I’m on a Tex-Mex kick again…who would have guessed!
Technically, this wasn’t carne asada because I didn’t grill the meat. I seared the meat in a cast iron skillet at high heat, which is close enough for me. Secondly, carne asada usually is prepared with a dry rub on the meat. I marinated the beef in guajillo and ancho chile sauce for a few hours. It might be more correct to say that I made bistec en salsa guajillo. “Pero,“Carne asada” suena más emocionante!” Which is to say, Carne asada sounds more exciting!
The potatoes used in this recipe came from my favorite grocery store, ALDI. The 24 ounce bag contains a variety of bite sized potatoes, ranging from white, yellow, red, brown and purple. They bake quickly in the oven and they come out of the oven crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.
Ingredients for the carne asada:
1 ¼ lbs top round beef steak (thinly sliced)
16 oz enchilada sauce (guajillo and ancho chiles this time, but canned is perfectly fine!)
1 Tbs cooking oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large jalapeño, seeded and diced
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 ripe tomato, diced
3 large flour tortillas (burrito sized)
6 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Ingredients for the potatoes:
24 oz bite sized whole potatoes
1 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chile powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
Slice the raw steak, thinly.
Marinate the steak in the chile guajillo sauce for 30 minutes, or longer.
In a large skillet at medium/low heat, add the onion and jalapeño until the onions begin to turn translucent.
Add the garlic powder, cumin and diced tomato. Simmer at low heat for 20 to 30 minutes.
While the sauce simmers, prepare the potatoes.
Wash, rinse and drain the potatoes.
In a large mixing bowl, toss the potatoes with olive oil, garlic powder, chile powder, paprika, cumin, salt and black pepper.
Scatter the potatoes across a parchment paper lined baking tray and bake at 350° for 45 minutes, or until the potatoes can be cut easily with a knife. Keep warm until serving.
Remove the cooked sauce to a bowl.
Add the marinated beef to the skillet and sauté at very high heat for 2 minutes. Reserve the marinade.
Remove the beef and keep warm.
Reduce the beef juices by stirring at high heat for a few minutes.
Add the sauce back to the skillet, with the reduced beef juices. Simmer on low heat for about 5 minutes.
Chop the beef and return the beef to the skillet.
Divide the beef in the skillet evenly, according to the number of burritos that you are preparing. I am making three burritos.
On a clean work surface, assemble the burritos. Add the beef and roll the tortillas.
Add the guajillo marinade to the skillet and cook at high heat for a few minutes to thicken the sauce (and to kill any bacteria).
Reduce the heat to low and add the burritos to the skillet. Roll the burritos in the sauce to cover all sides.
Top with cheese.
Move the skillet from the stove top to the oven and bake at 350° for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts. Remove the burritos from the oven and keep warm.
Remove the potatoes from the oven and turn out to a serving dish.
Between our New Year’s Day celebration and last weekend’s bridal shower party we amassed a lot of inexplicable leftovers. How we wound up with Camembert cheese left over, I’ll never know. That’s fancy French cheese from Normandy, for goodness sake! As I recall, we Americans fought our tails of to liberate that cheese! And the gouda! For pity’s sake everyone ignored the gouda! Other than tulips, legalized prostitution and hash bars gouda is the Netherland’s #1 attraction!
The leftover cauliflower and broccoli is easier to understand. They’re always the last stragglers on a veggie tray. The Kalamata olives went first and then the carrots. By the time the carrots were gone, so was the creamy ranch dressing dip. Poor cauliflower and broccoli always get left behind, like a scrawny kid who gets picked last during recess, when teams are chosen.
So, now it’s time to scrape together all of the those party leftovers and make a meal.
Rustic Chicken with Winter Vegetables and Whipped Potatoes
My first step was to make the puff pastry for the chicken dish. From there I prepped much of the rest of the meal in advance and kept it cool until nearly service time. I finished by roasting the vegetables and frying some matchstick onions.
Ingredients for the puff pastry:
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cup cold butter (2 and a half sticks)
½ cup ice cold water
Puff pastry is really not too difficult to make at home as long as you adhere to a few rules. There are only a few ingredients but the important thing to remember while making the pastry is to keep all of the ingredients very cold during preparation. I chilled the flour, in addition to chilling the butter, and I put the water in the freezer, just prior to using it.
Since hands are warm, and warmth is a pastry killer, I added the flour, salt and butter to a food processor. I pulsed the food processor several times until the flour and butter combined to make a grainy mixture.
