Quick Chick & Shrimp

Several days ago, as I was driving home after an arduous, long day of work, I wondered what I should do for dinner.  It was just going to be my wife and I for dinner.   I started to think about fish.  And then, I thought about shrimp, and then I realized that what I was wanting was something akin to the classic British, “fish and chips”.  Then I thought about mac and cheese, and how that mac and cheese goes so well with fried shrimp, or fried fish.  And then, I realized I didn’t have any fish.  Chicken.  Yes, chicken, instead of fish.  The synapses in my brain jump around in quirky ways like that most of the time.  I really enjoy my drives home, except when I find myself driving next to people texting on their cell phones!

I allowed myself an hour to prepare the meal.  Time at home is precious for me during this busy part of the year.  I typically have about 4 to 5 hours after I get home to prepare a meal, eat it and digest it before I trot off to bed.   

Mac and cheese…check.  Chicken and shrimp…a quick prep and fry…check.  Steamed broccoli…a few minutes in the microwave…check.

The most time consuming part of the meal was the mac and cheese.  The rest was a flurry of flour and cornmeal and chopping a few things.  Easy.

I made enough mac and cheese for six people and I made enough chicken and shrimp for two or three.

My son and his girlfriend joined us, just as we were cleaning up after dinner.  We had enough chicken and shrimp left to share and plenty of mac and cheese.  It was all gone in a matter of a few minutes.  Mac and cheese saved the day…Perfect!

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup fresh broccoli

½ cup cooking oil

2 medium sized chicken breasts, thinly sliced

10 raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 1/2 cup flour

1/3 cup cornmeal

2 eggs

1 tsp garlic powder

½ tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:

Cut the broccoli into large, bite-sized pieces.  Place in a microwave safe bowl.  Seal with plastic wrap and set aside.

Cut chicken into 3” to 4” pieces. 

Butterfly cut the shrimp.  I do a back butterfly, cutting into the backside, instead of the underside.  Set aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet at medium/high heat.

Pour the flour onto a plate.  Dredge the chicken in flour, egg and then flour again.  Drop chicken in pan and pan fry to golden brown, remove to a paper towel lined plate.  Keep warm.

Add the cornmeal to the remaining flour and mix with a fork.

Dredge the shrimp in flour and cornmeal mixture, egg and then flour and cornmeal mixture again.  Drop the shrimp into the hot oil and cook for about 1 minute, or until the shrimp begins to brown and feels firm to the touch.

Lay the shrimp on the paper towel lined plate, along with the chicken, and keep warm.

Put the covered broccoli in the microwave and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the broccoli has softened. Serve with mac and cheese and ketchup or spicy ketchup. 

Mini Meat Loaf Dinner

I’m still adjusting to cooking for two or three people instead of four, or more.  It seems like it would be simple enough to divide a recipe in half but, when it comes right down to it, my brain still tells me to keep cooking on a larger scale.  Some dishes lend themselves well to leftovers while some others don’t.  Leftovers are great for lunches the next day but after a few days of cooking too much food, the refrigerator tends to become packed with lots of little storage containers.  I find myself going through the refrigerator every weekend and tossing uneaten leftovers. 

This meatloaf would be perfect for leftovers, if I had made the full recipe.  A meatloaf sandwich, with some potato chips and applesauce might make a nice lunch.

So, here is the modest meat loaf…one that can be shared by two or three people.

Ingredients:

1.25 lbs ground chuck (80/20)

1 egg

1 cup rolled oats

1 tsp Cajun seasoning

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp paprika

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp salt

½ tsp dried oregano

3 Tbs ketchup

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

For the potatoes and green beans:

5 small russet potatoes

2 cups cooking oil

½ lb fresh green beans

1 garlic clove, smashed

1 Tbs honey

1 Tbs butter

¼ cup water

Directions:

Wash and dry the potatoes.  Cut the potatoes into large, one inch pieces.  Add 2 cups of oil to a large skillet and set the heat to low.  Add the potatoes and let them fry for about 45 minutes.  Frying at a low temperature results in crispy potatoes with creamy interiors. 

Combine the Cajun seasoning,  onion powder, paprika, garlic powder, salt and oregano in a small bowl and mix.

