Sausage, Potato and Cheddar Stew

My sister, Kathy, and her husband, Wayne, go to the Elberta Sausage Festival every spring and fall. Luckily for me, they pick up some delicious German sausage for me when they go.

While I typically poach the sausages in beer and finish them on the grill, this time I’m going with a recipe modified from the kitchen of my favorite Two Fat Ladies. Sausage and beer were made for each other and when you put in potatoes and cheese, you’ve nearly reached heaven.

I’m using German sausages here but you can use spicy Chorizo or Italian sausage or even Kielbasa. I took the sausage out of the casing as it can get too chewy. Just be gentle when browning it so it stays in large chunks.

Sausage, Potato and Cheddar Stew

2 lbs good quality sausages, cut into 2 inch lengths
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bottle beer
1 14.5 can diced tomatoes
6 medium potatoes, quartered
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a heavy Dutch oven, brown the sausages. Remove the sausages from the pot and set aside. Heat up the oil and then add the onions and a little salt and sauté for about ten minutes or they start to turn golden. Add the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes or until fragrant. Pour in the beer and tomatoes with their juices. Season with pepper. Add in the potatoes. Return the sausages to the pot and stir to combine. Bring the stew to a boil and drop the heat to keep it on a simmer. Cover and cook for about an hour. You are looking for the potatoes to be fork tender. Uncover and add the cheese a handful at a time, stirring well between each addition to mix and melt. Cook for about 10 additional minutes for all the flavors to come together.

Serve this with plenty of crusty bread to sop up all the juices.


Corn Chowder

It has been quite chilly these past few days, so I decided to make some soup. In my freezer, I had some corn taken off the cobs grown in Michelle’s grandfather’s field. James Earl Clark passed on last summer and his kindness and generosity is greatly missed.

You can make this vegan by eliminating the bacon, using oil instead of the butter and using a vegetable stock. Better yet, consider boiling the corn cobs after you’ve removed the kernels in a large pot to make a corn stock instead. Replace the cow’s milk with soy milk.

For extra rich soup, replace the milk with heavy cream. The soup will need more stirring during the final cook to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom.

Corn Chowder

3 slices bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 large potato, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups sweet corn (fresh or frozen)
4 cups chicken broth (for vegetarians, use corn stock)
1 ½ cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper.
3 tablespoons yellow corn meal
¼ cup water

Add bacon pieces to a large dutch oven and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. They should have rendered their fat but not be crispy. Place in the diced onion and potato and stir well. Cook for about 10 minutes, until onion is translucent and potato has softened. Add butter and corn. Stir and cook until butter melts. Pour in chicken broth and milk and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring regularly. Reduce heat to low. In a a small mixing bowl, combine cornmeal and water. Pour into the chowder. Cook uncovered for 15 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally.

Ladle 3 cups of the soup (being sure to get lots of the onion, corn and potato) into a blender and puree. Return to soup and stir to combine. Taste for seasonings.

Serve with sourdough bread or another hearty, crusty bread.

Olive Semolina Focaccia Loaves

I’m out of sandwich bread and there was the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade between me and grocery store. It was make my own time. I didn’t want to make just a plain white loaf of bread, though.

Earlier this week, I broke one of my old fashioned mason jars I was using for storage and the next size I had available was just slightly too small for a new bag of semolina flour I had bought. Luckily, I had a recipe for focaccia that uses 1/2 cup, so it was a win-win.

Instead of making a sheet sized loaf, I divided the dough into eight pieces. I pressed them into the corners to form squares about the size of sandwich bread.

I started my bread making early in the day so I had a lovely ham sandwich on olive focaccia for lunch and then a turkey on focaccia for dinner.

Olive Semolina Focaccia Loaves

1 cup​ all purpose flour
¼ cup​ semolina flour
½ teaspoon ​kosher salt
2 ¼ teaspoon ​active dry yeast
1 cup​ lukewarm water

3 cups​ all purpose flour
¼ cup​ semolina flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons dry non-fat dry milk powder
1 cup ​lukewarm water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup Kalamata olives, chopped plus 8 olives sliced into four pieces each
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided 
1 teaspoon salt flakes (I used Maldon)

Mix together the starter ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot. Let rise for 1 hour.

