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!
Just a quick post to let everyone know that I haven’t fallen off the edge of the earth!
Inspiration has been in short supply for the last several weeks. Too much work and not enough play, I suppose. I need to remedy that!
Today’s menu is inspired by Carne Asada, which translates to grilled meat. Sabrosa simply means tasty. So this is a tasty carne asada with beef brisket. Carne asada can be found in all of the Latin American countries. The choice of meat varies, region by region. The carne asada of my youth was a Tex-Mex version, usually made with marinated skirt steak, grilled over high heat, to produce of wonderful char on the meat.
Today’s carne asada is a result of looking for ways to use leftover smoked brisket. The ten pound brisket provide my family with several meals, most of which were centered around warm slices of soft, smoky beef, covered with homemade barbecue sauce, but this time I changed things up a bit.
No recipe, this time, except to say that I sautéed onion, garlic and tomatoes and I charred a few jalapeños in a skillet. I smothered the brisket with the vegetables and served it family style. Black beans and warm, soft, corn tortillas finished the deal.
Enjoy life. Spend time with friends and family. Savor every moment!
2020 has been one heck of a ride and I can’t think of a more suitable way to wrap up the year than by wrapping it up in tamales. Tamales might just be the perfect metaphor for 2020. I was fully prepared to offer a long lament about the year 2020, now that the year has finally come to an end, but I feel a greater need to close the door to the past year and move on.
Anyone who has made tamales knows that it requires time, dedication and stamina, beyond the scope of preparing a typical meal.
There comes a point in the tamale making process where it seems like it will never end and I wonder why I chose to make them, in the first place. The only thing that carries me beyond that moment of futility is a steadfast determination and a belief that I will find satisfaction, when the job is done.
I could go on and on about the agony and ecstasy of making tamales but, I don’t want to discourage anyone from making tamales. Making tamales is a rite of passage.
My method for making tamales takes two days. On the first day, I roast the meat and make the sauce. On the second day, I prepare the masa dough, assemble the tamales and then steam them.
Day one: Roast the meat and make the sauce.
Ingredients for the meat filling:
5 lb Pork butt (shoulder roast) (substitute with chicken or beef)
¼ cup cooking oil
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
1 Tbs coarse salt
2 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp cracked black pepper
3 or 4 bay leaves
2 Tbs dried onion flakes
2 tsp red chile powder
2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
2 cups chicken stock (or beef stock)
2 Tbs rendered bacon fat or rendered beef fat
Wash the roast in cool water and pat dry. Add the oil to a large Dutch oven and set the heat to high. Sear the roast on each side and then set it aside to cool. Discard remaining oil from the Dutch oven.
Combine all of the spices (cinnamon stick, salt, cumin, black pepper, bay leaves, dried onion, chile powder and oregano) and grind them in a mortar and pestle.
Coat the roast with the blended spices and return the roast to the Dutch oven. Add 2 cups of stock. Cover the Dutch oven and place in a 225° oven for six hours.
Remove the Dutch oven from the oven and let the roast rest for about 20 minutes.
Shred the roast with forks and add some of the shredded meat to a large skillet. Add a few teaspoons of rendered fat to the skillet and set the heat to medium/high. Stir the meat for several minutes and remove to a large bowl. Repeat the process until all of the shredded meat has been fried quickly in the skillet.
Ingredients for the sauce:
20 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
3 chile de arbol, stemmed and seeded
3 allspice berries
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp sesame seed
2 tsp dried onion flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
1 ½ tsp salt
8 oz tomato sauce
Stem and seed the chiles.
Steep the chiles in hot water for at least 30 minutes.
Remove the chiles and place them in a blender. Add some of the water, used during the steeping process, to the blender.
Puree the chiles and strain over a large mixing bowl to remove the pulp.
Move the sauce from the bowl to a large skillet. Set the heat to low and simmer.
While the sauce simmers, toast the allspice berries, fennel seeds, sesame seeds and dried onion in a pan, at low heat. Keep the different items apart in the skillet because the onion flake will toast quickly and will need to be removed first. Continue toasting the other spices until they become fragrant.
Grind the toasted spices in a mortar and pestle and add the garlic powder and salt. Add the spices to the sauce.
Add 8 ounces of tomato sauce to the sauce.
Whisk and stir the sauce at low heat for about 15 minutes. Remove the sauce to a large bowl.
Return the shredded meat to the pan and set heat to medium. Add some of the sauce and mix. Once the sauce is thoroughly mixed with the meat, remove the meat and allow to cool to room temperature. Once the meat has cooled, place it in an airtight container or sealable storage bag and refrigerate.
