Crawfish Season!

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.

Grab a drink. Find a seat. Tell us a story.

Two Sandwiches

Well, Thanksgiving’s just around the corner and you know what that means…

Bánh mì and Cheesesteak sandwiches!

Yes, it’s an odd pairing and no, it has nothing to do with Thanksgiving. 

Once again, “Necessity” grabbed hold of the wheel of invention and I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.  Working on Saturdays disrupts my rhythm and I usually wind up feeling out of sorts as I head back home from work.  I didn’t have anything in particular planned for dinner, since this particular Saturday was more like a regular weekday for me.  That changed when I learned that we were expecting guests for dinner.  While I was still at work, I recalled what was in my refrigerator.  We had a small pork loin and a some thinly sliced beef.  Both cuts of meat had been in the refrigerator for several days and they would spoil within a day or two, if not cooked.

It seemed to me that sandwiches would be a good solution.  Quick and easy.  I asked my wife to pick up a couple loaves of French bread at the market and I got straight to work, after I came home from work. 

These sandwich recipes are inspired by two classic sandwiches.   I didn’t set out to make the quintessential version of  either sandwich.  I just wanted to whip up some decent sandwiches. 

I used items that we already had at home, so some improvisation was employed.  I normally wouldn’t use cocktail carrots because they give me the creeps.  They remind me of amputated limbs and they develop a weird white coating on them, as they lose moisture in the refrigerator.  Other than that, they are perfectly fine. 🙂

The key to really good Bánh mì and cheesesteaks relies on the quality of the bread that is used.  We are fortunate to have a grocery store nearby that stocks authentic New Orleans style French bread. 

Bánh mì sandwich

Ingredients:

10 stubby little carrots (cocktail carrots)

1 onion, very thinly sliced

2 cloves of garlic, smashed and sliced thin

¼ rice wine vinegar (or white vinegar)

2 Tbs sugar

1 lb pork loin

2 Tbs ketchup

1 tsp Hoisin sauce

1 tsp soy sauce

2 green onions

¼ cup cilantro leaves

1   24” New Orleans style French bread loaf  (Cartozzo’s Bakery)

¼ cup mayonnaise

1 tsp Sriracha sauce

Directions:

Heat the oven to 400°.

Slice the onions and garlic and grate the carrots.  These all need to be very thin. 

Add the onions and carrots of a bowl and add the rice vinegar and sugar.  Mix together and set aside for an hour.

Slice the green onions lengthwise, very thin. Separate the cilantro leaves from the stems. Set these aside.

In a small bowl, mix the ketchup, Hoisin sauce and soy sauce.  Smear the sauce onto all sides of the pork loin. 

Put the pork loin in a ceramic baking dish and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. 

Remove the pork loin after 30 minutes and loosely cover with a foil tent.  Rest the pork for 15 minutes before slicing.

Slice the pork as thinly as possible.  Return the sliced pork to the baking dish and mix thoroughly with the sauce and baked drippings.  Seal the dish with aluminum foil and keep in a warm place until ready to serve.

Slice the French bread lengthwise.  I chose to cut all of the way through but, I could have cut just deep enough to open the loaf like a book.  Either way is fine. Warm the bread in a 200° oven for 10 minutes.  Pull the bread out when the crust is warm and slightly crisp. 

Mix the mayonnaise and Sriracha in a small bowl.

Slather the mayo mixture on both sides of the warm French bread. 

Arrange the pork on the bottom slice of the bread.

Add sliced green onions.

Top with the pickled onion and carrot mixture.

Sprinkle cilantro on top of the onion and carrot.

With a  bread knife, cut the assembled sandwich into four equal pieces (four 6” sandwiches).

Cheesesteak sandwich

Ingredients:

16 oz Muenster cheese, sliced

1 onion, sliced in ¼” rings

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp olive oil

1 lb thinly sliced beef

1 8oz can sliced mushrooms

8 oz marinara sauce

1   24” New Orleans style French bread loaf 

Directions:

Note:  I used a wok to prepare the onions and sliced steak.  Cheesesteaks are best when cooked quickly at high heat and a hot wok is probably the next best thing to a hot flat top grill. 

Slice the Muenster cheese and set aside.

Slice the onion into ¼” rings.  Set aside.

