Chicken Sausage on Polenta with Asparagus

For vegan or vegetarian version ideas, scroll down to CHANGE IT UP.
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A few weeks back, while doing my monthly Trader Joe’s run, I scored a package of fresh chicken Italian sausage. Upon returning home, I stuck it in the garage freezer and promptly forgot all about it. Ok; it’s my MO. Finding myself with most of a pot of polenta leftover from Friday night’s bœuf bourguignon dinner and wondering what to do with it (there are myriad uses–no worries), I remembered that sausage and easily pictured it with a simple tomato sauce along with a cascade of sautéed mushrooms. A little garlic, of course–but not a lot. How about some fresh asparagus, I thought? It is asparagus season, after all. (Here in Colorado Springs –and I know this because of a longtime faithful reader, thanks–, we have wild asparagus that should just about be coming on. Take a peek around.) While it did dirty a few pans (hello wonderful DACOR dishwasher– ours was made by Asko, the Swedish company–and is still running perfectly without mishap after 9 years/knock on wood), within 45 minutes we had an easy-scrumptious dinner on hand with which to watch a couple of episodes of Netflix’ addictive new series “Transatlantic.”

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Bratwurst-Lentil Soup

There’s no reason bratwurst should only be consumed grilled and on a sturdy bun with sauerkraut, spicy mustard, and onions that have, of course, been cooked in beer. In Germany, you just get a tiny piece of rye bread with which to hold your wurst, none of this big old fat sandwich business…and I digress. But sure, there are tons of other ways to use bratwurst and other link sausages, too. If you’re camping, for instance, and happen to have cooked bratwurst, you think nothing of slicing it into a pan of creamy scrambled eggs because you’re not throwing that out, ok, and there’s not enough for lunch. At home, you might mix a few leftover bites into a kitchen sink pasta salad for a fast dinner or throw together a big slow cooker full of brats and sauerkraut when friends are coming to play cards or even make a sheet pan dinner with brats and veggies. I’m partial to cooked bratwurst cut into chunks, stuck with toothpicks, and served up with a couple of different sauces (including spicy mustard!) for a meaty app. If it’s soup night (usually Thursday at our house), I could (and did) sauté a bunch of sliced bratwurst coins, add veggies, broth and lentils, et voilà, time to get out the bowls, pour the wine, and enjoy Bratwurst-Lentil Soup!

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Italian Sausage-Butternut Squash Soup with Tortellini

I hope it’s cool where you live because it’s definitely time for soup. Of course it’s time for soup nearly any day of the year at my house, but cold nights and shorter days somehow find me bending over more often to pull out the soup pot. Just feels right or I need the exercise–one of the two. Perhaps one of the happiest things about seasons changing is how grateful we are to begin cooking meals perfectly suited to the weather. Think cookies at Christmas, grilled burgers come spring, pies in November, fresh vegetable salads in summer, or…soup in October. We sort of know where we are in life because of what’s on the stove–or even by what’s in front of the grocery store.

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Dutch Oven Beef and Italian Sausage Stew


Give me a cold day. Any cold day. Let me have time and peace to stir together something that incubates in my oven gently easing its teasing, come-hither aromas throughout the house and drawing near all who enter.  Add an entrancing, captivating book waiting for me during that 3-hour parole and I am a happy girl. Ok, include a balanced, but lofty bottle of wine and the deal is sealed.


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Spring Brunch Cooking Class–Master Quiche Recipe, Homemade Sausage, and Sam Sifton’s Glorious Bananas Foster Bread Pudding


Upcoming cooking classes:  see above, top right corner-CURRENT CLASSES. Come cook and eat.  No shopping and no cleanup.  I promise.

NOTE:  After this post, More Time will be on vacation for a wee while. I’ll see you when I get back!  

