I met the most wonderful woman last spring at the IACP* conference in Portland. A talented, young, energetic chef just brimming with excitement and ideas. We had a great time getting to know one another, going to seminars, bidding on auction items, and going to events and out to dinner. At the end of the week we bid each other good-bye, promising to meet again at the next conference. Keeping in touch via email and Facebook, our friendship grew and we shared stories and dreams. Now she is coming out for a visit and arrives next week. I can’t wait!
Of course, my first thought is what in the heck am I going to cook for her? After all, she’s a chef and that can be intimidating, right? Nah, she is just like anyone else, a person who loves good food and enjoys it when someone else does the cooking for her! So the focus will be on things I can have ready to go plus some fun things we can cook together.
One thing I am definitely making is today’s recipe. I created it about this time last year when I wanted something I could make in advance when I had guests spending the night. Really easy to assemble, warm and comforting, something nearly everyone loves, and a dish that can be modified easily for special diets, it has become one of our family’s favorites. While this is the absolute perfect breakfast meal, don’t forget that you can also serve it for brunch, lunch, or dinner. Talk about a flexible dish!!
I like to use plain bulk sausage in this so there are no competing flavors, but you can make this with whatever kind you like best. Or for a lighter version, use part ground dark turkey. Why dark turkey meat? Because it stay much moister than the white meat. As always when cooking with sausage, unless it is homemade and extremely low in fat, you will need to drain it well and then set on paper towels to wick away even more of the fat. No matter how well you drain it, you will often wind up with excess fat in the casserole, and sometimes it winds up on the surface of the casserole after baking. Fold paper towels or paper napkins to carefully absorb it, by setting it next to the fat globules. The fat is pulled into the paper towel and then you can throw it away.
If I am making this and serving it at the same time, I like to make it in a cast iron skillet. That way I can make all the ingredients, toss them together, and put them back in the skillet to bake in the oven. My house has a rustic look because I love old-fashioned items – especially when they are repurposed. A cast iron skillet full of a delicious meal looks perfect on my old wooden table. Add a few flowers, some fun dishes and the whole table comes alive. I love a fun, bright table for serving breakfast. It always makes me happy!
This entire casserole can be made the night before, covered, and refrigerated. Bake it in the morning and the house will be filled with appetizing aromas. What a wonderful way to wake up! When the house smells good, you wake up with a smile on your face, just knowing that it is going to be a great day! Is there any better gift I can give my houseguests? I doubt it, and I know your guests will be just as appreciative as mine are. Enjoy your sumptuous breakfast and Happy Festive Friday!
* International Association of Culinary Professionals
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
The easiest way to remove raw sausage from link casings is to slice them lengthwise and then holding one end, squeeze the sausage out of the casing.
Kitchen Skill: Crumbling Ground Meats
Crumbling ground meats can be very difficult and frustrating. There are several ways that are more effective than others. Wet your hands with water and working over a large platter or sheet of parchment, carefully crumble into tiny pieces, rewetting hands as needed. You can start the meat cooking over low heat and use an old-fashioned potato masher to flatten it into a single layer. Once this cooks it is easier to crumble. And lastly, once it is cooked, drain well and transfer to a food processor. This gives you the control to determine how finely you want it ground.
- 1-1/2 lb raw sausage links, sliced or bulk sausage, crumbled in small pieces
- 1 medium onion, chopped finely
- 1 small red bell pepper, chopped finely
- 1 to 2 tbsp minced green chiles, fresh or canned are both fine
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 2 cups milk
- 2 tbsp sour cream, optional
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lb small red or Yukon gold potatoes, chopped, or frozen O’Brien potatoes
- 1-1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese or pepper Jack, divided
- 1 green onion, finely chopped
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish. Set aside.
- Cook sausage in large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until browned, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked sausage to a paper towel-lined plate.
- Remove all but 1 tbsp of the fat in skillet. Add onion, bell peppers, and chiles and cook about 3 to 5 minutes until vegetables have wilted. Mix in flour, oregano, and cumin and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir milk and sour cream together and add to meat mixture. Cook until mixture thickens and comes to a boil, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
- In a large bowl, combine cooked sausage and vegetable cream sauce with potatoes and 1 cup of the cheese. Mix well. Spread in prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. At this point you can cover and refrigerate overnight. You can also return the mixture to the skillet and bake it in that if it is ovenproof.
- Bake until potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes. If using frozen potatoes, cook according to package directions. Sprinkle top with green onions and serve.
- Yield: about 8 servings