I used a pre-sliced cut of beef.  The slices are very thin which makes it easy to cut the meat into thin ribbons. 

Slice the meat into ribbons and set aside.

Sauté the onions and garlic in a teaspoon of olive oil.  Remove the onions after they soften. Smash the cooked garlic cloves and mix with the onions.

Stir-fry the beef until no longer pink (about two minutes). Remove and keep warm.

Slice the French bread lengthwise.   Layer the sandwich with the sliced cheese. I added mushrooms to one half of the sandwich.

Bake in a hot oven until the cheese begins to melt.

Remove the bread and top with the cooked beef.  Add the sautéed onions.

Top with warm marinara.

Cut the sandwich into four equal pieces ( four 6” sandwiches).

Crazy Bread

First things first, this isn’t a copy-cat version of the Little Caesar’s classic. 

But, since I brought up Little Caesar’s Crazy Bread I feel the urge to share my thoughts on that ingenious invention.  Long, long ago, in a past career, I was once versed in food cost and clever marketing.  I remember when Little Caesar’s came out with Crazy Bread.  My first thought was, “Well… some marketing guru just earned a big bonus!”

The idea behind Little Caesar’s Crazy Bread is so simple that it needs no explanation, but really, it does.  Successful restaurants make money when they focus on selling mass produced low food cost items.  Conversely, they run the risk of going belly-up if they dabble too much in high food cost items…especially high food cost items that have a short storage life. 

Dough is cheap.  Little Caesar’s knows that.  That’s why they can sell a large pizza for $5. Throw on a little sauce, some cheap cheese and one topping and sell the pizza for five bucks.  They don’t make a ton of money off of the pizza but they sell a lot of them.  Overall food cost for the pizza is probably between 1 and 2 dollars.

About 20 years after Little Caesar’s came into being, they figured out how to increase their profit margin with a gimmick.  Crazy Bread is nothing more than bread dough with a dusting of dried parmesan cheese.  They’re very cheap to make.  They sell 8 bread sticks for just few dollars.  The ingenious part of their scheme is the sauce.  What’s a bread stick without marinara sauce?  Oh, sure you can eat a bread stick without sauce but wouldn’t it be much nicer to dip the soft bread stick in warm marinara sauce?  Mmmmm.   Is a 4 ounce cup of marina sauce worth 60 cents?  You bet!  And that’s where they make the money.  Here we are, nearly 40 years after Crazy Bread was introduced and it’s still going strong.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Little Caesar’s or their Crazy Bread and I’m all for capitalism.  I just find this sort of stuff fascinating! 

OK, enough of that…let’s dig into some of my crazy bread.

As I have mentioned previously, I have been working long hours and I don’t have much time to make elaborate meals, or much time to document them for my blog!  I came home rather late one night, recently and knew I had to come up with something quick to prepare.  My first thought was to check the refrigerator for things that might spoil, if not used soon.  Raw meat always tops the list of things to check.  I saw a pound of sweet Italian sausage and knew that it had been in the refrigerator for about three days.  A pasta dish came to mind but I really didn’t want to make a big production.  And then my mind went to bread.  I didn’t stop to think.  I started to make a quick, simple bread dough.  While the dough rose I browned the sausage in a pan and shredded some extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Total time to prepare from start to finish:  1.25 hours.   It was worth the wait!

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

1 packet instant, fast rising  yeast

1 1/4 cup warm water

1 Tbs garlic powder

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

2 tsp sugar

1 Tbs honey

1 lb sweet Italian bulk sausage

1 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:

Mix 2 cups flour, yeast and garlic powder with a whisk.  Set aside.

Add the honey and sugar to a large mixing bowl.

Heat the water in a microwave or stove top to about 100°.  Add the water to the mixing bowl and whisk to blend with the sugar and honey.

Slowly add flour mixture and stir with a spatula. 

Add the crushed red pepper and garlic powder.  Mix to combine thoroughly.   Slowly add the rest of the flour and mix by spatula and then by hand.

Turn the dough out to a lightly floured surface.  Knead for a few minutes until the dough becomes a firm and forms a ball.

Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover with foil and keep in a warm place.  Let the dough rise for at least 45 minutes.

While the dough rises, brown the sausage and shred the cheese.

Once dough has doubled in size, add the cooked sausage and grated cheese.

