Fajitas, (10-step Saturday)

Summer has definitely arrived!  Temperatures are reaching into the 90’s daily and the high humidity makes it swelteringly hot.  I spend most of my time going from one air conditioned environment to the next.  Saturdays are the exception. 

My yard is loving this hot, muggy weather.  If I don’t cut the grass every week I wind up with a jungle on my hands.  So, I psyche myself up and devote an entire day to yard work.  There’s grass to cut and bushes to trim.  The vegetable garden needs weeding and harvesting.  I try to cram it all into one day’s work, which doesn’t always happen.

The thing that motivates me to do all of this is the promise of an ice-cold beer and a delicious dinner from the grill, when the work is done. 

Step One:  put a beer, or two, in the refrigerator.

Step Two:  marinate some meat and refrigerate until needed.

Step Three:  Chop vegetables and fruit for the dinner and keep cool. 

Step Four:  Clean and prepare an outdoor grill.  Have tools and charcoal ready when they’re needed.

Step Five:  Do the yard work.  Get hot, sweaty, thirsty and hungry.

Step Six:  Take a long cool shower. 

Step Seven:  Open the beer.  Take a sip.  Take the beer with you for the next few steps.

Step Eight:  Start the coals for the grill.

Step Nine:  Grill the meat.

Step Ten:  Relax and celebrate your hard work with a cold beer, good food and good friends.

Saturday Fajitas (Fajitas para el sábado)

Skirt steak has become ridiculously overpriced during the last several years.  Beef, in general is sky-rocketing in price, due to the demand.  Skirt steak is a tough, albeit tasty, cut of beef.  It is comes from the diaphragm of cattle and therefore is muscular and tough.  A marinade that contains citrus will help tenderize and flavor the beef. 

Today, I am using a top round steak.  Top round is another a muscular cut of beef and is more lean than skirt steak but I like to use it as a substitute for skirt steak, when the price is right. 

Ingredients:

2 lbs top round steak

Juice of 1 lime

1 Tbs red chile powder (polvo de chile rojo)

2 tsp cumin powder (comino en povo)

1 cup salsa (tomato, onion, chiles, etc.)

1 yellow onion (cebolla amarilla)

1 red bell pepper (pimiento roja)

1 green bell pepper (pimeinto verde)

2 fresh jalapeños

2 cups freshly made guacamole a la Mexicana (ingredients below)

½ cup sour cream (crema fresca)

2 cups chopped lettuce (lechuga cortada)

1 cup chopped cilantro (cilantro cortada)

Soft corn or flour tortillas (tortillas suaves de maíz o harina)

Directions:

Apply lime juice to the beef.  Dust the beef with chile powder and cumin.  Slather salsa across both sides of the beef.  Cover and refrigerate until it’s time to grill.

Slice onions and peppers into rings.  Store in refrigerator.  Leave the jalapeños whole.  They will be grilled, later.

Prepare the guacamole:  The ingredients and the amounts of the ingredients should suit your personal taste.  I used 3 avocados, 1 chopped Roma tomato, ¼ cup chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons chopped onion, ½ teaspoon garlic salt, ½ teaspoon oregano and the juice of ½ lemon.  Mix gently to combine.  Cover and refrigerate.

At this point you can clean and prepare the grill and set about to the yard work.  Before you head outside to prepare the grill, remove the beef from the refrigerator so that it can warm to room temperature.

After a cool shower and a sip of cold beer, start the coals for the grill.  Don’t be shy with the coals.  High heat is needed for medium rare beef!

As the coals heat, return to the kitchen and pan fry the onion and bell pepper rings in a skillet.  Add a tablespoon of oil to the skillet and then add the vegetables.  Stir for a few minutes, remove and keep warm.

Now, back to the grill.  Lay the strips of beef on the grill.  Find room for the jalapeños and lay them on the grill.  Turn the jalapeños frequently to produce a slight char on each side.  Turn the steaks after three minutes and grill for another two minutes. 

Remove everything from the grill and head back to the kitchen.

Set the jalapeños aside. 

Let the steaks rest for five minutes.  While the steaks rest, arrange the vegetables on a platter.  Add the lettuce, sour cream and grilled jalapeños to the platter. 

Cut the steak into ¼” slices and arrange the strips on the platter.

Serve with warm tortillas (and that second beer!)

