Ribeye Steaks on the Grill

June, 2020.  It seems like years ago to me now.  Beef prices rose quickly in May and I nearly cut beef out of my diet entirely as a result.  That is, until my self-imposed deprivation finally got the best of me and I splurged on a big ribeye roast!

I consider the economy of my food choices when I shop so, when I saw the price of the large roast I took a deep breath and began portioning it in my mind.  I figured I could get 10 thick steaks from the cut of beef and the thought of having 10 delicious, grilled steaks at $7.50 each made me realize that this might be a wise choice.

As I hefted the 7 ½ pound roast from the butcher’s case I took a look at the label on the package.  “WHOLE NO ROLL RIBEYE” was proudly displayed at the top of the label.

I wasn’t familiar with the term “WHOLE NO ROLL RIBEYE” and I didn’t know if it was a good or bad thing.  As it turns out, the term “no roll” means that the meat had not been graded by the USDA (US Department of Agriculture).  Simply put, it might be a tremendous cut of beef or a not-so tremendous cut.  It was, however, inspected by the USDA to ensure that it met the all of the safety requirements.

I can assure you that this was a perfectly fine cut of beef, good marbling and tender texture.

As I mentioned, this made ten 2” thick steaks, each weighing about ¾ pounds.

My intention was to make the classic American steak dinner, baked potatoes and a side of steamed vegetables or a garden salad but, my inclination to Tex-Mex cuisine overtook me and I turned this meal into a fiesta! 

Ingredients for the salsa verde:

15 to 20 tomatillos (cut in half, radially)

3 serrano chiles

1 Tbs olive oil

1 Tbs kosher salt

Ingredients for the pico de gallo:

2 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped

½ orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded and chopped

2 tsp salt

1 tsp Mexican oregano

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Ingredients for the grilled steaks:

1 beef ribeye roast, 7 to 8 lbs

   Spice rub:

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp salt

1 ½ tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp chili powder

Ingredients for the side items:

1 onion, sliced in half radially

3 serrano chiles

1 yellow bell pepper

4 medium russet potatoes

1 ½ cup prepared guacamole

2 cups fresh lettuce, rough chopped

1 ½ cups fresh cilantro leaves

16 oz prepared refried beans

Directions:

Prepare the grill by heating some charcoal. 

While the coals heat, slice the tomatillos and add them to a large mixing bowl.  Add the serrano chiles and splash some olive oil over the tomatillos and chiles.  Sprinkle the salt over everything and toss to coat everything with the oil and salt.  Set aside.

Chop the tomatoes and chiles for the pico de gallo.  Add to a mixing bowl.  Add the spices and squirt lemon juice over the mixture.  Toss briefly and reserve for later.

Peel the potatoes, slice into large wedges and air-dry in a colander.  Set aside.

Remove the beef roast from the package, rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.  Slice the roast into 2” thick steaks.  Lay the steaks on a platter and dust each side with the spice rub.  Set aside.

Heat some oil in large pan.  Add the potatoes and fry until crisp.  Remove and strain the oil.  Return to the pan of hot oil and fry until crisp again.  Stage the potatoes in an oven-proof serving dish in a 200°.

Add the hot coals to the grill and lay a sheet of aluminum foil on top of the grill.  Spread the tomatillos and chiles across the foil.  Cover the grill. 

Start another batch of coals.  These will be added to the dwindling coals and will be added to the grill prior to grilling the steaks. 

Steam and grill the tomatillos and serrano chiles for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally.  Once the tomatillos become very soft, and slightly charred, pull them off the grill.  Remove the aluminum foil and discard.

Lay the half onion, yellow bell pepper and 3 serrano peppers on the grill.  Turn every few minutes until each have charred.  Pull the vegetables and reserve.

Reserve 2 of the chiles and the remaining tomatillos and chiles to a blender.  Puree until smooth.  Set aside.

Add the new batch of hot coals to the grill.  Carefully lay the steaks on the grill.  Sear and cook the steaks for 5 minutes.  Turn the steaks and grill on the other side for another 4 or 5 minutes.  Press the steaks with the side of your thumb for doneness.  If the steaks spring back, they’re done.  Remove the steaks and cover loosely with foil.  Stage in a 200° oven.

Prepare the sides… guacamole, lettuce, cilantro and refried beans.

Pull the steaks and potatoes from the oven.  Top the steaks with the charred onion, bell pepper and serrano chiles.   I sliced the steaks into slightly smaller pieces before serving.  Serve warm.

Shrimp Pizza (Extraordinaire)

When I think about making pizza I first consider the taste that I want.  Do I want something spicy, like pepperoni, or perhaps something more subdued, like ground beef?  Do I want a thick, rich, tomato sauce, or a thin whisper of tomato sauce?  Do I want bold herbs and spices?

