A lot Like Matt

Have you ever had the pleasure of meeting Matt? As in “Fat Matt?”

No really that is his real name!

Well I had the pleasure some years back of going to see him in his hometown of Atlanta Georgia. Yup some of the finest BBQ you will ever experience. None other than “Fat Matt’s Rib Shack!”

While I can’t imagine be able to replicate BBQ anywhere near what they do so well down there, I do try on occasion to make an old-fashioned plate of BBQ.

served

Serve it like Matt does with slaw, white bread and pickles but this could easily be on a bun or over rice and beans!

While they didn’t ask me or pay me to talk nice about them – if anybody out there wants to send some of their food my way – email me and we can make it happen!

In the meantime I can’t emphasis how easy it is to make some more than acceptable BBQ at home. With your slowcooker. Yup no grill and no smoker needed, just the slow cooker.

The secret to sucess is that you purchase a high quality jar of sauce – preferably one with a “smoky” flavor built-in. I simply pour a jar of sauce over a small roast (usually 3lbs+/- for me) into my relatively small slow cooker, cover and cook on high for at least 4-6 hours. If you are feeding a crowd or want lots of leftovers (freezes well!) you can double the meat and use two jars of sauce. You don’t need to add anything else unless you want to.

So if you can’t get down to Atlanta, this could be an easy alternative!

 

Empanadas #92

There was something about the turnip in my crisper drawer that spoke to me one day. It somehow begged to be roasted and stuffed into little dough pockets. And of course some diced ham seemed like a nice match too. Feeling like I needed something green to tuck in there too, frozen peas seemed easy. (Like “Samosas” according to my husband.)

So that is how these empanadas were created…

empanada

I bake mine but I can’t emphasize enough how delicious they would be/are deep fried!

Surprisingly easy, I prefer to roast rather than steam/boil my turnip. And yes that is some sweet potatoes on the pan too. I figure if I am roasting anyway why not throw some other stuff on there too. And I often roast the a day or two ahead when I have the time so these can come together quicker. Saute the onion and ham first to get a little more flavor and color on them. Be sure to let the filling cool before you stuff the dough rounds.

I usually use the larger “disco” dough rounds from brands like Goya or LeFey. These are found in the freezer section, perhaps in an ethnic foods part of the freezer. If you can’t find these you could definitely use some refrigerated dough product or if you are really ambitious maybe make your own. They are essentially just thin dough rounds that get stuffed, sealed and baked. Or Fried. Have I mentioned that these really are delicious deep-fried. Sadly (Insert sad sigh here) I never fry anything at home. I reserve fried treats to occasional indulges when out at restaurants. It’s the same with ice cream. (Another sad sigh here.)

ready-for-the-oven

bake at 375 degrees on parchment lined sheet pans for 20-30 mins until browned

These are great to make ahead and have around for parties, lunch/dinner on the go, or an office pot-luck. The only advantage to the non-fried version like these,  is they are good room temperature or warm and will re-heat easily and beautifully.

The Recipe:

dough rounds (10-15 of the larger 6″ +/-size or 20 of the smaller 4″+/- size) and it also depends on how full you fill each one…but the dough rounds can be frozen/re-frozen.

1 med turnip (couple pounds??) peeled, cut, roasted on  a sheet pan with a little oil oil, S&P at 400 degrees till tender and yummy. Mashed and cooled.

1/2 large sweet onion diced ( I used “Maui”)

1-2 cloves of garlic minced fine – more if you like

3/4 lb +/- diced cooked ham

2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp chili flakes

3/4-1 cup of frozen peas

Salt and pepper to taste and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to saute

Saute the onion garlic and ham in the Olive oil. Add the dry spices and stir for a minute or two. Add the frozen peas and stir a few more minutes. Take off heat and combine with the mashed turnip. Taste for seasoning. After the filling has cooled, spoon a few table spoons onto a dough round. Flap over the dough and use a little water on your finger on the outer edge to seal them shut. Now either use a fork along the edge or roll the edges onto themselves. Brush with melted butter or spray with butter spray and bake at 375 degrees on a parchment/silpat lined sheet in the preheated oven for 20-30 mins till puffed, golden brown and delicious. These freeze beautifully either stuffed and not baked off or baked and cooled.

See some of my other stuffed creations here, here and here!

Convenient Calzone

Sometimes you just have to use convenience foods to get it done!

lazy fried peppersAnd this time around I used one of my favorite convenience foods… a jar of “fried peppers” from Mancini packing company. A nice little new England company with another factory in Florida as well – you can read about their history here.

This little jar packs lots of flavor – sweet bell peppers sautéed in olive oil and packed into the jar. An open jar is like arriving at the sausage carts lining Yawkey Way at Fenway. Just add Sausage.

And that is what I did. I managed to work up the effort to cut up a few sweet Italian sausages ( or hot if you prefer) and a white onion and get those into a pan for some browning and precooking.

Actual cooking here folks!

Actual cooking here folks!

Add in the jar of fried peppers and honestly dinner is almost ready! Even if I happen to have some fresh sweet bell peppers in the fridge and was inclined to slice them up, the long cooking time and patience required to get that “fresh from the sausage cart” flavor was more than I had this day.

After the sausage and onions had some brown to them and the peppers were mixed in, I also added a small can of tomato sauce (another favorite convenience item of mine) and a heavy pinch of Italian seasoning with some salt and pepper.

I let the mixture cool a bit while I rolled out some pre-made pizza dough (you see the “convenience” theme here!) and laid half the dough as the bottom on a parchment lined sheet pan. Next I spread the somewhat cooled filling onto the dough – not quite to the edges – and put the top half on, rolling up and crimping the edges.

Feeling slightly more energetic, I sprinkled some shredded Parmesan cheese on top with a little dash of garlic powder to just give some extra zip to the top.

Into a preheated 425 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes or until the dough seems done and not overdone like mine.

20 mins to prep, 20 mins to cook and very little clean up!

20 mins to prep, 20 mins to cook and very little clean up!

This makes about 9-12 large squares on a “half” size sheet pan, depending on how thin you stretch the dough. This cuts better if it is allowed to cool a bit first. (A tricky subject around my house!)