In a large mixing bowl, add the ground beef.  Add the oats and egg.  Mix to combine.

Add the spices, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.  Mix thoroughly. 

Put the meat mixture in a 9” x 5” non-stick loaf pan.  Cook uncovered in a 325° oven for 45 minutes.

While the meat loaf and potatoes cook, wash the green beans and snip off the ends.  Set aside until the potatoes are done.

Once the potatoes are cooked, drain in a strainer and reserve the oil for another day.  Keep the potatoes in a warm area until ready to serve.

Put the green beans in the skillet and return to the stove.  Set the temperature at medium low and toss the green beans for a few minutes. 

Add the garlic, honey and butter and stir.  Add the water and simmer, covered for 15 minutes. 

While the green beans steam, remove the meat loaf from the oven and place on a serving dish.  Keep warm.

When the green beans have softened and are cooked to your liking, arrange them on the plate with the meat loaf. 

The amount of Cajun seasoning in this recipe shouldn’t be over-powering.  If you want to add some kick, make a side dish of ketchup and hot sauce (2 parts ketchup to 1 part hot sauce).

Cambodian Rice Noodle Stir-Fry

Sometimes I conceive a meal by following my instincts, rather than following a recipe.  It makes me feel like I am creating something brand new.

On this particular weeknight, I allowed my taste buds to tell me what I wanted to make and my mind followed.  I knew I wanted to include shrimp, because I’ve been craving shrimp.  I knew I wanted to use Cambodian rice noodles, because I have had some in my pantry for a few months.  From that launching point, my mind quickly assembled the rest of the items that would bring the dish together.  Pork, vegetables, sesame oil, peanuts, fish sauce, garlic, green onions and so on. 

I resisted the urge to look up recipes on the internet.  I’m not saying that looking up recipes on the internet is cheating but I sometimes find that internet searches just affirm what I already know.  Once a person has made several stir-fry dishes, the process becomes instinctive and intuitive.  Deciding what to include in a stir-fry is only limited by the imagination of the cook.  My imagination and creativity runs deep and I have learned not to think about “success” or “failure”, when cooking.  Maybe that’s because I have become more comfortable in the kitchen over the years, or maybe it’s because I pretend to be fearless when I am creating something.  It could be a little of both. 

I approach stir-frying like I approach painting, in an abstract style. 

When I paint an abstract painting I usually follow this thought process:

What is my state of mind?  How do I want to convey my thoughts and emotions?

That leads to, what colors would be best to get my point across?  What sort of shapes do I see?  What will be the focus of the painting, or will there be a main focus?  Etcetera.  The thinking process goes on as long as I need it to and then my hands start working quickly.

Mix the paint on the pallet.  Lay out my brushes.  Act quickly.  Act without thinking.  Let the creative part of my mind dictate my actions but allow the reasonable part of my mind to make critical decisions. 

Is the finished work a masterpiece?  That’s not for me to decide.  The real question I ask is, “does this satisfy me?”

The same goes with cooking, especially stir-fry cooking. 

How am I feeling today?  What kind of meal would complete this day in a meaningful way?

I decide what flavors I want to use.  I decide what meats, vegetables and starches will achieve what I want to convey my thoughts.  I decide how I want the finished dish to look, when it is presented.   

Is the finished work a masterpiece?  That’s not for me to decide.  The real question I ask is, “does this satisfy me?”

Anyone who eats a meal or sees a painting leaves with their own memories, thoughts and feelings.  The intention of the cook or the painter is irrelevant.  I don’t know why that makes me so happy, but it does!

Ingredients:

1 garlic clove, smashed

7 roots of green onion

1 Tbs sesame oil

1 lb lean pork, shaved thin

12 medium sized shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1 tsp sesame oil

5 oz thin Cambodian rice noodles

For the marinade:

¼ cup dark soy sauce

¼ soy sauce

¼ cup Vietnamese chili garlic paste (Sambal Olek works nicely, too)

¼ cup Vietnamese fish sauce (smells funky, tastes great)

For the stir-fry:

2 carrots

7 green onions (just the greens)

¼ head of cabbage, sliced thin

2 Tbs ginger, sliced very thin

2 jalapeños, sliced

1 lime, quartered

For the peanut sauce:

¼ cup soy sauce

1 ½ Tbs Hoisin sauce

1 Tbs peanut butter

1 Tbs brown sugar

½ cup roasted peanuts, crushed

Directions:

Prepare the vegetables:

Slice the garlic, ginger, cabbage, carrots, and jalapeños and green onions.  Arrange separately on a large plate until needed.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to the wok and add the roots of the green onion roots and garlic.  Simmer at low heat.  Turn off heat after 1 minute.   Continue to allow the onion and garlic to flavor the oil.

