Friday, December 26, 2014

Marinated Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms and Shallots

Believe it or not, there was a time when a pork tenderloin was only a few dollars. Boy, do I miss those days. Today, one will pay upwards of seven to eight dollars for one!

Pork tenderloin was one of my favorite meats to prepare. Quick and easy. Lean and nutritious. A cinch to pop on the barbecue. (I've included links to my favorite recipes at the end of this post.)

When I saw some in the grocer close-dated and marked down to four bucks, I grabbed the two that were left. One I just seared and baked. But I wanted to be a bit more adventuresome with the second one.

If you don't like star anise, use a bit of Chinese Five Spice instead--maybe 1/4 teaspoon. This had lots of flavor going on. I paired it with plain white rice.

Don't let it marinate for more than two hours. I like my pork just a bit rosy in the center--about 145 F. degrees on an instant-read thermometer. 


  • 1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce (I only use Lee Kum Lee)
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 small garlic cloves, pressed or crushed and minced very fine
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme flakes, lightly crushed
  • several shakes smoked paprika
  • 1/2 small star anise, slightly crumbled or 1/4 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice
  • 1, 1.25 lb. pork tenderloin, silver skin removed
Mix the first eight ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste. Re-season to taste remembering most of the marinade will cook off. Place tenderloin in a plastic bag and add marinade. Massage a bit. Place in refrigerator and marinade for at least one hour and no more than two.

When ready to assemble and bake have the following prepared:

  • 4-5 ounces white mushrooms, sliced (about 4-6)
  • 2 - 4 tablespoons or so of sliced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon flour mixed with--
  • 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2-4 tablespoons dry white wine (or stock)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (a good nob)
  • Pre-heated oven at 400 F. Degrees

Heat an an oven-safe pan (about 7-8 inches) over medium heat until hot. Add a bit of butter and olive oil. Remove tenderloin from marinade. Shake a bit but do not dry it off. Add to pan. Is fine to curl it around the pan the sides of the pan. Sear on four sides until brown. You are not cooking it, just browning the outside.

Add the dry white wine and butter to de-glaze the pan. Allow alcohol to cook off a minute or two. Add sliced mushrooms and shallots. Continue turning the pork as mushrooms cook a bit. When mushrooms begin to give off their juices, add some of the flour/stock mixture. You probably won't need all of it and will want to add more half way through the cooking process.

Transfer pan to oven. Bake for about twenty minutes, adding more stock mixture if necessary after about ten minutes or so. Roast until instant-read thermometer registers 145 F Degrees. Remove from oven. Tenderloin will continue to cook in hot pan. OR ... after removing from oven ... transfer tenderloin to serving plate/board. Tent with foil for about ten minutes before carving. Add a bit more butter/stock/wine to drippings in pan with mushrooms. Place on low heat on a burner. Stir. Combine. Taste.

Carve tenderloin into 1/4-inch slices. Place around rice. Drizzle rice with pan drippings or a bit more soy sauce. Top with mushroom mixture.

Lovingly, serves two. Piggishly, one. Frugally, three. Anorexically, four.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Rosemary and Garlic

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hobo Soup with Hamburger and Vegetables

I had forgotten this recipe was waiting in the wings of my "new post" file. I know I harp on and on about soups. But, honestly, they they are surprisingly, even amazingly, easy to prepare. They are nourishing. They use the most humble and inexpensive of ingredients. For some reason, people seem intimidated by making soups. Really, it's just about chopping and dumping. What could be easier?

I love the two vowels ... "o" and "u" supported by the the consonants ... "s" and "p." To me, soups are like poetry ... they insist on inspiration and creativity ... how to use what you have on hand ... how to understand ... your own experience ... ingredient by ingredient ... word by word ... Potatoes? Add it in. Or pasta. This is your poem. And, yes, you can do it. You will do it. And, trust me, all the flavors will rhyme.

This was a hearty and satisfying soup dashed together with ingredients I had on hand. (Had I bit of green pepper, I would have used it.) I love the canned combo of corn with okra and tomatoes. (Heated by itself, it's fun to put over white rice with a bit of shrimp and ham on the side.)

I suppose this is best categorized as a "hobo soup," which is any soup thrown together by opening up some cans. I enjoyed the simplicity of a veggie stock. I felt both chicken and beef stock a bit too overpowering. Don't omit the fennel, it's what raises humble hamburger to a kind of Italian-sausage level. The cream mellows all the flavors. I sprinkled each bowl with a liberal amount of smoked Gouda. Any cheese would work as well. Or none.

Served with a hefty chunk of crusty bread for soaking, sit back and enjoy your poem. As with any soup, this just gets better a day or two later.

