Roast Chicken in a Bag

I hesitate to say that this is a no-fail recipe but I can say that it’s never failed me.  I first heard of roasting chicken in a paper bag many years ago when I didn’t have much money and I only had rudimentary cooking utensils, but that didn’t stop me from making an fantastic dinner.  This is a perfect recipe for the young bachelor who wants to impress but can’t afford a dozen long stemmed roses!

I roasted a whole, small hen in a paper grocery bag with dried herbs, potatoes and carrots.  The hen came out tender and juicy and perfectly cooked and the vegetables were full of flavor. 

It’s important to note that you will need a large paper bag.  Grocery store paper bags are perfectly suitable and they don’t add to the cost of the meal. Don’t forget to request paper bags when you go to the store to buy the chicken!

Use an ordinary grocery store bag

For this recipe, I used two boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead of a whole hen

Ingredients:

¼ cup Herbe de Provence (or an Italian herb mix)

½ tsp red chile flakes

½ tsp salt

1 tsp dried onion

½ tsp cracked black pepper

2 Tbs olive oil

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 head of broccoli (about ½ lb)

1 lb small potatoes

2 large carrots

2 ears of fresh corn on the cob

A few small fresh chiles

4 oz fresh mushrooms

½ onion peeled but not chopped or sliced

3 Tbs butter, melted

¼ cup fresh basil

½ tsp sea salt, crushed

¼ tsp cracked black pepper

For the roasting bag:  One large paper grocery bag and a few tablespoons of cooking oil.

Directions:

Add olive oil, herbs, chile flakes, dried onion, salt and pepper to a mixing bowl.  Whisk to combine.  Add the chicken to the bowl and toss to coat.  Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Prepare the bag for roasting.  Lay a large casserole dish on a work surface.  A glass or metal pan can be used, as long as it is deep enough to collect juices that might run out of the bag when it is comes out of the oven.

Stand the paper bag in the dish and smear the entire bag with cooking oil.  I like to pour a little oil onto a paper towel and scrub the bag with soaked paper towel.  This doesn’t require much oil…just enough to wet the bag a little.  Set aside.

Wash the vegetables and allow them to air dry for several minutes.  Cut the corn into 3 to 4 inch pieces.  Leave the rest of the vegetables whole. 

In a large mixing bowl, add 3 tablespoons melted butter, ¼ cup fresh, chopped basil, ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp black pepper.  Mix together, briefly.  Add the potatoes, carrots and corn to the bowl and toss.

Add all of the vegetables to the paper bag, in no particular order.  Place the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables.  Clasp the top of the paper bag and roll together tightly to seal.

Place in a 350° oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how tender you like your vegetables.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and allow to cool on a table for a few minutes.  Carefully cut a whole near the top of the bag to allow the steam to escape.  Cut the remaining top portion of the bag away. 

Remove the chicken and vegetables from the bag and move to a cutting board.  Cut the broccoli and carrots into bite sized portions.  Arrange the vegetables on a serving platter.  Slice the chicken into serving slices and nestle the chicken in the vegetables.

Enjoy the aroma and celebrate with good friends and loved ones!

King Cake French Toast

Mardi Gras is right around the corner and that means King Cakes are back in season.  My wife recently made her first attempt at making a King Cake and I must say, it was superb!  The texture of the cake was springy and light and the sweet glaze that topped the cake was sprinkled with yellow, green and purple confectioner sugar, in traditional New Orleans style.  We have been nibbling at the large cake for a few days and it occurred to me that it might be well suited for French toast.  So, that’s what I did this morning.

Ingredients:

Several 1” thick slices of King Cake

2 eggs

1 cup whole milk

¼ cup heavy cream

¼ lb butter (on stick)

Maple syrup

Directions:

Add eggs, milk and heavy cream to a shallow baking pan, or shallow plastic storage container.  Whisk the ingredients briskly. 

Lay the slices of King Cake in the mixture and allow the cake to soak for 15 minutes.  Turn the slices over and soak for another 15 minutes.

While the cake soaks, heat a large skillet, at low heat, and add the butter.

Once the butter begins to bubble, turn the heat up to medium heat.  Place slices of cake into the pan.  Do not overcrowd the pan. 

Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes and turn the slices over, after they have browned.  Cook for another 3 to 5 minutes and remove the slices to a serving dish. 

