I like versatile recipes, such as this one. Many of the components in this recipe can be substituted with other items. Apricot jam can be replaced by orange marmalade or apple jelly. I guess you could even use grape jelly or plum jelly. Pork chops can be replaced by chicken breasts, thighs or legs, with or without bones. Mustard can be any type you like, or you could use horseradish. Use any combination of herbs that you happen to have, dry or fresh. Grapefruit could replace oranges, etcetera.
Substitutions allow this recipe to become whatever you want it to be, within reason. Just don’t lose sight of the concept of sweet and savory.
A sweet and savory dish should contain certain flavor elements. Choose a fruit that is sweet but also a little tart. Include herbs that are fragrant and rustic. Add something with a sharp, pungent flavor, like mustard, and you are on the right path.
Any time I use substitutions in a recipe I take a moment to consider if the various elements will be harmonious and, most importantly, I taste as I go. I will taste a sauce before adding it to the rest of the dish, even if that means cutting off a small piece of the cooked meat and dipping it in the sauce, to sample the flavor.
Juice from 2 oranges
2 Tbs apricot jam
1 Tbs Dijon mustard (or whole grain mustard)
1 Tbs soy sauce
1/2 tsp hot sauce
2 Tbs cooking oil
1 Tbs butter
4 pork chops (boneless or with bones)
A pinch of salt and black pepper
2 or 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp sage
1 onion, julienne cut
1 bell pepper, sliced thin
¼ cup orange zest
Juice of 1 lemon
Add orange juice, apricot jam, soy sauce, hot sauce and mustard to a saucepan and cook over medium heat. Stir to combine and keep stirring until it begins to bubble and boil. Reduce heat and simmer for another 10 minutes. Set sauce aside.
Heat a large oven-proof skillet over high heat. Add two tablespoons of cooking oil to coat the pan. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the pork chops. Add the pork chops to the hot pan. Add a tablespoon of butter to the pan. Sear the chops on both sides until they are browned.
Add onion and bell pepper to the pan.
Squeeze the juice from one half orange over the pork chops.
Add the prepared sauce.
Add the herbs and spices.
Add the orange zest.
Mix to combine and simmer at medium heat for 15 minutes.
Bake in the oven at 425° for 10 minutes. (20 minutes if using bone-in chops)
Remove from the oven and add lemon juice.
Spoon cooked rice on a serving platter, leaving a well for the pork chops.
Arrange the pork chops on top of the rice and garnish with fresh rosemary.
As a first time visitor to New Orleans French Quarter, I didn’t know exactly what to expect I would see and discover. Sure, I knew about Bourbon street, famous for Mardi Gras celebrations and I knew there would be plenty of restaurants and pubs to visit but, I was amazed at how accessible all of these places were.
Walking is the best mode of transportation in the French Quarter. The French Quarter is a compact ward of the city and every street is full of a variety of restaurants, bars and boutiques. A twenty-minute stroll can lead to world of discoveries.
We checked into our hotel in the late afternoon and, after a few minutes of rest, we were hungry and ready to find our first meal. We walked out of the hotel lobby and one minute later, we found ourselves at Curio, a bistro and bar on the corner or Royal Street and Bienville Street.
Curio has the French, Spanish and Caribbean architectural style that nearly all of the buildings in the French Quarter share, which means lots of ornate iron work and multiple floors of covered galleries facing the streets.
Curio serves up typical American fare, embellished with Creole flair.
Our waiter, Dylan, was cordial and enthusiastic. He guided us through some of the items on the menu and steered us toward some excellent options.
The standout was the French Onion Soup Au Gratin. My wife and I share this and we might have been happy to split another one amongst us because it was really that good. There was nothing fancy or trendy about the French Onion Soup. What made it so outstanding was its richness. The beef stock was rich and smooth and full of flavors that can only be achieved by a slow process of reduction. The caramelized onions added the perfect amount of sweetness to the soup. The broiled cheese that topped the soup was perfectly melted and had just the right stringiness to make it fun to eat, but not messy.
