Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fresh Blackberry Chipotle BBQ Pork Chops

I have sinned. Although I try my darnedest to abide by the dogma of fresh, LOCAL ingredients, this burning craving for the taste of barbecue blazed in my summer-starved soul. 

In order to quench it, I actually had the audacity to buy fresh, gorgeous, sweet, thumb-sized, shiny blackberries to make blackberry chipotle BBQ sauce (for pork chops on the grill) when Lord knows they aren't in season around Western Pennsylvania. Not even close...the bushes don't even have blossoms on them yet! How DARE I?! 

Somehow, I think my error in judgment is worthy of whatever minor penance might be in the offing. 

Seriously, don't we sometimes take this whole thing just a little too far? Once in a while can't we abandon root vegetables and all varieties of cabbage after a long HARD winter, loosen up and live it up with a few out-of-season berries? I say yes! So we did. Deliciously. 

Chill out a bit and rush the blackberry season yourself, here's my recipe for Fresh Blackberry Chipotle BBQ Pork Chops. Oh...and I won't tell you've also committed the "local" trangression. That issue - and whatever your conscience demands - is between you and your CSA to work out!

Fresh Blackberry Chipotle BBQ Sauce for Pork Chops

  • 2 medium chipotle peppers from a can
  • 2 T adobo sauce (from the same can!)
  • 16 fresh blackberries - nice BIG ones - or 32 smaller ones
  • 2 t rice vinegar
  • 1 t granulated garlic
  • 1 T molasses
  • 4 nice thick bone-in center cut loin pork chops 

In a gallon size zip top plastic bag, add all the sauce ingredients, seal the top, and smoosh (yes, "smoosh" IS a proper culinary term...you read it here first) everything together until completely mixed and (relatively) smooth. Then add the chops. Marinate overnight. 

The "smooshing" of chipotles, blackberries and other sauce components into a proper sauce.

Take the chops out of the fridge about an hour before you're going to put them on the grill. Grill over low heat so the sauce doesn't burn...too much. 

While you've got the grill going, throw on lots of fresh sliced veggies for a whole meal on the grill!

NOTE: Think you can only use this sauce on pork chops? Really good on chicken and turkey, too!

NOTE 2: When I use only 1 or 2 peppers from a whole can of chipotles in adobo, I sure don't throw out what's left. I put the rest of the can into a snack-size ziplock bag and pop it into the freezer. When I need a pepper or two the next time, I just pull the bag out of the freezer, pluck what I need out and put the rest back in the freezer until the next time. Easy. And thrifty!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Garlicky Spinach, Feta, Tomato & Eggplant Stuffed Baby Eggplants

Dinner inspiration can...and definitely is...found everywhere. A walk through downtown might bring heavenly scents of garlic wafting on the breeze from open restaurant doors. My brain says, "Go home, woman, and make garlic butter shrimp!"

A stroll through the Strip along sidewalk displays of vibrant veggies has me craving stir frys of sweet red and yellow peppers, crunchy, candy-like bright green sugar snap peas and creamy white cauliflower to be heaped atop rice noodles found in one of a myriad of Asian shops we pass.

The Mediterranean blue tiled storefront of Penn Avenue Fish Company lures me in with its always-kept promise of fresh fish, both finny and shelled. I find it's always best to go looking for what might catch my fancy instead of having a plan. An open mind for what's new or on sale is requisite for a creative, spur-of-the-moment evening's repast. (Hmmmm...maybe some gorgeous fresh-not-frozen wild caught Georgia shrimp for that garlic butter shrimp?!)

And then there's Costco. Costco's inspirational? Sure is! If you've ever ventured into the Siberian cold of the veggie section, you know what I mean.

Lately, my favorite warehouse store seems to be the reigning champion of small veggies. Bags of mixed, tiny and colorful peppers, adorable, teeny weeny, finger-long cucumbers, giant containers of the smallest baby (preemie?) spinach around. Head-high stacked boxes of Brussels sprouts are the most minuscule green orbs I've found anywhere, ironically in the biggest bags to boot. Heads of Romaine or mixed red and green heads of lettuce no longer than 4 inches to make perfect lettuce wraps!

What did I find on my latest tour-de-Costco? Deep, deep purple...almost black...baby eggplants. Bought 'em, stuffed 'em, baked 'em, devoured 'em, loved 'em. Here's the recipe.

Baked and ready to enjoy. The top pic is "before"!

