Cheesy Sausage Cocktail Toasts
My mom's mother was the "model" grandmother; she sewed doll clothes, made homemade Play-Doh, and baked for every family gathering. My dad's mom—Grandma Slonecker— was quite the opposite; an avid traveler and socialite, she was not necessarily known for her domestic prowess. However, there are exactly two "recipes" I remember Grandma Slonecker making when we'd visit: One was 7UP floats; the other were these quirky holiday hors d'oeuvres that appeared at every Christmas gathering. Her "pizza toasts," as she called them, is the one hand-me-down recipe my family still makes every December. In researching the origin of her recipe, I discovered that little cocktail rye toasts topped with ground sausage and melted Velveeta cheese were a popular mid-century party snack in the Midwest. And they were the reason that I was full every year before the roast came out of the oven, even before the presents were unwrapped and the Tom and Jerry cocktails were poured. They were salty and cheesy, gooey and crunchy—basically, my ideal. For food-minded people like me, holiday cooking is one part revisiting nostalgic flavors and one part taking those family favorites to a more sophisticated place. Though I grew up on Velveeta casseroles, and still enjoy it in Tex-Mex queso dip on occasion, I tend to prefer the flavor of more artisanal cheeses in my own cooking. That velvety texture isn't easily replicated, but I found that melting a combination of mascarpone (or cream cheese) with robust Taleggio brings a similar gooey, saucy consistency and an elevated taste. But not too elevated—this is still retro pre-holiday-feast fodder. The topping for these toasts can be made a few days ahead, and it's as straightforward as browning some Italian sausage and melting in the cheeses. I throw in some chopped parsley for freshness and color, but otherwise, this recipe is nearly identical in taste to my grandma's. Which is exactly what I was going for. Passing recipes from one generation to the next, to modernize or simplify, making adjustments to meet current tastes, is part of our ongoing evolution in cooking. What's old is new again. What better time than the holidays to revive a family favorite of your own?