I added the ice cold water and pulse again, until the dough began to form a ball. I turned out the dough ball to a clean work surface and formed the dough into a 12” x 6” rectangle. I worked quickly, using the rolling pin.
I folded the dough over into a tri-fold and squared the dough by pushing the edges with the rolling pin. I added a little more flour to the work surface to keep the dough from sticking to the surface.
I rolled the dough out again to a 12” x 6” rectangle and folded it in thirds again. I repeated this process three more times. Rolling the dough multiple times increases the amount of flakiness of the finished puff pastry.
I wrapped the rectangle of dough in plastic wrap and kept it refrigerated until I was ready to use it.
This recipe makes enough dough for 24 pastry cups.
Ingredients for the rest of the meal:
1 ½ cup water
2 tsp dried rosemary
½ cup blueberries
1 Tbs sugar
4 chicken thighs (bone–in)
5 cloves fresh garlic, sliced thin
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 Tbs rendered bacon fat
½ cup roasted red bell peppers
4 oz sliced mushrooms (I used canned mushrooms)
1 Tbs olive oil
6 oz Camembert cheese (rind removed)
6 small russet potatoes
2 Tbs butter
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup milk
5 cloves roasted garlic
1 yellow onion, sliced into very thin rings
1 cup buttermilk (I used 1 cup milk and 1 tsp vinegar)
1 cup flour
1 tsp seasoning salt
1 ½ cup carrots, sliced and chopped
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 Tbs olive oil
½ cup gouda cheese, shredded
Fill a small bowl with 1 ½ cups of boiling water. Add the rosemary and sugar. When the water has reached room temperature, remove the rosemary and reserve for later.
Add the blueberries to the fragrant water and allow them to soak at room temperature for a few hours.
Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and discard. Using a small, sharp knife, make several incisions in the chicken and insert the slices of garlic.
Add bacon grease and olive oil to a baking dish. Smear the chicken with the grease and oil and nestle the chicken in the baking dish. Sprinkle the reserved rosemary onto the chicken.
Roast the chicken, uncovered, in an oven at 350° for 90 minutes. Baste the chicken occasionally. Remove from the oven and allow to cool down to room temperature.
Once the chicken has cooled, shred by hand.
Dice the roasted peppers and add to the shredded chicken. Add the mushrooms to the chicken and mix to incorporate. Set aside.
Wash and scrub the potatoes. Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water. Cover the pot with a lid and boil the potatoes at low heat for about one hour, or until the potatoes can be pierced easily with a fork.
Using a hand-held mixer, blend the potatoes, including the potato skins, with the butter, sour cream, milk and roasted garlic. Store in warm place.
Drain the blueberries and set aside.
Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and place on a clean work surface. Divide the dough in half. Use one half for the chicken dish and reserve the other half for a dessert dish. Roll the dough out to about ¼” thick. Slice the pastry into 4” squares. Form fit the pastry into the muffin pan.
Place the squares in muffing pan and fill the pastry with the chicken mixture. Top with a teaspoon of Camembert cheese and a 3 or 4 blueberries.
Bake at 400° for about 20 minutes, or until the pastry puffs and turns golden brown.
Roasted Winter Vegetables
Toss carrots, broccoli and cauliflower in olive oil. Spread the vegetables out on parchment lined backing tray. Roast in the oven at 350° for 30 minutes. Remove and keep warm.
Or, if you want to burn them, leave them in a 400° oven for 45 minutes, like I did. There I was trying to salvage leftover vegetable tray fodder and I incinerated the whole lot. Oh well, that’s the way things roll in my kitchen, sometimes.
Slice the onion very thin and set aside.
Mix the milk and vinegar together in a large bowl (this is a decent substitute for buttermilk). Soak the onions in the buttermilk for several minutes.
Heat a pot of oil on the stove at medium/high heat (325° to 350° works well.
Add the flour and seasoning salt to a large mixing bowl.
Toss the onions in the flour mixture to coat.
Add the onions to the oil and fry until golden brown and crispy. Remove to a paper towel-lined platter and keep warm.
Serve two stuffed pastry shells with mashed potatoes, topped with turkey gravy and fried onions.
Dessert: Cherry and Cream Cheese Tarts
Assemble 12 pastry cups using the same method as before. Fill each one with 2 teaspoons of cream cheese and top with cherry pie filling. Bake at 400° for about 20 minutes, or until the pastry puffs and turns golden brown.
At the heart of every good gumbo lies a good roux.