Put the 3 cups of flour, semolina, salt and dry milk powder in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk to combine. Pour the water, oil, and starter in the mixing bowl and mix to combine. Add in chopped olives.

When the dough comes together (add up to 1/2 cup additional all purpose flour if necessary), switch to a dough hook and let the machine knead for 5-10 minutes. The mixing can be done by hand as well.

Form into a ball and place into a large, well oiled bowl. Spin the dough to coat lightly with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes in a warm place.

Coat the bottom and sides of a sheet pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Divide the dough into 6 or 8 pieces. Roll the pieces into balls and then flatten into loaves – I cheat by using the corner of the sheet pan to help form them into sandwich size squares. Cover the sheet tray with plastic wrap and let rise for 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place four olive pieces on top of each of the loaves. Using your fingers make indents all over the dough disks, pressing in some of the olives. Whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil with 2 tablespoons water until emulsified. Brush the top of the focaccia with the oil and water mixture. Scatter with salt flakes.

Place in the 400 degree F pre heated oven. The focaccia will take 30-40 minutes to bake. Lift an edge to check that the bottom is golden brown, like the top.

Let cool completely. Slice the loaves in half for perfect sandwiches.

Mississippi Mud Pie for Pi Day

I’ve had more than my share of Mississippi Mud Pies. Some are cake like (a la Dolly Parton’s version). Some are just a chocolate crust with chocolate pudding. Some are as layered as the river itself and that is where I started with my version.

Chocolate crust – check. Brownie layer – check. Pudding layer – check. Caramel whipped cream layer – check. Cookie and pecan topping – check. Remembering the feeling of Mississippi river mud squishing through my toes – check!

As this is a lot of pie (like the Mississippi River currently is), I used a springform pan instead of a pie plate. If you have a deep dish one, you could certainly use that.

So yummy!

Mississippi Mud Pie

For the crust:
25 chocolate wafer cookies (about 2/3rds of a 9-ounce package)
1/2 cup pecan chopped, plus more for garnish
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the brownie layer:
8 ounces unsalted butter
8 ounces Bittersweet or Semisweet Chocolate
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the pudding layer:
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups milk
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces

For the caramel whipped cream topping:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup pecans coarsely chopped
5-8 chocolate wafer cookies, crushed


For the crust: In a food processor, grind wafers and pecans until fine crumbs form. Add melted butter; process until moistened. Transfer mixture to a 9-inch springform pan and press evenly into bottom and up sides. Bake in 375 degree F oven until fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

For the brownie layer: In a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate together. In a separate bowl whisk together eggs, salt, sugars and vanilla. Stir egg mixture into chocolate mixture, and then add flour and chopped pecans. Stir just until combined.

Scrape brownie batter into the chocolate crust, forming an even layer. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out somewhat clean. Allow to cool at least 5 minutes before topping with pudding.

For the pudding: In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt until well combined. In a slow, steady stream, whisk in milk. Once milk is incorporated, whisk in egg yolks. Turn on the burner to medium heat and, whisking constantly, cook mixture until the first large sputtering bubble forms. Reduce heat to low; continuing to whisk constantly, cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; immediately pour through a fine mesh sieve into a medium sized mixing bowl. Stir in vanilla and cold butter until combined.

Pour pudding over the brownie layer, spreading into an even layer but staying away from the outside edge so as to form a crust. Place plastic wrap directly on surface to prevent skin from forming and chill at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

Remove from the springform pan.

Whipped topping: Prepare an ice bath; set aside. Heat sugar, water, and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Continue cooking, without stirring, until sugar turns golden amber. Remove pan from heat; slowly pour cream down sides of pan in a slow, steady stream (it will spatter and the sugar will solidify). Return pan to medium heat, and whisk until sugar is melted and the mixture is smooth and combined.

Transfer caramel cream to a mixing bowl set in ice bath; let sit until very cold, stirring occasionally. Mixture can be refrigerated overnight.
When ready to serve pie: Whip the caramel cream until stiff peaks form. Top the chocolate pudding layer with the whipped cream. Garnish with crushed chocolate cookies and chopped pecans.

Slow Cooker Root Beer Pork Butt

This is an easy (but not quick) recipe for pulled pork. It takes just a few ingredients – a Boston Butt (I prefer bone in), an onion, some salt and a bottle of Abita Root Beer. I love the taste of Abita’s Root Beer but, even more importantly, that it is made with cane sugar and not high-fructose corn syrup.