Day two: Prepare the masa and assemble the tamales.
For the masa:
1 package of corn masa (4 lbs)
Lard or vegetable shortening
Water or broth
Follow the directions on the bag of masa. Most masa mixes call for the addition of baking powder, lard and water. The general idea is to add baking powder, lard and water to the masa and then mix to produce a fluffy, wet dough. I used water and added some chicken bouillon and dried Mexican safflower leaves, (azafran en flor), to give a warm color to the masa. I soaked the bullion and safflower in warm water before adding it to the masa mix.
Soften corn husks by soaking them in warm water for 45 minutes to an hour. A clean sink full of hot tap water will do the trick.
Add some water to a tamale steamer and place the steamer on the stove top. Set the heat to medium and cover the steamer with a lid.
Prepare a large area to assemble the tamales. Arrange the work space so that others can help assemble tamales. Each person will need to be able to easily access the corn husks, masa and filling, and a tray for the wrapped tamales.
Lay a corn husk down on the work surface.
Apply about 2 tablespoons of masa to the center of the husk and smear the masa out toward the wide end of the husk. Don’t spread the masa across the entire husk. You will want to leave the edges of the husk clean.
Place about 2 tablespoons of the filling on top of the masa.
Roll the corn husk and finish by folding the pointed end over and placing the tamale on a staging tray or dish.
Once you have prepared a few dozen tamales, place them vertically in the steamer, with the folded ends pointed down.
Steam for an hour and then turn the heat off. Carefully remove the tamales and stack them on a tray.
Continue steaming tamales until they are all cooked.
At this point they are ready to eat or, you might want to wrap them in aluminum foil, in sets of 3 or 4, to save for later, or to send as gifts for friends and family.
I like to take packs of tamales to work and give them to co-workers.
You can freeze foil-wrapped tamales for weeks or months. To reheat, remove the foil and place in a microwave oven for about 30 seconds, or keep them in foil and warm them in a conventional oven for about 20 minutes at 350°.
Tamales can be topped with enchilada sauce, smothered in a warm cheese sauce or they can be eaten just as they are, hot or cold.
Best wishes to all of you during the upcoming year! Keep your family and friends fed with delicious food.
Sometimes, all it takes is an exotic name of a dish to get me excited about cooking. Jambalaya fits the bill perfectly. “Jambalaya” rolls off the tongue lyrically and it speaks of the African influences in this Louisianan, Cajun dish. French and Spanish cultures are also essential to Cajun cuisine, which has helped make Cajun food a wonderful mélange of cross-culturalism. And, lest I forget, there is a particular sofrito that is the fundamental base of many Cajun creations. The sofrito, which traditionally consists of diced onion, celery and bell pepper is so revered in Louisiana that they refer to it as the “holy trinity”.
The last several months have been full of challenges, disappointments and despair but, I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. We’ve all been suffering from anxiety, depression and hardship in our own ways. I selfishly want this dangerous virus to be crushed so that I can happily return to my favorite restaurants, without feeling that I am putting myself or others at risk.
I am glad that I know how to cook. Maybe I should rephrase that.
I am thankful that I have the confidence and courage to cook and that I have the necessary tools to prepare a meal. If there is anything good to be said about 2020 it might be that we have been given the opportunity to invest in our families and bolster each other with love and support. Providing home-cooked meals for the family allows us to gather around the table and enjoy good food and have meaningful conversations.
Okay, that’s enough my maudlin rambling. Let’s make a Jambalaya. But, before we get to it, just imagine how James Earl Jones would say “jambalaya”. Let that be your muse!
1 ½ cup chicken broth
8 oz tomato sauce
1 Tbs Cajun seasoning
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried parsley
½ cup chopped celery
1 medium onion
3 small, mild jalapeños ( I didn’t have bell peppers on hand)
2 cloves garlic
3 small tomatoes (the last of my fresh tomatoes!)
½ lb smoked sausage (andouille is traditional, but I used another tasty smoked pork sausage)
10 shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ cup rice (I used short grain, but long grain is perfectly fine)
Garlic bread (get a good loaf of French bread – it might become the star of the show!)
Butter and garlic salt, for the bread
I like to prepare everything in advance and I like to have all of my ingredients ready and within arm’s length. Mise en place, if you will.
I used whole, raw shrimp, but it is a wonderful convenience to use raw, frozen shrimp that has been peeled and deveined.
