Monday, December 28, 2009

Skate wing cakes

You may have noticed by now that many of my recipes are unique in that I have relied on an usual ingredient which just happens to be on hand. I had Whole Foods track down some skate wing for me last week. Skate looks like a small manta ray. A whole one, skinned would probably weigh about 1 1/2 pounds. It is easily fileted and sauted in butter 4 minutes per side.
That's what we did with part of our filets. We ended up with enough leftovers to use in another application. Hence, crab cakes made with skate. Use your favorite crab cake recipe, but watch out on the spices (salt, pepper). Remember the skate has already been seasoned and cooked. Add the standard mayonnaise, an egg, breadcrumbs, scallions, and whatever else seems appropriate.
Form the skate into 2 cakes and saute in butter and a touch of olive oil. The taste and texture of the skate is delicious and very enticing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Vegetable soup

We find ourselves with miscellaneous veggies in the fridge - not enough to do anything with on their own, but enough for a nice soup.

Bear in mind that there are a bunch more veggies you could use; the idea here is to use up leftovers. Mine came mostly from a crudite platter I made for a New Year's Day open house. I will confess a guilty pleasure: I made that retro French onion soup and sour cream dip from the 50's (or maybe even 40's). Guess what - our guests loved it and ate it all.

Some other things you could use for this soup: bell pepper, fennel bulb, green beans, canned beans, mushrooms of various kinds. The list may not be endless, but it is extensive.

Note that my proportion of liquid to vegetation is 1 for 1 - 1 cup liquid for each cup veg.

A word about water versus broth: a number of chefs on TV will use just water. For me that's bland. I usually use all broth. But, this time I went 1/2 and 1/2. I like the result. Some richness and flavor from the broth - freshness from the water.

Vegetable soup
1 tbsp olive oil
approximately 1 cup each: carrot, onion, celery, peeled broccoli stem*
6 dry shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted and slice (stems removed)
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed slightly
salt and pepper
1 medium red potato, 1/2" dice
14 oz. can chicken broth
14 oz. water
2 bay leaves
pinch red pepper flakes
lemon juice
grated parmesan cheese (optional)
celery salt (optional)
1 tbsp butter (optional)
croutons (optional)

Cut all the veggies to an even dice - 1/2" is good.
Heat the olive oil in a soup pot. Add the veggies (except potato) and sweat for 5-6 minutes, seasoning with some salt and pepper. (Do your final seasoning later in the game to avoid over-salting.)

Add the potato and the liquids and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 25-30 minutes, just until the potatoes and carrots are softened to your liking.

Prepare the soup to this point, cool completely and refrigerate for a day or two if desired. If your going to eat it right away, toss in the broccoli florets (and any leafy vegetation you may plan to use) just before serving. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. I added a bit of celery salt and red pepper flakes at serving time. Then, after serving into bowls, sprinkled a bit of lemon juice into it. I skipped the butter, but only on a momentary whim. Suit yourself.

*If using broccoli florets, I would add them to the soup just before serving.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mushroom soup

There is a unique twist to this recipe, one which not everyone will be able to match. It's the use of preserved mustard tuber. Maybe by the time I've finished this post I'll be able dredge up an alternative. The tuber adds a wonderful extra touch of "umami," that extra dimension of taste which is mentioned more and more.

Here is wikipedia's definition of umami: Umami, popularly referred to as savoriness, has been proposed as one of the basic tastes sensed by specialized receptor cells present on the human and animal tongue. Umami is a loanword from Japanese meaning "flavor" or "taste" (noun) in that language. In English, however, "brothy", "meaty", or "savory" have been proposed as alternative translations. In as much as it describes the flavor common to savory products such as meat, cheese, and mushrooms, umami is similar to Brillat-Savarin's concept of osmazome, an early attempt to describe the main flavoring component of meat as extracted in the process of making stock.

Here's a variation to do without the mustard tuber. Reconstitute 1/2 of the shiitakes in a combo of soy sauce and fish sauce. Heat just enough of it to cover the 'shrooms and then add some or all of the liquid to the soup. Also, puree a few of the shiitakes along with the button mushrooms. That should work pretty well.

Mushroom soup
8-10 reconstituted shiitake mushrooms (depending on size)
8 oz. button mushrooms
1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
2 tbsp butter, divided
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 packet of preserved mustard tuber
2 tbsp corn starch, dissolved in water
2 15 oz. cans beef stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and white (or black) pepper, to taste
1 scallion, white and green parts, chopped (garnish)
chopped parsley (garnish)

Slice the shiitakes and the button mushrooms. Heat the oil and butter in a soup pan until the butter's foam subsides.

Saute the onion and mushrooms until starting to brown, about 10 minutes over medium heat. Season with onion and garlic powders and some pepper. Don't add salt yet.

Remove about 1/2 of each of the types of mushrooms and set aside.

Put the remaining mushroom onion mixture and the corn starch and the mustard tuber (if using) into a food processor. Add about a cup of the beef stock and puree completely. Return all this to the soup pan and add the remaining beef stock. Taste and adjust seasonings according to your preference. Add back the reserved mushrooms. Add the cornstarch and simmer, stirring occasionally for 4-5 minutes. Add the cream. Bring to a simmer and simmer very slowly for about 10 minutes.

Taste another time for seasoning, adding a bit of salt if you think necessary. Serve garnished with scallion and parsley.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pot roast mom's way

Talk about brown food! When I was a kid my mother regularly made pot roast for Sunday dinner. It went into the oven before we went to church and was ready to eat by about 1 pm.

You can see this hunk o' meat was pretty big (took this snap after dinner). About 4 pounds in fact. It's original price was just over $16. I got it on sale for $5 from the manager's specials bin at Safeway. The reason the price was reduced was that it's "last date of sale" was yesterday. But with beef or lamb I don't considere the date specific deadline to be of any importance whatsoever. With pork or poultry I feel differently of course.

The meat has been chilled and you can see more residual congealed fat in the bottom of the container. I'll skim off more of that when I reheat it for dinner tonight.

After researching various pot roast methods I happened on one that I just had to do. It mimics the way my mom cooked our pot roasts lo these many years ago. The only real difference is the wine. She didn't use it. Whether or not she used some chicken stock or not I really don't remember.

When the casserole came out of the oven, I was surprised by how much liquid there was.

Solution? Gravy.
Pot roast mom’s way
1 7-bone chuck pot roast, about 4 lbs.
1 package dry onion soup mix
1 can undiluted mushroom soup
1 ½ cups red wine
water and flour as needed

Preheat oven to 300°.

Place pot roast in a casserole just large enough to hold it. On top of meat put onion soup mix and mushroom soup concentrate. Pour wine around meat.

Cover with foil and seal tightly. Bake for 1 hour then reduce oven to 250°. Continue baking for 3 more hours.

Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature (or put it outside if the weather’s cold). Refrigerate until the fat congeals. Scrape up fat and discard. Pour liquid into an adequately sized sauce pan for gravy.
Taste and dilute with water as necessary (mine was extremely salty and strong – I added about ¾ cup of water). Bring to a boil. Whisk in about 1 tbsp flour per (estimated) cup of liquid. It takes more time and more flour here in mile-high Denver). Keep at a strong simmer and keep whisking until the gravy thickens.

Pork shoulder steak

Don't be too dismayed by the not-yet-cooked-through pork steak above. I took this shot right after turning it. We cooked one of these steaks a while back and it was fabulous. I found a jumbo package (4 lbs.) of these in the manager's specials at Safeway. Each steak weighs about 1 lb. Therefore one of them was enough for our dinner.

When you see the word "shoulder" you might be inclined to think braise or slow-roasting. But with a hearty brining period this meat is wonderfully tender and juicy.

One secret to knowing when it is done is found at the top of the meat, right between the 2 rivets on the side of the pan. You can see the pinkness there. When that turns tan the meat is very close to being ready. A couple of minutes after that I made a cut in a thick portion and found it perfectly medium - just a trace of pink in the center.

Another secret to cooking this is not to sear it over high heat. That tightens the fibers. My method was along the lines of butter poaching.

