“It Takes Two” Spaghetti & Meatballs with Sausage

Terrie asked me to write about our adventures in cooking in the new kitchen, what it’s like to share space with her now that our renovation makes that less difficult, and specifically this fabulous Italian meal that we made together on a recent Sunday.


But as a starting point, I want to share a little about how this came to be our house. I actually moved into this house on Sept. 30, 2006. It was amid divorce—and I’d found the house, a three-bed, two-bath ranch with a bonus “loft” room—while searching with my daughter as we looked for a place zoned for the high school she wanted to attend two years hence. This was my fifth house as an adult. I’d lived in each of the others for about five years. When I moved into this one, I was thinking it would be the shortest of all, two or three years before I figured out what I wanted to do long term and would be on the move again.

Yet here I stayed, largely because I liked Winston-Salem and when my newspaper job went away in early 2011, I didn’t feel like chasing journalism anymore. I guess I felt I had accomplished what I wanted to, and I didn’t need the disruption of uprooting to find a job in a profession that was constantly shedding jobs, especially of veteran editors like myself who were paid more. So I left journalism and wound up taking communications/marketing jobs, and through two of those, as well as graduate school for my new chosen profession (clinical mental health counseling), I stayed.

Through the growing relationship with Terrie, who moved in Thanksgiving 2016, I stayed.

We began to look for an “our house,” but everything we looked at was either too expensive or didn’t have the yard or neighborhood that would allow our pets the freedom to be outside. Once we decided this is the home where we would make our stand, the decision to fix the major things was easy. First, last spring, was a new roof. Next up was the kitchen, and, having built a house and having remodeled another house (including, principally, the kitchen), I felt confident that we would get what we both desired—more confident, perhaps, than Terrie was at first.

So now it’s done. And it is, indeed, beautiful, as you have seen in some of Terrie’s posts to date. If you missed it, you’ll want to circle back and check out the big reveal of our new kitchen. Although we have frequently been in the kitchen together (that was the point, after all, behind much of the work), this meal was the first collaborative dish we’ve made in the new kitchen. And I had the “lead” role for this meal, doing something I love to do—cook Italian food. I suggested this meal to Terrie because I knew we had a good amount of leftover Italian sausage in the refrigerator from the Sausage and Cherry Pepper Pizza we’d recently made (it has been in hot rotation since our trip to New Haven).

One of the things I’ve learned to do during my seven years total with Terrie is pick up techniques that make a meal better. I love how she can elevate a meal, and though I am sometimes timid to try some of the more advanced techniques, I don’t mind an occasional foray into the unknown (for me). So the main thing I did differently this time was to use Terrie’s immersion blender (I guess by now I should call that “our” immersion blender) to smooth the sauce. But you can get all the details below in the recipe portion. My big share is about how the new kitchen works as a shared space during a meal we prepare together. My point of view is that the day went swimmingly.

I had the primary two stations on either side of the stove as I went from prepping vegetables and sauté work on the right of the stove to prepping and cooking the sausages and meatballs on the left. All the while I was working, and it was about 90 minutes, Terrie was at her new baking station in the bistro section of the room, preparing the homemade pasta, using tools of her trade that worked better in the new space (especially a larger overhanging ledge to clamp her pasta machine, as well as the maple surface).


We didn’t get in each other’s way once! Now, I will say that as we keep working, we’ll be closer together, but the new kitchen takes care of that, too. If Terrie works the two stations on either side of the stove, I have a nice new long station on the left side of our kitchen sink, available thanks to some minor re-arranging of space in the room. With taller, roomier cabinets, we’ve been able to de-clutter the countertops, thus creating the three clearly defined workspaces, which doesn’t even include the baking station, in effect a fourth workspace.

I’m looking forward to many other dual-prepared meals, as well as my typical role of sous chef, aide and kibitzer-in-chief; I now fulfill the latter role from my perch at our new bistro table next to the baking station.

Next up in transforming this house I’ve lived in since 2006 into “our house?” The master bath remodel, on tap for a March start. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the post about us cooking together there. But trust me, we will.

We’re staying.


Les’s Italian Sauce with Sausage and Meatballs

The ingredients and steps are all listed in the PDF Terrie has attached at the end of the post, but we hope you enjoy seeing our adventure.

I’ve seen Terrie use an immersion blender on everything from soups to mac and cheese sauces. I decided to try it here, and processed my Italian sauce until smooth. I had vegetable stock on hand to help with blending the thick sauce. Then, I added the cooked meatballs and sausage to the pot and simmered until the pasta was ready.

Any kind of long pasta would be great with this sauce, but we enjoyed it on Terrie’s handmade pasta. This was her first experience with making pasta in the new baking station. The rest of this story is hers.


Terrie’s Roasted Garlic Pasta Dough

Welcome to my happy place. ❤

Of all the foods I make from scratch, handmade pasta is one of the most rewarding. As with so many things that once seemed intimidating to me, this is all about practice and repetition, and once you develop a feel for it, store-bought pasta loses its appeal. Besides the cool factor of DIY-ing this versatile food, I find it deeply therapeutic to transform flour, water and egg into a dough that can be stretched so thin and turned into noodles, all under my own hand. It’s awesome, and having a dedicated space in our new kitchen makes it even better.

I like to add fun flavors to my standard pasta dough, and this time I went for roasted garlic, blended right into the dough to complement Les’s rich Italian sauce. If you are already making your own pasta, I hope you find the roasted garlic a tasty addition. If you aren’t, or if you’re new to the process of pasta making, I encourage you to check out my posts for lemon-herb pasta or spinach-ricotta ravioli, as I offer more in-depth instruction there for making and working the dough. This time, I’m focusing mainly on the flavor and formula.

To infuse the roasted garlic into the dough, I pureed it together with egg and water, then pressed it through a small mesh strainer to keep the chunky solids from messing up the dough. I strengthened the dough by rolling it through my pasta machine, as usual, but used a chitarra for the first time to cut the dough into strands. Here’s how it went!


Putting it all together

Time for dinner! The sauce was quietly simmering on the stove, so the timing was dependent on the pasta. Fresh, handmade pasta cooks much more quickly than dried, store-bought, so it’s best to have everything you need for serving lined up and ready to go before you begin.


It takes two, Baby, me and you! ❤


Hot Italian Sausage & Cherry Pepper Pizza

Anybody who doesn’t get excited about pizza has, well, never had a good one. That’s my philosophy, and it’s one of the many reasons my husband, Les, and I are so darn compatible. Our tenacity in searching out the best foods is another. It is not possible for me to pass on reading an article about food—whether it relates to a trend, a signature dish or a hot new restaurant. Les is the same. So when we found ourselves at Modern Apizza in New Haven, Connecticut, near the end of our summer vacation, it was pretty much heaven for both of us.

You have to say it like the locals do… it’s Modern “Ah-Beetz!”

Our visit was not by chance; it was intended to be a highlight from the very start of our vacation planning, and we worked other aspects of our trip around it. That’s how seriously we take our pizza. And we had a big inside connection that won me a behind-the-scenes tour of the place, through the kitchen and prep spaces, and all the way down to the basement where they make more sauce and dough than I have ever imagined.


How did I have such an opportunity, you might wonder, to be invited into the heart of this business that is 650 miles from my home? Easy. Les knows the owners! During what seems like a lifetime ago, when he lived in the New Haven area, Les owned a home two doors down from Bill and Mary Pustari, who bought Modern Apizza in 1988 and continued the long tradition of excellence there that had begun in 1934. After a few years owning the place, they expanded the dining room and added a second, oil-fired brick oven to their kitchen to keep pace with the popularity of their amazing pizzas.