Serve with maple syrup, bacon and fresh fruit.

The Frugal Burrito

Odds and ends.  Bits and pieces.  Those little leftovers from previous meals that were too good to throw away but too small to make a meal, on their own.

Go ahead, take them out of the fridge and set them on the table.  Imagine how they can be used to make a brand new meal. 

The ingredients are like colors on a painter’s palette, or notes and chords, waiting to be arranged to make music.  These are the elements of creation!

Some of my favorite meals have started this way. 

Reinventing leftovers can be rewarding in many ways.  There is satisfaction in knowing that good food won’t be wasted and there is the feeling of exuberance that comes from self-expression and creative thinking.

I made this dish way back in April, 2020, during a time when I was sheltering at home, in an attempt to stem the tide of the pandemic.  If there was ever a time to think frugally, it was then.  People were hoarding toilet paper, disinfectants and many store shelves were empty.  What a time! 

Burritos with Cheese Sauce

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups leftover enchiladas (ground beef, corn tortillas, cheddar cheese, salsa)

½ cup cooked ground beef

1 cup sautéed vegetables (onions, tomatoes and mushrooms)

3 10” flour tortillas

1 Tbs olive oil

16 oz grated cheddar cheese

2 Tbs butter

2 Tbs flour,

1/3 cup milk

1 tsp hot sauce

¼ cup sliced, pickled jalapeños

¼ cup diced green onions

¼ cup chili-garlic sauce

½ cup sour cream

½ cup chopped iceberg lettuce

2 Roma tomatoes

Directions:

Chop the enchiladas into tiny pieces with a kitchen knife. 

Add the chopped enchiladas to a large mix bowl and add the cooked ground beef.

Chop the sautéed onions, tomatoes and mushrooms.

Add the chopped vegetables to the mixing bowl.

Mix everything together thoroughly.

Divide the mixture into thirds and assemble the burritos.

Add olive oil to a large skillet and set heat to low/medium.

Carefully lay the burritos in the pan, seam side down.

Sear the burritos on all sides until they are light, golden brown.

Remove the burritos to serving plates and keep in a warm place.

Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the skillet and set the heat to low.

Once the butter melts, add the flour and whisk, to form a paste.

Simmer the butter and flour, while whisking, for about one minute.

Add the milk and whisk to combine. 

Gently fold in the grated cheese and turn the heat off.  Mix until the cheese sauce is smooth.  Avoid over-mixing the sauce, to prevent the sauce from breaking.

Once the cheese sauce is warm and blended, cover each burrito with the sauce.

For a mild burrito, top with green onions. 

For a spicier burrito, top with chili-garlic sauce and jalapeños.

Serve with sliced tomato, chopped lettuce and sour cream.

Year End Tamales

2020 has been one heck of a ride and I can’t think of a more suitable way to wrap up the year than by wrapping it up in tamales.  Tamales might just be the perfect metaphor for 2020.  I was fully prepared to offer a long lament about the year 2020, now that the year has finally come to an end, but I feel a greater need to close the door to the past year and move on.

Anyone who has made tamales knows that it requires time, dedication and stamina, beyond the scope of preparing a typical meal.

There comes a point in the tamale making process where it seems like it will never end and I wonder why I chose to make them, in the first place.  The only thing that carries me beyond that moment of futility is a steadfast determination and a belief that I will find satisfaction, when the job is done.

I could go on and on about the agony and ecstasy of making tamales but, I don’t want to discourage anyone from making tamales.  Making tamales is a rite of passage.

My method for making tamales takes two days.  On the first day, I roast the meat and make the sauce.  On the second day, I prepare the masa dough, assemble the tamales and then steam them.

Day one:  Roast the meat and make the sauce.

Ingredients for the meat filling:

5 lb Pork butt (shoulder roast) (substitute with chicken or beef)

¼ cup cooking oil

1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

1 Tbs coarse salt

2 tsp cumin powder

2 tsp cracked black pepper

3 or 4 bay leaves

2 Tbs dried onion flakes

2 tsp red chile powder

2 tsp dried Mexican oregano

2 cups chicken stock (or beef stock)

2 Tbs rendered bacon fat or rendered beef fat

Directions:

Wash the roast in cool water and pat dry.  Add the oil to a large Dutch oven and set the heat to high.  Sear the roast on each side and then set it aside to cool.  Discard remaining oil from the Dutch oven.