Pork shoulder steak
1 pork shoulder steak, about 3/4" thick, trimmed of excess fat
brine: dissolve 2 tbsp kosher salt, 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp roughly ground black pepper in 2 cups of water
1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
2 tbsp butter
1 few pinches each of onion powder and garlic powder
more pepper to taste

Put the meat in a freezer bag, add the brine and refrigerate for 3-5 hours. Remove from the fridge about an hour before cooking. Rinse it thoroughly, dry with paper towels and allow to come to room temperature.

Heat the oil and butter until the butter's foam subsides and it just barely starts to brown. My electric range has dials that go from 1 to 10. I heated the pan at 5 then reduced it to 3 after the meat went in.

Sprinkle the top side of the steak with a bit of garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper. Put that side down in the pan and reduce the heat as above. Season the exposed side in similar fashion.

Cook first side for 5-6 minutes then turn. Give the second side another 5-6 minutes. That should get you close to done. Slice into a thick part and have a look. You'll know when it's done to your liking. Having said that, I think it's best to remove it from the pan when there is still trace of pinkness in the center - it's up to you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The best meatloaf you will never make!

Ok, ok, I know that’s a stupid title. If you read this you’ll understand that my aim here is to remain the lovable didact I have become later in life.

My mantra is, “Be Creative.” I hardly ever cook something that doesn’t include some leftover item from a meal a day or two before. Also, we check out the “Manager’s Specials” at Safeway every time we shop. That’s where you will find meat, chicken, sausage, etc. that is at or 1 day away from its sale date. Never have I gotten home to find these items unusable – they seem perfectly fresh.

I debated consulting “Joy of Cooking” before starting assembly of the meatloaf. But I was short of time and knew exactly what stuff was in the fridge and freezer. The proportions were guesswork. Shopped for items: green bell pepper and an onion.

The most unusual part of the recipe involves the leftover milanesa. I don’t think I got the oil hot enough last night and it ended up kind of tough and, worse, greasy.

It’s not often that I want to overeat. However, this is the best meatloaf I ever ate in my life. And that’s saying something given how often my mother made it and the times we’ve cooked it, and the times I’ve had it at a diner.

I’m sorry, but you will find it impossible to reproduce this. You can, however, make your own version. More or less ketchup, W-sauce, etc., or garlic, onion, green pepper. All negotiable. Bear in mind that what I put together just fit the loaf pan – no room for more meat.

The best meatloaf you will never make! (6 servings)
1 tbsp olive oil
½ medium onion, finely chopped
½ green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1.25 lb pork “country” ribs (boneless, trimmed of fat)
2 bratwurst, casing removed
5 oz leftover beef milanesa, breading scraped off and saved
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup homemade bread crumbs
1/4 cup half-and-half
2 tablespooons ketchup
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp barbeque sauce (commercial bottled)
2 tsp liquid smoke
salt and black pepper
3 slices thick-cut bacon
boiling water

Preheat the oven to 350°. Place a rack in the middle position. Boil some water in the teakettle.
Heat the oil in a sauté pan and sweat the onion, pepper and garlic for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Grind the 3 meats via your stand mixer or food processor. Get it fairly fine (judgment call). Put the meat in a large bowl.

In a smaller bowl combine the egg, bread crumbs and half-and-half.

Add ketchup, W-sauce, bbq sauce, liquid smoke, and salt and pepper to the meat. Add both the onion mix and the egg mix and the breading from the milanesa. Use your hands and squish it all together. Be thorough.

Put it into a greased loaf pan (size: the width will be exactly that of ½ a slice of bacon). Cut bacon slices in half across and lay on top of the meatloaf. Press it in a bit.

Place the loaf pan on a baking sheet with 1” sides. Place in the oven and pour boiling water around it. 1/3 of an inch is plenty.

Bake for 1 ¼ hours or until a thermometer registers 155°. I use an electronic probe that sends updated temp readings to a receiver in the TV room where I’m usually watching “Jeopardy.”

Remove from the oven and let stand uncovered for 10-15 minutes. If you then cut slabs the thickness of the bacon slices you’ll get 6 portions.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Soup

I blogged the other day about the lupin beans I found in a middle-eastern market. In planning our meals for the week (actually we only do it a day or two ahead) we decided we wanted to use some of the beans in a dinner soup.

Sometimes our soups are based on cleaning out leftovers from the fridge. In this case, not. I had to go do my hausfrau thing this morning at Sunflower Market to acquire the stuff we needed to make this a one-dish meal.

A Soup
2 medium red potatoes, ½” dice (don’t peel them)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
3 bratwurst, casing removed, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 bunch kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1 - 2 cups potato cooking water
1 cup beans (any kind…from a can)
pinch each of dried oregano, thyme and tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice
grated carrot (optional)
more olive oil (optional)
croutons (optional)

In a medium pot, cover the potatoes with cold water. Put on the stove over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to an energetic simmer and cook until the potatoes and al dente, about 8 minutes.

Use a spider and remove the potatoes to a colander, rinse with cold water, drain, and set aside. Reserve the potato water.

Add 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter to a soup pot. When the butter has melted and the foam has subsided, add the onion, garlic, tomato and sausage. Cook until sausage is done throughout, about 10 minutes.

Add broth to the pot along with the kale. Ladle in some of the potato water if it seems needed. The extra water can also mitigate any excessive saltiness which might come from the sausage. Bring to a simmer. Bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with a splash of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, grated carrot, and croutons if you wish.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Salmon burgers a la Hubert Keller

French chef, Hubert Keller, appears on public tv from time to time. He's always fascinating. Today's post was inspired by an episode in which he prepared various burgers. His technique for salmon was two-fold. He did a traditional ground meat version, but this one is very interesting and extremely good.

These patties are constructed from about 14 oz. of salmon filet cut crosswise into 3 approximately 1" wide pieces, skin removed. One of the pieces is sliced in half and is wrapped within another slice. In the picture below you can see outlined the half slices wrapped thusly.

Take four 1" wide pieces of foil and fold and twist into a rope-like shape. Twist two of them together to make a long rope (otherwise it might not be long enough to encircle the burgers. Wrap the "rope" around the burgers and twist it to secure it.

Salt and pepper the salmon to taste on both sides. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high with 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter until the butter foams and the foam subsides.

Put the burgers in the pan. Cook undisturbed for 3 minutes. Turn and cook for 3 more minutes.

Remove to a plate, remove the foil rope, cover with foil, and put into a warm oven (if you wish) to keep them warm.

Increase the heat under the skillet to high. Whisk in 1 tbsp butter, 3 tbsp white wine, the juice of 1/2 a lemon and a tbsp of capers (you can chop them or not). Let the liquid reduce by half and then spoon it over the salmon burgers when you serve them.

Garnish with parsley if you wish.

Roast chicken a la Julia Child

This picture isn't of today's recipe. I had very little time to assemble this after spending most of the afternoon at a doctor appointment with Peter and then at the gym. However, except for the legs being tied together, this is pretty much what it looked like after cooking.

Using a couple of different gift cards we had been given, we got both volumes of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." I've been reading it like a novel, though without going straight from beginning to end.

It may be heresy to say so, but I find the books more useful as idea generators than literal recipe guides. Yes, the recipes are terrifically detailed. When you read enough of them you realize there is more room for flexibility within them than you might think at first blush.

A great deal of butter is used. Vegetables are cooked much longer than I would cook them. Hers are more along the lines of the mushy ones my mother (and so many others of her generation) prepared.

I studied at length a method of "half-boning" a chicken. It looked intriguing. I also wanted to use some leftover squash risotto as a stuffing, adding to it some duxxelle of mushroom. I'd suggest concocting a stuffing of cooked (white or wild) rice, mushrooms, celery, etc. Stuffing isn't essential, but with the half-boned chicken the stuffing lent great flavor and moistness to the breast meat which it came in direct contact with. A traditional bread stuffing (even with a bit of sausage) also sounds fine.

I went with a 3 pound bird from Sunflower Market. I should have examined it more carefully because I discovered at home that the breast skin was torn in a couple of places. Julia's technique was to peel back the breast skin, bone out the breast meat, cut our the entire rib cage, slice the breast into strips, insert stuffing, lay breast strips on it, and pull the skin back over everything, securing with skewers.

