Chicken/Basil Sausage with Angel Hair Pasta

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!

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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!

Grilled Chicken Wings

Summer is just around the corner and winter rules no longer apply!  Winter rules, as it relates to wings, call for fried or baked chicken wings.  The heat of the oven is wonderul in the colder months but now, with temperatures reaching over 90°, I want to cook outdoors, whenever possible.  

This weekend has brought a heavy dose of hot sun and no rain, so grilling is a great option!

I thought long and hard about the dry rub and sauce for the wings.  The small amount of ghost pepper powder worked well in the rub because the grilling process nearly removed all of its spiciness.  The vinegar, apricot jam and hot sauce balanced perfectly.  These were not crazy hot, like I am prone to do.  They were sweet with a hint of heat.

Ingredients:

For the wings:

2 Tbs garlic powder

2 Tbs paprika

2 Tbs dried thyme

1 tsp ghost pepper powder (or cayenne pepper)

For the basting sauce:

½ cup apricot jam

½ cup hot sauce

3 Tbs butter

2 Tbs vinegar

1 tsp sesame oil

3 cloves roasted garlic

Directions:

Heat an outdoor grill to 400°.  I used charcoal with a few small chips of mesquite, for a little smoky flavor.

Mix the garlic powder, paprika, thyme and ghost pepper powder in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Rinse and wash the chicken wings under cold water.  Remove any quills that might be lingering on the wing tips (I always find a few).

Allow the wings to air-dry for 10 to 15 minutes.

Prepare the basting sauce by adding all of the sauce ingredients to a mixing bowl.  Whisk to combine.  Pour the sauce into a small skillet and cook at low/medium heat until the sauce begins to bubble.  Cook for a few more minutes and return to the mixing bowl.  Set aside.

Toss the wings with the seasonings in a large bowl to coat evenly.

Carefully place the wings on the grill and cover.  Go ahead, bunch them together.  This is one of those times that crowding is a good thing.  The wings will steam and roast, at the same time.

Grill for 15 minutes and turn the wings over.

Grill for another 15 minutes and turn them again.  Baste the wings with the sauce.

Let the wings roast over the coals for another 15 minutes and turn them again.  Baste one last time and roast for another 15 minutes.

Carefully remove the chicken wings and place in a large mixing bowl.

Add any remaining basting sauce and toss to coat the wings.

Serve with crisp carrot sticks and ranch dressing.

I added a little fresh cilantro from the garden because, hey, I’ve got fresh cilantro!

Restaurant Style Enchiladas

I’m looking forward to the day that we can all return to our favorite restaurants.

Our favorite local Mexican restaurant seems to be doing steady take-out business, during this time of isolation, but I’m sure that they’re not getting the same amount of business that they would if diners were allowed to come in to have a meal. 

I miss our favorite waiters.  I miss the comfortable, casual dining experience.  I miss my litre of Dos Equis with two limes!  Yes, these are hard times indeed!

I order takeout food about once a week to support our local restaurants but I have to say, the food just isn’t as appealing when it comes in squeaky, white styrofoam boxes.  I recently ordered molcajete, which, when ordered in a restaurant, arrives in a large, black stone mortar vessel.  Molcajete is an impressive dish!  Chicken, beef, shrimp, vegetables, chiles, fruit, nopales (cactus) and all sorts of other good things flow over the edges of the great stone bowl.  It is a symbol of prosperity and bounty but, when it comes in a styrofoam box, it just looks like table scraps and then there is a separate styrofom box that contains rice, beans and tortillas, wrapped in foil. 

So tonight, I want to honor our local restaurateurs by making a meal to honor the struggling fine dining establishments and the little Mexican casitas, like the one I love.

In honor of this momentous occasion, I’m using the last jar of my homemade salsa that I canned back in July, 2019.  I’m going to have to wait another two months for more fresh garden salsa…Aghh!

~ Enchilada Combination Platter ~  :   One beef enchilada, smothered in ranchero sauce, topped with queso blanco.  One cheese enchilada stuffed with roasted poblano peppers.  Served with rice, refried beans, sour cream and garden salad.

Ingredients:

6 corn tortillas, softened by simmering briefly in hot oil

Beef enchiladas:

4 chiles guajillo, seeded and stemmed

2 cups homemade salsa (tomato, onion, jalapeño and cilantro)

1 Tbs cumin

1 Tbs paprika

1 tsp brown sugar

¾ lb ground beef, browned

½ cup queso Chihuahua (any melting cheese can be used)

¼ cup half-and-half (or whole milk)

Cheese and Poblano enchiladas:

1 cup queso Chihuahua (Monterrey Jack cheese can be used as a substitute)

½ cup poblano chiles, seeded, stemmed, roasted and peeled.

Directions:

Before we get started, here’s something to consider…

As a former line cook at a Tex-Mex restaurant and as someone who wants to replicate a restaurant style dish, I suggest preparing as much of these ingredients in advance as possible.  Nothing impresses like being able to throw together a complex meal quickly.  Chop the vegetables, smoke the peppers, brown the ground beef, shred the cheese…you get the idea. 

Steam the dried guajillo chiles for 20 minutes. 

Slice the chiles down one side.  Scrap away the flesh and discard the thick skins.

Add the guajillo chile pulp to the salsa.  Add the cumin, paprika and brown sugar. Mix and set aside.