Combine all of the spices (cinnamon stick, salt, cumin, black pepper, bay leaves, dried onion, chile powder and oregano) and grind them in a mortar and pestle.

Coat the roast with the blended spices and return the roast to the Dutch oven.  Add 2 cups of stock.  Cover the Dutch oven and place in a 225° oven for six hours.

Remove the Dutch oven from the oven and let the roast rest for about 20 minutes. 

Shred the roast with forks and add some of the shredded meat to a large skillet.  Add a few teaspoons of rendered fat to the skillet and set the heat to medium/high.  Stir the meat for several minutes and remove to a large bowl. Repeat the process until all of the shredded meat has been fried quickly in the skillet. 

Ingredients for the sauce:

20 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded

3 chile de arbol, stemmed and seeded

3 allspice berries

1 tsp fennel seed

1 tsp sesame seed

2 tsp dried onion flakes

1 tsp garlic powder

1 ½ tsp salt

8 oz tomato sauce

Directions:

Stem and seed the chiles. 

Steep the chiles in hot water for at least 30 minutes. 

Remove the chiles and place them in a blender.  Add some of the water, used during the steeping process, to the blender. 

Puree the chiles and strain over a large mixing bowl to remove the pulp. 

Move the sauce from the bowl to a large skillet.  Set the heat to low and simmer. 

While the sauce simmers, toast the allspice berries, fennel seeds, sesame seeds and dried onion in a pan, at low heat.  Keep the different items apart in the skillet because the onion flake will toast quickly and will need to be removed first.  Continue toasting the other spices until they become fragrant.

Grind the toasted spices in a mortar and pestle and add the garlic powder and salt. Add the spices to the sauce.

Add 8 ounces of tomato sauce to the sauce.

Whisk and stir the sauce at low heat for about 15 minutes.  Remove the sauce to a large bowl.

Return the shredded meat to the pan and set heat to medium.  Add some of the sauce and mix.  Once the sauce is thoroughly mixed with the meat, remove the meat and allow to cool to room temperature.  Once the meat has cooled, place it in an airtight container or sealable storage bag and refrigerate.

Day two:  Prepare the masa and assemble the tamales.

For the masa:

1 package of corn masa (4 lbs)

Baking powder

Lard or vegetable shortening

Water or broth

Follow the directions on the bag of masa.  Most masa mixes call for the addition of baking powder, lard and water.  The general idea is to add baking powder, lard and water to the masa and then mix to produce a fluffy, wet dough.  I used water and added some chicken bouillon and dried Mexican safflower leaves, (azafran en flor), to give a warm color to the masa. I soaked the bullion and safflower in warm water before adding it to the masa mix.

Soften corn husks by soaking them in warm water for 45 minutes to an hour.  A clean sink full of hot tap water will do the trick.

Add some water to a tamale steamer and place the steamer on the stove top.  Set the heat to medium and cover the steamer with a lid.

Prepare a large area to assemble the tamales.  Arrange the work space so that others can help assemble tamales.  Each person will need to be able to easily access the corn husks, masa and filling, and a tray for the wrapped tamales.

Lay a corn husk down on the work surface. 

Apply about 2 tablespoons of masa to the center of the husk and smear the masa out toward the wide end of the husk.  Don’t spread the masa across the entire husk.  You will want to leave the edges of the husk clean.

Place about 2 tablespoons of the filling on top of the masa.

Roll the corn husk and finish by folding the pointed end over and placing the tamale on a staging tray or dish.

Once you have prepared a few dozen tamales, place them vertically in the steamer, with the folded ends pointed down.

Steam for an hour and then turn the heat off.  Carefully remove the tamales and stack them on a tray.

Continue steaming tamales until they are all cooked.

At this point they are ready to eat or, you might want to wrap them in aluminum foil, in sets of 3 or 4, to save for later, or to send as gifts for friends and family.

I like to take packs of tamales to work and give them to co-workers. 

You can freeze foil-wrapped tamales for weeks or months.  To reheat, remove the foil and place in a microwave oven for about 30 seconds, or keep them in foil and warm them in a conventional oven for about 20 minutes at 350°.

Tamales can be topped with enchilada sauce, smothered in a warm cheese sauce or they can be eaten just as they are, hot or cold.

Best wishes to all of you during the upcoming year!  Keep your family and friends fed with delicious food.