When Les reached out to his old friends to inform them of our plans to visit New Haven, they were gracious to offer me a tour of the restaurant, to witness the magic up close and personal. For me, it was as exciting as many of the backstage events I had experienced during my radio years and one of the biggest highlights of our entire trip, and I’m excited to share my experience, and the pizza it inspired me to make at home. But first—lunch!

Oh, YUM!

Our server, Arianna (who also happens to be a daughter of the owners), didn’t hesitate when we asked which pizza is most popular with their customers.

“Hands down, the Italian Bomb,” she said. Well, sure, the one with sausage, bacon, pepperoni, mushroom, onions, peppers and fresh garlic, of course! That sounded like a lot to chew on for lunch, and we decided on a half-and-half pizza (kind of amazing they are willing to do that), with artichoke hearts and eggplant on one side, and Italian sausage with hot cherry peppers on the other. Both combinations were delicious, but what I could not get over was the complex flavor and chewy-but-crisp texture of the crust, and I was about to come face-to-face with the signature ingredient that gives Modern Apizza a culinary edge over its competitors.


When it was time for my “backstage” tour, Bill took me first through the kitchen, and then to the original oven, which they still fire up when business is booming. An oil-fired oven is an incredible sight, and when Bill informed me that the coolest spot in the oven is 700° F, I couldn’t resist asking what the hottest temperature in the oven was. Care to guess?

Modern Apizza’s original brick oven, still in action after all these years.

“The temperature of fire,” Bill answered. Wow!

From there, Bill led me downstairs to the basement of the restaurant and to a very special, very old refrigerator that is home to a very old resident—and the secret to their flavorful dough—a sourdough starter!

They call this glorious culture “The Bitch.”


Despite her unbecoming name, The Bitch is a beloved member of the family at Modern Apizza. They feed her every day, and if there is ever a weather emergency or power outage, she goes home with someone for safekeeping. Bill told me that several years ago, he wanted to take Modern’s pizzas to a new level, so he got a bit of a 100-year-old starter from a local French bakery, and that ushered in a whole new chapter in Modern’s history. This revelation thrilled my sourdough-loving heart to pieces and connected the dots on why our lunch pizza reminded me of home.

I got more confirmation about my pizza-at-home techniques when we went back upstairs to the kitchen, where William (also a Pustari) and George worked in harmony with Jesse, the oven guy, preparing pizzas to order for their customers, at an astonishing rate of two pizzas per minute. Honestly, I wanted to throw on an apron and jump in on the action!

They have this down to a science!

From the shaping of the dough, the order of topping ingredients, the high-heat baking and the natural leavening of the pizza dough itself, I left Modern Apizza feeling that I was doing something right—or, really, doing a lot of things right, at home. All my research, trial and error had put me on the right pizza path, and that is a very good feeling. Before I share my home pizza that was inspired by this visit, can you stand just a little more bragging on Modern Apizza?


Despite the extra time it takes his prep crew, Bill is committed to doing right by his community. All those cans for the tomato sauce get recycled. He purchases sausage from a local butcher, serves local Foxon Park soft drinks, and Modern’s mozzarella comes from Liuzzi’s, the same Italian market Les and I had visited earlier in the week. Just before he arrived at the restaurant, Bill had met with a farmer to purchase local tomatoes to be used on the fresh tomato pizza which is, of course, a New Haven classic. All these neighbors supporting each other and finding great success—kinda makes me want to live in New Haven!


Ingredients

1 ball sourdough pizza dough* (see notes)

2 hot Italian sausage links, casings removed

1/2 medium onion, chopped

About 1/2 cup pickled hot cherry peppers

1/3 cup pizza sauce

1 cup freshly shredded mozzarella*

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

A handful of parm-romano blend cheese

Extra virgin olive oil


*Notes

Sourdough was the key to the great flavor we experienced at Modern Apizza, and it’s my go-to pizza dough at home. My favorite recipe is linked in the ingredients list, and I recommend using a pizza steel and the hottest temperature your home oven can handle. My dough ferments in the refrigerator, but I bring it to almost-room temperature when I’m ready to shape and bake it.

Use firm, whole milk mozzarella for best results—and yes, you absolutely should shred it yourself rather than using pre-shredded, pre-bagged cheese. Pre-bagged cheese may be convenient but it is coated with a powdery substance that prevents clumping in the bag, which unfortunately for use on pizzas also prevents even melting. So please shred your own; it’s worth it.


Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 550°F, with the oven rack positioned about 8 inches below the top element and a pizza steel in place for a solid hour at temperature.
  2. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Crumble up the Italian sausage and brown it until some of the edges are just developing a crust. You want it to hang onto its moisture for the most part, as it will cook again in the oven. Add the onions to the skillet and cook until they are softened. Transfer the meat and onions to a bowl and cool completely.
  3. Drain the cherry peppers and pat them dry on layers of paper towel. Chop them into bite-sized pieces.
  4. When the oven is ready, shape the dough into a 14” round and transfer to a flour- and cornmeal-dusted pizza peel, which will make it easy to slide the pizza into the hot oven.
  5. Swirl pizza sauce over the dough, then scatter parm-romano and mozzarella evenly. Arrange the cooked sausage and onions over the pizza, and follow that with the cherry peppers.
  6. Drizzle olive oil lightly over the toppings and quickly transfer the pizza to the hot oven for about 6 minutes, or until the cheese is hot and bubbly and the edges of the crust are browned and blistered.

We love having a taste of New Haven at home!


Cajun Shrimp & Garlicky Cheese Grits

Take a road trip across the Southeast, and you’ll find a wide array of flavors and presentation in dishes that all claim to be “shrimp and grits.”

And they all are.

There is no right-or-wrong when it comes to this classic southern dish. Whether served with a lush and savory gravy, or piled high with onions, peppers and tomatoes, or spiked with spicy andouille or tasso ham, cheese or no cheese, you are guaranteed a flavorful experience. Over the 34 years that I’ve lived in N.C., I’ve developed my own recipe into what I believe captures the best of all the varieties I’ve tasted around these parts, though I can’t claim to make it the same every time. My “comfort du jour” usually depends on what ingredients are in the fridge, and many times, my decision to make shrimp and grits is a last-minute one.

I almost always have good quality, wild American shrimp in the freezer. I’m guaranteed to have some kind of pork product—ham, bacon, sausage or chorizo—and just about any kind of onion or pepper works, so whatever I have on hand can slide into place. I may or may not incorporate cheese, depending on the other ingredients. One thing that remains constant is my method of cooking the grits. You cannot rush them, and for goodness sake, don’t cheat yourself by using instant. It should take a minimum of 20 minutes on the stove, unless you have, you know, “magic grits.” I think we all remember how that played out in My Cousin Vinny.

If you have ever eaten grits and thought they were, well, gritty—the simple explanation is that they were not cooked long enough or with enough liquid. Grits (or polenta, which is nearly the same thing) are made of broken-down, dried corn. They are tooth-cracking hard straight from the package, and I have found that it takes a good bit longer than the package instructions suggest to get them right. They are kind of like oatmeal in that regard—you can have creamy, soft oatmeal that drips off the spoon, or sticky, gloppy oatmeal that sticks to everything it touches. The difference is all in the cooking process.

