Going South

On any given day, I can search my refrigerator and find fruits and vegetables that, only a few days before, were vibrant and beautiful.  What sad fate is in store for those items, that I have passed over and ignored?  Often times, they sit, tucked away in the deepest corners of the produce compartment of my refrigerator until, one day, I acknowledge the awful truth.  All good things must come to an end.

But, before I throw in the towel, I like to find a way to use the fruits and vegetables that have “gone south.”  I am reminded of an excerpt from Jacques Pépin’s book, “Heart & Soul in the Kitchen” entitled, ‘For the love of wilted vegetables’.  Jacque is a kindred soul who, like me, hates to see anything go to waste. 

Today’s example is a lime, a lemon, a jalapeño, and a wedge of onion, that have past their prime, but not past their worthiness.

I was going to make salmon today and I was pawing through the refrigerator, looking for a lemon, when I came across these sad little items.  They inspired me.  In fact, I tossed the idea of salmon to consider what sort of noble thing I could do with the slightly wrinkled and discolored fruit and onion. 

A marinade!  Yes, indeed!

The pieces came together in my head quickly.  I will marinate some chicken and make chicken fajitas for dinner. 

Marinade ingredients:

Juice of 1 lime

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 jalapeño, chopped

1/4 large white onion, chopped

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp oregano

1 1/2 tsp ground dried onion

1 1/2 tsp cumin powder

1 1/2 tsp Tajin seasoning

1 tsp smoked paprika

2 tsp chili powder

Three hours later, after allowing the chicken to thoroughly marinate, dinner was served.

What can you do with your vegetables and fruit after they have gone south?

Imagine the possibilities!

Shrimp and Eggs

Is it just me, or does the idea of combining shrimp and eggs just seem weird?  Oh, I’m sure that there are bound to be chefs out there that know recipes that call for shrimp and eggs but, I’m just a simple home cook and, until this morning, shrimp and eggs lived in two different worlds. 

Eggs are extremely versatile, and there are many ways to prepare shrimp but, combing them into one dish never crossed my mind.  That all changed when I found some raw shrimp in the refrigerator this morning.  My daughter made (excellent) shrimp quesadillas a few nights ago and there were a few shrimp left over.

Raw shrimp doesn’t last long in the refrigerator so, quick action was needed.  I had planned on making simple scrambled eggs in the wok for breakfast but, I felt a sudden compulsion to marry the shrimp and eggs.  It was a beautiful ceremony!

Ingredients:

8 large, raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

4 large eggs

1/4 cup chicken broth

Salt and black pepper, to taste

1/2 teaspoon sake

1 teaspoon oyster sauce

1 green onion, thinly sliced on the diagonal

2 Tbs canola oil

Directions:

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs.  Add chicken broth, salt, pepper, sake and oyster sauce.  Stir quickly, to incorporate.  Add green onions.

Heat a wok to medium-high heat.

Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the wok. When the oil is hot, add the shrimp.

Briefly stir-fry the shrimp until they turn pink. This might take only one minute.  Remove the shrimp and set aside in a warm place.

Add a tablespoon of oil into the wok and turn the heat on high.  When the oil is hot, add the egg mixture.

Scramble gently for about 1 minute, then return the shrimp to the wok.

Continue scrambling until the eggs are almost cooked. Remove from the heat and let it rest for a minute before serving.

Take time to smell the garlic

Sometimes, good meals evolve from the simplest of things.  A tiny spark of imagination, or an unexpected moment of discovery can result in a meal that looks like it was carefully planned and fully conceived. 

This morning, while I was rummaging through the garden, searching for the last few tomatoes to pluck before the upcoming frost, I found several garlic plants that had recently sprouted.  The garlic plants were a carryover from the garlic that I had planted earlier in the spring.  I’ve never been able to get garlic plants to produce large bulbs but the plants shoot out of the ground, like they are on a mission!  So, I decided to pull some of the garlic plants and use them for cooking. 