Brown the ground beef, but not to the point of completely browned.  The meat will finish cooking in the oven, later.

Assemble the enchiladas:

Add 1 Tbs cooking oil to an oven-proof skillet.  Place the skillet on the stove top and set heat to low. 

Lay 3 softened corn tortillas on a clean surface and fill them with ground beef.  Roll them up and transfer them to the skillet, seam side down.  Lightly brown the bottoms of the enchiladas.

Add salsa and guajillo chile mixture to the pan.  Top the enchiladas with more salsa.  Place in a 300° oven,  uncovered for 15 minutes.

While the beef enchiladas bake…

Lay 3 softened corn tortillas on a clean surface and fill them with crumbled Mexican cheese.  Top with chopped, roasted poblanos and wrap the tortillas to form the enchiladas.

Place the enchiladas in skillet, seam side down, and simmer over very low heat, covered, for about 10 minutes.  Covering the skillet is important.  These enchiladas need to be soft enough to cut with a side of a fork.

In another skillet, simmer the half-and-half for about a minute, until it starts to bubble.  Add the crumbled queso Chihuahua and turn off the heat. Stir until the cheese melts.  Keep warm.

Assemble the platters:

Nestle some chopped lettuce, tomato and carrot strips together on one edge of the platter.  Adorn with cilantro and sour cream. 

Add refried beans and Mexican rice to the other side of the platter, leaving the middle of the platter open for the enchiladas.

Carefully lay a beef enchilada on the platter and a cheese enchilada next to it.

Drip some white cheese sauce over the beef enchilada and the refried beans. 

Top the sour cream with pickled jalapeños.

Serve it like you mean it!

Los saludo cocineros y cocineros! Mantenga sus puertas abiertas … ¡Volveré tan pronto como pueda!

(I salute you, cooks and chefs!  Keep your doors open…I’ll be back as soon as I can!)

Te amo!  ¡Sé fuerte!

Easter – Mac and Cheese

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

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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.

Reserve the bacon fat.

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.

Remove from the oven and top with crumbled bacon.

Serve with love!

Happy Easter.

Po’ Boy Burrito

This whole stay-at-home stuff is really weird.  I’m adjusting to it but I have to admit that it’s really hard to break the habit of trotting down the grocery store every time I want something that I don’t have in the kitchen. 

This time it was fresh baked French bread. 

I wanted a Po’ Boy sandwich and perhaps the single most important ingredient of a Po’ Boy is an excellent loaf of French bread.  I could have jumped in the car and raced down to the store to get a loaf of bread but I decided to resist the urge and improvise.  Thus, the Po’ Boy burrito was born!

What I find interesting is that I had every other ingredient for a Po’ Boy, except the French bread.  Go figure.

This recipe makes 3 Po’ Boy burritos.

Ingredients for the remoulade sauce:

½ cup mayonnaise

2 Tbs dill pickles, chopped

1 Tbs lemon juice (I used lime, since I didn’t have lemon on hand)

1 tsp Louisiana hot sauce

1 tsp capers, mashed and minced

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp Dijon mustard (or creole mustard)

½ tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 garlic clove, minced

1 green onion, chopped

Ingredients for the pickled cabbage:

½ cup cabbage, sliced thin

½ tsp cayenne pepper

¼ cup vinegar

2 tsp sugar

Ingredients for the fried shrimp:

15 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and butterfly cut

1 cup flour

½ cup corn meal

Oil for frying

Additional ingredients:

½ cup lettuce, sliced thin

1 sliced tomato

3 large burrito sized tortillas (9”)

Directions:

Prepare the  remoulade sauce.

In a mixing bowl, add mayonnaise, chopped pickles, lemon or lime juice, hot sauce, capers, paprika, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and green onion.  Set aside.

In a separate mixing bowl, add the cabbage, lettuce, cayenne pepper, vinegar and sugar.  Swirl to mix.  Set aside.

Prepare the shrimp.

Mix the flour and corn meal in a bowl and set aside.

Lightly beat two eggs in a bowl and set aside.

Dredge the shrimp in the flour/corn meal mixture and tap off excess flour.  Dip the shrimp in the egg wash and then dredge in the flour/corn meal again. 

In a medium sized sauce pan, fry the shrimp in hot oil.  I fried the shrimp in batches of five.

Remove the fried shrimp to a bowl and keep warm.

Once the shrimp are cooked, assemble the burritos.  Add remoulade sauce, lettuce, tomato, shrimp and pickled cabbage.

Serve with hot, crispy French fries.  See, I found a way to have a little French after all!

Stay healthy and eat well!

Pickled Jalapeños (Small Batch)

Oh no, I forgot to get jalapeños during my weekly trek to the toilet paper store, er, I mean grocery store.

The good thing is that I have some fresh jalapeños and vinegar and sugar.  Pickled jalapeños only take a few minutes to make and they can be just as good as store bought.

Ingredients:

3 Tbs white vinegar

3 Tbs water

1/2 tsp sugar

1 garlic clove, smashed

2 fresh jalapeños, sliced

Pinch of salt

Directions:

Combine the vinegar, water and sugar in a small microwave safe bowl.  Heat in the microwave until the mixture begins to boil.  Carefully remove the bowl and add the garlic, jalapeño and pinch of salt.  Wait 10 to 15 minutes and enjoy some tangy peppers!