Impromptu Monday Pizza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pizza in two hours! 

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

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

Habanero-Peach Sauce

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

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

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

Ingredients:

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

1 cup water

¼ cup white vinegar

1 Tbs soy sauce

18 ounces peach preserves

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

Set the chilis aside and allow to cool.

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

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

Five Alarm Habanero Sauce

“36”

DISCLAIMER: The recipe that follows is purely for entertainment purposes.  In no way does the author of said recipe expect or intend that the reader should replicate said recipe.  The author of said recipe is absolved from any culpability as a result of  personal injuries that might occur in the event that a person is harmed by attempting to make said recipe or that a person consumes the product of the recipe.

ADDENDUM: In the event that  a person would attempt to follow the prescribed methods of said recipe, it is advised by the author to take the following precautions:

* wear protective gloves:  latex or silicone gloves

* wear a gas mask

* wear a full-body hazmat suit

“Here be dragons”

This is one of the hottest sauces that I have ever made.  It’s not for the meek.  It’s not for the novice fire-eating braggarts. 

I have to admit that I am addicted to habaneros.  The flavor of a fresh, ripe habanero is irresistibly tantalizing and it pulls me into its depth, like Charybdis pulling Odysseus and his crew into its deadly whirlpool.

This sauce transcends the realms of delicious flavor and extreme heat.  Anyone that dallies in ultra-hot sauces should understand what I mean.  The ability to distinguish flavor in very hot sauces is important.  A hot sauce that is meant to cause pain is useless, unless a devilish prank is the intention.

Ingredients:

36 fresh habanero chilis, steamed and charred over a hot grill

6 cloves roasted garlic

1 cup distilled white vinegar

Directions:

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

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

Roast the packet of chilis on a hot charcoal grill for 40 minutes, flipping the packet over every 10 minutes.  Leave an open area in the center of the grill to avoid burning the chilis.

Carefully open the aluminum foil packet to expose the steamed chilis.  Take a breath before opening the packet and hold your breath as you open the packet.  You’ve been warned!  Walk away from the opened packet and take a few deep breaths.  Return to the chilis, slowly.  Take shallow breaths through your nose and empty the chilis into a blender.  If the foil packet has bits of dark residue, form the foil into a bowl shape and add a little water.  Swish the water around to loosen the gooey residue.  You might want to hold your breath while you swish the water around.  The vapors can send you into a coughing fit, if you’re not careful.  Pour the residue into the blender. 

Add the roasted garlic to the blender.  Add the vinegar to the blender.  Pulse the mixture a few times and then blend the mixture until it becomes a smooth liquid.  If the sauce is too thick, add a little water and continue to blend.  Do not lean over and smell the blended liquid.  You know the vapors will knock you down.  Trust that the sauce is plenty hot.  All you should do at this point is add liquid to the mixture until you achieve the desired consistency.

Carefully pour the sauce into small jars.  I filled 3 recycled hot sauce jars and poured the rest of the sauce in a canning jar.  I placed my smallest funnel into a jar and slowly filled each jar.  I strongly recommend wearing protective gloves because one hand will hold the jar as the other hand pours the liquid into the funnel.  If any sauce leaks during the process, it will get on the hand that is holding the bottle and, if that hand is not protected you will definitely regret it.  If the funnel clogs during the process, you may want to insert a toothpick to clear the clog.  Again, that hand should be protected!

This recipe made about 36 ounces of sauce. 

New Orleans – Part Two

Prologue:

In case you haven’t heard, New Orleans got smashed by Hurricane Ida, on August 29.  In fact, Ida careened into Louisiana 16 years, to the day, after Hurricane Katrina obliterated much of New Orleans.  Tough times are ahead for everyone in southern Louisiana and Mississippi.  I remember the mass exodus, after Katrina.  I made some new friends, as they made their way north, to the Memphis area.  Many of those people returned to New Orleans and Biloxi to rebuild their homes and communities, after many months,  and now, they have an opportunity to prove their mettle, once again. 

Stay strong, friends.

