Tapas Night

It all started because I found a sheet of puff pastry dough in my freezer and wanted to make Jamaican Beef Patties. That’s where I got the idea to do a Tapas Night for dinner this past Saturday. I ran this by my wife who was more than thrilled with the idea, and she helped me hash out the various ideas.

I started with a Roasted Red Pepper…well, do I call it a salsa, a spread, a tapenade? I took a jar of roasted red peppers, drained it as well as I could. To that I add four whole cloves of garlic, about a quarter cup of olive oil, and a decent bunch of flat Italian parsley. I add a few pinches of coarse sea salt into the food processor. I’m still not certain what to call the result. I offered the new brown rice coarse salt and black pepper Triscuit and halved calamatta olives. It was a definite hit. We discussed how it could be used as a brucshetta topping and I actually put a substantial dollop on the following morning’s fried eggs.

Many people do bacon-wrapped cheese-stuffed jalapenos. I took it a step further. I cooked up four slices of bacon rather crisply and blended it into a container of whipped cream cheese. I then stuffed these into the jalapenos. I planned to use for the first time my wife’s Christmas present of a jalapeno grilling rack. This was my only incomplete success of the evening. Having never used the device before, I wound up purchasing jalapenos that were too big for the smaller holes. They did not stand upright in the holes, fell over, fell out onto the grill itself, making a mess. There was some good charring and good flavor from the cream cheese and bacon. Next time — smaller jalapenos.

I got around to the Jamaican beef patties. One pound of ground beef, browned and drained of grease. Cinnamon, ground glove, ground allspice, garlic powder, a couple of pinches of salt, lime juice, and one finely diced Habanero. A hefty teaspoon of beef onto a square of rolled out puff pastry, folded over into a ball. They were more like Jamaican beef poppers. An egg wash and baked at 425 degrees for 12 minutes. It tasted like jerked beef with enough of a bite to make them truly enjoyable.

The final tapa was a variation on one of my wife’s standard appetizers for the holidays. Dumpling wraps have alternative uses; her suggestion turned into a new classic. Finely sliced onion sautéed until nicely golden and a small block of Monterrey Jack. The dumplings were browned up on both sides. (In her standard meat or pork dumplings, they are only browned up on one side and steamed on the other.) These crispy creations exuded an amazing onion and cheese combo that could only be duplicated by a cheeseburger.

I recognize that the prep for this “dinner” took two and a half hours in the morning. However, this turned out to be a unique culinary event, on top of which we created new recipes which I am sure our family and friends will truly enjoy.

Castorini Chicken and Garlic Pasta

I had an idea for a meal when I made this week’s menu. A concept, really. Grilled chicken over pasta with a butter and garlic sauce. But I didn’t know what I would do until I actually made dinner tonight.

Four very small chicken breasts, already thin. Perfect for a grilled topper. Generously coated with Emeril’s Chicken Rub. Penne rigati, amounting to three-quarters of a decent size of two cereal bowls, in boiling water with garlic salt added. The chicken breasts grilled until done. I cut each breast into about five long thin strips. (The edges did get a little more crispy than I intended but I made sure to cut those pieces smaller.) After the pasta was cooked al dente, I drained it. In the same sauce pan, I melted one tablespoon of butter and then minced three decent sized gloves of garlic, then added two more tablespoons of butter. When it was almost melted, I added the pasta and vigorously stirred, adding a couple of dashes of salt. The pasta went into the bowl, the slices of grilled chicken on top, a mad dash or two of grated Parmesan, and a grind of black pepper. Last minute inspirations.

My wife adored it. And she recognized that my sister-in-law (who loves good pasta dishes and follows my blog) would also love it and that it would have to be a dinner we made for them the next time they came over. Don’t forget to write everything done, my wife reminds me. And, you have to give it a name.

I don’t speak Italian. I could have gone on to babelfish.com and figured out a name and translated it into Italian. Too complicated. My bright idea was to start naming my new creations after actors, actresses, or authors or poets.