Fill your days with hard work and reward yourself for a job well done. Cook your steaks with love but don’t cook your steaks well done!

Guest Chef

My son came by a few weeks ago to make dinner for the family.  It was an honor (and a pleasure) to watch him work.  He has a keen, creative mind and a clever palate.  The young man is a crafty chef in sheep’s clothing and he’s not afraid to attempt challenging culinary feats in front of an audience. 

When I came home from work he had already made the dough for the ramen noodles.  Yes, he was making ramen noodles from scratch.  The dough had been set aside and he was in the process of prepping the vegetables.  I watched how he worked the kitchen knife.  Stern, decisive chops and slices.  He worked quickly and with intensity and purpose. 

He soft boiled the eggs and removed them to cool while he prepared the rest of the dish. 

Several minutes passed and then he stared long and hard at the eggs, still in their shells. I had to bite my tongue when I realized what he was about to do. He put the eggs back on to boil a little longer. I remembered thinking that re-boiling the eggs was probably a mistake but when he pulled the eggs out and sliced them in half they were absolutely, perfectly soft-boiled! That was either a stroke of luck or a stroke of genius, either way, it was a win!

I didn’t ask for the recipe but it was easy to see what he was throwing into the pot.  And, since I wasn’t there when he made the dough for the noodles, I can’t elaborate on that either except to say it was a simple mixture of flour, baking soda and water. 

Ramen

Hand-made ramen noodles

Ginger, chopped

Minced garlic

Leeks, sliced in rings

Tofu (firm)

Nori, sliced

Carrot (grated)

Soy sauce

Chicken broth

Soft boiled eggs

Chicken/Basil Sausage with Angel Hair Pasta

Okay, I have to admit, I was flying without a net on this one.  This whole Covid-19 pandemic thing has kept me off balance, in every aspect of my life. 

It’s not uncommon for me to rummage through my pantry or refrigerator to scrape together a meal.  Often times, everything comes together nicely because I know which food items pair well with other items.  Next thing you know, “Dinner is served!”

But this was a case of “Oh no, what am I going to do with all of this stuff?”  That kind of thinking at the onset usually leads to questionable results. 

The only reason I had angel hair pasta was because I picked it up by accident.  I meant to get spaghetti…you know, real spaghetti, not the dainty, angel haired variety.  I have found that I am not very observant in the grocery store, now that I’m wearing a mask and trying not to over-handle items on the shelves.  The chicken sausage looked interesting, so I picked it up.  It was stuffed with chopped basil leaves and it seemed like something fun to try.  I had sun dried tomatoes, packed away in my freezer, a few fresh tomatoes, a few pieces of broccoli, some Parmesan cheese and a few semi-fresh hot dog buns in my pantry.  All of those ingredients are worthy, in their own right, and could be put to good use but my mind drew a blank when it came time to put everything together.

As it turned out, the dish qualified as real food.  The sauce was a little too thick but, the leftovers were great!  I added a cup of water to the leftovers and put it in the microwave for two minutes and voila!  Perfectly, creamy.

I mention all of this to illustrate a point.  Being a home cook isn’t easy, especially with the added stress of a pandemic and civil unrest.  Some  home cooks, myself included, come home every evening and are faced with the daunting task of making something delicious and nutritious and…something that we haven’t already had three times this week, for goodness sake!

Ingredients:

3 cloves roasted garlic, mashed

½ cup sun dried tomatoes

1 ripe Roma tomato, sliced into 1/2” discs

1 tsp fresh rosemary, diced

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp coarse salt

2 Tbs butter

¼ cup half and half (milk and cream)

2 cups water

2 large pieces of broccoli, stems and leaves included

8 oz chicken sausage (4 links)

2 cups cooked angel hair pasta

½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

A few hot dog buns

Directions:

In a hot skillet, add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tsp of mashed roasted garlic.  Simmer for a minute.

Add the half and half and 1 cup of water and cook for a few minutes.  Add the Parmesan cheese and turn the heat off.  Remove the cheese sauce to a bowl and keep warm.

In a separate pan, boil some water and add the broccoli.  Cook until tender.  Remove and slice into long pieces.  Set aside.

Slice the tomato and set aside.

Cook the pasta according to the directions, drain and set aside.

In a large pan, add a little olive oil and then add a teaspoon of mashed, roasted garlic.  Simmer for a minute and then add the chicken sausage.  Simmer at medium heat, turning the sausages occasionally.

