I found it in a virtual drawer

I was going through a bunch of story files, looking for a prompt to get my brain back into writing-mode after a lot of revising, editing, and generally falling off the writer-horse, and I found this fragment, that I apparently started January 19, 2017, at 22:54:

My mother was murdered and my father disposed of the body, but that didn’t help him; he was convicted of it anyway and put in prison. But now there is a fingerprint—a bloody fingerprint—on the body of a homeless man, and the cops want me to provide a sample to see if the blood might be hers. The fingerprint is.

My life is upside down. After she vanished, I always believed she was dead, though it took a while to believe she was murdered and that my father did it. But the evidence piled up over years and… you know the rest. But a now a fingerprint. Now blood. My father isn’t a killer? After most of a lifetime of believing, it’s much harder to imagine that he didn’t kill her. It’s easier to think that the selfish, manipulative, evil man who’s lived in a nine-by-six cell since I was twenty did it, than to accept that maybe he was innocent and my mother just… abandoned us. Abandoned me with him. What sort of mother does that?

There’s a further note on the fragment that indicates I was thinking of using it as a part of Gattis File, Book 2, which was never completed once the publisher decided not to go ahead with more books. This fragment isn’t in the same style or genre (SF) as the Gattis materials, so I suspect it’s something I just typed up and then tried to find a place for, later. Maybe I’ll find something else for it to do….


Easy Sausage Rolls

for americans, because we’ve been watching the Great British Baking Show and know we’d be sent home on the first day, but we still want little pastry packets of meaty goodness!

Ok, so… it’s that time of year and I’m baking. This particular year I couldn’t get the British-style sausages I usually use, and had to make them myself. It was a bit of a pain, but here’s my way of making sausage rolls for Christmas (I rarely make them other times of year.)

This time I made them with frozen puff pastry, which comes folded into thirds, and discovered that no matter what I do,  the pastry breaks or tears at the folds. BUT it turns out that cutting those resulting thirds in half so they make two stubby rectangles creates perfectly-sized pastry for 3-bite rolls, so I ended up with 12 finished rolls, baked at 400F for 18-20 minutes.

But, I hear you say, there are only nine rolls here! Well… yeah… We couldn’t wait to eat some!

 What you need:
  • English Bangers or other sausage with bread crumbs*
  • Pepperidge Farms frozen Puff Pastry sheets, or Pillsbury Crescent Dough sheet**
  • An egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute, beaten with a little water (if eggs are a no-go, milk is OK, or water in a pinch, but the crust won’t be as “golden” or crisp)
  • A pastry brush to spread the egg/milk with
  • A baking sheet
  • A cooling rack (if you have one, if not you can use a roasting rack or just skip it)
  • Baking parchment (just buy some, damn it, it’s useful)
  • Some white flour (whatever you got, man…)

Preheat oven to 400F, or as spec’ed on dough package. Line the baking sheet with the baking parchment and set the sheet aside.

If you’re using frozen pastry, get it out of the freezer and let it thaw at room temperature until it’s pliable but still cold. Don’t let it sit for more than 40-50 minutes, or it will lose its flakiness. Flour a work surface and spread the cold pastry flat—don’t roll it unless you have to. Cut strips of appropriate length to roll all the way around a sausage like a little blanket with a bit of overlap. It’s a bit of a juggling act to keep the pastry cold enough to retain its butter, but not so cold that it’s stiff and cracks. If it’s getting too soft, just put everything back into the fridge for 10 minutes and then continue.

Remove the skins from the sausages (cut a slit down one side and pull the skin off—do not let children “help” with this, trust me…) If you made the sausage yourself, it won’t be in skins, so squish it into 12 cylinders about as fat as a finger and the same length as your pastry’s narrowest side.

Put a sausage on a dough strip and roll it up. Wet the overlapping ends of the dough very slightly with cold water and pinch them together to seal the sausage in its blanket of pastry. If you used large sausages, cut the rolls into 2-3-bite lengths so the sausage gets cooked through without burning the dough.

