Chi-Fri (chī – frī)

There’s really only one thing a good Texas boy can do after committing a sin, like adding beans to chili.  Seek redemption!  This is a Texas classic:  chicken fried steak and gravy with mashed potatoes, turnip greens and Texas toast.  As you might recall, I used Shiner Bock beer in that chili and although this recipe doesn’t call for beer, Shiner Bock is the common thread that ties these two posts together.

Any decent diner or restaurant in Texas will serve up a good chicken fried steak.  One such restaurant, in Shiner, Texas, was noteworthy.  My family and I had just finished taking a guided tour through the Spoetzl brewery, where they make Shiner Bock, and we stopped off at local restaurant for lunch.  Any time we go back to Texas to visit we look for good smoked beef brisket and chicken fried steak.  As it happened, the restaurant served chicken fried steak.  My wife opted for what the menu referred to as the “ladies portion”.  It was half the cost of the “regular” chicken fried steak.  The server came out with a 14 inch oval platter with mashed potatoes and green beans and a monstrous portion of chicken fried steak that was so large that it hung over the sides of the platter.  We all had a good laugh.  I asked the waitress what the regular chicken fried steak looked like and she pointed to one that was being made for someone else.  It was twice the size of the ladies portion.  Insane!  But that’s Texas for you.  We all shared the chicken fried steak, since the portion was large enough to feed a small army.  It was superb…one of the best I’ve ever had. 

Chicken Fried Steak

I have to say, the chi-fri I made this time around was really good.  The cubed steak was tender and the breading had a good crunch and it clung to steak like a champion!  I’ve included some photos, along with some recipes, but I have to admit that I stopped snapping pictures along the way.  Sometimes it’s best to cherish the simple, beautiful moments in life.

Ingredients:

2 lbs cubed beef steaks (1/4” thick):

This can be 4 steaks at ½ lb each or 8 steaks at ¼ lb each

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 egg

1 Tbs Tabasco sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups cooking oil

For the gravy:

1/4 cup flour

4 cups milk

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Set up a 3-stage dredging station:  steak, flour and buttermilk.

Place the cubed steaks on a plate.

For the dry dredge, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, pepper, and salt.  Place the mixture in a large, shallow bowl.

For the wet dip, add buttermilk, egg, Tabasco sauce, and garlic to a large shallow bowl.  Stir to mix.

Dredge each steak in the flour and pat the steaks, to make sure they are completely covered.  Shake off excess flour and dip the steaks in the buttermilk mixture and transfer back to the flour for another coating.  Shake off excess flour.

Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet to medium/hot (325°).  Gently lay the steaks in the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side.  Do not crowd the skillet.  Place the finished steaks on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.  

Once all of the steaks are done, drain the oil from the skillet, reserving 1/4 cup of the oil and some of the crunchy bits.

Gravy

Return the skillet to stove at medium/low heat and add the reserved oil. Whisk the ¼ cup flour into the oil.  Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula to break the solids and mix into the gravy.  Stir in the milk and raise the heat to medium.  Whisk the gravy while it simmers and thickens.  This should take about 5 minutes.  Season the gravy with a little salt and pepper.   Pour the finished gravy into a serving bowl and yes, you may lick the spoon!

Turnip Greens

Turnip greens are simply the leafy green tops and stems of turnips.  They are extremely rich in vitamins and minerals.  Giving them a quick sauté will remove much of their bitterness.  Once cooked, they are similar to cooked spinach in texture and taste.  Many people add salt to greens but it’s really not necessary since they are high in sodium.

Ingredients:

1 Tbs olive oil

½ cup onion, julienne cut

4 garlic cloves, smashed

1 cup chicken stock (I used ½ cup ham stock and ½ cup water)

1 Tbs sugar

½ tsp Cajun seasoning

2 slices of thin cut bacon

1 bunch of turnip greens

Directions:

Soak the turnip greens in lots of cold water.  Swish the greens around to remove any sand or dirt.  Rinse the greens and set aside.

Fry the bacon just long enough to produce a little bacon fat.  Don’t overcook the bacon.  Remove the bacon and set aside to cool.  Leave the bacon fat in the pan.

Add the olive oil, onions and garlic to the pan and sauté over medium heat, in a large skillet.  Sauté until the onions are soft.

Chop the bacon into small pieces and add to the skillet

Add the chicken stock, sugar and Cajun seasoning.  Stir for minute to dissolve the sugar.

Rough-chop the greens and add them to the hot skillet.

Stir and cook for a minute or two.  The greens will wilt quickly.   Turn the greens out to a serving bowl.

Serve with hot pepper sauce (green Tabasco peppers in vinegar)

Texas Toast

Texas toast means thick, sliced white bread.  Yes, white bread; none of that healthy whole-grain stuff!  If you want the real Texas chicken fried steak experience you have to do it right!  If you’re particularly health-conscious, eat a bunch of salads and fruit during the week after your Chi Fri and you’ll be OK.

