Simple Sausage and Cabbage Supper

Sydney (and the rest of Australia) is suffering through some of the coldest winter weather in a decade. While it pales in comparison to some of the subzero North Carolina nights we experienced, during these cool winter evenings, I look for simple comfort foods to satisfy our desire for a warm and filling dinner. Sausage and cabbage are not generally my go-to ingredients, but I occasionally play to John’s German and Eastern European roots. I don’t think he has ever eaten a meal that was too heavy. In contrast, I tend to prefer lighter dishes that feature meat as a flavor enhancer instead of a main component. This sausage and cabbage dish favors some of his preferences, while I am content that the sausage serves to add flavor and augment the vegetables instead of being the substance of the dish.

I use this Cabbage Sausage Supper recipe from Taste of Home. Like the author notes, it is amazing that few ingredients can yield such a flavorful dish. The cabbage is definitely that star in that aspect, it lends a subtlety sweet flavor that contrasts nicely with the smoky sausages. This is also one of the few recipes I cook without any additional herbs or seasonings.

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I love that this dish is one pot and does not require much prep, a combination that can be elusive in good recipes. The recipe serves 12, so I halve it and we have enough leftovers for lunch the next day, but don’t have to eat it all week. The cabbage is easily thinly sliced with a good chef’s knife and I roughly chop the potatoes and carrots. The sausages are sliced into rounds and quartered for perfect bite-sized pieces before going into the pot.  We generally eat it as a one-pot meal, but John would be happy with an additional carby side of a crusty bread loaf. All in all, it is a great warming dinner for our cooler days this week.

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Vegan Tamale Pies

We are on a bit of a polenta kick this week, with the chorizo and spinach polenta squares just finished from the fridge and these vegan tamale pies slated for the oven this evening. In this dish, the polenta is part of a lovely, sweet, and crumbly layer of cornbread over a spicy melange of vegetables and beans. I started making a full cornbread recipe since John always requests extra, and each serving has a thick slab atop the beans and vegetables.

I find this recipe perfect for a no-fuss weeknight dinner. The chili layer can be straight from the pantry and freezer into a saucepan for a half hour simmer. Or if I have planned ahead appropriately, I can use cheaper presoaked beans, saute fresh onion and garlic, and maybe even throw in a chopped red bell pepper. Either way, the vegan chili is filling and flavorful. I double the chili and use this sweeter recipe for the cornbread, and it fills a 9 x 13 casserole dish. I follow the baking instructions for the cornbread since everything else is cooked. For a weeknight dinner, this ticks all the boxes: quick to make, easy clean up, all staple ingredients, and leftovers for the next day.

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Chorizo and Spinach Polenta Squares

The Kitchn is one of my constant sources of recipe inspiration. I love that the site focuses on seasonal ingredients and has a range of recipes from flourless chocolate cake to beautiful salads (even though I don’t make salads). Visiting the site has actually been a bit hard on me since we switched hemispheres (and therefore seasons). Now when The Kitchn is posting “7 Delicious Recipes to Eat Strawberries for Lunch”, the strawberries at my grocery store are $7.99 a pint and looking travel worn. I am making note of promising recipes to include in my spring/summer recipe capsule, and the recipe search function is very comprehensive. Fortunately, I can rely upon this seasonally non-specific recipe for bacon and spinach polenta breakfast squares all year long.

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I found the recipe on a Sunday afternoon, as I was trying to find something to make for dinner that would also last us a few days. I tweaked the ingredients for a more substantial, dinner-worthy, polenta dish that I serve over a bed of greens. To the recipe I add two eggs, most of a package of frozen spinach (squeezing out the water first), and generally crisp up chorizo instead of bacon. The chorizo adds a lot of flavor and salt so I generally only dust the top with cheese instead of mixing some in the casserole as well. I find that these additional ingredients (or maybe just our crazy hot oven) decrease the cook time, so I don’t use boiling water as the instructions suggest. The result is squares that are hearty enough for a main course and perfect hot or cold for lunch.

