Pasta With Spicy Italian Sausage

So there I was, thumbing through that week’s edition of People Magazine (August 10, 2009), when my heart stopped – there on page 85 was a recipe from that delicious Aussie, Curtis Stone (Take Home Chef?  Yes, please).  This recipe was called “Rigatoni With Spicy Italian Salami“. Spellbound by the darling photo provided of Chef Stone (♥sIgH♥), I made this for my family. Hmm. Too salty. I don’t like olives. I don’t like capers. I also didn’t care for the salami in this particular recipe. Food and Wine only gave it 3 out of 5 stars. BUT – anything with wine in it has potential! Including ME! I only messed with this recipe slightly, but I think I ended up with better results.  In searching for his original, I see Ol’ Curtis also has a sausage version of this now. Great minds think alike, but I think I WAS FIRST, CURTIS. You can also make this with Italian turkey sausage as well.  Further, if you want to make this gluten-free, simply substitute with Jenny-O Italian turkey sausage and gluten-free pasta (I have made it that way for friends with celiac disease).

I had forgotten to purchase the usual fresh loaf of Italian bread to go with dinner tonight.  Freezer to the rescue!  I pulled out unused hot dog and hamburger buns, brushed them with melted butter, and stuck them under the broiler until golden brown. What? That’s not classy? No one suspected a thing…

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Right! Pasta. Here we go.

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I forgot to include the pasta box in the ingredient shot, so I placed it in the background 😀

Preheat the oven to 375°. I would begin by removing the casings from the sausage.  I simply zip a knife down one side, and the meat slides out.

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Next, you’re going to construct a little foil box in which you will place your tomatoes. After I make this (I start with one about 8×8 inches), I fold it closer around the tomatoes so they are pretty cozy.  Then drizzle with 2 tsp. of olive oil (I use EVOO), and season with salt and pepper.  I like kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

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Okay, so maybe sculpture wasn’t my best elective in college.

Roast these for 10 minutes, then remove them from the oven and let them cool.

Next, heat the remaining 3 tsp. of oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the turkey sausage into the pan. As it cooks, use a spatula to break the sausage into smaller pieces. Cook until it’s no longer pink. Which is difficult to discern, as hot Italian sausage is orange with spices.  Which is how I ended up eating uncooked Italian sausage on our camping trip this summer.  But I digress…

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Once cooked, remove the sausage from the pan and set aside.  We will use that wonderful oil left in the pan.

But meanwhile, bring your pasta water to a boil.

Add the minced garlic to the hot oil in the pan and sauté until it’s just about to turn color.

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Add the tomatoes into the pan, along with the “foil oil”.  Sauté these carefully with the garlic for 3 minutes.

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Did someone say “wine”??

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Since I cook with wine often, I like to keep these minis around. They come in a six-pack, and are just enough for the recipe and a little left over for the cook.

Add the wine, which deglazes the pan, and bring everything to a simmer.

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Add the sausage back in, and the chopped cilantro.

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If you haven’t cooked your pasta yet, turn off the heat under the turkey mixture until the pasta is cooked and drained well.  After draining the pasta, add it to the mixture in the pan, tossing until pasta is coated well.  Season with pepper.  Toss with grated cheese.  These tomatoes literally explode in your mouth with flavor.  That’s why I like to be careful, and not break them up into the mix.  And tonight – no leftovers!

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Curtis

Curtis, I hope you approve!

Pasta With Spicy Italian Sausage

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 links of hot Italian sausage (you can substitute sweet or turkey sausage), casings removed
  • One container of grape tomatoes (20-ish?)
  • 5 teaspoons of olive oil (separated: 2 and 3)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of white wine (I use chardonnay)
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • Approximately 12 ounces of large pasta – rigatoni, rotelli, etc.
  • Grated cheese – pecorino romano, parmesan, etc.

Preheat oven to 375°.  Make a foil square, approximately 8″x8″ with 1″ sides. Place on a baking sheet. Place grape tomatoes into the foil. Drizzle with 2 tsp. of the olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. Heat remaining 3 tsp. of oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add sausage to oil. As the sausage cooks, break it up with a spatula into smaller pieces. Continue to cook until no longer pink. Remove sausage from pan, set aside. Reserve oil in pan. Meanwhile, bring pasta water to a boil.  Add minced garlic to the hot oil in the pan and sauté until just about to turn color. Add roasted tomatoes with their oil to the pan and carefully sauté for 3 minutes. Add wine, bring mixture to a simmer, and add turkey and cilantro. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta well, and pour into the pan with the turkey/tomato mixture. Toss until pasta is well-coated. Season with pepper. Toss with grated cheese and serve.

Recreating City Bakery Coconut Buns

This recipe is dedicated to the folks of the Hometown Long Branch Facebook group.  

