Crazy Days and Crazy Nights

My day officially started with me leaving my lights on when I parked my truck at work.  You see, I drive a wonderful little 1994 Ford Ranger pickup, and back in the olden days, cars and trucks didn’t have fancy sensors and computers that would automatically turn off headlights.  I love the truck and wouldn’t give it up for the world, but I’m prone to “Nutty Professor” moments that make me forget the little things in life, like turning off headlights, while I ponder the great mysteries of life, or trying to solve work problems, while I drive to work. 

Fortunately, one of my co-workers arrived almost two hours after I arrived and exclaimed, “You must have a really good battery because your lights are still on!”  She was right, on both accounts. 

I made the long trek through the warehouse and went outside and turned off the lights and whispered a silent prayer.  Lo, and behold, when I cranked the engine, the truck started like a champ!  Indeed!  What a battery…especially since I had put the poor battery through the same sort of torment four or five times during the last few months!

I felt unbalanced and slightly out of control for the rest of the day.  Some might use the phrase, “getting out on the wrong side of the bed”.  I told myself that I was in for a real treat of a day!  Sometimes, the life unbalanced leads to unexpectedly good things.  Other times, it can lead to a chaotic mess that wreaks havoc on everyone and everything in your wake.

On the way to work I listened to the CD “Fragile”, by the band Yes, and when I was driving home, I was listening to the CD “Bloodletting”, by the band Concrete Blonde.  Anyone who knows anything about these two albums, or bands, should pick up on the notion that my day was a little off kilter. 

I recently took on a new assignment at work.  It’s been exciting and rewarding, and it has been a refreshing challenge.  Sometimes I feel like an Olympic swimmer, and twenty minutes later I feel like I’m barely treading water.  That sort of back-and-forth sensation might make other people nervous, but those are the waters I enjoy swimming in the most.  Swimming at peak performance and swimming to survive are both exhilarating experiences.

As I drove home, listening to Concrete Blonde, I thought of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”.  

Stevie Ray Vaugh was no fool.  His covers of Jimi Hendrix songs were nearly perfect.  He paid homage to the brilliant, raw power chords of Hendrix and he lovingly reworked them, (and then mastered them), and the end result was like a swinging hammer draped in satin and silk.  I have nothing but admiration for Jimi Hendrix and his contribution to the evolution of modern music, and to my endless enjoyment, but I have to say, there’s no cloud in the great blue skies that Stevie Ray can’t fly over!

Listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s rendition of “Little Wing”.  Tight.  Clear. No Lyrics.  This is a cover song like no other.  Slick finger work, up and down the fretboard.  Jazz and Rock and Electric blues, all wrapped up with strength and subtlety.  What a tribute!

My journey was nearing an end and I realized that I needed to finish the work week with a good dose of pizza.  I pulled into the driveway, went inside, laid my wallet and keys on the counter and immediately started the pizza dough.  I always make two or three pizzas and tonight I decided on three.  I knew two of them would be traditional, Italian cold cuts, beef with mushroom, but the third was still a mystery.

It wasn’t until I pawed through the refrigerator a few times that the third pizza became clear, in my mind.  I found 2 ounces of crumbled blue cheese that needed to be used and wondered what I might pair it with.  About a half hour later, while the dough was still rising, I remembered I had a smoked chicken thigh, left over after last week’s grill, and I knew I had found a perfect match.  I imagined the finished pizza in my mind, and I knew that a slight drizzle of Sriracha sauce would complete the deal. 

There aren’t a lot of blue cheese aficionados in my family, which is a subtle way of saying, I like blue cheese and most of the family tolerates it, or detests it, so I thought this might be a good way of promoting my old friend, blue cheese.

The pizzas came out of the oven, one by one, and they were sliced and presented, side by side, on the kitchen counter.  We all grabbed some slices and sat down at the table and quickly jumped into lively conversation. 

My son briefly discussed plans about moving into a house with his friend.  My daughter gave us an update on her boyfriend’s recent bout with Covid, and my wife had just finished a phone conversation with her 80-year-old aunt who wants a pair of red ballet slippers. 

The dinner, and the conversation, was going well.  Until the cat made a sudden and unfortunate appearance.

