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
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.
Dinner was served and I was able to prepare for the next night’s meal. Win – Win!
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.
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
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” ?
I like stuffed pork chops but, it seemed that every time I made them I over-baked them, to the point where they were dry and tough and the stuffing fell out of them while they baked. I butterfly cut the chops, making a long, deep cut into the meat, which made them easy to stuff but, not very pretty when they made it to the table.
This recipe calls for piercing a small hole into the side of the pork chops and maneuvering a knife inside of the chops to create a large cavity. The pork chops were seared on both sides and then baked in the oven, covered, to help keep the meat moist and tender.
Prep time can be reduced, if you are in a hurry, by using prepared breadcrumbs, rather than making them from scratch.
3 Tbs butter (divided)
2 Tbs olive oil (divided)
French bread (6 inch loaf)
1 green onion, chopped fine
2 tsp dried sage
2 tsp dried thyme
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 thick cut, bone-in, pork chops
Cut French bread into ¾” slices
Melt one tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter.
Brush bread slices with the melted butter and olive oil.
Toast the bread on a parchment paper lined backing tray in the oven, at 300° F. Remove when bread has toasted and begins to turn golden brown.
Allow the toast to air dry for a few minutes.
Crush the toasted bread, to make breadcrumbs. Combine breadcrumbs with green onion, sage, thyme and egg. Set stuffing mixture aside.
Insert a small, sharp knife into the center of the edge of a pork chop (opposite side of the bone.)
Cut a semicircle through the meaty part of the pork chop, while working the knife back and forth, using the insertion point as the center of the radial cut (see visual aid, below.) Turn the knife blade to face the opposite direction and make another radial cut, to complete the cavity.
Remove the knife and pack stuffing into the cavity. Try to fill the entire cavity with stuffing. Repeat the process with the remaining pork chops.
Sprinkle salt and cracked, black pepper on both sides of the pork chops.
Preheat oven to 350º F.
On the stove top, bring a large oven-proof skillet to medium/high heat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to the pan. Once the oil is hot, lay the pork chops in the skillet and sear for three minutes. Turn the chops over and sear for another two minutes.
Add dollops of butter to the tops of the pork chops, (about two tablespoons of butter.)
Cover the skillet with aluminum foil.
Bake the covered pork chops for 30 to 35 minutes in the oven. Check the internal temperature of the pork chops. It should reach 145º F. Remove the skillet from the oven and remove the aluminum foil. Allow the pork chops to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
Serve the pork chops with anything you like. Mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, cooked greens, apple sauce or, macaroni and cheese would all make great side dishes.
Here’s something for the couple that wants to celebrate Valentine’s Day but doesn’t want to go out to eat, after a long Valentine’s Day, at work.
5 or 6 large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, mashed
1 tsp red chili flakes
3 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs clarified butter (I used a garlic dipping sauce from a recent pizza delivery)
1 uncooked, spicy Italian sausage
1 Tbs butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dried Parmesan cheese (straight from the can!)
2 ounces sliced Mozzarella cheese
a few black olives, pitted and sliced
3 green onions, chopped
prepared pizza dough (follow the recipe of your choice)
Prepare the pizza dough and let it rise. While the dough rises, prepare the other ingredients.
Slice the shrimp in half, lengthwise. Marinate the shrimp in olive oil, garlic and red chili flakes.
Pan fry the Italian sausage and chop into small pieces. Set aside.
chop the green onion and set aside.
In a medium sized skillet, add the clarified butter and butter. Simmer at low heat to melt the butter. Add the heavy cream and mix, briefly. Turn the heat up to medium to thicken the cream sauce. Add the Parmesan cheese and gently whisk to combine. Remove from the heat when the sauce is thick and creamy.
After the dough has risen, roll out the dough out on a floured surface. Spread the dough into a circle. With a pastry cutter, slice a triangular wedge from the rim of the pizza dough. Curl the edges of the dough with your fingers and form the tip of the heart, on the opposite side of the triangular cut. Curl the edges of the dough in the cut area to form the top of the heart.
I prebake pizza dough in the oven at 400° F for about 10 minutes and then remove to add toppings.
Pour some of the olive oil marinade onto the prebaked dough and spread it across the dough. Add the raw shrimp and mashed garlic. Add the Mozzarella cheese slices and chopped, cooked sausage. Top with sliced black olives and green onions.
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.
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?
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!
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
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.
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.
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
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, 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!
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
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!