  • 3/4 cup ground beef
  • 1/2 large onion
  • 3-4 medium garlic cloves, smashed, skins removed, sliced
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 rib celery, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste --- several squirts from a tube
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme flakes
  • 2 pinches dried red pepper flakes--or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole fennel seeds, lightly crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1, 14.5-oz can corn/okra/tomatoes
  • 1 can rinsed, seasoned butter beans
  • 2 cups veggie stock
  • 1 good teaspoon beef granules ...
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Cheese for garnish
  • 1-2 tablespoons cream

Add a bit of olive oil to a stock pot. Add chopped onion, sliced garlic cloves, sliced carrots, and sliced celery. Sweat just until soft. Move to side of pot and add the ground beef along with the fennel seeds, thyme flakes and red pepper flakes. When brown, mix in the veggies and tomato paste. Cook for about one minute or so. Now add the can of corn/okra/tomatoes, seasoned butter beans. Mix through. Finish by adding the veggie stock, beef granules and smoked paprika. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a slow simmer. Cover. Continue to cook for about 45 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the cream and mix through. Re-taste for seasonings. Serve with grated cheese on top.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tomato Soup with Rosemary

If one were to think of clothing as food, then tomato soup is as basic as socks and underwear. You know what I'm talking about, that favorite pair of flannel boxers ... and woolly, thick warm socks to pad around on cold floors during frigid winter. Or how about those wonderfully comfortable blue jeans lined with a striking design of plaid flannel!

If you have a tin of tomatoes, a bit of onion and garlic--even a rubbery carrot and celery stalk, you can make this. Yes, you can! I'm leaving it rather basic--other than the rosemary, simply because I have an abundance of it right now--which includes a blue flower or two. How lucky am I?

Below are some embellishments. But, for now, let's start with the basic, comfy, sock-and-underwear version. And, hopefully, it will be shared ... Flowers? You decide. Although I believe ... ingredients such as these ... are our planet's greatest flowers.
  • 1 yellow onion peeled and sliced, a good 8 - 10 oz.
  • 1-2 stalks celery, chopped, about 4 oz.
  • 1-2 carrots, chopped, about 2 oz.
  • 2-3 plump garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 pinches red-pepper flakes or to taste (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
  • 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar, preferably dark
  • 6-8 tablespoons butter (Yes ... you heard me!)
  • 1, 28-ounce can whole tomatoes or two 14.5 cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1, 14.5-ounce can low-sodium chicken stock
  • 3 to 4, 3-4-inch whole rosemary sprigs, unstripped
  • Salt, not too much--no more than 1/2 teaspoon
  • Freshly ground black pepper, 10 - 20 twists
  • Smoked Gouda for garnish
Using a low-medium heat, gently melt the butter without browning in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic cloves, red pepper flakes. Lovingly and slowly simmer for about 20 minutes. The idea here is simply to flavor the butter and to stew the veggies. Put your face over the pot. Inhale. Are you happy?

Add the tomatoes and tomato paste. Add salt and pepper. Stir. Turn up the heat a bit. Add the brown sugar. Lightly bruise the whole rosemary stems with a rolling pin/wine bottle/soda can to release the oils. Sink them into the tomato mixture. Bring to a slow simmer. Add chicken stock. Cover and continue to simmer for 20-30 minutes until tomatoes are mushy and cooked through. Taste and re-season as necessary.

Remove spent rosemary sprigs. Here, you have two options. If you have an immersion blender, blitz the mixture until smooth; or, remove to a blender and whirl until smooth. I have an immersion blender and blitz until everything is well blended. Then I like to force the mixture through a sieve ... to make it even smoother.

Return to pan. Taste. Add another sprig of rosemary. Maybe a few slices of garlic. If desired, swirl in a few tablespoons of whole milk, half-and-half, cream. Grate with some smoked cheese ... Actually, I'm not too impressed with uniform grates of cheese ... crumble some with your fingers ... Feel it. Love it. Share it.

If you wish to dress this up (bereft of blue flowers), here are your other accessories. Do not, under any circumstances, pine away if you do not have them on hand. And do not run to the store to buy them:
  • Saute the veggies in bacon or pancetta before adding the butter.
  • Add a can or two of white beans; preferably, seasoned and smoky.
  • Corn? Okra? Go for it.
  • Lightly brown diagonally-sliced hot dogs or sausages to multiply said equation.
  • Kale? Spinach? Go ahead.
  • Basil? By all means. One can not subtract from this recipe.
  • Do you live on the edge? Then you want a bit of citrus zest--lemon or orange.
  • Want to gild the lily? Want to thumb your nose at a Campbell's kind of world? Then cast your vote for cheese. A genuine winner. Smoked cheese. A swirl of tangy sour cream or yogurt. A sprinkle of goat cheese, flavored or plain. And, of course, blue cheese.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Insanely Garlicky Sour Cream with Herbs

I work in the produce department at a grocery store. I'm right next to the deli/bakery-- specifically, the hot bar where they bring out all the fried food to keep warm. Lately, with such unexpected cold weather here in the South, I find myself passing up fried chicken wings and rotisserie chickens.

I desire the spuds. Seasoned wedges  of potatoes deep-fried. Crisp on the outside. Fluffy and warm on the inside. Comfort food at its best.

To jazz it up a bit,  I bought a small container of sour cream to dip them in. Mmmmm...

Then I got creative and starting adding stuff. At first, just garlic. Eventually, thyme, chives, and green onions. Black pepper. 