The other complaint some people have about grits is a common one—“they’re so bland.” And if you use only water to cook them, they certainly are. Grits do not have much flavor on their own, but you can coax the flavor out of those dry little kernels with the right technique and the right stuff. In other words, ignore the package instructions and use your own cooking instincts. There is no magic to it. 😉

Here’s my secret for perfect, creamy grits every time: treat them like risotto. Cook them low and slow, with plenty of broth additions and plenty of stirring, and finish them with a little cream or half and half. You’ll be rewarded with a silky, luxurious base for whatever you choose to pile on top of them.

These grits are perfectly creamy, with no clumps and no gritty texture.

For this batch of shrimp and grits, I used smoked andouille sausage, cut up and lightly fried until the edges were crispy, sautéed cremini mushrooms, a sprinkle of Cajun seasoning on the shrimp, and scallions on top to finish the dish. The grits, as always, were creamy and delicious, with a few cloves of chopped garlic in the broth and just enough cheddar cheese at the end, to give them some extra body, and a few shakes of RedHot sauce for tangy-spicy flavor.

This recipe serves 2, with a scoop of grits left over to go under your weekend eggs.

There’s so much texture here, beginning with the juicy shrimp and crispy sausage, and down to the creamy, cheesy grits. This is one of our faves!

Ingredients

1 cup yellow grits, a.k.a. polenta* (see notes)

2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

About 2 cups hot water, as needed for cooking the grits*

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

Frank’s RedHot Original sauce, to taste*

2 Tbsp. light cream or half and half*

1/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

2 links smoked andouille sausage, cut into bite-size pieces

Handful of cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

About 2/3 pound of wild-caught shrimp, peeled and de-veined

A few shakes of your favorite Cajun seasoning*

2 scallions (green onions), trimmed and sliced

*Notes

For the best results, and creamy grits, do not use anything packaged as “instant.” My preferred brand is Bob’s Red Mill polenta, which you can find in well-stocked supermarkets, including Super Walmart.

It’s helpful to heat the water in a teakettle or the microwave ahead of time and keep it on standby. When you add liquid to polenta or risotto that is already cooking, you want the liquid to be warm.

As always, you will need to adjust the salt amount to work with your other ingredients. I lean toward low-sodium versions of broth and seasonings so that I have more control of the overall salt in my recipes. Check your labels and taste as you go.

I love the flavor of RedHot sauce, but Texas Pete or Tabasco would also be good for a spike of flavor in the grits.

For readers abroad, “half and half” is a term used to describe a popular dairy product in the U.S. It is essentially equal parts light cream and whole milk, with about 12% milkfat.

We use a dry Cajun seasoning that my husband picked up in New Orleans, but there are plenty of options available in your supermarket. You could also make up your own, with some combination of garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, black pepper and thyme.

Instructions

I’m a visual learner. If you are, too, then follow along with my slideshow or keep scrolling for written instructions and a pdf you can download for your recipe files.

  1. Place a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add vegetable broth, garlic, salt and pepper, and heat to nearly boiling. Add polenta, stirring constantly until it is fully mixed with the broth and no visible clumps appear. Reduce heat to medium low and cook, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid is absorbed.
  2. Add hot water, 1/2 cup at a time, and continue with frequent stirring until each addition is absorbed and grits take on a smooth, creamy appearance. This may be up to 2 cups of additional liquid, and may take as long as 40 minutes.
  3. When grits achieve desired consistency, add a few shakes of RedHot sauce and stir in the light cream. Stir in shredded cheddar until melted and smooth. Remove grits from heat and cover to keep warm until you are ready to assemble the dish with the shrimp and other ingredients.
  4. Season the prepared shrimp with a few shakes of Cajun dry seasoning, and toss to let the flavor meld with the shrimp.
  5. Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and brown the andouille sausage bits until they have slightly crispy edges. Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan, tossing to brown them on both sides. Transfer sausage and mushrooms to a bowl.
  6. In the same skillet, again over medium heat, swirl in another tablespoon of olive oil. When oil is shimmering, place shrimp into the pan, one at a time. Allow them to cook, undisturbed, about one minute, then begin turning them, following the same order, to cook the other side.
  7. Add the cooked sausage and mushrooms back to the skillet and give the whole thing a few quick tosses to heat everything through.
  8. Spoon a generous amount of grits onto your serving bowls or plates, top with sausage, shrimp and mushrooms. Sprinkle dish with scallions and serve.

Time for dinner!


Bangers & Mash!

There cannot possibly be a food more deserving of the title “pub grub” than bangers and mash. This hearty, stick-to-your-ribs dish is original to Ireland and other parts of the U.K., and a real treat on St. Patrick’s Day, but its history reflects hard times for the Irish people. During W.W. I meat shortages, sausage makers resorted to stuffing the links with lesser amounts of pork or lamb, substituting fillers and higher-than-usual water concentration. As they cooked, the sausages exploded from their casings with a banging sound. Thus, “bangers.”

Today, you don’t have to look very hard to find a more meat-centric version of the sausages, and I found this delicious variety made by Johnsonville. They are slightly sweet, but with plenty of garlic flavor that I think holds up nicely to the dark stout beer used in the thick onion gravy. If you can’t find sausage that is labeled specifically as “Irish,” I would recommend any bratwurst-type of sausage as a fine substitute.

These Johnsonville sausages were delicious! If you do not find sausage labeled as “Irish,” I think bratwurst would be a good substitute.

The Irish, especially peasant populations, have always relied heavily on the nutrient-dense potato, for its fiber, antioxidants and minerals (especially potassium). Potatoes contain a resistant starch that is not absorbed by the body, but provides a vehicle to deliver nutrients to feed our gut bacteria, which is crucial for overall good health. Isn’t it nice to know that a favorite comfort food can actually be good for you? At our house, it’s a rare occasion to have any kind of potatoes other than my beloved’s fabulous garlic mashed, but their richness, and especially the parm-romano flavor, is not quite right for this meal. I’ve taken a different direction, using buttermilk and a moderate amount of butter to cream them up a bit, and a couple of spoons of horseradish, which gives them legs to stand under the intensely flavored Guinness onion gravy.

My version of the gravy begins with sautéed onions, and is finished with a very generous glug of Guinness stout, plus some broth. This gravy is big and bold, and if you wish, you can shift the ratio of stout or leave it out altogether in favor of beef broth—that’s up to you.

Garlicky sausages, simmered in Guinness and then piled onto hearty potatoes with the Guinness-onion gravy. This is some serious Irish pub grub!

The preparation of these three components (bangers, mash and gravy) will happen concurrently; if you are working ahead, the whole meal heats up nicely as leftovers.

Ingredients

Package of Irish banger sausages (or similar substitute)

1/2 cup Guinness stout ale*

2 1/2 lbs. starchy potatoes (I used a combination of russet and golds)

4 Tbsp. salted butter

1/2 cup thick buttermilk

1 1/2 tsp. prepared horseradish

Salt and pepper

It’s surprising to get so much flavor from so few ingredients. The scotch cocktail in the back is for the cook, not the gravy. 🙂

Guinness Onion Gravy

3 Tbsp. salted butter

1 large yellow onion, sliced (mine was about the size of a softball)

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 cup Guinness stout ale

1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

2 tsp. beef bouillon base*

2 tsp. dark brown sugar

Salt and pepper

*Notes

The Guinness stout ale is very strong, and carries a somewhat bitter note. I believe the secret to making delicious gravy with the stout is cooking it slowly, so the malty flavors remain but the alcohol cooks out and mellows in flavor. If you are averse to the bitter flavor, or avoiding alcohol, substitute a hearty beef stock for similar results. This recipe calls for a 12 oz. bottle; you will use part of it to simmer the sausages and the rest to finish the onion gravy. I purchased the “Foreign Extra” stout, but for less intense flavor, use a Guinness draught stout.