Ingredients:

10 slices of thick-cut white bread

1/2 cup butter, melted

Garlic salt, about 2 Tbs

Directions:

Melt the butter in the microwave for about 20 seconds.  Butter melts very quickly in a microwave so be careful! 

Lay the slices of bread on a work surface, such as a cutting board.

Liberally brush the melted butter on both sides of the bread.  Sprinkle garlic salt on one side of each slice.

Grill the bread in a hot skillet.  After about one minute, rotate the bread in the skillet to brown the bread evenly.  Turn the bread over and grill the other side.  Remove and serve warm.

All-Day-Long Texas Chili (with sincere apologies to my fellow Texans)

I know that if I go to heaven I’ll have to answer for my sins.  I’m just hoping that the good Lord will forgive me for occasionally putting beans in my chili. 

I hope that adding this excellent Texas beer to the mix will tip the scale in my favor. 

But, if I’m not accepted in heaven, I’m sure I’ll fit in just fine with the fiery fiends of hell.  I’ve spent years and years eating spicy chiles and I’m confident that I can take the heat!

It seems like every time I make chili I make it a little bit differently than the last time I made it.  If you know me, that’s to be expected.  I rarely replicate a recipe.  I like the unexpected twists and turns of the path, unexplored.  This time around, I added some dark chocolate and cinnamon.  I’ve added cocoa powder in past recipes but I wasn’t impressed.  This time I used an actual piece of good dark chocolate and the result was amazing!  The flavor was deep and rich and not too spicy.  I have to confess, the beans added a heartwarming earthiness to the overall dish.  This ranks near the top of my chili making experiences.

Chili doesn’t take very long to prepare, unless you plan on adding uncooked beans to it.  I soaked kidney beans and simmered them in a large pot for 4 or 5 hours, until they were fully cooked and soft.  Once the beans were cooked the rest of the process only took about one hour.

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked kidney beans

6 or 7 guajillo chiles

2 Tbs sugar

½ cup water (water from the steamed chiles works)

1 oz dark chocolate bar

2 or 3 cinnamon sticks

2 lbs ground beef

15 oz stewed tomatoes

8 oz tomato paste (1 and ½ cans)

8 oz tomato sauce

2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 Tbs dried oregano

1 ½ Tbs cumin powder

1 ½ Tbs garlic powder

¼ cup cilantro

2 cups water

1 beer (12 oz)

¼ cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Saltine crackers

Directions:

Steam the chiles.  Remove the stems from the chilies and slice them open.  Remove the pith and seeds. Steam the chilies in a little water in a large, covered skillet for 20 to 30 minutes.

Drain the chilies and add them to the blender with a little water.  Pulse until the chilies form a sauce.

Add the chili sauce to a large skillet and simmer at low heat.  Add the sugar and allow the sauce to reduce by one half. 

Grate the chocolate and add it to the sauce. Stir the sauce as the chocolate melts.

Add the cinnamon sticks to the sauce and continue simmering.  Simmer the sauce until it reduces by one third. 

Remove the cinnamon sticks and reserve the thickened sauce in a bowl.

Brown the beef in a skillet.  Keep warm.

In a large pot, add the stewed tomatoes. 

Break the tomatoes into bite sized chunks with a spatula and add the tomato sauce and tomato paste. Simmer for a few minutes, while stirring.

Add the onion and jalapeño. Simmer for another 10 minutes and the add the oregano, cumin powder and garlic powder. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cilantro.

Add the browned beef and cooked beans.

Add 2 cups of water and the beer.  Simmer and stir occasionally for 45 minutes at low heat.

Serve in bowls, topped with shredded cheese and saltine crackers, on the side.

Coconut Chicken Curry with Pesto Sauce and Spicy Shrimp Noodles

I have to admit, I sometimes feel like Marco Polo when I visit an international food market.  I imagine that I am a gallant adventurer, in search of spices and treasures from distant lands.  There are so many strange and wonderful things to see, most of which I know little or nothing about.  Fortunately, I almost always find a friendly proprietor that is happy to answer my questions and will guide me through the store, politely pointing out interesting things. 

“Tell me about ghee,” I might ask.  “Is it like clarified butter?”  And then I might ask about the several different varieties of rice on a shelf and ask what properties they have that make them appropriate for some dishes but not suitable for others.  Invariably, during my visit, I will reach a point where I run out of intelligent questions or the proprietor will begin to fidget and will look for a way to carry on with whatever they were doing before I captivated so much of their time. 

It’s usually around that moment that I feel a sudden desire to return to my homeland, to share my stories and show my new treasures.  I gather a few exotic wonders and pack them away in my sack, bid a fond farewell to my congenial friend, clasp my cloak about my neck and prepare for the arduous journey back home. 

Ok, it’s really just a fifteen minute drive through a light drizzle that dampens the city streets but I like to believe that I am hoisting the sails of my sea bound schooner and that I am preparing to batten down the hatches, at a moment’s notice, in case the stormy seas start to surge.