This is POTENT stuff and a little goes a long way. The longer it sits in the fridge, the better it is. A small dollop on a baked potato is bliss. I could see a bit swirled into a nice tomato bisque or potato soup. Feel free to vary the herbs. But don't skimp on that garlic!

It's important to mince the herbs as fine as possible.

  • 1, 8 oz. container sour cream
  • 2 plump garlic cloves (unpeeled, mine weighed 3 oz. total)
  • 2 small green onion
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 6-8 stems of fresh chives
  • Salt and pepper

Peel the garlic and roughly chop. Now sprinkle with a bit of coarse salt and using the broad, flat side of your knife, squish the garlic into the salt using back-and-forth long stretches. The garlic will turn all pasty and wet. Mix into sour cream.

Strip leaves from the thyme stems and mince as finely as possble. Mince chives and green onions. Place all three in a pile and mince even more. Mix into sour cream. Sprinkle with black pepper and mix through.

This really needs to sit for at least one day in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to meld.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Autumn Pansies

Here in the South, pansies are a staple of autumn. They are lovingly planted in pots, nooks and crannies, and en masse. They last throughout our mild winters. At night, they droop from the weight of the cold. But by midday, they are upright soaking in the sun. Around February and March, they really begin to take root once the soil begins to warm.

I don't understand why being called a "pansy" is a derogative term bereft of valor or manliness. These brave soldiers march through some our coldest weather ... but they always 'weather' the storm. They are true survivors.

I call the feline in the foreground my "cat from Pompeii." When my cat Chalk first saw it, he hissed.
My pumpkins will last until spring. I then crack them open so the squirrels can feast on the seeds.
I seek pumpkins that are marred or different.

My favorite birdbath. It's made of some kind of special cement. It's
heavy as steel!

This little guy has been with me for decades.
Here, he's staring into my living-room window.

Since I live in an apartment, my patio is my yard -- although I've expanded it a bit. The little
fountain in the washtub will gurgle all winter. I like the sound and look of water
in a garden, regardless the size.

The black-eyed Susans (such an unfortunate name for any flower) put on a great show this summer.
They re-seed themselves every year. No garden is complete without them or a daylily or two.

This autumn, we've actually has some wonderful windy days, unusual here in the South.
The weather vane enjoyed it!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Potato-Sausage-Bean Soup with Caraway and Horseradish

By now, dear readers, you can tell the kind of weather we are having here in normally-warm, sunny North Carolina by the many soup recipes I have been posting (and here is yet another!).

We are having unusual, cool, foggy mornings. Wonderful! Damp, rainy, dark afternoons followed by cool evenings. Wonderful! To my friends, I define this forecast as "Michigan weather." They chuckle. And do not approve. Some even call it "depressing."

But ... this weather forces me to wax nostalgic for all things Midwestern. I am not depressed by my roots. Instead, I am inspired. And, in this recipe, the flavorful roots go all the way back to Russia and Lithuania ...

... In particular, the humble potato. Lately, I'm stuck on potato-based soups swimming in savory, smoky, creamy broths. These recipes are all about the out-of-doors and campfires -- without the camping. Indoor hearths with amber embers. Never mind stoves worth thousands of dollars ...

Here, I use store-bought Polish Kielbasa and seasoned butter beans. Oh, seasoned butter beans, where have you been all my life? Yes, I admit it. Sometimes I open a tin ... and eat them cold right out of the can. Am I a hobo? Perhaps. But who could not love that word: HOBO.? A poem in and of itself. And, so, I call them HOBO beans in honor of that glorious class of Americans who rode the rails in the 1930's. Think Pete Seeger ... 

I'm not sure if seasoned, butter beans are a Southern phenomenon. I hope not, for all the world deserves these little gems. Each soft bean tastes like the best ham-and-bean soup you've ever savored. If you do not have access, use cannelloni beans. But do not omit the tiny bit of caraway seed, horseradish or smoked cheddar. Feel free to sub the spinach for kale or escarole.

  • 8 oz. or 1 3/4 cup "onion base" a combination of leek, shallot, yellow onion
  • 8 oz. or 2.5-3 cups rough-chopped white button mushrooms
  • 14-16 oz. skinned, chopped, Russet potatoes, about 2 cups
  • 10-12 oz. smoked sausage, about 1 1/2 cups, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Red pepper flakes ... a pinch or two
  • 1, 14.5 oz. can chicken stock, reduced salt
  • 1, 14.5 oz. can beef stock, reduced salt
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup dry, white wine
  • 1, 14.5 oz. can seasoned butter beans, drained
  • 2-3 handfulls chopped greens, such as spinach, kale, escarole ...
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon crushed dry thyme leaves
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed, crushed
  • 1, 5 ounce-can evaporated milk
  • 1/2  cup lightly packed shredded, smoked cheddar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Refrigerated, fresh horseradish
  • Sour cream
  • Additional smoked sausage for garnish

In a dutch oven or soup pot, add your onion mixture and mushrooms with a bit of olive oil and sweat over medium heat just until soft. Remove from pan.

