Archive for October 2009


Gluten Free Alternatives

October 30th, 2009 — 9:40am

Gluten Free Eggplant Parmigiana

Gluten Free Eggplant Parmigiana

This should probably be a dual-themed post; how we are going to handle gluten free alternatives on the blog, and how necessity is the mother of invention.  One of my sisters is gluten intolerant and has to be very careful what she eats.  I think she opts for some blander cooking alternatives to be on the safe side of the gluten when in fact with very few changes to a recipe she could be eating many of the things everyone else eats.

A good case in point is a dish that Will invented.  We had a cold snap a couple of weeks ago and we had some eggplants still on the vine.  Will harvested, grilled, and froze the eggplant so we could use it at a future time.  Last night Will actually volunteered to cook dinner (an act worthy of its own blog post).  And although he was not sure exactly what he was making, using the grilled eggplant,  he essentially made eggplant parmigiana without all the breading and frying.  The dish was a bit denser than the regular version.  The interesting part it had a very nice smoky flavor which paired well with the red sauce and the browned cheese on top.  It also had less than half the olive oil found in the regular version. So bite per bite it is probably a healthier alternative as well. 

I have started indicating gluten free alternatives in the recipes.  For example the Gumbo recipe suggests doing away with the roux and thickening the mixture with corn starch.  My sister did just that with the recipe a while back and it was hard to tell the difference between the two versions.  I am planning on going back over the recipes to see if I can include some gluten free alternatives.  If so the recipes in the list will contain a “GF” indicating that the recipe is already gluten free or that there is an alternative recipe for people watching their gluten intake.

So kudos to Will.  He actually made dinner during the week.  And he discovered a new recipe at the same time.  I am not sure I can handle all this excitement at one time.  You can find the original eggplant parmigiana recipe and the gluten free alternative here.

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It’s On Sale!

October 29th, 2009 — 10:27am
Pot Roast

Pot Roast

I was in the grocery store doing all the things you are supposed to do.  I was not hungry.  I had a shopping list.  I grabbed a small basket so I would have to feel the weight of my purchases.  In short I was a man on a brief mission to pick up a few items.  Of course the check-list for smart shopping does not include a pair of blinders so you only see what is in front of you.  And there they were.  Rump roasts were on sale for $1.29 per pound.

Now I am not a person who cooks roasts all the time.  They are a lot of work and the timing can be tricky.  Just exactly when is the roast supposed to be done?  But a cheap rump roast is a cheap meal.  And, yes, I have been accused of being cheap (not frugal) once in awhile.  So the roast miraculously flew into my basket and then swiftly made its way to the refrigerator.

Of course when you buy something on sale you never really consider how much work it will be to cook the thing.  After all it is on sale and the price may never be this low again so you better just hop on it.  Then the day of reckoning comes when the roast is staring back at you from inside the refrigerator screaming “cook me!”

Luckily I work from home a lot so the five hour cooking cycle for the pot roast was not a huge obstacle.  It does bind you to the house.  And you have to remember to check on it now and then.  The end result, at least I tell myself, is definitely worth it.  I think I like pot roast more for the mashed potatoes and gravy than anything else.  And the meat was good.  I think I will wait until retirement to cook another one.

You can find my recipe here.

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Magic Wand

October 28th, 2009 — 10:17am
Chicken Mediterranean

Chicken Mediterranean

Last night there was some confusion over who was supposed to cook.  The situation ceases to surprise me.  As it will soon be  Halloween I dusted off my magic wand and whipped up something at the last minute.   Thankfully my magic wand comes equipped with a magic pantry.

There is of course the miracle known as red tomato sauce.  A versatile base for preparing just about any concoction to be placed over the top of pasta.  There are usually a few cups of the valuable sauce around.  The pantry also supplies little jars of savories such as martini olives (we never run out), capers, and marinated artichoke hearts.  And as previously posted there are always a couple of roasted chicken breasts in the refrigerator waiting to become part of a delicious concoction.  To this menu add a box of penne pasta and the meal is complete.

With intermittent sips on a cocktail this took about 30 minutes to pull together.  I made up a fancy name for it to make it seem like a lot of work; Pasta with Mediterranean Chicken.  It is tasty, savory, and above all else fast and easy.  So when your better half forgets it is their turn to cook dinner, skip the argument, and make them feel terribly guilty by preparing this dish.

My recipe is here.