I probably make 3 or 4 roux every week but they are of the small variety. You know, two tablespoons of butter, two tablespoons of flour added to two cups of stock or broth. A small roux takes just a few minutes to prepare and it usually come out just fine.
I have been telling myself that I make gumbo every year or two. I think that’s because I really enjoy gumbo. The truth of the matter is that I have probably only made it four times, (now five times). As much as I love a good hot bowl of gumbo, I dread making the roux. There are very few things in life that can vex me like a making a big batch of roux.
Making roux for a gumbo is not easy; at least it’s not easy for me. The volume of the roux needed is much larger than my normal roux. Additionally, the roux needs to cook longer to achieve a deep, rich lustrous color and flavor. Lastly, pushing the cooking process too far results in a burnt roux, which I am unfortunately prone to doing. If a roux burns it must be tossed and another one must be made. Nothing good ever happens by attempting to save a burnt roux.
Once you start a roux you can’t leave it alone until it has finished. A roux must be stirred constantly to prevent the flour from burning. Even the tiniest amount of burnt flour will affect the entire roux.
My step-by-step method for making a roux:
1) Add equal amounts of oil and flour to a Dutch oven (over low/medium heat).
2) Stir continuously, making sure to scrape the bottom and edges of the pot as you stir.
3) Keep stirring while the roux goes from blonde, to tan, to mahogany, to chocolate brown.
4) Taste a sample of the roux, after allowing it to sufficiently cool.
5) Detect a hint of burnt flavor, throw away the roux and wipe the Dutch oven clean.
Three more important pieces of advice that are often overlooked:
1) Use the bathroom before starting the roux. You won’t be able to break away from the action until the roux is finished (maybe 45 minutes to an hour).
2) Pour yourself a drink and make sure that it’s within arm’s reach as you stir.
3) Keep a small aloe vera plant in the kitchen, close to the stove, in case of burns.
As for the aloe vera, it’s really good for minor burns. Roux is jokingly referred to as Cajun Napalm. Even a tiny drop of the hot roux can cause your skin to blister. I got two blisters from this batch. I would have had three blisters but, when I got hit for the third time, I quickly pinched off the tip of an aloe leaf and rubbed it on the burn.
As I mentioned, I burned the first roux and had to start another one. I cooked the roux over low heat both times.
For the first attempt I used 3 cups canola oil and 3 cups flour. I cooked the roux for 67 minutes and it reached a near-perfect chocolate brown color, but the roux had a slight burnt flavor.
For the second attempt I decided to use 2 cups canola oil, 1 cup lard and 3 cups flour. I cooked the second roux for 50 minutes. I brought the roux to a dark tan and shut the heat down before it turned to mahogany. I didn’t want to run the risk of the burning the roux a second time!
This recipe makes about 2 gallons of gumbo (25 to 30 servings).
1 lb medium sized shrimp, shell on and deveined
1 1/2 lbs cooked chicken breast, cut into 1/2″ cubes
3 cups canola oil
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 lb Andouille, cut into 1/2″ thick slices
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 large jalapeño, seeded and sliced
2 cups celery, chopped
1 whole head of garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups parsley, chopped
1 Tbs dried thyme
1 Tbs bay leaves
32 oz chicken stock
32 oz vegetable stock
1/2 cup shrimp stock reduction
12 oz okra, chopped
1 lb. crawfish tail meat
1 lb. crabmeat
1/2 cup clam stock reduction
12 oz white clams (about 12 clams)
Lots and lots of hot, steamed white rice
Remove the shells from the shrimp and place in a skillet or pot. Add a teaspoon of seasoning salt. Cover with water and simmer at medium heat for about 15 minutes. Strain the liquid and reserve. Discard the shrimp shells. Heat the liquid in the pan until it reduces by at least half. Reserve the reduction.
Put the chicken in a pot and cover with water. Boil at low heat until cooked (about 40 minutes). Remove the chicken to a platter and cool to room temperature.
In a small bowl, add the thyme and bay leaves. Cover with water and steam in a microwave for about a minute. Leave the herbs in the water and set aside.
Prep the vegetables and set aside.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. (I used a 12” deep Dutch oven). Add 1 cup oil and 1 cup flour and stir to incorporate. Reduce heat to low/medium. Add remaining oil and stir. Add the remaining flour and stir constantly.
After about 15 minutes the roux will begin to change from pale yellow to blonde. Turn the heat to low and keep stirring.
The roux will continue to darken and will become light tan and then dark tan. Once the roux has turned to tan pay extra attention to the aroma and color of the roux as you stir.