The green leaves and white stems of garlic plants, called scapes, are edible and, as you might expect, they taste like garlic.  I sometimes like to use them in stir-frys, to flavor the cooking oil.  This time, I decided to add them some butter, to make a compound butter.

After I decided to make the compound butter, I thought that the butter would pair well with pasta and the rest of the dish fell together easily.  I wanted shrimp with the pasta but, I knew that some people might prefer chicken over shrimp, so I prepared both.

This will serve 3 to 4 people.

Ingredients:

6 Tbs butter

4 fresh garlic scapes (green garlic leaves)

1 tsp dried thyme leaves

1 tsp lemon juice

2 green onions, chopped.  Reserve white stems.

3 cups dry pasta (I used Farfalle – butterfly pasta)

1 lb chicken breast, pounded into ¼ inch slices

1 cup breadcrumbs

1 egg, mixed with 2 Tbs water

8 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

About 1/4 cup olive oil

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 head of Romaine lettuce

3 small tomatoes

Vinegar and oil salad dressing

Directions:

Chop the garlic scapes into small pieces.  Reserve the white stems. 

Add garlic scapes, thyme and lemon juice to the butter.  Allow the butter to rest at room temperature for a few hours.  When the butter has softened, mix to combine.

Prepare the pasta, according to the directions on the package.  Remove from heat just before the pasta reaches ‘al dente’.  Set aside.

Slice chicken breast into flat pieces.  Pound down to ¼ inch thick slices.  Set aside.

Wash, peel and devein the shrimp and set aside.

Arrange a dredging station.  Mix the egg with water, in a bowl.  Scatter a thin layer of breadcrumbs onto a plate.

Add just enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large skillet.  Add 1 tablespoon of the compound butter mixture.  Set heat to medium. Add a few garlic scapes and green onion stems to the pan. 

Once the garlic and onion soften and begin to char, dredge chicken pieces in egg and lightly coat with breadcrumbs.  Add chicken to the pan and avoid overcrowding.

Brown the chicken and turn it over to brown on the other side.  Total cooking time for the chicken is about three minutes.

Remove chicken to a paper towel lined plate.  Sprinkle with a little salt.  Once all of the chicken has been cooked, wipe the skillet to remove charred bits and oil.  Add one tablespoon of the compound butter mixture and turn the heat off.  This will allow the butter to melt, without burning.  Add a few garlic scapes and green onion stems.  

Finish heating the pasta before returning to the skillet to prepare the shrimp.

Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of the compound butter mixture to the pot, containing the cooked pasta.  Turn the heat to low and stir, to coat the pasta with butter.  A Parmesan cheese and turn the heat off.  Keep the pot on the stovetop, to keep warm.

Return your attention to the skillet.  The butter should be melted.  Turn the heat to medium high and add the shrimp.  Cook on one side for one minute.  Turn the shrimp and cook for one more minute.  Remove the shrimp to a serving platter.

Add the cooked chicken to the serving platter.

Gently stir the pasta to blend in the Parmesan cheese.

Transfer the pasta to a serving dish.

Scatter chopped green onions over the pasta, shrimp and chicken.

Serve with a simple garden salad of lettuce and tomato.  Toss with vinaigrette dressing.

Arroz con Pollo Étouffée

Arroz con Pollo Étouffée, con per miso, s’il vous plaît

In other words, I’m in a spastic, frantic frame of mind!

It’s nearly two hours past my normal bedtime and I’m pausing to let the day’s events soak in. I’m submitting this post without editing, and that’s a scary thing for me. I don’t usually spend a lot of time editing what I write but, I rarely throw caution to the wind by allowing my hands to type out the thoughts in my head without giving consideration to the quality of prose or grammar. Today is a day when I violently throw caution against the wall, just to hear it make a satisfying “splat”.