Put a bit more olive oil in the pan. Add diced sausage and fry over medium heat. When the fat begins to render, add the smoked paprika and a bit of red pepper flakes. Add the white wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken and beef stocks. Bring to a simmer. Add your onion and mushroom mixture, drained seasoned butter beans, potatoes, thyme, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Cover and gently cook for about 15 - 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft.

Remove from heat. Mix in the evaporated milk and smoked cheddar. Stir until cheese melts. Taste for salt and pepper. Add the lesser amount of caraway. Stir. Taste again and re-season if necessary. Add the chopped greens. Mix through and place back on low heat until greens are wilted.

To serve, thinly slice a few pieces of sausage to arrange on top. Place a teaspoon of horseradish in the center and a dollop of sour cream. Shave a bit more cheese on top. Enjoy. 

The second day, I reheated a bowl and made a Muenster cheese-and-ham grilled sandwich. I snipped
a bit fresh chives, too.

To slice your potatoes: first, slice lengthwise in half. Slice each half lengthwise again into three strips. Then cut into chunks crosswise.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My New Poem ...

A memory: I'm a high-school teacher in a small, rural Midwestern town. One unusually warm, spring day I decide to wear my Birkenstocks to school--the sandals that caused a scandal. Oh, my! About a week or so later a student in my World Literature/College Prep class proudly walked in ... in her new Birks! I can still see the smile on her face .... Her name was Amie. She is now a proud teacher in that same rural town with a very loving family.

In June, she posted a picture of her summer laundry. Get a load of that Cadillac-clothesline ... One thing I hate about living in an apartment ... is that I don't have a clothesline ... 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Autumnal Snack Ideas

I always get excited when pumpkins and gourds appear at markets. Autumn is my favorite season. It should remind us of the rich harvest and heritage of this planet. Its bounty. No one should ever be hungry. Ever. Politics starves us all.

It was a slow day at work the other day, so I made these little gems from left-over Clementines that serve as the mini pumpkin with a celery stem.

I feed the "dumpster kittens" that live behind the store. I feed them bits of cheese to lure them closer ... closer ... closer. Colby Jack was on sale, so I used that ... and as soon as I cut into it, I knew what I had to do --- candy corn! This little tray of goodies brought lots of smiles from customers' faces. I just wish they knew the plight of those poor kittens ... and so many other hungry Americans ... 

On a lighter note ... Don't forget my ever-popular Witch Fingers! More ideas to follow in the coming weeks leading up to Halloween.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Potato and Italian Sausage Soup with Leek, Mushroom and Escarole

My comrades at work said I could sell this! 'Nough said. Sometimes, I surprise even myself ... 

Soups are economical, nourishing and easy to prepare. A large, hot bowl of soup is a meal in itself served with a nice salad, crusty bread and beverage. This soup is so redolent with flavors, it's difficult to know where to begin. Leeks, pancetta, sausage combine to make a great base. To improve that base flavor, I added beef stock to the chicken stock to make it a bit more robust. The smoky, spicy, earthy chipotle powder with the cheese put this soup over the top. And, then of course, the comforting soft potatoes.

I recommend the pancetta instead of regular bacon. Most supermarkets sell it already chopped in a small package. Spinach would also work well in place of the escarole.

  • 10-12 ounces bulk sweet Italian sausage or about 3 links
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped russet potatoes
  • 1 cup chopped leeks, white part only (about one large)
  • 1 cup roughly chopped mushrooms
  • 2 cups chopped escarole or kale (I prefer the escarole)
  • 1/2 heaping teaspoon Italian spices
  • 2 cups reduced salt, canned chicken stock
  • 1.5 cups reduced salt, canned beef stock
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, cream, half-and-half or evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped pancetta
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked chipotle powder, divided
  • Smoked cheddar cheese
  • Croutons
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and peel potatoes. Slice lengthwise. Slice each half again, lengthwise. Chop into random cubes/chunks. Set aside.

Slice escarole down the center and chop until you have two cups. Set aside. Cut leek down the center. If dirty, rinse under water. Slice. Set aside. Chop mushrooms, set aside.

If using sausage links, remove from the casings. Add just a bit of olive oil to a soup pot. Add sausage and brown until done. Remove to a plate.

In the same pan, add just a bit of more olive oil. Add the pancetta. Once it begins to cook, add the leeks and mushrooms. Cook until softened, 5-8 minutes. Add a bit of the chicken stock to deglaze the pan, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. And remaining chicken stock, beef stock and 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a simmer and add half of the smoked chipotle powder, all the Italian seasonings, about 10 grinds of fresh black pepper and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir. Taste.

Add the potatoes. Bring back to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and add the cooked sausage. Stir. Taste and re-season as necessary, adding the remaining smoked chipotle powder if desired and more salt and pepper if warranted.

Add the chopped escarole and stir until wiltet. Now, off the heat so it does not curdle, add the cream or evaporated milk. Using a fork, mash some of the potatoes against the side of the pan which will thicken the soup a bit.

Cover, return to a low heat and simmer for about five minutes. Remove from heat and allow to rest 10-15 minutes so flavors meld. Ladle into bowls. Top with croutons and several grates of the smoked cheddar. Chives also make a nice garnish.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Easy, Savory Beef Soup with Mushrooms, Potatoes, Leeks and Thyme

Oh, this hit the spot on a cool, overcast day!