Our cat came from out of nowhere and skittered across the kitchen floor, leaving a slimy trail of poop behind her as she fled, out of sight.  That killed the entire family dinner instantly.  Some of us jumped up to go after the cat.  Some of us ran to grab Clorox wipes to clean up the mess.  Some of us just gawked at the trail of mess that was left for us to clean up.

Two minutes later, my son and daughter were removing plates from the dinner table, wrapping up leftover pizza in aluminum foil, and washing plates.  Dinner was officially over, and I, the slowest of eaters, still had two pieces of uneaten pizza on my plate.

“What about the pizza?”  I selfishly thought.  “Does anyone want to say anything about the sort of genius mind that could come up with the notion of a pizza made with char-grilled chicken and blue cheese, with a delicate drizzle of Sriracha sauce?” 

As I sat there at the table, still trying to eat the last few bites of pizza without thinking about cat poop, I realized that this is all part of the game.  It’s all part of the deal.  It’s family at it’s best.  It really capped off a weird and funky day, quite nicely.   I really couldn’t have asked for, (or expected) any other sort of ending to this topsy-turvy day. 

So, now as I write, the clock finds its way to midnight and I pass from Friday to Saturday, in the blink of an eye, as I listen to Vangelis : Blade Runner soundtrack (Esper edition).   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3fz6CC45ok

R.I.P Vangelis –  Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou!  Your masterful compositions will never be sidelined or sullied by a ridiculous cat!

It almost seems anticlimactic now, but here’s my recipe for grilled chicken blue cheese pizza:

Ingredients:

Homemade pizza dough (see some of my previous posts on pizza, or use your own recipe)

1 grilled chicken thigh (grilled bone-in, skin on, then deboned, skin off, and chopped)

2 ounces crumble blue cheese

2 ounces Mozzarella cheese

½ cup marinara sauce

Directions:

I roll out the dough and pre-bake in a 400º oven for 10 minutes, flip over, and bake another 5 minutes.

Add sauce to the semi-baked pizza

Add Mozzarella

Add the grilled chicken

Add the blue cheese

Bake at 400º for 10 minutes

Slice and serve!

Before baking

The Big Reveal

I don’t know why I’m making such a big deal out of this.  It’s really just me prepping for dinner. 

So, in case you were wondering what I was up to with onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic and okra, I’ll tell you. 

It’s Gumbo, baby!

There’s no greater joy than making and eating a great gumbo.  It’s also a little scary, but that just makes it more thrilling!  Making a proper roux has been difficult and sometimes disastrous for me in the past, as I’ve mentioned at least once before in previous posts, but this time I took the training wheels off!

One thing that I love about gumbo is that it’s never made the same way twice.  I should clarify.  I don’t believe it should (or could) be made exactly, the same way twice.  As one of my favorite local DJs says, on his “New Orleans Big Beat” radio program, “You never know what you’ll find in the gumbo.  It might be jazz, funk, rock and roll, blues, or soul…it all goes into the gumbo!”

Gumbo is a soup/stew.  The one thing that is essential in a gumbo is a roux and, if you are familiar with roux, you might be thinking of the butter, flour mixture that you whip up before adding stock, or milk, if you’re making a béchamel.  It’s the basis of nearly every good sauce. 

Gumbo roux is an entirely different critter.  Traditionally speaking, a gumbo roux is made with vegetable oil or lard, or a combination of the two, and flour.  Gumbo roux isn’t finished when the flour incorporates with the oil.  It must be cooked to a point where it turns dark brown, to produce the desired flavor.

Once a year, or so, I put myself to the test and try to make a gumbo that can stand up to the good gumbos that I have eaten, over the years.  With all modesty aside, I really nailed it this time!

Looking back on this particular gumbo experience, I would say that there were three key things that made the gumbo so tasty.  First, I was wise enough to prep for the gumbo the night before I made it, as I mentioned in my last post.  I could have pushed on and made the gumbo that night but, I didn’t want to make everyone wait for dinner and, my instincts told me to prepare some of the ingredients so that when it came time to make the gumbo, I wouldn’t be pressed for time or be stressed. 

Secondly, I did what any great chef would tell me to do.  I made a stock.  I will describe how I made the stock later, but I assure you, it was the signature touch that not only made this gumbo different than ones I have made before, but it gave a depth of flavor that can’t be pulled out of can or a few bouillon cubes!

