Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cooking 101: Turkey Sausage Sandwich

Time for a cooking update! Grab your cast iron skillet and let's explore another quick and easy way to wrangle up some tasty grub. Remember, these are cooking lessons for the absolute novice slash kitchen-challenged rookie...I promise to hold your hand and walk you through. Fear not.

First, if you'd like to catch up or simply refresh your memory on what we have already done, be sure to look here and here. Go ahead...I'll wait till you get back.

{But if you are not feeling up to clicking links or doing any homework, that's fine. I'll cover you.}

Ok, ready now? Here's our plan of attack: we are going to use the same cast iron skillet, basic ingredients, cooking techniques, and even the sausage that we used last time. But by mixing in just a few different ingredients and reworking our presentation, it will feel like a whole new dish. Let's call it:

Turkey Sausage Sandwich on a French Roll 
with Roasted Sweet Peppers, Mushrooms and Yellow Onion

Work smarter. Not harder. That's my motto.

Once again, your local Target grocery can provide you with all that is needed for this feast:
A baguette of Market Pantry soft French bread, one plain ol' onion, a box of Baby Bella mushrooms, a package of Jennie-O lean turkey kielbasa, and a packaged of small sweet peppers.
A few notes on the ingredients:
  • The bread will look a little pale and weird. That's okay; we are going to bake it for a few more minutes to get it golden and crispy. 
  • A plain onion is often called a 'yellow onion.' Don't let it throw you.
  • Any kind of mushrooms will work. Target sells this nice box of Baby Bellas but you can get whatever you want.
  • Ditto on the peppers - you can get bigger peppers in green, red, orange or yellow, or a bag of these smaller mixed ones. Makes no difference.
  • Double ditto on the sausage. I'm a fan of turkey, but there are lots of options in pre-cooked sausages so feel free to get what you like. Just make sure it is pre-cooked.
Alright, enough talking. Wash your hands and let's get going.

1. Preheat the oven to 420 degrees. Ish.

2. Decide how many sandwiches you want to make, and how heaped with veggies you want each sandwich to be.
I cut my sausage into five pieces and decided to go heavy on the veggies. Keep that in mind as you look at my portions and think about what is best for you.

3. Wash, prep and chop your onions, peppers and mushrooms. Remember, your goal is to create pieces that are roughly the same size as each other, so they will cook at more or less the same speed.
We've cut onions before; if you want a refresher, go here. As for the peppers, I put about 3/4 of the bag into my strainer and gave them a good rinse. If you don't have a strainer (or 'colander,' as the fancy folks say), just hold them in your hands under running water and joggle them around a bit.  Shake off the extra water, chop off their heads and slice them in half the long way. If I'm using these cute little peppers, I don't worry about what is inside of them...I just slice them and go.

If I was using the full size peppers, I would slice them in half, rip out the green stem with my bare hands (just to show 'em who's boss), and then rip out those weird inner ribs, also bare-handed. Then I would give them a good rinse, to get rid of all the seeds, and cut them into long strips. 

On to the mushrooms. Time for a mini-rant. I have seen soooo many long, complicated explanations in cookbooks about how to prepare mushrooms for slicing. The experts will tell you to use a special brush or paper towel to delicately wipe them, one by one; to never let them sit directly under running water; to dry them off before slicing. But I'll be honest. I ignore all those rules. And I have yet to lose a diner to a mushroom-negligence-related death. So let me make this simple and give you some basic but perfectly adequate mushroom care advice:
1.Throw the little devils in a strainer (ahem, 'colander') and boldly thrust it under running water. 
2. As the water runs, run your fingers over the tops of them, feeling for little bits of stuck-on dirt. If they generally feel smooth and clean, you got a good box. Lucky you. Finish rinsing and move on. If you find some dirt, then give them a quick scrub with your fingers. Nothing too OCD or systematic. It's only soil. No anthrax involved, I promise.
3. Decide if you want to leave or remove the stems. Now, it won't kill you to cook and eat the stems, so it's absolutely fine to leave them. But some chefs feel that removing the stems creates a more refined presentation. Honestly, if the stems are long-ish, I just think it's fun to pop them out with my thumb. But if the stems are little and stubby, I don't bother. Do what makes you happy.
4. Decide if you want to peel them. Before you make any hasty decisions on that matter, let me ask you this. Have you ever been halfway through a meal and thought to yourself, "This dish isn't bad...but if ONLY these mushrooms had been peeled, well then, WOW it would be fantastic!" Have you? No, I didn't think so. I really don't think mushroom peels matter. But on the other hand, they can be really fun to peel and maybe, just maybe, a peeled mushroom does just push a dish from good to great, so why not give it a try. Sometimes when I am undecided, I give one or two of them a go..just flip the mushroom over and grab the little papery edge of the cap and pull it back towards the top of the cap. If it peels right off, you've got a winner and it might be fun to keep peeling. If your mushrooms were a bit dirty before washing, peeling is a good insurance policy against the risk that you missed a few bits of soil. But again, honestly, do what makes you happy!
Alright, whatever choices you have made in the complex arena of mushroom care, the time is now right to chop! 