Put the rolls on the parchment-covered baking sheet with the dough seams down. Brush the tops of the rolls with a little egg wash (don’t let it run and puddle because that turns into scrambled egg blobs, but make sure you brush the whole top surface evenly.)

Bake those puppies until the pastry is crispy, and a medium-to-dark gold color (not dark brown or black, please.) The ends of the sausage that you can see inside the pastry should be a little dry looking and a tasty brown. Start with 10 minutes, keep baking and checking if they aren’t ready. If you have an instant-read thermometer, use that and look for a temp of 167-173F at the center of the meat, to be sure the pork is properly cooked through.

Once the rolls are done, pull the sheet out of the oven and transfer the rolls to a cooling rack if you have one. If not, the rolls may get a little soggy on the bottom, but who cares… you’re just going to eat them right?

*Bread crumbs soak up the fat from the meat so it doesn’t make the pastry soggy. This also lets the pastry flake and rise better.

**Puff pastry is a little more delicate, but bland, and flakes more than the Crescent Roll dough. Crescent roll dough is easier to work with than Puff, but it’s not as flaky and it’s sweeter. Use the one you prefer. Both are good. Crescent roll dough is more like “short crust” and stands up to being carried around better than Puff.


The Sausage

This was not perfect sausage —I had no meat grinder, so it was a bit coarser than optimal. I made it a day ahead, then let it sit in the fridge to allow the herbs to mingle with the meat and fat. I cut this down from a recipe that makes 5 pounds of sausage. This makes 1.25 to pounds, which is just enough for to use up 2 sheets worth (one package) of frozen puff pastry.

What you need:

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1/4 pound pork fat (just ask the butcher—they often end up throwing excess fat away, so it’s cheap)
  • 1/2 cup fine bread crumbs (not Italian seasoned or panko. If you have 4 slices of stale bread, you can make it yourself by toasting all the slices once, grinding them up, then toasting the crumbs again to make them dry)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons plain salt or sea salt (don’t use iodized salt—it leaves a metallic taste in the meat)
  • 1 teaspoon fine ground pepper (black or white as you prefer, but not cayenne)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg or mace (yes, really)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dry, rubbed sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dry thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
  • A cold bowl
  • Cold hands
  • A very sharp knife, a food processor, or a meat grinder

Mix all the dry ingredients together. I just dumped the herbs and so on into the cup measure with the breadcrumbs and stirred them together.

Mince the pork fat as fine as you can with the Very Sharp Knife, then use your cold hands to mix all the pork, minced fat, and seasoned bread crumbs in the cold bowl. Why? Because the heat of your hands will melt the fat and shift the flavor.

Since I had no meat grinder or food processor available, I did the whole mix by hand, putting 1/3 of the meat into the bowl, then 1/3 of the fat, and 1/3 of the breadcrumbs, and continued layering like this until all the ingredients were in the bowl. Then ran my hands under cold water and mixed the sausage meat together until everything looked evenly mixed. It’s a pain and I don’t recommend it, but, hey, I’m working in someone else’s kitchen this year and all my stuff is in storage.

The texture of the sausage will be pretty coarse by this method, so if you have a meat grinder, put the mixture through the grinder. A food processor also works, though it’s easy to over-process and end up with paté instead.

To test the flavor, take a small pinch of the ground mix and fry it in a pan and taste that. Then adjust the seasonings as you feel necessary. Once it’s as you like it, cover the bowl and put it in the fridge overnight or for a minimum of 4 hours before cooking.

Make your sausage rolls the next day and grab some before anyone else get there or you might not get any. All of the stuff can be frozen, including the unbaked rolls, the dough, and the sausage. If you make your rolls and freeze them before baking, don’t put on the egg wash before you freeze them. Then you’ll need to brush on the egg, and bake the rolls about 5-7 minutes longer than if you baked them when fresh-made.