The final touch was the roux.  As I said, I took the training wheels off and made a doggone roux the way it should be made.  My previous attempts at making a roux involved nervously whisking oil and flour over a medium-low heat, trying to avoid the dreaded “burnt roux”.    Cooking the roux at a lower heat resulted in 20 minutes of whisking only to wind up with a burnt roux.  I was too timid.  I’ve seen people make roux and the process should only take about 10 minutes.

You might be thinking, “how do you know if a roux is burnt?”  Well, all I can say is smell it and be honest with yourself.  If it smells burnt, it’s burnt, and there’s no turning back.  Throw the roux out and start all over again. 

This time, I added the oil to the pot and turned the heat up high.  Not maximum, killer-high, but high.  I let the oil get very hot and then I added the flour, all at once.  The flour began to brown instantly, and even though I wanted to take some photos during the process, I had to keep whisking furiously.  I turned the heat down to medium-high and whisked until my wrist was about to give out.  Seven minutes later, I had a deep, dark roux.  I turned the heat off and transferred the roux to another bowl, to stop the heating process and give the roux a chance to cool down.

The good thing about a dark roux is that it makes a rich gumbo.  The downside about a dark roux is that it won’t thicken a gumbo as much as a lighter, blonde roux will.  Big deal.  I’ve got fresh okra!

The origin of the word gumbo comes from Africa, and it refers to okra, which brings me back to the memories I have of my first visit to New Orleans.  The wonderfully diverse city of New Orleans, and the surrounding areas, owe its alluring charm to the many cultures that has made it what it is today.  Africans, Acadians, Spanish, Native American Choctaw and just about every other nationality and culture you can think of helped build New Orleans.  The list of immigrants continues with Germans, Mexicans, Caribbean Islanders, Chinese, Jewish, Vietnamese, Italians…I’m not making this up!  When people speak of American as a “melting pot” of cultures, they shouldn’t just think of big cities like New York or Chicago.  New Orleans was founded by and supported by a mélange of people and cultures.  It is truly a remarkable city, and New Orleans is a testament to the notion that a diverse population is a beautiful recipe for a community.

Ingredients:

16 medium whole, fresh shrimp

3 Chicken thighs (bone-in, skin on)

½ bell pepper, chopped

1 large tomato, chopped and divided

1 large sweet, white onion, finely chopped

1 large bell pepper, finely chopped

4 celery stalks, finely chopped

2 or 3 garlic cloves, mashed and minced

½ lb. andouille sausage, cut into ½” pieces

2/3 cup vegetable oil (I used canola oil)

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

64 oz chicken broth (8 cups)

6 oz fresh okra, cut into ½” pieces

3 Tbs Cajun seasoning

Several sprigs of fresh cilantro (for garnish)

Directions:

Chop onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic.  Mix the vegetables in a large bowl and set aside.

Peel the shrimp.  Reserve the heads and shells.  Set shrimp aside.

Rough chop ½ bell pepper and set aside.

Add about 1 tablespoon olive oil to a skillet.  Set heat to medium/high and add the chicken breasts to the skillet, bone side down.  Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Turn chicken over and sear, skin side down, for 15 minutes.  Turn the chicken over again and add half of a bell pepper, chopped.  Simmer for 5 minutes, or until the bell pepper softens. 

Remove the chicken, separate the crispy skins and return the skins to the skillet.  Set cooked chicken aside to cool.

Add the shrimp shells and heads to the skillet.  Add 1 cup chicken broth and half of the chopped tomato.  Cover and simmer at low heat for 20 minutes. 

Remove the cover from skillet and mash the softened shrimp heads.  This is not the time to be squeamish.  Just remember, you’re using every part of the shrimp, which is honorable, and you will be rewarded with a very tasty sauce.  This is a must! 

Simmer uncovered at medium heat for another 10 minutes, to reduce the stock.  Pour the stock through a strainer and reserve the finished sauce.  This will make about 1 ½ cups of sauce.

I’m not kidding when I say that I’d be happy just to sit at a table and slurp down this stock and forget about making the rest of the meal.  It’s that good!  But, I know what this relatively small amount of sauce is going to contribute to the gumbo.