Way back, at least it seems like ‘way back’ to me now, in May, 2021, my wife and I made a trip to New Orleans.  We had spent most of 2020 confined by Covid-19 and, after receiving our vaccinations, we needed to break away.  We spent 4 days and 3 nights in New Orleans, just as the city was lifting some of the Covid restrictions.  We had a blast.  You can see my first blog about this experience here

Here’s some of my recollections from our second day, in the fabulous Crescent City, New Orleans.

Café Du Monde

You’ve got to wake up early in the morning if you want to beat the masses that head to Café Du Monde on any given day.  I mean really early!  Café Du Monde, located in New Orleans’ French Market, which of course is in the French Quarter, is open 24 hours a day.  That’s pretty impressive, considering that mostly serve beignets and coffee! 

How can a café survive with such a limited menu?  You only need to sample their beignets and chicory coffee to understand. Simplicity is divine, especially when the simple things are done right!

Everything you might want is within walking distance, in the French Quarter.  Every stroll unveils interesting shops and eateries.  All sorts of shops, restaurants and hotels can be found on nearly every street.  I was expecting a tourist trap but I was surprised to see a pleasant balance of locals and tourists on the streets and in the stores. 

The Market Café

Dining al fresco might be the best way to enjoy the New Orleans experience.  The sights, the music and the aroma of New Orleans is a treat for the senses.  The Market Café has some indoor dining but most of the seating is outdoors, on the covered patio that wraps around the building. 

We stopped by for an early lunch and I’m glad we arrived before noon.  We waited about twenty minutes to be seated.  By the time we finished our meal, the line was doubled and I imaged that people waited for nearly an hour, to be seated.

The menu at the Market Café is moderately priced and the food and service was worth every penny. 

AWESOME ROAST BEEF PO’ BOY!

I had a difficult time deciding what to try, because I wanted to try everything!  I opted for small cups of Gumbo, Jambalaya, Shrimp Creole, and Red Beans and Rice.  All four bowls were rich and delicious but the shrimp creole was outstanding.  Based on the color and velvety thickness of the sauce, I would call it etoufee, either way, it was full of flavor and very satisfying.

WHEN IN DOUBT, SAMPLE THEM ALL!

As we walked back to our hotel, we came across a Mexican restaurant. I stopped to look at the menu and I thought it might be a good place to visit for dinner.  After our rest, I visited the bar at our hotel.  Patrick’s Bar Vin showcased several types of wine and the proprietor, Patrick, was chatting with some of the regular customers.  I went to the bar to check out the beers, on tap.  Among the regular, expected variety I noticed two Belgium beers, Le Chouffe and Chimay.  I tried one of each and was impressed with the Chimay.  Each pint cost about $9.00, so I sipped them thoughtfully.  While I was there, I struck up a conversation with the bartender and, during the conversation, I learned that he was from Honduras so, naturally, I had to talk about my Tex-Mex roots and  I eventually asked him about the Mexican restaurant that I had seen on my way back to the hotel.  He said that the restaurant was overpriced and the menu was all over the place, which made him feel that the restaurant lacked focus.  He said that if I wanted authentic Mexican cuisine, I should go to Cuñada, which was only a few blocks away from the hotel.  He said that Cuñada was a family owned business, and served authentic Oaxacan food.  I took his advice and was glad I did!

PATRICK’S BAR VIN – BIENVILLE STREET

Cuñada – Conti Street

For a split second, I thought, “Why am I going to a Mexican restaurant in the New Orleans French Quarter?”  I regained my senses and remembered that great Mexican food can be found just about anywhere in U.S., and, more importantly, New Orleans has such a diverse mixture of cultures.  It’s what makes New Orleans, New Orleans.  African-American, Spanish and French influences are woven together, like a beautiful tapestry. 

I felt at home during our visit to Cuñada.  The aroma of beans and spices filled the air as we walked inside. The simple décor and the busy staff members made me think that their emphasis was on the quality of the food.  That proved to be true.

The brilliant colors that might have been missing from the restaurant décor, so popular with Mexican restaurants, were found in the plates of food they served. 

We started with queso fundido, which translates to “melted cheese”.  It is a dip served with crisp or soft corn tortillas. 

