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 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 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.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Chorizo Jalapeno Shrimp 'n Grits

Ask anyone. Any menu anywhere I go, if shrimp and grits are on the menu, it IS my order. Every time. Every. Time.

This love affair started relatively late in my life on my very first trip to Charleston, South Carolina. I'd avoided grits all of my life having heard (from northerners, mind you) that they were tasteless, wallpaper paste glopped on a breakfast plate next to eggs and ham. 

On the other hand, I'd also heard from southern friends of the glories of grits...especially shrimp 'n grits. Could those northerners who never stepped foot south of the Mason-Dixon Line be wrong about a southern staple? I intended to do some serious investigation. 

And so in the midst of a South Carolina visit with friends, we took a jaunt to Charleston and the restaurant that first opened my eyes...and titillated my tastebuds. The site of my grits revelation was the restaurant 82 Queen on, where else(?) Queen Street. (Bet you can guess the street number of the restaurant, too.) 

Four of us arrived at the famed restaurant and were seated in the most beautiful walled and wrought iron fenced cobblestone courtyard at the rear of the restaurant. Palm trees and magnolias soared above the gathering of glass-topped, white-painted wrought iron tables and butterfly-backed chairs, while twinkles of floral color peeked from every green oasis around us. We settled in to order brunch. 

Three of us ordered BBQ Shrimp and Grits, I have no clue what the 4th (my husband, a non-fish/seafood eater) ordered. It simply didn't matter when I was on a grits quest, I was focused on the quarry.  

When the object of my eventual affection was placed before me - along with a beautiful Bloody Mary (it WAS brunch, of course) - I began to suspect those Northern opinions on grits were misguided. 

Upon my first taste it was obvious those lying sons-of-the-north were jealous the South had produced such a wondrous Southern delight. Sweet, local, wild-caught shrimp and smooth, creamy, cheesy, buttery grits...simple perfection on a plate. I was hooked. From then on, whenever and wherever Shrimp and Grits are on the menu, THAT is what I order. 

There are many other Northerners who have seen the light, of course. Steve Kish, one of the owners and the original chef at 82 Queen, is from Pittsburgh! Guess there are a few Northerners who appreciate - and MAKE - some of the best grits ever! 

Here's my little twist on classic shrimp and grits:

Chorizo Jalapeno Shrimp n' Grits

2 generous servings

  • 1 1/2 C chicken broth - I use a good boxed variety
  • 1 1/2 C whole milk
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 t salt
  • 3/4 C Stone Ground Yellow Grits (I order REAL grits from down South - good stone ground grits make all the difference! Where to I order them? Amazon. See my current favorite brand below. Of course you can get acceptable stone ground grits around Pittsburgh, but they ARE hard to find.)
  • 1 C cheddar cheese - use a good sharp one - and yes, I shred good cheddar by hand. Don't bastardize a great from-scratch dish with pre-shredded just won't be the same.

  • 1 link Mexican chorizo - the uncooked, raw chorizo, not the smoked, dried Spanish kind
  • 1 large jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, finely diced
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 9 cherry tomatoes, sliced in thirds
  • 12 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on

  • lime wedges
  • fresh cilantro, chopped

First, start the grits: In a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the chicken broth and milk to a boil. Sloooooowly pour the grits into the boiling liquids while stirring constantly to prevent any lumps. When the grits are all stirred in, add butter and salt and lower the heat to a simmer. Stir frequently to prevent sticking, burning and/or lumps. (Caution...grits bubble and spit so be on the lookout and don't get burned!)

When the grits are silky, creamy and thick, remove from heat and stir in the cheese thoroughly. Cover the pan and set aside.

Shrimp: In a skillet over medium heat, saute the chorizo, breaking it up into small crumbles as it cooks. When it's browned completely, add the jalapeno and onion. Continue cooking until softened and then add the tomatoes. Stir until the tomatoes start to give off their juices. THEN add the shrimp, cooking until just opaque - please don't overcook your shrimp into rubber. Thank you.

Assembly: Take 2 nice flat bowls and pile those gorgeous grits into the center of each. Spoon the shrimp mixture over the top of the grits, dividing evenly. Garnish with a sprinkle of cilantro and a nice squeeze of lime. Enjoy, y'all!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Jalapeno Chipotle Pork Chops with Tomato Quinoa

Good old fashioned pork chops and tomato rice (like we made back in the 60's when we thought they were gourmet) just got a makeover. In my kitchen. No, they're still not a fancy dish by any means, but they're still some doggone good eating.

The old version consisted of pork chops, canned tomatoes, onion, green pepper rings and instant rice. Period. 

The makeover? A little heat of jalapeno and chipotle, a bottle of beer (gluten-free in my case, maybe a nice Mexican beer for you?), a little accent of cumino and cilantro, some roasted sweet corn and instead of rice (confession time, I only had black, red and arborio and didn't want to use any of those), quinoa stood in to get a whole new thing going on. There's something to be said for a jazzy new dish that's still familiar.

You might want to add a green veggie or a salad, but with peppers, onions, tomatoes and corn already in the mix, if time is short what's in the skillet is really all you need. On top of that, it's so easy I'm putting this one into the "quickie" category...after all, it goes together quickly AND it's a one dish diner!

Jalapeno Chipotle Pork Chops 
with Tomato Quinoa

  • 2 T canola oil
  • 4 nice sized, thick, bone-in pork chops - I like center cut loin chops
  • Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 large jalapeno, cut in half lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 cans fire roasted tomatoes, UNdrained
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1/2 t dried basil
  • 3/4 t chipotle powder (seriously, if you haven't gotten yourself a bottle of this smoky wonder-spice, get ON it!)
  • 1 1/2 C quinoa - rinse well in a sieve under running water before adding to the skillet
  • a 12 oz bottle or can of your favorite beer - gluten-free, of course, to make this GF
  • 1 C roasted corn kernels (if you're roasting these yourself, dry fry in a skillet or buy already roasted corn in the freezer section of Trader Joe's (yep...MY choice!)
  • a handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

In a large skillet (I use my trusty electric skillet), heat the oil. Season the chops liberally with salt and pepper and brown them on both sides. 

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl mix the onion through quinoa together thoroughly. Once the chops are browned, spoon a pile of the mixture on top of each chop and then distribute the rest of the mixture around and between the chops.

Carefully pour the beer between the chops, cover, reduce the heat to simmer and cook for 45 minutes to an hour until the chops are tender and the quinoa is cooked. Check occasionally to be sure the liquid hasn't dissipated. If it's getting dry, add a little water (or more beer) and keep an eye on it.

Serve with a sprinkling of roasted corn and chopped cilantro.