After a few moments of enjoying the aroma of the sauce, and dreaming about consomé de camarón, I was ready to get back to the action.

Add a teaspoon of cooking oil to a large stock pot.  Put the pot on the stove and set heat to medium/low.

Slice the andouille sausage and add to the pot. 

Sear the sausage, without stirring, for a few minutes. 

Briefly stir and continue to sear the andouille until the sausage browns slightly.  Remove the andouille and reserve the oil in the pot. 

Add the chopped onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the pot.  Cook at medium heat, stirring frequently for 10 minutes, or until the onion begins to turn translucent.  Remove the vegetables to a bowl and set aside. 

Remove the bones from the cooled chicken thighs.  The bones should easily pull away from the chicken.  Chop the chicken and set aside.

Now, go back to the large pot that was used to cook the vegetables.  Wipe the pot dry with a paper towel, to prepare for making the roux.  You don’t want to add oil to a wet pot!  Add 2/3 cup vegetable oil to the pot.  Turn heat to high. 

Once the oil is hot, add the flour, all at once.  The flour should begin to brown as it hits the oil.  Don’t panic.  Quickly whisk and reduce the heat to medium/high. 

Keep whisking as the flour incorporates with the oil.  Over the span of a few minutes, you should see the roux turn from blonde to tan.  Keep whisking and scraping the sides of the pot with the whisk, occasionally.  Let your nose guide you as you whisk.  The aroma should smell something like roasted nuts, or toasted sesame seeds.  The color of the roux should go from tan to dark mahogany.  At this point, reduce the heat a little and bring the roux up to a dark brown.  Again, let your nose guide you.  If you think that the toasty aroma is approaching anything that might be considered burnt, shut everything down. 

Turn the heat off and remove the pot from the stove.  A roux does not have to be chocolate brown to be good.  I’ve stopped at blonde before and have still enjoyed the final product.  This roux wound up being the color of dark, milk chocolate.

As I mentioned earlier, this was the first time I made a roux using high heat.  It came together quickly. I transferred the roux to a bowl, to stop the heating process.  After the roux cooled a little, I carefully tasted it.  Be very careful when tasting a roux.  It’s as hot as lava.  There was a slight hint of flour when I tasted the roux, which told me that I would want to simmer the gumbo for a long time.

Add the remaining chicken broth (7 cups) to the pot.  Turn the heat to medium/low and stir, mixing the residual roux with the broth. 

Add the cooked vegetables. 

Add the andouille. 

Add the okra and remaining chopped tomato.

Okra is a natural thickener.  A dark roux is more flavorful than a light roux, but a dark roux will not thicken a gumbo as much as a light roux.  Okra can make a soupy gumbo thicker, like a stew.

Add the chopped chicken. 

Add the incredible shrimp sauce. 

Add 3 tablespoons Cajun seasoning. 

Add the roux.  Stir gently to blend in the roux. 

Turn the heat down to low and simmer, uncovered, for an hour to and hour and a half. 

Remember, back at the beginning of this post, when I said that you never know what you’ll find in the gumbo?  Well…while the gumbo simmered on the stovetop, I was also finishing a smoked pork shoulder roast in the oven.  A few days earlier, I applied a dry rub to the pork roast and smoked it outdoors for about eight hours.  It was a cool and windy day, and it was difficult to maintain the proper heat in the smoker, so the roast needed a little more time to finish.  I wrapped the roast in foil and put it in the refrigerator and brought it back out while I was making the gumbo. 

The wrapped pork should slow-roasted for two hours in the oven and, when I pulled it from the oven, I saw that some of the juices escaped the foil wrap and left a sticky glaze on the pan.  I added a little water to the residue and whisked it.  That produced a smokey, spicy sauce that just had to go into the gumbo!

Add the shrimp and simmer for another 20 minutes. The gumbo is ready to serve. 

White rice completes the dish. 

Top the rice with a healthy portion of gumbo and top with cilantro.

I’ll never be able to replicate this gumbo recipe, and I’m fine with that.  There will be other gumbos to come, and they will have their own special place in my heart.

Eat well and eat with your family and friends every chance you get!

