Monday, February 25, 2013

A casual Oscar night gathering...

My sweet friend, Janice, is having a serious case of Empty Nest Syndrome right now. Her kids have all moved out, her mother-in-law, who lives with her for half the year, has gone back to Florida, and her husband got a job in Pennsylvania, and only gets to come home every other weekend, I believe. Thus, the poor dear is rattling around her big, beautiful house all alone. So when she asked me to come over and watch the Oscars with her and her daughter, how could I refuse? And I'm very glad I didn't, as it was a very cozy vibe (as evidenced in picture, left), enhanced by witty banter, catty criticism, and hearty laughs.

Most importantly, we had a wonderful spread of movie-themed eats. There were rice crackers for Life of Pi and hummus to dip them into and also samosas, hush puppies and crawfish dip for Beasts of the Southern Wild, gingerbread (reported to be Lincoln's favorite dessert), Canadian maple cookies for Argo, white coconut cake for Django Unchained, spanakopita (vaguely Middle Eastern tie-in) for Zero Dark Thirty, French bread for Les Miz and baked Brie and macarons for Amour, and even some cookies called Sarah Bernhardts, named after the famous French stage and film actress.

As for my contributions, you have to know that I made "crabby snacks and homemades!" Well, I did make crabby snacks, and I also made braciole (as the mother did every Sunday in Silver Linings Playbook), but my "homemades" were Reame's Noodles. Ha ha. OH! I need to share an anecdote here, if I may. Recently, I noticed that I had had some spikes in page views on this blog, so I went to my statistics program to see where the hits came from. Most of them seemed to be coming from Huffington Post, which was confusing to me. So I clicked on the link and found THIS:

A shout-out from HuffPo! I'm FAMOUS! Can my cookbook deal and Food Network show be far behind? Tee hee. Ok, ok. I'll try to get my over-inflated ego under control and just share how I made the braciole. This is a great weekend project, as I used my slow cooker in a two-day process. Don't freak out! It's mostly passive time, and the flavorful results are worth the wait. Start on Saturday night for a great slow-cooked meal on Sunday, preferably while watching the Eagles game or the Oscars.

Crock Pot Braciole

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 large bay leaf
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 - 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes (with basil)
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar, optional

For the braciole:
1 small onion plus 1 large shallot, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic
3/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella (or Fontina)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggs
half a bunch of Italian parsley (mostly leaves)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
16 oz. sliced Baby Bella mushrooms
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter, and then saute the onions until tender. Add the garlic, red peppers, and dried herbs and pepper flakes and cook for a few minutes more. Pour in the red wine and balsamic vinegar, and cook for a few more minutes until the wine is reduced. Place this mixture into the crock pot and stir in the canned tomatoes, salt, pepper, and sugar (if using). Cook the sauce on low overnight or on high for about four hours.
When the sauce is close to the end of its cooking time, prepare the braciole filling. In a food processor, mix the onion, shallot, garlic, bread crumbs, Parmesan, mozzarella, two tablespoons of olive oil, eggs, parsley, and black pepper until almost smooth. Spread about one tablespoon of the filling in each piece of meat (leaving some space around the edges) and roll up from the longest side. Tie in several places with kitchen twine. In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil and brown the braciole on all sides.
Remove the bay leaf, then submerge all of the browned braciole in the prepared sauce in the crock pot. Add another couple of tablespoons of olive oil (if needed) to the skillet, and saute the mushrooms until tender. Place the mushrooms on top of everything in the crock pot, and cook on low for six to eight hours (or high for three to four hours) until the meat is tender. Remember to remove the strings before serving over noodles. (You can make "homemades," but I prefer Reame's Frozen Noodles.) Garnish with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lasagna Fit for Cattle Ranchers, or Never Too Much Meat!

So...I was watching The Pioneer Woman on Food Network on Saturday morning, as is my way, and she made a fabulous-looking lasagna. Now, I already had a plan to make posole yesterday, but I figured I could assemble the lasagna, pop it in the fridge, and then my roomie could just bake it off for dinner tonight. I love it when I'm proactive with my cooking! YAY, me!

Reading through the comments on Ree's website, I ran across this review from a dude named Ryan: "I’ll have you know I made a giant batch of this lasagna for my men’s bible study group and it was an absolute disaster! There were dead bodies everywhere! We were supposed to be studying a book but, we couldn’t get anything done because everyone was is a food coma. I had about 12 guys there so I made enough lasagna for 20 thinking I would have plenty of leftovers. There were no leftovers to be found! Thanks a lot peedub. You ruined a perfectly good evening. p.s. Thank you Lord God for this lasagna."

