Thursday, January 29, 2009

Metate: every kitchen needs one

I got mine from a dear friend.  Its real volcanic stone from Bali and she picked it up on a trip there a few years ago.  What good is a metate?  Damn...tons of stuff.

My primary use is hand grinding small amounts of spices.  Spices = seeds and barks as opposed to herbs...that are green leafy matter that is either fresh or dried.

Spices do best warmed until just toasty and aromatic in a heavy skillet then crushed to release all their oils and tossed into whatever you are cooking or roasting.

I use it at least once a day.  The nice thing is as they get older they develop a patina and fragrance all their own.  Nice way to freshen up the cabinet it resides in.  

Funny how the most primitive tool I own is still my most useful.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chili Mac - cassoulet or "hot dish"?

During a light rain this last week we got quite a little chill here in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles.  Low near 40 may look like a heat wave to my fam in Minnesota but here its enough to drag out the sweats and heavy jackets.  Days like this I like my comfort food.

I'm not quite sure where this particular dish came from.  My Ma has made similar over the years with the same name.  I can remember having it when I was really little in MI so I suspect the idea of chili and pasta drifted our way from Ohio where the folks in "cincy" serve their chili over spaghetti.

With the beans and such stewed together with meats is has a vague resemblance to the classic french cassoulet.  Make that very vague.  Of course we call one meal dishes casseroles with its route in that classic here in the US.  Well, most of us do except for the Iron Range of Minnesota where they call it a "hot dish".  Regardless of what you call it, it is hot, hearty and tasty.  Comfort food at its best.

Chili Mac

1 1/2 lb lean ground beef
1 onion - coarsely chopped
1 T chopped garlic
1 14 oz can chopped tomato
1 14 oz can tomato sauce
2 14 oz cans kidney beans - drained
2 14 oz cans low sodium beef broth
1/2 t ground pepper
1 t oregano
2 bay leaf
2 T chili powder
olive oil
1 c elbow macaroni.

In large sauce pot add enough oil to just coat the bottom.  Heat until it begins to shimmer over medium-high heat.  Crumble in ground beef.  Add black pepper.  Cook until meat is no longer pink.  Move meat to side of pan, add onion.  Cook 5-10 minutes stirring occasionally until onions translucent and meat has some really dark caramelization.  Add garlic, oregano, chili powder, bay leaf and cook 1 minute longer.

Add tomato, tomato sauce and broth.  Heat to boil then reduce heat.  Simmer covered about 1 hour.  Stir occasionally.  Test seasoning at this point and add more salt if needed.

Add macaroni and stir in.  Cook 10-15 minutes longer until macaroni is cooked through.  If the mixture starts to dry out add 1/4 - 1/2 c water.  Serve hot with grated cheddar/jack cheese.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Smoked Sausage and Barley Soup

This last week has not really been soup weather here in LA.  It doesn't change the fact that a bowl of soup makes a nice light meal.

What I like about soup is they are really pretty easy to make.  Even with limited kitchen skills any one can put a decent dinner on the table.  Of course ready made broth is the way to go if you want to cut corners and have the taste of an all day simmered soup.

To that end I've discovered on a bottom shelf at Fresh and Easy Market their "organic" low sodium Chicken Broth for $1.99 for 32 oz.  Such a deal - small dent on the old check book and big on flavor.  Can't go wrong with that combo.

I love Barley for lot of reasons.  Its just a little firmer on the bite than rice, a very mellow nutty taste and really versatile.  The one draw back you have to be aware of is that it is a tough grain to cook up as it is very dense so you do need to plan ahead a little when cooking with it.  

I keep a lot of staples on hand.  Everyone has their own for the pantry, fridge and freezer.  Smoked Sausage like a kielbasa is one I keep in the freezer as its a quick go to for dinner.  You can do it as a stand alone meat entree or in a soup, either way its good.

This soup idea got its start from the simple barley soup my Mom has made for years.  Its just a ham bone simmered down until the meat falls off the bone in a pot with some onion, water and barley.  Not exactly a fiber rich soup.  Its tasty enough but I really don't like picking meat off bones so that isn't really the meat option for soup as far as I am concerned.  Swapping out another smoked pork product would get the same flavors, adding in some more vegies help the fiber content which helps the old plumbing and of course herbage to up the savory flavor and I have a soup that's a winner around here in the winter.