Notes: leave the cheese off the top for dairy-free and use any kind of sausage you want, including turkey or even tofu. I won’t tell, if you don’t tell!

Gift Basket Clean-Out

 
 
This marmalade  Plus This  the main players 
 
Equals  ↓dinner

Whenever you get those gift baskets at the office or home, all the good stuff is immediately eaten. (cookies, crackers, nuts and candy) But the little hotel size jars of jelly and marmalade always seem to get left behind. Maybe because making toast at the office just isn’t an option! I like to use them to make a sauce or glaze.

I grabbed a few things from the cupboards to mix in and you can basically take any direction…I went a little Asian with my last one. Soy Sauce, vinegar, chili flakes, Chinese 5-spice and ground ginger powder (not shown) and some crushed dried rosemary… just because. Unfortunately a sesame allergy prevents me from using any type of sesame oil but that would be just perfect to add to this sauce for a distinct Asian flare.

The Recipe

6 oz orange marmalade

1/4 cup warm water

1 1/2 tbsp champagne vinegar

2 tbsp low-sodium, gluten-free soy sauce

2 tsp ground ginger powder

2 tsp chinese 5-spice powder (divided)

1 tbsp dried rosemary

1 tsp chili flakes

2 large chicken breasts cut into 1″ pieces

1/4-1/2 cup diced onion

2 tbsp oil of choice for saute

1 1/2 cups +/- diced onion

Whisk the top 8 ingredients using just 1 tsp of the Chinese 5-spice powder. Coat the chicken pieces  in the remaining teaspoon of Chinese 5-spice and salt/pepper to taste. Sauté the chicken and onion in the oil on med-high heat till each side has a bit of brown. Add the sauce and cover for a few minutes to let the chicken cook thru. Remove cover and add peas and let sauce reduce for a few minutes more. Serve over rice.

Light And Bright

That’s how I like my chicken soup.

I like a broth that is flavorful and rich but still light and little sparkle from some lemon never hurt any chicken soup.

This soup makes a nice cheerful bowl in March, especially when winter never seems to end !

chicken soup

This soup couldn’t be easier…

I started out with some diced chicken breast and onions in a slow cooker with enough water (fortified with a bouillon cube)  to fill the cooker. (I was out of box stock but you could use that too or homemade if you had it!) I added carrots and lima beans from the freezer about halfway through.  I cooked the light egg noodles separate and just spoon the soup over at serving time with plenty of salt and pepper and a generous twist of lemon when you serve. If you had some leftover rice, that would be nice too. Cooking times vary depending on your slow cooker and whether you use the low or high setting, but basically you need the chicken to be cooked through and frozen veggies too.

January Is “Tostada Month”

Only (and unofficially) in my house anyway. There must be something about the cold, snowy month of January that has me craving food from warmer regions. Because when I went back to look at my other posting on Tostadas I noticed it was January of last year. That version was a wonderful light, bright spicy combination of chicken, tomatoes and golden beets. You can see that here.

This is the brand i use and can find readily in my urban-area stores. Picture courtesy of www.mexicorp.com

This is the brand I use and can find readily in my urban-area stores. Picture courtesy of www.mexicorp.com

The word “tostada” [tosˈtaða] means ‘toasted” in Spanish but usually refers to a particular dish made with a crisp fried corn tortilla on the bottom with yummy, spicy ingredients piled on top. There are many regional varieties.

You can get your tortilla maker out, along with your fry-daddy junior and knock yourself out making them from scratch or you can just buy the corn tortillas and fry them in a little oil in a large pan or better yet get your hands on some already done for you like I do!

This time around I used some re-fried beans to make them a little more ‘filling.” I also marinated some chicken strips in a quick marinade of oil, lime juice, hot sauce, salt and pepper, and a little dry BBQ seasoning and ground cumin. I reserved some of the marinade to use as a base for a pineapple, avocado and sweet onion salsa to put on top.

The chicken only was in the marinade for an hour or so and then I quickly cooked it in a hot skillet, to order, for each couple of tostadas. They cook really quick because they were thinly cut but, you could certainly do this ahead in a large batch.

Assembly just consisted of: Tosada on bottom, a smear of re-fried beans, the hot chicken with a few bits of sweet onion thrown in the skillet to cook too. Fresh salsa on top and some fresh minced cilantro leaves. ( or parsley if you hate cilantro) Shake on additional hot sauce as you wish!

chicken tostada

Everything Is Better When It’s Small….

Is it?

Recently I bought some baby kale. Yup little tiny baby leaves of kale. Very adorable.

Isn't it adorable?!

Isn’t it cute?!

Raw it tasted kind of like a mild cabbage. I love all veggies so it was cool with me.

Hmmmm but what to do with it?

I made a greek salad using some of the baby kale as my “lettuce” – good but maybe not for the non-adventurous.

Keilbasa, pasta and baby kale dinner

I decided that the rest of it should be treated as I would with baby spinach… throw it in at the last-minute of a “quick pasta dish.”

These kind of dishes are quick and you can use whatever you might have on hand for veggies… frozen peas, canned beans, squash….whatever you have. I happen to have some fairly decent fresh tomatoes on hand. (A miracle during the winter in New England!)

I sautéed some onions, garlic and kielbasa in olive oil, and threw in some “Al Dente” cooked bow tie pasta. ( I used the multi color veggie pasta.) The fresh tomatoes, cut into big chunks, went in just to heat up and release some juice along with a generous amount of dried Italian seasoning. Last but not least, the baby kale. Just long enough to start to wilt it.

Serve in big bowls with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and you have a winter dish that just “hints” a little bit of summer!

Dinner For Dinner

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may already know that my husband and I share a common love of “dinner for breakfast.”

But lots of times we just have “dinner for dinner” and this basic pot roast is one of his favorites. (mine too!) Simple and tasty – this can be made in one pot and put into a slow oven until you are ready to eat and if you are using one of those heavy cast iron dutch ovens like I do, it will stay hot for a long time in case you have family or friends wandering thru at different times to be fed.

Over the years I have picked up a few tips to really help make the dish shine.

1. Add lots of seasoning to the meat and make sure to brown it. I really think being generous with your spices and seasoning sets up the meat for not only a flavorful crust but tasty “au jus.”