I found an alternative method which worked just fine. Also in question was the amount of cooking time. Fortunately we have an electronic thermometer with a remote receiver which we take into the tv room where we have cocktails and watch "Jeopardy" before getting dinner on the table. The cooking time came out to just about 1 hr. 20 minutes. Obviously a larger bird (typical 4 lb. supermarket hen) would take longer.

Roast chicken (or Cornish hen)
1 3 lb (or so) free range chicken or a 2 1/2 lb. Cornish hen
2-3 cups stuffing
2 tbsp butter at room temperature
black pepper

Brine the bird for 2-3 hours: immerse it in water with 1 tbsp kosher salt per cup; additions can be 1 tbsp sugar per cup of water and a tsp roughly cracked black pepper per cup. Refrigerate with something on it to hold it under. Or use a freezer bag in a large bowl.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Rinse the chicken thoroughly under cold water and dry it with paper towels. Slice through the skin at the breastbone from one end to the other. Slice along the bones underneath to free the entire breast portion on each side. Remove the rib cage by cutting it out with poultry shears.

Insert stuffing into the cavity you've created. You won't need all 3 cups, maybe as little as 1, depends on the size of the bird. Save the rest to cook separately in the oven while the bird roasts. Fold the breast meat back over the stuffing and secure with skewers, using at least two, one from each end. It may take a third skewer to tuck up the tail portion over the opening between the legs. Cross the legs over one another and tie them there with kitchen string.

Smear the butter all over the skin of the bird (you can ignore the back) and liberally apply black pepper to taste. Place on a rack over a baking sheet with 1" sides and roast in the oven until the thickest part of the thigh is at 170 degrees. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes.

Remove skewers and slice off the entire breast portions on each side. Serve the stuffing with 1 drumstick or thigh and 1/2 of a breast.

Lupini beans

I went to a middle-Eastern market last week, mostly because I wanted to get some pomegranate molasses. I wandered through the very few aisles of the store and found a package of what were labeled "lupin" beans. I asked the proprietor about them. He said, "You will not like. Very sour."

Well, you know me, that became a challenge I had to assume. It turns out that, like everything else, there are numerous recipes online for what are apparently more commonly called "lupini." I picked one and followed it fairly closely. Who wants to futz around with something that takes nearly a week to prepare? Yours truly chose to.

There's some alkali sort of thing in the beans and it takes a great deal of simmering and soaking to get it out. Was it worth it? From the standpoint of a curiosity, yes; but from the standpoint of repeating it, no. The results are chewy, a fact that I find satisfying; they supposedly have nutritional value rivaling that of soy beans. The skins are edible and dense, but I don't mind.

I can't tell you you must try this. I'm just reporting here.

Lupini beans
1 pound lupini beans
kosher salt as needed
freshly chopped rosemary
olive oil
black pepper
lemon juice

Ok, buckle down. Soak the beans in plain water overnight (refrigeration not necessary).

Next day: drain and rinse the beans in a large colander. Place in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 hour. Drain in the colander and rinse with cold water until cooled. Put them back into the pot and cover with water to which you've added 1 tbsp salt for each 2 cups. I used 5 cups water, therfore 2 1/2 tbsp salt. Refrigerate overnight. Repeat the simmering and salting process each day for 5 days, at which point they should taste good nad be tender enough to eat.

I added an extra simmer at the end because I wanted to further tenderize the beans. They are pretty chewy but quite satisfying.

They can be eaten room temperature or warmed and dressed with olive oil, chopped rosemary (or tarragon), lemon juice and pepper. You won't need salt. They aren't salty after all the brining, but they just don't seem to need any more of it.

Pork burgers with creamed corn

This combination of dishes was fun to make and came by way of a couple of inspired ideas (mine).

First, the pork: I had some bone-in pork loin chops which weighed a total of exactly 1 pound. After the bones and fat were removed the remains weighed 12 oz., an ideal amount for 2 burgers.

I got the idea to render the fat and bones in a sauté pan and use the fat to fry the sage leaves briefly and then sauté the onion for the creamed corn in the fat. If you happen to use boneless chops you could still trim the fat and use it as described.

As for the radishes, the use of them occurred to me while searching through our greens drawer in the fridge. I love sautéed radishes, having originally been turned on to them by Lydia Bastianich. And since pork burgers get cooked all the way through, the radishes suffused them with their own delicate flavor – all the pepperiness cooks out of the radishes.

You could use more onion for the creamed corn if you wish (maybe ½ an onion), but ¼ onion was what we had and seemed sufficient to me. Also, we had half-and-half but no heavy cream. Cream would indeed be preferable. One more thing: use a seeded jalapeno if you don’t have Hatch chiles.

Pork burgers
12 oz. ground pork
4 medium radishes
4 sage leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil

Trim 1 lb. bone-in pork loin chops of all bones and fat. Chop the meat in a food processor. Remove to a bowl and chop the radishes very fine. Add to the pork.

Use trimmings as below for creamed corn. After the fat has rendered, fry the sage leaves in it for 1 minute. Break up into the ground meat. Mix the sage and radishes into the pork with your hands. Form into 2 burgers. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the burgers 4-5 minutes per side until cooked all the way through.

Creamed corn
Fat trimmings from pork chops or 1 slice bacon
¼ medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 lb. frozen corn kernels
1 chopped Hatch chile, skin and seeds removed
1/3 cup chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup half-and-half or heavy cream

Render the pork fat (or bacon) and set the bits aside. Saute the onion and garlic over medium heat for 4-5 minutes until softened but not browned.

Deglaze the pan with chicken stock and add the corn and chile. Season with salt and white or black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook covered for a few (3-4) minutes.
Add the half-and-half or cream and bring back to a simmer. Check for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cabbage braised with bacon and figs

The photo is of the leftovers of the braised cabbage. I'm making more of it tomorrow but I was anxious to get this recipe posted. It's that good! I'm not sure where the idea came from for this. Oh, yes I do. I was thinking about carrot raisin salad and then slaw and the notion for a braise with figs popped into my 5-watt brain. Peter added the idea of bacon. It's a 3-way made in heaven.

Cabbage braised with bacon and figs
2 strips thick-cut bacon or 3 thinner
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 medium head cabbage, halved and stem removed
2/3 cup unsweetened dried figs (Sunsweet are what I found), in 1/2" dice
splash of Xiaoxing cooking wine (or dry white wine)
splash of Chinese black vinegar (or apple cider vinegar or wh. wine vinegar)
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the bacon into 1/2" pieces and cook in a large saute pan until crispy. Drain on paper towels.

While the bacon cooks, slice the cabbage into thin strips more or less as you would for a slaw. When the bacon is done add the garlic to the bacon fat and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the cabbage and toss thoroughly. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until the cabbage starts to wilt, about 3 minutes. Add the figs, wine and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and black pepper (I used white pepper). Toss everything together.

When everything is hot, serve it and enjoy it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Roasted Cornish hens

What an easy solution to late morning musings about dinner. Peter wanted me to get turkey tenders. Safeway doesn’t carry them. They do carry whole turkey breasts – but – they’re frozen…Deal Breaker!

The idea was to use some sage pesto he made last month using sage from our garden. I thought about using chicken breast, not a bad idea…just boring. I hit on Cornish hens. They too were frozen, but thawed sufficiently in 2 hours for me to get them into a brine. (For brining enter “brine” into the search engine of blogspot.)

I’ve done chicken parts many times where I stuck fresh sage leaves under the skin. It’s really good. But the pesto idea would incorporate some parmesan cheese as well.

Once, in the first year we were together, Peter and I made Cornish hens stuffed with prosciutto and larded on the outside with fatback. God, they were good. However, nearly 30 years later, I have issues with weight and body image. I will never look like a GQ model, gut I don’t like to suck in my gut to get my pants fastened. I am 5’ 9” and weigh a skosh below 140 pounds. Doesn’t sound like much does it?

Well, I weighed 137 pounds a few weeks ago when I quit smoking. The last time I quit I gained 15 pounds over the course of several months. Never again! It took me 6 months to lose that 15, combined with the resumption of smoking. It’s a vicious cycle. Do I want to live longer as a fat man, or die younger as a smoker who could still get lucky at the baths? Sorry if I’ve embarrassed you.