Add chicken broth, tomato sauce, seasoning and herbs to a large skillet. Set heat to low/medium and simmer for a few minutes.
Add the holy trinity (onion, celery and, in this case, jalapeño) to the pan. Adding garlic to the holy trinity is referred to “adding the Pope”, so, add the Pope. Add the chopped tomatoes.
Mix everything in the pan and simmer at low/medium heat for a few minutes.
Add the uncooked rice. Stir to combine.
Cut the sausage into ½” disks. Add to the pan.
Cover the pan with a lid and simmer at low/medium heat, until the rice becomes tender. This took about 30 minutes, for me.
While the rice cooks, prepare the garlic bread.
Slice the French bread into thick pieces (1 ½’ or 2” thick). Brush melted butter on one side of each piece and dust liberally with garlic salt. Reassemble the loaf and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Remove the garlic bread from the oven and keep it sealed until you are ready to serve.
Once the rice is soft, add the shrimp . Nestle the shrimp in the jambalaya and cover the pan again. Simmer for another 5 to 7 minutes.
Serve with laughter and merriment. Eat well, stay healthy and find something to admire about everyone you meet!
My son came by a few weeks ago to make dinner for the family. It was an honor (and a pleasure) to watch him work. He has a keen, creative mind and a clever palate. The young man is a crafty chef in sheep’s clothing and he’s not afraid to attempt challenging culinary feats in front of an audience.
When I came home from work he had already made the dough for the ramen noodles. Yes, he was making ramen noodles from scratch. The dough had been set aside and he was in the process of prepping the vegetables. I watched how he worked the kitchen knife. Stern, decisive chops and slices. He worked quickly and with intensity and purpose.
He soft boiled the eggs and removed them to cool while he prepared the rest of the dish.
Several minutes passed and then he stared long and hard at the eggs, still in their shells. I had to bite my tongue when I realized what he was about to do. He put the eggs back on to boil a little longer. I remembered thinking that re-boiling the eggs was probably a mistake but when he pulled the eggs out and sliced them in half they were absolutely, perfectly soft-boiled! That was either a stroke of luck or a stroke of genius, either way, it was a win!
I didn’t ask for the recipe but it was easy to see what he was throwing into the pot. And, since I wasn’t there when he made the dough for the noodles, I can’t elaborate on that either except to say it was a simple mixture of flour, baking soda and water.
Okay, I have to admit, I was flying without a net on this one. This whole Covid-19 pandemic thing has kept me off balance, in every aspect of my life.
It’s not uncommon for me to rummage through my pantry or refrigerator to scrape together a meal. Often times, everything comes together nicely because I know which food items pair well with other items. Next thing you know, “Dinner is served!”
But this was a case of “Oh no, what am I going to do with all of this stuff?” That kind of thinking at the onset usually leads to questionable results.
The only reason I had angel hair pasta was because I picked it up by accident. I meant to get spaghetti…you know, real spaghetti, not the dainty, angel haired variety. I have found that I am not very observant in the grocery store, now that I’m wearing a mask and trying not to over-handle items on the shelves. The chicken sausage looked interesting, so I picked it up. It was stuffed with chopped basil leaves and it seemed like something fun to try. I had sun dried tomatoes, packed away in my freezer, a few fresh tomatoes, a few pieces of broccoli, some Parmesan cheese and a few semi-fresh hot dog buns in my pantry. All of those ingredients are worthy, in their own right, and could be put to good use but my mind drew a blank when it came time to put everything together.
As it turned out, the dish qualified as real food. The sauce was a little too thick but, the leftovers were great! I added a cup of water to the leftovers and put it in the microwave for two minutes and voila! Perfectly, creamy.
I mention all of this to illustrate a point. Being a home cook isn’t easy, especially with the added stress of a pandemic and civil unrest. Some home cooks, myself included, come home every evening and are faced with the daunting task of making something delicious and nutritious and…something that we haven’t already had three times this week, for goodness sake!
3 cloves roasted garlic, mashed
½ cup sun dried tomatoes
1 ripe Roma tomato, sliced into 1/2” discs
1 tsp fresh rosemary, diced
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp coarse salt
2 Tbs butter
¼ cup half and half (milk and cream)
2 cups water
2 large pieces of broccoli, stems and leaves included
8 oz chicken sausage (4 links)
2 cups cooked angel hair pasta
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
A few hot dog buns
In a hot skillet, add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tsp of mashed roasted garlic. Simmer for a minute.