I use vegetable broth regularly for the nutrients and flavors, and I have amped up the flavor with a hearty spoon of beef bouillon base. If you prefer, skip the base and use beef broth.

Instructions

Let’s run through it together in pictures, then scroll to find written instructions, and a downloadable version you can print for your recipe files.

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into large chunks. Cook in salted water over medium-low heat until fork tender.
  2. Drain potatoes in a colander (reserve the water, if you wish, to make a batch of my sourdough potato bread with onions and dill). While potatoes drain, add butter and buttermilk to the cooking pot over medium heat until butter is mostly melted.
  3. Return hot potatoes to the pot and mash, seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in horseradish and additional butter, if desired.
  4. While the potatoes are cooking, place a medium, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and pour in 1/2 cup of the Guinness stout. Add sausages to the stout and simmer, turning sausages a few times, until sausage is plump and stout is reduced to a couple of tablespoons. This should be about 25 minutes. Transfer sausages to a separate dish and set aside to make the gravy.
  5. Pour any reduced stout into a glass measuring cup, along with vegetable broth and beef base.
  6. Add butter to the same pot used to simmer the sausages, and add onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and sauté over medium heat until onions are soft and translucent, at least 10 minutes.
  7. Sprinkle flour over onions in butter and stir until onions are coated and flour begins to cook. This is a roux that will be the thickener for your gravy. When the bottom of the pan begins to accumulate cooked, stuck-on flour, move the onions aside and pour in about half of the remaining Guinness stout. Stir, scraping up the cooked flour from the bottom.
  8. When the pan is de-glazed, pour in the remaining stout and the broth mixture, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened and reduced. You should take about 25 minutes for this step; don’t rush it, as simmering is necessary to blend the flavors and reduce the bitterness of the stout. Give it a taste and adjust salt and pepper as desired. If the gravy is overly bitter, stir in the brown sugar and simmer a few more minutes.
  9. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Swirl in a small amount of olive oil and add the plump banger sausages. Cook and turn until sausages are fully reheated and nicely browned.
  10. Plate the mashed potatoes, spoon on a bit of Guinness gravy, then top with bangers and a generous ladle of the onion gravy.

Want to make this classic Irish pub grub?


Jambalaya Deep-Dish Pizza

For such a short month, February has a lot going on, holiday- and event-wise. There’s Super Bowl, which is traditionally the first Sunday of the month; Valentine’s Day, which is fixed on the 14th; and Mardi Gras, which floats on the lunar calendar in tandem with Ash Wednesday. It’s enough to make even the most adept party planner a little dizzy, and for the average person at home, it isn’t easy to celebrate all three (at least, not when you’re hosting others). I’ve wanted to do some kind of Mardi Gras dish for a while, and with Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day behind us, here’s what I’ve come up with for our small celebration—all the exciting flavors of jambalaya piled into a deep-dish pizza.

The only thing missing from this jambalaya-inspired pizza is the rice, and guess what? We didn’t miss it!

As with the other two February events, it is just the two of us celebrating, and that makes it less intimidating for me. Les and I both love Cajun and Creole flavors, and he brought home some authentic spice blends from a work-related trip to “N’awlins” a couple of years ago, so I already have the right accent. We have some fabulous jazzy blues music to help us get in the mood, and I’m sure we have some beads around here somewhere. Weeknights are always great for a casual meal, and pizza has become one of my “blank canvas” foods, begging for interesting flavor twists. I’m going deep dish on this one because you cannot skimp on Mardi Gras (which translates from French to “fat Tuesday”), and I’m not sure that our usual N.Y.-style crust can handle all this excitement. 

Most of the fillings are obviously traditional, from the zesty smoked andouille sausage, through the holy trinity aromatic vegetables and spices, and the plump and juicy Gulf shrimp. I omitted rice because we have quite enough carbs in my part-cornmeal deep dish pizza dough. Creole foods have tomato, so that’s an easy crossover ingredient for pizza. But what about cheese? I wracked my brain and could not think of a single regional dish that includes cheese, but on a deep-dish pie, the cheese on the bottom seems to shield the tender crust from wet filling ingredients, so I didn’t feel right skipping it.

In the end, I opted for the mildest firm cheese I could think of—one that would not clash with all these great Louisiana flavors. Monterey Jack is sturdy enough to line the pizza dough, but it melts well, and it kept my deep-dish dinner from singing the soggy-bottom blues.

Speaking of the blues, we can’t celebrate Mardi Gras without music, so go put on your favorite New Orleans jazz, or enjoy what I listened to while making this pizza:


Ingredients

1 prepared deep-dish pizza dough (recipe and instructions in my post for Chicago-style Deep-dish Pizza)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (mine was infused with cayenne)

2 links smoked andouille sausage, sliced or chopped (I used Aidell’s)

1 boneless chicken thigh, cut into bite-sized bits

2 ribs celery, finely chopped

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

1/2 cup each red and green bell pepper, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

Cajun or Creole seasoning (as much as you can stand)

3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed

1 1/2 cups canned diced tomatoes, divided (see instructions)

Handful of fresh okra, sliced (or about 3/4 cup frozen sliced okra)

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Splash of veggie or chicken broth (optional, for deglazing the skillet)

4 large gulf shrimp (about 1/4 pound), peeled and deveined)

4 oz. shredded or sliced Monterey jack cheese


Instructions

Let’s run through it together in pictures while you enjoy the Bluesiana Triangle, then keep scrolling for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.


  1. Place a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and swirl in olive oil. When oil is hot enough to shimmer, add cut up andouille sausage and toss until edges are crispy. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the sausage to a bowl and set aside.
  2. Add the chicken pieces to the remaining oil and toss them about until no longer pink. Transfer chicken to the bowl with the sausage.
  3. Add trinity plus garlic to the skillet and toss in the hot oil. Shake on Cajun or creole seasoning to suit your spicy preferences. Grind some black pepper into the pan and sauté vegetables until they are soft and translucent. Scatter the fresh thyme leaves over the vegetables.
  4. Add diced tomatoes, okra and red wine vinegar. Toss and cook until okra is heated through, about five minutes. Turn off heat and allow vegetables to rest a few minutes, then transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  5. If your skillet has any browned bits on the bottom, swirl in a splash of veggie broth and heat to a simmer. Cut the shrimp into bite-sized pieces and toss them into the simmering broth. Cook only long enough for the shrimp to be barely done, which may only be about two minutes. Transfer the shrimp to the bowl with sausage and chicken and set aside.

At this point, if you’re working ahead, you can refrigerate all cooked ingredients, and then bring them to near-room temperature when you are ready to assemble the pizza.

Ready to bake:

  1. Preheat oven to 450° F, with rack in center of oven.
  2. Spread prepared dough into pan, with edges creeping up the side a bit.
  3. Layer ingredients in the following order: Monterey jack, most of the andouille sausage, chicken, vegetables, shrimp, remaining sausage, additional diced tomatoes. Sprinkle with Cajun seasoning.
  4. Bake 25 minutes, rotating pizza halfway through baking time. Rest pizza 5 minutes, then carefully lift and transfer pizza to a flat pizza pan or serving platter. Cut into wedges.

