Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sausage, potato, and cabbage skillet fry

When I was growing up, you could count on several suppers happening that week—our weekly visit to the cafeteria, a trip to our favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, a concoction my mom made called bean salad, and a skillet dish made up of fried sausage, potatoes, and cabbage.

Eating out at both the cafeteria and for Tex-Mex were always good fun—you’ll get no complaints from me here. The bean salad, however, was a bit more traumatizing, as it was essentially Frito salad without the Fritos and a whole lot more healthy. I was not a fan. (That said, in my new book I do include an updated Frito salad that does pay homage to my mom’s old favorite.)

But of all our family’s mainstays, I’d say the one I adored the most was the skillet dish of sausage, cabbage and potatoes. It’s so simple and yet comforting, it’s curious that as an adult that I seldom make it for myself.

I decided to remedy that recently, after I bought some fresh and smoky kielbasa sausage. When I asked my mom about the recipe, however, she said that she made it with the sausage that you get at the store—nothing fancy. Actually, all three ingredients are pretty humble, yet there’s a bit of magic that occurs in the skillet that makes this dish so enchanting.

First you fry some potatoes. Then you add the sausage to the mix, and let them get juicy and crisp. Lastly, you throw in a whole mess of cabbage, and let it surrender to the pan drippings until it’s soft, salty, and slick.

While there wasn’t much I needed to do to improve on the original sausage, potato, and cabbage skillet fry, I did choose to jazz mine up with some added jalapeños for a bit of heat. I also threw in some caraway seeds, as their anise-like flavor play well with the Eastern-European influenced dish. Lastly, while we didn't do this growing up, I now serve mine with a bit of mustard, as it's tanginess cuts some of the richness of the sausage.

As we’re heading toward those colder and shorter days where the only things you can find at the farmers market are usually cabbage and potatoes, this simple skillet fry will go into heavy rotation in my home. And when I’m looking for some Texas comfort and warmth, a plate of sausage, potato, and cabbage served with tangy mustard is always a welcome meal.

Austin-area friends: Saturday, October 25th, from 11 to 11:45, I’ll be speaking in the Texas tent at the Texas Book Festival with a book signing afterwards. (Signed books make wonderful gifts and this will be my last Central Texas appearance before the holidays.) The festival has an amazing line-up of authors and I'm super excited to attend, and I look forward to visiting with some of y'all there!

Sausage, Potato, and Cabbage Skillet Fry

2 tablespoons olive oil or bacon grease
2 Russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/4-inch cubes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound smoky kielbasa sausage, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rings
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 jalapeños, seeds and stems removed, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Black pepper
Yellow or whole-grain mustard, for serving

In a large deep skillet or wok, heat up the oil on medium-low heat and add the diced potatoes. Season the potatoes with the salt. Cover the skillet, and cook the potatoes for 5 minutes. After this time, take off the cover, stir the potatoes and make sure that none are sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cover the skillet again and continue to cook for 5 more minutes.

Take off the cover and add to the skillet the sausage, onion, and jalapeño, and cook uncovered stirring occasionally for 8-10 more minutes or until the potatoes and sausage are cooked. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.

Add the cabbage, caraway seeds, and the cayenne to the skillet, and cook while occasionally stirring for 5 more minutes or until the cabbage is soft and tender. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Serve warm with the mustard on the side.

Yield: 4 servings

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mexican coffee ice cream pie

Mexican coffee ice cream pie

Here’s a question for you: Do you eat ice cream pie with a spoon or a fork? And while we’re on the subject—do you place your slice of ice cream pie on a plate or do you place it in a bowl? While I suppose there is no right or wrong answer, it has been something for me to ponder as I’ve made my way through a pan of Mexican coffee ice cream pie.

Ice cream pies became popular in Texas in the 1950s. At this time, home freezers were arriving on the market and demonstration agents would travel around the state showcasing their company’s appliances abilities to keep things cold and solid. It was quite a luxury to not only make ice cream but then to also spoon it into a pie crust and freeze it again for later to serve as a pie.

Mexican coffee ice cream pie

The most common flavor for ice cream pies during this time was strawberry. It was the choice of the demonstration agents and also one that the local dairies usually sold, too. When I spoke to my grandmother about the subject, she concurred that not only was it a popular dessert at the time but indeed, strawberry was the flavor of choice. Though as much as I like strawberry ice cream my favorite ice cream is coffee. So when I got an itch to share an ice cream pie with you, I decided I would it be coffee, or rather, Mexican coffee, flavored instead.