This version included five types of melting cheese, Chihuahua, Oaxaca, queso blanco, Monterrey Jack, and asadero queso frescal.  Pork chorizo was added, as well as roasted poblano chiles and cilantro.  The different kinds of cheese were not mixed together, before baking on the cast iron skillet, which gave the dish a nice variety of textures and flavors.  That quality made this a standout version of queso fundido!

My wife ordered enchiladas rojas.  The cucumber, radishes, pickled onions and avocado was a feast for the eyes and the rich red sauce had an earthy tone, with just a little heat from the chilis. 

I ordered fish tacos, prepared two ways.  One was a beer battered fish taco and the other was pan fried.  Both were accompanied by all of the colorful vegetables.  I was glad to see that they prepared the rice in the classic, Oaxacan fashion.  Corn, peas, carrots and a pinch of cilantro turns rice into something special. 

It was the simple bean soup that won my heart.  The beans look so innocent, surrounded by all of the colorful food but those beans were outstanding!  The bean broth was full of mild flavors.  I closed my eyes and concentrated on the flavors, trying to piece together the different spices that went into the soup. 

It wasn’t until we got up to leave that I realized what was in the soup that made me feel so good.  There, hanging from the vent hoods, over the grill, were several bunches of epazote.  That’s the mark of authentic Oaxacan cuisine! 

I’m usually not shy about asking to take a trip back to the kitchen in a restaurant, but this galley styled kitchen was tight and the cooks and staff were dancing deftly around each other, hard at work.  Not a good time to assert myself, I thought.  At the heart of the kitchen was the person I knew would be there.  Grandma.  Grandma was laying out a round of fresh corn tortillas on the grill and she looked tired.  I shouted loud enough for her to hear, “Tengo much gusto!  Gracias!”, which basically means, “I so happy, thank you”.  She raised her head to look at me and seemed bewildered.  I gave her a wink and we left.

30 Minute Marina, Rigatoni (No Baloney)

Well, tomato season is coming to close.  My garden has been extremely nice to me this year, despite my lack of attention to it.  If it wasn’t for the vigilance and diligence of my wife, we would have piles of rotten tomatoes lying beneath the vines, instead of the bountiful harvest that we have enjoyed. 

Way back in April, when I finished planting the garden, I whispered a solemn promise to the garden, “You’re on your own, now.”  It was the least I could do.  I knew that my job was going to demand much of my time for the months to come and, as it turned out, I was right.  Working nine to ten hours each day, six days a week leaves only a slender slice of time to do anything other than eat and sleep. 

  • ‘Essential Worker’ was the phrase used last year, to describe me and my fellow coworkers.  Now that we are 20 months into this pandemic, I don’t hear that moniker spoken very often, as it relates to my industry.  The real essential workers, the ones who are saving lives and feeding us, are still out there, doing their best, day after day.  ‘Pseudo Essential Workers’, like me, are supplying the world with small kitchen appliances are dealing with supply chain failures and a rocky economy. 

We’ve had ample rain and sun over the last several months and the garden heeded my whispered curse.  Our twenty tomato plants put out about 25 gallons of Roma and Beefsteak tomatoes.  We’ve canned about two dozen quarts of marina and salsa and we’ve had buckets and buckets of cherry tomatoes, to spare.

So, now it’s a Thursday and I’m staring at a bowl of late-season tomatoes on the kitchen counter.

Let’s make a quick marina and figure out how to make a meal of it.

Ingredients:

8 to 10 medium tomatoes.  (I used 8 inexplicably large Roma tomatoes)

5 or 6 fresh basil leaves, chopped

A sprig of fresh rosemary, stripped and chopped

1 Tbs garlic powder

2 tsp dried thyme

2 tsp dried oregano

Directions:

Rough chop the tomatoes.

Put the tomatoes in a large sauce pot.

Set the heat to medium/high.  Stir every few minutes.

In between stirs, consider other food items on hand and how they could be put together in a sensible way.

Let’s see…I have a large, whole pork loin.  Check.  I have half a 16 ounce bag of Rigatoni pasta.  Check.  I have about 6 ounces of Parmesan cheese.  Check.  I have a head of broccoli.  Check. 