Prepare the marinade:

Combine dark soy sauce, soy sauce, chili garlic paste and fish sauce in a bowl.

Prepare the pork and shrimp.

Remove the fatty edges of the pork and reserve. 

Use the pork fat to flavor the oil

Slice the pork thinly and store in a bowl. 

Peel and de-vein the shrimp.  Store in the bowl that contains the pork.

Add the marinade to the pork and shrimp.  Store in the refrigerator until needed.

Add pork fat to the wok.  Turn up heat and cook while stirring.  Remove the onions, garlic and pork fat after they char (just a few minutes).  Discard the garlic, onions and pork.  Leave the flavored oil in the wok.

Prepare the peanut sauce:

Add one tablespoon of peanut butter…not in photo.

Crush the peanuts with the broad side of a knife.

Combine soy sauce, Hoisin sauce, peanut butter, brown sugar and crushed roasted peanuts in a bowl.  Transfer to a hot skillet and stir to combine for a minute. Set aside cooked sauce.

Quarter the lime and reserve until serving time.

Prepare the noodles:

Prepare the rice noodles, according to the instructions on the package.  In this case, I soaked the rice noodles in cold water for about 5 minutes until they became soft, but not mushy.  Strain out the water and set the noodles aside, until needed.

Time to stir-fry!

All of the prep work is essential.  Make sure to have everything prepped before you crank up the wok.  Seriously…there’s nothing worse than going full force into stir frying and realizing that you have forgotten to cut some vegetable or meat or realizing that you haven’t prepared a sauce.  Take a moment to review all of the items that you are going to include in the stir-fry and make sure that they are ready to go!  Take the marinated meat out of refrigerator and keep it close, on hand.  Keep some oil near the wok.  Make sure to have your serving plate ready to receive the finished food. 

Now, go!

Add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil to the wok.  Cook the shrimp and pork at high heat.  Stir constantly until the shrimp and pork are cooked.  This should only take a minute, or so.  Remove to a bowl and store in a warm place.

Add a tablespoon of oil to the hot wok and add the sliced ginger and a little bit of green onion.  Stir for a moment and then add the carrots and jalapeños.  Stir for a minute, to allow the carrots to soften. 

Add the cabbage and stir constantly.  Once the cabbage has wilted and softened a little, remove all of the vegetables to a large bowl.  Don’t remove the liquid from the wok. 

Add the noodles and stir constantly.  Once the noodles have absorbed some of the liquid in the wok, add the peanut sauce.  Stir to incorporate. 

Return the vegetables and shrimp and pork to the wok.  Stir with the noodles and turn out to a large serving platter.  Top with green diced green onion and lime slices.

Spritz with fresh lime and serve.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts

The biggest challenge here is making the chicken breast thin enough to roll.  It needs to be thin in order to cook evenly and it needs to be thin enough to roll up like a burrito. 

You could flatten the chicken breasts by pounding them down with a mallet but I prefer to slice the breasts horizontally, nearly all of the way, and then I lay the chicken breast open.  If the chicken breast is really thick you can slice it from the top side and then slice it again, in the opposite direction from the bottom side, to make a tri-fold.

Before we get going…

A caution about using toothpicks to secure food.  I use the same number of toothpicks on each item that I secure.  If I need two picks on one chicken breast, I use two on all of the other breasts, even if I might only need one toothpick for some.  That way, when serving time arrives, I know that I must remove two toothpicks from each breast.  It eliminates the guessing game that comes when I think, “did I use one or two toothpicks on this one?”  Make sure to remove toothpicks before serving! 