Blue Crab Cakes
Louisiana Blue Crab Meat, Onions & Peppers, Creole Coleslaw, Cilantro-Lime Mayo
This was my first experience with blue crabs from the Gulf of Mexico. It is likely that the crabs actually came from Lake Pontchartrain, which is actually a large brackish estuary in southeastern Louisiana.
I don’t have crab cakes very often but I know good crab cakes when I eat them. Good crab cakes need to be full of sweet crab meat and they need to be seared perfectly, to achieve a crisp but yielding outer crust. The crab cakes at Curio are very good and the cilantro-lime mayo dressing was a refreshing change of pace from the more typical remoulade sauce, or tartar sauce that is prevalent on the East coast.
As good as these were, they rank number two on my crab cake experiences. Number one came from a restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, some years ago. It was a combination of the superior Chesapeake Bay blue crabs and the skilled chef that made them earned them top prize.
Coriander Blackened Redfish
Honey Creamed Mustard Greens
Locally sourced redfish is plentiful in Louisiana. Most are caught in the Gulf but redfish also find their way into Lake Ponchartrain. Blackened redfish was developed by famed chef, Paul Prudhomme, right here, in the New Orleans French Quarter, nearly forty years ago.
Blackening fish is a brave yet counterintuitive method of pan frying fish. Paul Prudhomme’s genius shines brightly through this inventive preparation. The fish filet is heavily dusted with seasonings and then quickly pan fried in butter at high heat. The result is a very aromatic fish, smoky to the nose, but not overly spicy. The highlight of the fish I had at Curio was the emphasis on cumin, in the spice mix. Cumin, when charred, adds a whole new depth of flavor. The fish sat atop rich, creamy mustard greens. Time could have stopped while I was eating this and that would have been just fine, with me. I like big, bold flavors in nearly everything I eat and this redfish satisfied me in every way.
My wife order the Chicken Caprese Sandwich. She noted that the chicken was moist and tender and the Mozzarella, tomato and basil caprese was very fresh but the star of the sandwich was the delicious brioche bun.
One of the nicest things about our experience at Curio was our timing. We arrived in the late afternoon, when the dinner crowd was just beginning to arrive and, after a leisurely meal, we returned to our hotel before the raucous crowds packed the streets and bars. We dined al fresco, on the second floor gallery. The temperature was nearly perfect. We were still a few hours away from sunset and a gentle breeze made the moment even better. We sat and talked and looked down at the streets below, observing the crowds below. This was a very nice way to start our New Orleans experience.
Some grocery store deals are just too good to pass up.
Last weekend, when I purchased a 10 pound brisket, (at $9.00 per pound), I found a bin full of large, red bell peppers on sale for 25 cents, each. Red bell peppers usually sell for $1.00 each, or more! Needless to say, I scooped up six of the bell peppers before leaving the store.
I imagine that the bell peppers were at reduced price because their shelf-life was expiring. A few of the peppers had slight wrinkles but, for the most part, they looked very good.
Since I suspected that the peppers were nearing the end of their freshness, I decided to roast them and save them for later use.
Once I pulled the brisket off of the smoker, I laid the peppers on the hot coals. I turned the peppers over, after 15 minutes, and then again, nearly a half hour later. I had forgotten about them while we were eating the brisket.
Once I peeled the charred flesh from the peppers, and discarded the seeds and membranes, I still had a lot of usable smoked peppers.
I rinsed them under cold water and stored them in the refrigerator. I have been using them in all sorts of meals. Nachos, burritos, salads…you name it. Roasted bell peppers are awesome, and, at 25 cents each, it was steal!
In a strange way, I felt justified for buying the $100 brisket because of the incredible savings on the peppers.
And, as for the brisket, we have had 5 meals from it so far, with another 5 pounds left in the refrigerator. Beef is pricey right now, but the secret lies in how it is used.