Then I laughed to myself. “Castorini Chicken and Pasta”. (My wife reminded me to add “garlic” to the pasta.) Why that, you ask? It was Cher’s last name in Moonstruck. I know you still don’t get it. You see, my sister-in-law, who loves pasta dishes, reads my blog, and takes note of my recipes, does not like the movie Moonstruck. The real question is: Will she come to dinner and eat what is sure to be one of her new all-time favorite dishes that is named after a movie she doesn’t like?

Follow the string of responses; I’m sure hers will appear some time soon.

When a Conversation Beomes a Recipe

I’m fortunate that I work with a lot of foodies in my department. My co-worker, Eric, is the most intense when it comes to all things culinary. But, Katilee, who is a mom of two girls, throws out some good ideas here and there. Last week, we were just throwing out ideas, talking about dinners in general. And then, like the development of most ideas, the “What-if” scenarios started. From those back and forth ideas came my dinner for tonight.

Baked Ranch and Cheez-It Crusted Chicken.

2 chicken breasts, fully thawed, pounded to approximately half an inch, thoroughly dried
2 cups ranch dressing
3 cups of Cheez-it or other baked cheese cracker, well crushed but some pieces can remain
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 13X9 baking dish with oil spray.

The chicken breasts are liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper. Each is placed into a shallow dish with the ranch dressing until coated. Then dredge the chicken breast in the crushed Cheez-its. Place in baking dish and bake for 45 minutes. Turn off oven but keep chicken in for another 10 minutes.

The slow cooking keeps the chicken tender; the ranch dressing makes it moist; and the Cheez-its add an additional flavor that you weren’t expecting.

I have taken existing recipes and altered them to my satisfaction. But somehow this one stands out. Because it all came from tossing around a few ideas at work. (And, yes, we DO get our work done.)

Jerk Rubs: Wet and Dry

After our kitchen remodel, I committed the unforgivable sin of ignoring my grill this past winter. I was so enamoured of my dual fuel Wolf range that the five burner gas grill seemed to be a red-headed step-child.
Ah, but the weather in Kansas has been unseasonably warm and thoughts of flame and smoke dance around my head. The balancing act has begun.

Great intro, but to the point…

When it comes to grilling, I enjoy the widest range of styles and ethnicities. My grill has an insert for soaked wood chips as well as a rotisserie. Two additional options for flavor. I make three different kinds of bbq sauce. The one thing that captivated me was Jerk and the blending of sweet and hot and the atmosphere of the Caribbean. After all, I AM the Tikiman.

Years ago, I developed my own wet rub/marinade. I won’t belabor the differences; suffice it to say I determine what worked well for chicken (usually cut up fryers) or pork tenderloins.

JERK MARINADE
2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
2 bunches of scallions
4 habaneros, chopped
1 Tbs. brown sugar
1/2 cup lime juice
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bay leaf, crumbled

Blend all in a food processor.

So, after that, you’re putting your chicken in a Ziploc bag or placing your pork tenderloin in a container and pouring the marinade over all. Let it sit for 2 hours or up to 24 hours. Grill on medium heat.

I was quite satisfied with my efforts. But since that time, I have turned more and more toward dry rubs, creating my own blends and having on hand the kind of flavoring required for a desired grilled dinner. This is where I turned it into a challenge: creating a dry jerk rub.

JERK SPICE RUB

1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. lemon pepper
1 Tbs. cayenne pepper

As you can tell, the first three ingredients are the same as in the wet rub. But we use garlic powder in place of the cloves, lemon pepper as a substitute for the citrusy taste of the lime juice, and a heaping amount of cayenne to replace the habanero.

I have used this twice, one time to make Pan-Fried Jerk Chicken Bites and Pan-Fried Salmon. The flavor was definitely there. It is not Jerk in the traditional sense but the essence of it is in this rub. And since a rub can last a bit longer than a wet rub, this is a worthwhile alternative.