Chicken Flautas with Cream Cheese

This is what’s known in the biz as a two-fer.  Yes, I know I just posted a chicken flautas recipe but these two recipes were made four months apart, so I feel vindicated and clever for presenting another fun-filled flautas episode.  Consider it and encore, or maybe a sequel.  Either way, flautas deserve attention and they should be enjoyed as often as you can make them, or eat them.

Juxtaposing these two different approaches to flautas illustrates the versatility of Mexican cuisine.  You can wrap anything you want into a corn tortilla, fry it and call it a flauta.  Amazing!

Once again, for this recipe, I had the benefit of starting with chicken that had previously been cooked. 

Ingredients:

3 cups chicken, cooked and shredded

8 oz cream cheese softened

1 ½ tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp Mexican oregano

Red and green chiles (about ¼ cup)

1 1/2 cups spinach chopped

6 corn tortillas

cooking oil for frying

Directions:

Soften the tortillas by adding them to hot oil for several seconds.  Set the tortillas aside.

In a large bowl mix together the shredded chicken, cream cheese, cumin, salt, garlic powder, oregano, chiles and spinach. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Form the mixture into long logs, or snakes, if you like.  Portion the mix by cutting them into sections.  This makes it easy when it comes to rolling up the flautas.

Assemble the flautas by adding a portion of the mix and rolling them up in the softened tortillas.  Skewer two flautas together with a toothpick, to hold them together while they fry.

Pour enough cooking oil into a skillet to about ½” in height.  Set the heat to medium.

Cook the flautas in the hot oil, gently turning with tongs once or twice until they are golden brown on both sides.

Remove the flautas to a paper towel-lined plate.

Serve warm.

But wait, there’s more! 

Flautas are wonderful crispy treat but I think of them as an appetizer.  Here’s an easy way to incorporate them into a full-fledged Mexican feast.

Cheese Enchiladas in Red Sauce

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups Colby-Jack cheese

1 cup onion, diced

6 corn tortillas, softened in hot oil

2 cups prepared red enchilada sauce

cooking oil for frying

chopped green onions for garnish

I used homemade red enchilada sauce but the store-bought variety will work, too.

Directions:

Mix the grated cheese and diced onion in a large bowl.  In the same bowl, separate the mixture into six equal portions.

Pour some enchilada sauce into a 8” or 9” glass pie pan.  Pour just enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pan. 

Roll the enchiladas, just as you rolled the flautas.  Place the enchiladas, seam side down, into the pie pan.

Cover the enchiladas with the remaining sauce.

Bake at 300° for 20 to 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let the enchiladas rest for 5 minutes, before serving.

Serve with Mexican rice and guacamole salad, or sour cream.

Bienvenido a mi casa!  Buen appetito! 

Chicken Flautas with Ricotta Cheese and Mushrooms

I’m convinced that one of the secrets to imaginative cooking is learning how to resist going to the store when you realize you are out of an essential ingredient for a dish.  If necessity is the mother of invention, adversity might be the father.

Lasagna just isn’t lasagna without the lasagna pasta.  That’s a fact.  So, if your heart is truly set on having lasagna and you don’t have the pasta, go to the store and get some.  But, if you’ve just come home from a long day at work, you might dread the thought of getting back into the car to face the teeming masses at the grocery store just to pick up a box of pasta.  That is the conundrum I faced today. 

I reluctantly switched gears and started to think of alternatives for dinner.  I wanted to use the ricotta, because it had been in the refrigerator for a few weeks.  I rummaged through the refrigerator and found some chicken thighs that I had grilled, the previous weekend.  The needle of my culinary compass quickly swung from Italian to Tex-Mex, (who would have guessed?!)

I imagined how I could use cheese and mushrooms and chicken to make flautas (taquitos).  It’s during these kinds of moments of brilliance when I become convinced that I’m on the verge of making a brand new, never-seen-before creation.  I use the flash of inspiration and get to work.

This sort of inspiration is actually a façade, as any honest cook knows, but it is an excellent motivator!  Here is what the all-knowing internet has to say about the matter:  From hispanickitchen.com, “Requesón is a soft Mexican cheese similar in texture to ricotta cheese. It has a mild flavor that can be used for both sweet and savory dishes. Because this cheese doesn’t melt completely when in contact with heat, it is the perfect cheese for golden fried taquitos.”

