Sunday, June 19, 2011


Great steaks don't need condiments. A well-seasoned, appropriately marbled ribeye is one of life's great pleasures all by itself. I promise you, in a true steakhouse, the chef winces and the waiter rolls his eyes when you ask for A-1 to cover up the inherent flavor of your dinner with preserved raisins (check out the ingredient label). However, in South America, they have found a way to actually add to the steak experience without masking anything. It is called chimichurri and it is bright and fresh and incredibly makes something already wonderful even better.

This is not a personal recipe, but from what I can tell, it is the classic version. You can make it before dinner and hold it in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it alongside (or all over) the steaks. Simply mix 1 cup of fresh packed parsley with 5 medium garlic cloves and 2 tablespoons of oregano into a food processor. Then add in 1/2 Cup of olive oil, 1/4 Cup red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon of Kosher Salt and 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and pulse until smooth.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mexican Pork

Pork is the best protein. It would probably be more gracious to say "pork is my favorite protein" and admit reasonable minds could differ, as I am certainly a fan of beef, fish, shrimp, scallops, mussels, oysters, clams, chicken, turkey and even duck. However, that simply wouldn't be honest. Pork is the best; if you don't think so, I think you're wrong. I bet none of my catholic friends have given up bacon for Lent. Ever have Paducah barbecue? Memphis ribs? No debate.
Mexican is my favorite genre of food (although we could talk about French, Asian, even German). Thus, tonight's post combines my favorite type of cooking with the best ingredient on earth, yet it doesn't disappoint despite high expectations. It is also super easy and highly versatile.
We start with a pork loin, which is ridiculously cheap these days relative to everything else at the grocery store. Cut all 2.5 lbs into inch cubes, season with salt and pepper and allow a big saute pan with olive oil to become searingly hot. Add the pork cubes, reduce the heat a little and cook them through, until the juices dissipate. Once the pork is cooked, add 1 Cup of chicken stock, 7 oz of store bought salsa verde (although it is fun to make, it is hard to find fresh ingredients for this all the time), 6 diced garlic cloves, 2 chopped tomatoes, 1 diced onion, and following spices: 1.5 tbs of cumin, 1 and 1/3 tbs chili powder, 1 tbs of dried oregano and a dash of cayenne pepper. Let this simmer for 45 minutes or until the sauce is thick. The pork will be tender and perfect.
With this pork, your possibilities are endless. Tacos, burritos (which is what we had tonight, with sauteed onions and peppers, plus guacamole and cheese), quesadillas, fajitas or 20 other more creative dishes. I wish we had room to raise pigs.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Shrimp & Grits

At our core, we are about southern comforts. Sure we love Oregon wine, Boston chowder and Kansas City beef. I've eaten my self sick in San Francisco and the Tex-Mex in Albuquerque was beyond belief. But in my DNA, the food I crave is from the South. If you can find something more Southern than this, let me know and I'm on my way.
The grits are absolutely enough, all by themselves, for a sublime experience. Boil 2 cups of water with 2 cups of chicken broth, 3/4 tsp of salt and 3/4 cup of "half an half". Then whisk in a cup of grits ("no self respecting southerner uses instant grits"), reduce the heat and simmer it for about 10 minutes until it is thick. Add 3/4 cup of cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, 2 tbs of butter, 1/2 tsp of Tabasco and 1/2 tsp of white pepper. Keep this warm while you make the shrimp.
Start with 3 pieces of bacon. Don't apologize. Cook that in a skillet until crisp, then take it out, crumble it, and set it aside. To the bacon drippings, add 1 Cup of sliced mushrooms and cook them down, about 2 minutes. Then add 1/3 Cup of green onions and again, cook for about 2 minutes. Then add shrimp (seasoned with salt and pepper and dredged lightly in flour) and 2 cloves of minced garlic. When the shrimp are pink, deglaze the pan with 1/3 cup of chicken broth, 2 tbs of lemon juice and 1/4 tsp of Tabasco (or a lot more). Cook two more minutes and serve over the grits with the bacon and lemon wedges for garnish. Don't expect left-overs.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Smoky Chicken Chili

