20 Minute Sandwich with a Tiny Coat Hanger

One evening, about a month and a half ago, when this whole Covid-19 pandemic thing was just beginning to bear down on us, I spoke with my son on the phone for about 20 minutes while he made a sandwich for his girlfriend, who was coming home from work.

He switched to speaker phone, after his girlfriend came home, so that he could finish making the sandwich.  We all joked and talked about how strange things had become and we finally got down to serious business.

You see, my son’s girlfriend manages a pizzeria and of course, I had to ask her what she likes on her pizza.  At first, she said that she didn’t really like pizza but I couldn’t accept the fact that someone in the pizza biz wouldn’t like pizza.  I finally got her to nail down some of the toppings she likes. 

Beef, but not too much Italian spice, cheese…lots of different kinds, including feta, thinly sliced onion and bell pepper.

I got feisty and mentioned anchovy and I could feel the anxiety coming through the phone line, yes I was speaking on a land line! 

Why is it that so many people say they don’t like anchovies yet they have never tried them? 

I told her that I would make a big pizza for her, just the way she likes it and I would put anchovies on half of it, just to give her an opportunity to try them.  I even told her that I would drop it off at her door, so that we wouldn’t run the risk spreading the virus. 

Did I do that?  No.  But, that doesn’t mean I won’t. 

So, with that, I present a photo of the sandwich that my son made. 

Here’s my guess at the ingredients:

Large, soft bread loaf, 6”cut

Deli turkey, sliced

Roma tomato, sliced

Iceberg lettuce, rough chopped

Onion, sliced

While we were going on about pizza and pizza toppings my son kept talking about a tiny coat hanger that he found on the ground earlier that day.  OK.  Good for you, I thought.  You found a tiny coat hanger. 

I should have realized that this was just one of the many infinitesimally small things that my son sees every day that the rest of us are oblivious to. 

I asked him to send me a picture…and he did.

All I could think after seeing this was, now some poor mouse can’t hang up his jacket!

Rustic French Baked Chicken

French peasant food is perfect for easing minds and bringing families together during troubled times.  This was simple to make, since everything baked in one dish, and the aroma coming from the kitchen wafted throughout the house, teasing and tempting us.

Ingredients:

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 Tbs Herbs de Provence

¼ cup vinegar and oil dressing (I cheated by using inexpensive, store-bought Italian dressing)

2 large red potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

3 or 4 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces

A few rosemary sprigs

One cube of chicken bouillon

Several splashes of olive oil, probably 2 Tbs, total

1 ½ cup broccoli florets with stems

1 white onion, sliced into wedges

1/3 whole lemon (juice only)

¼ cup water

½ loaf French bread

3 Tbs unsalted butter

2 tsp garlic salt

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, add the vinegar and oil dressing and add the Herbs de Provence.  Add the chicken and mix by hand.  Marinate the chicken for at least one hour in the refrigerator.

Peel and cut the vegetables.  Set aside.  Reserve the peels and scraps from the vegetables and use them in a vegetable stock, for use in another dish.

Set the oven to 400°.

Strip the rosemary leaves away from the stems.

Toss the potato and carrot pieces in olive oil and rosemary.  Set these aside.

Add the chicken bouillon cube to ¼ cup water.  Heat in the microwave for a minute to soften the bouillon.  Crush the bouillon with a small fork and mix with the warm water.  Set aside.

Pour a little olive oil into a large baking dish and add the chicken.  Top with the potatoes and carrots and drizzle the chicken bouillon broth over everything.

Bake the chicken, potatoes and carrots in the oven for about 45 minutes. 

Squirt lemon juice over the broccoli and onion and toss with a little olive oil. 

Carefully pull the baking dish from the oven and check to see if the potatoes and carrots are nearly baked all the way.  If the potatoes or carrots are still hard, and can’t be easily split with a fork, return to the oven and check them again in 10 minutes.