About once a year I invite folks for a slow-down-your-life, stay and chat Sunday brunch for which the menu is short and sweet: a few quiches–each different, all made ahead and warming as folks have a first drink, a big bowl of fresh fruit cut up and maybe mixed with some fresh mint, a basket of muffins and/or rolls or a skillet of crispy potatoes (recipes below), and a choice of “osas” (OH-sahs)—MIMosas, POMosas, Bellinis, CRANmosas, and so on (choose your own juice or fruit and top with sparkling wine.) A big pot of coffee is turned on just before guests’ arrival, brunch music is tuned in, and everything is laid out on the table or counter all happily self-serve. Plates are at the start, food in the middle, and flatware is wrapped and tied in napkins, placed in a basket at the end of the buffet so no one must juggle plate, flatware, and dishing up food all at the same time. Drinks are set-up in their own stations and guests sit wherever they like, moving around at will, as conversations wax and wane, or when they’re hunting seconds.


Recipe for Whole Wheat Cranberry Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins (above)

Recipe for Blueberry Muffins from my book  (below)                IMG_5693

This class, taught at Mountain High Appliance (formerly Shouse) in the Jenn-Air Kitchen (or at home if I have just four students!) focuses on the main portion of a basic make-ahead brunch that you can embellish (i.e.muffins, coffee cake, green salad, bloody marys), but also gives you the happy opportunity to create your very own breakfast sausage and a warm, boozy bread pudding for dessert–which, according to Ina Garten, is what people will remember anyway.  (I think people will remember the comfort of being together.) The Menu, then, which can be divided between guests for potluck, looks like this: Continue reading

Grilled Eggplant-Sausage Pasta with Fresh Mozzerella or What to Cook off the Plane

Italian sausage, red peppers, grilled eggplant, onions, garlic…a little fresh mozzerella.  Throw in some pasta and–

Note to readers:  for an updated, totally done on the grill version, please click here

    Coming off a plane, I’m often greeting thoughts like, “Did I leave anything at home that’ll work for dinner?”  I usually stop by the store anyway for fresh produce or something to fix quickly.  Yesterday, as I traveled home from Minneapolis, I remembered a couple of eggplants wilting in the crisper.  Odd phrase, eh?  In other words, they needed to be used.  What else?  Italian sausage in the freezer that I had put in at Christmas, but hadn’t yet cooked.  Sounded like a grilled pasta sauce night to me.  Mid-winter, I often am jonesing for something grilled.  I have two grill pans:  one is a square Calphalon and the other is a large, rectangular cast-iron grill that is flat on one side and ribbed on the other to siphon grease off the food or to provide the ubiquitous grill marks.

  I did run in for veggies for a chopped salad…bibb lettuce, radicchio, cilantro, parsley, red pepper, tomatoes…  I already had a little blue cheese.

Right now, the eggplant is sliced, salted and dribbling its dew (weeping copiously? bawling like a baby?) into a towel.  I’m about to start the pasta water, heat the grill, and start grilling cut pieces of sausage.  Oh, and a Seghesio Barbera’s waiting on the table.  (If you don’t know Seghesio, grab one of their zinfandels next time you’re in the wine shop and try that with grilled sausage and peppers, pizza or anything grilled.)  The recipe isn’t written, but will come together as I cook…and I’ll place it below the pics….  Enjoy!

Slice the eggplant thickly, salt and let drain on toweling.

Ah, California wine.

Ah, Italian tomatoes!

Indoor grilling of cut Italian sausage and eggplant

Sauteed red peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes…a little wine didn’t hurt.

Cook some pasta.

The sauce comes together with the addition of the grilled eggplant and sausage

Adding the mozzerella and fresh basil to the hot pasta.  Mix this with the sauce and…

Vieni a mangiare! (Come and eat!)