2.Sauté those carrots. Take the time to really cook those carrots a bit along with the onions – it makes a difference!

carrots and onions

For the record… this picture was taken as soon as I threw in the carrots, so they were still raw, but they did get a nice saute in the pan!

3. Potatoes on the side please!

I used to put the potatoes right in with the roast but they were never as good as I wanted them to be, so when a TV cook from Oklahoma once suggested serving the pot roast on a mound of yummy, rich mashed potatoes, I have been doing it that way ever since! (plus this gives opportunity for extra flavor – like “garlic mashed potatoes!”)

dinner plate
My husband made these delicious mashed potatoes!

Production Notes

My basic spice blend for the meat contains sea salt, course ground black pepper, garlic powder and celery seed. In addition to this I can change the flavor profile depending on what else I add. For example…ground cumin, paprika and a tiny bit of cinnamon for an “exotic” pot roast. Or  crushed red pepper flakes for a “spicy” version.  Let your imagination run wild.

My basic “go to” for liquid is water mixed with a generous amount of Worcestershire sauce to de-glaze the pan and become the cooking liquid for the pot roast meat and veggies. But you can use stock, cider, beer or wine too. Each of this will add/change the flavor profile.

I usually add a small can of tomato paste (or a couple squirts from the tube) to the pan after I have browned the meat and veggies but before I de-glaze to add a real depth of flavor to the pot roast liquid and because I love tomatoes!

If you want a thicker consistency for the “Au Jus” than add a tiny bit of cornstarch or an arrowroot slurry about an hour before serving.

Let It Rest

Isn’t that the title to a Beatles song?

Oh wait that song is actually “Let It Be” – still… both are words of wisdom!

In my case “let it rest” usually refers to some big cut of meat like a roast or chicken or something, but in this case it refers to lasagna!

Good Old Fashioned "All American" Lasagna!

Good Old Fashioned “All American” Lasagna!

Letting lasagna rest is a must for a clean, neat cut and so you don’t burn the roof off your mouth!

This lasagna was inspired by the green baking dish it was made in. I received it for Christmas this year from Aunt Barbara and I have been cooking in it a couple of times a week ever since! Mac and cheese, lasagna, you name it!  How did I ever live without this perfectly sized dish with handles!!

Production Notes

I used standard lasagna protocol here – nothing crazy or exotic. 3-4 layers of regular meat sauce, ricotta and noodles.  This time I used standard “boil first” noodles, but I have done it both ways… here and here.

The Last Potato

I have made my last batch of mashed potatoes. Ever. By request of my husband.

Yes it is true, and while many of the dishes that come out of my kitchen are delicious and get rave reviews, my mashed potatoes are not one of them. I can’t seem to get the hang of them. I can’t even make instant mashed potatoes properly! Even when I follow the box directions precisely, something is not quite right. No matter how much butter or cream or anything, there is something wrong. Sometimes it’s the texture and sometimes it’s the flavor.

The problem

First off I HATE peeling potatoes and that was the probably the final straw on this last go round.  Secondly I don’t like getting out the big pot and waiting forever for the water to come to boil. After all that, inevitably, I pull the boiled potatoes out either over-cooked or undercooked. Sometimes, in total laziness, I oven-bake the potatoes instead of boiling them to get them cooked. Than they get mashed, peels included. The peels hold all the nutrients, right? (At least I dig out all the little “eyes” on the potatoes first!)

This last (and final) round of mashed potato was used in a perfectly delicious Shepard’s Pie. But the un-peeled mashed potatoes didn’t go over so well. Or perhaps it was the carrots that I adventurous-ly included. Maybe I will never know. But the hubby has instructed me to leave the potato-making to him. He is after all a Boston Irish guy and if that doesn’t qualify him to know his potatoes, I don’t know what would!

Not A New Idea

I thought I was on the cutting edge by adding pumpkin to my macaroni and cheese – after a quick check of google – I realized this was not a new idea!

That’s okay, it was new to my Thanksgiving table and that is all that counts right?

I was craving mac-n-cheese AND wanted to add seasonality to the dish so I could serve it at the holiday table, so that is how my “mash-up” came about. I simply started with my usual mac-n-cheese white sauce and added a little extra nutmeg and the tiniest pinch of ground cinnamon. For the cheese I decided to keep it kinda plain with a medium cheddar and lots of salty grated Romano. (You could use Parmesan, I just happen to have Romano) Next I stirred in 1 can of pure pumpkin. (Do I need to say.. “not pie filling, just pumpkin?”)

pumpkin mix

Next I combined it with al dente cooked penne pasta and topped it with some more cheese. You can stop here and let it cool and put it in the fridge till you are ready to bake it or even freeze it until then. Don’t you just love a good make-ahead-freezer dish? I sure do!

When you are ready, bake in a 350 degree preheated oven of for 30 mins (longer if frozen) until it is bubbly and brown on top!

This recipe is based on 1 regular box of pasta and 1 14oz +/- can of pumpkin. The basic white sauce recipe can vary for me depending on what’s on hand and how “saucy” I want the dish. But generally I start with 4oz butter and flour for the roux and add in 2 cups of whole milk. I probably used 8oz of grated cheddar and at least a cup of grated Parmesan and/or Romano. Don’t forget to season with S&P and what ever flavorings you like…dry mustard, smoked paprika, nutmeg etc.

This portions out beautifully for lunch leftovers….if there is any leftover!

pumpkin mac and cheese

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

chicken dinner

This was my prize after cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer !

In preparation for the big turkey day I like to clean out my fridge/freezer and make room for the leftovers to come. So yesterday while the temperature dropped into the 20′s and the wind blew so hard I thought the grill was  going over this time for sure…I got started early with a cup of coffee and cleaning.

First thing I found was a couple of “splitters.” At least that is what the package said. I promptly opened the forgotten frozen chicken halves ( thus “splitters”) and submerged them into a brine to help flavor and defrost. Meanwhile as I continued on,  I discovered two small containers of forgotten homemade pesto from who-knows-which-summer. And of course I always have dried pasta and some sort of tomatoes on hand. The tomatoes were starting to get a little past their prime, mostly because they had been pushed to the back of the fridge. ( out of sight-out of mind)  I knew I had do something fast with them.