Pull the dish out again and add the broccoli and onion. 

Return the dish to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes.

Slice a loaf of French bread lengthwise and slather with melted butter and sprinkle it with the garlic salt.  Wrap in aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes.

Restaurant Style Enchiladas

I’m looking forward to the day that we can all return to our favorite restaurants.

Our favorite local Mexican restaurant seems to be doing steady take-out business, during this time of isolation, but I’m sure that they’re not getting the same amount of business that they would if diners were allowed to come in to have a meal. 

I miss our favorite waiters.  I miss the comfortable, casual dining experience.  I miss my litre of Dos Equis with two limes!  Yes, these are hard times indeed!

I order takeout food about once a week to support our local restaurants but I have to say, the food just isn’t as appealing when it comes in squeaky, white styrofoam boxes.  I recently ordered molcajete, which, when ordered in a restaurant, arrives in a large, black stone mortar vessel.  Molcajete is an impressive dish!  Chicken, beef, shrimp, vegetables, chiles, fruit, nopales (cactus) and all sorts of other good things flow over the edges of the great stone bowl.  It is a symbol of prosperity and bounty but, when it comes in a styrofoam box, it just looks like table scraps and then there is a separate styrofom box that contains rice, beans and tortillas, wrapped in foil. 

So tonight, I want to honor our local restaurateurs by making a meal to honor the struggling fine dining establishments and the little Mexican casitas, like the one I love.

In honor of this momentous occasion, I’m using the last jar of my homemade salsa that I canned back in July, 2019.  I’m going to have to wait another two months for more fresh garden salsa…Aghh!

~ Enchilada Combination Platter ~  :   One beef enchilada, smothered in ranchero sauce, topped with queso blanco.  One cheese enchilada stuffed with roasted poblano peppers.  Served with rice, refried beans, sour cream and garden salad.

Ingredients:

6 corn tortillas, softened by simmering briefly in hot oil

Beef enchiladas:

4 chiles guajillo, seeded and stemmed

2 cups homemade salsa (tomato, onion, jalapeño and cilantro)

1 Tbs cumin

1 Tbs paprika

1 tsp brown sugar

¾ lb ground beef, browned

½ cup queso Chihuahua (any melting cheese can be used)

¼ cup half-and-half (or whole milk)

Cheese and Poblano enchiladas:

1 cup queso Chihuahua (Monterrey Jack cheese can be used as a substitute)

½ cup poblano chiles, seeded, stemmed, roasted and peeled.

Directions:

Before we get started, here’s something to consider…

As a former line cook at a Tex-Mex restaurant and as someone who wants to replicate a restaurant style dish, I suggest preparing as much of these ingredients in advance as possible.  Nothing impresses like being able to throw together a complex meal quickly.  Chop the vegetables, smoke the peppers, brown the ground beef, shred the cheese…you get the idea. 

Steam the dried guajillo chiles for 20 minutes. 

Slice the chiles down one side.  Scrap away the flesh and discard the thick skins.

Add the guajillo chile pulp to the salsa.  Add the cumin, paprika and brown sugar. Mix and set aside.

Brown the ground beef, but not to the point of completely browned.  The meat will finish cooking in the oven, later.

Assemble the enchiladas:

Add 1 Tbs cooking oil to an oven-proof skillet.  Place the skillet on the stove top and set heat to low. 

Lay 3 softened corn tortillas on a clean surface and fill them with ground beef.  Roll them up and transfer them to the skillet, seam side down.  Lightly brown the bottoms of the enchiladas.

Add salsa and guajillo chile mixture to the pan.  Top the enchiladas with more salsa.  Place in a 300° oven,  uncovered for 15 minutes.

While the beef enchiladas bake…

Lay 3 softened corn tortillas on a clean surface and fill them with crumbled Mexican cheese.  Top with chopped, roasted poblanos and wrap the tortillas to form the enchiladas.