(Click on any photo to enlarge.)

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Those of us who grew up in and around the beach town of Long Branch, NJ, still mourn the loss of one of our favorite businesses: City Bakery.  Located on Broadway, it closed when many of us were still young.  Later on, another bakery opened down the road in the next town, and they attempted to duplicate the recipes.  They were “okay”, but not the same.  That bakery also closed.

City Bakery keeps coming up as a topic in our Facebook group. It seems that you were either a “crumb bun” person or a “coconut bun” person.  There are some outliers.  I, like many, have longed for those coconut buns, brought home warm from City Bakery.

I couldn’t stand it any longer.  My quest began.

Searching “recipe coconut buns” turned up little, and of that, nothing even close to what we remember.  What else would you call them?  I gave up for a long time.

Then, this summer, I found myself willing to try my luck again.  The coconut was only sprinkled on top of the icing, right? So I tried to eliminate that ingredient and search “recipe frosted buns”.  Nope.  Grrr.  Then I tried “recipe iced buns”. Bingo!  A bunch of recipes came up, but strangely, all in the UK.  Are these just a Brit thing?  I narrowed my search down to two recipes from food blogs with photos that definitely had that City Bakery look. At the same time, I had to look up “how to toast coconut”, as this was not part of any of the recipes.  And then, the next problem: What in the world was “caster sugar” and “strong bread flour”?  Oh, those Brits.  After another search, I found they were the same as Domino Superfine sugar and Pillsbury bread flour.

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And then, of course there were all the conversions from metric to standard, which do not come out perfectly neat.  This was becoming quite a project already!

Once I purchased all the ingredients, I realized that I had to wait.  I was coming up on a week of busy-ness and travel.  All in good time…

Well, today was the day.  I need to throw out some caveats before anyone attempts this recipe:

  • It requires 1 hour of rising, 1/2 hour of “proving”, and 20 minutes of baking.
  • This is not a hard recipe, but it is very messy.  The dough is incredibly sticky. One recipe says that you can add more flour as you knead, but keep it as sticky as you can deal with.
  • I thought I’d be smart and do my kneading on parchment paper instead of the table, but don’t do it.  This dough just sticks to everything.  It’s much easier to scrape it from the table than parchment.
  • If it makes you feel any braver, I have NEVER kneaded or “risen” anything in my life.
  • Do NOT attempt this with a stand mixer and dough hook.  I tried this on a suggestion, and I ended up with very tasty PANCAKES.  Do every step by hand.
  • Things are never as bad as they seem.
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Let me introduce you to my timekeeper, Mr. Ted. This was a long project, and he kept meowing at me to move it along.  It was getting way past lap time.

I would start by toasting the coconut, because if you only have one oven, you’re going to need it for other things from here on in.  Preheat the oven to 325°. On a baking sheet spread about a half a bag of sweetened shredded coconut (I toasted way too much).  Place in the oven and stir every 3 minutes or so, until it is the brown-ness you like.  I used an insulated sheet, and it took about 15 minutes.  That was the easy part.

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Taking a deep breath – I began to make the dough by mixing together the flours, yeast, warm water, milk, salt, and superfine sugar.  Once that was blended, I added the egg, followed by the softened butter.  Things were quite sticky, and I worried that the dough was too much on the liquidy side.  It more poured than turned onto the floured surface.

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I just kept remembering “as sticky as you can handle it.  Add flour if needed.”  And indeed, my sticky, dough-covered hand went into the flour to grab at least two more handfuls. Notice there are no photos from this kneading portion of our show.  There was no way I could grab my cell phone camera, and no one awake to take a photo for me. The food blogs had no photos of this step either.  All nice and neat.  I think they were trying to hide something. Hmmm…

Now, “knead” is a relative term here.  This is not kneading as you imagine it.  One blogger called it “splurging” – pushing the dough away from you into a big stretch, then scraping it off the table in an attempt to fold it back over itself.  For 10 minutes. I really felt I was doing a terrible job.  One blogger said it should be “pillowy-soft”.  Nope.  Just sticky.  I gave it 12 minutes.

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I then coated a large bowl with vegetable oil, and “turned” the dough into the bowl. More scraping.  In hindsight, the worst was over.

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Not having a very “warm place” to rise my dough, I set the oven on warm for a bit, shut it off, then placed my bowl, covered with a towel, but not touching the dough, into the oven for about an hour, until it had doubled.

After the dough had doubled, I took my fist and punched the dough back down (sticky, but fun). I floured a baking sheet (I used an insulated pan again) and tried to follow the directions to divide the dough into 8 “lumps” onto the pan.  After more sticky messiness, I only came up with 6.  Maybe I lost some dough with all that scraping?

I sprayed plastic wrap with Pam, and used it to cover the “lumps” while they “proved” for a half hour.