Chicken Flautas with Ricotta Cheese and Mushrooms

Ingredients:

4 grilled chicken thighs (skin on)

1 cup of uncooked rice

1 Tbs olive oil

1 Tbs butter

3 Tbs cup diced onion

4 large white, button mushrooms, chopped

15 oz ricotta cheese (or queso requesón, if you’re lucky enough)

1 tsp Mexican oregano

¼ cup cooking oil

12 corn tortillas

For the garnish:

1 small white onion, sliced

1 large ripe tomato, sliced

1 orange, sliced

2 cups mixed greens (spinach, lettuce, etc.)

½ cup sour cream

½ cup salsa

Cilantro leaves (as much as you like)

Directions:

Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and reserve one of the skins to flavor the rice.

Set the rice on the stove to boil.  Add one of the chicken skins and cook the rice according to the directions on the package. Remove the skin before serving.

Shred and chop the chicken. Set aside.

Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet. 

Add the onions and sauté until the onions begin to brown.

Add the mushrooms and stir for one minute. 

Remove the onions and mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.

Add the ricotta cheese to the onions and mushrooms.  Mix to combine. 

Add the oregano and mix thoroughly.

Add the shredded chicken and mix.  Set aside.

Soften the tortillas by frying in hot cooking oil.  Set aside.

Prepare the flautas.  Lay a tortilla on a work surface and add about 3 tablespoons of the chicken mixture.  Form the chicken into a thick bead and roll the tortilla. 

Skewer the tortilla with a toothpick. *Yay for toothpicks*

Assemble the rest of the tortillas and skewer them in sets of three.

Fry the rolled flautas in hot oil, turning a few times, until they are crispy and golden.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.

Assemble the flautas on a large platter and adorn with the garnishes. 

Enjoy with a delicious red wine, which was intended to pair with the lasagna!

Carne Guisada

(Guiso de Carne de Res, the easy way)

My love affair with Carne Guisada began in Dallas.  Oak Cliff, to be precise.  I was working with a small sheetrock repair crew, renovating a small house in Oak Cliff.  Growing up in a relatively comfortable suburb of Dallas made me apprehensive about the “big city life” in parts of Dallas and Oak Cliff was notoriously the most dangerous part of the big city. 

I worked at the site for a few days, replacing sheetrock walls, when one day, we decided to go out for lunch.  None of us were familiar with Oak Cliff, but we drove around until we stumbled upon a strip of storefronts on a busy street and saw what appeared to be a taquería, nestled in the midst.  

As it turned out, the place was more like a soup kitchen than a restaurant and there wasn’t any room for tables or chairs.  A long counter filled with chafing trays stretched from one end of the storefront to the other and three Hispanic men stood behind the counter, serving customers.  I stood in front of the counter and stared at trays of steaming soups and stews, none of which were labeled in any way.  It became clear that this wasn’t a place where I could order tacos or burritos and I felt lost as I gazed at the mysterious food in the trays.  I caught the eye of one of the servers and asked, in my broken, pitiful, Spanish, “What is that?”, pointing to a steaming brown stew.  The server gave me a quizzical look and replied, “Carne guisada.”  I had heard of carne guisada but I didn’t remember ever having it, so I nodded my head and he ladled some into a large styrofoam take out cup.  We paid for our lunches and headed back to the job site to eat.

The carne guisada was decadently rich and smooth.  The beef was full of flavor and soft.  Carne guisda remains one of my favorite comfort foods and this recipe makes use of left over roast beef, which cuts the cooking time down drastically.

About Oak Cliff…

Oak Cliff is a neighborhood of Dallas and is home to hundreds of thousands of people.   Oak Cliff has a long, storied history, including racial prejudice, forced desegregation of schools and poverty.  The neighborhood experienced “white-flight”, as white residents fled to neighboring suburbs during the Great Depression, and low income housing was introduced to the area, to provide housing for the many black residents who had lost their jobs.  During the latter half of 20th century, the area transitioned into a predominantly black neighborhood and has now become a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. 

Despite the economic challenges and cultural shifts, a sense of unity and pride can still be found within the community.  An odd symbiotic, yet strained relationship exists amongst residents and business owners that is unique to the Dallas / Ft. Worth area.