After a long bath (all day) the chicken got patted dry and massaged with butter. Then coated in a liberal dusting of seasoned salt, black pepper and dried rosemary. A perfect spa day for a chicken. I placed them on a rack and into a hot 400 degree oven. I kept a close eye and covered the tops with foil as soon as they got brown, so they wouldn’t get too brown. I always use a thermometer and cook until a 165 degree internal temperature is reached.

As for the side dish I just placed the sliced tomatoes in a bowl with the pesto and a little butter and when I put the hot pasta on top, it did all the work. I tossed it to combine things, added plenty of grated Parmesan cheese and a little reserved pasta cooking water to keep things moist.

Having a a bath and my discoveries from the fridge/Freezer!

Having a a bath and my discoveries from the fridge/Freezer!

P.S. Wondering about that title? Well me too. According to “urban dictionary”-
The legend tells that years ago every casino in Las Vegas had a three-piece chicken dinner with a potato and a veggie for $1.79. A standard bet back then was $2, hence when you won a bet you had enough for a chicken dinner!

A Round Dough In A Square Pan

dough

That’s what happens when you are coming off apple pie season and you realize your good pie/quiche dish has been lent out. (With a pie in it of course!)

I had no choice but to make it work…so into my glass brownie pan it went!

If you know me at all – you know that I will throw just about anything into a quiche. And I know for a fact that “real men do eat quiche!” Just ask my husband!

I have posted about quiche before, here and here, and I consider it the perfect vehicle for small bits of things: leftovers, extra parts, frozen things, you name it! So this time around I had some sweet peppers and onions to use up. Of course I always have a ham steak in the freezer if not in the fridge. Cheese of some sort is mandatory.

This is the latest version…I like to think of it as a Spicy Ham Italian Quiche – kinda like a “sandwich-as-quiche!”

Production Notes:

I poke the crust liberally with a fork and prebake the crust in a 400 degree oven for about 8 mins or so. This keeps the crust from getting soggy.

I usually use a filling ratio that is heavy on the eggs but has a little dairy (half and half or whole milk) in it too. I usually start with 6 eggs to about 1/4- 1/2 cup dairy but this dish was big, so 10 eggs plus enough dairy to make 2 cups of liquid, for this one.

I cover it loosely with foil for the first 20 mins of baking time so the crust edges wouldn’t get too dark. Uncover for the last 15-20 mins. Total baking time is around 40 mins but basically as soon as it is firm but tender – take it out!

Let it cool a bit before slicing – it will slice better!

Don’t forget to season! Salt, Pepper, Dried Oregano, Hot Chili flakes – whatever floats your boat!

And no I don’t make my own crust – mine comes rolled in a red box – get crazy and make your own if you want.

Add extra cheese about 10 mins before the end for extra yummy presentation!

ready to eat

Fall Pairings

There are many fall food pairings that go together so well.

A few that come to mind.. apple pie and ice cream, sweet potato and apples, pumpkins and apples…. oh wait…everything goes great with apples!

One of my fall favorites is sage and apples!

I started growing sage in a backyard pot a few years ago and I have really discovered the power of fresh sage! You can see some of my other sage pairings here, and here!

After apple picking the other day, I could think of nothing better than a nice fall dinner of roasted chicken with sautéed apples and sage! I threw in some small diced red onions to perk things up and of course I sautéed in everything in butter for the full “fall weather cooking” effect!

saute pan

I seared the chicken in a hot pan first and then after setting the chicken aside, I added the veggies for the saute. Next the chicken went back in and a little apple cider to deglaze the pan. I put the whole thing into a hot oven with a cover for 20-30 mins until the chicken was cooked through. (I uncovered the pan for the last 10 mins or so to re-crisp the chicken skin.)

The apples and onions melt down to a wonderful “savory” apple sauce and a couple of fried,whole, sage leaves added an artistic garnish. Serve with brown rice and crisp green salad.

 Fall on a plate!

Hmmm... where is that crisp green salad gone too? :-)

Hmmm… where is that crisp green salad gone too? :-)

Steak Tips: What Are They Anyway?

You know that old question…”what would you have for your last supper?” Well mine would most certainly involve steak and tomatoes of some variety! And around New England many a folk might say “steak tips!”

It is high time we discussed this regional favorite!

What are these anyway? No one seems to really know – not even Google! In this internet age of over a million hits on any given subject, I seem to have discovered one of the last mysteries remaining on the internet. (at least culinarily)

I can tell you that they are strips of beef sold universally around New England. Most folks cut them into chunks about 2″ x 2″ for portioning and cooking. They are not the west coast “tri-tip” and they are not “flank steak” or “hanger steak” or “flat Iron” steak” – as best I can determine – they are the “tips” cut from a sirloin.

Here is an entertaining and somewhat informative discussion about what steak tips are from Chowhound.

Here is the link to Ask.com

When New Englanders move to other parts, they are  known to have friends and relatives fly down with their carry-on luggage full of steak tips to satisfy their  hankering of a taste of home! (true stories)

Of course everyone has a marinade they swear by…some use a bottled salad dressing, some use a packet, some invent their own. Terriyaki style tips are very popular too. I usually just take the opportunity to use up the last bits of any vinegar-based salad dressing I might have hanging around. Or if I am making my own marinade it always involves some “Montreal steak seasoning” blend. Whatever your secret blend, no tailgate or family gathering in the summer (or anytime of the year) is complete without “tips on da grill” (typed with Massachusetts accent of course)

They are a standard on restaurant menus as well and local places have legendary followings based on their tips. Like this local joint. (And no they didn’t reimburse me for any promo consideration – but if they are reading and want give me a free dinner – I wouldn’t say no!)

Well whatever they are, I am glad I live in New England so I can eat them….

steaktips and salad
I love me a good salad,  but don’t overlook that pile of tips back there!
If anybody out there – butchers, chefs, cooks alike can enlighten me -please do so at: cabinetstewATyahooDOTcom!