This recipe really began with the bowl my big sister gave me as an early birthday gift. I wanted something earthy, delicious, and visually appealing to fill it. This recipe fit all those criteria. Warm. Filling. Savory. With autumn just over the horizon, shorter days, cooler evenings, this hit the spot. 

There is nothing more classic than the combination of beef, leeks, and thyme. Add a bit of shaved Gruyere ... seasoned croutons ... and you have a soup worthy of any five-star restaurant.

And, it was so easy. Done in less than one hour. The ingredients of a good recipe linger on the palate. And lure you back for second helpings. Enjoy.

  • 1 good cup chopped leeks, white part only
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms (I used plain old white button mushrooms)
  • 3/4 - 1 cup unpeeled, roughly-cut red potatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (a bit more if using fresh)*
  • 1.5 cups beef stock plus more if needed (I used Swanson, low-sodium**)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Seasoned croutons (I used Pepperidge Farm seasoned herb cube-cut stuffing mix)
  • Gruyere cheese, grated

In a medium/large saucepan, drizzle in a bit of olive oil. Add the leeks and mushrooms and celery. Sweat for about 5-8 minutes over medium heat. The mixture will have reduced by about half as it cooks down.

Add the thyme and garlic. Cook 1-2 minutes. Mix in potatoes. Grind in pepper to taste and the salt. 

Add the beef stock and water. Stir to combine. Add the Worcestershire. Mix. Bring just to boil. Reduce heat and simmer a good 20 minutes until potatoes are tender and still hold their shape. About half-way through, add the butter which will give a richness and gloss and taste for seasonings. Add more stock/water if warranted.

When done, using a fork, mash some of the potatoes against the side on the pan to thicken the soup a bit.

Ladle into bowls. Top with seasoned croutons and cheese. Mozzarella would also work well, as well as any good Swiss. 

*When I have leftover fresh thyme I buy at the grocery store, I simply store it in the fridge, a bit opened. It will naturally "dry out." That is what I used for this recipe. If using dried thyme leaves, go easy at first, since it's a bit stronger. If using fresh, you may need a bit more. Season and taste as you go. 

**I find Swanson beef broth a bit strong, so I always water it down. My favorite is Pacific, in which case I probably would have used most full strength. This is why it is important to season and taste as you go.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Italian Sausages with Peppers, Potatoes and Cheese

Italian sausages, colorful fresh peppers, onions and potatoes topped with melted cheese. Better than pizza ...

Necessity is the mother of invention ... or, to put it another way, recipes are born from stuff in the fridge and close-dated tins in the cupboard.

I had several links of sweet Italian sausages, some leftover tri-colored peppers, a bit of cheese and a can of sliced new potatoes. I put it together into this ... And been living off of it for a few weeks ... minus any tweaks.

This is one of those recipes that is more of a "process" than a step-by-step set of ingredients and instructions. Because everything is really cooked in the pan, it doesn't need much time in the oven other than for everything to kind of meld together and then for the cheese to melt. I use a pre-grated, packaged Italian cheese blend.

Feel free to add other ingredients, such as what you would like on your personal pizza: mushrooms, black olives ...

  • 3-4 Italian sweet sausage links
  • 1 - 2 peppers, seeded and sliced, (red, green, yellow, orange ...)
  • 1/2 medium onion, sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon lightly crushed fennel seed
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1, 14.5 oz. can sliced new potatoes, drained
  • 3/4 to 1-cup packaged Italian cheese blend, grated
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed oregano leaves
  • 2 Tablespoons water or dry wine (red or white)

Add just a bit of olive oil and butter to a medium-sized pan over medium-low heat. When melted, add the peppers, onion, fennel seed, red pepper flakes, garlic and saute being careful not to burn the garlic. Just as peppers begin to soften, add the drained potato slices and oregano and warm through. Remove to a casserole dish. I use one that measures about 6 x 8 inches.

Add whole sausages to the-now-empty pan. If necessary add a drizzle more olive oil. Brown sausages on all sides over medium-low heat, turning often. It's not necessary to cook them through since they will bake in the oven. If you add a bit of butter, the skin of the sausage will brown even more.

Remove sausages from pan and nestle into the pepper-onion-potato mixture.

Deglaze the yet-again empty pan with water or wine, scraping up the good bits. Scatter over the sausage/pepper mixture.

Place, uncovered-casserole dish into a pre-heated, 350-degree F. oven. Bake about 15-20 minutes, sprinkling with cheese the last five minutes or so until it melts. If desired, place under broiler to slightly bubble and brown the cheese

OR ...

... and here is what I do ...

Bake casserole 15 - 20 minutes without cheese. Remove from oven and allow to rest about ten minutes. Plate to individual oven-proof plates. Generously garnish with grated cheese. Place under broiler just until cheese melts ... a tad longer if you want it to bubble and just begin to brown. NEVER EVER walk away from anything under the broiler ... Watch it like a hawk or it will burn.