After I decide on the taste, I start to think about the flavor.  Taste and flavor are not synonymous, even though we sometimes use taste and flavor interchangeably when describing food.  Flavor includes taste, texture and aroma, among other sensory experiences, like sight and sound.  Taste is like listening to a musical instrument and flavor is like listening to an orchestra.

I have made pizzas with shrimp before but none of them had the flavor I wanted, until now.  Charring yellow bell peppers provided a slightly sweet taste that green peppers can’t provide.  The garlic and onion, along with butter and oil made a fantastic sauce.  The overall flavor of the pizza was reminiscent of shrimp scampi, complete with a spritz of lemon juice.  Subtle use of herbs and spices rounded out the flavor nicely.  And of course, Parmesan cheese and mozzarella was the perfect choice to go with shrimp and the vegetables. 

This was a pizza symphony!

Ingredients:

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp red chili flakes

½ tsp salt

1 cup raw medium sized shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 Tbs butter

3 Tbs olive oil

5 cloves garlic, mashed

1 orange bell pepper

1 white onion

1 medium sized tomato, chopped

Juice of ¼ lemon

¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese

4 oz sliced mozzarella cheese

Directions:

Crush the oregano, chile flakes and salt in mortis and pestle.  Set aside.

Butterfly the shrimp and flatten them with the broad side of a chef’s knife.  Set aside.

Add butter and oil to a skillet.  Set the burner to very low heat.

Mash the garlic cloves and add them to the skillet.  Simmer at very low heat for 3 to 4 minutes.  The garlic should be soft, but not browned.  Remove the garlic to a cutting board.  Mash the garlic into a paste. Set the garlic aside.

Turn the heat up to medium and add the shrimp to skillet and simmer, while stirring.  Cook the shrimp until they just begin to turn pink.  Remove the shrimp from the skillet and keep warm.

Pour the hot butter and oil from the pan into a small bowl and set aside.  Return the skillet to the stove and set the heat to high.

Add the bell pepper and onion to the skillet and sauté at high heat until they begin to char. 

Add the chopped tomato and stir briefly.  Remove everything from the skillet and set aside.

Prebake the pizza dough in a 400° oven for about 5 minutes.  Remove the pizza and place on a heat proof surface.

Pour the butter/oil mixture on prebaked pizza dough.  Use a brush to thoroughly coat the dough.

Blot excess oil from the pizza with a paper towel.

Sprinkle ½ cup of the grated Parmesan cheese onto the dough.

Add charred bell peppers and onion.  Add the garlic paste.

Top with the shrimp.

Squeeze a little lemon juice over the pizza.

Add ¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese. 

Layer with slices of mozzarella.

Scatter the crushed oregano, chile flake and salt across the top of the pizza.

Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes at 400°, or until the cheese bubbles and begins to brown.

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!

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.

Crunchy Fried Shrimp

As you might recall from my previous post, I purchased 3 pounds of fresh shrimp a few days ago.  I used half of the shrimp in the Camarones ala Diabla but, what did I do with the other half?

Well, to be honest, the Camarones ala Diabla was intended solely for me.  I made it fiery hot, just as I like, and it was only fair that I made a second entrée for everyone else. 

The tangy sauce complemented the crispy shrimp perfectly.

Crunchy Shrimp Tacos

Who can resist fried shrimp?  Even people who don’t love shrimp will sample a little, when it’s fried.

Ingredients for the garden filling:

2 Roma tomatoes, diced

3 green onions, diced,

1 large carrot, matchstick cut

1 large jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and diced

½ cup fresh spinach, chopped

¼ cup bell pepper, diced

Ingredients for the sauce:

½ cup mayonnaise

3 Tbs spicy ketchup (chili sauce)

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp cumin powder

Ingredients for the fried shrimp:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup milk

3/4 cup flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

1 large egg

1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce

Two dashes of Maggi seasoning sauce (less than ¼ tsp)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup Panko breadcrumbs

1 lime, quartered

1.5  pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

8 flour tortillas (homemade this time)

Directions:

Prepare the garden filling by chopping, dicing and slicing all of the ingredients.  Toss in a bowl and squirt a little lime juice over the top and mix briefly.  Set aside.

Prepare the sauce by mixing all of the ingredients in a bowl.  Store in the refrigerator until needed.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together milk, flour, cornstarch, egg, Sriracha, Maggi sauce and salt and pepper, to taste.  This will be the batter for the shrimp.

Add some Panko breadcrumbs to a separate bowl.

Working one at a time, dip the shrimp into the batter, then dredge in Panko breadcrumbs, pressing to coat.

Add the shrimp to the skillet, one at a time and cook until golden and crispy. This only takes 2 or 3 minutes.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Assemble the tacos by smearing some sauce on a tortilla, adding a small handful of garden filling and topping with several shrimp and a few squirts of lime.