Smoked Sausage and Barley Soup

  • 1 lb smoked sausage (like a kielbasa)
  • 1 large yellow onion - diced
  • 1 large carrot - slice
  • 1 T chopped garlic
  • 2 32 oz cans Chicken Stock
  • 1 c barley
  • 1 T dried parsley
  • 1 T dried tarragon
  • 1 t thyme
  • 1 t fennel seeds - crushed
  • 1 t fresh cracked pepper
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 1 t liquid smoke
  • 12 oz bag spinach
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • green onion finely sliced
  • fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Place barley and 1 32 oz can of chicken stock in large pan.  Bring to boil then cover and simmer stirring occasionally 20 minutes.  At end of cooking turn heat off and allow barley to steep in the stock 1 hour with lid on.

Coat bottom of stock pot with olive oil and heat to shimmering over medium high heat.  Add diced onion,carrot and pepper cook about 5 minutes until onion is translucent. Slice sausage in 1/4 inch thick pieces. Add to pot along with parsley, tarragon, thyme and fennel. Cook until onions are beginning to caramelize and the sausage is browned about 10-15 minutes.  Stirring often.  When sausage is browned add the garlic and stir one minute to get the garlic cooked.

Add liquid smoke, remaining 32 oz chicken stock, barley and its remaining liquid.  Test for seasoning and add salt as needed.  Bring to boil and then reduce and simmer 10 minutes.  Add spinach, stir in and cook 5 minutes until the spinach has wilted but still bright green.

Garnish hot soup with sprinkle of Parmesan and sliced green onion.

Really important cook the spinach only until wilted but still bright green, the flavor is much better and the texture is not slimy at all.
"Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market" find, 32 oz low sodium organic chicken broth at $1.99 can't be beat.

Cheddar Garlic Biscuits

When all else fails a fresh from the oven biscuit is a nice way to finish off a bowl of soup, stew or...

Having done just enough time in the south I have an idea what a good biscuit should taste like.  Growing up my Ma only made the "sweet" biscuits and those were for strawberry shortcakes.  My friends had mom's that made the traditional biscuit for just about everything, their specialty was "Biscuit and Sausage Gravy".  What I really like is the savory biscuits with a meal.  Red Lobster does a wicked drop biscuit with garlic and a little cheese.  

Making my own from scratch has not been easy.  I don't have a "biscuit hand" IE it doesn't come naturally or easily.  That is until Alton Brown on food TV gave a demo and good explanation of how to do it.  Key is all cold wet ingredients and minimal handling with your hands so you don't melt the shortening or develop the gluten in the dough causing it to get bready and no light flakes.  

So a little searching around I came up with my own savory Cheddar Garlic Biscuit that finishes off a bowl of soup just perfect.  Certainly way better than a biscuit from a can will ever be.

Cheddar Garlic Biscuits
  • 2 cups flour 
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 4 tablespoons shortening
  • 2 t minced garlic
  • 1 t dried parsley 
  • 1 cup buttermilk chilled* 
  • 1/2 c grated cheddar cheese divided.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In stand mixer with whisk attachment, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and give it a couple of pulses to even out the dry ingredients. Add shortening and on med-low speed run until shortening is cut into the dry mix resembling coarse sand (about 2 minutes). Add 1/4 c cheese, minced garlic, parsley and buttermilk and mix on low speed just until the dough is just wet evenly. The dough will be very sticky. 

With spatula turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and pat out to approx 1 inch thick rectangle.  Sprinkle with 2 T cheddar cheese. gently fold dough over on itself and pat out to approx 1 inch thick rectangle. Sprinkle remaining cheese on the dough.  Gently fold over into inch thick rectangle 3 or 4 more times. 

After final fold the dough should be about 1 inch think in a 6X9 inch rectangle.  With sharp knife or bread scraper cut dough in half length wise, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Cut each long strip into 4 biscuits. Place biscuits on baking sheet. 

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.
*You can substitute buttermilk with sour milk by taking 1C milk and adding 1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar and allow it to sit for 5 minutes before using.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Roasted Loin of Pork

Thank gawd for Costco and their mass quantities of stuff.  I don't know which is worse, keeping the kitchen stocked or finding something everyone wants to eat.  At least at Costco I can get the quantities cheap enough to keep them fed so half my daily battle is under control.  Finding things they will all eat is enough to send me to a corner and just babble away to myself.  Pass the meds?

If you've followed me here long enough you will get the idea that I'm not afraid to try something new.  The better half decided she wanted loin of pork and dropped more than a few hints.  The pre-marinated stuff at the store is way to expensive for feeding a family.  The other down side is the stuff is waaaayyyy over salted.  Which is fine if you are a camel and don't mind hauling an extra gallon of water around.  Costco came to my rescue this week with nice loin of pork at $2.01/lb...damn close to FREE!