Roasted game hens
2 Cornish hens
basil or sage pesto (or fresh sage leaves)
1 cup shredded carrot
olive oil
salt and pepper

Spatchcock the hens. Don’t know what that is? Just cut out the backbone and press down on the breast to flatten the bird. Cut off the end joint of the wings. Slice through the skin near the end of the legs and tuck them through it. Check the first picture above to get a good look at the results.

Preheat the oven to 400°.

If you have pesto, smear it under the skin in as many areas as you can get to. Don’t put it on top, it will burn. No pesto? Put sage leaves under there. Add grated carrot to the "pesto-ed" areas. Stretch the skin back into its original position.

Brush the birds all over with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast skin side up for 40-45 minutes until the internal temperature of the thickest meat is at 165°. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Ham and bean soup

I often make soup. The particular ingredients (which I know I've mentioned many times before) just happen to be what is in the fridge.

I on a new diet kick. For the past few years Peter and I have more often than not eaten sandwiches (grilled or on toast) for lunch. Having quit smoking recently my weight is inexorably increasing - about a pound a week. This in spite of no change in my eating habits and gym visits (4 times a week).

It occured to me the other day when Peter went off for the weekend to New Orleans that I should try skipping the sandwiches and getting "soup creative."

The one and only ingredient you absolutely must have for soup is liquid. I prefer low fat/low sodium chicken stock - often on sale at Safeway. Then just rummage around and see what you have. You could do something as simple as open a can of diced tomatoes, saute some onion and garlic, puree that with the tomatoes, add some broth and some seasonings and, voila, it's soup!

On Saturday I took the easy way out and bought one of Safeway's "Signature" soups, Italian wedding soup. I really like it and I was feeling lazy.

Sunday I got creative. I opened a package of ramen noodles and thawed out 4 oz. shrimp, removing their shells. Now, I wanted flavor but less sodium than one gets using the ramen flavor packet. So...I started with 1 cup chicken broth and one cup water, brought it to a boil, added the noodles and, one minute later, the shrimp. Ramen noodles take 3 minutes and the end of which you add the flavoring. I used only half. That's all there was to it.

All right, I'm going on a bit about this. Today's soup is something I dreamed up in a matter minutes early today. Everything that went into this was stuff that was on hand. If you have a trip planned to the store you can, or course, pick up whatever you might want to add to the soup. But I hate to go to the store for just one or two items.

Anyhoo, kohlrabi is unusal. But we had 3 "heads" of it. Also had leftover the jalapeno from a few days ago.

I'd love to take on the challenge of making a soup, Iron Chef style, from a list of ingredients provided by you the readers. (What readers? Nobody comes here.) Bring it on.

Ham and bean soup
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery (with leaves if possible)
1 kohlrabi, peeled and diced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 lb. smoked pork chops
1 14.5 oz. can beans (absolutely any kind)
4 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp chili powder

In a large pot heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, kohlrabi, jalapeno and garlic. Saute, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Don't allow the vegetation to take on color.

If your pork chops have bones, remove them and add them to the pot for flavor. Cut the pork up into 1/2" cubes. Add the pork and the beans to the pot. Stir and then add broth. Bring to a simmer and then season with salt and pepper and chili powder to taste. Let the soup simmer very slowly for maybe 10 minutes. That's all there is to it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shrimp and grits

Back on July 17, I posted an excellent recipe for shrimp and grits with chorizo. The other day I made shrimp and grits without the chorizo. It was so good I'm sharing it again.

Shrimp and grits (serves 2)
10 oz. shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup clam broth
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup medium grind cornmeal
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 scallions, green and white parts cut into 1/2" pieces
1 large clove garlic, minced
lemon juice to taste
chopped parsley to garnish

Keep the shrimp in the fridge until ready to cook.

Add the stock, clam broth and tomato paste and bring to a boil. Whisk in the grits and adjust heat so that the mix simmers gently. Cook, stirring often, for 10-15 minutes until the corn meal is no longer crunchy. It can remain somewhat al dente.

After the grits have been cooking for 10 minutes, heat the oil and butter in a medium saute pan over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the scallions and garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the shrimp and cook, turning once until just barely cooked through, about 4 minutes total.

Stir the shrimp mixture into the grits, mount with 1 or 2 tbsp butter, drizzle with lemon juice, garnish with parsley and serve in heated bowls.

Just a thought about ravioli

This is not a recipe post. I found this image in my camera and it reminded me of how good some ravioli was that I made a few weeks ago. The stuffing was a squash mixture that Peter made. I used wonton wrappers, the 3" or so sized squares. I trimmed the corners because that enabled my getting 6 pieces in a saute pan at one time.

Most of the time I steam ravioli, or simmer them in salted water. For some reason I decided to fry them this time. It takes only 1/4" of oil in a 10" skillet. Time? About 2 minutes per side.

The accompanimensts are a homemade tomato soup and a chopped salad.

BBQ pork ribs

It’s not exactly kosher to post a recipe for which I made no precise measurements; nor did I stick to a consistent oven temperature, or even remember exactly how long the fruits of my labor were in the oven. Now that I think of it, it's not exactly kosher to say kosher when speaking of a pork product. Oh well, too late for that now.

But there’s a life-lesson here: it’s not necessary to follow a recipe all the time. I guess it’s ironic of me to say that and then go ahead and post, what else, a recipe!

Everything below is approximate. However, no precision is required. Brine a bit longer or shorter, set the oven temp a little higher of lower, reduce cooking time (after all, what matters in the end is that the meat is falling off the bones), etc.

A word about the type of ribs: they were merely labeled “pork ribs,” definitely not spare ribs, perhaps closer to St. Louis-style ribs. This recipe would work for any of these and as well for “country” pork ribs.

BBQ pork ribs
2 ¾ pounds pork ribs
Chicken stock as needed

Brine: (well-dissolved)
4 cups water
4 tbsp kosher salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper

Dry rub:
2 tbsp cumin
2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
black pepper to taste

Wet rub:
1 cup catsup
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp liquid smoke
1 tbsp soy sauce (dark if you have it)

Brine the ribs for 2-6 hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 300°.

Rinse and dry thoroughly.

Apply dry rub all over ribs.

Place on baking rack in a baking pan with at least 1” sides. Add some chicken stock to the pan (1/2 cup or so).

Cover tightly with foil and bake for 2 ½ - 3 hours, checking each hour and adding stock if it has evaporated.

Reduce oven to 250°.

Remove foil from the ribs and slather them with the wet rub all over. Return ribs, uncovered, to the oven to ½ to 1 hour. Recover with foil and let the ribs rest for 10 minutes. Cut between the bones and serve.

Shrimp soup w/ preserved black beans

I got on a preserved black bean kick due to an episode of Ming Tsai's show, "East Meets West," in which he combines a western ingredient with an eastern one. Putting butter and preserved black beans together may sound a bit strange, but I've done a couple of things with this idea and guess what, it's good. Having had preserved black beans on hand for at least the last year, they provided a unique taste touch to the soup.

Clockwise from top left: the mushroom liquid from rehydating, chicken broth, garlic, chopped yellow jalapeno-style pepper, diced zucchini, ramen noodles, preserved black beans, rehydrated shiitake mushrooms.

Shrimp soup w/black beans (serves 2)
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
½ cup diced zucchini (1/2” dice)
2 tbsp fermented black beans, lightly chopped
1 cup clam broth
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 3/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 packages ramen noodles (shrimp flavored)
10 oz. shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 scallions, white and green parts chopped
Rehydrate the mushrooms in 3/4 cup hot water. Put something on top of them to keep them submerged. When finished (about 30 minutes), slice them into 1/4" pieces. Reserve the liquid.

Heat the oil and butter in a large sauté pan. Add ginger, shiitakes, jalapeno and garlic and cook 1 minute. Add zucchini and black beans. Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, combine the clam broth, mushroom liquid, soy sauce and broth. Add to the sauté pan and bring to a boil. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Add ramen noodles and shrimp. Reduce to a simmer and cook 3 minutes.

Transfer to soup bowls, garnish with scallions and serve.

Pork chops with preserved black beans

If you can get to a good Asian market, pick up some preserved black beans. They last forever in the fridge and, used in small amounts, provide a nicely different take on many dishes.
The squash is delicata, the skin of which can be eaten.