It’s been a long day. It’s been a long week. Many successes and many failures. So goes the life of a work-a-day-Joe, such as myself. I wanted to leave work today in time to ship a package to a loved one. That didn’t happen. During the drive home, I was stuck in traffic, behind a sea of cars and a parade of police cars and emergency vehicles that maneuvered through the gridlock toward an accident. I found an alternate route, only to encounter another accident. I gnashed my teeth, still reeling from the tremendously bad day at work, and crept along, thinking about what I could make for dinner, once I arrived home.

It never came to me. I was so preoccupied by the events of the day that I couldn’t focus on what to make for dinner. Once I arrived home, I immediately went to the refrigerator and started pulling out items. I pulled out some fresh vegetables, left over chicken and a little bit of butter. I went to the pantry and grabbed some rice, olive oil and flour. I put everything on the kitchen counter and stared at the items and started to put everything together, in my mind.

I texted my wife, who is out of state, visiting my mother-in-law. I gave our dog her daily antibiotic, because she’s healing from a vicious fight with a racoon.

Time to put dinner together, eh?

I pulled out a few fresh tomatoes, yes I still have tomatoes from the garden, and that’s something that I cling to, in these trying times. I shaved some dried thyme leaves from the stem, another gift from the garden. I pulled out a carrot, 3 semi-wilted green onions and two partially frozen celery stalks from the “crisper drawer” from the refrigerator. Why are my vegetables freezing in the refrigerator?!

I wanted to hear some music but I didn’t want to fight with Alexa and the almighty Amazon. I’ve had enough of that. I imagined that I was listening to ZZ Top’s “Asleep in the Desert” and I went to work.

Once I started putting everything together, I tried to put a name on the thing I was creating. I was leaning so heavily on Tex-Mex and Cajun concepts that I decided that this would be a marriage of arroz con pollo and etouffée. It was a beautiful marriage. You should have been there!

Ingredients:

2 Tbs olive oil

1 fresh red serrano chili

3 chicken breasts (about 1 pound)

3 cloves garlic, smashed

1 carrot, peeled and diced finely

2 stalks of celery, slightly frozen and diced finely

1 jalapeño, seeded and diced finely

2 Tbs melted butter

1 1/2 Tbs flour

4 Roma tomatoes, diced finely

2 tsp crushed, dried thyme leaves

3 green onions, chopped, separate white and green parts

1 ounce shrimp bouillon cube

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 tsp Cajun seasoning

3 cups cooked white rice

Directions:

Prepare steamed white rice.

While the rice cooks, heat the olive oil in a large skillet.

Add the chicken and serrano chili and cover the pan. Simmer at low heat for 10 minutes.

Turn the chicken over and add the garlic. Simmer at medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove chicken and keep warm.

Chop the vegetables.

Removed the chicken from the skillet and keep warm. Deglaze the skillet with a little water.

Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and the vegetable (excluding tomatoes). Simmer covered for 10 minutes.

Mix the melted butter and flour. Add the mixture to the skillet. Set heat to low and whisk for a minute.

Add remaining chicken broth. Add shrimp bouillon, Cajun seasoning, tomatoes and thyme. Stir over low heat for a few minutes.

Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Shred chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to the skillet. Mix to combine.

Add cooked rice, a little bit at a time. Mix and add the rest of the rice.

Simmer for a few more minutes.

Serve in large bowls with soft bread, on the side.

And there you have it. Stress has been relieved. Once again, good food prevails.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to sit down and jot it all down while listening to the soundtrack to the Terry Gilliam move, “Brazil” and Joni Mitchell’s album, “Hejira.”

Life is strange. Life is good. Life goes on.

Let it all come out. Don’t hold back. Share the ups and downs with the ones you love and, when you sit down for dinner, be a listener.

And now, it’s 3 hours past my bedtime. My pillow is calling!

Blackened Fish

Chef Paul Prudhomme introduced blackened redfish to the world nearly 40 years ago.  If you are a big fan of fish, you will love blackened fish.  If fish really isn’t your thing, you might be surprised to discover that you like blackened fish.  It might even covert you to pescetarianism!  Yes, pescetarianism is a real word.  It describes a person who is a vegetarian but, also eats fish and other seafood. 