In case you are interested, the radio program, “New Orleans Big Beat” is presented by volunteer radio station, WEVL, in Memphis, TN.  Check out their diverse and eclectic programming schedule here: wevl.org

All in Due Time

Sometimes a pot needs to simmer.  Sometimes meat needs to rest before it is sliced.  Sometimes words need to be arranged just so, like silverware on an elegant table.

This is one of those moments.

What began as a silly game of “Guess what I’m making for dinner” has turned into something more than I expected. 

So, for now, I will leave another clue.  And, if you can’t put two and two together and arrive at four, that’s your own fault!

More to come.

Guess what I’m making for dinner…

Let’s play a little game, shall we?

Take a look at these items and tell me what I’m making for dinner.

Hmmm…that looks like bell pepper, celery, onion and garlic.  Well, those are all common items found in lots of recipes but, if you know me well enough, you’ll be able to guess what I’m up to, right away.

Do you want a hint? 

Maybe this accidental shot of my hand beneath the cascading sunlight will give a clue…

OK. Do you need another hint?

Sorry, no more clues.  Let’s jump to the finished product.

If you guessed meatloaf, you’re only partially correct.

This meatloaf contained onion and a few slices of bell pepper on top, but it didn’t have any celery or fresh garlic in it.

So, what gives? 

Here’s the deal.  I planned on making one of my favorite meals and I realized that time was running out.  So, I spent my time wisely.  My first step was to continue prepping some of the ingredients for the meal that I REALLY wanted to make while going to a backup plan, at the same time.  This is something I have learned over the years.  Just because I want to make something wonderful and delicious, I might not have the time to pull it all together in time for dinner.

Enter meatloaf.  (RIP Michael Aday)

Meatloaf is one of those things that can be thrown together quickly, and it can be made with all sorts of ingredients.  I like to use ketchup, as well as dehydrated onion flakes, Worcestershire sauce, a little soy sauce, a dash of hot sauce, a couple of eggs, some dry oats, and salt and pepper to taste.  I drizzled some barbecue sauce over the top of this one, just for grins.

I think most Americans would serve this with mashed potatoes and a steamed or sauteed vegetable dish on the side, but I decided to make put a twist on a traditional salad.

In case you’re interested, here’s an approximated recipe for the meatloaf.  I was serious, when I said that time was of the essence.  I didn’t measure anything.

Ingredients and Directions:

2 lbs 80/20 ground beef

2 eggs

1 ½ cup dry oats

1 Tbs Sriracha sauce

2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbs soy sauce

Combine the following in a mortise and pestle: 3 tsp dried onion flakes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cracked black pepper, 1 Tbs seasoning salt, 1 Tbs Cajun seasoning.  Grind to a powder.

Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly and press into a casserole dish. 

Lay a few rings of bell pepper on top and zig-zag some barbecue sauce on top.

Bake in a 350° oven for 1 hour.

Serve warm.

Dinner was served and I was able to prepare for the next night’s meal.  Win – Win!

Stay tuned!

Creamy Garlic Shrimp over Fries

Over the last several years, I have seen “Cheese Fries” or “Cheesy Fries” appearing on several  restaurant menus.  I have to admit, I get a little grossed out when I think about Cheese Fries.

I like French fries and I like melted cheese, but do I want gloopy cheese glopped on top of my French fries?  – – Heck, no!  Most Cheese Fries recipes call for melted processed cheese, which is fine for ballpark nachos, but I don’t want that gloopy mess on my French fries.

Despite my ranting about the utter wrongfulness of cheese fries, I’m not totally insensitive to people’s cravings, even if those cravings might lead them down the perilous path of gluttony!

So, with that, I tip my hat to the Cheese Fries lovers and offer them something I deem worthy.

Ingredients:

6 medium sized russet potatoes, peeled and cut, French fry style, ¼’ thick sticks

1 ½ cups canola oil (or just enough to cover the potatoes in the skillet)

Seasoning salt to taste

3 Tbs. olive oil

1 lb. raw, deveined shrimp (tails on or off)

3 Tbs butter

6 cloves garlic, mashed

1/3 cup roasted bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 1/2 cups half-and-half

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup grated Swiss cheese

Directions:

Peel and cut the potatoes.  These can be ¼” French fries or thick steak fry wedges.   