Garlicky Spinach, Feta, Tomato & Eggplant 
Stuffed Baby Eggplants 

  • Olive oil spray 
  • 1 T olive oil 
  • 3 mini eggplants, cap cut off, sliced in half lengthwise, pulp removed leaving a 1/4" shell - chop the pulp roughly 
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, chopped roughly 
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped 
  • 1 1/2 cups spinach, left whole if it's baby (or preemie) spinach, otherwise chop roughly 
  • 3/4 t dried oregano 
  • 4 small tomatoes, chopped (or 12 cherry tomatoes) 
  • 1 t salt 
  • 2 oz crumbled feta 

Set the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a shallow baking dish with olive oil and set the hollowed out eggplant halves in the dish cut side up. Spray the eggplant edges with olive oil

In a skillet over medium heat, heat 1 T olive oil and add chopped eggplant, onion and garlic. Saute until they start to wilt, but don't let the garlic burn. Add spinach, oregano, chopped tomatoes and salt. Stir until the spinach wilts. Remove from heat and stir in feta.

Spoon the spinach mixture into the eggplant shells. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the eggplants are soft, but not falling apart. Maybe 45 minutes or so. Remove the foil and brown slightly. Serve with chicken, steak, lamb (really nice!) or whatever protein strikes your fancy!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Twist On The Traditional Tuna Noodle Casserole

Is there anything as easy as a tuna noodle casserole? Take a can of tuna, cooked noodles, a can of mushroom soup, maybe a little cheddar, bake until its browned and bubbly and there you have your typical Friday Lenten dinner. Wham, bam, done. Unless you're gluten-free. Then it's a wee bit more complicated. (But not ALL that much!)

When it comes to a gluten-free tuna casserole, some of the basics are the same...or nearly so. Tuna? No issue there. Noodles? There are REALLY good GF noodles, so that's not an issue either. Good ol' Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup? Nope. That's where one of the things we (old fashioned) cooks take for granted goes awry.

Condensed cream of mushroom soup, this basic ingredient of the All American casserole is laden with gluten! What's more, this pantry shelf wonder is almost irreplaceable for that good, rich, traditional favorite national casserole dish. (Note the word almost in the previous sentence?) You may think what will I do?! How will I live the rest of my life without this old timey staple for nearly every family favorite casserole? The answer? Not a big deal, really.

These days I make my dish with lots of big slices of browned-in-butter fresh mushrooms instead of those teeny, tiny mushroom-ish specks in the tan-gray glop from the can. I add the color and flavor of sauteed red (and maybe yellow and orange, too, if I have them on hand) peppers and beautiful green spinach, a little onion and not only is the tuna mixture looking colorfully gorgeous, it's been pumped up with vitamins and fiber, too! Creaminess? Just a little Greek yogurt or sour cream (if you're feeling indulgent) takes care of that just fine along with lots of good sharp cheddar chunks that melt into ooey, gooey treasures studded throughout the noodles. Sounds even better than the original, doesn't it? It is!

Even if you don't have to watch out for that old demon gluten, you may just want to give this version a spin with regular "gluten-FULL" noodles. You know, the same ones you used in your old version? Maybe this one does require a few more steps than just opening a couple of cans, but I think YOU might just think those extra couple of minutes are worth it. I do!

Tuna Casserole Twist

Serves 6-8

  • 12 oz. package rotini pasta (twist shapes to go with the 'twist' theme!) - I used Barilla gluten-free rotini or you can use whatever shape you like best. Be sure not to overcook. Cook them just short of al dente because the pasta continues to cook in the oven and absorbs the flavors of the casserole.
  • 2 T butter, plus another 2 T to butter the casserole dish - soft butter to make the buttering easier
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 1/3 C red pepper, diced
  • 1/3 C yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 1/2 C fresh baby spinach, left whole (or if you have bigger spinach, cut into ribbons or chop roughly)
  • 1/4 C onion, finely diced
  • 2 cans light tuns in water, do NOT drain - broken into smaller pieces (I like light tuna for a casserole, but white for tuna salad)
  • 1 C Greek yogurt (you know I use Fage 0%) or sour cream, if you wish
  • Jane's Crazy Salt (my fave seasoned salt) - I used about a tablespoon as this is a big casserole and LOTS of freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 6-7 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, diced small

Set oven to 350 degrees.

While the noodles are cooking, melt 2 T butter in a skillet. Saute the mushrooms, peppers and onion until just wilted. Set aside.

Drain the cooked noodles in a colander. When all the water is drained off, put the noodles carefully back into the pot. Add the sauteed veggies, spinach, tuna, yogurt (or sour cream), Jane's Crazy Salt and pepper and stir gently. Add the diced cheddar, stir gently again. Butter a large, deep casserole dish with the remaining 2 T of soft butter.