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Sausage and Eggplant Leftovers Pizza

“I’ve got leftovers on my leftovers!”

This is what I shouted as I was assembling this patchwork pizza, which had all the classic Italian flavors of eggplant parmesan, lasagna and spicy pepperonata. Yep, all that on a crust. But make no mistake, I did not plan it this way.

The end-of-weekend fridge clearing ritual at our house took an interesting turn last night when my husband, Les, who will never, ever turn his nose up to anything pizza or anything eggplant, suggested that we take the remnants of a sausage and eggplant noodle casserole (which was already a leftover creation), and chop it all up to top some fresh N.Y. pizza dough. After all, he reasoned, the flavors were right for pizza and we knew from experience that cooked macaroni on a thin crust pie was next level comfort food—we had tried it last summer with some leftover mac and cheese and it was awesome—plus, we had just enough scraps of pepperoni and shredded mozzarella to hold it all together. Why not?

I wish I had taken just one photo of the “original” leftover creation, which was sort of a poor man’s lasagna, made of layered cooked elbow macaroni, two leftover grilled spicy Italian sausage links, the sautéed peppers and onions that had topped the sausages on sandwiches earlier in the week, a can of diced tomatoes, ricotta mixed with Italian herbs and our favorite parm-romano blend, plus an eggplant that I had sliced, sweated and quick-roasted, and every last random slice of provolone and thin-sliced mozzarella that had been taking up space in the deli drawer. Unfortunately, I didn’t bother cataloguing the details of the casserole at the time because I hadn’t planned to share it here on Comfort du Jour, and I also hadn’t really planned on sharing this pizza. I have no specific measurements of ingredients or step-by-step photos to share. Sometimes I need to just focus on feeding us, you know? But the end result—this I must share, because it underscores the fact that one should never underestimate the power of leftovers. It’s one of the essential kitchen rules I learned from my grandmother.

Les was proud of the success of this leftover creation, and it just happened to have all his favorite flavors. 🙂

Not every idea in the kitchen has to be new and interesting, nor should everything be same old, same old. But sometimes, if you play it just right, the two collide and become something unexpectedly delicious, as we learned with this pizza. We had three slices leftover, naturally, and they will warm up nicely for lunch as leftovers of the leftover leftovers.

What crazy good thing have you made with leftovers recently? Drop it in the comments section so we can all be inspired!


Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza

It’s long been said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Just don’t tell that to our dog, Nilla, who learned at age 10 how to politely request the fresh vegetable treats she loves so much. She latched on quickly to my command of “where are you supposed to be?” It usually only takes one ask to get her to back up out of the kitchen and plop down into position in the doorway to receive her healthy snacks, which she catches in mid-air at least 95% of the time. I love that about her! ❤

Nilla keeps her eye on the prize, and she is wicked fast!

And you better not tell my husband, Les, about new tricks, either. Because just last week, this N.Y.-born-and-raised-pizza-snob hubby of mine was scarfing down on a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Who’d have thunk it? (He tells me he has enjoyed Chicago pizza before, just not in the five years we’ve been together. Wait, does that mean I’m the old dog?) 😉

Oh. My. Goodness.


Distinctly different from a classic New York pie in so many ways—the tender crust, the order of layering the toppings, the longer time in the oven—this deep-dish pizza reminded me of a meat and cheese casserole with a crust that was crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy inside. After two-plus years spent tweaking my technique for a perfect New York thin-crust pizza, you may wonder what inspired me to give this deep dish a go. Easy, a sign in the supermarket announcing that the baking pans were 30% off! I’m a sucker for a sale, and the truth is I’ve wanted to try a deep-dish pizza for a while but refrained, given Les’s loyalty to the thin crust. Turns out, Chicago is a fine place to enjoy a pizza! He loved it (actually, we both did), and we are already dreaming up ingredient ideas for the next one. I want to make a deep-dish pie with roasted broccoli, bell peppers, onions and mushrooms, mmm.

As with so many recipes, what’s traditional or correct for Chicago-style pizza depends on who you ask, and the internet is jam-packed with declarations about authenticity. My first go-to was Food Network celebrity chef Jeff Mauro, the self-proclaimed “Sandwich King” who also happens to be an expert on Chicago foods because he’s lived in the area most of his life. His recipe for Chicago-style deep dish caught my eye, mostly for its simplicity but also for the kudos given by commenters on the Food Network site. I tweaked it a bit (don’t I always?), swapping in some cornmeal and whole wheat flour—for texture and nutrition, respectively—and embellishing with topping ingredients that suit our taste. Or maybe for this style pizza, I should call them “filling” ingredients rather than toppings, because it all bakes down into a delicious, melty mass. Yes, this is a fork-and-knife kind of pizza, a whole new level of comfort food for our Friday night quarantine pizza party.

You will need a deep-dish pizza pan or a large (12-inch) cast-iron skillet for baking this pizza. Note that the recipe requires a lengthy rise time on the dough, so you’ll want to plan ahead to stay on schedule for dinner. I hope you enjoy it!

Look at those layers! This will be coming up in rotation again very soon.

Adapted from Jeff Mauro’s Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza

Ingredients (crust)

11 oz. (about 1 1/3 cups) lukewarm water

A packet active dry yeast* (see notes for quick yeast or sourdough adjustment)

1 tsp. sugar

12 oz. (about 2 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour*

3 oz. (about 2/3 cup) whole wheat flour

3 oz. (about 2/3 cup) medium grind cornmeal

2 tsp. fine sea salt

3 oz. (6 Tbsp.) extra virgin olive oil


Ingredients (pizza)

1 1/2 pounds deli-sliced mozzarella (the firm style, not soft white)

12 oz. spicy Italian bulk sausage*

1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

2 fat handfuls fresh washed baby spinach leaves

1/2 package thinly sliced pepperoni

28 oz. can San Marzano whole tomatoes, drained

1/4 cup prepared pizza sauce

1/2 cup parm-romano blend cheese


*Notes

Does your yeast packet say “instant?” If so, skip the first instruction step for blooming the yeast in warm water. Only “active dry” yeast requires blooming. Instant yeast may be added directly with the flour.

If you’re a sourdough nerd like me, here’s how I converted the recipe to accommodate 4 ounces of ripe sourdough starter: omit the yeast (or only add a small amount to boost rising action), reduce AP flour to 10 ounces and water to 9 ounces. Skip the step of blooming yeast. My starter had not been fed in a few days, so I added 1/2 teaspoon of instant yeast. I did not need to adjust the rising time.

If you prefer an all-white flour crust (first of all, you’re missing a lot of flavor), adjust the amount of all-purpose flour to 18 ounces. (about 3 1/2 cups).

Jeff Mauro’s recipe suggested adding the bulk sausage in raw form, but I couldn’t get behind this, so I crumbled and browned it lightly in a cast-iron skillet, then cooled it before topping the pizza.


Instructions


  1. Mix 1 cup water, active dry yeast and sugar in a bowl and let it rest a few minutes until foamy on top. If using instant yeast, skip to step 2.
  2. In a stand mixer or large bowl, combine yeast mixture with flour, cornmeal, salt and remaining water (and sugar, if you didn’t use it to bloom the yeast). Mix until a soft, shaggy ball of dough forms. Pour in olive oil, cover and let rest about 15 minutes.
  3. Knead in olive oil until dough is soft, smooth and sticky. This should come together within about 3 minutes. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled clean bowl, cover and let rise at room temperature until it’s doubled in size. This may take up to 6 hours, depending on the yeast method and the warmth of your kitchen. If you want to speed it up a bit, put the covered bowl in the oven with the oven light on, and check on it at the 3 hour mark.
  4. Prep the other pizza ingredients by browning sausage, onions and peppers. Sauté spinach leaves until wilted and moisture is cooked out of them. Slice or shred your cheese. Drain the can of tomatoes, reserving puree and juice for another purpose. Set all topping ingredients aside until dough is ready to bake. Keep the cheese in the fridge until it’s time to bake.

