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!

Quick Pizza

I came down with a cold the other day and I promptly crawled into bed.  That’s my preferred remedy for nearly all illnesses.  I dreamed about making a pizza.  When I awoke, some hours later, I made that pizza.  I recently picked up some garlic naan at my local Indian market and I knew it would be perfect for the occasion.  Naan is an Asian flatbread, similar to pita, in case you are not familiar with it. 

Naan is typically oval shaped, about  6” x 8”, which makes a perfect individual serving.

Prep time: 5 minutes.  Bake time: 10 minutes.

Ingredients:

1 naan flatbread

2 oz tomato paste

1 oz mozzarella cheese, sliced

8 to 10 pepperoni slices

A dash of garlic salt

A dash of red pepper flakes

Directions:

Smear the tomato paste on the naan.  Add the sliced cheese and pepperoni.

Bake in a 375° oven for 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts and begins to brown.

Remove from the oven and scatter a little garlic salt and red chili flakes on top.

I used some leftover Chihuahua cheese, instead of Mozzarella.

Asian Spring Rolls

I intended to use ground chicken for the spring rolls but all I could find at the store was ground turkey so, here we go.  I suppose this could be an opening act for a Thanksgiving dinner or maybe an appetizer served during a football game.  It’s also a good way to use leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. 

Make sure to use spring roll wrappers, not egg roll wrappers. Spring roll wrappers are more dense and they are thinner than egg roll wrappers.

Ingredients:

1 Tbs soy sauce

1 green onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, smashed

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp cornstarch

1 lb ground turkey

2 Tbs cooking oil divided

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1-2 stalks green onion, chopped

1/2 head of cabbage, about 8 ounces, shredded

2 carrots julienne cut

2 Tbs oyster sauce

50 frozen spring roll wrappers, defrosted

2 cups cooking oil

Cornstarch Slurry:

    1 Tbs cornstarch

    1/4 cup water

Dipping sauce:

1/2 tsp sesame oil

3 Tbs soy sauce

1 tsp Hoisin sauce

1 tsp Garlic Chili Paste

Instructions:

Prepare the Filling:

In a large bowl, combine the soy sauce, green onion, garlic, vinegar, pepper and cornstarch.  Add the ground turkey and mix well.  Marinate for at least 10 minutes.

Chop, mince and grate the various stir-fry vegetables. 

Heat a wok over high heat.  When hot, add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil. Add the turkey and stir-fry until browned.  Remove the browned turkey and set aside in a bowl.

Turn the heat down to medium.  Add a tablespoon of cooking oil.   Add the green onion, garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds.  Add the carrots and cabbage.  Stir well and turn the heat up to medium-high.   Stir fry the vegetables for 2 minutes, or until the carrots have softened.  

Return the cooked turkey back to the wok and stir.  Add the oyster sauce and toss to coat. Turn the mixture out to a strainer and let liquids drain.   Wet ingredients don’t make good spring rolls!

Wrapping Spring Rolls:

Make a cornstarch slurry with cornstarch and water.  Open the spring roll wrapper package, peel the wrappers apart from each other and cover them with a moistened paper towel. 

Lay a wrapper on a clean surface.  Position the wrapper with a corner facing toward you .  Add about 1 tablespoon of filling to the bottom point of the wrapper.  Fold the left and right sides in toward the middle (the wrapper should look like an envelope). Starting from the bottom of the wrapper, roll upward and apply pressure with your fingers to prevent air pockets.  Dip a finger in the cornstarch slurry and paint the top corner of the wrapper.  Finish wrapping and secure the wrap by gently pressing along the seam.  Stage finished spring rolls on parchment paper, or wax paper and keep them covered with a damp paper towel.

Frying Spring Rolls

Add about 2 cups of oil to a wok and turn the heat to high.  The depth of the oil should be about 2 inches.  Once the oil is hot, carefully slide spring rolls into the oil, one at a time.  I fried about 8 spring rolls at a time, to avoid overcrowding. 

Turn the egg rolls over while the fry.  When they are golden brown and crispy, remove to a paper towel lined plate and keep warm.

Mix the dipping sauce ingredients together in a small bowl.

Arrange the spring rolls on a serving platter and place the dipping sauce in the middle of the platter.

Macaroni and Cheese with Crumbled Bacon

Maybe it’s because I’m a guy, but I see mac and cheese like a good pair of blue jeans.  It goes with everything and any occasion.  Just as you can wear blue jeans with a worn out t-shirt, or a sweatshirt, or a pull-over sweater, or a crisply ironed shirt and tie, so goes mac and cheese. 

Mac and cheese rarely takes top billing, when it comes to planning a dinner but I guarantee that if it’s really good mac and cheese, you won’t have any leftovers.