Pour the mixture into the casserole dish. Bake approximately 45 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Texas Eggs In Poblanos


Texas Eggs In Poblanos

If you really use your imagination...and kind of squint your eyes a bit...do you see the resemblance of a poblano half to the state of (yeeeeehawwwww) Texas? Me too! Do real Texans make eggs this way? I really have no clue, but why not?! It makes a great name for a brunch dish that comes in a Texas-shaped edible container anyway.

Spicy chorizo, smooth and creamy avocado, sharp cheddar, sultry cilantro and some other TexMex regular customers all gathered 'round the kitchen this morning for quite the satisfying brunch. It didn't take a lot of Sunday morning effort, either. In fact, you could cut the peppers, grate the cheese and fry up the chorizo the night before. From there, it's a snap. 

While the eggs are baking, it even gives you lots of time to make a nice pitcher of Bloody Maria's or even a Michelada. I'm sure that's what they'd serve up with Texas eggs in Texas anyway. Saddle up for brunch, pardner!

Texas Eggs in Poblanos

Serves 1

  • 1 poblano pepper, (choose a nice big round one instead of a flat one - holds the egg) cut in half lengthwise, seeds and ribs removed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 link Mexican chorizo, fried and crumbled
  • 1/2 C or so of grated sharp cheddar
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 avocado, sliced and dipped in lime juice
  • 2 small tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 T chopped fresh cilantro plus additional for garnish
  • 2 T sweet onion, finely chopped
  • salt to taste
  • green Tabasco

Set the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the pepper halves into a shallow casserole dish and break an egg into each half. Bake approximately 20 minutes or until the egg is set the way you like it.

While the eggs are baking, make the fresh salsa. Combine tomatoes, onion, cilantro and salt to taste. Add a dash (or MORE) of Green Tabasco (I LOVE this stuff!) and spoon onto a serving plate. 

When the eggs are done, nestle them into the salsa, surround them with shredded cheese, sliced avocado, the cooked chorizo and garnish with more cilantro and lots of green Tabasco or even a little salsa verde.

This presentation is lovely...but right after the pic, I mixed everything up and piled it on top of the peppers. Maybe not as pretty, but easier eating! And that's what counts.

NOTE: Of course you can double, triple, quadruple the recipe to serve as many as you need!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Apple Bacon Black Pepper Waffles With Cracked Black Pepper Bourbon Maple Syrup

Hooray! It's brunch-for-dinner night! Honestly, tonight's dinner didn't start out to be waffles...originally they'd been planned for Sunday brunch...and the Sunday before that...and...well, you get the idea that we've been meaning to make them for a while. 

Somehow busy weekend plans and chores got in the way of a leisurely Sunday morning of cooking and brunching, especially now that warmer weather has just begun to peek from behind those winter skies. Although we never were able to find time to make them on a weekend, why not make crisp-outside, tender-inside waffles a reward for a hard day of weekday work? So we did.

My basic gluten-free waffle recipe (for a regular gluten-filled version, just substitute regular all purpose wheat flour - you know...Pillsbury or Gold Medal or whatever) was the base for a little bit of sweet, little bit of savory version filled with tart apples, smoky bacon and the bite of just a little black pepper to make an adult waffle. Topped, of course, with an equally adult syrup of bourbon, REAL maple syrup and cracked black pepper for a bit of heat to counter the maple-y sweet.

What to serve next to the entree when bacon was already inside the waffles? In our case, a simple mix of fresh blackberries and blueberries with a maple blood orange drizzle. Brunch...oops, make that DINNER was served! That's all we needed. Then again, maybe a blood orange mimosa or kiwi bellini might have taken brunch-for-dinner right over the top. Next time.

Apple Bacon Black Pepper Waffles 
With Cracked Black Pepper Bourbon Maple Syrup

Makes 2 waffles - 4 sections each

  • 1 C maple syrup, the REAL stuff!
  • 1 t. coarsely cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 T bourbon 
Mix syrup and pepper in a small pot and simmer for 3 minutes - gently. Let cool slightly and add bourbon. Done.

  • 1 1/4 C flour - Jule's gluten free all purpose flour or another GOOD gf blend if you want to make these gluten-free
  • 1/2 C corn flour
  • 1/2 C cornmeal
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 3/4 t. coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored, sliced thinly and cut into 3/4" lengths
  • 5 slices thick-sliced peppered bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 C milk - I use skim milk...eliminates the calories...NOT!
  • 5 T butter, melted
In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients, flour through sugar. Put the egg whites into your small mixer bowl and beat until the whites are still, but not dry. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat by hand the egg yolks and milk, then quickly beat in the melted butter. Add these to the dry ingredients and mix well by hand with a fork. When everything is well incorporated, add the beaten egg whites and fold them into the mixture with a rubber spatula until they are thoroughly mixed in. Add the apples and bacon and mix just until distributed throughout the batter. Let the batter rest an hour or up to 3 hours before baking. 