H B Gumbo

I will not hide the fact that I am a New England Patriots fan and have been such since 1976. That being said, their last two Super Bowl appearances have been heartbreaking.

But, I recognize that it is a game and has turned into a family event. As I have always been fond of saying “It’s all about the food.”

I have crafted my own recipe for gumbo. This recipe was entered into the Wichita Eagle’s Holiday Cookbook contest about six or seven years ago and then briefly made the rounds of the internet.

Yesterday, I made my finest batch. Needless to say, it would have tasted better with a sweeter outcome. Nevertheless, I offer it up for your consideration.

H B GUMBO

1 lb. sweet Italian sausage, cut into
½ in. pieces
1 ½ lb shrimp
1 lb scallops
1 lg. onion, chopped coarsely
1 lb pkg. frozen okra
4 scallions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 jar clam juice
½ cup flour
½ cup butter
1 Tbs. oil
1 Tbs. gumbo file

CREOLE SEASONING
(only about a third of this spice blend
will be needed. You can store the remainder
in a glass jar in your pantry)

1/3 cup paprika
3 tsp. oregano
3 Tbs. black pepper
2 Tbs. basil
2 Tbs. Kosher (coarse) salt
½ – 1 Tbs. cayenne pepper
1 Tbs. dried onion
4 tsp. thyme
4 tsp. garlic powder

(1) Brown sausage. Drain grease. Set aside.
(2) Thaw shrimp in colander under cold water. Remove tails. Set aside.
(3) In a non-stick saucepan, SLOWLY melt better. Add flour a little at a time. Stir constantly over medium-low heat until roux becomes golden brown with a slightly nutty aroma.
(4) Heat oil in large Dutch oven. Add onion, okra, scallions, and garlic. Cook until vegetables are tender.
(5) Add tomatoes and clam juice. Add shrimp and scallops. Bring to a quick boil then lower to a simmer.
(6) Add sausage. Add roux. Stir and blend thoroughly. Add 1/3 of Creole seasoning and gumbo file. Stir.
(7) Simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.

I’m not psychic, but… (A pesto follow-up)

I posted a blog entry last week about homemade pesto. My major commentary was that it was relatively easy to make, could actually be made in a healthy fashion, and was a lot more cost-friendly to make it than to buy it in a jar costing $3 or $4.

(Meanwhile, somewhere in the background, my sister-in-law, who also follows my blog, was going shopping for food for our recent family get-together at the cabin in Oklahoma. I was bringing the stuff for biscuits and gravy for breakfast and the pasta salad as the side for dinner. She was bringing the makings of burgers and brats and an appetizer.)

I like to post entries about food and recipes that seem to be “gourmet” but are actually easy to make or prepare. You wind up feeling like you are ahead of the curve and not simply buying frozen pizza rolls. Pesto just happens to be one of those items that SEEMS gourmet but really isn’t. And I went to some lengths to indicate such by making that entry.

(That evening, after shopping, my sister-in-law checks her mail to find a blog entry by me about the ease of making pesto…right after she bought a jar of pesto as part of her appetizer. In her defense, it was a $1.99 jar and not the high-falutin’ $3 and $4 jars that I was dissing in my blog. And it was tasty. Not as tasty as mine, of course.)

So, I will be careful what I blog about with regard to food and recipes when next we get together with the family at the cabin in Oklahoma.

Pesto made easy

It’s really ridiculous to spend $3-$4 for a jar of pesto at your local grocery store. And that’s not even the kind of quality stuff you could get at a gourmet food store. Considering the basic ingredients (basil, Parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil) and the ease of a modified recipe, this classic spread can be a favorite in your home.

The first time I made it was not entirely successful. I had already decided to eliminate pine nuts as being an extra ingredient that could be eliminated. I also used all of my wife’s basil plants (which seemed like a lot at the time) but in the end, after the food processor, resulted in a very small amount.