Remove the sausages and cut into 1” pieces.

Return the sausage back to the pan and sauté for a few minutes.

Add the sun dried tomatoes and rosemary, stir for a minute. Add the fresh tomatoes and simmer at low/medium heat for five minutes.

Add the melted cheese mixture.  Stir briefly.

Add 1 cup of water and the cooked broccoli and stir to combine. Add the cooked pasta and mix. Top with a little more grated Parmesan cheese. Serve warm with toasted, buttered hot dog buns.

Remember, making dinner is really just an invitation for families to sit together.  Conversation at the dinner table is the real prize.  Dinner-time conversations will linger in hearts and minds long after the food is gone!

Grilled Chicken Wings

Summer is just around the corner and winter rules no longer apply!  Winter rules, as it relates to wings, call for fried or baked chicken wings.  The heat of the oven is wonderul in the colder months but now, with temperatures reaching over 90°, I want to cook outdoors, whenever possible.  

This weekend has brought a heavy dose of hot sun and no rain, so grilling is a great option!

I thought long and hard about the dry rub and sauce for the wings.  The small amount of ghost pepper powder worked well in the rub because the grilling process nearly removed all of its spiciness.  The vinegar, apricot jam and hot sauce balanced perfectly.  These were not crazy hot, like I am prone to do.  They were sweet with a hint of heat.

Ingredients:

For the wings:

2 Tbs garlic powder

2 Tbs paprika

2 Tbs dried thyme

1 tsp ghost pepper powder (or cayenne pepper)

For the basting sauce:

½ cup apricot jam

½ cup hot sauce

3 Tbs butter

2 Tbs vinegar

1 tsp sesame oil

3 cloves roasted garlic

Directions:

Heat an outdoor grill to 400°.  I used charcoal with a few small chips of mesquite, for a little smoky flavor.

Mix the garlic powder, paprika, thyme and ghost pepper powder in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Rinse and wash the chicken wings under cold water.  Remove any quills that might be lingering on the wing tips (I always find a few).

Allow the wings to air-dry for 10 to 15 minutes.

Prepare the basting sauce by adding all of the sauce ingredients to a mixing bowl.  Whisk to combine.  Pour the sauce into a small skillet and cook at low/medium heat until the sauce begins to bubble.  Cook for a few more minutes and return to the mixing bowl.  Set aside.

Toss the wings with the seasonings in a large bowl to coat evenly.

Carefully place the wings on the grill and cover.  Go ahead, bunch them together.  This is one of those times that crowding is a good thing.  The wings will steam and roast, at the same time.

Grill for 15 minutes and turn the wings over.

Grill for another 15 minutes and turn them again.  Baste the wings with the sauce.

Let the wings roast over the coals for another 15 minutes and turn them again.  Baste one last time and roast for another 15 minutes.

Carefully remove the chicken wings and place in a large mixing bowl.

Add any remaining basting sauce and toss to coat the wings.

Serve with crisp carrot sticks and ranch dressing.

I added a little fresh cilantro from the garden because, hey, I’ve got fresh cilantro!

A Recipe for Disaster

I know this is a food blog, hence “recipe” in the title of this post, but I can’t shake off the bad feelings I have been having since the recent death of George Floyd.  Police brutality has become more common and black people are receiving most of it.  Sadly, George Floyd was the most recent victim.  We have witnessed so many similar atrocities over the last few years and there is a cloud of despair hanging over us. 

I am an American.  America has proudly boasted to be a country that accepts everyone.  Fear is the only thing that keeps us from living up to that dream.  People are often afraid of the unknown, afraid of things that are different and strange. 

I encourage everyone to embrace new things.  Embrace new cultures.  Learn how to understand each other and offer your service to anyone in need.  This is our country.  It is a country built by the hands of immigrants.  We are all foreigners…just ask the indigenous people of our land. 

When we work together, we bond.  When we bond, we unite.  United we stand, divided we fall.

I wish for peace.  I wish for love.  I wish for understanding.

And now, I will go back to my normal routine…expanding my cuisine, through exploring other cultures and embracing the new and the strange.

Just for Fun – Italian Marinade

I imagine that most home cooks have marinated meat at some point in their home cooking career.  So, if you’re looking for a new or trendy marinade, go to your search bar and type “new trendy marinade”. 

This post is just for fun. 