Cajun seasonings and high heat elevate a simple fish filet to new levels.  Despite the term, “blackened”, the fish, if prepared properly, will not be overcooked, or taste burnt.  And, despite being a Cajun recipe, it should not taste overly spicy.

This recipe should serve two or three people. 

Ingredients:

2 or 3 zucchini squash, sliced lengthwise, ½ inch thick

4 Tbs cumin powder

1 Tbs garlic powder

1 Tbs cayenne powder

1 Tbs seasoning salt (Cajun, if available)

4 to 6 large fish filets (I used tilapia but Louisiana redfish is traditional)

4 to 5 Tbs butter

1 cup fresh spinach (tossed with oil and vinegar)

Two limes, quartered, for garnish

Cooked rice with a pinch of fresh thyme, added before serving

Directions:

Prepare steamed white rice.

Simmer the sliced zucchini in skillet with a little water until the squash begins to soften.  Remove and keep in a warm place.

Mix the spices (cumin, garlic, cayenne and season salt) in a bowl.

Coat each side of the fish filets with the seasoning and set aside.

Fluff the cooked rice and add fresh thyme.  Add the rice to the serving dishes.

Arrange the cooked zucchini slices over the rice. 

Add butter to a skillet and set heat to medium/high.

Once the butter sizzles, add the fish filets.  Do not crowd the pan!

Pan fry for two minutes and turn the fish over to fry for another two minutes.

Gently lay the cooked fish on top of the zucchini.

Toss the fresh spinach in a little olive oil and vinegar.  Add spinach to serving dishes.

Top with lime wedges.

Happy Halloween

I’m back! It’s been quite a long time since I have put up a post but, don’t worry, I’ve been cooking up a storm!

Today is Halloween and here, in the U.S., we celebrate by dressing up is funny or scary costumes and wander the neighborhood, searching for candy. Yes, it’s very bizarre but it’s as real as it gets.

Over the years, I have been happy to oblige by doling out candy to strangers each year. It’s fun, in a strange way but, I have noticed a trend over recent years that I feel I should address. Little kids dressed like Marvel superheroes or ghouls are perfectly fine…it’s sort of like a combination of roleplaying and community theatre, all wrapped up in a single event. But, every year there’s always a teenager or young adult that doesn’t even bother to dress up before ringing my door bell.

I have a special treat for those hooligans, this year.

If you want to come begging for candy and don’t arrive at my door in costume, I will give you a fresh Carolina Reaper.

I think that’s a fitting gesture.

Happy Halloween everybody…Now, get off my lawn!

Shrimp with Chipotles in Adobo Sauce

Camarones con Chipotles en Adobo

About chipotles:

Chipotles are smoked chilies.  Jalapeños are most commonly used but, poblano, morita and meco chiles are also used.  The chilies may be smoked to a point where they are hard and dry, or they may be smoked to a point where they remain soft and pliable.

About adobo sauce:

There are many ways to prepare adobo sauce.  Adobo typically has elements of sweet, tangy, bitter and salty flavors.  Adobo sauces can vary in flavor, depending on the ingredients.  Imagine the many different kinds of barbecue sauces.  Same thing.

For this meal, I chose to lightly smoke and char the jalapeños and I made an adobo sauce from leftover tidbits in the refrigerator.  The base of the sauce was a spicy ketchup that I made by adding some hot sauce to the ketchup. To that, I added a little barbecue sauce, a little soy sauce, a pinch of brown sugar, and a few dashes of liquid smoke.  The finished sauce was full of flavor, but not too spicy. 

Ingredients:

1 head of garlic, peeled and mashed

¾ cup olive oil

¼ cup lime juice

1 lb jumbo shrimp

Salt and Pepper to taste

Chipotles in adobo (about ½ cup)

Lime wedges for serving

Corn tortillas (softened in hot oil)

1 cup lettuce, chopped

Directions:

Add olive oil and garlic to a ceramic dish and bake in a 325° oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and add lime juice.  Return to the oven for another 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and mash the garlic to form a paste.  I browned the garlic a little too much and it wouldn’t mash properly, so I removed the garlic.  The oil carried the garlic flavor nicely.