Happy Anniversary Anthony

prince spaghettiWednesday is “Prince® Spaghetti Day” if you didn’t already know that. But you probably did because their commercial ran for something like 13 years straight! That is commercial where Anthony is running home for dinner through the famed North End neighborhood of Boston. Who hasn’t yelled “Anthony” at least once in their life in that same famous way as his mother did!

I am a bit embarrassed to admit that although I knew they filmed the commercial in Boston’s famous Italian North End, I had no idea it was because this is where the pasta company started, back in 1912, on Prince Street!  duh!

So it being the 100th birthday and all, I decided to have an urban hike and visit all the famous locations in the North End.

 
 
original window 2
Above: The original window as it appeared in the 1969 commercial
Above: as it looks now in 2013 – not much has changed – just cars and roof decks!

Of course I had to track down the original location of the pasta company…or wait is it across the street from this corner? So hard to tell now that the location has been converted to high-end condos! Well anyway this is the corner of Thatcher and Prince street in the vicinity of #92.

prince street 2prince spagetti location

And of course to complete the day….

Heirloom Pie

the stars

I recently acquired a small batch of heirloom tomatoes from the local farm stand and after thinking about BLTs and Panzanellas, I settled on pie. “Pizza Pie” that is! Basically a cross between a white pizza and a Margherita pizza, I piled on slices of the fresh tomato on top of a crisp thin crust, that had been spread liberally with a garlic- cheese white sauce.

Fresh basil snipped from my back yard pot, gave the pizza that undeniable flavor and freshness. A touch of sea salt and cracked black pepper were the only finishing touches. A drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil would also be a nice addition.

The White Sauce

I simply sautéed some finely minced garlic in butter until soft and very fragrant. At this point I decided to make a classic roux by adding some flour and browning it for a minute. But if you wanted to make this gluten-free (and use a gluten-free crust) you could skip ahead to adding some “half and half” then stirring in a slurry of arrowroot to thicken it. Add in some finely grated Parmesan cheese. Whisk and cook until desired thickness – you can add more milk/cream to thin or more cheese to thicken.

Salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate any extra for up to 5 days.

(oh and yes it is yet another post about tomatoes!)

Tomato Problem

Have you ever noticed how many posts I do that involve tomatoes? ( 75 so far) Specifically have you  read all 6 of my previous posts professing my love for tomatoes? (and some great recipes featuring tomatoes)

I might have a problem. A tomato problem. But the problem isn’t that I try to eat a tomato or tomato product at least once a day, and it isn’t because I grow enough tomato plants each summer in the garden to produce for a small army. (unless of course it rains or is a heat wave all summer like this one)

The actual problem is coming up with a catchy blog topic to disguise the fact that I am posting my 76th entry featuring tomatoes….

ahhh... never a more beautiful sight than tomatoes and basil!

ahhh… never a more beautiful sight than tomatoes and basil!

This meal couldn’t have been easier. I just tossed the cubed, fresh tomatoes and torn basil leaves with a little oil, red wine vinegar and S&P. Than I grilled up a medley of chicken pieces and chunks of veggies all coated and seasoned too. (kinda like a kabob without the stick) When it all comes off the grill, just toss it into the bowl on top of everything and watch the hot stuff warm the tomato juices and release the basil fragrance! Yum!

Serve warm as is, or over rice or pasta.

Whatever you do, this is an easy “one bowl” dinner that is sure to impress the tomato-lovers in your life!

tossing in grilled veggies and chicken

All Star Cookout

Recently I had a friend from grad school and her husband over for a cookout. They are from China and when they had us over, they gave us a full cultural experience. It was delicious and fun!

So I thought I would return the favor and have an “all American” cookout.  Featuring only “all-star” cookout items!

Cheeseburgers, hotdogs, chips and dip, deviled eggs, potato salad and for dessert… a toss-up between strawberry shortcake or apple pie!  Apple pie and ice cream won out.

even upside down - you just know this burger was delicious1

even upside down – you just know this burger was delicious!

Lettuce, tomato, Heinz 57…..you know the song! I put out all the burger fixin’s and let everybody build their own. But cheese was mandatory. Seriously who eats a burger without cheese?!

no cook out is complete without TWO kinds of chips!

TWO kinds of chips AND watermelon!

Everybody has their favorite potato salad recipe, but I went with a standard mix of mayonnaise, finely diced onion, seasoned salt, black pepper and a splash of vinegar and a couple of pinches of celery seed.

Devilishly delicious!

The secret is a little pickle juice!

I finally got to use my special deviled egg server. The thing that holds the eggs is actually filled with liquid – so you put it in the freezer until it is cold – it keeps the eggs cold while they are served!

It also has a cover so you can travel with it and the insert is reversible to accommodate veggies and dip too! It seemed like a great purchase at the time but I admit it is one of those gadgets that doesn’t get used too often! Also notice the use of paprika here…very 1970s!

You just can't beat pie and ice cream!

You just can’t beat pie and ice cream!

A little early in the season for apple pie but oh what a wonderful preview of fall – which is just around the corner now!

Level 3

Level 3 refers to ( in this case ) the level of hot in my jar of Korean hot pepper paste!

level 3

Recently I had a hanker-ing for some Korean BBQ and with no food trucks in sight I was forced to search the aisle of my supermarket for just the right stuff. There was only level 3 available, no #1 or #2 . I was worried this might blow the roof off my mouth, but I was brave and tried a tiny bit as soon as I got home. Straight up from the jar. It wasn’t bad. Downright tasty even. In fact I bet I could handle up to “level 4″ should I come across it some day!

First, I applied a dry rub to the pork spare ribs I decided to use. A quick mix of ground ginger, seasoned salt, onion powder and smoked paprika did the trick. (I used 1 tsp each for about 2 lbs of spare ribs.) I let that hang out on the ribs for a few hours during the day while I did errands, etc.

Second, since I didn’t have all day to fire up the smoker in the back yard – oh wait I don’t have a smoker – I simply put them into a foil-covered baking dish into a 375 degree oven for about an hour to steam them to delicious. (longer if you have more ribs, use a thermometer if you want.) So at this point the ribs were cooked through and tasty but lacking the caramelized, charred outside that we all love.

Thirdly, I put those ribs directly onto a hot gas grill in my backyard – that I do have – and charred them a bit until they looked good enough to eat.