Grilled Eggplant-Sausage Pasta with Fresh Mozzerella serves 6  (8-10 for a first course)

  • 1# pasta such as penne, mostaccioli, tortiglione or rigatoni
  • 2 T olive oil, divided
  • 1# Italian sausage (sweet or hot), cut into 2″ pieces
  • 1 large eggplant, peeled, and sliced into 1/2-1″ pieces (salted and drained on toweling)
  • 1 large onion, chopped coarsely
  • 1 red pepper, chopped coarsely
  • 8 oz fresh, whole mushrooms, wiped, trimmed and cut into halves
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28 oz can tomatoes (I like Italian-canned tomatoes)  or 4 chopped fresh tomatoes-in summer only
  • 1/4 c red wine or water
  • sprinkle ea of salt, pepper and crushed red pepper
  • 1 T honey
  • 1 pint container of fresh mozzerella
  • 1/2 c fresh chiffonade (julienned) basil (or 2t dried basil); save out a little for garnish
  • 1/2 c Parmesan, grated (opt)
  1. Bring pot of well- salted and peppered water (10 qts) to boil, reduce heat and hold.  (Bring it back to boil soon as you get part-way through making sauce.) I like 1 T dried or fresh basil in my water, too.
  2. Heat oven to 250 F and place oven-safe bowls or plates in to warm.
  3. Heat grill to medium (10 min) and wipe with an oiled paper towel.  Add sausage and eggplant.
  4. Meantime, heat saute pan with rest of oil and add onion, red peppers and mushrooms.  Cook until nearly tender and add garlic.  Saute together for 1-2 minutes and add tomatoes, wine, salt, pepper, red pepper and honey.  Stir, bring to a boil, and reduce heat.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  (More salt and/or honey will cut the acidity of the wine and tomatoes.)
  5. Bring water back to boil and add pasta.  Cook 11-13 minutes or til al dente. Drain and place back in pot.    Add mozzerella and most of the basil, saving some for garnish. Cover and hold.
  6. When sausage and eggplant are done, chop eggplant coarsely and add both to sauce. Simmer 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings again.  Add sauce to the pasta mixture and stir gently, breaking up large hunks of mozzerella.  
  7. Serve in warmed pasta bowls.  Garnish with reserved basil.  Pass Parmesan, if using.

Cook’s Note:  If you’re making this in the summertime, why not grill all of the ingredients and just use fresh tomatoes (skip wine/water, honey)  for a very light al fresco meal?  You could cook the pasta in the morning before the temperature rises, store it in the frig, and bring it out in time to let it warm to room temp.

      Two-Dog Kitchen or What’s Goin’ on in the ‘Hood:

      Back from Minnesota trip where we almost froze literally; my skin is still peeling.  The day I left Colorado, it was -20 in St. Paul.  We’re not talking wind-chill.  I was so glad Dave wasn’t coming that day.  A 6 hour delay in our airport first….  Hey, I had a wonderful time reading the NYT cover to cover, getting a good start on a novel, enjoying a long lunch, and–not so fun–listening to my fellow travelers talking on the phone all day.  (There are so many private spots in the airport; why?)

      House hunted for the third time! and this time made an offer on a house:

      The view from what might be my new kitchen window.  Lots of birds!!!

      Still job-seeking…like a million? other Americans.  I’m grateful to our president for his positive, healing speech last night. 

      More travel soon….family birthdays, inspections on new houses… and so on.
      Sunny and warm here.  Ah, Colorado!

      Happy 80th Birthday to Gene Morgan!

      Here’s Dave’s Dad, Gene, and his Mom, Lorna, at Emily’s college graduation–all smiles.   


      Sing a new song,


      Friday Night Dinner in the Fireplace or Still too Cold for the Grill

      Usually I do a lovely dinner on Friday nights.
      While we’re Christians, we think of it as our Sabbath…
      We’re both home.  Time to breathe, rest, catch up.   Live.
      No watches.
      No cell phones.
      No television.
      But where was spring?  I was getting desperate for a little lamb grilled outdoors.
      Maybe a glass of wine on the deck before it got too cold.  (The light is lasting now.)
      Mother Nature had other plans.
      In Colorado Springs, we have so little rain that I usually can’t remember the last time it rained.   So when it does blow up a storm (we often have dry storms come summer) and then drizzles all day, I must be grateful.  Even if I can’t cook on the grill.
      So I had some chicken apple sausage, which, to my not-very-sausage-saavy-palate, tastes a lot like brats.  A fraction of the fat.  They’re pretty versatile.  Already fully-cooked, you can grill them and eat them on a roll, slice them into a salad, put them in bean soup, or chop them up into scrambled eggs.  Lots.   Friday night, I said, “Ok, if the grill won’t come to me, I’ll come to the fireplace.”  Or something like it.  We dug out the wienie forks from the dusty camp kitchen stored in the garage, and while I heated up some soup I’d frozen last month, grilled onions and buns, Dave built a fire.  When it was ready, we roasted wienies in the basement.    Tucker, of course, wanted some.  No way.

      and watched “Gladiator.”  So sad at the end….
      Sing a new song; skip the grill and cook at the fireplace, let sleeping dogs lie…..