I know the trade routes like the back of my hand and, in due time, I return to the happy harbor of my home.  And that’s when the fun really begins…

Coconut Chicken Curry with Pesto Sauce

Ingredients:

1 ½ tsp salt

1 Japanese eggplant

1 Tbs olive oil

5 garlic cloves

1 lb chicken tenders (tendons removed)

¼ cup basil pesto sauce

juice of 3 limes

juice of 1 lemon

1 ½ Tbs fresh ginger, sliced

1 Thai chili, sliced lengthwise

1 ½ Tbs chili powder

1 carrot

1 Roma tomato, chopped

2 cups chicken broth

2 tsp Garam Masala

13.5 oz Thai coconut milk

3 green onions

Directions:

Using a sharp kitchen knife, remove the white tendon that runs down the length of the chicken tender.

Cut the chicken into 1” pieces and place them in a bowl.

Add the pesto sauce, lime and lemon juice, sliced ginger, Thai chili and chili powder to the bowl and mix by hand.  Marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Cut the eggplant into 1” pieces and add them to a mixing bowl.  Mince one clove of garlic and add it to the bowl, along with a tablespoon of olive oil. 

Spread the eggplant out on a parchment lined baking tray and roast in the oven at 400° for 20 minutes, or until the eggplant has browned a little. Remove and set aside in a bowl.

In a large skillet, sauté the onion and the remaining garlic for one minute, over low heat. 

Add the marinated chicken and turn the heat up to medium.  Stir the chicken while it cooks. 

Once the chicken has firmed and turned white, add the sliced jalapeños and carrots.  Stir frequently.

When the carrots begin to soften, add the chicken broth and deglaze the pan.

Add the Garam Masala, ginger, lime and lemon zest, lime and lemon juice.  Simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add the tomato and eggplant and stir.

Cover the skillet and simmer at low heat for 15 minutes. 

At this point, I tasted the broth and determined that the jalapeños were spicier than I had expected.  I removed them and used them as a side dish, for anyone that wanted a little extra heat.

Add the coconut milk and mix with a spatula.  Simmer uncovered for another 5 minutes.

Remove to a serving bowl and keep warm until serving time. Serve in bowls, over basmati rice.

Spicy Shrimp Noodles

Ingredients:

1 lb shrimp (I used frozen shrimp, in the shell, de-veined)

2 Tbs basil pesto sauce

1 Tbs chili powder

2 Tbs fresh ginger, minced

1 lime

1 Tbs cooking oil

12 Thai chiles

5 cloves of garlic, chopped

¼ cup Asian stir fry sauce (I used General Tso sauce, but any kind will do)

1 Tbs Hoisin sauce

1 ½ Tbs oyster sauce

1 Tbs soy sauce

1 Tbs Vietnamese fish sauce

1 tsp Sriracha (or more, if you want it to be spicier!)

½ lb Vietnamese rice sticks

Directions:

Put the shrimp in a large bowl.  Add just enough water to cover the shrimp.  Add the pesto sauce, chili powder and minced ginger.  Quarter the lime and squeeze the juice over the bowl.  Add the rest of the lime to the bowl.   Marinate for at least 30 minutes.  Since I started with frozen shrimp, I marinated for one hour.

The rice sticks will need to soak in warm water for about 30 minutes, to soften.  Vietnamese rice sticks tend to be very long so I broke them in half before soaking. 

Heat a wok at high heat.  Add the cooking oil and the chilies.  Sear the chilies for about one minute, or until the outer skins begin to blister.  Remove the chiles and set aside.  I put them in a small dish to serve at the table. 

Add the whole, unpeeled shrimp to the wok and stir-fry for one to two minutes.  Remove the shrimp and allow them to cool before removing the shells and tails. 

Set the shrimp aside and return the shells and tails to the wok. Stir the shells over high heat for about one minute, to extract their juices. Remove the shells and tails and discard.

Add the garlic to the wok and stir for about 30 seconds. 

Add the Asian sauce, Hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce and Sriracha.  Turn the heat to low and stir to mix.

Drain the rice sticks in a colander and add the rice sticks to the wok.  Stir to coat the rice sticks.  Return the shrimp and mix briefly.  Turn out to a serving bowl.

Burritos de Carne Asada con Papas Pequeñas

Steak Burritos with Little Potatoes

I’m on a Tex-Mex kick again…who would have guessed!

Technically, this wasn’t carne asada because I didn’t grill the meat.  I seared the meat in a cast iron skillet at high heat, which is close enough for me.  Secondly, carne asada usually is prepared with a dry rub on the meat.  I marinated the beef in guajillo and ancho chile sauce for a few hours.  It might be more correct to say that I made bistec en salsa guajillo.  “Pero, “Carne asada” suena más emocionante!”  Which is to say, Carne asada sounds more exciting!