True to my style, I prepare mac and cheese differently almost every time I make it.  I can’t tell you how many bad versions I’ve made but I can say I have made some good ones.  I have a tendency to let my free spirit roam and I start improvising, even when I have a perfectly good recipe in front of me.  I guess that’s what makes me, me.  If you want to make really good mac and cheese, follow the recipe by Kelsey Nixon, from the Food Network.  https://www.kelseynixon.com/mac-cheese/

Kelsey’s recipe is easy to follow and, as far as I’m concerned, flawless.  The secret is Muenster cheese.  Muenster cheese is perhaps the best melting cheese ever.  And, if you learn nothing else from that recipe, know that homemade mac and cheese starts with a béchamel (white sauce).  A béchamel is simply a roux with warm milk added to it.

I didn’t have Muenster on hand this time so I opted for Colby-Jack.  Both Colby-Jack and cheddar cheese melt well but if over-heated they can break down, and there goes the lovely cheese sauce. 

I should also note that I did not take photos throughout the cooking process.  I was hungry and I was in a hurry.  Such is the life of a working man.

1 Tbs kosher salt

2 cups elbow macaroni

3 strips cooked bacon

¼ cup butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

4 cups milk

1 tsp dry mustard (essential!)

1 Tbs hot sauce

8 oz sharp cheddar cheese

8 ounces Colby-Jack cheese

In a 4 quart pot, boil water and add kosher salt.  Add pasta and cook until soft…just a bit beyond al dente.  Reserve 1/3 cup water from cooked pasta and set aside.  Strain the pasta and set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, over medium/low heat add the butter.  Once the butter has melted, add the flour to make a roux.  Heat for just a minute or two. 

Heat the milk in the microwave, or stove top, to near boiling.  Slowly introduce 3 cups of the milk to the roux.  Turn the heat down (or off) while adding and mixing the milk.  Add the pasta water and dry mustard (and a little black pepper if you like).  Add the hot sauce and stir to combine.  Turn the heat up and bring the sauce to a boil.  Once the sauce begins to boil, turn the heat down.

Set the heat to low and slowly add the Colby-Jack and sharp cheddar cheese.  Gently stir with a spatula but do not over stir.  Low heat and minimal stirring helps reduce the possibility of the sauce breaking.  Add the other cup of warm milk and gently stir.  Add the pasta and stir to coat the pasta. 

Turn out to an oven proof serving bowl and place in a 350° oven for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and top with crumbled bacon

I served this with steamed broccoli, bite-sized fried chicken and crunchy, fried shrimp.

Chicken on a Stick

I usually don’t start thinking about what to make for dinner until I’m in the car, on my way home.  On a good day, it’s a 20 minute trip.  When there’s heavy traffic it can take 40 minutes.  The good thing about the drive home is that I pass my favorite grocery store ALDI.  I will sometimes pop in to buy just a few items and then head on to the house. 

On this particular day, I didn’t want to make any stops.  I just wanted to get home.  I wasn’t coming up with any ideas for dinner and my mind started to wander.  By the time I pulled into the driveway, I knew what I was going to do. 

I wouldn’t call this a meal, because it’s just chicken on a stick but, it was something that I wanted to try and I knew that it wouldn’t take too long to make.

I decided on making this two different ways.  I wanted to see if I preferred the marinated version or the version that uses a dry rub for the chicken.  As it turns out, I liked both. 

Ingredients (for both versions):

1 lb. chicken breast meat, sliced in 1” long strips

1 lb bacon

3 Tbs brown sugar

1 Tbs chili powder

1 Tbs cayenne powder

12 wooden skewers

Version 1:

Ingredients for the marinade:

3 Tbs soy and 2 Tbs hot sauce

Version 2:

Ingredients for the dry rub:

2 Tbs chili powder, 1 Tbs garlic powder, 1 tsp cumin, ½ tsp paprika

Note: after tasting this, I will use ½ tsp cumin next time.  I like cumin but it overpowered the other flavors.

Directions:

Soak the wooden skewers in water for at least 15 minutes.

Cut the chicken in 1” thick strips.  Divide equally.

Mix the marinade ingredients and pour over one half of the chicken.  Marinate for 30 minutes.

Mix the ingredients for the rub.  Cover the other half of the chicken with the rub.  Set aside.

Mix the brown sugar, chili powder and cayenne powder together.  Lay the bacon on a clean surface.   Sprinkle both sides of the bacon with the sugar and chill powder mixture.

Set the oven to 350°.  Lay a metal rack on a backing sheet. 

Wrap a slice of bacon around a piece of chicken and run a skewer through one end of the chicken and then pierce the other end.  Lay the skewered chicken on the rack.  Continue wrapping and skewering the chicken.  Once the rack is full, put it in the oven.

Bake for to 20 to 25 minutes, or until the bacon begins to crisp and the chicken feels firm. 

Remove the chicken to a serving platter.  Serve with a dip of your choice.