It’s a four pound pork loin.  I’m not going to use all of that!  I want to serve 3 to 4 people so, maybe I’ll use half of the Rigatoni and save the rest for another day.  1 head of broccoli…perfect.  I will use all of that. 

Stir the tomatoes!  Gee whiz, I almost forgot!

Now, what am I going to do with the pork loin?  I’ll use about one and half pounds and cut it into ½” thick slices.  I can coat the slices with Panko breadcrumbs and pan fry it.  Yeah, that shouldn’t take very long to cook. 

I’ll boil 8 ounces of the rigatoni and add it to a platter, top it with some marinara, top that with the fried pork and top that with more marina and top the whole thing with Parmesan cheese.  Yes. 

This is definitely starting to sound like an Italian dish, but for the life of me, I don’t know if it’s really an Italian dish, or if I’m just pretending.  I guess it doesn’t matter.  What should I do with the broccoli?

Stir the tomatoes!  I didn’t forget this time!

OK.  Broccoli.  What if I steam the broccoli and add some Italian dressing to the boiling water so that it will flavor the broccoli, as it steams.  Yeah, that sounds like a thing!

Ingredients: (Now that I have figured out how to complete the meal!)

1 ½ lbs. pork loin, sliced into ½” thick slices

2 Tbs cornstarch

Black pepper, to taste

8 ounces Rigatoni pasta

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup Panko breadcrumbs

6 ounces Parmesan cheese, shredded

1 head of broccoli, chopped

3 tablespoons Italian salad dressing

The tomatoes are cooking down nicely.  They have been bubbling for about 15 minutes and the sauce looks very thin.  Maybe I’d better add 8 ounces of tomato paste, to stiffen the sauce. 

I’d better chop the basil and rosemary.  I need to add the spices and herbs to the sauce and let it simmer, while I prepare the pork.

OK.  Herbs and spices are in the pot.  Good.  Now, let it go at medium/low heat for another 10 minutes.  Step up the stirring to once per minutes, otherwise the thick sauce will sputter and splatter and get all over my stovetop!

I’ll slice the pork now and set up a dredging station.  Slice the pork and coat with cornstarch and a little black pepper.  Egg, and Panko breadcrumbs are all I need for dredging station.

Stir the sauce!

I’m going to bring out the skillet and add about ½ inch of oil to it and turn the heat to medium. 

Dip the pork in egg, knock off excess egg, press both sides of the pork in Panko breadcrumbs and set aside.  Good.

Stir the sauce again.  It’s been simmering for about 15 minutes and it looks thick now.  I think I can take it off the heat and put in a bowl. 

Rinse the pot out with water and fill it about half way with water and add some salt.  Set the pot on the stove and turn the heat to high.  Once the water boils, add the rigatoni.  Cook until al dente, maybe 15 minutes.

While the pasta cooks, I’ll grab the head of broccoli and cut it into florets.  These are going to go into the big pot, after the pasta is done.

The skillet is hot and the pork is ready to be cooked.  Yay.  Add the pork to the pan and avoid overcrowding the pan.  Cook at medium/high heat for about two minutes on each side.  Remove to a paper towel-line plate.

Remove the rigatoni from the pot and spread it out, across a large platter. 

Rinse out the pot again and add about ½ inch of water, and add about 3 tablespoons of Italian dressing.  Turn the heat to low/medium.  Put the cut broccoli in a colander and set the colander over the pot.  Put the lid on the pot and let the broccoli steam for about 10 minutes.

While the broccoli steams, top the pasta with some of the marina.  Add the fried, breaded, pork slices.  Add another layer of marinara.

Oh, come on!  I always forget the cheese!  I’ll quickly shred the Parmesan cheese and sprinkle it on top of the platter.

Pull the broccoli from steamer and place in a serving bowl.

There!  Dinner is ready in less than an hour.  Whew!

Epilogue: On a serious note, if you haven’t received the vaccine, please get it.  A virus like, Covid-19, will continue to spread and mutate, if it is allowed to.  Don’t allow fear or stubbornness to keep you from saving humanity. 