5. Put all the veggies into your large cast iron skillet, pour on 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil (remember, one tablespoon = a ketchup packet), shake on salt, grind on black pepper, and slide the skillet into the middle of your oven. Set the timer for 10 minutes.
A word about oven racks: your regular oven can be used for baking or broiling, right? We are using the bake function now, which means that the oven is generating heat from both the top and the bottom of the oven space. So if we position our food roughly in the middle of the oven, it will get a balanced blast of heat from the two heat sources. As long as you are using a rack that isn't at the very bottom or very tip-top of your oven, you'll be fine. Make sense?

This is how our veggies look as we first slide them into the oven. Notice the firm, crisp edges bits of golden brown  anywhere in sight. 
6. Clean up your scraps as our grandmothers did. 
My paternal grandmother lived in the south side of Detroit, under the towering smokestacks of one of the beastly auto assembly plants that is now a dead dinosaur. It was an urban environment, to be sure. But as a little girl, I remember watching her cleaning up after she cooked. She would gather up all the food scraps and carry them out in her apron to the back corner of her tiny little lot where she dumped them into a little makeshift compost pile. And from those nutrient-rich castoffs, that mysterious woman managed to grow flowers and vegetables that looks like they came straight from Eden. Her kitchen-fed compost was so rich that carrot tops abandoned in the heap regrew themselves into full-grown carrots without a single ounce of human care or encouragement - I'm not even kidding.

I bet your grandmother or great-grandmother worked similar miracles. So don't throw your food scraps in the landfill or flush them down the disposal. Gather them up in a suitable container on your kitchen counter, then put them to work, either in a community compost pile or a little heap all your own. 

After much trial and error, I use one of these old Rubbermaid canisters for my scraps. I like it because it's big enough to hold a day's worth of scraps, deep enough to keep from spilling over, and comes with a lid, if I want to lock down the smells. The current model looks something like this
Our curbside pick-up includes a composting service, so we send our scraps away. If I wasn't concerned about attracting raccoons or rats to my backyard, I'd just toss 'em on my non-food scraps compost heap.

7. Cut up your sausage into serving size bits. Remember, it is pre-cooked so it will only take a few minutes in the pan to warm it through. 
8. Prep your bread by cutting it into serving size pieces and settling it on a baking sheet. 
If you don't have a baking sheet, you can just lay it directly on the oven rack. 

9. Tend your skillet in ten-minute intervals, stirring and looking for progress. Reset the timer and keep watching.

After 20 minutes, these veggies look soft on the edges and show some early signs of browning.
10. When the veggies are progressing nicely, push them to the side and add the sausage. At the same time, add the bread to the oven, on a rack either above or below the skillet. Set the timer for 10 minutes.
Double check the cooking instructions on your sausage wrapper and bread bag, just to be sure that 10 minutes sounds about right. My sausage said 10-12 minutes, and my bread said 5-10. That tells me that I should watch the bread fairly carefully, as it may be done early, but the sausage will be good for the full 10 minutes. Remember, if anything looks like it is done NOW and could possibly overcook, pull it out and keep it warm in the microwave.
Here is how my skillet looked when I added the sausage.
And here is how it looks after 10 more minutes..that's a total cooking time of 30 minutes for the veggies and 10 minutes on the sausage.. 
I didn't get a pic of my bread...but I let it bake for the full 10 minutes and it looked great.

11. When everything looks golden brown and yummy, pull it out and assemble the sandwiches. Enjoy!
I opened up the bread, laid on the sausage first, and then piled on a big spoonful of veggies. You can easily eat this as is, or serve it up with ketchup, mustard, mayo, pickles and other standard condiments.
Mine was too much to pick up so I knife-and-forked it. Scrumptious.


Please comment...I'd love to hear from you!