The spirit of a community lives in its food and its music.  The cuisine of Oak Cliff is a reflection of many different cultures.  You can find soul food, Tex-Mex and good ol’ American classics at every turn.  As for the music, I suggest listening to one of Oak Cliff’s greatest musical prodigies, Stevie Ray Vaughn.  Stevie Ray Vaughn’s music unleashes the very heart and soul of Texas.

Ingredients:

1 lb left over roast beef

1 Tbs rendered beef fat (reserved from the roast)

½ onion, diced

2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped

1 tomato, chopped (I used a frozen tomato, from this year’s garden)

2 Tbs flour

1 cup chicken (or beef) stock

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp cumin powder

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup additional stock or water

Fried or mashed potatoes

Flour tortillas

½ cup grated cheddar cheese

Cilantro leaves for garnish

Directions:

Assemble ingredients and prepare vegetables.  Rinse the frozen tomato under warm water for a few seconds.  Peel and discard the tomato skin.  Chop the tomato, onions and jalapeño and set aside.

In a large skillet, add the rendered beef fat.  Vegetable oil may be substituted.  Set heat to medium and add the onions and chiles. 

Stir occasionally, until the onions begin to brown and become soft. 

Add the chopped tomatoes.  Stir occasionally for about 5 minutes. 

Make a slurry from the flour and about 3 tablespoons of the chicken or beef stock. 

Add the slurry to the skillet and whisk for a few minutes.

Add the remaining stock.  Add garlic powder, cumin, salt and pepper.  Stir and simmer for five minutes. 

Turn the heat up to medium high and simmer for another two minutes, or until the sauce thickens.

Add chopped roast beef and mix. 

Add additional water or stock and simmer for ten minutes.

Serve with fried potatoes (or traditional mashed potatoes), flour tortillas, cheese and cilantro.

Jambalaya

Sometimes, all it takes is an exotic name of a dish to get me excited about cooking.  Jambalaya fits the bill perfectly.  “Jambalaya” rolls off the tongue lyrically and it speaks of the African influences in this Louisianan, Cajun dish.  French and Spanish cultures are also essential to Cajun cuisine, which has helped make Cajun food a wonderful mélange of cross-culturalism.  And, lest I forget, there is a particular sofrito that is the fundamental base of many Cajun creations.  The sofrito, which traditionally consists of diced onion, celery and bell pepper is so revered in Louisiana that they refer to it as the “holy trinity”. 

The last several months have been full of challenges, disappointments and despair but, I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know.  We’ve all been suffering from anxiety, depression and hardship in our own ways.  I selfishly want this dangerous virus to be crushed so that I can happily return to my favorite restaurants, without feeling that I am putting myself or others at risk.

I am glad that I know how to cook.  Maybe I should rephrase that. 

I am thankful that I have the confidence and courage to cook and that I have the necessary tools to prepare a meal.  If there is anything good to be said about 2020 it might be that we have been given the opportunity to invest in our families and bolster each other with love and support.  Providing home-cooked meals for the family allows us to gather around the table and enjoy good food and have meaningful conversations.

Okay, that’s enough my maudlin rambling.  Let’s make a Jambalaya.  But, before we get to it, just imagine how James Earl Jones would say “jambalaya”.  Let that be your muse!

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup chicken broth

8 oz tomato sauce

1 Tbs Cajun seasoning

½ tsp dried oregano

½ tsp dried thyme

½ tsp dried parsley

½ cup chopped celery

1 medium onion

3 small, mild jalapeños ( I didn’t have bell peppers on hand)

2 cloves garlic

3 small tomatoes (the last of my fresh tomatoes!)

½ lb smoked sausage (andouille is traditional, but I used another tasty smoked pork sausage)

10 shrimp, peeled and deveined

½ cup rice (I used short grain, but long grain is perfectly fine)

Garlic bread (get a good loaf of French bread – it might become the star of the show!)

Butter and garlic salt, for the bread

Directions:

I like to prepare everything in advance and I like to have all of my ingredients ready and within arm’s length.  Mise en place, if you will.

I used whole, raw shrimp, but it is a wonderful convenience to use raw, frozen shrimp that has been peeled and deveined. 

Add chicken broth, tomato sauce, seasoning and herbs to a large skillet.  Set heat to low/medium and simmer for a few minutes.

Add the holy trinity (onion, celery and, in this case, jalapeño) to the pan.  Adding garlic to the holy trinity is referred to “adding the Pope”, so, add the Pope.  Add the chopped tomatoes.