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The oven temperature for baking was tricky.  The UK recipe I used converted to 425°, which seemed a little high.  Other recipes varied widely.  I split the difference at 400º, which still seemed high, so I took advice from yet another site:  place the oven rack up high.  I placed it in the second-highest position.  The oven heated during the proving phase.

And then I found out that I could have easily made 8.  I had misjudged the size of my “lumps”.

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Into the oven they went, onto the second-highest rack.  I started to panic again – they smelled too “yeasty” as they were baking.  In about 20 minutes, they were golden brown.

I needed to use a spatula to scrape them off the pan and onto the rack to cool.  They weren’t terribly stuck, they just needed some help.

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And they were huge.  Shoulda made eight. Oh, well.

For the icing, the UK recipes all used “icing sugar” mixed with water.  I wasn’t sure if this was the same as 10-X, or if it’s something different they have there.  So I looked up ‘Merican recipes.  The one I chose uses vanilla extract, which I realized afterward gives it a darker look than that bright white icing.  I’m providing that one, plus the Pioneer Woman’s icing, which would be a stark white.  Your choice, or use your own.

Once the buns weren’t scalding hot, I poured the icing over them…

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Then topped with the toasted coconut.  They looked legit…

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But how did they taste?  Pretty darn good!  I worried a lot along the way, but in the end, I’d say this was a success.  I would hate to get into a side-by-side taste comparison with the original, but this may provide a walk down memory lane for some of you!

City Bakery Coconut Buns

Ingredients:

• 1 cup all-purpose flour

• 1 cup bread flour

• 1 packet yeast

• 1/2 cup warm water

• 1/2 cup milk

• 2 tsp salt

• 3 1/2 TB superfine sugar

• 1 egg, beaten

• 3 1/2 TB butter, softened

• A little vegetable oil to grease the rising bowl

For icing: Pioneer Woman’s icing: (In a mixer) 1 egg white, a splash of milk, and as much confectioner’s sugar as it can take – not too runny, not too thick.

For toasted coconut: Preheat oven to 300°.  Spread 1/2 bag sweetened shredded coconut on baking sheet. Stir every 2 minutes until browned.

Directions

1.Toast coconut.  Set aside.

2. Mix together the flours, yeast, water, milk, salt and sugar. Once it has all come together, add the egg,  followed by the softened butter. Once you have a uniform, sticky dough, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. THIS IS STICKY BUSINESS.  Add more flour, if needed.  Oil a large bowl, pop in the dough and leave to rise in a warm place covered with a towel or plastic wrap (not touching the dough)  for an hour or so. It should double in size.

3. Once the dough has risen knock it back with a fist, divide into eight small lumps, shape and place on floured baking trays.  Spray plastic wrap with Pam, and use it to cover the buns to prove for 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, set the oven rack to the second-highest position and preheat the oven to 400°. After proving, remove plastic. Bake the buns on the second-highest rack for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Leave to cool a bit before icing.

4. Spoon icing on top of buns.  Sprinkle a generous amount of toasted coconut over icing.

5. Close your eyes and take a bite.  You are back in your mom’s house in Long Branch…

The Search for the Perfect Guacamole

Result: A Guac that Rocks!

After attending many social events and eating in restaurants, I had come to the conclusion that there were mostly two kinds of guacamole: “eh” and “tasteless”.  It was the guacamole that my friend purchased at Whole Foods that really got me thinking, “Oh. This can taste really good!” But they weren’t about to give me the recipe.

And the experimentation began!

Long story short, I turned to the Food Network and started playing with the versions supplied by Emeril Lagasse, Alton Brown, and Bobby Flay.  I took the ingredients and the amounts that I liked best from each, and created my own, which does get rave reviews from my friends.

I really lucked out as far as produce goes this week.  The avocados just needed to sit in a paper bag overnight to get perfectly soft.  I found gorgeous local roma tomatoes – “Jersey Fresh” as we say around here in the Garden State.  I like the romas best, because they are easier to seed and seem to have less liquid in them.  I really think these two ingredients make or break my guacamole.  Such grief in the winter with yellowish, hard tomatoes and rotten avocados!  Sad produce, sad guacamole.

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Before we begin, let me introduce my weapon of choice for salsas and guacamole – all you purist knife people – QUIET!

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The Vidalia Chop Wizard makes not only nice 1/2 inch dices, but also dainty lady-like 1/4 inch dices.  Which I just love – like vegetable confetti.  It does take a little muscle to put the blades through, but it is a time-saver and oh-so-worth-it to me.  I use the 1/4 inch blades for the red onion, tomatoes, and jalepeño.

In my fear of having the avocados turn brown, I try to have my lime at the ready to squeeze in as soon as I’ve finished scooping out the avocados.  And let’s just say now: I am not a “pit in the guac” person.  I toss them.  Do what you want.