Peel and devein the shrimp.  Reserve the shrimp shells for shrimp stock.

In a large skillet, add 3 tablespoons of the garlic oil and set heat to medium.  Add the shrimp and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Sauté the shrimp for about 3 minutes. 

Remove the shrimp and keep warm.

Add the chipotle sauce to the remaining garlic oil.  Mix to combine.

Add the mixture to the skillet and cook for a minute or two.  Add the shrimp to the skillet and stir briefly.

Turn out to a serving platter.

Top with diced green onions.  Serve with lime wedges, lettuce, warm tortillas, and Mexican rice.

Next up, the Carolina Reaper

Continuing with the “crazy, incredibly hot” theme, let’s talk about the Carolina Reaper.

Now, this is a stupidly hot chili, I know. But, I picked up a little plant at the nursery several months ago because I just couldn’t resist. I doubt that these chilis will find a way in many of my recipes but, I plan on dehydrating some and grinding them into a powder.

I imagine that just a pinch of the powder would turn a moderately spicy dish into a tongue-wagging adventure.

They are ripening on little bushes as I type.

Stay tuned.

Impromptu Monday Pizza

I left for work at 4:30 this morning and returned home at 5:00 in the afternoon.  Some might say that’s a long day but, I’m getting used to long days.  I usually want to cook, after a long day, and this was no exception.

I planned the meal as I drove home.  Pizza.  I had Italian cold cuts, mozzarella and other tidbits for toppings so, I had a plan.

I came home and immediately started making the dough.  I let the dough rise for 50 minutes and, while the dough was rising, I prepared the rest of the ingredients.

I simmered some homemade sauce, because it was a little thin.

I rolled out the dough and added a little olive oil. 

I spread the olive oil across the dough and put it in a hot oven, to pre-bake.

I pulled the pre-baked pizza from the oven and added the toppings and sent the pizzas back to the oven for another 10 minutes.

Pizza in two hours! 

Two hours might sound like a long time but, it takes time for dough to rise and it takes time to bake.  I had time to unwind a little after a long day.

The third hour was the best.  I got to sit around the table and talk with my family while we enjoyed our dinner.  That’s what I needed the most.

Habanero-Peach Sauce

Habaneros can be combined with sweet flavors, like mango, to produce a spicy, fruity sauce or glaze.  I’m using peaches today.  I couldn’t find ripe peaches at the store, so I picked up some peach preserves.  The preserves contain pieces of fruit in addition to jam.  If I used fresh peaches, I would need to add a little sugar to the mix but, the preserves already have everything I need.

You could use two or three habaneros for this recipe or, maybe 5 or 6, if you want to kick up the heat.  A mild version could make a nice glaze or drizzle for baked fish or roasted pork. 

I’m using 30 habaneros today.  This is a very spicy sauce, but that’s what I wanted.  I’m going to use this on grilled chicken wings. 

Ingredients:

30 whole habaneros, stems removed, steamed over a hot grill

1 cup water

¼ cup white vinegar

1 Tbs soy sauce

18 ounces peach preserves

Directions:

I steamed and charred the chilies, as I did with the 5 Alarm Hot Sauce.

Lay the habanero chilies on a sheet of aluminum foil.  Fold the corners of the aluminum foil over the habaneros, keeping them close together.

Add a few more layers of aluminum foil wrap and seal the edges securely.

Roast the packet of chilies on a hot charcoal grill.  Leave an open area in the center of the grill to avoid burning the chilies.

Steam for 40 minutes, turning the packet over every 10 minutes, or so.

Set the chilis aside and allow to cool.

Add water, vinegar, soy sauce to a blender.  Add the habaneros.  Pulse and then puree. 

Add the peach preserves and blend until smooth.  The finished sauce will be sticky and thick, which will be perfect for the wings.