Pork chops with preserved black beans (serves 2)
2 bone-in or boneless loin pork chops
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp black pepper, plus more to taste
2 cups water
1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
½ tbsp butter
1 tbsp preserved black beans, lightly chopped
1 tsp ginger, minced
1 tsp garlic, minced

Brine the pork for 1-3 hours in the fridge in the water, in which you've dissolved the salt and sugar and to which you've added the pepper. One hour before cooking rinse the chops thoroughly, dry them, and allow them to come to room temperature.

In a saute pan large enough to hold the chops without crowding, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high. Add the beans, ginger and garlic and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly so that nothing burns.

Add the chops to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes per side, until just barely pink in the center (cut a little slit in order to take a peek). Serve at once.

Broiled chicken thighs

The photo is of the chicken during prep, showing how I stuffed the thighs with carrot and oregano. It didn't seem important to include a photo of the cooked chicken - for heaven's sake, you know what that looks like!

This is such a simple recipe, I have to post it, even though I think I did something similar a ways back. Truth be told, I never do anything exactly the same way twice. (Just looked it up in this blog - it was almost a year ago.

The carrot and oregano under the skin were a last minute inspiration caused by my discovery of part of a carrot in our fridge's veggie drawer.

Broiled chicken thighs (serves 4)
4 bone-in chicken thighs
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp black pepper, plus more to taste
2 cups water
4 tbsp grated carrot
2 tsp dried oregano

Start by brining the chicken for at least an hour or for several hours, up to you. Just dissolve the salt and sugar in the water, add the pepper, and refrigerate in a freezer bag.

An hour before cooking, thoroughly rinse and dry the thighs. Loosen the skin and put 1 tbsp carrot and 1/2 tsp (or to taste...this amount is pretty agressive) oregano under it.

Preheat the broiler, leaving the door ajar so that it won't cycle off and on. Place the oven rack in the second highest position under the broiler heat source (the topmost position will cause the chicken to burn.

Add a bit more pepper to the chicken, place the thighs on a rack over a shallow baking pan, skin side down and slide under the broiler. Broil for 10 minutes. Turn the chicken over and broil for 8-10 more minutes, until cooked through.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Giant meatballs with spaghetti and a pattypan galette

Even the best recipes can always be improved. On Jan. 19 of this year I posted a recipe for giant meatballs. They were made from Jimmy Dean sausage, which I happened to have had in the freezer, having bought it at a considerable saving.

When I came home from Safeway last week with some pork loin chops I knew from the get-go I was going to have another round of giant meatballs. In the days before I acquired a digital camera, I had to beg, borrow and steal pix to use with my postings. The original one for these meatballs is kind of amusing: it's a collage - a little goofy, but effective enough.

Above you see a photo of the latest meatballs. Why do I make them so big? It just amuses me and, from a presentation standpoint, it's impressive, no?
Spaghetti with giant meatballs and pattypan galette (4 servings)
1 lb. pork loin chops
3 oz. crusty bread, cut to 1/3" dice
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 eggs, yolks and whites separaed
3 scallions, white and green parts chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/4 bread crumbs
1 tbsp flour
salt and pepper to taste
8-10 oz. whole wheat spaghetti or other pasta
2 cups chopped cabbage
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp fennel seed, smashed with a mortar and pestle
2 pattypan squashes (palm sized), sliced into rings 1/8" thick (use a mandoline)
parmesan cheese
chopped fresh parsley (optional)
If the loin chops are on the bone, cut out same. Leave as much or as little fat as you wish. Cut into 1" pieces and chop in food processor as you would for any ground meat.
Make a brandade by combining the bread and cream in a bowl and mashing up a bit to that the cream is absorbed.
Place the ground pork in a large bowl and add: brandade, scallions, garlic, egg yolks, thyme, oregano, breadcrumbs, flour, salt and pepper. Mix together thoroughly (using your hands is best but best). Form a 1" ball with a bit of the mixture and microwave it for 30-40 seconds. Taste for seasonings and adjust as desired.
Form the pork mixture into 4 meatballs. Refrigerate them for at least an hour to firm them (they may be quite "wet," at least mine were).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the meatballs on a "Pammed" cooking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Allow to rest 5 minutes before serving.
Cook spaghetti according to package directions until just al dente (it's going to cook a bit more with the cabbage). While the pasta cooks, heat 1 tbsp each of oil and butter in a saute pan. Add the cabbage, fennel seed, and salt and pepper to taste. Saute until softened and lightly browned, 5-6 minutes.
Using a spider, transfer the pasta to the cabbage pan and toss to combine. Serve in heated bowls with grated parmesan and chopped parsley as garnish.
Pattypan galette
This was a fun way to prepare the squash.
Brush both sides of the squash slices with lightly beaten egg white. Arrange slices in a circle on a greased plate the diameter of the base of a large saute pan (make sure you use one with sloping sides), overlapping as necessary. Set aside to allow the egg white to dry somewhat. This while form a kind of "glue" to hold the galette together when it cooks.
Heat 1 tbsp each butter and olive oil over medium high heat until the butter is melted and just starting to brown. Slide the galette into the pan, cover the squash with a piece of foil and place a weight on it (an empty teakettle can be perfect for this). Cook until the bottom is well-browned (4-6 minutes). Slide the galette out onto a plate; invert a second plate over it; flip it over and slide it back into the pan. Again weight and cook another 4-5 minutes until the second side is browned. Slide out onto a cutting board and divide into 1/4's to serve. Garnish with parmesan and chopped parsley as desired.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


The Finished Product

I did an entirely different take on ratatouille yesterday. Suffice it to say it’s wonderful. 2/3 of it went into our basement “geezer freezer,” and the rest into the fridge to be served with braised pork loin and Israeli couscous tonight.

Given that ratatouille is basically a vegetable stew, I decided that allowed for a certain amount of license in choosing ingredients. We bought a box of slightly damaged Roma tomatoes at our favorite farmers market on Sunday…13 ½ pounds for $8! When I came out into the kitchen wondering what Peter was up to when he didn’t turn up in the sunroom for TV and newspapers first thing yesterday morning, it was to discover him up to his elbows in tomatoes, blanching, peeling, seeding.

I pitched in to help and in about an hour we had conquered them. He spent the rest of the morning making both a basic tomato sauce and a marinara – huge quantities of each. I co-opted a pound of the tomatoes for the ratatouille. The pattypans came from our garden, as did the thyme and oregano.

This recipe takes some time both for prep and cooking in stages. Be patient, it’s worth it.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, rough chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 large carrots, cut in 1/2” rounds
2 1 lb. eggplants, diced to ½”
½ cup (or more as needed) chicken stock
1 green bell pepper, ½” dice
4 palm-sized pattypan squash, ½” dice
2 Anaheim chiles, peeled and seeded and chopped
1 lb. Roma tomatoes, peeled and seeded and chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
salt and pepper to taste
red pepper flakes to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large non-reactive pot.

Add onion, carrot, garlic and sauté over medium heat for 10 minutes.

Add eggplant and chicken stock and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add tomatoes, stir, and bring to simmer.

Add chiles, pattypan and bell pepper.

Add thyme, oregano, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.

Bring to a simmer, stirring to mix thoroughly. Simmer 10 minutes and check for doneness of pattypan. You don’t want it flabby or squishy – rather a bit al dente.

Taste for seasonings and adjust as necessary.

The finished product, again:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

chiles rellenos

One of my early posts (Sept. 1, 2008) was of a chiles rellenos concoction structured largely from leftovers. It was the first posting on this blog that received a comment (2 actually). I didn’t include a picture because I had no digital camera then.

Today I got around to making rellenos again and, with a camera for documention, and a different set of ingredients to play with, I ended up with a similar but different dish, one that was spectacularly flavorful.