But wait!

The final step was to brush on my homemade “Korean BBQ” sauce and char the ribs even more. Watching carefully that they didn’t cross the fine line of deliciousness to burned. With all that sugar in the sauce you have to be careful not to apply the sauce too soon.

Like all good BBQ, serve with homemade slaw and some sweet pickles! Extra sauce on the side too!

Like all good BBQ, serve with homemade slaw and some sweet pickles! Extra sauce on the side too!

The Sauce:

1 tb +/- finely diced(minced) onion

1 tsp of oil for sautéing onions

2 small garlic cloves, super finely minced

1 tsp fresh ginger, super finely minced or paste

1/2 cup Ketchup

1 tsp low sodium soy sauce

2 tsp rice vinegar ( plain or low sodium seasoned)

1 tsp toasted sesame oil*

2 tsp ( or more if you want it hot!) Gochjang paste ( Korean Hot Pepper Paste)

1 cup pan drippings from your spare rib oven-roasting pan or just plain water.

Saute the onion in the oil till nice and soft, and a bit brown. Turn off the heat and add the garlic and ginger in. The residual heat kind of warms the garlic and takes some of the raw “bite” out without really cooking it. (at least I thought so) Add the ketchup, soy, vinegar, oil and pepper paste to the warm sauce and stir thoroughly. It will be thick. Add enough pan drippings from your rib oven roasting dish or even just plain water to thin it to your liking. Sauce will end up being about 2 cups +/- of liquid.

This sauce can be served as a table condiment as is, used for a glaze in the last 10 mins on your grilled food or just eaten with a spoon. Probably keeps in the fridge for at least 5 days but I am no expert and frankly it was just the perfect amount for 2 lbs of ribs!

*due to sesame allergies in the house I actually used Pumpkin Seed oil but toasted sesame oil would be more traditional.

Note: gluten free folks – read your labels on the hot pepper paste – not all are created equal.

Summer “Boats”

peppers stuffed

This is my kind of “boat!” This lighter, summer version of stuffed peppers was inspired by the quinoa I had hanging around my pantry waiting to be cooked. (use your rice cooker!) I added in seasoned cooked lima beans to give it some texture. ( I love them!) But the real flavor boost comes from the herbaceous mixture that I started with. (Fresh herbs from my garden!)

herbs 1 I chopped them up and combined them with some finely diced, sautéed onion and garlic and dried “Herb de Provence.” flavor base

 

 

 

 

I also added in the extra bits of the peppers themselves.

And of course everything is better with a little cheese on top, so after baking in the oven for 35 mins or so covered, I added handfuls of cheese on top and bake uncovered for 10 mins more.

with cheese on top

The Recipe:

1/2 large onion diced

1/2 each sweet red & green bell pepper diced (or just the extra bits from trimming the peppers)

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tb of butter or oil for saute

1 tb dried “Herb de Provence” mix

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup mixed fresh herbs, minced finely: I used basil, sage and parsley

2 cups seasoned, cooked quinoa

1 cup +/- seasoned, cooked lima beans

2 large peppers, cut in half, seeded and stemmed

1 1/2 cups +/- shredded cheese of choice

Saute the top 6 ingredients together until onions are soft and slightly colored. Take off the heat, let cool a bit and mix in the fresh herbs mix. Mix in the quinoa and beans.

Stuff the pepper halves in an oven proof dish. Add an inch of hot water to the dish around the peppers, trying not to get any water splashed into/onto the peppers. Bake covered* in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30-40 mins. Remove the cover, top with cheese and bake another 10 mins or until cheese is melted.

*Just a note: I covered the dish loosely, with foil and the peppers steamed nicely and the water evaporates, if you cover tightly with a lid – you may be able to reduce cooking time but may have water leftover.

(makes enough to stuff about 6-8 pepper halves, depending on the size.)

From Hungary With Love…

hot paprika

hot paprika

My parents traveled quite a bit and although I was the lucky recipient of many of these trips, I did not accompany them on a trip to Hungary a couple of years back. But they did bring me back some of Hungary’s possibly most famous souvenir… Paprika.

I keep it sealed tight in a dark cabinet and it has continued to keep its bright, pungent, hot flavor.

And what better to make with Hungarian paprika than “Hungarian goulash” of course!! Now if you grew up in the northeast than surely you know this dish as “American Chop Suey” or perhaps as a form of “Marzetti” or maybe you have no idea at all what I am rambling about!

Just brown up some beef, diced sweet green pepper and onion. Add the spices: I used a liberal amount (3 heaping tablespoons to my pound of beef) of SWEET smoky paprika and about a teaspoon of my HOT smoky paprika. Use more if you like it spicy! I also added some black pepper and salt, ground cumin and garlic powder – just a 1/2 tsp or so of each.

along with a few other spices...goulash often contains browned ground beef, sauteed green peppers and onions with chopped tomatoes and of course plenty of paprika!

along with a few other spices…goulash often contains browned ground beef, sautéed green peppers and onions with chopped tomatoes and of course plenty of paprika!

De-glaze the pan with a hefty splash of Worcestershire sauce and 1 can ( 28oz) of whole tomatoes with juice that I broke up first. Add in a 1/4 cup of ketchup for sweetness and tang. Let it simmer for 20 mins if you want to serve right away over hot buttered egg noodles or rice. I like to mix mine with a box of pasta cooked “al dente” and then top the oven-proof dish with a bit of cheese and bake in the oven (350 degrees) for 30 mins.

It gives it that nice crusty top and edges that everybody loves! Kinda like the crispy lasagna edges!

Anyway if you have never explored the wide world of paprika, you should. It goes way beyond just a sprinkle onto deviled eggs! A specialty spice store ( online or actual) would be a great place to start.

ready for the oven with cheese on top!

ready for the oven with cheese on top!

Production notes

You can adjust the amount of noodles or beef according to your budget and desires. “Stretch” this dish with lots of pasta for a big family or a local potluck event. “Make it meaty” with lots of ground beef or even ground turkey or pork.

Yet Another Post About Grilling

Yep it’s grilling season here in New England and yes that means an endless stream of posts about my grilling adventures! Click away if you need to, I will understand and see you back in the fall!