Soak the potatoes in cool water to remove some of the starch.  Strain potatoes and air dry for several minutes.

Fry potatoes to golden brown. Remove and strain.  Return the hot oil back to the skillet. After a minute, add the fries back to the hot oil and fry for another minute, to crisp. 

Put the finished fries in an bowl and keep in a warm oven.

Remove most of the oil from the pan and reserve a few tablespoons.  Set heat to medium.  Add shrimp.  Turn shrimp over after two minutes and cook for one more minute.

Remove shrimp to a bowl.  Set aside.

Melt the butter in the skillet and sauté the garlic over medium heat for a minute. 

Add the chicken broth and reduce the sauce by one half.

Add roasted bell pepper.

Add half-and-half and simmer at low heat for a few minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle the grated Parmesan and Swiss cheese over the sauce and simmer, at low heat, without stirring, for a minute.

When the cheese melts, turn the heat off.

Add the cooked shrimp to the sauce.

Add warm fries to serving bowls.  Cover the fries with the creamy shrimp.

Serve with a cheesy movie!

May I suggest, Mystery Science Theater 3000: “The Magic Sword” ?

Going South

On any given day, I can search my refrigerator and find fruits and vegetables that, only a few days before, were vibrant and beautiful.  What sad fate is in store for those items, that I have passed over and ignored?  Often times, they sit, tucked away in the deepest corners of the produce compartment of my refrigerator until, one day, I acknowledge the awful truth.  All good things must come to an end.

But, before I throw in the towel, I like to find a way to use the fruits and vegetables that have “gone south.”  I am reminded of an excerpt from Jacques Pépin’s book, “Heart & Soul in the Kitchen” entitled, ‘For the love of wilted vegetables’.  Jacque is a kindred soul who, like me, hates to see anything go to waste. 

Today’s example is a lime, a lemon, a jalapeño, and a wedge of onion, that have past their prime, but not past their worthiness.

I was going to make salmon today and I was pawing through the refrigerator, looking for a lemon, when I came across these sad little items.  They inspired me.  In fact, I tossed the idea of salmon to consider what sort of noble thing I could do with the slightly wrinkled and discolored fruit and onion. 

A marinade!  Yes, indeed!

The pieces came together in my head quickly.  I will marinate some chicken and make chicken fajitas for dinner. 

Marinade ingredients:

Juice of 1 lime

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 jalapeño, chopped

1/4 large white onion, chopped

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp oregano

1 1/2 tsp ground dried onion

1 1/2 tsp cumin powder

1 1/2 tsp Tajin seasoning

1 tsp smoked paprika

2 tsp chili powder

Three hours later, after allowing the chicken to thoroughly marinate, dinner was served.

What can you do with your vegetables and fruit after they have gone south?

Imagine the possibilities!

Shrimp and Eggs

Is it just me, or does the idea of combining shrimp and eggs just seem weird?  Oh, I’m sure that there are bound to be chefs out there that know recipes that call for shrimp and eggs but, I’m just a simple home cook and, until this morning, shrimp and eggs lived in two different worlds. 

Eggs are extremely versatile, and there are many ways to prepare shrimp but, combing them into one dish never crossed my mind.  That all changed when I found some raw shrimp in the refrigerator this morning.  My daughter made (excellent) shrimp quesadillas a few nights ago and there were a few shrimp left over.

Raw shrimp doesn’t last long in the refrigerator so, quick action was needed.  I had planned on making simple scrambled eggs in the wok for breakfast but, I felt a sudden compulsion to marry the shrimp and eggs.  It was a beautiful ceremony!

Ingredients:

8 large, raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

4 large eggs

1/4 cup chicken broth

Salt and black pepper, to taste

1/2 teaspoon sake

1 teaspoon oyster sauce

1 green onion, thinly sliced on the diagonal

2 Tbs canola oil

Directions:

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs.  Add chicken broth, salt, pepper, sake and oyster sauce.  Stir quickly, to incorporate.  Add green onions.

Heat a wok to medium-high heat.

Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the wok. When the oil is hot, add the shrimp.

Briefly stir-fry the shrimp until they turn pink. This might take only one minute.  Remove the shrimp and set aside in a warm place.

