the stove was turned on. I was wicked tired, I couldn't find the recipe I was using as a base, my brain kind of exploded and all that was left was the desire for macaroni and cheese with corned beef, cabbage and Guinness in it. So I just winged it.

It came out wicked good. The pieces of browned cabbage and corned beef added awesome bits of texture and bursts of flavor. It formed a decent crust, which is important to me, and had tons of cheese. All good things. But. Next time I will definitely make more sauce, plus I might butter the pan to make more crispy crust. I love that. The Guinness was much more subtle than I thought it would be, it probably wouldn't hurt to add some more of that too. But that's really more a to taste thing. All in all this was really good and I must say I'm pleased with it. Plus since my girlfriend doesn't like mac and cheese when it's homemade all the leftovers are for me! Ha!
I'm submitting this to Regional Recipes: Ireland over at Eats Well with Others. Have you made something Irish or at least Irishish this month? If so you should send it over to Joanne! Unless, of course, you already have. Heh.

I'm also submitting it to Presto Pasta Nights for additional excitement.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Cats #48: Naps

I think Noodles is trying to become one with the chair. She sleeps like this all the time, she loves having her face and forehead pressed against things, especially corners.

Kind of makes you jealous, doesn't it? I don't think I've ever been as comfortable as they look on a regular basis.
I mean, look at that. Even when he's sleeping the real Bob curls his paws up in pleasure. Heh, it probably helps that he carries around his own bedding.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Couple Calzones

This year I'm entering Eating Your Words over at Tangled Noodle and Savor the Thyme. I'm entering with this:Why did I choose this exactly? Well, I'm not really sure, it just kind of came to me. Heh. It's filled with chicken, ranch dressing, mozzarella and broccoli. It was, as a matter of fact, wicked good. It wasn't too complex, I just made the calzone, rubbed it with olive oil and then wrote it out in shredded cheese on top.The olive oil made the cheese cling, otherwise it never would have worked. That one is actually my second attempt at it, on the first one the cheese was too thick and it came out rather poorly. See? The C looks like an I. So does the E, now that I look at it. Heh. But it was also wicked good. It was filled with a couple spicy burgers, ketchup, mustard, caramelized onion, cheddar and mozzarella.One of my favorite filling combos.

I had meant to enter the Challenge last year, but completely flaked so I'm really glad I got off my butt and did it this time around. It's going until March 31st, so you still have some time to enter. Everyone should, not only is it fun but the prize is an aebleskiver pan and eternal glory! And really, who doesn't want aebleskivers and glory?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chocolate Chip Muffins and A Light Review

Ok, the muffins are really secondary to this post. It's really about the early birthday present my girlfriend got me. See, she had noticed that I was a little upset about the lighting in our new apartment. I'm not sure what tipped her off, but it was probably the big holes in the walls I put there with my head. Or possibly the palpable miasma of fury that filled the apartment whenever I would try to take pictures of anything less photogenic than a cookie. Or maybe we discussed it like rational adults and decided that seeing as how we were good and did our taxes early this year we should each get something nice. It was probably at least one of those. Heh.

I got her a laptop for her birthday (not particularly early) and she got me a Lowel Ego light for mine (very early). So to test it out I made muffins. I figured I would start slow, with something nice and easy. It's a good light, I like it. It works well, although the pics still do need a little adjustment with some software. But not as much as before and the pictures come out much sharper. Which is nice seeing how "dull/unsharp" is second only to the cop-out "composition" in reasons that certain food photo websites reject so much of my stuff. Heh.

So, if you're looking for a light, it's pretty good and not too expensive. You do have to assemble it yourself which was kind of a pain and that says something since I love putting stuff together.

I'm afraid I don't have a recipe for the muffins, I kind of cobbled them together from several different recipes, to use what I had on hand. They were all right, but not so good that I'm going to try to recreate them. I just wanted something easy to take pictures of.

So all you food photographers out there, what kind of light do you use? Natural? Artificial? If so, what kind?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Simple and Easy: Sausage Cart Spaghetti

-1 lb Italian sausage
-1 lb spaghetti, mostly cooked
-1 bell pepper, sliced
-1 onion, sliced
-2 cups chicken stock
-2 cloves of garlic, minced
-2 1/2 tbls good mustard
-pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
-salt and pepper

You can either slice the sausage or crumble it. Either way, brown it in a skillet over medium-high heat, then remove it and set it aside. If you want you can put it on a paper towel lined plate to absorb some of the fat. Saute the garlic, onions and peppers in some of the fat remaining in the pan and set them aside. Deglaze with the chicken stock, add the mustard and red pepper flakes and let it reduce to 1 cup. Taste for seasoning and add more mustard, salt and pepper, if needed. Add everything back in to the sauce and stir gently until all the liquid is absorbed by the pasta, about 1-2 minutes. Serve.