I’ve mentioned this before but I feel the need to repeat it…what’s up with the monstrous chicken breasts?!  When did this happen? 

I’ve seen lap dogs that are smaller than the chicken breasts I find at my local grocery store.  I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s just that, well… 

The good thing is that these mammoth chicken breasts still tastes like chicken but it’s weird…weird, I tell ya’! 

Back in old days…hmm, maybe 20 years ago, if I wanted to filet a chicken breast I would simply lay the breast on a cutting board and slice it in half, horizontally.  Simple enough.  But these pterodactyl sized chicken breasts nowadays are so large that I find myself slicing it twice, instead of once.  I make a horizontal cut near the top and another cut near the bottom of the breast. 

I really didn’t intend on ranting about gargantuan chicken breasts.  It’s just that it’s so…weird

Let’s make a simple marinade for a big breasted bird.

Italian Marinade for Chicken

Ingredients:

Oh, let’s add a little olive oil…

Directions:

Cut the chicken breast horizontally to ½” thickness. 

Pour the marinade over the chicken.  Place the chicken and marinade in a plastic storage bag and refrigerate for at least two hours, but no more than twelve hours. 

Remove the chicken from the marinade.  Prepare the chicken as you wish…bake, grill, pan fry, or roast.

Here’s a little secret:  The marinade does not have to be discarded.  If you bring the marinade to a rolling boil in a pot for a few minutes it will be perfectly safe to use.  After it has boiled, bacteria will have been killed and you can safely use it for sauces or basting. 

Pizza Fiorentina (Spinach Pizza)

A near perfect combination of rain balanced with ample sunshine have provided me with lots of garden-fresh spinach and basil. 

The tomatoes are on their way and I can’t wait!

Fresh spinach is such a joy!  As a child, I never liked spinach but that’s because spinach came in a can, back then.  Canned spinach is a sad, soggy misrepresentation of what spinach is meant to be.  Fresh spinach isn’t bitter, like the canned version and it’s crammed with vitamins and minerals. 

I have been feasting on spinach salads for over a week now and the garden is outpacing my consumption.  Must eat more spinach!

So, with that in mind, I find myself including it in more and more dishes.

Today’s culinary excursion took me to Italy, Florence, to be precise.  ‘Florentine’ is an adjective that is used to describe many things.  To fight Florentine style is to use a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other, but I’m not a fighter.  My passion is food and preparing food, Florentine style, often refers to the use of spinach in the dish. 

Pizza Fiorentina speciale!  Mama mia!

I’m making three pizzas today.  Two showcase spinach and one is an Italian meat extravaganza.  The spinach pizzas are made with garlic infused olive oil, rather than a traditional marinara sauce. 

I recommend using fresh spinach for the pizzas.  Frozen spinach can be used by it must be squeezed to remove as much moisture as possible…and for pity’s sake, don’t use canned spinach!  Use homemade pizza dough, or store-bought pizza crust. 

Homemade pizza dough

Pizza Fiorentina (Pizza Florentine)

Ingredients:

2 Tbs olive oil

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 cup fresh spinach, rough chopped

½ cup ricotta cheese

¼ cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

1 Tbs dried oregano

1 tsp red chile flakes (optional)

1 ½ cups grated mozzarella cheese

Fresh basil, to taste

Directions:

Heat the olive oil and garlic in a pan over low heat.  Simmer and stir for a few minutes until the garlic softens. 

Strain the garlic and reserve the olive oil.

Chop and mash the garlic.  Return the garlic to the olive oil and set aside.

Combine ricotta and Parmesan cheese, spinach, oregano and red chile flakes.  Mix to combine.

Prepare the pizza dough.

Spread the olive oil and garlic on the pizza dough and bake in a 425° oven for 10 minutes.

Remove the pizza crust and add the cheese mixture, spreading the mixture evenly across the pizza crust.  Bake at 425° for 15 minutes. 

Remove the pizza from the oven.  Top with fresh basil.  Slice the pizza and serve hot.

Pizza con Varietà Di Salumi (Pizza with a variety of cured meats)

This pizza features thinly sliced pepperoni salami, hot capocollo and hot calabrese. 

Ingredients:

6 oz cured Italian meats (pepperoni salami, hot capocollo and hot calabrese)

1 cup marinara

2 cups mozzarella

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Prebake the pizza crust, if making from scratch. 