Now you're ready to make the waffles! Only you know your waffle iron. Only you know how much batter to use. My waffle iron holds 2 cups exactly. Yours may hold more or less. Only add what YOUR waffle iron holds so it doesn't ooze out the sides and make a mess.  My waffle iron doesn't need oil either. If your waffle iron needs it, use it. I LOVE my Cuisinart waffle maker!

Bake the waffles according to your waffle iron directions, keeping each batch warm as you finish up the batter. Serve hot with syrup for brunch OR dinner!

NOTE: I like to use leftover waffles for a breakfast sandwich. Take 2 waffle sections, put a thin slice of cheddar cheese between them and grill on both sides in a skillet until the waffles are crisp again and the cheese is melted. YUM!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mushrooms, Shallots, Chicken & Black Garlic Over Parmesan Polenta

This prolonged winter - as much as I really want to see it end - has given me another chance at making those cold weather dishes I simply haven't had enough of yet. 

Before the temps finally head into the 50's, 60's and 70's, I took the opportunity to make one last great big pot of chile the other night. And tonight? Tonight it was a new dish I'd been thinking about making for quite a while. 

I browned lardons of bacon and seared some thinly sliced chicken breast in the smoky rendered bacon fat first, then sauteed shallots, tons of mushrooms and fermented black garlic in the same pan. Once the chicken, bacon and veggies were ready, a hefty amount of white wine brought everything together to spoon lavishly over smooth, creamy Parmesan polenta. So good!

You've never heard of fermented black garlic? Neither had I until a recent stroll through the aisles at Trader Joe's. I love this stuff! It's sweet and mild and lush and garlicky and....I think I'll be coming up with more and more dishes to use it in. Since it's from Northern Japan (it says so on the TJ's package), Asian dishes are definitely next in the line up of black garlic menu items to try. 

Sweet, mild, luscious fermented black garlic from Trader Joe's - get yourself some!

Mushrooms, Shallots, Chicken & Black Garlic 
Over Parmesan Polenta

  • 2 slices bacon (or 1 if it's thick sliced), cut across into 1/2" pieces
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut across into thin slices
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 5 large cloves of fermented black garlic, removed from papery skin and pressed into a paste with the flat side of a chefs' knife
  • 3/4 pound assorted sliced mushrooms, I used half gourmet blend and half cremini
  • 1 t. chicken soup base
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 C white wine
  • 2 t. cornstarch
  • 1 T. water

In a large skillet, fry the bacon until it begins to brown and has rendered its fat. Add the chicken and cook through. Remove from pan, but leave all the juices in the pan.

Add the shallots and the black garlic paste into the juices in the pan and stir well. Once the mushroom begin to cook add the chicken soup base, pepper and the wine. Cook until the mixture comes together. 

Mix the cornstarch and water together and pour over the mixture in the pan, stirring gently until a smooth sauce forms.

To Serve, spoon the chicken and mushroom mixture over polenta and enjoy!

Parmesan Polenta

  • 8 C chicken stock - I used unsalted
  • 2 t. salt - use less if your stock is already salted
  • 2 C polenta
  • 3 T. butter
  • 2/3 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large, deep, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the stock and salt to a boil. Sloooooowwwwly pour in the polenta while stirring constantly. Continue stirring for a minute or two until you're sure the mixture is smooth. Stir frequently for another 20-25 minutes until the polenta is thick and smooth and creamy. Stir in the butter and the Parmesan completely. 

NOTE: I'll tell you a secret. I love this simple stove top dish, but I'd love it just as much without the chicken and using double the mushrooms. More mushrooms, more better! And if you used vegetable stock and left out the bacon - use a tablespoon or two of olive oil - and eliminated the chicken soup base, you'd have a nice vegetarian dish for Lent.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Not Quite Your "Basic" Stuffed Peppers

There are recipes we make month after month - or at least year after year - we take for granted that absolutely everyone makes the same. We (read "I") also assume that just about everybody knows how to make certain menu basics. Now, we Pittsburghers might consider "basic" what non-Burgers consider exotic...like stuffed cabbage or halushki or chipped ham BBQs. (Chipped ham BBQ sandwiches EXOTIC?! Bwahahahaha...maybe I'm exaggerating a wee bit.) 

