Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lentil and Sausage Casserole, Glazed Brussels Sprouts and Shallots

I was looking for something simple to make for dinner, as I had just worked the previous 5 days in a row. Poor me, right? Well, in my defense, it was 5 days of working from 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m, and the previous night found me covered head to toe in amniotic fluid. This tends to leave me a bit spacey and tired by the time I have a night off. As I drank my coffee and ate my peanut butter toast, I flipped through some of the potentially simple cookbooks, and texted Nick for his opinion.

Not surprisingly, Nick wanted sausage, and he told me so in a smart-ass way that should probably not be repeated in text. That boy could live off of sausage and pizza. In fact, when I work a lot, he does.

So sausage and lentil casserole it is, courtesy of My French Kitchen. After I thought about it, I realized that this, too, could be considered a braise. Well, braising is a lovely cooking method in the winter time. And the best part of this dish may have been the fact that there was almost nothing that I had to buy for it. We have sausage in the freezer due to Nick's habit, we had onions, we had carrots, we had a can of tomatoes, I thought that we had fresh thyme (more on that later), and there was a perfect little bag of lentils that had been staring me in the face every time I opened the pantry door. At least twice a week I would think, "I should really find a way to use those lentils. And those dried apricots. And the dried peppers. Maybe the sesame seeds, too..."

You see, I had it in my head for a while that at some point the world would be under siege by a swarm of zombies, and the people who could sequester themselves in their house for a long period of time would be the survivors. Like in 28 Days Later.

In fact, we were discussing this scenario over Christmas Eve dinner, and we decided that depending on the type of zombie in question, my apartment may be ideally situated. You see, it's about 50 feet off the ground with a stairwell leading to the fire escapes, and at the bottom is a heavy door that can be locked from the inside. If we could block off the glass doors at the front entrance, we'd be okay if the zombies are the slow stupid old-school kind.

(Not really scary)
If they're like the 28 Days Later zombies, we'd probably also be survivors, especially because you only have to make it for 28 days (hence the hoarding). Then we decided, however, that if they were zombies like the ones in I Am Legend, we'd probably be in trouble.

(Very scary)
At this point, my brother Garrett said almost to himself, "Yeah, that's more like real zombies." You really had to be there, but this will go down in history as one of the best lines ever. It's right up there with a friend saying, "I've been training for this my whole life" 8 hours into tailgating at NASCAR. Yes, NASCAR.

Anyway...I've pretty much gotten over my zombie/hoarding issues, so it was quite nice to use up some of the overabundance of food that I've stored up. You're supposed to use pre-cooked sausages for this recipe, but we generally (unless we're talking chorizo) prefer uncooked ones. Perhaps if we had access to high-quality Frenchy pre-cooked sausages like the Toulouse sausages that were called for, we would change our minds, but the ones we've previously gotten tend to taste a bit flat and metallic.

So we seared the sausages in a bit of oil, then sauteed the miropoix in the resulting juices. Speaking of miropoix, the recipe really only called for onions and celery, but I love me some carrots with lentils. Tomato paste was then added, which I also did not have to buy. You know how recipes always call for just a tablespoon of tomato paste? Well, I freeze the remainder of the can in little tablespoon-sized portions. You don't even have to defrost it when you need it-just throw it in your soup or stew, and voila.

We added some garlic, and a can of diced tomatoes. I know it's going to sound like I'm changing a lot of stuff, but the recipe called for fresh tomatoes, which I just cannot buy in January. Plus, I think that canned tomatoes are frequently better in soups and stews as they are more flavorful. Some red wine went in there, a bay leaf went in there, and some pathetic fresh thyme went in there.

You see, I had recently bought one of those little pots of fresh thyme because we use a lot of thyme, and I was hoping that because it's alive, none would go to waste. Well, I've had a little plant killing problem lately, so while I knew that the thyme wasn't a happy little specimen, I didn't really realize just how crappy it was.

(Exhibit A. Note the dead bits. The rest looked okay, but was dried out.)

(Exhibit B)

(Exhibit C)

(Exhibit D)
So we added some dried thyme. I know, I know--I'm just messing this recipe all up. The sausages were then added to the Dutch oven, and the whole thing went into the oven for half an hour.

In the meantime, I started the Brussels sprouts and shallots. Last year I managed to convince Nick that Brussels sprouts are delicious, and we have since hit upon a fabulous cooking method. We caramelize some sliced shallots in butter and oil, add the sliced-up sprouts, saute them for a while, then add some white wine and water. They simmer until the liquid has evaporated, and the sprouts then take on a nice pan-sear.

Nick was very skeptical about the method proposed in Parisian Home Cooking, but it didn't sound too different from the one we usually employ, so I figured it couldn't turn out too badly. What you do is cut an X in the root end of the sprouts. The tricky part is that you have to find a pan that will fit the sprouts and shallots in a single layer, and you put the sprouts, butter, salt and sugar in it initially, and add water 3/4 of the way up the sprouts. You boil the water for a few minutes, add the shallots (which also have an X at the root end but are otherwise left whole), and boil the water away. The shallots and sprouts then get brown and toasty.

Well, it was similar to our usual recipe, but we weren't crazy about the texture of the sprouts or the shallots. The recipe promises that the Brussels won't get soggy, so their mushiness was probably a result of my suckiness. And some of the shallots were half raw. Actually, that's probably my fault, too. You can say, "I told you so," Nick.

So whether the less than stellar results were my fault or not, we decided that we prefer our normal method. We also decided that we will likely not have Brussels sprouts again in the near future. As I said, Nick had decided that he likes them now, and he had recently asked that we have them as the default winter vegetable. But I have a tendency to cook and eat the same thing again and again and again, to the point where Nick is begging me not to make it anymore. In fact, I did that with Brussels sprouts last winter.

So Nick clarified that when he tells me that he's craving something, he can eat it once and be satisfied. This is the second time in as many weeks that we've had Brussels sprouts, so fine. We won't have them again anytime soon.

Okay, so I went to take the braise out after the half hour was up. I had managed to get the sprouts finished at exactly the same time, but that was just too bad. You see, half an hour is not long enough to cook lentils. I knew that, so why did I believe the recipe?
So the lentils got some oregano because I thought it was needed, and back into the oven they went. At this point, Nick had retired to the couch to watch the playoff game. I understood the importance of said playoff game, so he was gladly dismissed. But that meant that he started whining, "Is it dinner time yet?" Fine. You get some crunchy lentils, buddy.

Seriously, though, the sausage was tasty and the lentils could kindly be described as al dente. I had gotten a baguette in case Nick didn't like the lentils, and it got eaten, despite that fact that it was a totally sucky baguette.
The verdict? The sprouts will not be made again with this method, and the lentil and sausage dish will maybe make a reappearance, but with a modified cooking time. We have a lot of lentils left, and because they are rather tasty, I'm going to add a diced potato, some more carrots and some water, and turn it into a nice soup. How frugal of me in these tough economic times.

Please pardon the lack of pictures in this post. I accidentally shot most of the pictures in RAW format, and I can't for the life of me figure out how to work with them now. I'm about to start tearing out my hair, so picture adding will be attempted later.

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