As with many recipes, you can stuff the chicken with anything you like.  This time around, I had some ricotta cheese that needed to be used and some prosciutto that was just itching to be used for something.  This recipe serves three people.

Ingredients:

3 chicken breasts

4 oz prosciutto

1/3 cup parmesan cheese

7 oz ricotta cheese (about half of a 15 oz container)

1 ½ cups Panko bread crumbs

½ cup cooking oil

For the sauce:

1 Tbs butter

1 Tbs flour

½ onion

¼ cup chicken stock

24 oz tomato sauce (I used an 8 oz can and 16 oz tomato sauce)

¼ cup half-and-half

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

4 oz spinach

Directions:

On a clean cutting board, flatten the chicken breasts to ¼” thick, or carefully slice them.

Layer the chicken breasts with several slices of prosciutto ham. 

Scatter grated parmesan cheese over the chicken breasts.

Apply a schmear of ricotta cheese to the chicken.

Spread some panko bread crumbs onto a large platter.  Lay a chicken breast onto the bread crumbs and press down lightly. 

Roll the chicken breast and secure with toothpicks. 

Heat a large skillet to medium heat and add ½ cup cooking oil. When the oil is hot, gently lay the chicken breasts into the pan, being careful to not crowd the pan.

When the bottom side browns, turn it over and cook the other side.  When both sides are golden brown, remove to a clean plate, lined with a paper towel.

Discard the oil from the pan.  I like to reuse oil so I usually dump the oil in a stainless steel bowl and filter it later and store it in a can.

Wipe remaining oil from pan but leave a slight, residual film of oil.  Turn heat to medium high and add onions.  Sautee for a minute until onions soften.  Remove onions and set aside.

Deglaze the skillet with chicken stock.

Butter and Flour, Tomato Sauce, Half and Half and Chicken Stock

Add butter and flour and whisk to make a roux. 

Add cream and tomato sauce.  Whisk and sauté until the sauce thickens.  Return the onions to the skillet.  Lower the heat.

Add mozzarella.

Add fresh spinach and sauté for another minute, or so, until the spinach wilts.

Pour the sauce onto an oven proof serving platter.  Arrange the chicken on top of the sauce and add a few slices of mozzarella. Bake in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese.

Garnish with fresh spinach and serve.

Steak Ranchero Tacos with Fried Potatoes

Tacos de Carne Ranchero con Papas Fritas… Steak Ranchero Tacos with Fried Potatoes.

Well, here I go again with another Tex-Mex recipe.  I never knew just how often I go to Tex-Mex until I started a food blog.  Mexican cuisine is just so versatile that it’s hard to resist. 

Growing up in Texas meant that I was surrounded by Tex-Mex.  It was only natural that I gravitated to Tex-Mex when I started cooking.  Now that I live in Mississippi, I suppose I could refer to my Mexican dishes as Miss-Mex, but it just doesn’t sound as cool as Tex-Mex.

When I cook Mexican food I don’t aim to achieve “authenticity” in a recipe.  I have to laugh when I see Mexican restaurants that claim to serve “authentic Mexican food”.  I’m sure that those restaurants mean well but, if you want authentic Mexican cuisine, go to Mexico.

Consider everything that goes into a meal…the vegetables, the fruit, the meats, the spices.  They are a product of the sunlight, rain and soil of the region that they come from.  Anyone who has moved from one place to another usually recognizes a difference in the taste of the local water.  Every aspect of our natural world is unique to specific regions and even though those differences may seem subtle, they play a major part in authenticity. 

The point is, it doesn’t matter what you call it.  It just needs to be good.  Learn cooking methods from other cultures and apply them to what you want to make.  

This recipe was intended for two to four people. 

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs top round beef roast

1 Tbs garlic powder

1 Tbs red chili powder

2 tsp cumin powder

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

½ tsp chili piquin powder (or cayenne)

3 green onions, separate white from green parts

2 garlic cloves, smashed

2 ripe tomatoes

¼ cup prepared picante sauce

1 medium yellow onion (chop half and slice the other half)

12 corn tortillas

½ cup chopped cilantro

1 cup shredded lettuce

1/2 cup cotija cheese

12 corn tortillas

2 russet potatoes (or 1 very large potato)

1 cup prepared guacamole

1 lime

Directions:

On a clean cutting board, cut the beef into ½” steaks. 