Ah, but what to do with it.  I waded through Ina, Julia, Dean & Doluca even Mags and thing just didn't jell with a single recipe.  I did notice the common herbage and spice in the search included apple cider/juice instead of lemon in a lot of the recipes.  The wheels got to turning and I remembered the Thanksgiving Turkey we did this year had an interesting marinade from Ina that I figured could be adapted to fit a loin of pork.  

I sometimes scare myself on how often something tasty comes out of the oven first crack.  Of course good tools like a mini-food processor is perfect for whizzing up little bits of stuff better than the regular size processor or a blender.  Programmable convection ovens help too as it does such a good job of even browning and the probe shuts down at the right temp so over cooking is pretty hard to do. 

Roasted Loin of Pork

3 - 3 1/2 lb Pork Loin
  • 1/4c butter
  • 1/4c extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T dijon style mustard
  • 1 T chopped garlic
  • 2 t salt (I used sea salt)
  • 2 T fresh sage (1T dried)
  • 2 T parsley (1 T dried)
  • 1 t fennel seed
  • 1 t thyme
  • 1/2 t rosemary
  • 1/2 t cracked black pepper
  • 1 cup apple juice or cider.

Score the fat on the pork loin with each score about 1/2 - 3/4" inch apart making a grid pattern.  Set aside.

Combine butter, olive oil, mustard, spice, herbs salt and pepper in a mini-prep.  Whiz until herbs are finely chopped but not pureed.  Reserve 3T of the mixture in sealed jar.  Rub remainder on roast and marinade in zip seal freezer bag and squeeze marinade evenly around the roast.  Allow to rest at least 2 hours in the fridge.  

About 30 minutes prior to roasting bring the bagged loin out and let it rest on counter to warm up closer to room temperature.  At end of rest place in roaster, fat side up.  Spread 1/2 of the reserved marinade on top of the loin.  Add apple juice to pan.

Roast in 325 oven 1 3/4-2 hours until 170F.  Half way through roasting slather the remaining marinade on top of the roast.  Monitor the liquid around the roast, add additional water to keep it from burning and drying out.  When the loin is at 170 remove from oven and tent with aluminum foil for 10 minutes.   

The mini-prep from braun is a life saver for these little projects.  Perfect for small quantities and and easy clean up.  The heavy duty freezer zip-lock bags work best for marinades.
All set and ready to roast.  Monitor the juice and add water when it starts to get too dry otherwise you run the risk of it caramelizing to the point of being an ash.  Not pretty nor is it tasty.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Easy and Healthy...slide into the New Year

I have to admit that a lot of nights I don't have much time to cook, hell many not enough time to spend prepping for a meal.  When I do cook I always put on a little extra for two reasons.  If the kids have someone along extra I can feed them with no hassle.  The other is that the little extra can be for those nights I don't have time to cook and having a "left over" on purpose makes life easier.

New Years Day at my house has been steaks since I was a kid in MO.  Largely because my parents but a half-a-cow at a time and there were always ample steaks.  Even if it was below freezing my Mom would still be out there grilling for us in the carport to carry on the tradition.

Costco has these multi-pack rib eyes for a fraction of the cost of only a couple at a regular market. That makes it possible to feed the fam and still have an extra one or two for adding to salads to round out a lighter meal a day or so later.

One of our favorite combos around here is bleu cheese and steaks or bleu cheese and pears.  Putting both on the plate is pretty much taste heaven.    The dressing can varie but one of our regular favorites is one made with a barbecue sauce as the base.  Raspberry Chipotle BBQ Sauce is our most favorite variety.  Add some greens, sliced pears and stilton (or gorgonzola as was the case for this salad) on one half the plate, then lightly warm the beef and thinly slice on the other half.  Drizzle with the dressing and you have some pretty tasty eats.

Raspberry Chipotle Salad Dressing
  • 1/3 c Raspberry Chipotle BBQ Sauce
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1/4 c red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 t fresh cracked pepper
  • salt to taste

Combine first 4 ingredients in a small jar, shake well until combined.  Taste and adjust salt as needed.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Parmesan Crusted Chicken Breast

I'm not a fan of chicken and it goes back to my days in a fast food chicken chain.  Unfortunately the fam loves the stuff and I have to find ways to disguise it and make it tasty where I can enjoy it too.  Adding in the words of Mario Batali, the "undisputed king of cheese" good old Parmesan makes chicken quite tasty and enjoyable for beef eaters like me.