Mix the dough thoroughly and let it rise in a warm place for 5 or 10 minutes.

On a lightly greased baking sheet, form the dough into the shape of your preference.  Since this is crazy bread I decided a question mark shape would be appropriate.

Bake at 400° for about 30 minutes.  Remove and allow the bread to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Serve with a fresh salad.

This is the first time I have made bread this way and I was pleasantly surprised.  I imagine using breakfast sausage next time and serving with scrambled eggs and fresh fruit. 

*Frozen* Stir Fry

I recently made a beef and vegetable stir fry.  When I say recently, I really mean two months ago.

I realized that I had way more beef than I needed for the dish, so I put the marinated beef in a freezer bag, along with the marinade, and tossed it in the freezer for later use. 

Fast forward two months.

 I had a big frozen block of marinated meat.  Now what?

Well, a sensible cook would have thawed the beef in the refrigerator for a day.  But, I was not in a sensible mood.  I was hungry and I wanted to make dinner RIGHT NOW.  My solution was undoubtedly unconventional but I promise, the end result was delicious.

Note:  I used Canola oil throughout the entire stir-fry process until the very end.  I used sesame oil to prepare the leafy celery tops and green onions, which topped the dish.  The intermittent and distinct flavor of sesame oil gave the dish an element of surprise. 

Ingredients:

1 lb frozen, marinated beef strips

2 Tbs cooking oil (I used canola oil)

2 Tbs fresh sliced ginger

1 onion, julienne sliced

2 medium sized carrots

2 celery stalks (with leafy green tops)

1 quarter head of cabbage

1 tsp sesame oil

2 green onions

2 jalapeños

Spicy sauces: Vietnamese chili garlic sauce and Ed’s Widow Maker (local wicked, habanero sauce)

Cooked white rice, enough for to serve four.

Directions:

Prepare steamed white rice.  Keep warm.

Prepare vegetables.  Chop and slice.  Set aside.

Box-cut jalapenos to remove seeds and membranes.
Frozen solid! OMG…what now?

Heat a wok to low heat.  Add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil.  Add the frozen beef.  Stir to coat and cover. 

Turn every few minutes and remove portions of beef as they warm and separate from the frozen glob of meat.  Set the thawed pieces of meat aside on a plate.

Continue to heat the beef until all of it is thawed.  This took about 10 minutes at low heat, covered.  Remove and set aside.

Add one tablespoon cooking oil to wok and crank up the heat.

Add sliced ginger and stir for 30 seconds.

Add the vegetables and stir fry until the vegetables become tender, but not overcooked.

Add the beef and stir over high heat.  Turn the heat off and prepare the serving dish.

Add cooked white rice to a large serving bowl.  Create a well in the center, for the stir fry.

Add the stir-fried beef and vegetables to the bowl.

Return the wok to the stove and set heat to high.  Add 1 teaspoon sesame oil.  Add the celery tops and green onion.  Stir fry for about one minute and transfer to the top of the serving bowl.

Serve with additional hot sauces and fresh jalapeño for the adventuresome…no need to punish everyone, I suppose.

Quick Dinner

Working moms and working dads are challenged every day.  On any given day, parents and kids are both worn out by the time they come home.  I have learned that if I sit down, when I come home, I’m pretty much done for the day.  The longer I sit, the more likely I am to order Pizza or Chinese food.  There’s nothing wrong with that but I find more satisfaction by staying on my feet and cranking out a quick, nutritious meal. 

Ironically, the more difficult my workday is, the more likely I am to push through and cook something.  Once I get started cooking I get into a rhythm and the act of cooking becomes therapeutic and strangely relaxing.  The best part is, I get to talk to my family in the kitchen while dinner is prepared and then we all get to sit together and have a meal. 

Ground beef tacos are super-easy to make and they can be accompanied by as much or little as you wish. 

This time it was just my wife and me having dinner.  My kids are young adults now and we don’t all gather for dinner, like we did in the past.  I miss that, but at the same time, I know that’s just the way life works.

After a long day of work, moms and dads don’t want to waste precious time or energy. 

Use every shortcut.  Work efficiently and always make one thing special, or out of the ordinary, and include some sort of fresh vegetables.

No recipe this time…just pictures.  It’s tacos for crying out loud! 