Mexican coffee, which is also known as café de olla, is coffee that’s been brewed with that rich, dark sugar known as piloncillo, and then spiced with vanilla and cinnamon. Sometimes orange zest is added to the coffee, as well. It’s a fine cup of coffee and the bittersweet coffee combined with the dark sugar and warm cinnamon is especially suited for cooler days.

To make my Mexican coffee ice cream pie, I took my basic ice-box pie filling of cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk, and then infused it with brewed dark roast coffee, cinnamon, vanilla, and orange zest. That said, I have to admit originally I was aiming only for a chilled, not frozen, coffee-flavored pie. But after I realized it wasn’t going to set properly in the refrigerator, I threw it in the freezer overnight and was delighted to discover that the simple combination of a few ingredients created an ice cream filling that didn’t require churning or a specific maker.

Mexican coffee ice cream pie

As for the crust, I opted to go with a chocolate graham cracker crust. While chocolate isn’t a traditional addition, I love the combination of chocolate and coffee together so it worked just fine for me. And then to finish, I topped it with cinnamon vanilla whipped cream and some chopped chocolate because a little more chocolate never hurt anyone.

Now, this pie might not be for everyone. That said, if you’re the sort of person who likes to conclude a meal with a cup of coffee and perhaps a piece of chocolate, this is the pie for you. Or if you’re the type of person who likes to begin their day with a cup of coffee, this is also the pie for you. And if you’re the type of person who loves coffee ice cream and always wondered how it would taste in a pie, then this is definitely the pie for you. Though you don't have to take my word for it. Last week when I was in Texas, I made this pie for my mom's birthday. She said it was the best thing ever. (And then she asked for the recipe.)

Mexican coffee ice cream pie

Making the pie takes little effort though you do need to freeze it for about 8 hours before you can enjoy it. This means, that if you’re like me, you’ll make it the night before so you can have a slice in the morning, as everyone knows that coffee is a fine way to being a day and if you can get your morning coffee in the form of a slice of pie, all the better! The only thing you need to decide is whether to use a spoon or a fork (or a plate or a bowl). But no matter how you serve it, this Mexican coffee pie will put a smile on your face, which isn’t a bad way to end (or begin) your day at all.

Mexican coffee ice cream pie

For the chocolate graham-cracker crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham crackers (about 9 large rectangles)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 tablespoons butter, melted, still warm

For the Mexican coffee ice cream filling:
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, room temperature
1 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup brewed strong coffee, such as espresso or a dark roast
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the whipped cream topping:
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
1 ounce dark chocolate, finely chopped

To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9-inch pie pan. In a food processor or with a rolling pin, finely crush the graham crackers until they’re the texture of sand.

Mix well the graham crackers with the cocoa, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Stir in the warm, melted butter until a dark dough is formed. It might be a little crumbly, but that's okay. Pat the dough into the pie pan, using your hands, a measuring cup, or a spoon to get it even. Bake for 7 minutes and then let the crust cool for 30 minutes.

To make the filling, in a blender mix together the cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, coffee, orange zest, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Pour into the cooled crust, and then place in the freezer covered for at least 8 hours to freeze the filling. (I cover my pie with another pie pan.)

After the filling has frozen, make the whipped cream. First place the mixing bowl and the beater in the freezer for at least 20 minutes so they can chill. To whip the cream, place in the chilled mixing bowl the cream, vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon and then whip with the chilled beater until soft peaks form. Be careful not to over whip the cream. Spread the whipped cream over the frozen filling then sprinkle on top the chopped chocolate.

If you’re hungry, you can serve the pie immediately, but if you don’t mind waiting another hour, place the pie back in the freezer so the whipped cream can become more firm.

Yield: 8 servings

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

September events

Howdy! I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to be in Texas the next couple of weeks doing some events for my new book, The Homesick Texan's Family Table.

This trip, I'll be zig-zagging across the state and will be eating and taking photos every step of the way. My aim is to post some of my adventures here on the blog, but you can also follow along on Instagram.

Here’s the list of places I’ll be and if you’re in the area I hope I get to meet you!

San Angelo, J.P.W. Learning Center Book Gala, September 16, 6pm
, dinner and signing (ticketed event)
San Angelo, HEB, September 17, 10 am to 12pm, signing (free)

Silsbee, Ice House Museum, September 20, 11am
, talk and signing (free)
Abilene, West Texas Book Festival, Culinary Luncheon, September 25, 11:30am, lunch and signing (ticketed event)
Abilene, West Texas Book Festival, Cookbook Gala, September 25, 6pm, dinner and signing (ticketed event)
Austin, Byte of Texas Book Fair, September 27, Bob Bullock Museum, signing, 11am to 12pm (free)
Austin, Byte of Texas conference, September 27-28, keynote (ticketed)

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