How could I resist making PW's lasagna after reading this? However, I did make a few changes to her boilerplate recipe. First of all, it should be noted that there is a 2007 version of this lasagna with CANNED Parmesan--blech--dried herbs, and iodized salt), and then there's the one from her show on Food Network (fresh herbs, real Parm, and kosher salt). I suppose mine was a hybrid, based on what I had on hand. I only used one pound each of ground beef and Italian (not breakfast) sausage. I mean, how much meat do you really need?? Sheesh.

Moreover, I doubled the garlic, as I usually do on principle. I didn't use fresh basil in the meat sauce because I didn't have any; I used a tablespoon of dried Italian herbs plus a teaspoon of dried basil and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, because I used sweet, not hot, sausage. But I did use fresh parsley in the cottage cheese mixture. I also would have added mushrooms to the meat sauce if I had had them, and next time, I will add some red wine to the meat sauce as my foodie friend, Sheri, who often makes this recipe, wisely recommends!

Lastly, I assembled it a bit differently. It seemed odd to only use eight lasagna noodles and end with a thick layer of meat sauce. So I split the meat sauce into thirds (well, one of the "thirds" was skimpier), added one last layer of noodles (=12 total) and the lesser portion of sauce on top with the last bit of Parmesan, just so the noodles wouldn't dry out. Then I wrapped it with parchment and heavy duty foil and popped it in the fridge to bake later, and that worked perfecty. This is a hearty, flavorful, American-style lasagna that everyone (except vegetarians) will love. Give it a try!

The Pioneer Woman's Lasagna
(Source: adapted from The Pioneer Woman, via Food Network)

2 pounds hamburger (I only used one pound)
1 pound hot breakfast sausage (I used sweet Italian sausage plus a pinch of red pepper flakes)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (I used six cloves!)
one 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
one 6-ounce can tomato paste
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil (I omitted this)
10 ounces lasagna noodles (I used twelve noodles in three layers)
1 pound mozzarella, sliced
10 to 12 fresh basil leaves (I swapped out one tablespoon of dried Italian herbs plus one teaspoon dried basil)
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
3 cups low-fat cottage cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 eggs, beaten
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute the hamburger, sausage and garlic until brown. Drain off the excess fat. Add the tomatoes with their juice, tomato paste, 1/2 teaspoon salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Stir together well. Simmer over low heat, uncovered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the olive oil (if using) and a dash of salt. Cook the lasagna noodles according to the package directions until al dente. Drain the noodles and lay them flat on a piece of aluminium foil to keep their shape.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut the fresh basil (if using) into a chiffonade by stacking the leaves on top of one another, rolling them tightly and then cutting across. Finely chop the parsley. Add half the herbs to the meat mixture and stir together. In a medium bowl, combine the other half of the herbs, the cottage cheese, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan and the eggs, and stir together well. (I added the dried herbs to the meat sauce, and the chopped fresh parsley to the cottage cheese mixture.)

To assemble, begin by laying four lasagna noodles in the bottom of a deep rectangular baking pan; the noodles should slightly overlap. Spoon half the cottage cheese mixture onto the noodles; spread to distribute evenly. Lay half of the mozzarella slices on top of the cottage cheese mixture. Spoon just under half (I did about a third) of the meat mixture on top of the mozzarella, and spread evenly, being careful not to disrupt the layers below. Now repeat the process, beginning with a layer of lasagna noodles, followed by the cottage cheese mixture, followed by the mozzarella slices, and ending with a thick layer of the meat mixture. (I split the sauce into thirds, made an additional layer of four noodles on top and another third of the meat sauce.)

Sprinkle the remaining half cup of Parmesan over the top. Bake until the lasagna is hot and bubbly, 35 to 45 minutes. Allow to stand 10 minutes before cutting into squares. (I baked mine cover with parchment and foil. I prefer it to be tender on top.)
Helpful Hint: Lasagna can be fully assembled and refrigerated or frozen, unbaked. But then the cooking time may have to be extended. (Mine took closer to an hour cold from the refrigerator.)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Winter rages on...fight back with POSOLE!