In the meantime I want to show you one of my favorite grill toys……The “grill basket”basket of veggies

It looks kind of like a fry basket and maybe it could serve double-duty as one. But what I like about this contraption is how I can toss and turn lots of little things or at least little cut-up things over the grill.

In this case I had smallish white mushrooms and small white pearl onions. (Pearl onions aren’t just for thanksgiving!)

Having a basket of veggies all cooking alongside your primary meat makes things easy..Just turn out onto a platter and serve!

Marinated steak tips with grilled mushrooms and onions. Garnish with fresh chopped herbs and sliced tomatoes before serving.

Marinated steak tips with grilled mushrooms and onions.
Garnish with fresh chopped herbs and sliced tomatoes before serving.

Mexican Lasagna

or maybe Enchilada casserole? But if I call it that than we have to immediately break into the a rendition of “Desperado” – replacing the word “Desperado” with “Enchilada.”   What!   You are not familiar with the 1973 soft rock hit by The Eagles?!  Well give it a listen here.  You won’t regret it.

Anyway I digress…Back to dinner.

I simply diced up a small onion, cut 2 small chicken breasts into small pieces and browned them in a pan with oil. ( or butter or whatever you like) Prior to going into the pan, I coated the chicken pieces in little mixture made with 2-3 three tablespoons of AP flour mixed with 1/2 tsp -1 tsp each of these ground spices: cumin, chili powder, salt/pepper, oregano, and a little smoked paprika. (Kinda like you might coat stew beef pieces in seasoned flour before browning them.) Once everything was browned and getting delicious I “de-glazed” the pan with a small amount of warm water and some healthy dashes of hot sauce. This formed a small bit of a thick sauce. ( add some more water if you need to) Turn off the heat and add 1 regular size can of drained black beans.

Now the assembly: Spray an oven proof dish with non-stick spray, coat your flour tortilla by dipping it into a bowl of enchilada sauce** and place it as the first layer. Be generous with the sauce on the tortilla. Now spoon some of the saucy chicken and bean mix on top, add a thin slice or two of your favorite cheese (I used Munster) or a small handful of shredded. Top with another coated tortilla and repeat. End with a tortilla on top, pour the rest of the enchilada sauce over the top and down the sides and top with a little more cheese. ( I switched to a handful of shredded for the top.)

Exhibit 1:

mexicanlasagana prepped for oven

A couple stray black beans got on top!

Now bake covered in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 25 mins, uncover and bake another 10-15 mins till browned, bubbly and extra sauce around edges seems thicker. Like all lasagna this will cut and taste better if allowed to cool a bit at first. (Will somebody help convince my husband?!) Or better yet cool completely, cover and freeze for another time or reheat later and bring this to your next potluck party!

I made mine using 2 quite small chicken breasts and 6 small tortillas as I was practicing cooking for two instead of my usual 10 but this could easily be made in a huge batch!

** Enchilada sauce can be made easily using a recipe such as this one. Or you can purchase it in cans/jars in the supermarket. Try the “ethnic” aisle or wherever the taco kits are sold in your store.

I used about 1 cup +/-  Any extra sauce can always be frozen and later thrown into soups ( spicy tomato soup!) or used as a marinade or glaze for meat or veggies.

hot from the oven

Waiting for it to cool a bit before cutting into it!

Rubies and Pearls

’round these parts if you mention “pearls” in the context of food, you might be referring to a brand of giant size hot dogs made right here in Massachusetts.

But in this case I am actually referring to “pearl onions” and of course my “rubies” are the little red new potatoes. Both of these went along side a large pork roast that I thought would be fun to cook on a random rainy, overcast Thursday. ( too lazy to pick up something more appropriately sized for 2 people, so out of the freezer came this piece of meat – guess we will be eating leftovers for a while!)

rubies and pearls            ready for the oven

I didn’t bother tying the roast and making it look pretty for presentation, I just seared it in a hot skillet and transferred it to the sheet pan.I did the same with my “rubies and pearls” – I got a little color on them (and coated them with a little oil/fat/seasoning by doing this) before putting them alongside the roast on the sheet pan. I threw a couple garlic cloves on too for fun.

dinner

hmm… where did that green veggie go anyway?

Everything went into a hot (400 degrees) oven for 20 mins a lb. If you think the veggies are getting overdone before the roast is finished just scoop them out and keep them warm somewhere till time to serve. serve with a pan sauce made from the drippings of the pan you seared it in and a little apple juice. Also great to serve a little apple sauce and a green veggie on the side!

Production notes

I brined the roast during the day in “seasoned salt” water with coriander seed and bay leaf. Then I rinsed and dried it before coating very liberally with ground cumin and some black pepper.

#1720

….That is how many hits come up when you search the term “mexican orzo.”

And this post will make #1721!

I have to say I thought maybe I had an original on my hands one night, when I decided to make “mexican rice” and used orzo pasta instead of actual rice. But it looks like I was beat out of the gate.

These are the kinda friends to have hanging around your kitchen for easy weeknight dinners!

These are the kinda friends to have hanging around your kitchen for easy weeknight dinners!

That’s okay – because I still think mine was easiest!

Of course I had a little help from my friends——————->

To be honest, I had rice on hand – several kinds. I could have gone all healthy and high-brow using brown rice. But the truth is…(by the way isn’t that the name of some new internet facebook thing the kids are all doing these days?)…I had two boxes of orzo in the pantry to use up and I thought “why not?”

So I cooked the pasta (stopping it at very al dente) and poured it into a sprayed casserole dish and mixed in: 1 can ro*tel ( 10 oz -mild or hot) 1 can (80z) tomato sauce, 1/2 tsp +/- ground cumin, 1/2 tsp +/- seasoned salt, black pepper to taste, 1 medium onion that had been diced and sautéed in a little butter. You can also spice this up by adding more of any of the above ingredients, some of your favorite hot sauce or even sliced jalapenos. Not everybody in my house loves spicy so I kept it conservative.

Bake in the oven, covered in foil, for 25-30 mins on 350 degrees. Pull out, remove foil and add as much shredded cheese on top as you dare and bake another 5-10 mins until cheese bubbly and brown.