Add a tablespoon of oil into the wok and turn the heat on high.  When the oil is hot, add the egg mixture.

Scramble gently for about 1 minute, then return the shrimp to the wok.

Continue scrambling until the eggs are almost cooked. Remove from the heat and let it rest for a minute before serving.

Take time to smell the garlic

Sometimes, good meals evolve from the simplest of things.  A tiny spark of imagination, or an unexpected moment of discovery can result in a meal that looks like it was carefully planned and fully conceived. 

This morning, while I was rummaging through the garden, searching for the last few tomatoes to pluck before the upcoming frost, I found several garlic plants that had recently sprouted.  The garlic plants were a carryover from the garlic that I had planted earlier in the spring.  I’ve never been able to get garlic plants to produce large bulbs but the plants shoot out of the ground, like they are on a mission!  So, I decided to pull some of the garlic plants and use them for cooking. 

The green leaves and white stems of garlic plants, called scapes, are edible and, as you might expect, they taste like garlic.  I sometimes like to use them in stir-frys, to flavor the cooking oil.  This time, I decided to add them some butter, to make a compound butter.

After I decided to make the compound butter, I thought that the butter would pair well with pasta and the rest of the dish fell together easily.  I wanted shrimp with the pasta but, I knew that some people might prefer chicken over shrimp, so I prepared both.

This will serve 3 to 4 people.

Ingredients:

6 Tbs butter

4 fresh garlic scapes (green garlic leaves)

1 tsp dried thyme leaves

1 tsp lemon juice

2 green onions, chopped.  Reserve white stems.

3 cups dry pasta (I used Farfalle – butterfly pasta)

1 lb chicken breast, pounded into ¼ inch slices

1 cup breadcrumbs

1 egg, mixed with 2 Tbs water

8 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

About 1/4 cup olive oil

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 head of Romaine lettuce

3 small tomatoes

Vinegar and oil salad dressing

Directions:

Chop the garlic scapes into small pieces.  Reserve the white stems. 

Add garlic scapes, thyme and lemon juice to the butter.  Allow the butter to rest at room temperature for a few hours.  When the butter has softened, mix to combine.

Prepare the pasta, according to the directions on the package.  Remove from heat just before the pasta reaches ‘al dente’.  Set aside.

Slice chicken breast into flat pieces.  Pound down to ¼ inch thick slices.  Set aside.

Wash, peel and devein the shrimp and set aside.

Arrange a dredging station.  Mix the egg with water, in a bowl.  Scatter a thin layer of breadcrumbs onto a plate.

Add just enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large skillet.  Add 1 tablespoon of the compound butter mixture.  Set heat to medium. Add a few garlic scapes and green onion stems to the pan. 

Once the garlic and onion soften and begin to char, dredge chicken pieces in egg and lightly coat with breadcrumbs.  Add chicken to the pan and avoid overcrowding.

Brown the chicken and turn it over to brown on the other side.  Total cooking time for the chicken is about three minutes.

Remove chicken to a paper towel lined plate.  Sprinkle with a little salt.  Once all of the chicken has been cooked, wipe the skillet to remove charred bits and oil.  Add one tablespoon of the compound butter mixture and turn the heat off.  This will allow the butter to melt, without burning.  Add a few garlic scapes and green onion stems.  

Finish heating the pasta before returning to the skillet to prepare the shrimp.

Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of the compound butter mixture to the pot, containing the cooked pasta.  Turn the heat to low and stir, to coat the pasta with butter.  A Parmesan cheese and turn the heat off.  Keep the pot on the stovetop, to keep warm.

Return your attention to the skillet.  The butter should be melted.  Turn the heat to medium high and add the shrimp.  Cook on one side for one minute.  Turn the shrimp and cook for one more minute.  Remove the shrimp to a serving platter.

Add the cooked chicken to the serving platter.

Gently stir the pasta to blend in the Parmesan cheese.

Transfer the pasta to a serving dish.

Scatter chopped green onions over the pasta, shrimp and chicken.

Serve with a simple garden salad of lettuce and tomato.  Toss with vinaigrette dressing.

Arroz con Pollo Étouffée

Arroz con Pollo Étouffée, con per miso, s’il vous plaît

In other words, I’m in a spastic, frantic frame of mind!