Weekends are my time for experimentations in the kitchen, and this past weekend, I had it in my mind to fashion a posole in the crock pot. I had received an email that City Market over in Burlington was offering a cooking workskop on Mexican Slow Cooking featuring posole-making that I wanted to attend, but it was on a night when I had class myself. So I decided to teach myself to make posole! In what I've gleaned from the interwebs, posole is a Mexican pork, chile, and hominy stew (a little like chili con carne but soupier), and there seem to be both red and white(?) varieties.

Sidebar: Clearly, posole is NOT a North Country staple (though it should be as an antidote to our subzero winters). When I stopped at Wal-Mart last night to pick up ingredients, I asked an employee for assistance finding hominy. She looked confused and yelled to her co-worker, "Hey, Kim! This lady's looking for HARMONY!" At this point, I interjected, "Aren't we all? But I'm actually looking for HOMINY!" And then "Kim" said, "Oh, you mean that big corn stuff? I think it's over here." And off we toddled to find the "big corn stuff." Sheesh.

Anyhoo...I perused a bunch of different recipes and cherry-picked the parts of each that appealed to me, and then conceived how I might use my crock pot to get the richness and depth of flavor from long, slow cooking. I made it into a two-day process, but WOW, were the results worth the wait! It was smoky, spicy, and ultra-satisfying as winter lingers like an unwelcome house guest.

Crock Pot Posole

2 quarts (8 cups) water
2 large (or 3 smaller) smoked ham hocks
2 large bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
about 1 1/2 pounds boneless country-style pork ribs (pork shoulder would do well, too)
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
4 dried ancho chilies
1 (15 oz.) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 packets sazon de jamon
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cans hominy (yellow or white)
salt, to taste
1 tablespoon honey, optional

shredded cabbage (or cole slaw mix)
thinly-sliced radishes
lime wedges
cojita cheese crumbles
chopped cilantro leaves
sliced avocado
Mexican crema or sour cream

Place the water, smoked ham hocks, and bay leaves in the crock pot to simmer on low overnight (=eight hours). The next day, fish out the hocks, then cool, shred and reserve the meat. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet and brown the pork ribs on all sides. Remove the meat, then add the chopped onions to the pan. Cook for a few minutes until tender. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Into the ham stock in the crock pot, place the browned pork, the sautéed onions and garlic, the four dried ancho chilies, the can of tomatoes (with juice), and the seasonings--sazon de jamon packets, oregano, cumin, and black pepper. Cook on low for six hours or until the pork is tender. Remove the ribs, and cool, shred, and reserve the meat. Also take out the ancho chilies, removing the stems and most of the seeds. Using a stick blender, blend the softened chilies with a bit of the liquid until very smooth, then add the mixture it back into the pot. Blend the soup all together with the stick blender. When the soup has a smooth, uniform texture, stir in the reserved ham and pork and the two cans of hominy to heat through, another 30 minutes or so. (Drain the water off of the hominy, but stop draining when you get to the thicker, starchy liquid. You want that in your soup!) Season with salt to taste, and sweeten with a tablespoon of honey, if you prefer it.

Serve the soup piping hot with garnishes of any or all of the following: shredded cabbage, sliced radishes, fresh lime juice, crumbled cojita, cilantro leaves, avocado slices, and Mexican crema or sour cream.

Update (5/3/13): I made this again recently for my book club's "Dos de Mayo" gathering, and because the hostess is allergic to pork, I made it with two big smoked turkey legs instead of the ham hocks and pork shoulder. Worked GREAT, and tasted FABULOUS! About 95% as delicious as the pork version. ;-)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Bakerina Lives!

One of my main inspirations for starting this blog was a fine writer and wonderfully talented foodie, Jen McAllister, who had a blog called Prepare to Meet Your Bakerina. I stumbled upon her site when I was searching for a particular bakery to visit in NYC, and she had posted the unfortunate news of the establishment's demise. But she hooked me in with her witty prose and excellent recipes.

However, at some point, the rent became too high in NYC, and the Bakerina became disenchanted with her job, and decided to enter law school in California. As might imagine, law school leaves little time for blogging, so she has been sadly absent from her web site for some years now. But imagine my joy when I reconnected with her on Facebook! And as always, she inspires me to make delicious baked goods.

Most recently, the Bakerina discussed a ham, cheese and olive quick bread that she made from the legendary boulanger Lionel Poilane's book, Faire Son Pain, that other than being a little too salty, she said was among the best things she's ever made. I did an internet search, but I couldn't find that exact recipe (even in French).