Chiles rellenos

4 poblano peppers

2 Johnsonville brats, (or leftover pork, shrimp or chicken)

olive oil

3 medium to small green tomatoes, chopped to ½” dice

1 small red onion, diced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced fine

2 ears corn, steamed and stripped from cob

½ cup cottage cheese
½ cup shredded or grated cheese (any kind that melts well)



1 15 oz. can green enchilada sauce

yogurt and cilantro for garnish

Sorry, but you’ll have to start by roasting the peppers until the skin is blackened in order to peel them. Put your oven rack at the second level below the top and pre-heat the broiler. Stick the peppers in (on a baking sheet) and turn them every 5 minutes or so until the skin is thoroughly blistered. Remove them to a paper bag and let them sit and cool for at least 30 minutes. The steam they generate inside the bag will loosen the skin. Carefully peel away the skin. Then make a slit from the “shoulder” at the top of the peppers to about ½” from the pointy bottom. Be very careful as you remove the seeds that you don’t tear the peppers.

While the peppers are roasting, cook the brats by placing them in a skillet and adding ¼ cup water. Cover the pan and let the brats steam for 5 minutes. Remove the cover, add a little bit of olive oil and continue cooking the brats, turning occasionally for another 8 minutes. Remove the brats from the pan and allow to cool to room temp. Cut them into a fine dice and set aside.

In the same skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil. Add the onion and jalapeno and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the green tomatoes and continue cooking for 5-6 minutes. Add the enchilada sauce and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the corn kernels, brats, cheeses, 1/3 of the diced onion and ½ of the jalapeno, salt and pepper to taste. Toss well to combine.

Carefully stuff the poblanos with this mixture and place them in a glass casserole just large enough to hold them in one layer. Set aside or refrigerate until later.

When the time comes to heat this up for dinner, preheat the oven to 350°. Spoon the sauce over the peppers, but not right on top of the opening where you put the stuffing. Scatter a good amount of shredded cheese over the top, this time covering the slits in the peppers.

Bake for 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and starting to brown and the whole mess is bubbling. Allow to stand for 5 minutes and then serve garnished with cilantro and yogurt (or sour cream if that’s what you have).

Trout rillettes

I ran into the word “rillettes” recently, don’t remember where. After looking it up I had to run directly to my fish monger and get some trout. According to the definition of rillettes it is most frequently made with pork, but versions with chicken and seafood are not uncommon. Basically this is a sort of pate.

I found 4 or 5 recipes via Google that I more or less cherry picked from to make this lovely pate with just a few ingredients and with the flavors I knew I would most like.

As it happens, we have had these little ramekins for years. I do not remember ever having used them, but Peter tells me I have, though quite some years ago. You can put the trout in any glass container.

Trout rillettes
12 oz. trout filets
3 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp scallion, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
2 scallions, white and green parts, finely chopped
juice of ½ lemon
liquid smoke
bacon fat or additional butter
cucumber slices (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Place the trout on a small baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and dot with 1 tbsp of the butter. Bake for 10-12 minutes until opaque throughout. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Remove the skin from the trout and put it in a food processor with all remaining ingredients. Process until smooth.

Taste and add any of the seasonings until it suits to your taste. Put in ramekins or a glass bowl. Top with bacon fat or melted butter, just enough to cover the surface of the pate. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Serve on toast points garnished with cucumber (as in the picture) if you wish.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Wax beans with cherry tomatoes

I was so in a hurry to sit down and eat these freshly picked beans and tomatoes (right out of our very own garden) that I didn't even take the time to photograph them. I'll be making it again very soon, so will try to discipline my appetite to allow for a quick snap.

I did not measure any of the ingredients. They can be adjusted to your taste. Just note that what follows is for 2 servings.

Wax beans with cherry tomatoes
2 cups wax beans, washed, trimmed and cut into 1" to 1 1/2" pieces
1/4 cup chicken broth or water
1 tbsp butter
fresh herbs to taste (thyme or oregano or basil sprigs - or all 3)
salt and white (or black) pepper to taste
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

Put everything but the tomatoes into a saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and simmer slowly for exactly 10 minutes. Remove from heat, remove herb sprigs and discard, toss in tomatoes and serve. Be sure to sip up all the liquid too.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

LGBT sandwiches

Here is something fun and delicious. I've given it a suggestive title because it amused me to do so. In case you don't know, the acronum LGBT stands for "Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered." In my recipe it stands for "Lettuce, Gravlax, Bacon, Tomato."
In the spirit of LGBT, I include this pic of my significant other (going on 29 years). Just for the record, he's G, not L, B, or T.

Gravlax, for those who like smoked salmon, is an inexpensive and quick way to satisfy your salmon hunger. Check out my post from 8/4/2008 (one of my earliest) for the recipe.

The picture shows open-faced sandwiches. The reason: the remaining ends of the loaf of bread were kind of small. With larger slices we'd use 4 and top the sandwiches with a second piece of bread. You do whatever pleases you. My gravlax was homemade, the lettuce homegrown, the tomatoes Colorado-grown, the bread Colorado baked, the herbs homegrown.

LGBT sandwiches with herbed mayo

8 oz. gravlax, thinly sliced

4 slices bacon

lettuce, any kind

4 slices bread

1 large tomato, sliced

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup fresh herbs (including any of: thyme, basil, oregano, parsley), chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the bacon on a baking rack over a 1"-sided baking pan. Roast for 20 minutes (regular cut), 24 minutes (thick cut). Remove to paper towels to absorb the grease. Save the baking fat in the pan for frying something else.

Mix together the herbs and mayo and salt and pepper. Set aside.

Toast the bread and then let it cool down. Smear it generously with herbed mayo. Top it with lettuce, then tomato, then gravlax, then bacon. Eat and enjoy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Salmon with orzo

It’s hard to imagine anything easier or more delicious than this quick dish. Accompany it with a green salad and you’ve got a perfect summer supper.

At our house we have certain things categorized by season. For example, we’d never make lasagna during July and August, and we wouldn’t make gazpacho in January.

A word about doneness for the salmon: We like ours medium rare in the center. If you want it more cooked-thru, leave it in the hot liquid for an extra 4-5 minutes. Since it gets shredded anyways, just separate the thickest part with a fork to check for doneness.

A word about the cooking liquid: I use broth or a stock made from shrimp shells or lobster shells. You certainly can just use plain water, though the salmon will be a little less flavorful, but perfectly fine.

Salmon with orzo
14 oz. salmon, pin bones removed, skin on
broth or water to cover
1 cup orzo, prepared according to package directions
¼ cup canned black olives, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 scallions, white and green parts, chopped fine
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
salt and black or white pepper to taste
juice of ½ small lemon
1 tbsp parsley, chopped

Bring your cooking liquid to a boil. Carefully slip in the salmon. Cover the pan and remove from the heat. Let stand 10-15 minutes until desired doneness is achieved. When you reach that point, remove the salmon from the liquid and allow to cool completely.

As soon as the orzo is done, drain it in a colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking. Drain well.

In a large bowl, combine the orzo, olives, scallion and toss. Whisk the mustard into the olive oil and toss into the orzo mix. Season with salt and pepper and taste. Adjust seasonings to your taste, then shred the salmon into the bowl, garnish with lemon juice and parsley, and toss one final time.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

White bean salad with brats and fresh tomato

With all the challenges in life: unemployment, same-sex marriage (and lack of same in our household), medical reform, medical challenges, etc, Peter and I have two constants: (1) the meticulous planning, execution, and consumption of our daily meals; (2) cocktails at 5 pm while we watch an episode of Jeopardy or Millionaire. If this seems pedestrian or prosaic, all I can say is it works for us!

Lunch is usually a sandwich, ranging from banh mi, to grilled ham and cheese, to chicken or tuna or egg salad, and so forth. Lunch also includes a daily mix of cutup fruit with plain yogurt as a dressing. Dinner will include a protein, a starch, and a vegetable (often a salad these days with remarkably resilient lettuce from our own garden). The regularity of substantial and varied meals, enjoyed in the preparation nearly as much (but not as much) as in the eating.

Having bought some brats on sale at Safeway a few days ago, I got to thinking about a salad with white beans (my favorites of which are called Navy beans and come in cans at Safeway). In part I like them because they are small.

I sat down at this computer yesterday and composed the following recipe. Try it – it’s superb!

Sorry there’s no photo – the one I took at the dinner table didn’t come out well.