Add the half and half and 1 cup of water and cook for a few minutes. Add the Parmesan cheese and turn the heat off. Remove the cheese sauce to a bowl and keep warm.
In a separate pan, boil some water and add the broccoli. Cook until tender. Remove and slice into long pieces. Set aside.
Slice the tomato and set aside.
Cook the pasta according to the directions, drain and set aside.
In a large pan, add a little olive oil and then add a teaspoon of mashed, roasted garlic. Simmer for a minute and then add the chicken sausage. Simmer at medium heat, turning the sausages occasionally.
Remove the sausages and cut into 1” pieces.
Return the sausage back to the pan and sauté for a few minutes.
Add the sun dried tomatoes and rosemary, stir for a minute. Add the fresh tomatoes and simmer at low/medium heat for five minutes.
Add the melted cheese mixture. Stir briefly.
Add 1 cup of water and the cooked broccoli and stir to combine. Add the cooked pasta and mix. Top with a little more grated Parmesan cheese. Serve warm with toasted, buttered hot dog buns.
Remember, making dinner is really just an invitation for families to sit together. Conversation at the dinner table is the real prize. Dinner-time conversations will linger in hearts and minds long after the food is gone!
One evening, about a month and a half ago, when this whole Covid-19 pandemic thing was just beginning to bear down on us, I spoke with my son on the phone for about 20 minutes while he made a sandwich for his girlfriend, who was coming home from work.
He switched to speaker phone, after his girlfriend came home, so that he could finish making the sandwich. We all joked and talked about how strange things had become and we finally got down to serious business.
You see, my son’s girlfriend manages a pizzeria and of course, I had to ask her what she likes on her pizza. At first, she said that she didn’t really like pizza but I couldn’t accept the fact that someone in the pizza biz wouldn’t like pizza. I finally got her to nail down some of the toppings she likes.
Beef, but not too much Italian spice, cheese…lots of different kinds, including feta, thinly sliced onion and bell pepper.
I got feisty and mentioned anchovy and I could feel the anxiety coming through the phone line, yes I was speaking on a land line!
Why is it that so many people say they don’t like anchovies yet they have never tried them?
I told her that I would make a big pizza for her, just the way she likes it and I would put anchovies on half of it, just to give her an opportunity to try them. I even told her that I would drop it off at her door, so that we wouldn’t run the risk spreading the virus.
Did I do that? No.But, that doesn’t mean I won’t.
So, with that, I present a photo of the sandwich that my son made.
Here’s my guess at the ingredients:
Large, soft bread loaf, 6”cut
Deli turkey, sliced
Roma tomato, sliced
Iceberg lettuce, rough chopped
While we were going on about pizza and pizza toppings my son kept talking about a tiny coat hanger that he found on the ground earlier that day. OK. Good for you, I thought. You found a tiny coat hanger.
I should have realized that this was just one of the many infinitesimally small things that my son sees every day that the rest of us are oblivious to.
I asked him to send me a picture…and he did.
All I could think after seeing this was, now some poor mouse can’t hang up his jacket!
Well, our first major holiday during the pandemic is nearly over and I hope everyone is safe and well. I thought that maybe this was our second holiday, considering the pandemic was on the rise during Valentine’s Day but, I believe we were still in “discovery mode” during that time. The virus was mostly abroad and we only had a few cases reported in the United States. It’s amazing how quickly our perception changed.
Churches are not having services, which is very odd, especially during a religious holiday. Many families are separated from each other and there are unfilled seats at our dinner tables. I’m thankful for our phones and the internet because we still have the ability to reach out to those we love.
But, enough of all that. This is a food blog. Let’s dig in.
I am fortunate that my daughter was available to help make this dish. She’s a mac and cheese aficionado and I was thrilled to have her on my team!
This is a variation of the recipe I posted several months ago. If you want to see the original post, click here. The original recipe calls for 2 cups of dry macaroni noodles and I only had 1 ¾ cups this time, so I scaled some of the other ingredients down accordingly and made a few substations.
Easter Mac and Cheese
3 strips thinly sliced bacon
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 ¾ cups elbow macaroni
¼ cup butter
2 tsp bacon fat
¼ cup flour
3 ½ cups whole milk
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp Tabasco sauce
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 oz queso Chihuahua (white Mexican cheese), grated
Cut the 3 slices of raw bacon into 2” pieces with a sharp knife. Add the bacon pieces to a small frying pan. Crowding the pan is recommended because the bacon needs to be cooked at the lowest heat setting and the resulting bacon fat will help regulate the temperature. Frying the bacon at low heat will help ensure that the bacon and the bacon fat does not burn.