However, I did find one by Dorie Greenspan that Jen confirmed was very close, except that Dorie substitutes milk for the wine in the Poilane recipe. As I am always drowning in milk due to my cow share, that was fine by me. And the loaf turned out marvelously well--a perfect luncheon item with a simple salad on the side. How elegant, sophisticated and perfectly Parisian! OOH LA LA!

Ham, Cheese, and Olive Loaf
(Source: adapted from Brown Eyed Baker and Serious Eats)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 scant tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
4 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 lb. ham, small dice (about 1/2 cup)
1 packed cup coarsely grated cheese, plus 1/2 cup diced cheese (cheddar, Emmenthal, and/or Gruyere are all appropriate choices for this)
1/3 cup each (=2/3 cup total) pitted green and black olives, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rings (or chopped is fine, too)

Preheat the oven to 400F and grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan (or use flour-added cooking spray). Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. In another bowl lightly beat the eggs then whisk in the milk, olive oil and ham. Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and stir gently to combine. Use a spatula to fold in the cheese and olives.

Pour into the pan and bake on the center rack for ten minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350F and continue to bake for 45-50 minutes more, until puffed, golden and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let rest on a rack for five minutes before turning it out. Let cool for at least ten minutes before cutting.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Put down that pizza menu and back slowly away...

Cyd was threatening to call Domino's for the second time in a week, so I hauled off to the kitchen and whipped up this warm, hearty, and tasty concoction that I had pinned awhile back: Creamy Smoked Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup. (The little blob on top is a dollop of spicy German beer mustard--homemade, of course!) It was supposed to be Italian sausage and cabbage, but I went my own way with it, based on what I unearthed most readily from the freezer.

Creamy Cabbage and Double Smoked Bacon Soup
(or Kale and Regularly Smoked Bacon)
(Source: adapted from Closet Cooking, via Pinterest)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 60 minutes

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound Italian sausage, casing removed (I used cooked smoked sausage--sliced--instead)
1/2 pound double smoked bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces (I used four pieces of regular bacon)
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (I used two cans, one pureed, one not)
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 small head cabbage, thinly sliced (I used a bunch of de-stemmed, chopped kale)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream (up to a cup)
1 handful parsley, chopped
grainy mustard

1.Heat the oil in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat add the sausage and cook until cooked, about 7-10 minutes, breaking it up as you go. Strain out the meat and set it aside.
2. Add the bacon to the same pan and cook until the fat renders, about 7-10 minutes. Strain out the cooked bacon and set it aside, reserving one tablespoon of fat in the pan.
3. Add the onion, carrot and celery and saute until tender, about 10-15 minutes.
4. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about a minute.
5. Puree half of the beans (or one whole can) in a food processor with some of the chicken stock.
6. Add the chicken stock, sausage, bacon, beans, pureed beans, cabbage (or kale), oregano and bay leaf and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the cabbage (or kale) is tender, about 10-15 minutes.
7. Season with salt and pepper, mix in the cream and parsley and remove from heat.
8. Serve garnished with grainy mustard.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Midweek Birthday Parties and Trash-Tastic Treats

Well, yesterday was a bit overwhelming...culinarily speaking. I was up until the wee hours of the night/morning, working on my vision for my beloved officemate's birthday party at school. Lee Ann doesn't like cake, so I had the idea of recreating NYC's Rice to Riches experience, offering only two rice pudding flavors (Chocolate Chip Flirt and Hazelnut Chocolate Bear Hug), but ELEVEN of the 12 traditional toppings. The rice puddings were easy; all those toppings were a nightmare! But the party went off without a hitch, and I think my friends, colleagues, and most importantly, the Birthday Girl, enjoyed the pudding bar.