Remove the tough connective tissue.  Look at the white strips and feel them with your fingers.  If they feel tough, cut them out. 

Combine the garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper and chili piquin in a small bowl. 

Sprinkle the spices over each side of the steaks.  Set aside.

Wash and scrub the potatoes.  Dice potatoes into ½” pieces. 

Heat a skillet to medium/low and add about ¼ cup of vegetable oil.  Add the potatoes and fry until golden brown and crispy. 

Strain the potatoes and keep them warm until ready to serve.  I usually keep them in a bowl on top of the stove, with the oven set to 250°.

Chop the other vegetables and slice the lime into quarters.  Set aside.

Prepare the ranchero sauce:

Heat a skillet to medium and add 1 tsp cooking oil.  Add garlic and chopped white parts of the green onions and sauté for about 30 seconds.  Add about half of the chopped tomatoes, half of the chopped yellow onion and the picante sauce.  Simmer for several minutes until the vegetables are fully cooked and soft.  Remove the sauce and keep warm.

Prepare the tortillas

Heat a skillet to medium.  Add ¼ cup of cooking oil.  When oil is hot, prepare the tortillas by cooking on each side until the tortillas are firm, but not crisp. 

Store the tortillas in a warm place.  The stove top works for me.

Heat a skillet to high heat.  Add 1 Tbs cooking oil.  Once the oil is hot, add the steaks to the skillet.  Leave the steaks alone…don’t mess with them.  Once you see a char developing on the bottom of the steaks, turn them over and cook for another minute, or so.  Total cook time should be about 2 or 2 ½ minutes.  Don’t overcook them!

Remove the steaks to a clean cutting board. 

Slice into ½” strips. 

Heat a skillet to low/medium heat and add the steak and ranchero sauce.  Cook for a minute, just to warm everything. 

Prepare the tacos

I like to use two tortillas per taco. 

Add strips of steak to each taco.

Add chopped lettuce, cilantro, diced tomato, sliced yellow onion and chopped green onion.  Squirt some lime juice onto the tacos.

Top with guacamole and cotija cheese.

Serve with fried potatoes.

Peri-Peri Chicken

My cousin recently introduced me to peri-peri.  She understands my passion for chilis and all things spicy and, when she shipped three bottles of peri-peri sauce to me, I was elated.  As I opened the box, a heavenly aroma of chilis filled the air and as I began to unwrap the contents, I realized that two of the bottles had broken during shipping.  Oh, the horror! 

I salvaged the one unbroken bottle and said a solemn prayer for the two noble souls that didn’t make it.

Peri-peri is a cultivated chili from Portugal.  It’s originally an African chili, from Mozambique, to be exact.  “Pillpill” is Swahili for “pepper”.  It is a very spicy red chili.  Portuguese explorers came across peri-peri way back when Portugal was in their exploratory heyday.  The peri-peri chilis were brought back to Portugal where they were cultivated through selective breeding. 

Since I had never heard of peri-peri, I did what anyone else living in the 21st century would do…I ran to my computer and searched the internet for peri-peri.  Most of the results showed recipes for peri-peri Chicken, which was naturally a Portuguese concoction.  Most recipes called for about 4 ounces of peri-peri sauce which was just about what my lone- surviving, stalwart bottle contained.

I discovered that the key to this dish relies more on how the chicken is prepared, rather than the type of chilis that are used.  In fact, you can omit the chilis entirely and still have a great meal!  I have to say that I recommend using some amount of chilis because they add a wonderful flavor and the act of roasting takes away much of their heat.

I didn’t have peri-peri sauce on hand this time but I did have lots of red-ripe habanero chilis from my garden that were just waiting for an opportunity to shine. 

I also included things like Italian dressing and Tajin seasoning, for the marinade.  The substitutions and additions that I used didn’t take anything away from the quality of the finished product because I stayed true to the spirit of the dish.  I grilled the chicken over hot coals.  That is the key.