This recipe is a combo of several others I've read or tried.  Its pretty easy to prepare, its the prep that is time consuming.  Add in corn and mashed 'taters and you have a right tasty comfort food dinner on the table pretty quickly.  

Parmesan Crusted Chicken
  • 6 boneless chicken breasts - approx 1 1/2 lbs
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 3/4 c flour
  • 1 T onion powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T milk
  • 3/4  c grated fresh Parmesan
  • 1/4 c loose packed fresh basil leaves. (or 2 T dry basil)
  • 1/2 c bread crumbs
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T butter divided.
Preheat oven to 325F
Pat chicken dry.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Gather 3 shallow bowls large enough to fit one chicken breast.
In bowl #1 combine flour and onion powder.
In bowl #2 add egg and milk, beat well.

In food processor add fresh Parmesan and pulse until coarse grated.  Add bread crumbs, tear up basil leaves and add to processor container.  Pulse until basil is finely chopped and evenly distributed in the cheese and bread crumbs.  Pour Cheese mixture into bowl #3.

Take a seasoned chicken breast.  Dip in Bowl #1 (flour mixture).  Remove and dip into bowl #2 (Milk and egg).  Remove and set into the cheese mixture bowl.  Lightly press into cheese, turn the breast over and repeat so both sides are evenly covered with the cheese mixture.  Put aside on clean board to rest while breading the remaining chicken breasts.

In large nonstick frying pan heat over medium heat.   Add olive oil, when it begins to shimmer add  1T butter and 3 chicken breasts.  Cook about 5 minutes until bottom is golden brown, carefully flip and cook remaining side until golden brown about 3-5 minutes.  Remove breasts from pan and add to baking sheet lined with silpat liner.  Add remaining 1 T butter repeat searing process with remaining breasts.

Place baking pan in oven and roast for 20 minutes.  NOTE: time and temp is for convection oven, if using regular oven increase heat to 350F and time to 25-30 minutes.  Test for doneness by sticking a knife into thickest piece - if juices run clear its done, if not bake 5 minutes longer.

The resting period of a few minutes from the time you bread the breast until you sear it is really important.  That rest allows the egg in the crust to set up and really hold it tight to the chicken breast instead of falling off into your frying pan.  
A silpat sheet is a must with this one.  As there is so much cheese in the crust it sticks too easily to the pan and you wind up leaving most of the cheesy goodness behind.

If you have the convection option use the option as it really keeps a nice even heat on the chicken ensuring its cooked through and not "hot spots" scorching the crust.

If you can use fresh basil in this one do so.  There is a certain "green" taste in the fresh that you just don't get out of the dried.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

White Bean and Spinach Soup

Today is a soup day.  You know the kind of day - cold (well 50's in So Cal is cold) overcast, with threatening rain.  Just what one needs to fill the belly and feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Added boner with this soup is that after sugar binging and binging in general the last 5 weeks since Thanksgiving its time to add some serious roughage and clean out the pipes.  This is just the soup to take care of it all.

I'm a total cheater when it comes to soup.  I do shortcuts like canned broth and stocks...far easier than the hours it takes to make from scratch.  The nice part is there is no bones to pick, meat to shred or whatever.  Pour and go with a taste like you did all the preceding steps and slaved away for a few hours.  Life is good with shortcuts, got that martha?

White Bean and Spinach Soup
  • 1 lb Italian Sausage
  • 1 large yellow onion - diced
  • 2 carrots sliced - diced
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 t ground pepper
  • 1/2 c coarse chopped basil (2T dried)
  • 2 32 oz low sodium chicken stock
  • 2  15 oz cans white kidney beans - drained
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes 
  • 1 12oz bag spinach
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • Parmesan
Pour enough olive oil to just coat the bottom of a large stock pot.  Add sausage and brown on all sides until dark and crusty about 5 minutes per side.  Remove sausage, do not drain fat from pot. Slice sausage and reserve.

Add onion, carrot and fresh ground pepper to the hot pot.  Stir occasionally until onions are starting to caramelize, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute stirring constantly so as not to burn garlic.

Add sliced sausage, tomatoes with liquid, broth, beans  and basil.  Add salt to taste.  Cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Add the end of the simmer increase heat and add spinach.  Cook about 3-4 minutes until the spinach has wilted.  Serve piping hot with fresh grated Parmesan on top and good dipping bread on the side.

Note:try to get low sodium varieties of broth/stock.  Resist temptation to salt until all the ingredients have been combined as the broth/stocks can be very salty and adding your own prior could be really too salty to enjoy.