P.S. The toppings or "Jesus Droppings" (tee hee) were as follows:

Flourish: toasted buttery poundcake
*Spirit: oatmeal coconut crumble
Black magic: chocolate brownie crumble

*Unity: cinnamon raisin crumble
Mischief: buttery graham grumble
Nudge: espresso crumble
Heartthrob: tender loving jelly
Blessings: toasted coconut
Logic: seasoned mixed nuts
Remedy: caramel vanilla sauce
Cloud nine: whipped cream
Burst: oven roasted fresh fruits

*I combined these two to streamline the menu a tiny bit. No one seemed to mind. ;-)

Then when I got home last night, it was my turn to cook, but I also had to make another dish for a birthday party potluck at a club downtown (it was the 30th for the karaoke d.j. who is also my student this semester). So I did something slightly shameful that I rarely do and turned to a convenience product as a short cut. Pasta Alfredo is one of my favorite dishes in the world, and I ALWAYS make it from scratch. However, when I was at Lee Ann's Christmas party this year, she and her husband had a pasta throwdown pitting his homemade mac and cheese (which is AWESOME) against her spinach Alfredo pasta, and she won! When I asked her for the recipe, I was surprised to learn that she used JARRED Alfredo sauce that she zhoozhed up with some parmesan, mozzarella, and fresh spinach.

So for a quickie dinner, I roasted some country-style pork ribs in olive oil, thyme, rosemary, red wine vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. And I served it with pasta shells (one pound, cooked until al dente)and a pint jar of Classico's Roasted Poblano Afredo Sauce mixed with a generous half cup of grated Parmesan, a little extra garlic and black pepper, and more than half a bag of fresh baby spinach thrown into the hot pasta right before serving. I have to admit--it was delicious!

For the karaoke birthday potluck, I gave some thought to what inebriated twenty-somethings would like to eat to soak up all that excess liquor in their systems. So I went with the old stand-by, Buffalo Chicken Dip. But the dish on the buffet that I kept returning to was this really tasty taco salad that seemed to involve Doritos and Catalina dressing. I looked it up on the interwebs when I got home, and apparently everyone knows about this trash-tastic potluck favorite except me! So I recreated it for our dinner tonight (sending my poor roommate out into Blizzard Nemo's wrath to pick up the ingredients), and though Cyd doesn't even like French or Catalina dressing, she had to admit it made the taco salad perfectly sweet and tangy.

The great thing about this "recipe" is that you can mix it up, and add your favorite taco salad ingredients to it. If you are taking it to an event, you could mix everything together in a big bowl except the hamburger, Doritos, and the dressing, then refrigerate the bowl until party time. Right  before serving, reheat the ground beef just enough to take the chill off, then add the crushed-up chips and the hamburger mixture, and dress it all with the Catalina. So yummy! Here's what I used for my version.

Trash-Tastic Doritos Taco Salad
(Yield: This made enough for three generous entree-sized salads--double it for a party)

half a head of iceberg lettuce, cored and shredded (Romaine might hold up better at a potluck)
half a can of black olives, drained and roughly chopped
half a can of Cuban-style black beans, drained
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 scallions, thinly sliced
8-12 rainbow cherry tomatoes, chopped

1/2 of a ripe avocado, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
half a regular-sized bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos (though I bet Pepper Jack would be yum), crushed
1 pound lean ground beef
salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dark chili powder
few shakes of hot sauce, optional
about a quarter of a large bottle of Kraft Zesty Catalina Dressing (you can also use Classic, Sweet Honey, or Bacon Catalina--your call)

Add everything to a large bowl except the Doritos, ground beef and seasonings, and Catalina dressing. Refrigerate until time to serve.

In a skillet, brown the ground beef then drain the excess fat. Add the salt and pepper, garlic, cumin, chili powder, and hot sauce (if using), and stir to combine. Set aside to cool.

Crush the chips on top of the other salad ingredients, add the hamburger mixture, and as much dressing as you desire, and toss gently to mix. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Most of life's hardships can be soothed with some spicy shrimp and grits.

Even though the semester just started, things are already crazy. After a week of temperatures that hovered just above or dipped below zero, we had a pipe burst in the kitchen. So we've had Roto Rooter in and out of the house last week.

And in truly tragic news, one of our cats has a malignant inoperable tumor under his chin, and he may have just a short time left. The vet prescribed antibiotics to treat a secondary infection, and if we can clear that up and get him to eat, we'll try to keep him comfortable until it appears that his quality of life has diminished. Poor old Shmoopy, who is not even that old, maybe eight or nine (he was a barn drop-off at the old house). He has always been such a lovely, sophisticated gentlemen...that is, until I tried to give him his medication with a syringe in his sore mouth. So now I'm sporting a painful bite on one of my pinkies, and a couple of lacerations to the face as well.

The straw that nearly broke my camel's back was when the same d*mn pipe froze again today! But bless my dear roomie's heart: Not only did she come home from work at lunchtime to thaw out the frozen pipe, she made THIS glorious meal of Spicy Shrimp and Andouille Sausage with Cheesy Grits for our dinner! ALL HAIL CYD, my hero!

