Poppy’s Stuffing

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Thanksgiving is without question my favorite holiday. Of course it’s all about those once-a-year flavors: roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes… But what I really love is that it brings people together. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. This will be my fourth year of hosting my own thanksgiving. Every year I open the door to friends old and new, inviting many people, and winding up with a fantastic gathering full of food and camaraderie all in my little apartment. It’s magical.

This is actually the one time of year where I shelf my creativity and want only those traditional dishes and flavors that I wait for all year. As much as I’m all about cooking from scratch, I think everyone has at least one canned/boxed thanksgiving favorite that we grew up on. For some it’s the cranberry sauce that jiggles in the shape of the can. For others it’s the canned green beans, canned mushroom soup, and canned fried onions that combine to make that legendary casserole. For the Volpe family, it’s boxed stuffing. Stove Top, to be exact.

I can’t get to thanksgiving every year without thinking of my grandfather, whom we lovingly called Poppy. I cooked a lot with him when I was a kid. My dad still talks about the pizzas he and I used to make; super thick crust piled high with absurd amounts of cheese and fresh toppings. But Poppy wasn’t the kind of cook you might expect a grandparent to be. He proudly owned and regularly used not one but two microwave ovens. Thanksgiving, then, for him meant frozen mashed potatoes, canned corn, and of course, Stove Top stuffing. He would load it up with Jimmy Dean sausage, put it in a metal loaf pan and toss it in the oven with the turkey. One year he over did it… like, really over did it. The stuffing fell out of the pan and thunked onto the plate as a dark cobbled brick. Without missing a beat, all of us began to pick at the almost alarmingly crunchy exterior that had formed while staying in the oven for that long. It was friggin delicious. And thus was born the tradition of burned stuffing. When asked how he makes such a creation, my grandfather’s response was always, “basically I just burn the hell out of it.” Gotta love him.

Poppy has been gone now for some years and though we’ve tried, none of us have been quite able to replicate the magnitude of crunchy  overcooked crust that he was somehow able to achieve. However, I have managed to create a version that comes pretty close and satisfied that yearly itch for some crunchy stuffing. Here’s how I do it.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Prepare 1 box of Stove Top stuffing according to the package directions (though I only use half the butter they call for, if not less). In an 8-inch cast iron skillet I brown two links of sweet italian sausage that I remove from the casings and break up into little bits. When they are just about done I add in one rib of chopped fresh celery and let it cook until it begins to soften. I then kill the heat, dump the stuffing into the skillet, mix thoroughly, and spread into an even layer. Place the skillet on the lowest rack of your oven and let cook for 15-20 minutes or until it has darkened considerably and the bottom has formed a lovely crust. The picture to the right is what it looks like when it has been flipped out of the pan. Delish.

This has become a quiet tradition for me that I do at the beginning of thanksgiving week. I make it in my skillet and pick at it while I remember the days of all of us huddled around the counter at my grandfather’s house. My cousins and I would drink coke, eat stuffing, and effectively ruin our appetites before the meal even hit the table. Those were the days.

Starving Artist Jambalaya

Last night I was struck with the inspiration to make a hearty dish involving beans and meat. I really have no idea why. Maybe it’s because I’m so desperate for fall that I decided I needed to make a dish suitable for cool fall weather. Or maybe I just really wanted something cajun… who knows… What I did know is that I wanted something thick and hearty involving sausage, beans, and rice.

I have to tell you I really went back and forth on what to call this. Originally I was going to call it a “cajun stew”, but it really isn’t a stew – much too thick. And technically it’s not really jambalaya because it doesn’t have seafood…. but then I remembered that I’m the starving artist and I really don’t care. The real joy of cooking is creating things we love to eat, so why not make things exactly how we want them. While I love seafood, it doesn’t really fit into my starving artist budget. Kidney beans, however, do. As does a rotisserie chicken from Costco. Voila. Starving artist jambalaya.

Fair warning, there are a lot of spices in this recipe. Do not be intimidated. I know spices can be a little pricey, but I have to tell you, they are a fantastic investment: buy them once and they will be flavoring your dishes for months. But hey, if you don’t want to invest right now, leave them out. Even if you had just the cajun seasoning, you’ll still have a tasty and fantastic dish.

Enjoy!

Starving Artist Jambalaya (Recipe PDF)

Sausage District

I’ve been passing by a place on Cahuenga and Selma for months called District 13. Their sign boats beer and sausages – how intriguing. On Tuesday my roommate had a hankering for some sausage, so I suggested we give it a shot. The restaurant is tucked into a hip corner strip mall that has a Big Wangs and a little froyo place called Frog. This whole stretch of Cahuenga  has some really fantastic little restaurants. You recall my post about Kitchen 24, yes? There is one right up the street, not to mention a slew of other little eateries and such that make it a really happening area. And only a short walk up from the Arclight cinema.