      Cassoulet — Why did I wait so long to make this?

      Oh, for years I’d made a couple of things approaching cassoulet–the incredible French bean dish made with pork, sausage, lamb, duck…you name it…someone somewhere in France puts it in there. (The name comes from “cassole d’Issel,” an earthenware pot in which the dish is made. I had no such dish.) I had even come up with a delectable bean soup with some of the necessary components (another blog.) But I’d never bitten the bullet and really done the thing right. Somehow, as I mentioned in one of the December blogs, I decided this was the year we’d have it for Christmas Eve dinner. Well, we had it all right…and it WAS wonderful and it WAS time-consuming and it WAS earthy and filling and, well, heart-warming and, ok, it was (and is) just a little bit of a sexy dish that you have no choice but to put your heart and soul into or it’ll never get done. You must dedicate yourself to this dish. Be commited, as it were. It took me this long to find the time to blog the process (and process it is); forgive me. One note before I forget:

      If you are going to make and photograph cassoulet, get a new camera FIRST. My old camera died and died and some of the pictures are taken with that beast—- and some are from my 2 megpixel phone and some are…I don’t even know how I got them… They aren’t professional, but they document the process. (I got a new Sony 12. something mp for Christmas AND a new computer; not using either one here…. Coming up, I promise.) Ok, back to cassoulet and why it’s so good and why it’s so loving and lovely.
      To begin with, it’s French. If you say it right, it just sounds like something very good to eat…to experience… hmm —to have a little bit of France wherever you might be… God is so very good to provide a good wineshop down the street (Coaltrain’s is my favorite in Colorado Springs; Thomas Liquors in St. Paul)……… and the wine you drink with it helps the whole thing along.

      “I’m making cassooolay………”

      Who else in the world would spend 3 days on baked beans?

      “We’re having cassoolay……”

      Thank God someone else is going to eat this; there’s enough for a week…We can do

      ———a party! Whose anniversary is it?

      “We’re having a Beaujolais with our cassoolay….”

      —- This is sounding better by the minute…..I think I WILL finish making the _____.

      “We might have a Rhone with our cassooolay….”

      In fact, this is sounding like we should begin right now….and maybe make more. (not)