Shrimp and Grits
(Source: Bon Appétit)

1 cup yellow grits (not instant)
1 cup grated sharp white cheddar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 jalapeño, seeded, diced
1/4 cup heavy cream 
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup 1/3" cubes tasso, andouille sausage, or bacon
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (optional)
3 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, divided
16 large shrimp (about 1 pound), peeled, deveined
1/4 cup (or more) beer
1/4 cup low-salt chicken stock
4 large eggs, optional                                           
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon                                            

Bring three cups water to a simmer in a large saucepan. Gradually whisk in grits. Turn heat to low; gently simmer until grits begin to thicken. Continue cooking, stirring often and adding water by 1/4 cupfuls if too thick, until tender, about one hour. Stir in cheese, butter, and jalapeño, then cream. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add tasso; sauté until fat begins to render, about five minutes (if tasso is very lean, add one tablespoon oil to skillet). Add garlic and one tablespoon butter; stir until butter melts. Add shrimp. When garlic begins to brown, add beer and chicken stock. Simmer until shrimp is cooked through, about two minutes. Remove skillet from heat; set aside.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to skillet; swirl to melt and cover bottom of pan. Crack eggs into pan and cook until whites are just set but yolks are still runny, about three minutes. (We did not top the dish with eggs this time, though I'm sure it would be yummy.)

Divide grits among bowls, forming a well in center. Spoon shrimp mixture into center of grits. Top with egg. Sprinkle tarragon over.  (We omitted this because the fresh tarragon in our grocery stores looked awful. So we topped the dish with a drizzle of leftover salsa verde.)

Follow-Up (2/9/13): For an awesome brunch made with leftovers, form patties with cold cheesy grits and fry in a little butter. Top with poached eggs, and serve with salsa verde, and some grilled smoked sausage on the side. DELISH!

Sunday, February 03, 2013


HAPPY SUPERBOWL SUNDAY to you! As I have made perfectly clear, I hate football. But my roommate loves it, and I like making yummy game day party food and watching the commercials and the halftime show, so it's all good. At my house, we are rooting for Baltimore. For Cyd, it's because they beat her beloved Patriots. My arguments are much more reasoned and germane: I love Baltimore crab cakes, I loved the movie The Blind Side, and I love the purple in their uniforms (my signature color). But mostly, I don't love that the 49ers are harboring hate-mongers on their team--from San Francisco no less! So...GO RAVENS, say we!

I decided to forego the traditional wings and seven-layer dip this year, and I ended up assembling an international smorgasbord of sorts. First, I made a batch of salsa verde based on the one I had at a Halloween party at my friends' house in New Jersey. Of course, I changed it fairly significantly, as is my way. Here is my version:

Salsa Verde

1 poblano + 1 jalapeno, stems and seeds removed
1/2 white onion, cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, peeled
juice of 2 lemons
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
half a bunch of fresh cilantro leaves
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and cut into chunks
1/2 cup olive oil
salt, to taste

Roast poblano and jalapeno in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees. In a food processor or blender, add all ingredients except olive oil. and salt. Blend well and then slowly add olive oil to emulsify. Season with salt to taste.

Will last 1-2 weeks in the fridge.

For our second dish, I made a salad that I saw Ina Garten make on her new series about her visit to Napa wine country. It's made with tuna and my favorite Israeli couscous, and it's easy and delicious. Definitely a keeper and one to make again. It would be a great for a luncheon or to take along to a potluck.

Israeli Couscous and Tuna Salad
(Source: Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa)
Serves 6-8

2 cups Israeli couscous (10 to 12 ounces)
2 (7-ounce) cans or jars Italian tuna, drained and flaked
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup good olive oil
3 tablespoons capers, drained
1/2 cup pitted, oil-cured black olives, coarsely chopped (3 ounces)--I used green 
1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers, medium-diced (4 ounces)
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped scallions (6-8 scallions)
1/4 cup julienned fresh basil leaves, lightly packed--I used 2 tablespoons prepared pesto
Juice of half a lemon
Bring four cups of water to a boil in a medium-size saucepan. Add the couscous and reduce the heat to very low. Cover the pot and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until the couscous is just tender. (Pull the pot halfway off the heat.) Drain in a colander.