The potatoes used in this recipe came from my favorite grocery store, ALDI.  The  24 ounce bag contains a variety of bite sized potatoes, ranging from white, yellow, red, brown and purple.  They bake quickly in the oven and they come out of the oven crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

Ingredients for the carne asada:

1 ¼ lbs top round beef steak (thinly sliced)

16 oz enchilada sauce (guajillo and ancho chiles this time, but canned is perfectly fine!)

1 Tbs cooking oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 large jalapeño, seeded and diced

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 ripe tomato, diced

3 large flour tortillas (burrito sized)

6 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Ingredients for the potatoes:

24 oz bite sized whole potatoes

1 Tbs olive oil

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp chile powder

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

Directions:

Slice the raw steak, thinly. 

Marinate the steak in the chile guajillo sauce for 30 minutes, or longer.

In a large skillet at medium/low heat, add the onion and jalapeño until the onions begin to turn translucent. 

Add the garlic powder, cumin and diced tomato.   Simmer at low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. 

While the sauce simmers, prepare the potatoes.

Wash, rinse and drain the potatoes.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the potatoes with olive oil, garlic powder, chile powder, paprika, cumin, salt and black pepper.

Scatter the potatoes across a parchment paper lined baking tray and bake at 350° for 45 minutes, or until the potatoes can be cut easily with a knife.  Keep warm until serving.

Remove the cooked sauce to a bowl.

Add the marinated beef to the skillet and sauté at very high heat for 2 minutes.  Reserve the marinade.

Remove the beef and keep warm.

Reduce the beef juices by stirring at high heat for a few minutes. 

Add the sauce back to the skillet, with the reduced beef juices.   Simmer on low heat for about 5 minutes.

Chop the beef and return the beef to the skillet.

Divide the beef in the skillet evenly, according to the number of burritos that you are preparing.  I am making three burritos.

On a clean work surface, assemble the burritos.  Add the beef and roll the tortillas.

Add the guajillo marinade to the skillet and cook at high heat for a few minutes to thicken the sauce (and to kill any bacteria).

Reduce the heat to low and add the burritos to the skillet.  Roll the burritos in the sauce to cover all sides.

Top with cheese.

Move the skillet from the stove top to the oven and bake at 350° for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts.  Remove the burritos from the oven and keep warm.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and turn out to a serving dish.

Serve with refried beans and a simple salad.

Salut!

Quick and (Fancy) Easy Brunch

The inspiration for my most recent post came from a brunch dish I made recently.  I was expecting early morning visitors but I didn’t know how many (or if any) would show.  I took a page from one of my wife’s recipes and changed it a little.  She uses crescent roll dough to make a delicious breakfast sausage and cream cheese casserole.  Her recipe makes enough to feed a small army, which is perfect for large, holiday breakfasts.  Since I didn’t know how many people would actually show up, I decided to alter the recipe to make individual pastry cups.  Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for several days and they are can be pulled out and reheated in a microwave oven for a quick and easy breakfast, or a light snack.

Breakfast Sausage and Cream Cheese Pastry Shells

Ingredients:

2  8-count crescent roll tubes

1 lb bulk breakfast sausage (mild)

8 oz cream cheese (1 pack)

Directions:

Cook the sausage in a skillet and remove, to cool to room temperature.

Once cooled, crumble the sausage by hand to break down any large clumps.

Add the cream cheese to the sausage and mix thoroughly with a spatula.

Unroll the crescent roll dough on a clean and lightly floured surface.

Form the dough into a rectangle and press the edges together with your fingers.  Press the perforated parts of the dough together, lightly, with your fingers. 

Using a pastry cutter, or a clean credit card, if you don’t have a pastry cutter, slice the dough into 4” squares, to make 12 squares.  The squares don’t have to be perfectly square.

Lay the squares over the holes of a non-stick muffin pan.  Press the squares down to conform to the pan.

Drop the sausage and cream cheese mixture in the pastry shells by spoon.

Bake at 375° for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges of the pastry are golden brown.

Serve warm, with a side of fresh fruit.

When the Party’s Over

Between our New Year’s Day celebration and last weekend’s bridal shower party we amassed a lot of inexplicable leftovers.  How we wound up with Camembert cheese left over, I’ll never know.  That’s fancy French cheese from Normandy, for goodness sake!  As I recall, we Americans fought our tails of to liberate that cheese!  And the gouda!  For pity’s sake everyone ignored the gouda!  Other than tulips, legalized prostitution and hash bars gouda is the Netherland’s #1 attraction!  

The leftover cauliflower and broccoli is easier to understand.  They’re always the last stragglers on a veggie tray.  The Kalamata olives went first and then the carrots.  By the time the carrots were gone, so was the creamy ranch dressing dip.  Poor cauliflower and broccoli always get left behind, like a scrawny kid who gets picked last during recess, when teams are chosen. 

So, now it’s time to scrape together all of the those party leftovers and make a meal. 

Rustic Chicken with Winter Vegetables and Whipped Potatoes

My first step was to make the puff pastry for the chicken dish.  From there I prepped much of the rest of the meal in advance and kept it cool until nearly service time.  I finished by roasting the vegetables and frying some matchstick onions.