The color of the roux will begin to take on reddish/brown hue soon. This is where I usually turn off the heat but, if you are brave and careful, keep stirring until the roux becomes chocolate brown.
Once you are finished with the roux, turn off the heat and continue stirring for several more minutes. The roux will remain very hot for at least 30 minutes. Set the roux aside for now.
I stopped just short of mahogany on my second roux…yes, I chickened out!
And now, the easy part!
In a very, very large Dutch oven, (I used a 14” deep Dutch oven), add the chopped onion. Sauté until the onion begins to turn brown.
Add the bell pepper, celery and jalapeño. Stir for a minute and add the garlic. Stir for a few minutes and then remove everything to a bowl.
Add the sliced Andouille to the pot. Stir over medium/high heat to brown the Andouille. Remove the Andouille and set aside.
Add the chicken stock and vegetable stock to the pot and cook over high heat for 2 minutes. Return the onions and Andouille to the pot. Add the water from the steamed thyme and bay leaves. Discard the bay leaves and add the thyme to the pot. Turn the heat down to medium.
Add about half of the roux to the pot and stir, to mix.
Add the okra and stir.
Add the rest of the roux and stir. The roux will thicken quickly. If it is too thick, as mine was, add some water. I added 3 cups of water. Continue stirring.
Add the crawfish meat. Stir briefly and turn the heat to low/medium.
Add the parsley and stir.
In a large skillet, add two cups of water. Set the heat to high and cover. When the water reaches a hard boil, add the white clams, turn off the heat and cover. The clams will snap open quickly. Steam the clams for about a minute and remove to a bowl. If some of the clams have not opened, bring the water back to boil and add the unopened clams. If they pop open, hooray! If they don’t open, they are doomed and will need to join the burned roux, in the trash can. (All of my clams opened – Yippee!)
Reduce the steaming liquid from the clams to about one third. You should wind up with a milky white reduction. Strain the liquid through a paper towel and sieve to remove any sandy grit. Add the reduction to the gumbo pot.
Pull the clams from the shells and add the clams to the gumbo. Discard the shells.
Add the chicken to the gumbo and stir.
Add the crab and stir.
Add the shrimp and green onions to the gumbo and stir. The shrimp will cook within a couple of minutes.
Give the gumbo a good final stir.
Serve in bowls, over warm white rice.
So, other than a few 2nd degree burns and a failed roux, everything went according to plan!
My favorite sort of days evolve and flow in natural, unpredictable ways. I don’t always plan meals ahead of time, and even when I do, my instincts guide me when it actually comes time to cook.
1. Segmented Grapefruit
I saw some nice looking grapefruit at the store recently. Even though they weren’t bonafide Texas Ruby Red grapefruit, they were large and ripe and I thought they would make a nice addition to the next day’s breakfast.
I like grapefruit but I don’t like the white, bitter pith and I don’t like the membranes between the segments. I wasn’t a big fan of grapefruit until I discovered that I could cut away the parts that I didn’t like! I started by cutting the top and bottom off, just to the point where I could see the fruit beneath. Then I used a sharp kitchen knife to spiral cut the rind, deeply enough to get beneath the pith. Then I cut the segments, sliding the knife along the sides of the membrane, leaving nothing but pristine segments. This takes some practice but it’s definitely worth the effort.
2. Citrus Aromatic
I decided to use the grapefruit rinds to make a citrus aromatic on the stovetop. It’s an easy thing to do and it makes the entire house smell fantastic. I heated a pot of water and added some star anise, a cinnamon stick and a crushed nutmeg seed. Just as I was about to toss the grapefruit rinds into the pot I had an idea. I could use the rinds to make candied ginger and still use the top and bottom pieces of the grapefruit for the aromatic pot.
3. Candied Grapefruit Peels
Once the aromatic pot was simmering, I sliced the grapefruit rinds into thin strips. I boiled the rinds three times in water, to remove some of the bitterness and then I made a simple syrup, using 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. I brought the syrup to a boil while whisking.
I added the cut grapefruit rinds to the syrup and simmered them at low heat for about 20 minutes. Once the rinds turned translucent, I moved them to a wire rack to dry for about 4 hours. On a dry day, they might have dried in an hour but the humidity was high and they took most of the day to dry. After a few hours I dredged the pieces in sugar and then I returned them to the rack. An hour later, I tossed them in sugar again and let them finish drying on the wire rack.
I was left with 1 cup of grapefruit flavored simple syrup. Being the frugal sort of cook that I am, I devised a plan to use the syrup.