      So, I was definitely making cassoulet, but how was I to do it? I have no less than 20 recipes for the dish and those are from my books, not off the net. Remember I’ve collected cookbooks and magazines from long before Epicurious took off. Maybe you have, too. For years, traveling with my little band around the globe, there was just me, the cooking friends I knew, and Elizabeth David or MFK Fisher or Craig Claiborne or JOY or James Beard or Julia, as people now call her….. There was the long awaited GOURMET or BON APPETIT. Cooks, home cooks, just mostly had their heads. There was no Tyler Florence; no food network! And, years ago, you just didn’t pitch old magazines– thinking the recipes were all available on-line. You kept them all. You remembered where most of the recipes were and developed indexes in your recipe boxes (or notebooks) for the rest, including menus. Those days of keeping everything are gone (for me), but I do still have friends whose basements are full of GOURMET. Now I think they’re pretty smart as GOURMET is no more. I donated my entire collection of cooking magazines (except for the favorite holiday issues from the last year or two) to the library and, I’m guessing even they pitched them. Tangent.
      Anyway, I didn’t dare start cruising the on-line sources. I had enough possibilities. Also, on-line searching has become so cumbersome and repetitive that I become quite sick of it fast. I read two of the recipes thoroughly well, nearly well, anyway…a long version and a short version. The long version, was, of course, on page 399 of MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING, vol. 1 by Julia Child, and is called “French Baked Beans…Cassoulet.” The short version was from Molly O’Neill in the December, 2009 issue of COOKING LIGHT, on page 136; CL lightened the recipe up a bit by using chicken sausage. So I went from 1961-2009 and why not?
      I then looked over the rest of the recipes, even one from the BETTY CROCKER INTERATIONAL COOKBOOK, from which I, some years ago, learned to make lovely eggrolls, beef strogonoff and minestrone! BC threw a little dried mustard into the beans. I wasn’t doing that. Otherwise, the flavors seemed similar.
      Oh, do remember, we’re talking about December 23 (look at the stollen recipe pictures from the New Year’s Day brunch blog and see the wine glasses still sitting around from another holiday dinner the night before) and I’m teaching two little kids to make Christmas bread while I work on the cassoulet in the breaks. The recipe I settled for was something in between the short and long version and I put away the BC totally. Back on the shelves went my beloved Patricia Wells and even THE AUBERGE OF THE FLOWERING HEARTH, which had no cassoulet that I could find, but always holds my heart never-the-less. I did not have enough time to cook lamb, duck, pork and garlic sausage. So this is what I did about the meat:
      • I used a small pork shoulder (well trimmed!) for the basic bean cooking, keeping out pound and a half – or so to make the sausage.
      • I bought duck (legs) confit for a horrible price at Whole Foods. (Worth it if you’re rushed.)
      • I had my talented husband take the extra pork and make French garlic sausage, as no one that I could find sold it nearby. I found directions on-line, but later noticed Julia had one.
      • I (sob sob sob) skipped the lamb, despite having some lamb stew meat frozen in my big garage freezer.

      I did not document the process precisely as there was not one inch of unoccupied space in my galley kitchen during the two days before Christmas. My pictures are helpful, however, and I will bring together the recipe I think I made. Also, I have some in the freezer and can unthaw it and look at it if needed. If you live nearby and want to taste this, let me know! What’s beautiful about this sort of dish, is that just like your own favorite baked beans or chili, it’s never exactly like any recipe.. it’s how you liked to make it that day. It changes with the year, the availability of ready cash for duck confit, the wine vintage and with how your heart is cooking.

      Take the plunge; make a date; invite a group for a birthday or Valentine’s Day or to ski and–
      serves 12
      Cook’s Note: You must begin a day or two ahead for this version…You can almost finish the dish the day before you need it if you begin two days ahead. You can then just do the final baking on the day you need to serve the meal. Read through the recipe before starting. This is done in stages…first the soaking of the beans, then the cooking of the beans and pork, overnight in the frig, the making of the sausage, the first cooking of the casserole, the second cooking with all meats and bread crumbs… You’ll get the idea; give yourself time. It’s worth it. It’ll hold once done…just don’t let it dry out. If it does, warm it up with the addition of a little chicken stock or white wine.