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It's sad to admit, but I'm not a very well traveled guy. I've only lived in Boston and Providence, RI (which is an awful lot like Boston, only smaller) and despite the fact that I've been all across the country on road trips, I was always young and never really payed much attention to what was going on. So I don't know if Italian sausage carts are as ubiquitous in the rest of the country as they are in the cities of New England, but here you can't go to any kind of event or even just outside when it gets above 40 degrees without smelling onions and peppers sauteing in sausage fat.I remember when I was living in Providence there was a guy who was a die hard cart vendor. He would be out there year round in the center of the city, morning, noon and night. I would walk past him on my way to and from work, wending through groups of people waiting for the bus, smoking cigarettes and carrying on loud conversations. The smells of tobacco, city and frying sausage mixed together to form a heady perfume that I swear you could get high off of. And every time I saw that cart I thought "damn, those smell wicked good. I should buy one". But I never did. I'm not sure why, since I love Italian sausage, but I just didn't. It's on my short list of regrets, although getting one probably would have wound up on it too. Heh.

Fast forward ten years (and half a page of semi pointless setup) and I have a craving for sausage, peppers and onions wicked bad. Now, I could just brown everything in my skillet and stuff it in a roll. I could even ask one of my neighbors to stand near me smoking cigarettes while I eat it on the sidewalk, watching traffic and occasionally yelling at people so I could get the whole sausage-cart-in-the-city experience. But I wanted to do something different. I decided to try to make pasta that tasted like one of those cart sausages. So I did. And it worked. I love it when that happens.

This is one of those simple dishes with a short list of ingredients that turns out just awesome. The sauce gets pretty much completely absorbed into the pasta, giving it lots of flavor and just a slight coating of smooth, rich liquid. And let's face it, that liquid is fat. I mean, we're eating sausage here, that's why it's so good. You can cut down on the fat by draining the cooked sausage on a paper towel lined plate and pouring off the fat from the pan (although you would have to replace it with some olive oil to properly saute the veggies). But you only live once and just so long as you don't eat like this every day then you're fine.

I didn't specify what kind of mustard you should use, other than good, since that's really a personal choice. And I suppose you could use crappy mustard if you want, each to their own, you know? I happen to like Dijon. But whichever one you would put on an Italian sausage, that's the right kind to use. Next time I make this, and there will be a next time, I'm going to toss some toasted bread crumbs in at the end, I think that would add some nice texture and flavor.

So tell me, where are you and do you have Italian sausage carts? If you don't have them (or even if you do), you should make this pasta, it's pretty close to the flavor but different enough to be, well, different. And if you want the whole experience, let me know. I'll come stand next to you with a smoldering cigarette and yell things at passersby.

And I'm going to send this in to Presto Pasta Nights. Excitement!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Cats #47

Noodles has a new boyfriend. She doesn't care what we think, she knows her love is real. But we know he'll end up just like all the others,shredded and left in the corner.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hazelnut Chocolate Cheerio Treats


1 11.5 oz box of Chocolate Cheerios
1 10.5 oz bag of marshmallows
3 tbls butter
1/2 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts

Grease a 13x9 pan. Melt the butter and marshmallow in a pot over medium-low heat. When it's all melted turn off the heat and mix in the Cheerios and nuts. Quickly transfer the mixture to the prepped pan and spread/press it into it. You can use a greased piece of foil or parchment to cover it so you can press it firmly without it sticking everywhere. Let sit for ~1 hour or until firm.

Other stuff that would be good: chocolate chips, pretzels, chopped dried cherries
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Ok, this is an almost pointless recipe to post, since everyone knows the cereal treat formula, but I got a couple decent pictures so I figured, what the hell? Plus it's not your normal treats, being made with Chocolate Cheerios and hazelnuts. This is actually what my girlfriend requested for her birthday. Heh, it's not quite as weird as all that, see she had three days of birthday dinners in a row with various people and there were many baked goods consumed. So she wanted something simple and it doesn't get much more simple than this!The treats came out wicked good, the toasted hazelnuts went perfectly with the sweet, chocolaty Cheerios, adding a more adult twist on what typically is a kids treat. Not that it being a kids treat stops me from eating them whenever they're around. Heh.