Ingredients for the puff pastry:

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 ½ cup cold butter (2 and a half sticks)

½ cup ice cold water

Directions:

Puff pastry is really not too difficult to make at home as long as you adhere to a few rules.  There are only a few ingredients but the important thing to remember while making the pastry is to keep all of the ingredients very cold during preparation.  I chilled the flour, in addition to chilling the butter, and I put the water in the freezer, just prior to using it. 

Since hands are warm, and warmth is a pastry killer, I added the flour, salt and butter to a food processor.  I pulsed the food processor several times until the flour and butter combined to make a grainy mixture. 

I added the ice cold water and pulse again, until the dough began to form a ball.  I turned out the dough ball to a clean work surface and formed the dough into a 12” x 6” rectangle.  I worked quickly, using the rolling pin.

I folded the dough over into a tri-fold and squared the dough by pushing the edges with the rolling pin.  I added a little more flour to the work surface to keep the dough from sticking to the surface. 

I rolled the dough out again to a 12” x 6” rectangle and folded it in thirds again.  I repeated this process three more times.  Rolling the dough multiple times increases the amount of flakiness of the finished puff pastry.

I wrapped the rectangle of dough in plastic wrap and kept it refrigerated until I was ready to use it. 

This recipe makes enough dough for 24 pastry cups. 

Ingredients for the rest of the meal:

Infused blueberries:

1 ½ cup water

2 tsp dried rosemary

½ cup blueberries

1 Tbs sugar

Roasted chicken:

4 chicken thighs (bone–in)

5 cloves fresh garlic, sliced thin

2 tsp dried rosemary

1 Tbs rendered bacon fat

½ cup roasted red bell peppers

4 oz sliced mushrooms (I used canned mushrooms)

1 Tbs olive oil

6 oz Camembert cheese (rind removed)

Whipped potatoes:

6 small russet potatoes

2 Tbs butter

¼ cup sour cream

¼ cup milk

5 cloves roasted garlic

Matchstick onions:

1 yellow onion, sliced into very thin rings

1 cup buttermilk (I used 1 cup milk and 1 tsp vinegar)

1 cup flour

1 tsp seasoning salt

Winter vegetables:

               1 ½ cup carrots, sliced and chopped

               1 cup broccoli florets

               1 cup cauliflower florets

               1 Tbs olive oil

               ½ cup gouda cheese, shredded

Directions:

Fill a small bowl with 1 ½ cups of boiling water.  Add the rosemary and sugar.  When the water has reached room temperature, remove the rosemary and reserve for later. 

Add the blueberries to the fragrant water and allow them to soak at room temperature for a few hours.

Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and discard.  Using a small, sharp knife, make several incisions in the chicken and insert the slices of garlic. 

Add bacon grease and olive oil to a baking dish.  Smear the chicken with the grease and oil and nestle the chicken in the baking dish.  Sprinkle the reserved rosemary onto the chicken.

Roast the chicken, uncovered, in an oven at 350° for 90 minutes.  Baste the chicken occasionally.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool down to room temperature.

Once the chicken has cooled, shred by hand.

Dice the roasted peppers and add to the shredded chicken.  Add the mushrooms to the chicken and mix to incorporate.  Set aside.

Wash and scrub the potatoes.  Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water.  Cover the pot with a lid and boil the potatoes at low heat for about one hour, or until the potatoes can be pierced easily with a fork. 

Using a hand-held mixer, blend the potatoes, including the potato skins, with the butter, sour cream, milk and roasted garlic.  Store in warm place.

Drain the blueberries and set aside.

Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and place on a clean work surface.  Divide the dough in half.  Use one half for the chicken dish and reserve the other half for a dessert dish.  Roll the dough out to about ¼” thick.  Slice the pastry into 4” squares.  Form fit the pastry into the muffin pan.

Slice dough into 4″ squares

Place the squares in muffing pan and fill the pastry with the chicken mixture.  Top with a teaspoon of Camembert cheese and a 3 or 4  blueberries.

Bake at 400° for about 20 minutes, or until the pastry puffs and turns golden brown. 

Roasted Winter Vegetables

Toss carrots, broccoli and cauliflower in olive oil.  Spread the vegetables out on parchment lined backing tray.  Roast in the oven at 350° for 30 minutes.  Remove and keep warm.

Or, if you want to burn them, leave them in a 400° oven for 45 minutes, like I did.  There I was trying to salvage leftover vegetable tray fodder and I incinerated the whole lot.  Oh well, that’s the way things roll in my kitchen, sometimes.

Matchstick Onions

Slice the onion very thin and set aside. 

Mix the milk and vinegar together in a large bowl (this is a decent substitute for buttermilk).  Soak the onions in the buttermilk for several minutes.

Heat a pot of oil on the stove at medium/high heat (325° to 350° works well.

Add the flour and seasoning salt to a large mixing bowl. 

Toss the onions in the flour mixture to coat.