Expect an expert excerpt

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone, chatting it up with my parents and I mentioned that I was in the midst of preparing dinner. They wanted to see some pictures, so I obliged, the next day.

Here’s an excerpt from the e-mail that I sent, along with some photos.

Note: I mention swai and tilapia in the message. The two types of fish have become very common in grocery stores across the U.S., and maybe the rest of the world. They are not the same fish, as some might think.

Okay, on to dinner…

The fish was Swai, which is some sort of large white fish…maybe it’s like Tilapia, the other white fish that is so ubiquitous in grocery stores nowadays.  I dusted the fish and shrimp with cumin and cayenne powder and pan fried them for a few minutes. 

The accoutrements were guacamole, sliced red onion, mango, a salad consisting of chopped Romaine lettuce, bell pepper and green onion, and a creamy sauce that contained mayonnaise, sour cream, cocktail sauce, hot sauce, garlic salt and a dash of Maggi seasoning.  If you haven’t used Maggi seasoning, it’s worth trying…it’s like concentrated soy sauce, sort of.  A little bit goes a long way!  All of this was loaded into a burrito-sized flour tortilla.

You’ll probably notice the chilis with the seafood.  Fear not!  Nobody ate these.  They were strictly ornamental, although I considered eating the habaneros, but I knew I needed to hit the sack within an hour after dinner and I didn’t want to sleep with spicy chilis in me.

Alrighty, there you have it.  I wish you could have been here to join in the fun!

Love,

Bob

New Orleans – Day One

As a first time visitor to New Orleans French Quarter, I didn’t know exactly what to expect I would see and discover.  Sure, I knew about Bourbon street, famous for Mardi Gras celebrations and I knew there would be plenty of restaurants and pubs to visit but, I was amazed at how accessible all of these places were. 

Walking is the best mode of transportation in the French Quarter. The French Quarter is a compact ward of the city and every street is full of a variety of restaurants, bars and boutiques.  A twenty-minute stroll can lead to world of discoveries.

We checked into our hotel in the late afternoon and, after a few minutes of rest, we were hungry and ready to find our first meal.  We walked out of the hotel lobby and one minute later, we found ourselves at Curio, a bistro and bar on the corner or Royal Street and Bienville Street.

Curio has the French, Spanish and Caribbean architectural style that nearly all of the buildings in the French Quarter share, which means lots of ornate iron work and multiple floors of covered galleries facing the streets.

Curio serves up typical American fare, embellished with Creole flair.

Our waiter, Dylan, was cordial and enthusiastic.  He guided us through some of the items on the menu and steered us toward some excellent options. 

French Onion Soup Au Gratin

$9.00

Caramelized Onion, Rich Beef Broth, Swiss & Provolone

The standout was the French Onion Soup Au Gratin.  My wife and I share this and we might have been happy to split another one amongst us because it was really that good.  There was nothing fancy or trendy about the French Onion Soup.  What made it so outstanding was its richness.  The beef stock was rich and smooth and full of flavors that can only be achieved by a slow process of reduction.  The caramelized onions added the perfect amount of sweetness to the soup.  The broiled cheese that topped the soup was perfectly melted and had just the right stringiness to make it fun to eat, but not messy.

Blue Crab Cakes

$14.00

Louisiana Blue Crab Meat, Onions & Peppers, Creole Coleslaw, Cilantro-Lime Mayo

This was my first experience with blue crabs from the Gulf of Mexico.  It is likely that the crabs actually came from Lake Pontchartrain, which is actually a large brackish estuary in southeastern Louisiana. 

I don’t have crab cakes very often but I know good crab cakes when I eat them.  Good crab cakes need to be full of sweet crab meat and they need to be seared perfectly, to achieve a crisp but yielding outer crust.  The crab cakes at Curio are very good and the cilantro-lime mayo dressing was a refreshing change of pace from the more typical remoulade sauce, or tartar sauce that is prevalent on the East coast. 

As good as these were, they rank number two on my crab cake experiences.  Number one came from a restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, some years ago.  It was a combination of the superior Chesapeake Bay blue crabs and the skilled chef that made them earned them top prize.