Then, I was chatting up the owner of The Spice Merchant here in Wichita who passed on a wonderful alternative which he insisted his Italian friends found wonderful.

Spinach.

A bag of baby spinach, five to six whole cloves of garlic, somewhere close to a cup of grated Parmesan cheese, a small handful of fresh basil, and sufficient olive oil to create a spreadable consistency—all done up in a food processor. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for about two weeks. The top may start to turn brown but stirring it up with a spoon with return it to a beautiful shade of green.

Some of my favorite uses have been:

–Spreading it on artisan bread and broiling to make pesto toast, an alternative to garlic bread.
–Spreading it on chicken breasts or pork chops and grilling, making sure to sear the side with the pesto.
–Pan frying chicken strips, boiling penne, and then mixing it all together with two tablespoons of the pesto with some additional olive oil. All sauces do not have to be red or white.

It’s easy to be a “gourmet” when so many people don’t realize how easy it is to make the kind of things they THINK can only be found in a restaurant.

Crockpot Fryer

Easy. No hassle. Healthy. Tasty.

If those are some key words you would like to say about cooking dinner, a crockpot fryer is the meal for you.

Easy — A fryer of any size in a crockpot for about eight hours. Sure, you’ve got to cut open the packaging, remove the gizzards, rinse it in cold water and drain it the night before. But that’s it. And no additional water or liquids are needed.

No hassle — The aforementioned ‘Easy’ part also means you put it in a crockpot in the fridge the night before and get it started right before you leave for work.

Healthy — This may add a little bit of time onto the ‘Easy’ part but with a kitchen shears you can remove a good deal if not all of the skin. Plus it’s fun.

Tasty — What spices or herbs have you got lying around? Ground black pepper and sea salt. Lemon pepper. Garlic powder. Thyme. Parsley. Sage. Rosemary. Cumin and chili powder. Which ones?, you ask. Pick whatever appeals to you.

When you get home from work, your crockpot fryer will be completely cooked and will literally fall off the bone. Some veggies (celery, carrots, broccoli, etc.) with ranch dressing makes a great side dish.

And the bonus will be about three to four cups of real chicken broth to be used at a later date.

Our tradition on St. Patrick’s Day

For the past several years, my wife and I initiated our St. Patrick’s Day tradition: A dinner of corned beef and cabbage, some Guinness, and watching the movie The Commitments. The meal is great, the beverage is compatible, and the movie is fun and entertaining.

I got the recipe from Traditional Irish Recipes by George L. Thomson, a thin 8X11 book on heavy stock with Old World Style fonts and the Gaellic name for each recipe. (My recipe is actually “Mairteoilshaillte agus cabaiste”). It’s a great recipe.

However, as anyone who has ever cooked Corned Beef and Cabbage knows, it takes upwards of three hours for proper cooking (i.e. stockpot). That means that getting home at 5pm and starting immediately means dinner by 8pm.

So, this year I am going to fly in the face of tradition and make it in a crockpot. I’ve scoured the internet for various crockpot corned beef and cabbage recipes and come up with an amalgamation which I think will work. I’m only a bit concerned that the cabbage may wind up being overcooked.

But if all else fails, we’ll still have the Guinness.

What do you do for St. Patrick’s Day? Any traditions that you have started?

What to do with leftover Slow Roasted BBQ Pork

Last nights dinner:

I medium yellow onion, finely diced. Two jalapeno peppers, de-seeded and finely diced. Sautéed in the fat from the pork until softened. The remaining pork, roughly removed from the bone and coarsely chopped, and then added to the onion and jalapeno. All mixed well until the scent of the pork really hit the nostrils. One large can of pinto beans, undrained. All mixed well. Lower the heat, cover, allow sauce to thicken. Cooked white rice with a dash of garlic salt and ground cumin. Cooked rice on the bottom of the bowl, several large scoops of pork and pinto beans on top.

This was truly a Tex-Mex delicacy and I’m only sorry I didn’t make enough rice for leftovers on the leftovers.

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