Add the onions to the oil and fry until golden brown and crispy.  Remove to a paper towel-lined platter and keep warm.

Serve two stuffed pastry shells with mashed potatoes, topped with turkey gravy and fried onions.

Dessert:  Cherry and Cream Cheese Tarts

Assemble 12 pastry cups using the same method as before.  Fill each one with 2 teaspoons of cream cheese and top with cherry pie filling.  Bake at 400° for about 20 minutes, or until the pastry puffs and turns golden brown. 

Back in the Saddle Again

I’m still reeling after last week’s epic gumbo battle so please forgive me if I babble for a bit.  For those of you who want to cut to the chase and see today’s recipe, scroll down until you find “Chicken Enchiladas”, in large, friendly letters.  But, know that you are missing all of the fun and I pity you.

When I was young, and by young I mean elementary school age, I recall that many home cooked meals featured Hamburger Helper or Cream of Mushroom soup.  I don’t know if it was because so many working parents didn’t have time to make dinner or if it was just clever marketing agents influencing those parents, but the fact was that those products found an indelible niche in American cuisine.

Campbell’s puts out about a zillion different kinds of soup but I swear I can only remember three from my childhood.  Tomato soup, Cream of Mushroom soup and Chicken Noodle soup.  Okay, to be fair, there was Chicken & Stars, but that was really just chicken soup with star shaped pasta, and it was marketed to parents of finicky and/or sick children.   

Cream of Mushroom soup took center stage, back in the 1970’s.  It found its way in many recipes.  The ubiquitous green bean casserole is a testament to the long-lasting power of Cream of Mushroom soup.  If you don’t have green bean casserole every Thanksgiving then,…well, you’re just not a real American. 

Cream of Mushroom soup, “America’s béchamel” 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not bashing Cream of Mushroom soup.  Cream of *Whatever* soup is instant béchamel in a can, and that’s a marvelous thing.

I remember having homemade chicken enchiladas for the first time.  I was 17 years old and having fun, hanging out with a friend.  His mother made us chicken enchiladas with Cream of Mushroom soup and canned green chiles.  Canned green chiles, back then, didn’t have clever graphics printed on the label, showing a thermometer indicating the “heat” of the chiles.  Canned green chiles were just that…canned green chiles.  They were hot and spicy, and that’s all you needed to know.  I loved those enchiladas. Thank you and bless you, Ginger!

But, when I discovered that I could make my own thickener from scratch, I felt a sudden rush, indeed, I felt a sense of empowerment!  I realized that I could thicken sauces or soups and have total control of flavors and textures!  A pad or two of butter and a spoonful or two of flour was the key that opened the door to an endless array of sauces.

For this recipe I used homemade green sauce and I made a homemade sauce from a simple roux and chicken stock.  If you want to use canned green chiles and cream of mushroom soup, that’s fine with me.  Just make sure you do it with love.

Chicken Enchiladas

Ingredients:

3 chicken breasts (mine started out frozen)

2 ½ cups chicken stock

4 or 5 garlic cloves

½ onion, chopped

10 to 12 oz green chile sauce

½ cup sour cream

8 oz Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded

2 Tbs butter

2 Tbs flour

10 corn tortillas

¼ cup cooking oil

Directions:

Boil the chicken in water until the chicken is fork tender.  Remove and allow to cool to room temperature.

While the chicken simmers, puree ½ cup chicken stock, green sauce and garlic cloves in a blender. 

Add the pureed sauce to a small skillet and simmer on low heat, to mellow the garlic, for 15 minutes.

Add the chopped onions to the skillet and simmer for another 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Add ¼ cup cooking oil to pan and set heat to low.  Soften each of the tortillas in the oil for a few seconds and remove to a plate.

Wipe the skillet clean.  Start a roux by adding the butter to the pan and set the heat to medium/low.  Add the flour and whisk until smooth.

Once the roux is smooth, add the remaining chicken stock.  Set heat to medium/high and whisk until the sauce has thickened. 

Add the green chile mixture and whisk for a minute.

Pour about one cup of the sauce into a bowl.  Leave the remaining sauce in the skillet and turn the heat off. 

Lay the cooked chicken on a clean work surface and smash with the broad side of a knife.  The chicken will break and fan out, making it easy to shred.  Shred the chicken by hand.

Add the chicken to the cheese and mix by hand.

Lay the tortillas on a work surface and add the chicken and cheese.  Roll the enchiladas and place in an oven-proof skillet, containing some of the sauce.  Once all of the enchiladas are in the skillet, pour the remaining sauce over them.

Bake in a 350° oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

Serve warm with rice or fried potatoes and guacamole salad.

Make-Your-Own-Dinner-Night (Yay!)

Every now and then the planets align (or maybe they un-align, I don’t know,) and we declare that it’s “make  your own dinner” night.  Everyone in my family is capable of fending for themselves so nobody goes hungry. 