Tip: This can be made ahead, cooled and refrigerated and re-heated when it is time for the party! Or make it Gluten free by using the rice instead of the orzo pasta.

Serve with some “old standbys” like grilled chicken and fresh avocado salsa.

mexican-orzo      tex-mex dinner

Strawberry Memories

The month of June means a lot of different things to people.

To my dad it made him think of D-Day and actually landing on Normandy beach  in 1944 as an innocent 18-year-old kid. To my brother it means a birthday.  And of course to my mom that same special day of June reminds her of giving birth to my brother, her first baby.

For me: it is strawberries.

I can mark my “Junes” throughout my life by strawberry memories…

homegrown

Homegrown: not perfectly shaped but sweeter than any supermarket variety!

As a small child sitting among the PYO fields in New Hampshire – eating more than I was picking, wishing we could get out of the hot sun.

Later as a middle-school child visiting the relatives in California and having my first real “diner-style” strawberry pie. I remember picking it out from the glass case and how REALLY delicious it was. (We went back for another piece the next day!)

In high school, on a family trip to France, we strolled through a farmer’s market outside of Chartres Cathedral near Paris and discovered the most delicious strawberry tart ever.  To this day. Just sat there in the sun and enjoyed every bite of it.

In my 20′s, living away from home, returning to visit mom and having her famous strawberry shortcake on the porch. We have been known as a family to eat that, and only that, for dinner.

And now as a grown up, with my own house, with strawberries growing in my front yard. The sunny patch has grown from one small pot to rambling all over the place, among the grass and  flowers at the base of the chimney. Each year yields more and so far this year I have harvested about a quart!

However, strawberry shortcake season is short, and one needs to supplement the fruit with purchases from the local market or farm stand. That way you can have  lots of “strawberry shortcake dinners!”

strawberries shortcake dessert

Big, ripe, perfect, in-season strawberries can not be beat in the beauty department!

P.S. If you are not a baker, or gluten-free, or just don’t want the biscuit
- I find serving this with vanilla ice cream instead just divine!
 
P.P.S In case you missed it, June 14 was National Strawberry Shortcake day!

Arroz con carne de cerdo

Rice with pork.

Not an expert here by any means – in fact had to look this title up – so hopefully we can trust the internet on this translation!

Anyway, that is what I made the other day. Some “spanish style rice” and some grilled pork chops to go along with it. A true “Arroz con carne de cerdo” or its cousin “Arroz con pollo” (chicken) would have the meat browned and finished with the rice. My variation was separate items, but still very yummy if I say so myself!

arroz con pork

I started with butter, onion, diced sweet red pepper and garlic in a pan. I added the dry rice to the pan after things were browned up nicely to toast it a bit. I also threw in my dry spices at this point to also “toast” them a bit. Adobo seasoning, ground cumin, smoked paprika, chile powder and ground annatto seed along with black pepper. A few mins after that, the liquids went in. I used both stock and a small can of tomato sauce. Simmer covered for 35-40 mins or until the rice is cooked and the liquid evaporated. Add some frozen peas in the last 10 minutes or so of cooking. Before serving, taste for seasoning. (you may want to add more salt or a bit of hot sauce)
As for measurements… just use your basic 2:1 ratio of dry rice to liquid and just sprinkle in a teaspoon or two of each seasoning depending on how much rice you are cooking.
Shhhhhhh.. I used healthy whole grain brown rice since the color was going to be hidden from my husband anyway!

Old Standby

Here in New England, once grilling season starts, dinner means lots of fresh veggies, meats and experimental marinades instead the “same ol’ same” casseroles.

And for me, grilling means putting every possible veggie and meat option on the grill. (Weather permitting, I not very hardcore!) I even put potatoes on the grill!

But one of my “old standbys” is grilled asparagus. Especially good when the bunch you have on hand is on the thick side in terms of stem. (The little thin ones tend to escape between the grates and they are delicious just raw anyway!)

But I am sure I’m not revealing anything new here – everybody puts everything on the grill these days right?

For the record, I rarely never blanch or precook the veggies before the grill – that just seems like too much work and defeats the simplicity of dinner on the grill outside. I like to make it as simple as possible with do-ahead sides!

check out a recent “stand-by” dinner…

Old Standby of grilled chicken tenders, asparagus and strips of sweet red bell pepper served with "make ahead" pasta salad, makes dinner time a cinch!

“old standby” of grilled chicken tenders, asparagus and strips of sweet red bell pepper, served with “make ahead” pasta salad, makes dinner time a cinch!

Grilling Tips

I find that a simple drizzle of oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder adds just enough pizzazz to vegetables. For any meat I enjoy an overnight marinade whenever possible but even a 30 minute bath is better than nothing!

One cooking tip I can offer is to set up “sides” to the grill – as in a “hot” side and a “cooler” side. Also good to put things onto the grill at different times to accommodate for longer or shorter cooking times needed.

I often let the veggies remain wet from the washing so that residual water on them kinda “steams” them at first, before charring a bit – this is good for thicker cut veggies.

Final tip: if you have the grill going anyway – go through the fridge and find anything you can put on the grill. (Some examples would be: miscellaneous veggies, random sausages, yummy steaks, spare chicken parts or even leftover bits of bread for grilled “croutons.”)  I figure I might as well make firing up the grill worth it and leftover grill food makes fantastic lunches, snacks and dinner later in the week. You can even toss the cut up grilled bits into the pasta salad to turn that into a “meal” on its own.

What will your “Old StandBy” end up being?

Neighbors

Isn’t it amazing how great neighbors can make all the difference?

Not only can I depend on them for great conversation over the fence, help snow-blowing the driveway, great cupcakes or the comfort in the knowledge that they would call the fire department should they see smoke, but recently… dinner. And not just any dinner. Home-smoked sausage and kielbasa, with sautéed peppers, and rolls to put it all on!  All packaged and waiting for me after a long day at work!

neighbor dinner

Notice they even put up the flag on the box to alert us of our “special mail!”

My husband and I immediately assembled a sandwich and gobbled it down, forgetting to take another photo of the sandwich itself. But trust me, it was a looker!

THANK YOU GREAT NEIGHBORS!!