Last week I actually saw a Facebook post by a pretty prominent food blogger/caterer/event planner/culinary team builder - and all round good gal - from Florida who said she was making stuffed cabbage, hadn't done so in many years (since she left Michigan), and did anyone have any suggestions for the perfect version? Did I have suggestions? Hey...I'm from Pittsburgh, of COURSE I have stuffed cabbage suggestions! 

Through the thread it became obvious that stuffed cabbage is NOT the same around the country as I had surmised. Some iterations use pork, some answering Facebookers were aghast at the idea of sauerkraut and tomato as a base for the cabbage rolls (something that I think of as standard along with the inclusion of rice), others even make a kind of sweet and sour version with raisins. Bottom line is that what I take for granted is a whole 'nother ball game to someone else. Which brings me to stuffed peppers. 

Basically, I make my stuffed peppers like my mom did except I use a little granulated garlic - something my mom would NEVER do, a packet of (shocked at this one?) Ranch Dressing mix, a touch of Worcestershire (woo-stah-sher) sauce, a touch of white wine and a few other things to give the dish a little more "character." (I have mentioned before that Mum's cooking was pretty bland...sorry Mum.) 

Regardless of the small(ish) differences, my recipe is basically the same as what I enjoyed around the chrome and Formica kitchen table in the 50's. Ground beef, rice, tomato all piled into peppers and baked. Oh, and while I normally use green peppers for stuffing, the abundance of red, ripe peppers in the fall allow me to use those beauties for a sweeter pepper and a prettier presentation. As luck would have it, both Kuhn's AND Giant Eagle had red peppers for $1.99 a pound ON SALE! What an out-of-season stroke of luck! Stuffed RED peppers it was. 

So here's my version. Maybe you make stuffed peppers yourself, maybe you don't...maybe your recipe is similar to mine, maybe it isn't. One thing I've found in life, it's always good to have options! 

(What ever happened to the stuffed cabbage La Diva Cucina made? She declared them glorious. Nothing like good ol' stuffed cabbage whether you're in Pittsburgh or Poland or even Florida! Hits the spot every time.)

Not Quite Your "Basic" Stuffed Peppers

Serves 4     

  • 4  green peppers - or RED! (multiple colors look really pretty - orange, yellow, too), tops cut off, seeds & ribs removed
  • 1  pound  ground beef, extra lean
  • 1/2 cup  instant rice -- uncooked
  • 1/2 packet Hidden Valley ranch dressing mix (Secret ingredient! Gives the filling a subtle, smooth flavor that balances the acid of the tomatoes and Worcestershire)
  • 1 small  onion -- finely minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 can  diced tomatoes, whirred in the food processor until chunks are gone and divided in half
  • 1 14.1 oz can Heinz tomato soup FROM ENGLAND  (find this in the imported-from-England/Britain section at Giant Eagle - this is gluten-free) or another equivalent brand if you're not concerned about gluten - divided in half -DO NOT DILUTE THIS, this isn't condensed soup so use it full strength as it comes from the can 
  • 1 t granulated garlic
  • 1 t salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 t oregano
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • Heinz (of course!) ketchup for the tops

Mix all ingredients but peppers (using only 1/2 a can of tomatoes and 1/2 a can of tomato soup). Mix it all up VERY well.

Stuff mixture evenly into peppers and place in deep casserole small enough to hold peppers snugly (so they don't fall over). 

Mix wine with remaining 1/2 can of tomatoes and tomato soup and pour around peppers.  Drizzle ketchup over the tops, almost covering.

Bake uncovered at 375 for an hour and a half or until browned, the filling is cooked through and the peppers are soft - longer if the peppers are large.

Serve with lots of sauce spooned over the stuffed peppers and a couple of good veggies - whole roasted carrots and Brussels sprouts are nice - on the side.

Bonus pic of these GORGEOUS carrots...don't you love the speckled one?

NOTE: The amount of filling (stuffing) you need is relative to the size of the peppers. If the peppers are small, you may have some filling left over. I say PILE THOSE SUCKERS HIGH with stuffing! 

If you don't have enough stuffing because the peppers are really big, make another half recipe of stuffing and that should do it.

NOTE 2: Not sure how many peppers you need to snugly fit into your casserole dish or which dish to use? Before you cut the tops off, do a trial run and see just how many you need or just which casserole dish works best for the number you need to make. Once you have the dish and the number figured out, THEN cut the tops off and proceed. 

If you don't have a taller casserole, instead of standing the peppers on end and stuffing a whole pepper, cut them in half lengthwise, lay them down in a shallower dish and bake stuffed pepper halves just like you would whole ones. Bonus? Stretches the recipe to serve twice as many AND cuts the baking time, too.