I stopped off at the grocery store this evening, after work, and was amazed to see that they had practically sold out of lettuce.  I saw Rosemarie’s Butter Lettuce Chicken Wraps recipe earlier today and planned on making that tonight but, the last few heads of lettuce in the produce area were so pathetic and wilted that I was forced to change plans. 

I was a little heart-broken but I recovered quickly.  I brought out the wok and got busy.  The whole thing took about one hour.  If I was on my A-game, it might have only taken 45 minutes.  This recipe could serve up to four but I ate two portions!  The rest is sitting in the fridge, ready for me to take to work tomorrow, for lunch.

Sorry, no pictures this time.  I was hungry and I didn’t think that this was going to be worthy of posting.  I was so wrong.  This dish exemplifies everything I love about southeastern Asian cuisine.  It’s a conglomeration of several cuisines…Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese…

Ingredients:

4 chicken thighs

1/3 cup peanut butter

2 Tbs soy sauce

1 ½ Tbs Hoisin sauce

1 tsp Sriracha sauce

3 Tbs sambal garlic chili sauce

3 Tbs cornstarch

½ tsp sesame oil

1 ½ Tbs vegetable oil

2 Tbs fresh ginger, thinly sliced and rough chopped

½ onion, julienne sliced

½ bell pepper, sliced in ¼” strips

1 jalapeño, sliced in rings

½ cup peanuts

1 cup Vietnamese glass noodles (very thin rice noodles)

Directions:

Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and debone.  Cut the chicken into tiny pieces.

Add the chicken to a large bowl.

Add the peanut butter, soy sauce, Sriracha sauce, Hoisin sauce, sambal chili garlic sauce and cornstarch to the bowl.  Mix well and set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.

Boil 4 cups of water in a pot.  Add the glass noodles and stir.  Turn the heat off and wait for the noodles to become soft.  Strain the noodles and shock with cold water.  Set the noodles aside.

Heat a wok at medium/high heat.  Add the sesame oil and vegetable oil.  Add the ginger, onion, bell pepper and jalapeño.  Stir fry a few minutes until the onions and peppers soften.  Remove everything to a bowl.

Add the marinated chicken to the wok.  Stir-fry at high heat for 3 to 4 minutes.  Add a splash of soy sauce to deglaze and stir for another minute.

Add the peanuts and glass noodles.  Turn the heat off and stir to coat everything with the sauce.

Turn out to a serving bowl. 

Top with a little more sambal garlic sauce, (optional).  Serve warm and enjoy the peace and quiet!

Gumbo (Part II: The Intimidator)

At the heart of every good gumbo lies a good roux. 

I probably make 3 or 4 roux every week but they are of the small variety.  You know, two tablespoons of butter, two tablespoons of flour added to two cups of stock or broth.  A small roux takes just a few minutes to prepare and it usually come out just fine.

I have been telling myself that I make gumbo every year or two.  I think that’s because I really enjoy gumbo.  The truth of the matter is that I have probably only made it four times, (now five times).  As much as I love a good hot bowl of gumbo, I dread making the roux.  There are very few things in life that can vex me like a making a big batch of roux. 

Making roux for a gumbo is not easy; at least it’s not easy for me.  The volume of the roux needed is much larger than my normal roux.  Additionally, the roux needs to cook longer to achieve a deep, rich lustrous color and flavor.  Lastly, pushing the cooking process too far results in a burnt roux, which I am unfortunately prone to doing.  If a roux burns it must be tossed and another one must be made.  Nothing good ever happens by attempting to save a burnt roux. 

The good German lager is for me, not the roux!

Once you start a roux you can’t leave it alone until it has finished.  A roux must be stirred constantly to prevent the flour from burning.  Even the tiniest amount of burnt flour will affect the entire roux.

My step-by-step method for making a roux:

1) Add equal amounts of oil and flour to a Dutch oven (over low/medium heat).

2) Stir continuously, making sure to scrape the bottom and edges of the pot as you stir.

3) Keep stirring while the roux goes from blonde, to tan, to mahogany, to chocolate brown.

4) Taste a sample of the roux, after allowing it to sufficiently cool.

5) Detect a hint of burnt flavor, throw away the roux and wipe the Dutch oven clean.

6) Repeat.

Three more important pieces of advice that are often overlooked:

1) Use the bathroom before starting the roux.  You won’t be able to break away from the action until the roux is finished (maybe 45 minutes to an hour).

2) Pour yourself a drink and make sure that it’s within arm’s reach as you stir.

3) Keep a small aloe vera plant in the kitchen, close to the stove, in case of burns.

As for the aloe vera, it’s really good for minor burns.  Roux is jokingly referred to as Cajun Napalm.  Even a tiny drop of the hot roux can cause your skin to blister.  I got two blisters from this batch.  I would have had three blisters but, when I got hit for the third time, I quickly pinched off the tip of an aloe leaf and rubbed it on the burn. 

Look closely and you’ll see I removed a tip from a leaf, at the right.
My drink of choice for the 1st roux was Spaten Lager. A nice Cabernet Sauvignon got me through the 2nd roux. Note the flat ended spatula…this is essential!