Spinach and Mushroom Enchiladas

Most of my entrée recipes contain meat, in some way or another.  Some recipes seem like meat, meat and more meat.  Other recipes lean toward vegetarian dishes…until I throw in some chicken stock.  This is a bona fide vegetarian dish. 

Until I started this blog I didn’t give much thought to other people’s recipes.  I have spent the last twenty-plus years relying on my own instincts and re-imagining dishes that I have had in the past.  But now I find myself perusing other cooking blogs and WOW, there sure are a lot of vegetarians and vegans out there!

I have gained an appreciation for what those cooks are doing.  It’s easy for an omnivore, such as me, to look at vegan recipes and think, “oh, those poor people…they have given up meat and they must be miserable.”  But, on closer inspection, I have found that vegetarians and vegans are bravely redefining what it means to be conscientious cooks.  Nutrition and taste can be achieved without meat.  There, I said it.

As I plod along searching for delicious and nutritious ways to satisfy my soul, I consider every lifestyle diet equally important.

This is one of those rare meals that came out just as I imagined it would.  The creaminess of the tomato based sauce and the three types of cheese made this a very gratifying dish.  It lacked a significant amount protein, which concerned me a bit but I grabbed a few handfuls of peanuts while I made this and life was good.

Ingredients:

7 green onions

2 garlic cloves, smashed

4 cups fresh spinach (8 oz)

16 oz fresh mushrooms

3 Tbs olive oil

2 Tbs butter

4 Tbs flour

2 tsp cumin powder

2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

32 oz vegetable stock

6 oz tomato paste

½ cup half-and-half

8 oz Colby-Jack Cheese

4 oz sharp cheddar cheese

4 oz Mozzarella cheese

12 white corn tortillas

Directions:

Prepare the vegetables:

Chop the green onions.  Think of the green onion as three parts.  There is the white root section, the light green middle section and the dark green tips.  Cut and separate the green onions accordingly.

My recipe calls for 4 cups of spinach but I used more.  This might be considered a “heaping” four cups.  The beauty of fresh spinach is that it quickly wilts down to a much smaller amount when it is cooked. 

Chop the mushrooms.  I used baby portabella mushrooms because the price was right…any type mushroom will do.

In an oven proof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil at medium heat.  Add the chopped white ends of the green onions and garlic.  Simmer for one minute.  Add the spinach and stir.  After a minute, the spinach will begin to soften and wilt.  Add the chopped mushrooms and stir for another two minutes.  Remove to a bowl.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter.  Add the flour and whisk to make a roux.  Add cumin, chili powder, oregano, salt and pepper and stir to incorporate.  Add one half of the vegetable stock, (16 ounces) and tomato paste and whisk to thicken.  Add the half-and-half and whisk to mix.  Simmer on low heat to allow the sauce thicken. Thin the sauce with the remaining 16 ounces of vegetable stock. Simmer on low while the enchiladas are assembled.

Add the half-and-half.
Sauce will become very thick after adding half-and-half.
Add remaining vegetable stock to thin the sauce.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the mozzarella and cheddar cheese and 4 ounces of the Colby-Jack cheese.  Add the chopped middle sections of the green onions.  Add the cooked spinach and mushrooms.  Mix thoroughly. 

Soften the tortillas in a microwave or wrap in foil and warm them in a conventional oven.

Adding sauce to the pan keeps the enchiladas from burning

Add ½ cup of the enchilada sauce to the bottom of a large casserole dish.  Spread the sauce to cover the bottom of the dish.

Assemble the enchiladas:

Lay a tortilla on a clean work surface.  Add about 1/3 cup of the filling to each tortilla.  Roll and place in baking dish. 

Once all of the enchiladas are in the casserole dish, pour the sauce over the enchiladas and scatter 4 ounces of shredded Colby-Jack cheese on top.  Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Top with chopped green onion tips and cilantro

Meatball Subs

When I make spaghetti and meat balls I almost always make extra sauce and meatballs.  I sometimes use the extra sauce to make meatball sub sandwiches. 

Ingredients:

2 cups of cooked meatballs in marinara sauce

½ cup dry Parmesan cheese

1 large New Orleans style Po’ Boy bread loaf (or any good French loaf)

1 cup Mozzarella cheese, grated

½ cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

1 Tbs olive oil

1 clove of garlic, smashed

¼ bell pepper, sliced into ¼” strips

2 Tbs chopped fresh basil

Directions:

Warm the meatballs and marina is a skillet.  Add the dry Parmesan and mix.  Simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.