Serve with rice and beans.

Sticky Wings and Crispy Rice

This was a fun thing to work on while ‘Zooming’ with distant family members.  If I counted correctly, we had 10 people on the Zoom call, along with cameos from our various pets. 

Chicken wings are easy to make, especially if they are baked in the oven. You can use any type of sauce imaginable for the wings, which makes wings an exciting go-to recipe for a weekend afternoon.

This time, I went for an Asian flair. 

Ingredients:

2.5 lbs chicken wings (about 20 drummets and mid-joints)

1 Tbs cooking oil

2 Tbs sliced ginger

6 garlic cloves, mashed

2 cups broccoli, chopped

1 white onion

3 small carrots

3 jalapeños, seeds removed

¼ cup cooking oil

2 cups cooked rice (day-old rice is best)

Asian sauce (Ingredients shown below)

Ingredients for the sauce:

1/3 cup ketchup

1/3 cup apricot preserves

3 Tbs soy sauce

2 Tbs Sriracha sauce

2 Tbs Hoisin sauce

1 ½ tsp oyster sauce

½ tsp fish sauce

Directions:

Rinse the chicken wings in cold, clean water.  Allow the wings to air dry for about 20 minutes.  Pat them dry with a paper towel and place them on a parchment paper covered backing tray.  Bake at 400° for 30 minutes and then turn them over to brown on the other side.  Turn the oven down to 350° and bake for another 30 minutes, or until the skin on the wings have crisped.

While the wings are baking, prepare the sauce. Mix all of the sauce ingredients together in a bowl. Pour into a sauce pan and simmer for about 10 minutes at low heat. Whisk the sauce while it cooks. Return the sauce to the bowl and set aside.

Cut the vegetables.  I went for long and slender pieces this time so that meant julienne cuts on the onion and jalapeño and match stick cuts for the carrots.  Set the vegetables aside.

Take the cooked rice and add it to a mixing bowl.  Add about ¼ cup cooking oil and thoroughly mix the rice by hand.  All of the grains of rice should glisten when mixed properly. 

Add the rice to a large skillet.  Do not add oil.  Spread the rice out evenly over the bottom of the skillet and cook at low/medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes.  Do not stir! 

Turn the rice over after about 5 minutes and crisp the other side.  The rice should turn light brown.  Turn the heat off after 4 or 5 minutes.  Keep the rice on the stove top while the vegetables are cooked.

In a wok, add 1 Tbs cooking oil and the ginger and garlic.  Simmer at low heat for about a minute.  Remove the ginger and garlic, (before the garlic browns).  Set the ginger and garlic aside.

Add the broccoli pieces to the wok.  Set heat to low and stir-fry briefly.

Cover the broccoli with a lid, or aluminum foil.  Steam the broccoli for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove the broccoli to a bowl and cover.

Add the carrots to the wok and turn the heat up to medium.  Stir fry for a few minutes and then add the onion and jalapeño.  Chop some of the cooked ginger and garlic and add it the wok.  I added about 2 tablespoons of ginger and garlic. Add the broccoli and stir briefly.

Pull the wings from the oven and add them to a large mixing bowl.  Pour the Asian sauce over the wings and toss to coat.  Add the wings to a serving platter.

Arrange the crispy rice and stir-fried vegetables on another platter. 

Serve with plenty of napkins.  The wings are going to very sticky!

Botanas!

Botanas are snacks, or appetizers.  A variety of small snacks are served on a large platter and are intended to be served communally. 

I’ve been wanting to make refried beans for several days now and this seemed like a good way to showcase them.  Homemade tortillas, fire roasted poblano chiles, mesquite grilled chicken and queso Chihuahua offer bold flavors and textures to the party platter.  Lettuce, cilantro and tomato add bright colors to the ensemble.

The botanas platter took several hours to complete.  Boiling dried beans and preparing tortilla dough take an hour and half each to complete.  Roasting chiles and the chicken on an outdoor grill requires another hour, or more.  Some of these tasks can be done in advance and kept chilled and then reheated, when you are ready to assemble the platter.

Ingredients for Refried Beans:

2 cups dry pinto beans, cleaned and rinsed

1 guajillo chile, stemmed and seeds removed

1 cup onion, sliced in large rings

½ gallon water

¼ cup lard

2 Tbs bacon fat

½ tsp salt

½ tsp cumin

Directions for refried beans:

Add dry pinto beans to a pot of water.  Turn heat to high.

Slice the guajillo chile in half.  Add the chile and onion to the pot.

When the pot begins to boil, turn the heat to low and cover.  Simmer for one and a half hours.

Strain beans and discard the onion and chile. Rreserve one or two cups of the broth. 

In a large skillet, add the lard.  Melt the lard at low/medium heat. 

Add cooked beans and stir.  Fry the beans for about 5 minutes. 