When we entered the place we immediately fell in love with the atmosphere. Totally open, lots of floor space, plenty of room to bring a big group of friends and mingle. The wide open windows and doors give ample opportunity to sit outside and flirt with the men from Big Wangs out smoking their cigarettes. Never a bad feature. It has kind of a sports bar meets gastropub meets lots of beer. And I do mean lots of beer. 50 bottled beers from around the world and 22 craft beers from California on tap. And I suppose that’s a good thing since their website bills themselves as a “punky gastropub” – obviously they are right. We were greeted by an incredibly friendly and lovely Australian lady (I didn’t get her name – shameful) who was both the bar tender and our waitress. Very nice.

Neither of us were in a place to be drinking beer, so we went right for sausages. We both ended up getting the smoked bratwurst, which comes on a brioche bun with your choice of two dipping sauces and two toppings. As you can see, I opted for the grilled mushrooms and onions. The brat was good…. my life was not changed, but it was good. I think the bun tripped me up a bit. Maybe if it were toasted or grilled it would have come off better. Or maybe brioche in general is just too much? I don’t know. But, it hit the spot nonetheless. I was pleased to see they have a full menu, including salads, burgers (which looked really good), apps, and even some vegan sausage options. Clearly they know they’re in SoCal.

We are very excited to return here on a Saturday night with a group of friends and see what this place can really get up to. But for now, I’m happy to recommend it as a quick and casual stop in for a weeknight dinner that is definitely starving artist friendly.

District 13
1566 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
www.d13la.com

Some Tasty Wieners

This past Sunday, after hearing numerous recommendations and enduring countless retellings of unmatchable vibe, bountiful beer selection, and sausages made of rattlesnake and rabbit, I finally had the occasion to visit Wurstküche in downtown LA. I am happy to say that all the hysterical ravings were indeed founded. And come on, if there’s one thing I know it’s where to find a good wiener. ;-) For starters, the neighborhood is unexpectedly awesome for being downtown. Wurstkuche is just one of a handful of trendy bars and fun little eateries that are strewn amongst the brand new apartment complexes and converted warehouse lofts. One that really struck my fancy was Pie Hole. Shockingly, it is a bakery serving only pie, which actually would have been a good place to visit considering Wurstkuche was completely out of dessert by the time we got there. And speaking of getting there, we arrived at 830 on a Sunday night to find a line out the door. Some people would be irritated, but to the starving artist, a waiting line is always a good thing. If people are willing to stand in line for food, then it’s gotta be pretty damn special. Also I kind of enjoy standing in line and getting the vibe of the place and of the people in line. Also reading the menu.

The big draw to this place is their range of house made sausages that range from the classic bratwurst to crazy exotic flavors like rattlesnake, rabbit, and jalapeno peppers. The rattlesnake is the most talked about creation, hailed for its buttery texture and maddening flavor. I went for the duck, bacon, and jalapeno and was totally blown away…. ok, confession: I got two. The duck and the kielbasa. I love me some kielbasa and this was by far one of the best I’ve had. They even have vegetarian sausages so you can easily talk your hipster tree-loving friends to come with you – clearly they know their audience.  Their rolls are fresh baked and grilled along with the sausages. Even their mustards and dipping sauces are all house-made. I’m not one to sh*t myself over french fries like many of my friends are, but I have to say the fries at this place are defffinitely worth soiling oneself over. Fresh, thick cut, crispy outside, soft inside. I ate way more than I care to admit. And don’t think you’re just dipping them in ketchup – try curry ketchup, chipotle aioli, zesty bbq, or blue cheese walnut & bacon just to name a few. As if the fries aren’t addictive enough, the sauces make it culinary heroin.

Now you’ve heard me tell you before that I am not a drinker, especially not beer, so I can only speak from the mouths of my friends who were loving all the beer they had to choose from. I mean, come on, what better combo is there than beer and sausages? But, for non-drinkers like me, they also have an exceptional selection of gourmet sodas. I generally don’t purchase or drink soda. Habit I got out of years ago. Gourmet soda, however, had me intrigued, and since I’m at this new place eating duck sausages, I thought what the hell, let’s get a fancy soda. I went for Fentiman’s Ginger Beer. Spicy and delicious.

Now this night I was in the mood to splurge a bit – it was my friend’s birthday so I went for it. I wound up spending $26. Normally I wouldn’t even consider spending $5 for a bottle of soda, nor would I purchase french fries for just myself (I bought an order to share with my friends…. and then ate the majority of them…). I definitely plan to return to eat rattlesnake and when I do, I know I will be just fine with only one sausage and perhaps a small order of fries. But, if you’re looking to splurge, this is definitely the place to get serious bang for your buck. And honestly the atmosphere just puts it over the top. We sat outside, which I loved, but their inside seating with a full bar is gorgeous. Chill and diverse clientele, it’s a great place to hang and have a good time. Definitely the kind of place to bring a group of friends, but if you’re in the mood for good sausage, who cares – go for it. I also love the friendly staff who talk to you while you’re in line and will bring you beer while you wait. Not too shabby.

Bottom line: go to Wurstkuche. Right now. A heavenly sausage experience awaits you.

Wurstküche
800 E 3rd St.
Los Angeles 90013
www.wurstkuche.com