      1 1/2 # white beans of your choice, rinsed and picked through for bad beans and stones
      3# pork roast, boneless and trimmed well (or you can bone it) (You’ll cut some into 1-2″ pieces to cook with the beans and later use the rest to make a quick sausage)
      1-3T canola oil, divided (you’ll need some to fry the sausage)
      3 large onions, chopped coarsely
      5 cloves of garlic, minced
      4-5 large carrots, cleaned, peeled and sliced thickly (you don’t want them to disappear in the long cook)
      2 cups chopped celery
      1 14 oz can of tomatoes, crushed or 6 T tomato paste (Julia’s first choice)
      1/2 bottle of white wine (I used an inexpensive Chardonnay)
      2 32 oz boxes of chicken stock, low-sodium
      Bouquet garni, composed of 2 -3 stalks celery, 8 stalks of parsley, 2 bay leaves, 5-6 sprigs thyme*
      Kosher Salt/Freshly ground pepper
      4 Duck confit legs (or 3 grilled duck breasts, fat removed and meat chopped after grilling)
      2# “French” garlic sausage (recipe below–need 1/2 # bacon and 3-4 garlic cloves in addition to above pork)
      1/2 c fresh bread crumbs
      2t olive oil
      *Bouquet garni: Tie together these vegetables/herbs with kitchen string; you remove them before baking the cassoulet.
      Directions: Be brave, loved ones……… Don’t do this alone; find a friend!
      In a large stockpot, bring beans and water just to cover to a boil for five minutes. Turn heat off, cover, and let beans sit for an hour. If desired, you can, instead, let beans soak overnight.
      In a large skillet, brown a little less than half of the remaining pork, cut into 1-2″ pieces, in a little bit of canola oil. When well-browned on all sides, remove to a paper-towel covered platter and add onions, celery and carrots to the skillet. Add a little extra oil if needed. After the vegetables are almost soft, add the garlic and tomatoes and saute for another 3-4 minutes, stirring.
      To the stockpot with the beans, add the drained and browned pieces of pork and then sauteed vegetable mixture. Pour into the pot half of the chicken stock and all of the wine. Add water to make about six cups total of liquid or to make sure there is plenty of liquid in which to cook the beans. Season with about 2 t kosher salt and 1/2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 2 to 2 1/2 hours until beans are tender, watching liquid level and adding more water or stock as needed. Beans should boil freely. Let the pot cool and refrigerate overnight.
      Meantime, make the garlic sausage and cook and bone the duck. You can do it that night or the next day, depending on the time you have. If you do it that night, refrigerate the meats separately.
      Making the Garlic Sausage:
      You can look a recipe up on-line (NYTIMES: Nov 4, 1981: Saucissons a L’Ail (French Garlic Sausage) by Craig Claiborne– or many other sites) or you can try the version we made, which was tres delicious. Be bold; try it!
      Take the other pound and half or so of lean pork roast and about a half pound of good-quality bacon and finely mince/grind the two together in the food processor, fitted with the sharp blade. Season with TABLE salt (not Kosher or sea–it must really blend) and finely-ground pepper. Add 3-4 finely chopped cloves of garlic and mix very well.
      Take out a tiny patty and fry it up. How does it taste? If it is bland, adjust seasoning and fry and taste again. Some people like a bit of allspice, a tad of sugar or some wine added to this sausage. Si place. (Do as you like.)
      To a medium skillet, add about 1T of canola oil and place the sausage into the pan, creating a very large sausage patty. Fry on one side over medium heat until golden and flip. Finish cooking on the other side. Remove to paper-towel covered platter and cool. Cut into 1-2″ pieces. Sample some. You should have more than you’ll need. Cut a bit of baguette, add a little cornichon- or any pickle-add some grainy mustard and eat some of your sausage with that. You deserve a snack. God is, indeed, Good. Now you’re ready for onward and upward.


      Place your duck legs into a “pammed” baking casserole and bake at 400 degrees 10-12 minutes. Cool and bone. Reserve meat.

      Preheat oven to 325 (350 for altitude baking) Take bean mixture out of the refrigerate and warm up over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the rest of the chicken stock. Taste. If you season now, remember that you will soon add sausage that is well-seasoned. Add boned duck. Pour mixture into a large Dutch oven or very large casserole and bake for about 2 hours.

      Reduce oven temperature by 50 degrees. Remove Dutch oven and add cut-up sausage. Stir well and taste. Season as needed. Sprinkle bean mixture with fresh bread crumbs and drizzle with olive oil. Bake @ 275 or 300F for another 1 1/2 -2 hours, depending on
      altitude. Beans should be very tender; casserole should be nicely browned. Remove and let stand for 15 minutes before serving. Do let people help themselves from the stove for an informal meal.
      Wine: Beaujolais or Cotes du Rhone–nothing expensive or fancy.

      Serve with: a little bread and butter……..salad if you want.
      Dessert: Oh, not this night. You need a little cognac only for a digestion!
      Bon appetit, my friends. If you’ve waited this long to eat…-or read this blog!- you should have a GOOD APPETITE BY NOW!!!
      Listen to lots of good songs while you cook this; cook with friends and share this wonderful dish,
      In Memoriam: Tavern on the Green, NYC — So sad.