Either way, garnish with a few springs of oregano or thyme ...

(Been living off this for several weeks now. Just love it. Hope you do, too. If so, comment. Click on the links below to share ... It helps me a lot ....)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Simple Baked Drumsticks

If it looks beautiful before it goes into the oven, chances are
it will taste even better than it looks when removed from the oven.

Drumsticks are a staple in my life. They are meaty, inexpensive and easily lend themselves to interpretive creativity when it comes to ingredients. Here I've done just the basics. Easy-peasy, a complete meal in one pan. Feel free to add your own ingredients, such as fresh mushrooms. With so many fresh, clean herbs, I wanted a bit "salty," for background contrast, so I settled on a handful of pitted Kalamata olives which melded beautifully with the tomatoes and potatoes. Add the grape tomatoes and olives during the last half of the baking process so they don't overcook.

This is more of a "process" than a recipe and it is similar to my recipe for Chicken Provencal (which I highly recommend), but without the onions and fennel seed ...

5-6 meaty drumsticks, washed and patted dry
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons melted butter
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
6-8 fresh sprigs thyme (be generous)
5-6 garlic cloves, unpeeled, slightly crushed (one clove per chicken leg)
Onion powder
Pepper, fresh-grated
Kosher salt
Old Bay's seasoning
10 - 12 grape tomatoes
2-3 red, new potatoes (or golden), about 2-3 inches in circumference, cut into large chunks
1/4 - 1/2 cup liquid ... white wine ... chicken stock (combination is BEST!) Maybe a bit more butter .... or you can just use water ...

In a 9x9 or 12 x 9 pan, mix the melted butter and olive oil. Roll drumsticks and potatoes in oil/butter mixture and then generously season with onion powder, pepper, salt, Old Bay's. Pull fronds from rosemary and tuck in around the drumsticks along with the fresh thyme sprigs.

Place pan in a pre-heated 400-425 F- degree oven and bake/roast for about 20-25 minutes. Remove. Turn chicken over. Add tomatoes and olives. Pour in liquid (and a bit more butter, if desired) and return to oven for another 20-25 minutes.

Remove and allow to rest a good 15 minutes. Be sure to allow one garlic clove per drumstick. I like to squeeze it out to smear over the chicken. Sprinkle with a bit more Kosher salt if needed (potatoes take a lot of salt).

Notes: If you'd like a spicier chicken, add a bit of red-pepper flakes.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Easy Beef and Mushroom Rice

Somewhere in my childhood, most likely on a holiday, this dish appeared in the dining room to rave reviews. And then it disappeared to be resurrected every few years or so. I thought it time to actually write it down with instructions before it is lost.

It is, as the title says, "easy." Nowadays, the dried soup mix has been replaced with canned French onion soup. I made it that way but found it too sweet. Stick with the dried stuff. The mushrooms and thyme are optional, but I highly recommend using both. Don't bother adding salt, the ingredients already have plenty. Do give several grinds of fresh pepper. Sometimes I'll take a tiny clove of garlic, smash it a bit, and place in the center of the dish before cooking. Before serving, I remove it. It just adds a lovely garlicky hint.

This is great alternative to potatoes and a great side for a grilled steak or any cut of beef. Simple to prepare a day ahead and then just re-heat. Sometimes this recipe is called "Stick of Butter Rice."

  • 1 heaping cup uncooked white rice, (not instant), about 1 1/4 cups
  • 1 package dried onion soup mix (I use Lipton)
  • Dried thyme flakes -- about two pinches
  • 1, 10.5 can beef broth
  • 1, 4 oz. can sliced mushrooms, drained, liquid reserved
  • 1 stick butter (1/2 cup) not margarine
  • Pepper to taste
  • Water
In a 9 x 9 baking dish (or similar) combine the raw rice, dried onion soup mix, thyme flakes and several grinds of black pepper. Mix in the mushrooms. Slice the butter into pieces and randomly place on top of rice mixture. Add the beef broth. Add the mushroom juice to the now-empty can and then finish filling to the top with water. Add to rice/broth mixture. Cover (tin foil is fine, just make sure it's secure) and bake in 350 F-degree oven for about 40-50 minutes. The last 15 minutes or so, uncover, stir, and  allow some of the liquid to cook away.  Allow to rest 10-15 minutes before serving. If desired, give a sprinkle of fresh-grated Parmesan.

There will be no leftovers. Trust me.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Chicken with Cheese--"Chicken Rarebit"

Ridiculously easy. Great tasting. And a stunning presentation. As the English would say, "Scrummy!"

The word "rarebit" has everything to do with Brits and melted cheese ... A Welsh Rarebit  (often called Welsh Rabbit even tho there is no rabbit) is a combination of cheese, beer and spices and served over toast.

In this recipe, it is simply cheese grated over thin chicken breasts and topped with cherry tomatoes still on the vine. Also, this is one of those recipes open to a zillion interpretations. Don't stop at sharp cheddar. What about smoky-bacon cheddar? Or basil-tomato cheddar. For this particular write-up, I used razor-thin ribbons of Prosciutto. Lovely! I also scattered thinly-sliced onions on the bottom of the dish and tucked in a few nibs of garlic. 