Top a salad with a few slices of brisket. Top a baked potato with brisket and barbecue sauce. Make a hoagie with a little brisket and lots of sliced vegetables. Add a slice of brisket to an egg breakfast, instead of bacon. In other words, stretch the heck out of the purchase!
Don’t be cheap on yourself or your family. Be smart!
It’s been two weeks since my wife and I returned from our 4-day trip to New Orleans and I still haven’t managed to submit a post about the adventure. I think I’m still reeling from the experience and, even though the trip is still fresh in my mind, I’m finding it difficult to write about. We had a wonderful time in New Orleans. It’s a fantastic city with so much to offer. I’m sure I will find time to share the details…someday!
Today was devoted to the joy of barbecue and smoking a brisket. I try to make smoked brisket at least once a year and it’s always worth the effort.
Smoking a brisket is no easy feat, at least for me. It takes between 12 to 16 hours to cook, which makes for a very long day. I started this morning at 3:30 with a cup of chicory coffee, warmed up from yesterday’s cold pot. Outdoor temperature was about 80° but the humidity was near 100°! It was so humid that the newspaper I used for the charcoal chimney starter was limp and soggy by the time I was putting a match to it. It took 3 attempts and about 30 minutes just to light the coals!
I bought a new offset smoker yesterday and I decided to break it in with a brisket. I didn’t know if I was being foolish or confident. Fortunately, the brisket came out just fine.
By 4:00 p.m. I was pulling off the cooked brisket and life was good.
We served the brisket with homemade Texas-style barbecue sauce, potato salad and a refreshing cucumber salad. And for desert, homemade cheesecake, compliments of my wife.
This was the sort of Sunday meal that will keep me inspired throughout the upcoming work week!
There we were, running like silly tourists, attempting to use our Barcelona tour map to cover our heads, as we searched for a hidden gem of a restaurant.
We ducked into a nearby alley, just as the unexpected rain shower passed by and the blazing sun returned. Steam rose slowly from the hot, rain slicked cobblestone street as we stepped under the nearest balcony and, by our good fortune, found a fantastic little café that served the most delicious paella!
Alright, here’s the real story. One of my wife’s co-workers gave her a few threads of saffron and when my wife presented them to me, my thoughts, not surprisingly, went straight to paella. I’ve eaten dishes that contain saffron before, like grilled lamb and couscous but I have yet to understand what makes the spice so special. A tiny amount of saffron can really brighten a dish and make it very colorful but the spice is so subtle, in flavor, that it goes virtually unnoticed by my palette. There’s a good chance that my palette lacks sophistication and there’s an even better chance that I am too heavy-handed with other spices that I don’t showcase saffron properly.
Saffron is ridiculously expensive, due to the amount of work and resources required to grow and harvest it, which means that you won’t see me at the bazaar, haggling over the price with a merchant.
For me, the real joy of paella comes from the harmony achieved by the combination of the various vegetables, meats and rice. And, it’s a one-pan wonder! If you don’t have saffron, you can substitute with other spices that add brilliant color. A tiny amount of turmeric, achiote, or a combination of both can be used to produce yellow, orange and red color just as easily, and they won’t break the bank!
1 onion, diced
½ green bell pepper, diced
½ red bell pepper, diced
4 or 5 garlic cloves, smashed and rough chopped
4 or 5 Roma tomatoes, diced
¼ cup olive oil
2 large bay leaves
1 tsp Hungarian paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp saffron threads
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup white wine
1 lb chicken breast or chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 cups uncooked rice
5 cups chicken stock or chicken broth
½ cup frozen green peas
8 jumbo raw shrimp, peeled, with tails on
6 to 8 green mussels
2 fresh squid, cleaned and cut into rings
1 lime, sliced
Prepare the vegetables. Chop the onions, bell peppers, garlic and tomatoes. Set aside.
In a large stainless steel skillet, add oil and heat at medium/low heat.
Add all of the chopped vegetables, except the tomatoes.