So, have you guys had Chocolate Cheerios? They're the bomb. I like Cheerios in general, particularly Honeynut, but these are my new favorite. They aren't too sweet, they basically taste like Count Chocula without the little marshmallow bits. Which is fine by me, I hate those things.

Oh and I'm the Blog of the Day on Foodista! Excitement.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Beef and Broccoli Stromboli

Just a quickie here, something that I made with some leftovers. The beef is actually one of those pre-marinated packs from Trader Joe's and I have to admit I was not impressed. Not impressed at all.

It claimed to be "Korean short ribs" and while the marinade might have been Korean, the meat wasn't ribs, it was chuck steak. Now I like chuck steak, don't get me wrong, but when I buy something that says it's one thing and it turns out to be another I'm not best pleased.

Course, I wouldn't have cared if it had tasted good... Now, it wasn't awful, but it wasn't something I'd buy again. Or recommend to others. I wasn't going to just throw it out though, it wasn't that bad, so I did my old standby. I wrapped it in pizza dough. The marinade it was in reminded me of the beef and broccoli from a Chinese restaurant I used to go to so I figured I would toss some broccoli and onion in there and call it a meal. It filled my stomach even if it didn't thrill my palate, so at least it wasn't a total waste.

Despite the lackluster protein, I liked the concept of Asian goodie filled pizza dough. It reminded me of steamed buns, but crispy on the outside and with more flavor in the bread. This is something I'm going to do more with, but next time I'm making my own marinade.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Adobo Tilapia

More fish! Can you even handle the excitement? Heh. So, in my quest to try the mildest fish there are I have come to tilapia. It was good, I definitely liked it. But I think I liked the mahi mahi better, although part of that might be that I should have put a little more seasoning on the tilapia here. What I did was I rubbed it with an adobo spice mix (I know, premade, but I was feeling lazy), squirted on the juice from half a lime, covered and refrigerated it while I made the rice. Then I just seared it.

Hey chef people, is that the proper term for what I did here? I used an anodized aluminum skillet with a little olive oil and cooked it on both sides at medium high until it was done. I would call it searing with steak, but what do I know?

Anyway, I sprinkled it with some cilantro and served it with saffron rice. It came out well, I even managed not to overcook it too much.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lamb Souvlaki Pizza

Yep, that's what it is.

There is a story behind this slightly odd bite of pizza. See, as I've mentioned before, my brother makes some kick ass souvlaki. But, he doesn't have anything as convenient as a recipe. So when I called him the other day looking for one the conversation went something like this:

Me: "Hey, I want to make souvlaki, what's your recipe?"

Him: "Oh, I don't know. Something like equal parts lemon juice and olive oil, some oregano, garlic, soy sauce... you know, souvlaki."

Me: "Hm. Ok. So..."

Him: "Nope. No recipe. I just whip it up."

Me: "Fine. Of course you know this won't spoil my plans."

Him: "Ah, but I have the last piece of the device! Your scheme won't come to fruition without it!"

Me: "But I have the artifact from R'lyeh!"

Him: "Ha! A forgery!"

Me: "You bastard!"

...

Ok, that never happened. Well, part of it did. I'll leave it to you to figure out which.

So, the lack of a recipe meant I needed to experiment (cue lightning and maniacal laughter). Which I did (cue lightning again). And I came up with something pretty good based on my brothers vague instructions. It does however need some tweaking, so I'm not posting it just yet.

As you see though, I did make a pizza with the leftovers. It's another white one, since I love white pizza. The original plan had been to make a tiny batch of the marinade to spread under the cheese, but I got lazy. So I just used some olive oil, garlic and oregano. I added some peppers and onions, since they go so well with souvlaki. All in all a great use of leftovers.

But.Next time what I'm going to do is essentially the same thing, but squirt some lemon juice on it after it comes out of the oven. I think that would lend a really nice, fresh flavor to it. I'm also going to use at least some kasseri (that's a Greek/Turkish sheep cheese, melts well) instead of mozzarella, probably half and half. And that would be awesome, I think. Also, instead of using leftover lamb I'm going to marinate it, chop it up small and put it on top raw before the pizza goes into the oven. That way the lamb will be closer to the proper level of done. But even slightly well done like it was this time was wicked good.

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