As I mentioned, I burned the first roux and had to start another one.  I cooked the roux over low heat both times. 

For the first attempt I used 3 cups canola oil and 3 cups flour.  I cooked the roux for 67 minutes and it reached a near-perfect chocolate brown color, but the roux had a slight burnt flavor. 

For the second attempt I decided to use 2 cups canola oil, 1 cup lard and 3 cups flour.  I cooked the second roux for 50 minutes. I brought the roux to a dark tan and shut the heat down before it turned to mahogany.  I didn’t want to run the risk of the burning the roux a second time!

This recipe makes about 2 gallons of gumbo (25 to 30 servings).

Ingredients:

1 lb medium sized shrimp, shell on and deveined

1 1/2 lbs cooked chicken breast, cut into 1/2″ cubes

3 cups canola oil

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 lb Andouille, cut into 1/2″ thick slices

1 large onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 large jalapeño, seeded and sliced

2 cups celery, chopped

1 whole head of garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups parsley, chopped

1 Tbs dried thyme

1 Tbs bay leaves

32 oz chicken stock

32 oz vegetable stock

1/2 cup shrimp stock reduction

12 oz okra, chopped

1 lb. crawfish tail meat

1 lb. crabmeat

1/2 cup clam stock reduction

12 oz white clams (about 12 clams)

Lots and lots of hot, steamed white rice

Directions:

Remove the shells from the shrimp and place in a skillet or pot.  Add a teaspoon of seasoning salt. Cover with water and simmer at medium heat for about 15 minutes.  Strain the liquid and reserve.  Discard the shrimp shells.  Heat the liquid in the pan until it reduces by at least half.  Reserve the reduction.

Put the chicken in a pot and cover with water.  Boil at low heat until cooked (about 40 minutes).  Remove the chicken to a platter and cool to room temperature.

In a small bowl, add the thyme and bay leaves. Cover with water and steam in a microwave for about a minute. Leave the herbs in the water and set aside.

Prep the vegetables and set aside.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  (I used a 12” deep Dutch oven).  Add 1 cup oil and 1 cup flour and stir to incorporate.  Reduce heat to low/medium.  Add remaining oil and stir.  Add the remaining flour and stir constantly. 

After about 15 minutes the roux will begin to change from pale yellow to blonde.  Turn the heat to low and keep stirring. 

The roux will continue to darken and will become light tan and then dark tan.  Once the roux has turned to tan pay extra attention to the aroma and color of the roux as you stir. 

The color of the roux will begin to take on reddish/brown hue soon.  This is where I usually turn off the heat but, if you are brave and careful, keep stirring until the roux becomes chocolate brown. 

Once you are finished with the roux, turn off the heat and continue stirring for several more minutes.  The roux will remain very hot for at least 30 minutes.  Set the roux aside for now.

I stopped just short of mahogany on my second roux…yes, I chickened out!

And now, the easy part!

In a very, very large Dutch oven, (I used a 14” deep Dutch oven), add the chopped onion.  Sauté until the onion begins to turn brown. 

Add the bell pepper, celery and jalapeño.  Stir for a minute and add the garlic.  Stir for a few minutes and then remove everything to a bowl.

Add the sliced Andouille to the pot.  Stir over medium/high heat to brown the Andouille.  Remove the Andouille and set aside.

Add the chicken stock and vegetable stock to the pot and cook over high heat for 2 minutes.  Return the onions and Andouille to the pot.  Add the water from the steamed thyme and bay leaves. Discard the bay leaves and add the thyme to the pot. Turn the heat down to medium. 

Add about half of the roux to the pot and stir, to mix.  

Add the okra and stir.

Add the rest of the roux and stir.  The roux will thicken quickly.  If it is too thick, as mine was, add some water.  I added 3 cups of water.  Continue stirring.

Add the crawfish meat.  Stir briefly and turn the heat to low/medium.

Add the parsley and stir.

In a large skillet,  add two cups of water.  Set the heat to high and cover.  When the water reaches a hard boil, add the white clams, turn off the heat and cover.  The clams will snap open quickly.  Steam the clams for about a minute and remove to a bowl.  If some of the clams have not opened, bring the water back to boil and add the unopened clams.  If they pop open, hooray!  If they don’t open, they are doomed and will need to join the burned roux, in the trash can.  (All of my clams opened – Yippee!)

Reduce the steaming liquid from the clams to about one third.  You should wind up with a milky white reduction.  Strain the liquid through a paper towel and sieve to remove any sandy grit. Add the reduction to the gumbo pot.

Pull the clams from the shells and add the clams to the gumbo.  Discard the shells.

Add the chicken to the gumbo and stir.

Add the crab and stir.

Add the shrimp and green onions to the gumbo and stir.  The shrimp will cook within a couple of minutes.

Give the gumbo a good final stir.

Serve in bowls, over warm white rice.

So, other than a few 2nd degree burns and a failed roux, everything went according to plan!