Place the enchiladas in skillet, seam side down, and simmer over very low heat, covered, for about 10 minutes.  Covering the skillet is important.  These enchiladas need to be soft enough to cut with a side of a fork.

In another skillet, simmer the half-and-half for about a minute, until it starts to bubble.  Add the crumbled queso Chihuahua and turn off the heat. Stir until the cheese melts.  Keep warm.

Assemble the platters:

Nestle some chopped lettuce, tomato and carrot strips together on one edge of the platter.  Adorn with cilantro and sour cream. 

Add refried beans and Mexican rice to the other side of the platter, leaving the middle of the platter open for the enchiladas.

Carefully lay a beef enchilada on the platter and a cheese enchilada next to it.

Drip some white cheese sauce over the beef enchilada and the refried beans. 

Top the sour cream with pickled jalapeños.

Serve it like you mean it!

Los saludo cocineros y cocineros! Mantenga sus puertas abiertas … ¡Volveré tan pronto como pueda!

(I salute you, cooks and chefs!  Keep your doors open…I’ll be back as soon as I can!)

Te amo!  ¡Sé fuerte!

Easter – Mac and Cheese

Well, our first major holiday during the pandemic is nearly over and I hope everyone is safe and well.  I thought that maybe this was our second holiday, considering the pandemic was on the rise during Valentine’s Day but, I believe we were still in “discovery mode” during that time.  The virus was mostly abroad and we only had a few cases reported in the United States.  It’s amazing how quickly our perception changed.

Churches are not having services, which is very odd, especially during a religious holiday.  Many families are separated from each other and there are unfilled seats at our dinner tables.  I’m thankful for our phones and the internet because we still have the ability to reach out to those we love.

But, enough of all that.  This is a food blog.  Let’s dig in.

I am fortunate that my daughter was available to help make this dish.  She’s a mac and cheese aficionado and I was thrilled to have her on my team!

This is a variation of the recipe I posted several months ago.  If you want to see the original post, click here.  The original recipe calls for 2 cups of dry macaroni noodles and I only had 1 ¾ cups this time, so I scaled some of the other ingredients down accordingly and made a few substations.

Easter Mac and Cheese

Ingredients:

3 strips thinly sliced bacon

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 ¾ cups elbow macaroni

¼ cup butter

2 tsp bacon fat

¼ cup flour

3 ½ cups whole milk

½ tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp Tabasco sauce

8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated

8 oz queso Chihuahua (white Mexican cheese), grated

Directions:

Cut the 3 slices of raw bacon into 2” pieces with a sharp knife.  Add the bacon pieces to a small frying pan.  Crowding the pan is recommended because the bacon needs to be cooked at the lowest heat setting and the resulting bacon fat will help regulate the temperature.  Frying the bacon at low heat will  help ensure that the bacon and the bacon fat does not burn.

Add freshly ground black pepper to the bacon.  I probably used between ¼ and ½ teaspoons.  The pepper will flavor the bacon and the fat that it produces.

Remove the bacon once it has become firm.  Set aside.  Reserve the fat for later.

Reserve the bacon fat.

Boil the elbow macaroni in a large pot of water. 

While the macaroni boils, heat the milk in a microwave oven for about a minute or two.  The goal is to warm the milk to about 120°, or just a little hotter than bath water.  Set the milk aside.

Strain the macaroni after it has become soft.  Leave the macaroni in a colander and reserve at least 1/3 cup of the starchy water.

In the same large pot, now empty, add the butter and bacon fat.  Set the heat to low and simmer for a minute. 

Add the flour and whisk, to form a roux. 

Slowly add warm milk, while whisking.  Turn the heat to medium high and keep whisking for a few minutes while the sauce thickens.

Add the Tabasco sauce and mustard.  Whisk to incorporate.  Once the sauce has thickened, turn the heat to low.

Slowly add the grated cheese.  Stir slowly, with a spatula, as the cheese is added. 