Serve with a side of pasta, rice or potatoes to mop up the cheesy/tomato mixture. I used thin-cut, skinless/boneless breasts, but you could simply slice a regular breast yourself.

  • 3 thin-cut skinless/boneless chicken breasts
  • 3-4 ounces extra sharp cheddar (white or yellow) coarsely-grated (figure about 2 tablespoons or so per chicken breast
  • 1 tablespoon cream
  • Cherry tomatoes on the vine

The following is optional:

  • Prosciutto
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Fresh thyme
  • Smoked paprika

Lightly season the chicken with a bit of salt, pepper, onion powder and, if not adding fresh garlic, a bit of garlic powder. I also use a bit of Old Bay's for a bit of "heat."

Lightly spray grease a baking dish large enough to hold the chicken. If using onion sprinkle razor-thin slices on the bottom. This does not bake for long, so you don't want onion that is cut too thick. Place chicken in the dish. If using Prosciutto, layer a few slices on top of chicken.

In a small bowl, add the grated cheese and cream and stir well. I just use my fingers. Evenly distribute cheese over each breast. If desired, grate a bit more (I usually do). Tuck in some nibs of garlic. Sprinkle with a bit of smoked paprika. 

Place tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with a few stems of fresh thyme. I give them just a sprinkle of  olive oil.

Bake in a 400 F degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until the top is golden. Allow to rest 10-15 minutes before digging in. This is even better served cold the next day!

You really need to make this!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Smoked Sausage with New Potatoes and Thyme

When you have a food blog, most people assume everything you eat is gourmet. Nothing could be further from the truth . . . at least, in my case. I eat at Mickey D's often--but selectively. And, here in the South, I love Bojangles, a fried-chicken chain which often puts KFC out of business if it is near-by.

When I began teaching in the late 1970s, I lived on Swanson's Frozen TV Dinners. They were prepared in tin-foil trays for easy oven baking and clean up. The main compartment contained the meat, and the two smaller ones a vegetable and a dessert. Fried chicken was my favorite.

Microwaves were then still new. And expensive. That's when I began to learn to cook on my own ....

Today, with microwaves in every kitchen, it is easier than ever to find a decent-tasting frozen entree. Since my mother died, my father has discovered the frozen food section of the grocery store. For anyone in their 80s, how convenient to have a good, hot meal that actually tastes good in a matter of minutes! He loves Stouffer's. And so do I.

But, I digress ....

One can only live on "fast" food for a limited time. And then I want "real" food. LOL.

Last week I worked a 40-hour week in my "part-time job." By week's end, I wanted a "real meal." For me, a "real meal" is more about what you don't do than you do ... no microwaving. No take out. And a real veggie. Comfort food.

Since I work in a grocery store, I get first access to items marked down or I'm privy to what will eventually go on sale. This week it was sausages. I grabbed a package of all-beef Kielbasa. A can of sliced, new potatoes. And a can of sliced beets. From those ingredients, I put together a meal I savored. Along with a good, cold Stella Artois (well, actually two --- it gets hot here in the South!).

This is basically an "open-and-dump" recipe. But it's packed full of flavor. Warm. Filling. 

(One odd thing I noticed right away: the size of the sausage. I checked the packaging and it's no longer a 16-oz. package. It has diminished to 13 oz. but for the same price. Some brands have gone quite savvy. Instead of offering one single link, they package two to make it look like more.)

I've also made this with smoked turkey sausage and it's just as good. (Smoked sausages are already cooked. Don't use raw sausages.)

  • 1, 13-oz. package smoked sausage, (kielbasa, turkey, etc.)
  • 1, 14.5 oz. can sliced new potatoes, undrained
  • 1/2 cup sliced yellow onion
  • 2 small-medium cloves sliced garlic
  • Fresh thyme stems, 2-3
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Smoked paprika (optional)
  • Sour cream (optional)
  • 1, 14.5 oz. can sliced beets
  • 1 orange, washed

Slice the sausage on the diagonal. To a frying pan, add a drizzle or two of olive oil. When hot, add your onions and sautee just until they begin to brown. Add the sliced garlic and the sausage. Cook several minutes over med-low heat until warmed through. Add the undrained can of sliced new potatoes. Mix through. Pepper to taste.

Simmer on low until liquid begins to thicken and coat the sausage mixture. OR you can dust with a bit of Wondra flour or cake flour to hasten the process OR smash a few of the sliced potatoes to thicken thte sauce. A few minutes before pulling from the heat, add the whole sprigs of thyme and mix through. Allow to rest five minutes or so to allow the thyme to just fragrance the dish.

In the meantime, drain your sliced beets. Arrange on each plate and, if desired, give a grate or two of fresh orange zest.

Plate. If desired, give a slight dusting of smoked paprika and a dollop of sour cream on the side.

Notes: While I have not done it, I reckon one could sub a can of white beans for the potatoes.
I use Del Monte-brand sliced new potatoes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Chef Gordon Ramsay's Scrambled Eggs

I like Gordon Ramsay. Yes, he can be a bit intense and just plain mean. But, then, I figure those to whom he's "mean" are those who volunteered for his services and knew full well what they were getting themselves into.