White bean and sausage salad
2 bratwurst, cooked and cut into ½” pieces
1 15 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 small shallot, minced
1 medium tomato, chopped
¼ cup canned black olives, halved
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped parsley
½ tsp fresh rosemary, minced
½ tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard

Start the bratwurst. I use a Rachel Ray technique for this. A small amount of water in a sauté pan; add the brats and cook, turning occasionally until the water has evaporated; add olive oil or butter and continue sautéing until the sausages are browned and cooked through.

While the brats cook (or do ahead of time), put the beans, shallot, tomato, olives, garlic, salt and pepper, parsley, rosemary, and thyme in a large bowl and toss to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and mustard. Add to the large bowl and toss to combine. Set aside.

We heated wide bowls in our excellent convection toaster oven, served up the bean mix and added the hot sausages (after cutting into ½” pieces). The result is basically a room temp to warm salad, very pleasing on a summer evening.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Let me help

I’m starting something new: a how-to offer for anyone perplexed by what to do with leftovers and the oddments that we all collect in our pantries, freezers and refrigerators.

I consider myself an expert at this. If you have examined some of my recipes, you will have noticed a tendency to use what is at hand and adapt a dish appropriately.

The first thing you must do (and if you’re not willing, this won’t work) is to inventory what you have. Get a pad and pencil, open your fridge and make a list of everything in there that you don’t use on a daily basis (or at least frequently). This means don’t write down milk and orange juice and the like. Look especially for things that have been there a while and haven’t been used: such things as condiments, olives, pickles, leftovers you still would eat, etc. (anything with mold growing on it doesn’t count and I don’t have to tell you what to do with it).

Next, go to your pantry and your freezer and repeat the above.

Now, send me an e-mail at, list your items and tell me about any food allergies or dislikes. I will reply within no more than a few hours (depends on when I check my mail) and give you ideas in the form of actual recipes. There’s no charge for this. What I really hope to do is to get more people reading my blog.

For examples of how I’ve done exactly what I am recommending, check out these postings on this blog: Aug 2, 09 – quinoa salad, or Nov 1, 09 – slaw. It’s not that these are the only recipes where I’ve taken advantage on on-hand ingredients…nearly all of my creations are inspired by something I’ve had and have been meaning to use.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Orzo salad with tuna and fresh tomato

Disclaimer: I didn't get a nice sharp picture of my own dish. However, this one looks a lot like it...thanks to FoodNetwork.

The inspiration for this came from a trip to Denver's excellent farmer's market, Heinie's, where we found fresh Colorado tomatoes (ours in the garden aren't ready yet). The herbs are ours, though. I wouldn't make this with a store-bought tomato - the fresh taste of what I used is incomparable.

Orzo with tuna and fresh tomato
Orzo pasta
6 oz. pouch tuna in water
1 large fresh tomato
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 tbsp fresh basil leaves, julienned
1 tbsp chives, chopped fine
1 jalapeno pepper, ¾ deveined and seeded, diced fine
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
juice of ¼ lemon

Cook the orzo in well-salted water according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

Cut the tomato into a fine dice. Combine the tomato, orzo, tuna, thyme, basil, chives and jalaeno in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil and the lemon juice. Toss thoroughly to combine. Let stand one hour at room temperature before serving.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Quinoa salad with toasted garbanzos and black olives

I invented this concoction a couple of months ago but only got around to making it 2 days ago. Of course it evolved between conception and execution. This end result is a truly lovely dish to accompany the protein of your choice or just to be a stand-alone lunch (maybe with some crusty bread).

I chose the small olives so that I didn’t feel I had to cut them up – thus saving a little time. It is not essential to toast the garbanzos, but they do take on a nutty tastiness if you do toast them. I love cumin. However, maybe you don’t. Try adding a bit of fresh oregano or thyme or basil or all three.

Quinoa is very low in Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Manganese.

Quinoa salad w/black olives and garbanzos
1 14.5 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained, rinsed, and dried
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 serrano pepper, ½ seeded, ½ not seeded
2 medium cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup quinoa
1 ¾ cup chicken broth
1 14.5 oz. can small black olives, drained, rinsed, and dried
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped (optional)

Place the garbanzos in a non-stick pan large enough to hold them in one layer. Toast over medium heat until lightly browned, 10-15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan. Add the shallot, Serrano pepper and garlic and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 3-5 minutes or until softened.

Add the quinoa and stir to coat. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer slowly about 15 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the quinoa to a large bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.

To the bowl add olives, parsley, lemon juice, cumin, salt and pepper to taste, and mint (if using). Toss to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. Allow to come to room temperature. Taste and adjust seasonings before serving.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Shrimp, chorizo and grits

Here's an original dish. The taste was so remarkable that, even though our portions were fairly large, Peter said when he was about 2/3 finished, "If you think I'm not going to eat all of this, think again!" I, too, managed to polish it all off. It was one of those meals where a couple of hours later you are still savoring it in your taste buds and in your warm tummy.
For the shrimp/chorizo:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
½ medium onion, chopped fine
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
¼ cup Spanish chorizo, diced fine
1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
1 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp clam juice
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 springs each, fresh thyme, basil and oregano
10-12 oz. shrimp, peeled and deveined
pinch paprika
pinch black pepper

For the grits:
1 cup dry grits
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

Bring the broth to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisk in the grits, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until slightly al dente but not gritty (no pun intended).

For the shrimp/chorizo:
Melt the butter in olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. When melted, add onion and cook 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds

Make a space in the middle of the pan and add the chorizo and tomato paste. Stir a few seconds then incorporate with the onion and garlic. Add the broth, clam juice and fish sauce and the herbs. Simmer 10 minutes over medium low heat.

Stir in the shrimp and when simmer resumes, cook only 2 minutes for 41-50’s, longer for larger shrimp.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in paprika and pepper. Serve at once over the grits.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Composed salad with steak

I’ve been lazy about posting lately. I’m going to make up for it over the next couple of days. Last night Peter and I made a constructed salad which we served with thin slices of rib eye steak. We had cooked a “cowboy” rib eye the night before. It was a whopping 2 pounds of meat with a single rib bone and a slightly regrettable amount of fat, much of which I trimmed away.

I didn’t (again the word regrettably) take a picture of it so I poached one from the internet. Here it is:

Is that magnificent or what? I had two meat rubs on hand, both left over from other recipes. One was by Anne Burrell, whose show, “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef,” I watch religiously. Unfortunately it was way too salty when I used it the first time. However, by mixing it with another rub which included ground coffee, it was transformed into a great concoction.

The one thing I will do differently when I cook a cowboy steak the next time is set a slightly lower target temperature. After browning one side thoroughly (4 minutes), I finished it in a 350° oven (which took about 20 more minutes), letting the internal temp rise to 135°. This gave us somewhat more of a medium steak instead of my preferred medium rare. I think 130° is a better temp, especially because you let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing. It tasted wonderful nonetheless.

We came up with the idea for these composed salads as we scoured our brains for inventive ways to use lettuce and endive from our garden. The picture below is a combination of those two greens with some toasted garbanzos, sliced radishes, croutons, and sugar snap peas which were blanched for a couple of minutes and then shocked with ice water. You’d think we were having sex if you heard the sounds we made while consuming this consummate creation.

We have a great time pottering about in the kitchen together. Here’s a pic of our culinary work area:

It’s a little tricky jockeying around one another, but we’ve got it down pretty good.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Observations on "Cooking Dirty" by Jason Sheehan

By the time you finish reading the prologue of Jason Sheehan’s book, “Cooking Dirty,” you will be breathless, horrified, amused, and maybe even frightened: as in what could be next? In a self-deprecating torrent of super-heated prose, Jason charts the events during dinner service in a fantastically hot, chaotic and frantic kitchen in a restaurant in Florida.

Deeper into the book the pace slows and aspects of Jason’s persona begin to reveal themselves, or rather I should say Jason reveals them – in almost painful detail.

I should point out that Jason is a friend and we share lunch regularly with a foodie group I created 3-plus years ago. I began reading “Cooking Dirty” with every hope that I would love it…and I do. I have wondered for some time how he came by his way with words. Early on in the book he states that he wanted to be a writer and kept journals on a regular basis.

I wonder if, assuming he still has any of those journals, the addition of some quotes from them would have added another dimension to what is already from another dimension.