When the cheese has melted, add the macaroni and fold, to coat the macaroni.

Pour the mac and cheese in an oven-proof backing dish and bake at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it starts to bubble.

Remove from the oven and top with crumbled bacon.

Serve with love!

Happy Easter.

Po’ Boy Burrito

This whole stay-at-home stuff is really weird.  I’m adjusting to it but I have to admit that it’s really hard to break the habit of trotting down the grocery store every time I want something that I don’t have in the kitchen. 

This time it was fresh baked French bread. 

I wanted a Po’ Boy sandwich and perhaps the single most important ingredient of a Po’ Boy is an excellent loaf of French bread.  I could have jumped in the car and raced down to the store to get a loaf of bread but I decided to resist the urge and improvise.  Thus, the Po’ Boy burrito was born!

What I find interesting is that I had every other ingredient for a Po’ Boy, except the French bread.  Go figure.

This recipe makes 3 Po’ Boy burritos.

Ingredients for the remoulade sauce:

½ cup mayonnaise

2 Tbs dill pickles, chopped

1 Tbs lemon juice (I used lime, since I didn’t have lemon on hand)

1 tsp Louisiana hot sauce

1 tsp capers, mashed and minced

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp Dijon mustard (or creole mustard)

½ tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 garlic clove, minced

1 green onion, chopped

Ingredients for the pickled cabbage:

½ cup cabbage, sliced thin

½ tsp cayenne pepper

¼ cup vinegar

2 tsp sugar

Ingredients for the fried shrimp:

15 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and butterfly cut

1 cup flour

½ cup corn meal

Oil for frying

Additional ingredients:

½ cup lettuce, sliced thin

1 sliced tomato

3 large burrito sized tortillas (9”)

Directions:

Prepare the  remoulade sauce.

In a mixing bowl, add mayonnaise, chopped pickles, lemon or lime juice, hot sauce, capers, paprika, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and green onion.  Set aside.

In a separate mixing bowl, add the cabbage, lettuce, cayenne pepper, vinegar and sugar.  Swirl to mix.  Set aside.

Prepare the shrimp.

Mix the flour and corn meal in a bowl and set aside.

Lightly beat two eggs in a bowl and set aside.

Dredge the shrimp in the flour/corn meal mixture and tap off excess flour.  Dip the shrimp in the egg wash and then dredge in the flour/corn meal again. 

In a medium sized sauce pan, fry the shrimp in hot oil.  I fried the shrimp in batches of five.

Remove the fried shrimp to a bowl and keep warm.

Once the shrimp are cooked, assemble the burritos.  Add remoulade sauce, lettuce, tomato, shrimp and pickled cabbage.

Serve with hot, crispy French fries.  See, I found a way to have a little French after all!

Stay healthy and eat well!

Crisis Management 101

Live life like a Scout.

Way, way back in my formative years I was a Boy Scout.  I didn’t stay with the program very long.  In fact, I was only in Scouts for less than two years.  But, in that time I learned more about being a good citizen and l learned more valuable knowledge than I ever learned in school.

I learned and practiced teamwork.  I learned about nature, and how to survive in the wild.  But most importantly, I learned how to prepare myself for anything.

The Scout motto is simple and wise: Be prepared.

Being prepared doesn’t mean you have to prepare for a doomsday event and it doesn’t mean that you have to lay your clothes out on the floor each night, like a fireman, waiting for a four-alarm fire.  It means you should prepare your mind to accept and deal with anything that comes your way.

Now that I think of it, being prepared, is really a state of mind akin to Zen Buddhism…don’t fixate on thoughts or emotions.  Allow yourself to rely on your skills and instincts.  Let the world come to you and embrace it. 