  1. Preheat oven to 450° F, with a rack in the center position of the oven.
  2. Spray your deep dish pan or skillet with olive oil spray and transfer risen dough to the pan. Using your hands, spread dough out across the pan, gently stretching to meet the edges and up the side of the pan. The dough may spring back a bit but this is OK. Cover with a clean towel for 10 minutes to relax the gluten then proceed with the dough shaping. If you’re using a 12-inch skillet, you may only need about 3/4 of the total dough.
  3. Layer the sliced mozzarella all over the bottom of the pan, on top of the dough, with edges of the cheese overlapped for good coverage. I ran out of slices and filled in gaps with shredded mozzarella—no big deal.
  4. Scatter the browned sausage crumbles evenly over the cheese, then layer on the sautéed onions, peppers and spinach. Finally, arrange the pepperoni slices evenly around the pizza.
  5. Use your hands to squish each plum tomato slightly, and arrange them all over the top of the pizza. Spoon the pizza sauce into the gaps between tomatoes.
  6. Liberally sprinkle the parm-romano blend cheese completely over all the pizza toppings, and finish with a swirled drizzle of olive oil. I saved the grease from browning the sausage and drizzled that on top. No sense wasting that flavor, right?
  7. Slide pizza pan into the oven and bake 25 minutes, until crust is evenly browned and parmesan cheese is golden and bubbly. Give it a turn at the halfway mark for even baking. Allow pizza to rest at least 5 minutes, then carefully slide it out of the pan to a pizza sheet for serving at the table. My husband is good at this part, and he was able to move the pizza using two large spatulas on either side of the pie. If it’s too difficult, cut and serve directly from the pan.

Of course, we could not resist an extra sprinkling of our spiced-up parm-romano blend for serving.

Want to give it a go?


Leftover Turkey Gumbo

One of the first things we make at our house with Thanksgiving leftovers is “something spicy.” After all the richness and decadence of the classic holiday meal, my taste buds start clamoring for Mexican food or Asian or spicy Italian—really, anything but gravy and potatoes, if you don’t mind. This year’s turkey went on the smoker with a spice and maple sugar rub, so I wasn’t sure how the flavors would work in some of our other usual “planned-over” recipes, but they were perfect for a spicy gumbo. We had heat, smoke, chunky vegetables and an all-day simmer, and that’s covering all the bases for my post-holiday cravings.

Is my gumbo authentic? Who knows, and I’m not even sure who is qualified to judge it. There are as many “authentic” gumbo recipes as there are grandmothers in Louisiana, and you’d likely find they run the gamut from thin soup to chunky stew. Some will be as brown as molasses and others will have tomatoes. Some will be spicy as all get-out, and others will be filled with sweet juicy crab. Okra is standard in most gumbo recipes, but some cooks favor filé, a powdered form of sassafras root that serves as a thickening agent. My gumbo has a roux base and okra, and it’s dang spicy because I make the roux with a blend of canola oil and cayenne-infused olive oil, the latter of which is really hot.

What I’m getting at is simple: my rules are mine, and this gumbo makes everyone at my house happy. It’s delicious as soon as it’s ready and even better after a day or two in the fridge. It uses simple ingredients and it’ll help you clear out some of the space-hogging leftovers (including that huge turkey carcass). And the most “exotic” thing in it is a half bag of frozen okra. You can handle that, right?

If you’re staring down the remains of a Thanksgiving turkey and feeling inspired for a new leftover tradition, give it a go. 🙂

It’s a hearty, satisfying bowl of post-Thanksgiving goodness.

Rule #1 – Do not rush the roux

I’m sorry, dear ones, but I cannot imagine this part is possible in an insta-pot. The roux (equal parts oil and flour) is the backbone of my gumbo, providing flavor and also an assist on thickening. Without roux, this would just be turkey and okra soup. The roux cooks low and slow on the stovetop for about an hour, and I use that time to prep all my other ingredients. If this seems high-maintenance to you, there are instructions online for roasting a roux in the oven (though I’ve never tried it), but this is a breeze on the stovetop. Get it started, then let it be except for an occasional stir. If you get impatient and rush the roux, you will end up with something that tastes either uncooked or burned.

Rule #2 – It must include the trinity

You have probably learned, from TV chefs Justin Wilson or Emeril Lagasse, that onion, celery and bell pepper make up the “holy trinity” of flavors used in Cajun recipes. The combination is essential, whether your menu includes gumbo, étouffée or jambalaya. Thank God there’s a use for the rest of the celery that didn’t go into the dressing. I use sweet onions, but yellow or Spanish onions are fine. I’ve long considered the color of bell pepper to be discretionary, and for this batch of gumbo, I went with a combination of red and green bells because it’s what we had on hand.

Celery + onion + bell pepper = trinity.

Rule #3 – Use a rich stock, preferably homemade

Gumbo recipes require a fair amount of broth or stock, and making homemade stock is the easiest way in the world to eke out every last bit of flavor from your Thanksgiving turkey. After you’ve picked all the useful meat off the frame, drop it into a heavy stockpot with any scraps of turkey skin, a cut-up onion, handful of garlic cloves, a few celery stalks, some peppercorns and a bay leaf or two. Add enough water to nearly cover it and cook it—and I mean really cook it—until you can pull the bones out clean. This will take hours, and nobody would blame you if you decided to do this in your slow cooker overnight. There’s a world of flavor hiding inside those bones, and a slow-simmering stock is far and away more nutritious than anything you could pour out of a can or carton. Plus, this fulfills one of my grandma’s golden rules: waste nothing. If you aren’t making gumbo, I hope you’ll make a stock from your turkey frame anyway, even if you just put it in containers to freeze for later.

Rule #4 – Use two kinds of meat

The options are wide open for gumbo—chicken, turkey, shrimp, crab, sausage, crawdads or whatever. But for the most interesting texture and flavor, I always use a combination of at least two meats. Turkey is obviously the main meat this time, and I’ve used the dark meat for its texture and flavor, plus a spicy leftover smoked sausage link. I got my hubby a humongous new smoker for his birthday this year, and he couldn’t see the sense in having empty rack space, so in addition to the spice-rubbed turkey, he smoked a large salmon fillet and about six flavored sausages. If you choose any of the seafood options for your gumbo, I recommend adding them at the very end to avoid overcooking them.

OK, and listen, if you want more mumbo jumbo on the gumbo, you can check out this link for more information than you could have ever hoped for.

Otherwise, grab an apron and let’s start cooking! My recipe makes approximately six hearty servings.