Simmer and stir the vegetables for five minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes, spices and bay leaves. Simmer for another five minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Add white wine.
Simmer and stir occasionally for ten minutes.
Add chicken and rice. Stir for one minute.
Slowly add the chicken stock (or broth). Shake the skillet to level the rice, but do not stir.
Bring the mixture to a boil and then set the heat to low.
Leave the pan uncovered and let the paella do its thing. Do not stir.
I get anxious, every time I add uncooked rice to a pan full of stuff that is already cooking but I have learned to walk away. I find something else to do for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, nestle the squid, shrimp into the rice.
Top with peas and mussels. Cook for another 5 minutes.
Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
Serve the paella in pan. Garnish with slices of lime.
I drew inspiration for this pizza from the well of memories I have of the summer I spent in Tuscany, chatting with the local farmers and artisan bakers. Oh, how I miss the sun dappled hazelnut trees that surrounded our villa!…
Well, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch.
I saw a sprig of rosemary on my kitchen counter today, left over from last night’s meal, and my thoughts led me to pizza. I wanted to make a pizza with some fresh ingredients. So, here we go…
Ingredients for the sauce:
3 medium sized tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 Tbs white sugar
1 tsp olive oil
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp white vinegar
Add chopped tomatoes to a sauce pan and simmer at low heat. Add all of the other ingredients and stir.
Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, at first and then increasing the frequency, as the sauce cooks down.
Ingredients for the spices:
2 cloves fresh garlic
1 Tbs dried basil
1 Tbs dried onion flakes
1 tsp coarse salt
1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp red chili flakes
½ tsp dried oregano leaves
¼ cup olive oil
Add all ingredients, except olive oil, to a mortar and pestle. Pound and grind the ingredients until everything forms a thick paste.
In a microwave safe bowl, heat the olive oil in a microwave oven for about 30 seconds. Remove the olive oil and the mashed seasonings. Allow the mixture to sit for an hour before using.
Prepare the pizza dough. I use a simple recipe which only takes about one hour to rise. It’s warm enough now that I can cover the dough and let it rise in the cab of my pickup truck.
Roll out the dough and form the pies. I prebake my crust is a conventional oven, since I don’t have a Tuscan wood-burning brick oven.
Combine the spices with the sauce.
Spread the sauce on the pizza crust.
Add sliced onions and mushrooms.
Top with grated Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 400° for 10 minutes.
Top with arugula, or “scratchy endive”, as my dad likes to call it. Serve on the balcony, overlooking the lush rolling hills.
No, I haven’t fallen off the edge of the earth. I’ve been busy jumping over life’s hurdles. Work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. That’s been the name of the game for many, many months and it doesn’t look like there’s any relief any time soon. But, as any good hurdler will tell you, the key to success is to stay limber and be ready for the next hurdle.
And, so it goes.
I’ve got several posts waiting in the wings, waiting for final tune-ups, but I have left them idle for so long now that I’ve nearly forgotten the spirit that lives within each of them. No worries though. I’ll find a way to breathe life into them and bring them into the light, someday.
For now, I’ll tease you with a picture of the paella that I made several months ago and then it’s off to New Orleans. Yes, the culinary Mecca of the U.S. A few decades ago, I might have made a trip to New Orleans just to stagger around Bourbon Street with a drink in my hand, but now I’m going to enjoy the sights, the history, and the awesome food.
I hope to come back rejuvenated and inspired.
But, for now, as promised, here’s a glimpse of a lovely paella!
It’s springtime in the mid-south and, if there’s one thing that can compete with the joy of seeing new buds on the trees and seeing the weeds in full bloom , it’s the return of our fresh Gulf seafood vendors! I get giddy just seeing the colorful trailers, parked at local gas stations. For me, it’s a sacred rite of spring to haphazardly park, get out of the car and stand in line, amidst the throng of excited seafood devotees.