This particular crisis, the one surrounding the covid-19 virus, is serious, to be sure.  But, the decisions we make and the actions we take shouldn’t be any different than any other moments in our lives.  We make decisions every day and we choose actions every day.  Every decision and action we have made in our lives has brought us to the place we are now.  All we have to do is see a clear path, in our mind, to guide us.

If you are wondering what that clear path might look like, take a look at the Scout Law:

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

If every decision we make aligns with the tenets of the Scout law, then we should make good decisions.

Pizza Salad

On my never-ending quest to reinvent leftover food I was recently faced with a dilemma.

To be honest, the root of the problem can be traced back to me.  I made two large pizzas for three people.  What was I thinking?!  All of the leftover pizza was portioned in sets of three slices, wrapped in foil, and placed in the refrigerator.  And, there it sat, practically untouched, for three days. 

It wasn’t bad pizza…at least I didn’t think it was bad.  The problem was, there was too much of it and I shouldn’t have expected people to eat leftover pizza for days on end.  If I was still in college, then yes, leftover pizza might be all you get.  Be happy to have something to eat.  Live with it. 

So, I either had to eat all of the leftover pizza or figure out a way to reinvent it.

Pizza Salad

(serves 3)

Ingredients:

3 slices of leftover pizza (with various toppings)

Iceberg lettuce (one third of a head of lettuce, rough chopped)

1/3  cup Kalamata olives

¼ cup Dried Parmesan cheese

Vinegar and Oil dressing, to taste (I used store bought Italian dressing)

Directions:

Slice the pizza toppings away from the crust with a knife.  Allow the pizza topping to warm to room temperature.

Cut the thick crusty edge from the pizza and toast briefly in an oven.

Fill serving bowls with cold chopped iceberg lettuce.

Drizzle salad dressing on salad.

Rough chop the toppings and scatter them across the salads.

Add chopped Kalamata olives and top with parmesan cheese. 

Serve the salad cold with warm breadsticks (formerly known as pizza crust).

Rockin’ the Kitchen!

As I mentioned recently, my wife and I are working for “essential” industries.  We are still putting in regular hours at our respective companies.  Working in an environment that involves close human contact at a time like this can be nerve racking.  Sure, when we are at work, we focus on the jobs that need to be done.  But, when we come home we think of the risks we take each day we go to work.

We are not exceptional.  Many people are experiencing similar types of anxiety.  We all deal with it in our own ways.   

A few days ago, after a mere 4 hours of sleep, my wife awoke at the crack of dawn and went straight to the kitchen.  She spent the next 10 hours baking.  When my wife bakes, or cooks for that matter, the result is always impressive.  This particular baking marathon was fueled by her love of our family and her need to occupy herself with something meaningful.  It surely wasn’t fueled by a good night’s sleep!

It was therapy.  It was determination.  It was well-honed skill mixed with passion and promise.

The results were remarkable and very tasty!

* A deep dish cherry pie

* A pecan pie

* 4 loaves of jalapeño and cheddar cheese bread

* 2 casserole dishes of manicotti

Weekend Leftovers (and the Daily News)

I hate to say it but, it’s the weekend and I have too many leftovers in the refrigerator.  That’s a great thing for a weekday, when time is precious for us working folks, like us.  Yes, my wife and I have been deemed “essential” by the powers that be, but it drives me nuts when the weekend arrives and I discover that leftovers have overtaken the fridge .  This is my weekend crisis, along with worrying about the ever-expanding, impending virus.

A good weekend, for me, is when I get to play in the kitchen and make some food that can turn into leftovers for the upcoming week. 

But, today, it’s necessary to scoop together a meal from all of the leftovers.

How could I possibly tie all of these leftovers together to make a single, cohesive meal?  There’s shrimp in a garlic butter sauce with noodles, scalloped potatoes with ham and a chicken salad, intended for sandwiches.  Three mish-mash leftovers with only one or two servings each, among them.