While the meatballs warm, grate the cheese and prepare the garlic and bell pepper.  Chop the basil.  Set aside.

In a small pan, add olive oil and garlic.  Heat the pan on low/medium heat and then add the bell pepper.  Sauté for a few minutes, until the peppers have softened.

Heat the oven broiler.

I used a 24” bread loaf, which made 4 subs.

Slice the bread loaf but do not cut through all of the way.   Cut a “V” shaped trough in one of the lengths. 

Add the meatballs and marinara to the trough in the bread loaf.

Add the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.  Put the subs under the oven broiler to melt the cheese.

Remove the subs and layer with the bell pepper and a little more fresh Parmesan cheese and basil.

Wings (over the Mid-South)

Well, it had to happen at some point.  I can’t hide the fact that I have become a “wing junkie”.  Spend enough time in the Mid-South and you are bound to get hooked on the darn things.  I never cooked chicken wings until I moved to the Mid-South area, nearly twenty years ago. 

For those of you who don’t know what I mean by “Mid-South”, let me try to explain…

The East Coast and West Coast need no explanation…just look at a map of the United States and it’s obvious.  The Northwest, Central Plains States make sense, too.  It gets a little difficult to define the Mid-West states because they include so many states that I would consider, The North and, it includes Ohio, which can hardly be considered “west”.  The Deep South covers a large swath of land from Virginia to Texas, which makes sense, even though Fort Worth, Texas claims the motto, “Where the West begins.”   The Southwest is plain enough…it’s all of those big states with deserts and mountains.

The Mid-South is all of the other states that don’t seem to fit in anywhere else, or maybe they are states that are actually parts of other geographically named areas but they’re just not happy about it.  According to the internet, and who am I to argue with the internet, the Mid-South includes Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, which is where I reside.

As I was mentioning, I never cooked chicken wings until I moved to the Mid-South.  If you look at the states that comprise the Mid-South you might think that barbecue is the main attraction, and you are probably right, but chicken wings aren’t far behind.  You can’t throw a rock around here without hitting a chicken wing joint.  I’ve come across some great wing restaurants and I’ve seen my fair share of so-so joints.  My criteria for a good chicken wing joint is crispy wings (preferably whole wings), good sauces, plenty of crisp vegetables and real blue cheese dressing.

With that, I present tonight’s fare.  Buffalo Wings with honest-to-goodness blue cheese dressing and fresh vegetables.

Note:  Seasonings can be whatever you like.  I don’t know if I have ever made chicken wings the same way twice.  I prefer them very spicy, but that’s just me.  The spice I used on these may seem extreme but, as they bake, they lose some of the spiciness and just carry the flavor of the spices.

Ingredients:

10 whole chicken wings (or about 2 lbs)

2 Tbs Tajin seasoning (contains flavors of chili, lime and sea salt)

2 Tbs smoked paprika

2 Tbs cayenne powder

2 Tbs garlic powder

1 Tbs cumin powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

For the blue cheese sauce:

8 oz crumbled blue cheese

1 cup mayonnaise

½ cup half-and-half

½ cup sour cream

1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbs lemon juice (or 1 tsp vinegar)

The fruit and vegetables:

3 ribs of celery (sliced into sticks)

2 large carrots (sliced into sticks)

2 large jalapeños (sliced into sticks and seeded)

1 lime (quartered)

Directions:

Heat an oven to 400°.

Wash the chicken wings under cold water and allow them to air dry for 20 minutes.  The skin of the wing needs to dry before adding the spice rub.

Tajin seasoning

In a large mixing bowl, add the spices.  Toss the whole wings in the spice mixture.  Allow the wings to rest for about 10 minutes, to allow the rub to fully adhere.

Cover a baking tray with parchment paper.  Lay the wings on the pan and stretch them as wide as they can go.  Doing this will maximize the crispiness.

Bake for 45 minutes and then turn the wings over to bake on the other side.  Turn the oven down to 350° and bake for another 30 minutes. 

While the wings bake, make the sauce and prepare the vegetables.

Prepare the sauce by mixing half of the blue cheese with the rest of the sauce ingredient.  Beat with a spatula until creamy.