Ingredients:

1 whole fryer chicken

Dry rub:

2 Tbs Tajin seasoning

2 Tbs garlic powder

Marinade:

1 ½ cups Italian dressing

5 habanero chilis, chopped

2 Tbs Tajin seasoning

2 Tbs sriracha sauce

2 Tbs dried onion flakes

1 tsp coarse salt

1 Tbs hot sauce

Glaze:

1 ½ cups marinade

2 tablespoons butter

Juice of 1 lemon

Preparation:

For the rub:

Combine the Tajin seasoning and garlic powder.

For the marinade:

Combine marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Prepare the chicken:

Inspect the cavity of the chicken and remove the neck and packet of organs, if they are included.  Wash and rinse the chicken.  Using kitchen shears, remove the backbone.  This is actually fairly easy to do but it requires a strong grip on the scissors.  Feel along the backbone to determine where to cut.  Cut along both sides of the backbone.  Remove the backbone and use it for chicken stock or, if nobody is looking, discretely discard it and suffer some guilt later.  Same goes with the neck and organs…great for other uses but I promise I won’t tell on you if you discard them. 

Turn the chicken over on a cutting board so that the breast faces upward. 

Double your fists as if you were going to perform the Heimlich maneuver on someone.  Press down forcefully between the breasts until the cartilage gives way.  Don’t hold back!  Lock your elbows and push down with extreme force!  (Just think of it as chicken therapy).   If you lack the strength to perform this act, that’s ok.  Just score the breast meat along the sides of the breast bone and try again.  Work your way up and down the middle of the breast with your fist until the cartilage yields and you are left with a flattened chicken. 

Apply the rub:

Carefully create an opening between the skin of the chicken breasts and the breast meat.  Use your fingers to create the opening and then slide your hand under the skin and continue sliding back to the thighs and leg.  Do this gently, to avoid breaking the skin.  Once you have separated the skin from the meat, apply liberal amounts of the rub on the meat with your fingers

Take the chicken and dredge both sides in the bowl  containing the marinade.  Coat the chicken thoroughly and then cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight. 

Prepare the grill:

Heat some charcoal.  I filled one charcoal chimney with coals and the chicken was done in about 1 ½ hours.  By the time the chicken was fully cooked, the coals were nearly spent.  If you want more char on the chicken or if you want the chicken to cook faster, add more coals and cook hotter.  A word of advice:  If you add too many hot coals you run the risk of burning the chicken and the chicken might not cook evenly.  I actually liked the way this cooked on the grill.  I never worried about burning the chicken and the chicken came out nice and moist. 

Use indirect heat when grilling the chicken.  Add the hot coals to one side of the grill and place a shallow pan on the other side, filled half-way with water…this becomes a drip pan and it provides some moist air to keep the chicken from drying out.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and let it warm to room temperature.  Reserve the marinade…it will be used for the glaze.

Using two tongs, place the chicken on the grill, breast side up.  Point the legs toward the side containing the coals.  This will keep the breast from cooking too quickly and drying out.  Additionally, this puts the bones of the chicken closest to the heat source, which will cause the bones to heat and cook the meat surrounding them.  That’s a good thing.

Let the chicken cook for at least 30 minutes before considering turning the chicken over or repositioning it. 

Check the chicken every 15 minutes or so.  If the legs look like they are charring too much, scoot the chicken away from the coals, otherwise, let it ride.

After the chicken has cooked for 45 minutes, press the chicken with a thumb or forefinger to check for doneness.  If you are unsure about doneness, use a meat thermometer to check.  If the thermometer reads 165° the chicken is safely cooked.  If you want to turn the chicken over to crisp the other side, have at it.  As I mentioned earlier, my coals were cooling at this point and I wasn’t worried about over cooking, so I turned the chicken and let the top side crisp a bit.

Remove the chicken and keep in a warm place.

For the glaze:

Pour the reserved marinade in a skillet.  Heat to a boil and simmer for about 5 more minutes.  Contrary to popular belief, a chicken marinade can be used for a sauce but it must be boiled first.  Do not use the marinade to baste the chicken…that’s where you run into the risk of bacteria infecting your food.  Add the butter and lemon juice to the sauce and simmer for a few more minutes, or until the butter has melted. 

Drizzle the glaze over the chicken and serve warm with rice and vegetables.