Ingredients

4 Tbsp. vegetable oil* (see notes)

4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 cup each chopped onion, celery and bell pepper

4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped

Salt and pepper, of course

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper, cayenne or smoked paprika* (see notes)

2 cups leftover turkey, chopped into bite-sized pieces (dark meat preferred)

1 leftover smoked sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 quart homemade turkey or chicken stock (instructions below)*

2 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1 1/2 cups frozen sliced okra

Cooked brown rice for serving

*Notes

You can use vegetable, peanut or canola oil for the roux. Alternatively, if you like it spicy, use some amount of cayenne-infused olive oil, available at one of the specialty oil and vinegar shops that have popped up everywhere. I go half and half, canola and cayenne olive oil, and this combination delivers enough heat that I will typically forego the optional red pepper flakes. Note that the cayenne oil has a deep orange color, so you’ll want to consider that in determining when the roux is ready. For clear oil, a caramel color roux is dark enough. When using cayenne-infused oil, let it develop until it reaches a deep amber shade.

Your heat preference will dictate how much (or which kind) of optional hot pepper you should add to your gumbo. Remember that you can always shake some Frank’s RedHot sauce onto the gumbo at serving time. This is a terrific option when different members of the household have a different threshold for heat.

If you don’t have a leftover turkey carcass, or the time or patience to make homemade stock, substitute equal amount of chicken bone broth. You’ll find cartons of this in the soup aisle of a well-stocked supermarket.

This is some serious comfort food for a chilly December night!

Instructions

The visual walk-through will probably do it for you, but if you’d like written instructions, keep scrolling. I’ve listed them below, along with a downloadable version for your recipe files. First, build the roux, and remember to take your time.


Homemade turkey stock (make a day ahead)

1 turkey frame, picked clean of useful meat

1 medium onion, rough-chopped (use the ends, too)

4 ribs celery, cleaned and cut up into chunks (leafy ends are OK, too)

4 cloves fresh garlic, crushed

1 tsp. black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

Enough water to mostly cover the turkey frame

Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer several hours, until the bones are stripped clean and the stock is a rich, golden color. Remove and discard solids and strain stock into a large glass bowl or pitcher. Cool completely, then cover and refrigerate overnight. When the stock is fully chilled, it will be easy to scrape off excess grease, which will be congealed at the top. You’ll want to keep a small amount of the grease, though, for added flavor in your gumbo.

Instructions for gumbo

  1. Place a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat. Add oil. Add flour and whisk until bubbly, then reduce heat to the lowest setting. Allow roux to develop for about an hour, whisking or stirring occasionally. When the color resembles caramel (or dark amber, if using a cayenne oil), proceed to the next step.
  2. Increase heat to medium and add the trinity. Stir to combine, season with salt, pepper and optional hot pepper, then add the garlic, cooking and stirring for about 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened and mixture feels “loosened up” a bit.
  3. Add cut-up turkey and sausage and stir to coat them in the roux. Add the turkey stock, a little at a time, stirring in between. Add vegetable broth, dried thyme leaves and bay leaf. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about two hours.
  4. Add frozen okra and stir to blend it into the stew. Increase heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, until okra is no longer bright green, and tender to your liking.

Serve gumbo over hot cooked brown rice. Spike it with Frank’s RedHot sauce if you’d like.

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Sausage Stuffed Turkey Meatloaf (& “faboo” mushroom gravy)

Here I go again, twisting up a classic to put the best flavors of Thanksgiving on the table with minimal stress. If you’re looking for a way to simplify your homemade holiday dinner, but still have your favorite turkey, sausage stuffing and gravy combo, this might be the best thing you read all day.

My ground turkey meatloaf has a swirl of spinach and sausage stuffing, packing all the flavor of Thanksgiving into one easy but impressive main dish. As a bonus, I’m sharing one of our family’s favorite turkey day sides—a rich and tasty mushroom gravy, which happens to be vegan (but don’t let that stop you). You may wonder, “why offer a vegan gravy over turkey meatloaf?” I love having a single gravy on the table that makes everyone happy, whether or not they eat meat, and this one is the stuff. It is as good on any meatloaf with mashed potatoes as it is in the sauce of your favorite green bean casserole or as a savory accompaniment to nearly anything you serve at Thanksgiving.

If you enjoyed my darling husband’s recent guest post for spinach balls, now is the time to make a batch because the sausage stuffing swirl in this meatloaf makes use of leftover spinach balls. If you don’t have time to make the spinach balls in advance, you could create a similar blend with some herb stuffing mix and frozen spinach (I’ll offer suggestions).

This meatloaf exceeded my own expectation, which is really saying something, given that I have made many other “stuffed” versions of meatloaf in the past. We liked it so much it will find its way to our table again as a Sunday Supper later in the winter, you can bet on it. And we’ll serve it up with Les’s amazing garlic mashed potatoes, just like we did with this one. This is teamwork, friends, and it is delicious!

Served with Les’s incredible potatoes and the savory mushroom gravy. I’m in heaven!

Ingredients

1/2 cup dry herb stuffing mix (I used Pepperidge Farm brand)

1/4 cup whole milk

1 lb. all-natural ground turkey* (see notes)

About 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced (divided between layers)

A few shakes poultry seasoning

1 large egg

2 large leftover spinach balls,* cut into very small dice, measuring almost 1 cup

1 bulb roasted garlic

4 oz. ground breakfast sausage (uncooked)

1/4 cup plain panko or other bread crumbs


*Notes

For turkey meatloaf, I always choose regular ground turkey rather than turkey breast, which tends to be drier. If you choose ground turkey breast, consider adding an extra egg white or an extra tablespoon of olive oil to make up for the lost moisture.

The spinach ball recipe my hubby shared a couple weeks ago gets a lot of attention at our house, especially with Thanksgiving guests. If you don’t have time to make them in advance of this recipe, try this as a substitute:

3/4 cup dry herb stuffing mix
1/4 cup frozen dry spinach (thawed and squeezed dry)
2 Tbsp. parm-romano blend
Additional egg white + 2 Tbsp. chicken or vegetable broth

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and allow time for the dry mixture to absorb the liquid ingredients. It should still feel somewhat dry and rather firm; from there, proceed with the recipe.


Instructions

Follow along in my kitchen to see how I made this mouthwatering meatloaf. Written instructions are below, along with a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.

  1. Combine dry stuffing mix and milk in a small bowl and rest at least 20 minutes, allowing time for crumbs to be fully moistened.
  2. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Swirl in extra virgin olive oil and add the diced onion. Saute until onions are soft and translucent. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the ground turkey, half of the sauteed onions, stuffing “paste” and egg. Season the mixture with salt and pepper, then set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a food processor, combine spinach ball bits, remaining sauteed onions, roasted garlic and raw sausage (pulled apart into pieces). Pulse mixture several times until it is uniformly blended.
  5. Line a small baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Scatter panko crumbs evenly over the paper. Using a rubber spatula, spread the ground turkey mixture evenly over the crumbs, shaping a rectangle approximately 9 x 13″.
  6. Using your hands, grab up tablespoon-sized lumps of the sausage mixture and place them over the turkey layer. Don’t rush this step because it will be tough to separate the layers if you misjudge the amount as you go. I placed “dots” of the sausage mixture all over (keeping one short end bare for sealing the roll later), then filled in noticeable gaps with the remaining mixture until all was used. Press the sausage mixture firmly to seal it to the turkey layer. Lay a sheet of plastic film on top of the sausage layer and refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour. The chilling time will make it easier to roll up the meatloaf.
  7. To roll up the meatloaf, begin by lifting the parchment and slightly fold the meatloaf onto itself. Continue this motion, keeping the roll tight as you go. Some of the turkey may stick to the parchment, but you can use a rubber scraper to remove it and patch the roll. Full disclosure: this step was pretty messy, but I pressed on to finish the shaping.
  8. Press on any loose bits of panko crumbs, adding more if needed to lightly coat the shaped meatloaf. Wrap the rolled-up meatloaf as tightly as you can in a sheet of plastic film, twisting the ends as with a sausage chub. Tuck the twisted ends underneath, and chill the roll overnight.
  9. Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  10. Place the meat roll onto the lined sheet and lightly spray the entire meatloaf with olive oil spray.
  11. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375° and bake 45 more minutes.
  12. Test internal temperature to be sure it is at least 165° F. Cool 15 minutes before slicing.