So, let’s get guacin’!  Slice around the avocados long ways.  They should pop apart cleanly.  Remove the pit, and scoop the flesh into a medium-sized container.  I like this square container, as it makes it easier to get to all the pieces at “mash time.”  When all three are scooped clean, slice the lime and juice the entire thing onto the avocados.  Add the kosher salt and cumin, and mash with a potato masher to the consistency you like.  Some people like it chunky.  I don’t.

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And now to the Jalepeño surgery.  Slice in half, and remove the stem and its base.  IF you want HEAT, retain the seeds and membrane and chop it along with the rest.  I remove the seeds and membrane, as my family only likes a small amount of heat.  Dice the Jalepeño, red onion, and tomatoes into 1/4 inch pieces…

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(See what a nice job the Chop Wizard does??)

…and fold it into the guacamole mixture.

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Lastly, chop anywhere from a tablespoon to a 1/4 cup of cilantro leaves and add them as well.  I tend to add a lot.

Cover the container with plastic wrap, and press down to make DIRECT contact with the guacamole, then cover with a lid.  Put this in the refrigerator for AT LEAST an hour to let the flavors marry.  This is one of those things that tastes better the longer it sits, but in order to keep it from browning, take the plastic wrap step seriously.  When ready to serve, taste and add more salt, if desired.

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Serve with your favorite chips, or even with crudités.  It’s 5 o’clock, so I’m having mine with a Salty Chihuahua.  Ole!

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Jersey Girl’s Guacamole

Ingredients:

  • 3 soft avacados
  • I lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 medium red onion, diced 1/4 inch
  • 2 roma (plum) tomatoes, seeded and diced 1/4 inch
  • 1 small jalepeño, diced 1/4 inch (seeded and membrane removed for less heat)
  • 1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro leaves

Scoop pulp from avocados and place into a medium bowl or container.  Juice the entire lime into the avocados, and toss to coat.  Add the salt and cumin, and mash with a potato masher.  Fold in the garlic, red onion, tomatoes, jalepeño, and cilantro.  Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the guacamole, and place in the refrigerator for about an hour.  Taste and add more salt, if desired.  Serve with chips or crudités.

Roasted Red Pepper Pesto Bites

So one weekend afternoon, I wanted to make a snack for the family, but hadn’t planned anything ahead of time.

Challenge accepted.

Looking through the refrigerator and cabinets, I found:

  • A frozen half loaf of French bread (not baguette)
  • A partial block of mozzarella
  • An opened jar of roasted red peppers
  • An opened jar of pesto sauce

I felt an appetizer coming on!

I preheated the oven to 325° and sliced the now thawed French bread into pieces between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch thick.  I arranged these onto a baking sheet (the amount I used just covered your basic 15″ sheet).  I kept an eye on these to toast them oh so slightly, then flipped them to toast the other side – maybe 5 minutes per side.

When the bread is toasted, it’s time to layer:

On each bread slice, place an approximately 1 x 2 inch piece of roasted pepper, followed by a slice of mozzarella, then about a teaspoon of pesto.

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Let’s get melting!

I believe the first time I made these (because I make them ALL THE TIME now), I used the broiler.  But you could also “nuke” them.

So now, it’s decision time for you.  Broiler or microwave?  Here’s my take: if you don’t mind the “singe” and watching it like a hawk, go for the broiler.  Sometimes I don’t want to worry about burning it, so I use the microwave.  If you are planning on broiling, you can layer your appetizers right on the baking tray.  If you are microwaving, find the biggest microwave-safe dish you have (ovals work well) and layer on that.

If broiling: Set the rack on second-highest position, and keep on constant eye on the tray until cheese is melted.

If microwaving: Cook on high one minute at a time, turning as needed until cheese is melted.

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My family devours these, and they are so ridiculously easy!

Roasted Red Pepper Pesto Bites

Makes approximately 2 15″ baking trays full

Ingredients:

  • Loaf of French or small-diameter Italian bread (not baguette)
  • Block of mozzarella
  • Small jar of roasted red peppers
  • Small jar of pesto sauce (or home made)

Preheat oven to 325°.

Slice bread into 1/2 to 1/4 inch pieces.

Arrange slices on baking sheets and toast slightly – 5 minutes per side.

When toasted, layer appetizers:

Toast…1 x 2 inch piece of roasted pepper…Slice of mozzarella…1 teaspoon of pesto.

If broiling, layer right on baking pans.

If microwaving, choose a large microwave-safe dish. Ovals work well.

To broil: Broil in second-highest rack position, keeping an eye on the pans until cheese is melted.

To microwave: Cook on high, 1 minute at a time, turning as necessary until cheese is melted.

Let cool slightly, and serve.