Most who know me know my disdain for leftovers. I have strange opposing drives when it comes to the food that remains once a meal is complete. One – I simply can't bring myself to throw it out, whether it's a seven dollar piece of beef tenderloin or a seven cent portion of a can of Ranch Style Beans. However, I rarely eat what gets jammed in the fridge. There are only a few instances when I can handle eating the same thing repeatedly. In some rare cases, I've been able to take a leftover meal and reassemble the components into something new and tasty. That's pretty well the only way to get my mind engaged enough to eat the residuals of a previous meal – if I can start thinking hard about how to prepare something new with 'old' ingredients, it becomes somewhat of a challenge to meet, and this time I used that strategy to prevent trashing the grilled sausages from our BBQ on Monday.
There were about seven or eight various links leftover, along with a few squealer patties (with cheese). Some were brats B brought over, some were the chicken brats I bought at Central Market, and the majority were all-beef hot dogs. All were grilled nicely, and so I wanted something that could utilize the smoky flavor that remained in the meat. Additionally, with Jaime and I dieting, porking out on pork sausage really wasn't an option, so heating the links whole really wouldn't work. I needed a presentation that would provide a minimum of sausage but still be filling. I decided to that boiling a couple of ears of corn (had some of that leftover as well) would be filling and not entirely fat gram and calorie diet busting with a little portion of sausage – the equivalent of one link seemed right.
I started thinking through normal preps for leftover meats, and settled on something like shepherds pie. Shepherds pie (or cottage pie, the beef equivalent) is made with chopped up bits of meat with some gravy and various veggies thrown in. It's topped with mashed potatoes. I really like the ones served at the Mucky Duck – and these are excellent vehicles for leftovers. However, I didn't want to make up a batch of mashed potatoes simply to put on top of a leftover casserole, and so I started thinking about another alternative – pot pies. Pot pies use pastry as a 'topper', and making up a pastry top is much easier (in theory) then whipping up a batch of mashed potatoes. Additionally, in the interest of diet and calorie control, it's much less difficult to resist pigging out on leftover pie dough then leftover mashed potatoes. Jaime and I are notorious for making extra mashed potatoes disappear. That, and I find it personally easier to throw away pie dough trimmings then mashed potatoes. There's something disturbingly wasteful about emptying a pot of perfectly good food into the garbage, but those little bits of pie dough left after cutting out what you need somehow already feels like trash – maybe that's my own mental block, but all these things play into the equation.
So, BBQ pot pies seemed the likely choice. However, I needed a gravy. Something simple, not too complicated (most of the flavor was going to come from the sausages and meat patties). I settled on my fave sauce of late, a quick roux made of vegetable oil, flour and fresh thyme from my herb box on the patio then mixed with Swanson low sodium chicken stock and reduced into a thick bubbling goo. I usually mix this with something else, so 'polishing' it with butter isn't necessary (saving calories). If it siezes a little bit with pasta, who cares. I don't save it anyway.
I was a little worried that this would be awfully chickeny – to get enough gravy I was going to need almost three cups of stock – but I figured the spicy/smoky sausage would make up for it.
Lastly, I needed to decide the best way to make the pastry tops. I had made chicken pot pies from scratch a few months ago, using my fave pastry recipe – Martha Stewart's pate brise. It's so easy to make and turns out well. However, we were a hungry pair, and I wanted the tops to brown quickly. Pate brise, as I was reminded with my cherry pie on Monday, doesn't like high heat. The milk solids in the butter brown very quickly, and overbrowning causes the flakiness of the pastry to disappear as the milkfat starts to liquify and move around in the gluten strands. My chicken pot pies had suffered under a pate brise top because of too much heat, and I didn't want to make that mistake again.
I reluctantly decided on a Crisco pie crust, something with which I have had very limited success, but which browns nicely at 400 degrees and higher. I don't know what it is about me and Crisco crust. There are certain things all cooks have trouble with for no reason. I view it as similar to a mental ailment – kind of like a major league pitcher getting the dreaded 'dead arm'. There's no explanation, although I'm sure analysis of my technique would reveal serious problems which cause the poor results – but I just can't get consistent results with Crisco. In the interest of changing something about my approach, I skipped BH&G and
my new Bible the Cook's Illustrated recipebook and went to that old reliable of a cookbook, the back of the container. I put together a Crisco double pie crust according to the instruction there, not even using the food processor – depending on my two hands and my trusty two dollar pastry blender to make the floury crumb.
It came out a bit dry, but I put it in the fridge, figuring I could add water if I needed it – you can't take extra water away, after all.
In the meantime I got to work on the sauce and cut up the sausages and patties into bite size pieces. I added a couple of cloves of fresh minced garlic to the oil before adding the flour and thyme and making a lightly toasted roux. A few cups of chicken stock later, along with some stirring to get the clumps out and it reduced nicely. I tossed the meat pieces in the sauce until they were relatively heated through, and spooned the mixture into my ramekins.
Pulling the pie dough out of the fridge revealed that it was indeed too dry, so I kneaded in some more water (carefully – this is probably one of the reasons my Crisco pie dough has failed in the past – flakiness is easily lost by kneading it). This dough took a LOT of water, especially considering how humid it is right now in Houston. Pate brise takes no more then 4 tablespoons in the dead of winter, and this Crisco pie crust drank up nearly 6! I guess Crisco has much less moisture in it then butter does.
I rolled it out, cut the tops with a pint glass and put them on the pies. Baked at 400 for about 20 minutes, cooled for another 10, and we ate a really tasty leftover meal. A bit salty – the commercial chicken broth, even low sodium variety, reduced too salty with the already salty sausages. Including an ear of corn, we were probably somewhere in the range of 800 calories, maybe 15 grams of fat? Not healthy, but not terrible either. The smoky flavor of the sausage was really pulled out by the easygoing broth/sauce, and the sweet corn on the side was a nice offset to that salty/meaty/smoky flavor.
Oh, and the pastry turned out just right – flaky and great tasting.
The ironic part is that I now have leftovers of my leftovers – but these are the type of easily consumed items (in their cute ramekins) that will be easy to eat over this weekend.