Mix everything in the pan and simmer at low/medium heat for a few minutes. 

Add the uncooked rice.  Stir to combine. 

Cut the sausage into ½” disks.  Add to the pan.

Cover the pan with a lid and simmer at low/medium heat, until the rice becomes tender.  This took about 30 minutes, for me. 

While the rice cooks, prepare the garlic bread.

Slice the French bread into thick pieces (1 ½’ or 2” thick).  Brush melted butter on one side of each piece and dust liberally with garlic salt.  Reassemble the loaf and wrap in aluminum foil.  Bake at 350° for 20 minutes.  Remove the garlic bread from the oven and keep it sealed until you are ready to serve.

Once the rice is soft, add the shrimp .  Nestle the shrimp in the jambalaya and cover the pan again.  Simmer for another 5 to 7 minutes. 

Serve with laughter and merriment.  Eat well, stay healthy and find something to admire about everyone you meet!

Ode to a Moonless Night

Years ago, my wife and I went on a cattle drive.  We played cowboy and cowgirl for a week, while moving cattle down from the Mugollon mountains of New Mexico to the dessert floor, near the town of  Alma. 

Keep in mind, prior to our cattle drive, my wife’s most memorable experience of horseback riding was being bucked from a horse, along with her sister, at her grandparent’s farm in Kansas.  My experience with horses was hardly better.  I spent three months on a ranch and occasionally moved cattle from one pasture to another.  Most of the time, I fixed fences and learned how to be a ranch hand from my uncle John, and my younger cousins, Shane and Hugh.  I was a city boy but I fell in love with the dessert Southwest. 

Many years later, I accepted an invitation from my uncle to join him on a cattle drive.  Cattle were grazing in the mountains during the summer and, as autumn approached, they needed to be driven down to the ranch for the winter.

We decided to join the drive, as long as we could make camp on the mountain, before the drive.  We bought a tent and sleeping bags and we were dead set on camping.  All of the ranchers, including my kind-hearted uncle, thought we were a little crazy, but we insisted on camping and, despite the bitter cold nights, I was glad we did.

We drove up to the mountain top, during the daytime and by late afternoon we made camp and started a campfire.  I set up a Dutch oven over a fire and started boiling some pinto beans.  How rustic!  Living like real cowboys!

Six hours later, the beans showed no signs of softening.  The sun dipped beneath the tops of the tall pine trees and, by early evening, the sky turned deep blue and the thin mountain air chilled quickly.  A few minutes later, we shivering and cold, under a moonless sky.

We scooted closer and closer to the fire and were mesmerized by the glowing flames.  We gave up on the beans and decided to eat granola.

We sat in silence for a long time, staring at the fire, and then we awoke from our trance and talked and laughed and told stories.  It wasn’t long before the campfire was the only thing we could see.  The mountain was quiet, except for the crackling fire and, even though we could see each other’s faces in the flickering light, we couldn’t see anything outside of the fire ring.

As the fire dwindled, the chill crept in and my wife grabbed a fresh piece of wood and jabbed it into the heart of the fire ring.  Thousands of wild embers spiraled upward, into the black sky, crisscrossing and swimming upward, like tiny, weightless fairies, searching for the heavens.  We watched the display, in awe.  She jabbed at the fire again, and a new salvo of embers erupted.  Again and again, we poked at the fire and watched as newborn embers whizzed into the black night.  Each tiny ember followed its own trajectory and moved toward its own destiny.   Some embers flickered and sputtered.  Some embers sailed up high, beyond the dark treetops.  Some embers sizzled and popped but every ember rode together on a whirling vortex that seemed chaotic but beautifully composed.

We received the U.S. presidential election results today and I am still buzzing. 

My late night snack is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with fresh apple slices.  It’s a meal that keeps me young at heart and gives me unexplainable joy.  Simple food for a simple person, I suppose.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Ingredients:

Two slices of bread

A copious amount of peanut butter

A generous splotch of jam or jelly

One crisp apple, cored and sliced.

Directions:

Really?  I think you can figure this one out on your own.

On a serious note, I am grateful be an American.  It’s a complicated mess, at times, but I love the complicated messy people that I live with.  We can achieve anything as long as we are compassionate to each other and as long as we are willing to work together.  We are the embers that fly into the night sky, giving warmth and joy to each other, while we spiral upward.