My partner, Peter, once sat next to Anthony Bourdain’s mother at a performance at the Metropolitan Opera. When Peter mentioned her son’s book, “Kitchen Confidential,” her comment (delivered in a marked New York accent) was, “The language!”

As a former sailor who could swear like one years before boot camp, I love it when a writer can use the words “pork” and “pussy” in same sentence, as Jason once did in a Westword review. In his writing, the “f” word appears with some regularity, always causing me great amusement.

I am writing these paragraphs in between reading snatches of “Cooking Dirty, “ always with great anticipation for what will come next.

I suppose I could have been mildly offended by his description of how he felt about what was on the kitchen radio at the pizza joint where he worked when he was 15: “the kitchen radio…was forever tuned to a station that…played only one song that was twelve hours long, sung by a gay Italian man who’d recently been punched in the mouth, and prominently featured an accordion being played by a spastic and tone-deaf monkey.” You know what though, I majored in political incorrectness in both high school and college and that marvelous turn of phrase made me roar. I had to read it to Peter before starting the car to head home from the gym. He too roared.

Is the prose purple? Don’t know, but it is extraordinarily colorful, and not the speech I’m used to from the rather mild-mannered, polite fellow Jason seems to be today. But then I’m only around him in mixed company.

“Poor life choices,” seems to be a recurring theme for Jason. But few of us (and certainly not moi mème) make all the right choices. “Always do the right thing,” an iconic line from Spike Lee’s similarly named movie sometimes just means have another drink, another cig, another snort of something.

Do I suspect some embroidering of this life story? Sure I do. Especially when I read, “These stories tend to grow in the telling.” I tell stories about myself that have grown in the telling just because you need a story to be a good one, even a great one. As long as the core of the idea bears a solid kernel of truth I say go for it.

Jason “borrowed” his parents car in the middle of the night. I would take my parents’ car in the middle of the day, pick up my best friend, and drive 95 mph to and from a swimming hole when he and I were supposed to be tutoring (me tutor, he Jane) for his GED.

Jason takes well-deserved pride in his leadership in the diner kitchen where he works for a while. As I write this, I’m about 1/3 into “Cooking Dirty,” and still enjoying every page. How does he continue to come up with wry, witty, hilarious (and sometimes filthy) turns of phrase?

Oh shit, he’s crashed and burned at the diner. When Jason hits bottom he doesn’t really bounce back up. Rather, he bounces along the bottom. When I read to my partner, Peter, the part when he goes back to Rochester and knocks on his parents door to be taken in, I got all choked up. I’m reminded of the Robert Frost line that has stuck with me for decades: "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

Lord, this tale is unrelenting. It appears that some form of redemption is at hand as his relationship with Laura develops. I’m really interested to know about how he transitions into a writer. I know it’s coming, but he hasn’t mentioned writing since his high school days I think.

I want to meet Laura. The saga of the developing relationship between Jason and his wife-to-be is as convoluted as Jason’s life between 15 and 25, the point I’m at in the story. His life seems more settled, though that is a relative term. He’s productively employed, more or less healthy, but obviously not at an arrival point yet; rather, the departures are slightly fewer, the destructive behavior somewhat more moderated, the story telling still bold and brash.

Well, we’ve finally gotten to the part where Jason becomes a writer, not entirely about restaurant reviews at first. After an epic episode of cat-fighting with Laura, she seemed to have gotten his attention about the writing idea and he gets his first job. It appears that Jason’s life may be about to take a turn in an upward direction.

I am so near the end of the book and yet I can’t sort out the kaleidoscope of emotions, fear, loathing, horror he’s exposed me to. I know that I’d have to stretch to imagine my own life, not entirely uncheckered, being so chaotic and mercurial. I find myself wondering how Jason can remember so much detail, much experienced in drug and alcohol induced near stupors. He seems at this point near to waking up from a lengthy (nearly 15-year) nightmare.

The moves (devious) into a writing career are cool. I’m so glad Jason got away with what he did to get one of his first writing jobs. I won’t spoil the story for anyone by telling it.

Turns out even after coming to Denver to assume his post at Westword, Jason still got whacked out on occasion. But he did come here with Laura as his wife and they acquired a daughter whom Jason clearly adores. Peter, after hearing me read him another portion of the book this morning, asked if I thought there was a movie possibility here. Jesus, I would think so. We’re debating who would play Jason.

Am I reading something into his story if I suspect there will always be a longing for the kitchen inside of Jason. What I hope there is is a long string of writings in his future so that they’ll be in my future as well. Keep drinking the snake wine, Sanjo.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Slumdog wings

Does that look good or what? The recipe below serves 2 for big appetites as an entree, or 4-6 as appetizers. The perspective of the photo is misleading. These wingettes weren't large, quite small actually, but in the pic they look like legs!
I revisited my previous tandoori-style chicken recipe. There were wings left from my birthday party in April. So I modified the whole thing and prepared them as follows. It’s not essential that you brine it, but I nearly always brine chicken before cooking. Note that after brining no salt is added. If you choose not to brine, add 1 tsp table salt to the dry mix.

Slumdog wings

10 chicken wings, tips removed
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups water
1 tbsp garam masala2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp powdered garlic2 tsp chili powder
lime juice
Cut apart the two sections of the chicken wings. Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. Put the wing pieces and brine mix into a freezer bag. Refrigerate for 1-4 hours.

In a bowl, mix together all the remaining ingredients except the lime. Put this into a shaker bottle (an empty spice container is perfect).

Remove the chicken from the fridge, rinse and dry with paper towels. With a sharp knife, make a slit in the meatiest part of each wing piece.
Sprinkle the chicken liberally with the spice mix on both sides. Place them on a wire rack over a large plate and refrigerate uncovered for 1-3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 250°. Put the wire rack with the chicken on it onto a baking pan with at least 1” sides. Pour 1 cup water into the pan. Cover tightly with foil. Bake for 2 - 2 ½ hours.

Remove from the oven and turn the heat to “broil.” Leave the oven door ajar so that the heating element does not cycle off. Remove the foil from the chicken. Sprinkle with more of the spice mix on the top side. Broil for 3-5 minutes until the chicken starts to get nice and brown. Turn the pieces over, add spice mix again, and broil for another 3-5 minutes until sizzling and browned.

Remove from oven, tent with foil and allow the chicken to rest for 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle with lime juice and serve.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Shrimp/catfish burgers with Asian slaw

On January 31 I posted a shrimp/catfish burger recipe. This one is new - and better!

This makes for a very inexpensive meal (with a vegetable and some rice to accompany), especially if you find shrimp on sale. It makes no difference what size the shrimp are since you're going to cut them into pieces anyhow.

We scored a huge shopping victory yesterday at Sunflower Market when we found a 2 lb. bag of frozen "easy peel" shrimp for $7.84. That's the least I've paid for shrimp in memory.

We keep an eclectic mix of ingredients on hand, so making these Asian-style burgers didn't require buying anything. Substitutions: a splash of red wine vinegar for the Chinese vinegar; any hot sauce and some minced garlic in place of chili/garlic sauce; some toasted sesame seeds and some vegetable oil in place of sesame oil; shallot in place of scallion; lemon juice in place of lime.

Shrimp/catfish burgers with Asian slaw

1 8 oz. catfish filet
8 oz. shrimp, peeled and de-veined
2-3 tsp sesame oil (to taste)
1 tbsp chile/garlic paste
1 egg white
½ tsp kosher salt (1/3 tsp if table salt)
½ tsp white pepper

Asian slaw
¼ head cabbage sliced thin
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 shallot, green and white parts cut in 2” julienne
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp Chinese black vinegar
juice of ½ a lime

Cut the catfish into ½” pieces. Do the same with the shrimp.

Place the fish, shrimp, and all other ingredients into a food processor. Pulse to a rough puree.

Put 1 tsp of the mixture into a small bowl and microwave for 20-30 seconds. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Form the mixture into 2 large burgers. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before cooking.

In the meantime, assemble the slaw. Put the cabbage in a large bowl. Whisk together all remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over the cabbage and toss to coat.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. When hot, add the burgers. Cook for about 5 minutes per side. The way to tell when they are done is to press your index finger on the top of one of them. The cooking is finishing if there is little or no “give.”

Serve on your favorite burger rolls topped with slaw.

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