Slow Cooker Root Beer Pork Butt

6 lb Boston butt
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 large onion, quartered
bottle root beer

Place the onion quarters in the bottom of your slow cooker. Cut off most of the visible fat off the outside of the pork and sprinkle with salt. Place it on the onion layer. Pour over a bottle of root beer.

Set your slow cooker on low and cook for 7 to 10 hours, depending on how hot your slow cooker gets. The pork is done when it reaches 200 degrees F. Remove from liquid and place on a rimmed pan for 20 minutes to cool slightly before pulling apart. Discard the liquid and solids left in the slow cooker.

Serve on buns with root beer bbq sauce (recipe follows) or any favorite barbecue sauce.

Continuing the root beer theme, I’m posting changes to my favorite homemade bbq sauce. This is a rich and spicy sauce that goes well with roast beef as well as pulled pork.

Root Beer BBQ Sauce

1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1 cup ketchup
¼ cup Worcestershire Sauce
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 12 ounce bottle root beer (I prefer Abita)
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon hot sauce – I used Louisiana hot sauce

Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Keep at a boil for about 15 minutes until reduced and thickened.

Remove from heat. Pour into a jar and store in the refrigerator for several months or use immediately.

Speedy Apple Sauce in the Multi-Cooker

Michelle has a Crock Pot Express Crock Multi-Cooker (like an Instant Pot). It is a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, and also steams, browns, sautés and tutors high school students in calculus. We used it most recently to speed up the process of making applesauce.

As anyone knows who has stood over a skillet, stirring and mashing apples, this handy little device saved a lot of time and effort and we had great tasting applesauce to show for it. Use any combination of apples – I prefer the tartness of Granny Smith but adding red apples to the mix means less added sugar later.

Speedy Apple Sauce

4 Granny Smith apples or tart green apples
2 Gala/Honeycrisp or other sweet, crisp red apples
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Peel, core and cut the apples into 8-12 slices. Place in the electric pressure cooker. Sprinkle over the cinnamon and toss to coat. Mix together the water and lemon juice and pour over the apples. Stir to combine.

Put on the lid and cook on high for 8 minutes. Release the pressure safely. Mash the mixture together and, if it is too watery, use the browning function to cook a bit of the liquid off. Add seasoning and taste. Depending on the tartness of the apples, you may need to add more cinnamon in addition to the brown sugar and pinch of salt. Stir well to combine.

Serve hot or cold. Store any uneaten portion in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Breakfast Egg Muffins

My sister introduced me to the concept of these when she and her husband were here for the first weekend of Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans. They are a healthy, hearty breakfast (or snack) for anyone on the go.

The world is yours when deciding how to fill these – we had both ham and bacon in the one’s Kathy made and Michelle craved spinach so we added that to hers. Feel free to add diced bell pepper or sautéed sliced mushroom (about 1/2 cup each) or even different cheeses. Because we were primarily working with regular size muffin tins, we had to cut back on the additions.

Best part is, they freeze beautifully for almost two week’s worth of breakfasts at a time.

Breakfast Egg Muffins

24 or 36 tater tots, thawed
12 rashers bacon
12 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 cup baby spinach, finely shredded
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the bacon to almost done on a baking sheet in a 350 degree F oven. Set aside to cool slightly, leaving the oven on.

Really well oil the cups of a 12 hole muffin tin. Seriously – if you want these to come out, oil the cups well. Mash the thawed tater tots in the bottom – if you have regular size muffin tins, use 2 tater tots per cup. Otherwise, use three per. You want a layer of potato covering the bottom, so press them well.

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs and milk. Add in remaining ingredients and mix together.

Break up bacon into pieces and set around the sides of muffin cup. Scoop about a 1/3 cup of the egg mixture into each regular sized muffin cup. If using larger cups, use 1/2 cup egg mixture per.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the center of the muffin is completely cooked.

Let cool slightly before removing from pan. You can serve these immediately or save for quick meals.

If going to store them, let them cool completely before individually wrapping each in plastic wrap and place in a zip top bag. Store in the freezer until ready to use. Microwave for 30 seconds and then for 10-15 second intervals until warm all the way through.