For the past several days I've been watching his "The F Word" series shot in England. I can't get enough. What I'm enjoying most about the series is seeing the real side of Chef Gordon Ramsey. He is devoted to his children and his passion for well-prepared food spills over from his restaurant as he endeavors to educate Great Britain about its indigenous foods and to get women and families back into the kitchen.

I saw him make these eggs a year or so ago. And then Frankie over at Frankie Cooks made a similar version (both videos follow this post), but he did in a frying pan.

I skipped the cream in the original recipe, but a bit of Boursin cheese added at the end would be delightful.

These are wonderfully light and custardy. And, no, they are not raw. The addition of butter keeps them velvety and smooth. The traditional American version can be found here: Kitchen Bounty: Scrambled Eggs

I served them over my skillet bread recipe (I have a new version coming soon that uses semolina flour and powdered buttermilk)

  • 1 small saucepan
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 good tablespoon butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chives (optional)

Crack the eggs into the cold saucepan. Add about half the butter. Turn heat to medium. Break yolks and begin stirring with a heat-proof spatula. After about two minutes, you should begin to see "curds" forming. The trick now is to take the pan off the stove and stir a bit using the residual heat from the pan. Continue stirring, scraping the bottom. When just about done, stir in the remaining butter. The mixture should be custardy and not soupy. The whole process should take about 4-5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Plate.

Scrambled eggs.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hard Boiled Eggs

Breakfast doesn't have to be boring. And with warmer weather, it's fun to to move it outside on a patio or deck.

Here, I've simply boiled two eggs. On each, I placed a bit of mayonnaise on the warm yolk, salt and pepper, and topped each with a halved grape tomato and a flurry of torn basil leaves and a few chives. A slice of avocado would do well, too, Next time, I'll add a bit of smoked paprika. Maybe a drop or two of hot sauce ... lots of possibilities.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hamburger Soup

In some parts of the country, it's still soup weather. Here in North Carolina, I'm happy to say we are having honeysuckle weather. Unlike the North, honeysuckle here in the South is not a bush. Instead, it is rampant, wild vines. If you live near a wood, like I do, the scent is heady and intoxicating, especially at dusk when it is a bit humid and breezless. The scent literally hangs in the air for hours. I wish I could sip the scent through a straw!

While I may not be able to sip the air, I can slurp on some good soup!

I had some ground beef, sausage and bacon that needed to be used up. I fickled around the kitchen and found some other needed ingredients for this hearty, flavorful soup that uses the simplest of ingredients one most likely has on hand.

As with most of my soup recipes, it's a bit of this and bit of that ... as should yours be, too. Don't omit the smoked paprika which imparts that wonderful, woodsy autumnal flair. The smoked chipotle powder is wonderfully pungent.

Feel free to add any frozen veggies you have on hand. I had some corn and peas, so I threw in a handful. If you want more of a "stew," add less water--more for a standard soup. And be sure to taste as you go along.

The first time I made it, I used the standard, tiny elbow macaroni. Don't. It's boring and does nothing theatrical or utilitarian. On subsequent trials, I used mini-shell macaroni. It was perfect to catch bits of beef and sausage and an errant pea or kernel of corn. It performed admirably.

Soups by their very nature are forgiving in their assemblage. The result is always warm and welcoming. A great lesson for all us to learn.

  • 1 pound ground meat, you decide. It could be half ground beef and half Italian sausage or 3/4 ground beef and 1/4 Italian sausage. I use ground chuck and go about 1/2 and 1/2, using a mild Italian sausage.
  • 1/3 cup (about) chopped bacon meat. Pull the meat from the fat.
  • 1 envelope dry onion soup mix
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 cup yellow onion, sliced and diced.
  • 1 cup carrot, sliced.
  • 1 cup celery, sliced and diced.
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup green bell pepper, diced.
  • Any frozen veggies you have on hand--about 1/2 cup (optional)
  • 1, 14 oz. can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes, juice and all
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon dried Italian spices, gently crushed
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • smoked chipotle powder, just a shake or two or three (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4-6 cups liquid, half water/half beef stock
  • Fresh-grated Parmesan for garnish*

Brown the ground meats. Drain and remove. Add the bacon, onion, celery, chopped garlic with just a drizzle of olive oil to a dutch oven or soup pot. Saute until wilted and the bacon has rendered its fat but is not crispy.

Add the cooked ground meats and stir. Sprinkle on the dried onion soup mix. Stir. Add the can of roasted tomatoes, the bell pepper, carrots, Italian spices and smoked paprika. Add your liquid and the soy sauce. Stir. Taste for salt and pepper.

Bring just to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer for about an hour, tasting every-once-in-awhile and adjusting your seasonings. Towards the end, sprinkle with a bit of the chipotle powder if desired, and stir.

To serve, ladle into bowls, grate on some fresh Parmesan and garnish with a few celery leaves.

*If you have an old rind of Parmesan, throw that into the pot as the soup simmers and remove before serving, unless it has totally dissolved.