Add remaining blue cheese and gently incorporate.

Peel the carrots and slice all of the vegetables into sticks.

Slice the lime into quarters.

Arrange the vegetables and lime on a platter.

Pull the wings from the oven and apply the hot sauce of your choice, or serve as is.

I used equal parts of these 3 sauces on my wings and left the rest without sauce

Arrange the wings on the platter with the vegetables and lime wedges.

Serve with chilled blue cheese sauce.

Shrimp with Creamy Garlic Butter and Pasta

This dish is a bit like Shrimp Scampi but, not so bold and intense in flavor.  The creaminess, provided by the half-and-half, along with the pasta turns a wild Shrimp Scampi into something gentle and soothing.

Ingredients:

4 Tbs unsalted butter

1 Tbs olive oil

1 tsp coarse salt

1 tsp red chili flakes

4 garlic cloves

1 lb large, raw shrimp, deveined and peeled

2 green onions

¼ cup fresh basil

Juice of 1/2 lemon

½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

½ cup half-and-half

12 oz dry pasta (I used Farfalle – butterfly pasta)

Ingredients for the sauce thickener:

1 Tbs softened butter

1 Tbs flour

Ingredients for the garnish:

½ cup diced tomatoes

2 root ends of green onions

1 Tbs olive oil

1 tsp vinegar

½ tsp oregano

¼ tsp garlic powder

Directions:

You should prepare all of the ingredients in advance.  Shrimp cooks very quickly and you want to have all of the other ingredients ready when you need them.

Boil the pasta to al dente.  Normally I would use lots of water but this time, I wanted the noodles to keep some of their starchiness so that the sauce would cling to it better.

While the pasta cooks…

Pulverize coarse salt and red chili flakes in a mortar and pestle.  Set aside.

Chop the garlic and slice the green onions.  Reserve the root portions of the green onions.  Set aside.

Prepare the sauce thickener by blending the flour with the softened butter.  I like to use a fork for blending.  Set aside until needed.

Prepare the garnish by dicing the tomato and roots of the green onion.

Drain the pasta but do not rinse.  Set aside.

Strain the garnish to remove the olive oil and vinegar.  Set the garnish aside.

Rinse the shrimp under cold water and remove the shells. 

In a large skillet, add 4 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Simmer at low heat. 

Add the garlic and crushed salt and red chili flakes.  Simmer at low heat for about two minutes.  This will allow the garlic to mellow a little. 

Add the shrimp to the pan.  Turn the heat to low/medium. 

Stir the shrimp until they turn from translucent to slightly pink.

Add the green onion, basil and lemon juice to the pan and stir for about a half minute.

Add the sauce thickener and mix with the buttery sauce.  It should thicken within a minute or so. Add the half-and-half and stir. 

Add the Parmesan cheese.

Turn the heat off and add the pasta.  Stir a few times and remove to a serving bowl.

Top with the tomato and onion garnish.

Dinner #1: Spaghetti with Meatballs

There are some meals that I can cook in my sleep, with one hand tied behind my back.  Spaghetti is one of those meals.  Long ago, when I when I was just establishing myself as a home cook, I had a very limited repertoire.  It wasn’t because I lacked a willingness to experiment and it wasn’t due to a lack of creativity, training or knowledge that curtailed my culinary endeavors to a mere handful of recipes. 

Being a parent of very young children changes a person in many ways and one of those inevitable changes is a parents’ diet.  I don’t regret anything about having children.  One of the greatest things about having children is watching them grow up to become living, breathing, free-thinking adults.  I wouldn’t trade the experience of raising children for anything.

Young children don’t have refined, educated palettes.  Surprise!  For a long time, my wife and I didn’t even think about making something like Steak with Roquefort Cheese Sauce, Bratwurst with Sauerkraut or Tandoori Chicken.  Heck, we were lucky if we could sneak a vegetable past our kids every now and then without them noticing. 

We realized pretty quickly that our meals repeated week after week.  Four or five basic recipes stayed in constant rotation.  It got to a point where I assigned a number to the meals.  Monday nights were spaghetti and Friday nights were homemade pizza so, Spaghetti became Dinner #1 and Pizza became Dinner #5.  Dinners 2,3 and 4 varied over the years and they entered and exited the rotation as young taste buds changed.  They included simple meals like, chicken nuggets and tater tots, tacos with salad and fish sticks, with macaroni and cheese.  Our weekends were “anything goes” days.  It might be barbacoa tacos, pan fried chicken or a pasta casserole.  We made sure to include fresh fruit as often as possible, especially because the only vegetable our kids would willingly eat was raw carrot sticks. 