Meanwhile, combine the tuna, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, capers, olives, red peppers, garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper in a large bowl. Pour the hot couscous into the mixture and stir well. Cover and set aside for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Just before serving, stir in the scallions, basil, juice of the half lemon, and one more teaspoon of salt. Taste for seasonings and serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish with small tomato wedges, if desired.

Lastly, I made some terrific pork and kimchi potstickers for us, using my homemade kimchi and some pre-fab frozen wrappers that I bought at a little Asian market in Burlington. These are easy to make and super-fun--perfect for any party!

Pork and Kimchi Dumplings, or Potstickers
(Source: Food and Wine)

1 pound ground pork
3/4 cup chopped kimchi
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil

about 40 round gyoza wrappers

Spoon one tablespoon of the filling onto the center of each round wrapper. Wet all around the edges with a little water using your fingertips. Bring up the sides of the wrapper; press and pleat the edges to seal in the filling. Lift each dumpling by the pleated edge, transfer to the baking sheet and press down lightly to flatten.

In a nonstick skillet, heat two tablespoons of the oil. Arrange half of the dumplings in the skillet, pleated edge up. Cook over high heat until the bottoms are lightly browned, 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of water, cover and cook until the filling is cooked through, 5 minutes. Uncover and cook until the bottoms are well browned, 1 minute; transfer to a plate. Cook the remaining dumplings and serve.

Make Ahead: Freeze the uncooked dumplings on a floured baking sheet. Store in a plastic bag for up to one month. Cook from frozen. Serve with dumpling dipping sauce.

Dumpling Dipping Sauce
(Source: Food and Wine)

1/2 cup soy sauce (I used the kind with ponzu)
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Chinese chile garlic sauce (or sriracha)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

In a small bowl, whisk the soy sauce with the rice vinegar, chile-garlic sauce and sesame oil, then serve.

Make Ahead: The dipping sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Make your own takeout.

So I was watching a little Food Network as I am wont to do on a Saturday. And once again, the Pioneer Woman seduced me with an easy, quick-fix recipe. Of course, she CLAIMED that it was a 16-minute meal, and it took me 45 minutes, but whatever. It's not nice to call a God-fearing rancher's wife and home school mom a liar, but if the pink cowboy boots fit...

But I will give her this: She helped me avoid reaching for a takeout menu tonight, and I saved money preparing an easy dish that was every bit as good as anything I could get at my local Chinese joint. Be advised that I made a lot of swap outs to use things I had on hand: flat-iron steak for flank, sugar snap peas for snow peas, regular Basmati rice for jasmine, rice wine vinegar for sherry, honey instead of brown sugar, plus I added a few extra seasonings. Sooooooo....basically I made a completely different dish! Tee hee. But I used PW's recipe as a very versatile template, and you should, too.

Beef and Snow/Sugar Snap Peas
(Source: adapted from Pioneer Woman)

1-1/2 pound flank steak, trimmed of fat and sliced very thinly against the grain (I used flat-iron)
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons sherry (I swapped out rice wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons brown sugar (I used honey)
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
(*I added a teaspoon of fish sauce, a drizzle of toasted sesame oil, and a good squeeze of sriracha)
8 ounces, weight fresh snow peas, ends trimmed (I used sugar snaps)
5 whole scallions, cut into half-inch pieces on the diagonal
salt as needed (use sparingly)
3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
Basmati or jasmine rice, cooked according to package

In a bowl, mix together soy sauce, sherry, brown sugar, corn starch, and ginger (and fish sauce, sesame oil, and sriracha, if using). Pour half the liquid over the sliced meat in a bowl and toss with hands. Reserve the other half of the liquid. Set aside.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet (iron is best) or wok over high heat. Add snow or sugar snap peas and stir for 45 seconds (about three minutes for sugar snaps). Remove to a separate plate. Set aside.

Allow pan to get very hot again. With tongs, add half the meat mixture, leaving most of the marinade still in the bowl. Add half the scallions. Spread out meat as you add it to pan, but do not stir for a good minute. (You want the meat to get as brown as possible in as short amount a time as possible.) Turn meat to the other side and cook for another 30 seconds. Remove to a clean plate.

Repeat with other half of meat, allowing pan to get very hot again first. After turning it, add the first plateful of meat, the rest of the marinade, and the snow peas. Stir over high heat for 30 seconds, then turn off heat. Check seasonings and add salt only if it needs it. Mixture will thicken as it sits.

Serve immediately over hot rice.