I try to find ways to make each visit to the seafood vendor special. This time, the customers weren’t standing in an orderly line. A crowd of people clustered around the trailer, jockeying for position. I stayed back for a moment and enjoyed the tempting aroma of steaming crawfish and shrimp, billowing from large pots at the end of the trailer. I struck up a conversation with a man who was waiting for his order and learned that he was a Marine veteran who served during the late 1950’s and 1960’s. After a brief conversation, his order was bagged and ready and he was on his way home.
I ordered two pounds of fresh whole shrimp and one pound of boiled crawfish. I’m still debating on what to do with the shrimp but I know exactly what to do with the crawfish.
Crawfish isn’t for everyone. It’s an acquired taste. I have discovered that there are ways to prepare crawfish that even non-crawfish people can enjoy. For this meal, I am roasting a whole hen. Anyone that balks at the crawfish will still have something to eat! And, for those who want to try the étouffée, I am asking the crawfish to play second fiddle to another Cajun classic – andouille sausage. I am using Cajun seasonings sparingly, despite my usual craving for extreme spiciness, and I am adding a gentle tomato sauce, to make the dish smooth and creamy.
Ingredients for the roast chicken:
1 whole roasting hen
1 Tbs dried thyme leaves
2 Tbs Cajun seasoning
3 Tbs salted butter
2 celery stalks
¼ cup chicken broth
Wash chicken, inside and out, under cool running water. Trim excess fat and allow the chicken to dry, on a clean surface, at room temperature.
Mix thyme and 1 tablespoon of Cajun seasoning with softened butter
Cut two large celery stalks in half and arrange them at the bottom of a large cast iron skillet. This will support the chicken while it roasts and will keep it from sticking to the pan.
Examine the neck cavity of the bird and slide fingers under the skin. Carefully slide your fingers beneath the surface of the skin and slide the palm of your hand along the breast meat. Angle your fingers down to the leg joint and begin separating the skin from the leg and thigh. Do this for each breast and leg.
Cup some of the butter mixture in your fingertips and slide them along the breasts, legs and thighs. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of Cajun seasoning on the outside of the bird, across the breast, legs and thighs.
Pour ¼ cup chicken broth in the cast iron skillet.
Lay the chicken in the pan, top side up. Roast uncovered for 45 minutes at 400°. Turn the oven down to 350° and continue roasting for another 30 minutes.
Remove the chicken and allow it to rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
While the chicken roasts, prepare garlic bread and the étouffée.
For the garlic bread:
12” loaf of fresh French bread
4 Tbs melted butter
2 tsp garlic salt
A few dashes of finely ground black pepper
2 tsp dried Parmesan cheese
Slice the fresh French bread, lengthwise.
Lay the opened loaf on a cutting board and brush each side with melted butter.
Shake garlic salt across each half, dust lightly with black pepper and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Close the two halves of bread together and wrap tightly in aluminum foil. Bake in a 350° for 15 to 20 minutes.
1 lb boiled crawfish (boiled with Cajun seasonings)
½ lb andouille sausage, sliced into bite sized pieces
3 Tbs cooking oil
1 yellow onion
1 green bell pepper
3 celery stalks
1 small bulb, fresh garlic (with stems)
3 green onions
8 oz tomato sauce
3 Tbs softened butter
3 Tbs flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 Tbs lemon juice
Cooked white rice
Remove the tail meat from the crawfish and place the pieces in a bowl. Squeeze the heads of crawfish over the tail meat, to extract the crawfish juices. Set the crawfish meat aside and discard the crawfish shells, or use later for stock.
Peel and chop the yellow onion, bell pepper and celery. Dice the garlic and add to the vegetables. Set the vegetables aside.
Chop the tomato and green onions and set them aside.
Add 3 tablespoons of oil to a large skillet and set heat to medium. Add the yellow onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the skillet.
Sautee for 10 minutes while stirring frequently.
When the onion turns translucent, add tomato sauce
Simmer at low heat for about 5 minutes.