Clearly, this weather screams for chili. While I love the standard recipe (beef, tomatoes, beans, chili peppers, onions), there is nothing wrong with some variety. This is a composite recipe that takes several shortcuts without any sacrifice relative to flavor or nutrition.
I start chicken chili with 2 chicken breasts, which I roast (seared in a pan on the stove top with salt/pepper/olive oil and finished in the oven at 375 for 20 minutes). Once cool, I pull them apart by hand; cutting is not optimal for the texture of this dish.
The base starts by dicing 2 Poblano peppers, 1 bell pepper (any color but green), 1 onion and 3 garlic cloves. I cook these down in some olive oil, then add the shredded chicken, 2 cups of water, 2 cans of chili style tomatoes, 1 can of navy beans, 1 can of rinsed/drained black beans, 1 dark beer, 1 tsp of salt and a package of "white chicken chili seasoning". This needs to gently simmer for an hour. We serve it with cheese, scallions, Frito's, sour cream, chopped red onion or even fried corn tortillas for toppings. It heats up great for days.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Yesterday's snow day was perfect for making lasagna. This is another "weekend only" meal in our house, as since I enjoy the process as much as the result, I take no short-cuts. It takes about 3 hours.
I make my lasagna with two sauces, a Bechemel and a traditional Marinara. The Bechemel is basically a gravy, made by whisking 1 and 1/4 Tbs of melted butter with 1/8 cup of flour in a sauce pan over very low heat. Once it is smooth, I add 1 Cup of milk and reduce it until it is thick. It should never boil. Once it is ready, it needs to be seasoned off heat with an 1/8 of a tsp of salt (at least) and a pinch of nutmeg and white pepper.
The Marinara sauce is made with two quarts of tomatoes (canned this summer from Dad's garden), 1 bunch of basil, 2 diced onions, 4 minced garlic cloves, a tsp of dried oregano (from our garden), a tsp of sugar and salt/pepper. I puree the tomatoes and basil in the food processor while I cook the onions and garlic in olive oil until soft. Then I combine everything in the pan and simmer it until it is thick.
The final prepared layer is 15 ounces of Ricotta (NOT COTTAGE) cheese, 1 Cup of Parmesan cheese, 3 ounces of chopped Prosciutto, 1 Large Egg, 3/4 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper. I use a mixer to combine this layer.
To put it together, I butter the lasagna dish and pour in the Bechemel sauce. Then I place 3 al dente lasagna noodles adjacent to each other and begin making layers, using some of the ricotta mixture, the marinara, some browned and finely chopped Italian sausage and some shredded provolone. I usually make 4 "levels", which requires 12 pieces of pasta. I then put some more Marinara on top and grate some Parmesan on that. It needs to warmed through in the oven at 350 degrees. For Lacey, I finish it under the broiler to brown a little cheese on top. It was pretty good last night. It was great this morning.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

World Series Gumbo

Perhaps my favorite food tradition is that I make Gumbo every year for the first Saturday World Series game. The timing is perfect because it feeds a crowd, is great on a cold night and we can use a lot of ingredients from our garden (okra, peppers, parsley). Last night it came out pretty well (but to quote Tony Bourdain, I didn't offer it to anyone who (1) hadn't already spent a few hours drinking free beer and (2) wasn't already my friend). All I know for sure is that the bowls were empty.
While I personally really enjoy making gumbo, it is a lot of work to do right. It is also the one dish that I make that always has some improvisation. Unlike Dad, I am drawn toward perfecting a recipe and being content with it, but for Gumbo, I am always trying something new or adjusting based on what is available.
To make this gumbo, I first roast some chicken. I used to just use chicken breasts and cut the meat into cubes, but it is much better if you roast it bone-in, let it cool completely, then shred it with your hands. Usually I just use the breasts and put the rest of the chicken in my stock. Remember to sear the outsides over high heat and finish it in the oven.
The stock needs to boil down about 35 minutes, but more would be fine. My stock has whatever chicken I did not roast (including the skin and fat I cut off), 3 quarts of prepared chicken stock (though a few times I have made my own), 1 quartered onion, some chopped carrots, a tablespoon of whole peppercorns, one teaspoon of kosher salt and a tablespoon of parsley.
While the stock is gently boiling, I make the roux. The "magic ratio" is a half cup of flour and one-third cup of vegetable oil. I put it in a large dutch oven on super low heat and stir it constantly for at least 30 minutes. The best tool is a dollar store wooden spoon with the end cut off to be flat. You really have to keep it moving the whole time and cook it super slow. I usually recruit help. If it burns (and it is easy to smell that), trust me: throw it out. Once it burns it can neither be saved nor eaten (I actually once saw a dog - a real life dog - sniff burnt gumbo and turn away).
Once the roux is brown and the stock reduced, I add 2 diced onions, 1 diced green pepper, 2 diced celery stalks and 6-8 diced jalapeno peppers to the roux. When stirred over low heat, this holy trinity and chiles will turn soft and almost paste like. Then I drain the stock through a sieve into the roux and add 2 cups of diced okra, the chicken and diced up sausage (Andouille rocks). Then, I let it simmer for as long as it takes my Jasmine rice to steam. When it's about time to eat, I add the raw shrimp and let that cook about 3 more minutes (I promise that is all it takes). Serve the gumbo over rice. I've been adding Tabasco to mine and serving it with crusty bread.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Roasted Chicken With Hot Peppers (Pollo Alla Diavola)

