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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mac and Cheese with Sausage

Last night's dinner was total comfort food. And total "clean out the refrigerator/pantry" food. I very often don't use recipes to cook, just see what I have on hand and make up something. Last night it was Mac and Cheese with Sausage. But not just any sausage. Read on. My husband and I never really made it to the table with this one, just stood around the island eating.

I made Mac and Cheese with items I had on hand: Penne Pasta, milk, cheese, a little sour cream. First, I cooked the noodles. Then I cooked the sausage, crumbling it as I went and mixed it together with the cheese/cream sauce. After I poured everything into a casserole, I grated fresh cheddar cheese for the top. Try to grate your cheese fresh every time. I know, it takes longer, but the stuff you buy in the bag that's already grated has something I can't pronounce added to keep it from clumping. Just do it.

But the star: Neese's Sausage. I've told you my husband is from Greensboro, NC. As with every region in the country, there is something special that you can only find in certain parts. Neese's Sausage is made in Greensboro and I've had it when visiting there. We usually stop by the Food Lion on the way home and get several packs.

We had our Holiday family get together here a couple weeks ago (yes, late, but fun nevertheless with relatives from North Carolina). I asked them to bring a care package of items from North Carolina, including several packages of this sausage. One version has "extra sage" that I haven't used yet. I'm waiting to find the right recipe for that one.

Look closely at the Neese's Sausage label and read the ingredients. Pork, salt, spices, sugar. That's it. No chemicals or anything else you can't pronounce. It's good stuff!

After everything was assembled, I cooked the casserole at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes covered, then uncovered for about 15 minutes longer, until bubbly and golden. It was really good. You could also use turkey sausage if you wanted. But I had the Neese's and wanted to use it. I have two more packs in the freezer, saving for a new inspiration. Did I say this was really good?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Jumping The Gun?

Jumping the gun is an idiom (an expression peculiar to a language, a mode of expression) meaning "to do something too soon, to start before the starting signal". Well, I may be jumping the gun on loving the weather, but it is a warm and beautiful day outside today in Atlanta, GA. Can Spring be far away?

Walking around the yard, I noticed some others may also be jumping the gun. Are those daffodils coming up in the window boxes? I think so!
And look the grass is actually turning green! It loves the sunshine.

And look, those are gold bearded irises coming up. These were transplanted from the house in Greensboro, NC where my husband grew up.

And my favorite, look at the purple Dutch Iris coming up along the side of the house. We planted several clumps of these a couple years ago and they keep multiplying, we have dozens more every year. They'll be the same color as those purple pansies in the picture above.

Go ahead, jump the gun, get out and enjoy the beautiful weather this weekend. Pretend it's Spring already! Can Spring vegetables be far behind?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Chicken and Dumpling Experiment

Yesterday was a cool day and I wanted to make something warm. I knew I had a whole chicken in the fridge that I needed to use so I decided to make Chicken and Dumplings. Is this a Southern thing? Not sure, but I remember it as one of the things my grandmother "Ma" made best.

I decided to call my Aunt Tootsie to get some advice. She, being Ma's daughter, can make Chicken and Dumplings just like Ma. As we were talking, Tootsie said "wouldn't it be nice to have some of Ma's chicken and dumplings right now?" I agreed, yes, indeed it would.

I went ahead and cooked the chicken and used the broth as the base.

To make the dough, Tootsie told me to use self-rising flour, a "handful" of shortening, and warm water. I did that and the dough had a wonderful texture and rolled out perfectly.

The one thing I will change next time is to not roll the dumplings so thin. Tootsie told me to cook the dumplings in the chicken broth at a soft boil, not boiling really hard, and be sure not to stir the dumplings, lest I end up with one huge dumpling.

After the dumplings cooked, I added the cooked chicken and diced carrots that had cooked with the chicken. The taste was very much like Ma's and my husband said it tasted very much like his grandmother's. He being from North Carolina, I knew from many conversations on this subject that his grandmother cooked much like mine had.

Making Chicken and Dumplings is one of those dishes that will improve with much practice, since I know Ma must have made this dish about a million times. That's why hers were so awesome.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cold, Soupy Day

It is cold and rainy outside in Atlanta, the perfect day for a hearty soup.

I often cook for myself and my husband by using what I have on hand. I call this "clean out the refrigerator" cooking. I had cooked braised beef shanks and had leftovers from that so I've turned that into soup for tonight's dinner.

I started with fresh carrots, celery, potato, onion and fresh thyme.

Then I took the leftover beef shank and added it along with diced tomatoes and beef broth.

It has simmered for an hour or so and we'll be ready for dinner tonight. I think I'll build a fire as soon as it gets dark. Then make some cornbread to go with the soup. And get ready to watch Lost. Life is good!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl White Bean Turkey Chili

Here's a great recipe for turkey chili. It adds lots of white beans, corn, fresh spinach and turns out great every time.

Here's what you'll need

Be sure to rinse the beans under cold water till all the foam is gone.
Here's what it looks like when you have all the ingredients added

After you let it simmer for one hour and add the tomato paste, you're ready to go! This is a mild chili so if you'd like it a bit spicy, you can add chiles, hot chili powder, tobasco, red pepper flakes, or any hot spice you like.

White Bean and Turkey Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 pounds ground turkey or ground chicken
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons chili powder
3 tablespoons flour
2 (15 oz can) cannelloni beans
2 (15 oz can) garbanzo beans (chick peas)
1 small bag fresh spinach
1 1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed (or 1 can corn, whole kernel--be sure to rinse)
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 small can tomato paste

In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook till translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add ground turkey, salt, cumin, fennel seeds, oregano and chili powder. Cook, stirring frequently, until turkey is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Stir in flour. Add beans, spinach, corn and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 1 hour. Add red pepper flakes (or any spices you'd like to make it hotter). Add tomato paste and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper if needed. Top with shredded parmesan or cheddar cheese.



Welcome to my Dinner At Home blog, "What's For Dinner". As a personal chef I solve the what's for dinner dilemma for my clients. Most are busy people who need good, healthy food for themselves and their families at the end of a long day. And it is my pleasure to be able to provide that.

Check back often as I share the joy I get from everyday food finds and experiences. Yes, I'm a freak for cool food, colors of beautiful food and can't wait for the first summer tomatoes! And I'm already ready to plant my herb garden so I can go out and pick whatever I need whenever I need it.

I love to try new recipes to discover new flavor combinations. I also often cook our own dinner by coming up with new dishes by using what I have on hand in the refrigerator or pantry. I'll share those as they are created.

I like to say that cooking is like writing music. There are only so many notes to choose from but it's how you put it all together that makes a great song.

Chef Sharon Mateer