Coriander Blackened Redfish

Honey Creamed Mustard Greens

$26.00

Locally sourced redfish is plentiful in Louisiana.  Most are caught in the Gulf but redfish also find their way into Lake Ponchartrain.  Blackened redfish was developed by famed chef, Paul Prudhomme, right here, in the New Orleans French Quarter, nearly forty years ago. 

Blackening fish is a brave yet counterintuitive method of pan frying fish.  Paul Prudhomme’s genius shines brightly through this inventive preparation.  The fish filet is heavily dusted with seasonings and then quickly pan fried in butter at high heat. The result is a very aromatic fish, smoky to the nose, but not overly spicy.  The highlight of the fish I had at Curio was the emphasis on cumin, in the spice mix.  Cumin, when charred, adds a whole new depth of flavor.  The fish sat atop rich, creamy mustard greens.  Time could have stopped while I was eating this and that would have been just fine, with me.  I like big, bold flavors in nearly everything I eat and this redfish satisfied me in every way. 

Grilled Chicken Caprese Sandwich

$17.00

Fresh Mozzarella, Marinated Chicken, Basil Pesto, Tomato, Balsamic, Toasted Brioche Bun

My wife order the Chicken Caprese Sandwich.  She noted that the chicken was moist and tender and the Mozzarella, tomato and basil caprese was very fresh but the star of the sandwich was the delicious brioche bun. 

One of the nicest things about our experience at Curio was our timing.  We arrived in the late afternoon, when the dinner crowd was just beginning to arrive and, after a leisurely meal, we returned to our hotel before the raucous crowds packed the streets and bars.  We dined al fresco, on the second floor gallery.  The temperature was nearly perfect.  We were still a few hours away from sunset and a gentle breeze made the moment even better.  We sat and talked and looked down at the streets below, observing the crowds below. This was a very nice way to start our New Orleans experience.

25¢

Some grocery store deals are just too good to pass up. 

Last weekend, when I purchased a 10 pound brisket, (at $9.00 per pound), I found a bin full of large, red bell peppers on sale for 25 cents, each.  Red bell peppers usually sell for $1.00 each, or more!  Needless to say, I scooped up six of the bell peppers before leaving the store.

I imagine that the bell peppers were at reduced price because their shelf-life was expiring.  A few of the peppers had slight wrinkles but, for the most part, they looked very good.

Since I suspected that the peppers were nearing the end of their freshness, I decided to roast them and save them for later use. 

Once I pulled the brisket off of the smoker, I laid the peppers on the hot coals.  I turned the peppers over, after 15 minutes, and then again, nearly a half hour later.  I had forgotten about them while we were eating the brisket. 

Once I peeled the charred flesh from the peppers, and discarded the seeds and membranes, I still had a lot of usable smoked peppers.

I rinsed them under cold water and stored them in the refrigerator.  I have been using them in all sorts of meals.  Nachos, burritos, salads…you name it.  Roasted bell peppers are awesome, and, at 25 cents each, it was steal!

In a strange way, I felt justified for buying the $100 brisket because of the incredible savings on the peppers. 

And, as for the brisket, we have had 5 meals from it so far, with another 5 pounds left in the refrigerator.  Beef is pricey right now, but the secret lies in how it is used. 

Top a salad with a few slices of brisket.  Top a baked potato with brisket and barbecue sauce.  Make a hoagie with a little brisket and lots of sliced vegetables.  Add a slice of brisket to an egg breakfast, instead of bacon.  In other words, stretch the heck out of the purchase!

Don’t be cheap on yourself or your family.  Be smart!

Bon appétit!

Smokin’ !

It’s been two weeks since my wife and I returned from our 4-day trip to New Orleans and I still haven’t managed to submit a post about the adventure.  I think I’m still reeling from the experience and, even though the trip is still fresh in my mind, I’m finding it difficult to write about.   We had a wonderful time in New Orleans.  It’s a fantastic city with so much to offer.  I’m sure I will find time to share the details…someday!