It’s nearly two hours past my normal bedtime and I’m pausing to let the day’s events soak in. I’m submitting this post without editing, and that’s a scary thing for me. I don’t usually spend a lot of time editing what I write but, I rarely throw caution to the wind by allowing my hands to type out the thoughts in my head without giving consideration to the quality of prose or grammar. Today is a day when I violently throw caution against the wall, just to hear it make a satisfying “splat”.

It’s been a long day. It’s been a long week. Many successes and many failures. So goes the life of a work-a-day-Joe, such as myself. I wanted to leave work today in time to ship a package to a loved one. That didn’t happen. During the drive home, I was stuck in traffic, behind a sea of cars and a parade of police cars and emergency vehicles that maneuvered through the gridlock toward an accident. I found an alternate route, only to encounter another accident. I gnashed my teeth, still reeling from the tremendously bad day at work, and crept along, thinking about what I could make for dinner, once I arrived home.

It never came to me. I was so preoccupied by the events of the day that I couldn’t focus on what to make for dinner. Once I arrived home, I immediately went to the refrigerator and started pulling out items. I pulled out some fresh vegetables, left over chicken and a little bit of butter. I went to the pantry and grabbed some rice, olive oil and flour. I put everything on the kitchen counter and stared at the items and started to put everything together, in my mind.

I texted my wife, who is out of state, visiting my mother-in-law. I gave our dog her daily antibiotic, because she’s healing from a vicious fight with a racoon.

Time to put dinner together, eh?

I pulled out a few fresh tomatoes, yes I still have tomatoes from the garden, and that’s something that I cling to, in these trying times. I shaved some dried thyme leaves from the stem, another gift from the garden. I pulled out a carrot, 3 semi-wilted green onions and two partially frozen celery stalks from the “crisper drawer” from the refrigerator. Why are my vegetables freezing in the refrigerator?!

I wanted to hear some music but I didn’t want to fight with Alexa and the almighty Amazon. I’ve had enough of that. I imagined that I was listening to ZZ Top’s “Asleep in the Desert” and I went to work.

Once I started putting everything together, I tried to put a name on the thing I was creating. I was leaning so heavily on Tex-Mex and Cajun concepts that I decided that this would be a marriage of arroz con pollo and etouffée. It was a beautiful marriage. You should have been there!

Ingredients:

2 Tbs olive oil

1 fresh red serrano chili

3 chicken breasts (about 1 pound)

3 cloves garlic, smashed

1 carrot, peeled and diced finely

2 stalks of celery, slightly frozen and diced finely

1 jalapeño, seeded and diced finely

2 Tbs melted butter

1 1/2 Tbs flour

4 Roma tomatoes, diced finely

2 tsp crushed, dried thyme leaves

3 green onions, chopped, separate white and green parts

1 ounce shrimp bouillon cube

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 tsp Cajun seasoning

3 cups cooked white rice

Directions:

Prepare steamed white rice.

While the rice cooks, heat the olive oil in a large skillet.

Add the chicken and serrano chili and cover the pan. Simmer at low heat for 10 minutes.

Turn the chicken over and add the garlic. Simmer at medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove chicken and keep warm.

Chop the vegetables.

Removed the chicken from the skillet and keep warm. Deglaze the skillet with a little water.

Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and the vegetable (excluding tomatoes). Simmer covered for 10 minutes.

Mix the melted butter and flour. Add the mixture to the skillet. Set heat to low and whisk for a minute.

Add remaining chicken broth. Add shrimp bouillon, Cajun seasoning, tomatoes and thyme. Stir over low heat for a few minutes.

Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Shred chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to the skillet. Mix to combine.

Add cooked rice, a little bit at a time. Mix and add the rest of the rice.

Simmer for a few more minutes.

Serve in large bowls with soft bread, on the side.

And there you have it. Stress has been relieved. Once again, good food prevails.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to sit down and jot it all down while listening to the soundtrack to the Terry Gilliam move, “Brazil” and Joni Mitchell’s album, “Hejira.”

Life is strange. Life is good. Life goes on.

Let it all come out. Don’t hold back. Share the ups and downs with the ones you love and, when you sit down for dinner, be a listener.

And now, it’s 3 hours past my bedtime. My pillow is calling!

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.