I say, tie them together with some fresh bread.  Garlic bread should work.  Half of the bread for a small bread loaf and the other half for garlic knots, or in this case, a braided garlic loaf.  Add some fresh lettuce and we have a brand new meal!  Leftovers can always be boosted by adding a splash of something fresh.

Garlic Bread / Garlic Braid

Ingredients:

1 cup warm water

2 Tbs yeast

1 tsp olive oil

3 cups flour

2 Tbs garlic powder

Pinch of salt

1 quart prepared shrimp with pasta, with garlic butter sauce

1 pint prepared ham and scalloped potatoes

1 pint prepared chicken salad

Fresh lettuce, (any kind will do)

¼ cup olive oil

5 garlic cloves

Directions:

Prepare the bread dough by warming a cup of water and adding yeast and olive oil.  Set in a warm place to allow the yeast to activate for 20 minutes. Add water and yeast to a large mixing bowl and add the flour and salt.

Mix and knead for a minute.  Sprinkle garlic powder over the dough ball, cover with a towel and allow the dough to rise for 15 minutes in a warm place.

Knead dough again to incorporated the garlic powder.  Cover and keep warm for 30 minutes.

Heat an oven to 400°.

Knead the dough and divide in half.  Set one half aside.

Take one half and divide into thirds.  Roll each third into ropes, making one rope slightly larger than the other two.

Lay the ropes of dough on a clean surface, with the longest rope in the middle.  Braid the dough in a French braid. 

Lay the braided dough on a baking sheet and bake in the oven.

Take the remaining dough and form into an oblong loaf.  Place on a baking sheet and place it in the oven.

Bake for 20 minutes.

While the bread bakes, add chopped garlic to the olive oil and heat in the microwave for about 1 minute.  Carefully remove the olive oil and set aside.

Pull the braided loaf out of the oven and leave the other loaf in the oven for another 5 minutes.

Heat the shrimp and pasta in a covered pan, with a little splash of water.

Heat the scalloped potatoes and ham in a microwave oven for a few minutes.

Add the chopped lettuce to individual serving bowls.  Top the lettuce with the chicken salad.

Cut the braided loaf into bite sized portions and put the pieces in a mixing bowl. 

Pour the garlic and olive oil over the bread pieces and toss.

Place the braided garlic bread pieces in a serving bowl.

Slice the bread loaf into 1” slices.

In a large pan, heat about 1/3 of the scalloped potatoes and ham, with a little water.

Add the sliced bread to the pan and let the bread absorb some of the liquid.  Turn the bread over and turn the heat off.

Assemble individual serving plates by adding portions of the shrimp and pasta, along the with the scalloped potatoes and ham on bread slices, and braided garlic bread.  Serve with the a side of chicken salad and a sample of the daily news.

Super Easy Salmon

Well, it’s official.  Our worldwide dilemma has caused the train to jump of the tracks.  The Catholic church announced that we can stop abstaining from eating meat on Fridays for the remainder of Lent.  At least, that is what one bishop from New Jersey has decreed.

It seems that we have suffered enough.  Maybe a delicious hamburger and fries will pick up our spirits. 

Lent is one of those old-world traditions that I actually appreciate.  Fasting and simplifying our lives through meditation and reverence for 40 days each year seems like a healthy practice.

So, let’s prepare a nice salmon filet, shall we?

Ingredients:

2.5 lb fresh salmon filet

3 Tbs Dijon mustard

3 tsp lemon juice

3 tsp mayonnaise

1 ½ tsp chili sauce (spicy ketchup)

¼ cup capers

Directions:

Set oven to 375°.

Lay the salmon, skin-side down, on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Combine Dijon mustard, lemon juice, mayonnaise and chili sauce in a small bowl. 

Spread the mixture across the top of the salmon.  Make sure to coat the entire surface to prevent the fish drying while baking.

Sprinkle capers across the top of the fish.

Bake uncovered at 375° for 20 to 25 minutes.  Remove and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving.

Serve with sautéed asparagus and rice.