Today was devoted to the joy of barbecue and smoking a brisket.  I try to make smoked brisket at least once a year and it’s always worth the effort.

Smoking a brisket is no easy feat, at least for me.  It takes between 12 to 16 hours to cook, which makes for a very long day.  I started this morning at 3:30 with a cup of chicory coffee, warmed up from yesterday’s cold pot.   Outdoor temperature was about 80° but the humidity was near 100°!  It was so humid that the newspaper I used for the charcoal chimney starter was limp and soggy by the time I was putting a match to it.  It took 3 attempts and about 30 minutes just to light the coals!

I bought a new offset smoker yesterday and I decided to break it in with a brisket.  I didn’t know if I was being foolish or confident.  Fortunately, the brisket came out just fine. 

By 4:00 p.m. I was pulling off the cooked brisket and life was good. 

We served the brisket with homemade Texas-style barbecue sauce, potato salad and a refreshing cucumber salad.  And for desert, homemade cheesecake, compliments of my wife.

This was the sort of Sunday meal that will keep me inspired throughout the upcoming work week!

Paella

There we were, running like silly tourists, attempting to use our Barcelona tour map to cover our heads, as we searched for a hidden gem of a restaurant.

We ducked into a nearby alley, just as the unexpected rain shower passed by and the blazing sun returned.  Steam rose slowly from the hot, rain slicked cobblestone street as we stepped under the nearest balcony and, by our good fortune, found a fantastic little café that served the most delicious paella! 

Alright, here’s the real story.  One of my wife’s co-workers gave her a few threads of saffron and when my wife presented them to me, my thoughts, not surprisingly, went straight to paella.  I’ve eaten dishes that contain saffron before, like grilled lamb and couscous but I have yet to understand what makes the spice so special.  A tiny amount of saffron can really brighten a dish and make it very colorful but the spice is so subtle, in flavor, that it goes virtually unnoticed by my palette.  There’s a good chance that my palette lacks sophistication and there’s an even better chance that I am too heavy-handed with other spices that I don’t showcase saffron properly.

Saffron is ridiculously expensive, due to the amount of work and resources required to grow and harvest it, which means that you won’t see me at the bazaar, haggling over the price with a merchant.   

For me, the real joy of paella comes from the harmony achieved by the combination of the various vegetables, meats and rice.  And, it’s a one-pan wonder!  If you don’t have saffron, you can substitute with other spices that add brilliant color.  A tiny amount of turmeric, achiote, or a combination of both can be used to produce yellow, orange and red color just as easily, and they won’t break the bank! 

Ingredients:

1 onion, diced

½ green bell pepper, diced

½ red bell pepper, diced

4 or 5 garlic cloves, smashed and rough chopped

4 or 5 Roma tomatoes, diced

¼ cup olive oil

2 large bay leaves

1 tsp Hungarian paprika

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp saffron threads

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup white wine

1 lb chicken breast or chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces

2 cups uncooked rice

5 cups chicken stock or chicken broth

½ cup frozen green peas

8 jumbo raw shrimp, peeled, with tails on

6 to 8 green mussels

2 fresh squid, cleaned and cut into rings

1 lime, sliced

Directions:

Prepare the vegetables.  Chop the onions, bell peppers, garlic and tomatoes.  Set aside.

In a large stainless steel skillet, add oil and heat at medium/low heat.

Add all of the chopped vegetables, except the tomatoes.

Simmer and stir the vegetables for five minutes. 

Add the chopped tomatoes, spices and bay leaves.  Simmer for another five minutes. 

Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add white wine.

Simmer and stir occasionally for ten minutes.

Add chicken and rice.  Stir for one minute.

Slowly add the chicken stock (or broth).  Shake the skillet to level the rice, but do not stir.

Bring the mixture to a boil and then set the heat to low.

Leave the pan uncovered and let the paella do its thing.  Do not stir. 

I get anxious, every time I add uncooked rice to a pan full of stuff that is already cooking but I have learned to walk away.  I find something else to do for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, nestle the squid, shrimp into the rice. 

Top with peas and mussels. Cook for another 5 minutes.

Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

Serve the paella in pan.  Garnish with slices of lime.