We had this for dinner on Tuesday night and I liked it so much I made it for just me yesterday. Since it serves two, there's a good chance last night's left-overs will be my breakfast today. I think it is that good, for several reasons beyond the great flavors.

First, it is simple. Only 10 ingredients and most of them are staples (One of Lacey's most enduring traits is how well stocked she keeps our kitchen, enabling us to put together a meal on short notice). The preparation is also "un-fussy": rub it, sear it, roast it, make the sauce, clean the plate). We love spicey food, but we are cognizant that the degree of affection for hot dishes varies among our friends and family, so I like that all the heat in this dish is al la carte; you can add as much or as little of the sauce as you like when your eating so everyone has it how he or she likes it. It also is done in stages, so when dinner it served, the motivated can have the kitchen pretty much cleaned up. Finally, don't tell my kids, but this is also pretty healthy.
To put this together, star by mixing the rub in small bowl. It consist of 3 Tbs of olive oil, 1 tsp of course or kosher salt, the leaves from 6 sprigs of fresh thyme (still growing in our garden, but not for long), freshly cracked pepper and red pepper flakes (both to taste). Once whisked together, rub it all over 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. It is probably a little better to do this the night before, but that is certainly not essential.
Ideally, you will want to let the chicken rest out of the refrigerator for about an hour before you begin to cook, so it cooks evenly (although again, this is not essential). When you're ready, you'll need an oven proof skillet (meaning without a plastic or rubber handle) with deep sides (as you make the sauce in this pan at the end). Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees and drizzle some olive oil in the pan. It is important to crank up the heat BEFORE you add the chicken so the oil is screaming hot when the chicken hits it. It should sizzle loudly, as we are looking for color. Start with the skin side down first, and once it is really brown (and frankly looks done, at least on the outside), flip it over and sear the other side the same way. With thick breasts, you may actually have three sides to sear, but you want a crust covering the external layer of the chicken, so it retains moisture.
Once the outside is well-seared, stick the pan in the oven for 45 minutes. During this time, mix together the sauce. This is where the secret ingredient comes in: It needs 1/2 cup of the pickling liquid from a jar of sweet cherry peppers and another 1/2 cup of the pickling liquid from a jar of hot chili peppers. I know this sounds weird and, well, it is. Please don't let that stop you from trying this. We used "Mezzetta" peppers and they are so good (but not for the faint of heart; their website is cool too). To this pickling liquid add 1 Cup of chicken stock (I don't expect you to make your own, but if you did from the rest of the chicken you self-butchered to get the breasts, I would be super impressed [Dad]). The only other thing in the sauce is 2 Tbs of tomato paste.
When the chicken comes out of the oven, remove it from the pan to rest. Then pour in your sauce and turn the heat back up. While it cooks scrape up whatever stuck to the pan (fond). When it cooks down and is somewhat thick, serve it with the chicken. I did it like a dipping sauce in a ramekin. This works great with roasted potatoes as the sauce is a natural accompaniment for them too. Toss some of the peppers on the plate for garnish. I expect this to be a regular in our rotation for a while.