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But wait, there’s more!

BONUS RECIPE:

Put-it-on-Everything Mushroom Gravy

This all-purpose sauce is so delicious, and we use it in many ways at Thanksgiving, especially when Les’s vegan daughter has been able to join us. It’s fantastic on mashed potatoes and turkey, in casseroles with green beans or (I’m speculating) perhaps even straight from the pan by the spoonful.

Please don’t assume, if you’re a meat eater, that you’d feel cheated with a vegan gravy recipe. I’m not exaggerating to declare that everyone at our table chooses this gravy over standard turkey gravy, hands down. My friend, Linda, has a special word for it: “faboo!” 😀

I prefer to make this gravy ahead, so that I have it ready when the mood strikes me to add it to another recipe, but if you’re short on time, it can certainly be served immediately after preparing it.


Ingredients (makes about 2 cups)

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil* (see notes below)

1/2 medium onion, finely minced

About 6 large cremini mushrooms, cleaned and diced small

1 tsp. Umami seasoning*

1 bulb roasted garlic

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth*

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

*Notes

Any good quality olive oil will work here, but I’m somewhat addicted to this one (pictured below), which is infused with the flavors of wild mushroom and sage. You can find it at one of the specialty olive oil stores that have popped up all over the U.S. It’s terrific for roasting butternut squash, too!

The Umami seasoning is a Trader Joe’s item, and it contains mushroom powder, garlic powder, sea salt and red pepper flakes. If you cannot find it, just add a few of the red pepper flakes or a slight sprinkle of ground cayenne for a subtle touch of the same heat. The recipe already has plenty of mushroom and garlic.

Vegetable broth ingredients vary a great deal, and for most of my recipes, I recommend one that does not have tomato in it. I favor this low-sodium version from Costco, which contains carrot, onion, celery and mushroom, but not tomato, which changes the acidity of some recipes. If you are not concerned with the vegan aspect, you could also use chicken broth.

Instructions

  1. Place a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Swirl in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sauté the onions until soft and translucent.
  2. Add another tablespoon of oil and half of the mushrooms. Sauté until moisture is reduced and mushrooms are soft, then repeat with remaining oil and mushrooms.
  3. Season with salt, pepper and umami seasoning. Add roasted garlic and stir to blend it in.
  4. Sprinkle flour over the mixture and cook one minute until the flour seems absorbed and mixture begins to bubble.
  5. Add broth, a little at a time, and stir or whisk into a smooth and thickened sauce consistency. Simmer on low heat several minutes before serving.

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Savory Sausage Mac & Cheese (baked in a pumpkin!)

Oh yes, I did. Working on Comfort du Jour has inspired me to new levels of creativity, and I’m having a great time throwing playful twists onto foods everyone already loves. I have been thinking about the humble pumpkin, and how it has been unfairly pigeonholed into the category of “sweet” foods. Does anyone even remember what pumpkin tastes like without the “spice?” This edible gourd has so much going on, nutritionally and flavor-wise, and I wanted to remind my friends that pumpkin can be enjoyed without all that sugar. My goal with this post is kind of like the old Sears campaign, except that here I’m elevating “the savory side of pumpkin.”

For some time, I’ve imagined making a showstopper like this—I’ve taken the quintessential comfort food, macaroni and cheese, and merged it with the best flavors of Thanksgiving—sausage, dark greens, onions and sage, and then stuffed the whole thing into a sweet little pumpkin. The result is as delicious as it is delightful to look at, from the creamy and comforting texture of a gruyere cheese sauce that’s been spiked with pumpkin and savory roasted garlic, to the warm and rustic flavors of pork sausage, sautéed leafy kale and twice baked seasonal pumpkin.

This turned out even better than I imagined!

To be fair, you could make this recipe with half as much mac and cheese filling as the instructions describe. I only used a third of it in my small-ish pumpkin and poured the rest into a separate casserole dish for later. On my first try, I was leery of using a larger pumpkin, though I will surely try it again. If you don’t feel up to the task of messing with the pumpkin at all, I promise the mac and cheese is worth its weight all by itself. Yum.

This was SO much fun!


These were the star ingredients of the dish, but it was the combination of all the ingredients that made it so special!


Ingredients

1 small pie pumpkin (mine was about 3 pounds)

Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper

1 medium onion, chopped and divided between cheese sauce and sausage filling

3 Tbsp. salted butter

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

3 oz. (6 Tbsp.) mascarpone (or full fat cream cheese)

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

1 cup freshly shredded gruyere cheese

1/2 cup freshly shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

1 whole bulb roasted garlic

12 oz. box elbow macaroni, cooked to al dente stage

8 oz. seasoned bulk pork sausage (mine had sage and black pepper)

2 heaping cups fresh kale leaves, washed and chopped

2 Tbsp. parm-romano blend to top the filling mixture


Instructions

First, I prepped the pumpkin for roasting, which was pretty simple. I followed the same steps as when making roast acorn squash.


The next step was the béchamel, my go-to base for any mac and cheese recipe. You may remember this part from my first recipe post, or from one of my leftover creations, such as my version of mac and greens or the ultra-decadent mac and cheese waffles. Once you master a béchamel sauce, the possibilities are endless. 🙂


My cheese sauce made me very happy. I took a spoonful into the den for my husband, Les, to taste, and he immediately loved it as well. But here’s where things took a slightly disappointing turn. Remember the cute little pumpkin pastas? Well, they were pretty much a mess. In addition to their thick, heavy texture (and the fact that all the pieces fell apart), the primary flavor was starch. I was not having it. You guys know I get pretty excited about the specialty items at Trader Joe’s, but this one was decidedly not a winner. Thankfully, we have another supermarket very near the house, and I hightailed it over there for some dependable elbow macaroni. I’m not willing to “settle” when I’m trying to make a special dish, you know what I mean? 🙂


Moving along to the sausage, and this part was easy! I browned the sausage in a skillet, using a little vegetable broth to assist with breaking up the larger pieces. I added the chopped onion and then the kale, and cooked until the onions were tender and the kale was wilted, but still bright green. It smelled amazing in my kitchen!


From here, the assembly was a cinch. I cooked up my elbow macaroni to al dente stage, which is just shy of done, and still a little resistance to the bite. Thankfully, this pasta came out perfect! Fold in all of the creamy cheese sauce (even if it seems like too much), and then fold in the sausage mixture. I spooned as much of the mac and cheese as would fit inside the roasted pumpkin, and the rest went into a casserole dish for another meal. How much do you wanna bet I end up putting the leftovers in the waffle iron?


The stuffed pumpkin went back into the 350° F oven. It roasted for about 45 minutes, then I turned off the oven and left it alone while we finished a Zoom call with friends. Honest to goodness, this turned out better than I dreamed it would. The flavor was exceptional, and it was so pretty and just plain fun!

This was creamy, satisfying, and absolutely brimming with savory fall flavors!

Want to make this fun fall recipe?

Follow the steps and instructions above, or download and print a copy for your recipe files.