Friday, February 10, 2012

Cooking 101: Chicken Sausage Skillet Dinner

Welcome to the second session of Cooking 101. Last time, we discussed the bare bones basics in kitchen ingredients and tools, so now that your pantry is stocked and you have all the right gear, let's make a meal.

In case you are feeling the need of a pep talk, I have prepared one just for you:
Fear not! You cannot mess this up. The ingredients we are about to prepare can be eaten at any state between uncooked and almost completely blackened. You are shooting at a very broad target and if you stay calm and play along, you are GUARANTEED to turn out a lovely meal. 
I don't know about you but I'm feeling much better.

Now let's get cooking! Our first menu will be simple, balanced and picturesque.

Chicken and Apple Sausages 
with Roasted Apple, Mushroom and Onion 
served on White Rice

Ready to shop for the ingredients? Here is what you need:

Two Granny Smith apples, white rice, a package of mushrooms, one onion, a package of four chicken sausages.
I bought it all at Target.

Because the chicken sausages come in a package of four, I designed this recipe to cook them all at once. If you want to cook only one or two of the sausages, feel free to cut back on the amount of the other ingredients. 

1. Preheat your oven to about 420 degrees.
Yes, I said "about." Honestly, this is not rocket science, so feel free to get a little crazy and set your oven to 441 degrees. Or 402. It won't make much difference.

2. Cut up the mushrooms, apples and onions; dump them all into your large cast iron skillet. 
Trim off any parts that look weird or unpleasant to eat. Chop the rest into bite size-ish chunks. It doesn't matter whether the chunks are on the big side or the small side, as long as they are more or less the same size as each other. That way, they will take about the same amount of time to cook. 

3. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and some salt and pepper.
Don't worry about exact measurements for the oil; just remember that the amount of ketchup in a McDonald's packet is about one tablespoon and eyeball it. As for the seasonings, add enough so it looks nice. You can always add more later. Stir it all up so the oil is mixed in.

4. Slide the skillet into the oven; set the timer for ten minutes.
Do not concern yourself about which shelf to put it on; it doesn't matter.

5. In the meantime, start your rice. 
Rice is easy. The only ingredients are rice and water; the measurements and cooking instructions are always printed on the bag. Despite popular opinion, you do not need a special rice cooker; just grab your basic pan, and dump in the measured rice and water. It will look scary, like this:

Don't worry, you did not mess it up. Put a lid on it, and turn it to high. Stay close. When it begins to steam, turn it all the way down to low and leave it to cook according to the instructions. When you think it might be ready, peek inside and look for the telltale holes that indicate the rice is done. They look like this:

Once you see the holes, grab your spoon and give it a stir. If you notice that it's still a bit watery near the bottom, keep it cooking. But if the rice at the bottom of the pan is about as dry as the rice on the top, turn off the burner, pull the pan off the heat, and set it to the side. Keep the lid on it until the meal is ready.

5. After the oven timer beeps, check your fruits and veggies for progress and set the timer for ten more minutes. Repeat until the food looks soft but has not yet begun to brown.
This is the phase of cooking called "tending," which basically means that you are babysitting your food while it cooks. Keep checking on it, use a spoon or a spatula to stir it up so it doesn't stick, and watch to see how it's progressing. With experience, you will learn to use your eyes, ears and nose to judge your food's readiness. As a beginner, the best thing you can do is keep looking in and observing what is going on. 

6. When the apples, onions and mushrooms have hit the "soft but not brown" stage, unwrap the chicken sausage, push the stuff in the pan to one side and drop the sausages in beside them. Continue to check every five to ten minutes, stirring the fruits and veggies and flipping the sausages as needed.
Here is a pic to help you judge that "soft but not brown" phase:

A word of reassurance about the chicken sausages. Check out the fine print on the label:

See where it says "fully cooked?" This is very good news, my Padawan learner. It means that this is NOT raw meat, so your job is very simple. All that is needed is to heat the sausages through and crisp them up a bit on the outside. No need to worry about all those scary things that undercooked meat conjures up in the minds of sensitive young cooks. We cannot fail on this mission.

7. When everything in the skillet looks golden and yummy, pull it out and serve it up, toasty warm, with the rice. Be proud of your amazing accomplishment!


  1. Can I just say...the way you described this recipe is so great. So easy. I appreciated how you simplified it because pretty much everything you said NOT to worry about, is something I'd be worried about. Ha! I think Jane and I should make this little number!

    1. Court, I mean it in the nicest possible way when I say that you were my guide as I wrote this. I thought of what might be helpful to you and what might be unhelpful, and I let that be my guide. So thanks for that!

  2. Replies
    1. P.S.S. Thanks! It's still a little off center but I know how to fix it. ;)


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