Add freshly ground black pepper to the bacon. I probably used between ¼ and ½ teaspoons. The pepper will flavor the bacon and the fat that it produces.
Remove the bacon once it has become firm. Set aside. Reserve the fat for later.
Boil the elbow macaroni in a large pot of water.
While the macaroni boils, heat the milk in a microwave oven for about a minute or two. The goal is to warm the milk to about 120°, or just a little hotter than bath water. Set the milk aside.
Strain the macaroni after it has become soft. Leave the macaroni in a colander and reserve at least 1/3 cup of the starchy water.
In the same large pot, now empty, add the butter and bacon fat. Set the heat to low and simmer for a minute.
Add the flour and whisk, to form a roux.
Slowly add warm milk, while whisking. Turn the heat to medium high and keep whisking for a few minutes while the sauce thickens.
Add the Tabasco sauce and mustard. Whisk to incorporate. Once the sauce has thickened, turn the heat to low.
Slowly add the grated cheese. Stir slowly, with a spatula, as the cheese is added.
When the cheese has melted, add the macaroni and fold, to coat the macaroni.
Pour the mac and cheese in an oven-proof backing dish and bake at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it starts to bubble.
This isn’t a classic Beef Stroganoff…it’s more like a stripped down version. But that is where my heart is tonight. Basic. Essential. Sincere.
I didn’t realize I was making Beef Stroganoff until I was nearly done making this dish. It all started rather innocently with me deciding what to do with a leftover beef pot roast that was at risk of drying out in the refrigerator.
I pulled some items from the refrigerator and the pantry and I began putting stuff in measuring cups, as if I was working from a recipe. Who was I trying to fool? I was just making stuff up, as usual.
The simple fact of the matter is, I just wanted to make something to help ease our troubled minds. Our lives are under a tremendous strain right now and our emotions are conflicted.
We need to find some comfort every day. We should gather our families together to share a meal and make time to share our thoughts and feelings.
1 ½ cups elbow macaroni
1 Tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 Tbs beef bouillon
1 Tbs ground black pepper
1 Tbs salt
½ cup half and half
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ lbs cooked beef roast
8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
Boil the macaroni in a large pot of lightly salted water. Strain the macaroni when it becomes tender. Set aside.
In a large skillet, add olive oil and sauté the onion until the onion begins to soften.
Move the onion aside, in the pan and add butter. Set the heat to low.
Add flour and whisk the butter and flour.
Add the chicken stock, beef bouillon, pepper and salt. Turn heat to medium and whisk. Once the sauce thickens add the Worcestershire sauce and the half and half. Whisk to incorporate.
Add the beef and stir.
Cover and simmer at low heat for 30 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and stir briefly. Turn off the heat and add the macaroni. Stir to mix and turn out to a large serving bowl.
Hooray! The crawfish are here, the crawfish are here!
Every year, around this time, crawfish and shrimp vendors start popping up at local gas station parking lots. They set up shop on the weekends, with pick up trucks and trailers for about 6 weeks and then they vanish, as quickly and as quietly as they arrived, returning to the bayous. But, while they are here, I have access to the biggest, freshest and most succulent gulf shrimp and wonderful, spicy, hot Cajun crawfish .
Most of these vendors only take cash. I rarely carry cash but, when these guys roll into town I don’t mind making a trip to the nearest ATM and withdrawing money from my bank account. I drive back to the seafood guys waving cash in my hand. Yes, it’s really that good.
I remember a time, just a few years ago, when I saw the crawfish guys boiling their shrimp and cawfish and I panicked, realizing that I was nearing the end of their short season. It was Saturday, around 5:00 pm. I drove the 3 miles to the bank teller machine and withdrew some cash. By the time I returned, they had already packed up and were gone. Gone! Gone for good, at least until the next year.
Never again. Lesson learned. I will not let the moment escape me. Even if all I get is a tiny sample of some briny shrimp or a few scrawny crawfish, I won’t pass up the opportunity to savor some of the finest food this world has to offer.
I am not a creole chef and I wasn’t raised on the bayou. I’m not Cajun…I’m Texan true and true, but I am forever mesmerized and enamored by the lure of fresh gulf seafood and funky, backwater fare.
Something good happens when the shrimp are set to boil. The world is a happier place when hot, red crawfish are pulled from the pot. Mystery and wonder fills the air. Friends are made instantly. Smiles become contagious. Romance is at hand. No struggles, no strife.