Mix the melted butter and flour in a small dish. Add some of the warm, cooked sauce to the flour and butter mixture and mix well. Add the mixture to the sauce and mix well. Simmer at low heat for 5 minutes, to thicken the sauce.
Add two cups of chicken broth while stirring the sauce. Add lemon juice and chopped tomatoes. Simmer for a few minutes.
Add the and andouille sausage and mix well.
Add the crawfish meat and simmer at low heat for a few minutes.
Arrange the cooked rice in the center of a large serving platter. Pile the étouffée on top of the rice. Carve the chicken and arrange the pieces around the outer edges of the platter. Top with chopped green onion.
Serve with the warm garlic bread.
Now…what to do with the shrimp?! Maybe a fresh shrimp cocktail, or a shrimp po’ boy, or shrimp remoulade, or coconut shrimp, or…
Preparing a dinner has nearly become automatic for me. I say, nearly, because there are still times that I am stumped about how to approach a particular meal, which usually causes me to bounce around the kitchen like a ping-pong ball, while trying to accomplish the simplest tasks. But, over the years, I’ve learned how to manage my time and I’ve learned how to stay calm in the kitchen, even while improvising.
For this meal, I wanted to flavor the broccoli with garlic but I didn’t want pieces of garlic in the finished dish and I wanted to add garlic paste to the schnitzel gravy so, it made perfect sense to me to quickly pan fry the broccoli with whole pieces of garlic and then use the garlic for the gravy. That kind of efficiency pays off when you want to reduce the amount of time preparing a meal. If I remember correctly, this meal took about 45 minutes to prepare.
Mushroom and Broccoli ingredients:
8 oz fresh broccoli florets
5 garlic cloves
8 oz fresh mushrooms (stems removed)
8 oz Mozzarella, crumbled
1 Tbs bread crumbs
Heat a small pan and add a little olive oil, about 1 tablespoon. Add broccoli and peeled garlic cloves over high heat, tossing in the pan, frequently. The high heat will char the broccoli without overcooking. Remove and set the garlic aside.
Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a ceramic baking dish. Smear the oil around the bottom of the dish, to coat.
Remove stems from mushrooms and arrange them in the dish. Nestle the broccoli between the mushrooms.
Top with crumbled Mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle bread crumbs over the cheese.
Bake at 350° for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese melts and begins to brown. Remove from oven and store in a warm place.
Schnitzel Gravy ingredients:
15 oz tomato sauce
4 Tbs Hungarian paprika
5 garlic cloves, sautéed and mashed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs softened butter
2 Tbs flour
For the schnitzel:
1 cup of cooking oil
2 large chicken breasts, flattened
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 Green onions, chopped
Add tomato sauce to a large pan and set the heat to medium/low. Add the paprika and swirl into the sauce with a whisk.
Move the sautéed garlic, prepared earlier, to a clean cutting board. Sprinkle a little coarse salt over the garlic cloves. Press and smear the garlic with the broad side of a kitchen knife, to form a paste.
Add the garlic paste to the sauce and mix.
Add flour and softened butter to a small bowl. Mix with a fork. Ladle some of the warm sauce into the bowl and continue to mix.
Add the mixture back to the sauce and continue to the heat the sauce over medium/low heat. The sauce will thicken during the next several minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer while preparing the chicken.
Add about 1 cup cooking oil to a pan and heat over medium/hot heat.
Add chicken breasts to a clean work surface. Pound the chicken to about ½” thick with the broad side of a meat cleaver or mallet.
Set up a dredging station with beaten eggs in one dish and Panko bread crumbs in the other dish.
Dredge the chicken in the egg, coating each side. Lay the chicken in the Panko bread crumbs and turn over to coat each side. Press on the chicken with your hands to ensure that the chicken is thoroughly coated. Pan fry the chicken for about two minutes on each side, or until the chicken is golden brown.
Remove to a paper towel to remove excess oil.
Add the chicken to a serving dish and cover with the schnitzel gravy. Garnish with chopped green onions and serve warm.