Eh, they survived.  And, so did we.  I look back on those days fondly.

Fast forward nearly twenty years and Dinner #1 is still one of my favorite go-to meals.  I have made spaghetti over 1,000 times in my lifetime.  That’s not a guess…that’s real math at work! 

Now that my children are grown, I have more free time which means I can add flair to simple recipes, like spaghetti and meatballs.  For this version, I used homemade tomato sauce.  I also employed some extra tricks to make this meal a little more special.  Plain tomato sauce tends to be acidic.  I could have added a few tablespoons of sugar or honey to balance the sauce but I used Marsala wine, roasted garlic and fire roasted bell pepper, which provided all of the necessary sweetness and it gave the sauce an additional depth of flavor.

This recipe will feed about 6 people.

Ingredients:

24 oz tomato sauce (store-bought sauce is perfectly fine)

1 whole garlic bulb

¼ cup fresh basil

½ red bell pepper

½ onion

¼ cup Marsala wine

1 lb. ground beef (80/20)

½ cup bread crumbs

1 Tbs dried oregano

2 tsp dried rosemary (ground)

2 eggs

¼ cup grated, dry Parmesan cheese

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

½ cup grated, fresh Parmesan cheese

For the spaghetti noodles:

4 quarts water

12 oz dry spaghetti noodles

1 Tbs kosher salt

1 bay leaf

1 Tbs olive oil

Directions:

If you are using store-bought tomato sauce, feel free to skip to the section on Preparing the Meatballs.

Otherwise…

Heat an oven to 300°.

Prepare the herbs, onion, garlic and bell pepper.

Roughly chop the basil and set aside.

Chop the onion into ¼” pieces and set aside.

Separate the garlic bulb in half.  One half of the garlic will be roasted in the oven and the other half will be minced, fresh.

Wrap one half of the garlic bulb in aluminum foil and place on the rack, in the oven.

Rest the half bell pepper on a stove burner and char the pepper over low heat.  Rotate the pepper for several minutes to all the pepper to char on all sides. 

Wrap the pepper in foil and put it on the oven rack, with the garlic.

Allow the garlic and red pepper to bake in the foil for about 20 minutes. Remove the garlic and pepper.

Unwrap the red pepper and allow it to cool for a few minutes.  Rinse under water to remove the charred parts. 

Slice the top and stem of the pepper and discard.  Lay the remaining red pepper on a clean surface and dice into ¼” pieces.  Set aside.

Remove the roasted garlic from the foil and squeeze the soft garlic from the papery husks.  Mash the garlic into a paste with the broad side of a kitchen knife and set aside.

Mince the cloves of the other half of the garlic bulb and set aside.

Preparing the Meatballs:

In a large mixing bowl add the ground beef, bread crumbs, eggs, dry Parmesan cheese, oregano, rosemary, salt and pepper. 

Mix until all of the ingredients have combined. 

Form into 1” balls and leave the meatballs in the mixing bowl. 

In a large skillet, set the heat on the stove to low and add a tablespoon of olive oil.  Add the onions and sauté until slightly softened.  Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. 

Add the meatballs and cover the pan.

Simmer the meatballs for about 5 minutes at low heat and then turn them over.  Cover the pan and cook for another few minutes.  Keep turning the meatballs every few minutes until they become firm.

Strain the meatballs to remove the grease.  Return the meatballs to the pan. 

Add the tomato sauce to the meatballs.  Stir the meatballs in the sauce and add the Marsala, roasted garlic, roasted bell pepper, fresh garlic, chopped basil, oregano, rosemary, salt and black pepper.  Stir briefly to incorporate.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. 

While the sauce is finishing, prepare spaghetti noodles in a large stock pot.  Add the water to the pot and bring to a boil.  Add a tablespoon of salt, a bay leaf and 1 tablespoon of oil.  Add spaghetti noodles and cook until the noodles are al dente.

Serve with fresh Parmesan cheese, garlic bread and salad.