Add marina, followed by the meats and then the cheese.

Bake at 425° for 15 minutes, or until the cheese begins to bubble and brown.

Remove the pizza, slice and serve hot.

Pizza Spinaci all’Aglio (Pizza with Spinach and Garlic)

In its purest form, this pizza is nothing but olive oil, garlic, spinach and cheese but, I added a few other items to add sweetness and flavor.

Ingredients:

3 Tbs olive oil

4 garlic cloves, smashed

1 fresh tomato, sliced thin and marinated in olive oil and oregano for 30 minutes

1 cup fire roasted yellow bell pepper, chopped

¼ cup fresh onion, thinly sliced

2 cups fresh spinach, rough chopped

1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese

½ cups Parmesan cheese

Fresh basil, to taste

Directions:

Simmer the garlic in olive oil over low heat until the garlic softens.  Strain the garlic, chop and mash and add back to the olive oil.

Roast the bell pepper over an open flame or over hot coals. I laid the pepper on top of the gas burner and set the heat to the lowest setting. I rotated the pepper every few minutes until the whole pepper was charred.

Store the pepper in a paper or plastic bag for a few minutes to steam.

Remove the pepper and wipe away the charred skin, under cool running water. Dice the pepper and reserve.

Spread the olive oil mixture onto the raw pizza crust.  Allow the oil to soak into the dough for about one minute and then blot with a paper towel, to remove excess oil.

Add tomatoes, bell peppers and onion.

Bake at 425° for 10 minutes.  Remove pizza crust and add the spinach.  Top with mozzarella and Parmesan.

Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the cheese begins to bubble and brown.

Remove the pizza from the oven, top with fresh basil.  Serve immediately.

Mongolian Beef

This is probably the easiest Chinese stir-fry dish to make and it might be my favorite, if I had to pick a favorite.  There’s something about the simple marriage of tender sliced beef and green onions that excites me.  Soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, and garlic is the only extra flavor you need to make this a spectacular dish. 

I like to top the dish with chili garlic paste (Sambal Oelek) and cilantro.  Just a little dab of chili garlic paste brightens the flavor and, if you are anything like me, you might even add a big dollop of Sambal Oelek. 

This is the sort of dish that I can taste, just by imagining it.  Rich, beefy lusciousness that is so satisfying!

Ingredients:

3 Tbs cooking oil

1 1/2 Tbs ginger, minced

4 or 5 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 lb flank steak, or any other lean cut of beef

1/3 cup cornstarch

2 green onions , sliced

Chili garlic paste, as much as you like 🙂

¼ cup cilantro

Directions:

Slice the beef into thin pieces, no more than a quarter inch thick, and toss with cornstarch.  Set aside.

I’ve made hundreds of stir-fry beef dishes and I’ve made them many different ways.  If I just tossed the beef strips in the wok without powdering them in starch first, the beef juices would cook out and sit at the bottom of the wok.  The meat would steam in the juices, instead of frying, which would cause the beef to become tough and I would eventually have to add cornstarch or flour to the meat juices to thicken the sauce.  Dusting the beef prior to stir-frying helps tenderize the beef as it cooks and the juice that runs out is absorbed by the cornstarch, which means that the meat, itself acts as a thickener for the sauce that is added later.  Trust me on this. 

Slice and chop the ginger and chop the garlic.   Set aside.

Cut the roots off of the green onions and cut the onions into 2” pieces.  Separate the white parts from the green stems.  The white pieces will be used at the beginning of the stir-fry and the green parts will be added near the end of the stir-fry.

Heat oil in a wok at low-medium heat. Add the chopped ginger and garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add the white parts of the green onion and stir for two minutes. 

Remove the onion, ginger and garlic and reserve.

One at a time, add soy sauce, water and brown sugar to the wok and boil for about 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Remove the sauce to a bowl and set aside.

Place a tablespoon of oil in the wok and heat over medium-high heat.  Add the beef and stir-fry for about 2 minutes. Cook to medium rare.  Over-cooking the beef will make the meat tough and dry. 

Return the sauce to the wok and turn the heat to high.  Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, just to coat the meat.  Add both parts of the green onions, ginger and garlic and stir-fry for another minute.

Add some steamed jasmine rice to individual serving bowls.

Add the beef and onions to the bowls. 

Top with cilantro and Sambal Oelek. 

This is as good as it gets!