4. Sweet and Sour Chicken
1 cup flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
2 lbs chicken thighs, skinned and deboned
1 cup cooking oil
For the sauce:
1 cup simple syrup (from the candied grapefruit)
1 cup ketchup
1 ½ Tbs soy sauce
1 tsp Hoisin sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
For the stir-fry:
1 Tbs cooking oil
½ tsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 Tbs fresh ginger, minced
½ lb broccoli florets
3 green onions, chopped
2 large carrots, sliced diagonally
2 large, mild jalapeños, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup cilantro
In a large bowl, combine the cornstarch and flour. Whisk to combine. Remove half of the flour mixture and set aside.
Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and debone. Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces. Add the chicken to the bowl containing half of the cornstarch and flour. Toss to coat the chicken. Leave the chicken in the flour dredge for 10 minutes.
Prepare a wok by adding 1 cup of cooking oil and set the heat to high.
Add remaining flour to the chicken and toss to coat.
Add the chicken to the hot oil, a little at a time. Fry the chicken until crispy, golden brown.
Remove to a paper towel lined plate and keep warm.
Remove the oil from the wok and wipe the wok clean with a paper towel.
Combine the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl. Set aside.
Add 1 Tbs cooking oil and ½ tsp sesame oil to a hot wok. Add the garlic and ginger and simmer for a few seconds.
Add the vegetables and stir-fry until the vegetables are tender. Remove the vegetables to a bowl and keep warm.
Add the sauce to the wok at medium heat. Once the sauce begins to bubble, add the chicken and stir to coat.
Add the vegetables and stir to combine. Turn out to a large serving bowl.
Top with cilantro and serve in bowls with steamed jasmine rice.
The turkey went fast this Thanksgiving. We had enough left over turkey to make a big batch of turkey, biscuits and gravy but that went quickly, too. The leftover green beans, yams, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese have all been eaten. Why is it that dressing is always the last remnant of Thanksgiving at my house? Maybe it’s because we always make too much of it. The dressing was very good this year, mainly because my wife made it. She knows how to balance the flavors. I tend to get heavy handed when adding herbs and spices.
But, the fact remains. I have all of this dressing to deal with. Some types of leftovers make great additions to other future meals. Vegetables and meat can be added to omelets or salads…that’s easy. But dressing, or stuffing, depending on your preference, is pretty much singular, in nature.
I was portioning some extremely large chicken breasts the other day and I decided to use a few of the breast pieces to make stuffed chicken.
Ingredients for the marinade:
¼ cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbs dry Italian seasonings
1 tsp cracked black pepper
½ tsp salt
Ingredients for the stuffed chicken:
3 monstrously sized chicken breasts
3 cups prepared and cooked bread stuffing (dressing)
Combine the marinade in a large bowl.
Butterfly slice the chicken breasts, leaving about half an inch of the breast uncut.
Lay the chicken breasts open and put them in the bowl containing the marinade. Allow the chicken to marinate for a half hour, turning occasionally.
Heat a cast iron skillet to high. Once the skillet is hot, sear the cut sided of the chicken. Sear for about 1 minute and turn the chicken over to briefly sear the other side, about 10 or 15 seconds. Remove the chicken to a work surface. Sear the remaining chicken breast in a similar fashion.
Lay the chicken breasts on a work surface with the cut side facing upward.
Compress some stuffing in your hands and lay the stuffing on one side of the chicken. Fold the chicken over along the seam and secure with toothpicks. Repeat the process with the other chicken breasts.
Return the chicken to the skillet and bake at 300° for 30 minutes, uncovered. Turn the heat up to 350° and bake for another 10 minutes.
Serve hot, along with a vegetable or salad. I served this with asparagus…
Skinny Asparagus in Lemon, Garlic Butter Sauce
Maybe it’s just me but I don’t remember seeing pencil-thin asparagus in stores until a few years ago. It’s probably just me… When it comes to asparagus I let the price determine which kind I will use. Naturally, the thicker variety is better suited for grilling and the thinner variety is perfect for pan frying, quickly.
½ lb skinny asparagus
1 Tbs butter
2 garlic cloves, smashed
Juice of ½ lemon
Once the chicken has been removed from the skillet, wipe the skillet with a paper towel to remove most of the residual oil.
Add the butter and garlic and sauté the garlic for about a minute, or until the garlic begins to turn light brown.
Set the heat to low and add the asparagus. Stir briefly and cover. I used a piece of aluminum foil. I like the flexibility I get with foil. Let the asparagus steam for about 4 minutes. Uncover and gently stir the asparagus for another minute.