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Homemade Hummus

Hummus is on regular snack rotation in this fall/winter meal capsule, and I suspect we will still be enjoying it come spring. We started making our own hummus regularly after the move because of the shocking prices in Sydney. If we consumed normal amounts of hummus, I might be able to let it slide and call the purchases a “treat”. However, John uses carrots, celery, and bread as a vehicle for a massive glob of hummus; calling it a dip would be inaccurate in our house. I just feel extravagant spending that much on a spread we will eat in two days.

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I tried a few recipes/techniques for hummus making before settling on this recipe by Inspired Taste. The directions include whipping the ingredients in a food processor one-by-one, and I think it makes a noticeable difference in the texture. Getting out the food processor and cleaning it is not an everyday activity for me, so I double the recipe to make my efforts count. We never have a problem finishing off a huge batch in a week and our hummus desires are throughly quenched for a month or so. We like food on the spicier/tangier side, so I up the garlic to four cloves (for a doubled recipe) and add extra lemon to taste. In our house, hummus is served slathered on a piece of toast, carrots, or celery. It is a great substantial snack for in between meal times, or sometimes features in a hummus, fried egg, and avocado sandwich.

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Sweet Potato Quinoa Casserole

Tex-Mex is hands down the cuisine that John and I miss the most since moving to Sydney. We love the spectrum of spicy peppers to refreshing, crisp veggies. On the less healthy side, we love the cheese drenched, tender meat in corn or flour tortillas; we also can’t get enough of the rainbow of peppers, onions, cilantro, and avocado. I didn’t realize it until we left, but we probably ate frozen Trader Joe’s Chicken Tamalitos once week, and loaded nachos were in heavy rotation as well. His parents would send us several jars of El Fenix salsa for almost every occasion – best gift ever, but of course the handmade flour tortillas topped the list for presents from Texas.

We are still trying to find a good Mexican restaurant in Sydney, and I don’t want to spend the time or money trying to source those flavors we crave. My heart hurts when I go to the ethnic aisle and see three bags of tortilla chips and one variety of salsa for twice the price we are used to paying (to be fair, most things are twice the price we are used to). This sweet potato quinoa casserole by Eating Bird Food eases our cravings a bit and provides a good amount of leftovers for lunches. It is very versatile and I add or substitute ingredients based on my pantry at the moment.

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This was actually one of the first new recipes I attempted in Australia and the initial trial ended in a complete failure for multiple reasons, none of which were recipe related. The biggest problem was cooking an ethnic-inspired dish while in a country that is literally the farthest place in the world from the cuisine in question. I had problems finding the ingredients, and then when I did they were so much more expensive than in the States ($2.30 for a can of black beans, really?). Spending so much money on the ingredients added the pressure of having dinner taste better than if we had just eaten out for the same price. Onto the preparation: I cut the sweet potato into large pieces instead of the dice recommended; however, the knife in the rental was impossibly dull and I hacked at that sweet potato for a long time as it was. There was also the issue of the stove labels being completely wore off so I had no idea where to put dial for temperature or setting (there is no “On” switch, you have to choose a setting). I ended up choosing the middle of both dials for no reason other than 350 F seemed middle of the road. It also could have been dehydrator because that casserole baked a solid 2 1/2 hours, but still was underdone. We finally gave up on having tender cooked sweet potatoes and just gnawed on the partially raw chunks. All in all, it was cheesy and a bit burnt on the top with raw vegetables that I spent the better part of an hour trying to cut up. I was very dissapointed with the results, but also knew that the flavors were all there. The preparation and cooking were the only things that held me back.

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I have since made this casserole several times successfully. It does require a bit of prep time to cook the quinoa and chop vegetables, although now I have my knives and cutting a sweet potato is no longer such an arduous task. Salsa prices make me cry so I usually substitute a can of tomatoes and a tablespoon of chopped jarred jalapeños. I also use regular chili powder and salt instead of the packets she suggests; I don’t think McCormick’s exists in Australia. Overall, I find the casserole to be very versatile and filling. It definitely earned its place as one of my key meals for the fall and winter.

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