Add about 1 cup of the reserved bean broth. Simmer and stir for one minute.

Add the bacon fat and stir for another minute.

Mash the beans with a potato masher or large fork.  Mash and mix the beans until they are creamy.  Add more broth if desired.

Add salt and cumin.  Stir for a minute.  Turn heat off and turn out to a serving bowl.

Ingredients for Fire Roasted Poblano Chiles:

3 fresh poblano chiles

The green onions will be grilled, too. They will be in another recipe.

Directions:

Roast chiles on the grill at very high heat.  Turn the chiles every 3 or 4 minutes to char each side. 

Once the chiles are charred on all sides, place them in a bowl and cover with foil or plastic wrap.  The chiles will soften and cool to room temperature in about 15 minutes. 

Remove the chiles and peel the charred outer skin away from the chiles. The charred parts should easy separate from the rest of the chile. Cut the stem off and pull out the seed cluster.

Slice the chiles lengthwise and lay the chile out on a cutting board.  Remove any seeds that were missed.

Slice the chiles in thin ribbons, about ¼” thick.  Set aside.

Pollo a la Parrilla de Mezquite

(Mesquite Grilled Chicken)

Ingredients

2 medium sized chicken breasts

1 tsp red chile powder

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp garlic powder

1 Tbs olive oil

Directions:

Sprinkle chile powder, cumin and garlic over the chicken.  Drizzle with olive oil and toss, to mix.

Carefully place chicken on a hot grill and grill each side for 3 to 4 minutes.  Remove the chicken, wrap in foil and store in a warm place until ready to serve.

Quesadillas de Rajas con Queso

(Quesadilla with Poblanos and Cheese)

Ingredients:

Flour tortillas

Sliced roasted chile poblano

Sliced Chihuahua cheese

Directions:

Add sliced cheese and strips of poblano pepper to one half of a tortilla. 

Make a quesadilla by folding the tortilla to cover the cheese and chile. 

Fry the  quesadilla in butter and olive oil at low/medium heat for a few minutes on each side.

Remove and cut the quesadillas in half.

Burritos pequenos

(Small burritos)

Ingredients:

Flour tortillas

Refried beans

Sliced Chihuahua cheese

Directions:

Add refried beans and cheese to a tortilla. 

Roll the tortillas to form burritos. 

Pan fry in butter and olive oil at low/medium heat for a few minutes.

Remove burritos and slice into small, bite sized pieces.

Assemble the botanas platter

Arrange the lettuce, cilantro and tomato on one edge of the plater.  Nestle sliced chicken next to the salad.  Add a bouquet of roasted poblano next to the chicken.

Arrange the quesadillas and mini-burritos in a decorative array to complete the platter.

Celebrate and enjoy! 

Quick and (Fancy) Easy Brunch

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

Breakfast Sausage and Cream Cheese Pastry Shells

Ingredients:

2  8-count crescent roll tubes

1 lb bulk breakfast sausage (mild)

8 oz cream cheese (1 pack)

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serve warm, with a side of fresh fruit.

Gumbo (Part II: The Intimidator)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) Repeat.

Three more important pieces of advice that are often overlooked:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients:

1 lb medium sized shrimp, shell on and deveined

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

3 cups canola oil

3 cups all-purpose flour

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

1 large onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 large jalapeño, seeded and sliced

2 cups celery, chopped

1 whole head of garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups parsley, chopped

1 Tbs dried thyme

1 Tbs bay leaves

32 oz chicken stock

32 oz vegetable stock

1/2 cup shrimp stock reduction

12 oz okra, chopped

1 lb. crawfish tail meat

1 lb. crabmeat

1/2 cup clam stock reduction

12 oz white clams (about 12 clams)

Lots and lots of hot, steamed white rice

Directions:

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

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

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

Prep the vegetables and set aside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, the easy part!

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

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

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

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

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

Add the okra and stir.

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

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

Add the parsley and stir.

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

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

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

Add the chicken to the gumbo and stir.

Add the crab and stir.

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

Give the gumbo a good final stir.

Serve in bowls, over warm white rice.

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

Hawaiian Pizza

I never order ham and pineapple pizza, when I go out for pizza, or when I order pizza for delivery.  It seems like such a silly thing.  I prefer a more classic pizza, I suppose.  But, when life gives you ham and pineapple, it’s time to make Hawaiian pizza.

This recipe uses the same pizza dough recipe that I have posted before.

The only thing new here is the topping.  Simply add sliced ham and diced pineapple and bake. 

Topping Ingredients:

1/3 cup marinara

6 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 cup sliced ham

10 pepperoni slices

3/4 cup diced fresh pineapple

1/2 cup chopped bell pepper (red, orange and yellow)

Directions:

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes, or until the cheese begins to brown.

And for the naysayers, offer them a pepperoni pizza.

Happy New Year!