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Mumbo Gumbo

October 27th, 2009 — 10:24am
Pot of Gumbo

Pot of Gumbo

Where did all the summer weather go?  As is typical in North Texas we went from 90 degress one day to 50 degrees the next.  It has been cold and rainy for about three weeks.  The cats are having their daily meeting of the Crabby Club. And Pee Wee the parakeet is so bored she almost fell of her perch the other day.

In order to save my sanity I went into Fall/Winter cooking mode full tilt.  I pulled out the old dutch oven and made a batch of gumbo.  I would have been satisfied with all the good smells; the andouille sausage browning, the onion and garlic sauteeing, the hot sauce simmering.  But the taste was not bad either;  just a hint of the butter in the roux,  the heat from the sausage and the hot sauce, the mild sea taste of the shrimp.  All of this in a big steamy bowl to be scooped out with a chunk of baguette.

While this process is going on the house takes on a different air.  Pee Wee starts to sing.  The cats go and curl up in a ball on their cashmere throws. (The cashmere was supposed to be for Will and me.  Have you ever tried to kick a cat off a cashmere throw?) And Will sips a cocktail in the kitchen while I dream of anyplace warm near the beach.

Gumbo is truly transfomative.  You can find my recipe here.

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Potato Habits

October 22nd, 2009 — 9:49am
Rosemary Potatoes

Rosemary Potatoes

When I was a kid I told the same joke over and over again to my father.  “Hey Dad, did you know that priests can kiss nuns now?  Just as long as the don’t get into the habit!”  Inevitably my father would break out in laughter and I would walk off thinking about how I was going to be the next Johnny Carson.  I am not sure who we should worry about more; my father who never ceased to laugh at this horrible play-on-words, or me who persisted in telling this joke for about 20 years knowing my father would still laugh at it. 

Some habits are admittedly bad.  I still bite my fingernails.  And some habits are admittedly good.  Like serving potatoes as a side dish with meat.    I am not sure who invented this pairing.  Perhaps the Incas served mashed potatoes with their llama.  Or maybe the Irish first discovered boiling potatoes with their meat in a stew.  Whichever culture invented this culinary pairing the habit still persists in our house.  The only question to be resolved is, “How do you want your potatoes?”

In the interest of speed of preparation my fallback is usually rosemary potatoes.  The ingredient list is short (potatoes, rosemary, onion, salt, pepper, and olive oil), the preparation time is minuscule (5 minutes tops), the cooking is not terribly involved (turn the potatoes twice), and the opportunities for a relaxing happy hour while the potatoes cook are only limited by your imagination.  Sure there is an argument for mashed potatoes, lyonnaise potatoes, baked potatoes, and delmonico potatoes.  But my favorite and the least amount of trouble to boot is the plain and simple rosemary potatoes.  Be careful of getting into the habit.

My recipe for rosemary potatoes is here.

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Fall Cooking Signals

October 21st, 2009 — 10:29am
Toonces Sunbathing

Toonces Sunbathing

Nature has a way of telling us that the year is drawing to an end.  The days get shorter, the temperatures slowly decrease, the leaves turn color, and the cats sleep in the sun to get a little extra warmth.  Yesterday our cat Toonces was practicing for the days of Winter when he sleeps in the front door baking in the heat of the sun like some buttery pie crust.

Fall also signals the time when Will awakes from his summer hibernation and begins to help out in the kitchen with some baked goods.  I am not sure what triggers this awakening.  Maybe it is a mix of light and temperature.  But when the apples start falling Will manages to find the oven again and out come some good desserts.

This is a good thing.  I am not a baker.  All that measuring and weighing ingredients makes my head spin.  And if it can be completely prepared in the Kitchen Aid stand mixer I will do my part.  But rolling sticky substances in a bed of flower on the kitchen counter makes me want to run screaming from the room.

Last night Will volunteered to make an apple crisp.  He likes to ease his way into baking season. And to make it extra special he told me that he soaked the raisins in vanilla liqueur and rum.  Now I understand the rum. But honestly I had no idea we had vanilla liqueur.  He told me it came from the depths of the bottom of the pantry.  A place I dare not venture without a flashlight and a sharp stick.  The good news is the apple crisp with loaded raisins was a big success.  You can find the recipe, sans the alcoholic twist, here.

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Fall Forward

October 20th, 2009 — 9:23am
Black Beans

Black Beans

It is getting to that time of year when our thoughts turn from fresh vegetables to more of the dried variety.  We enjoy dried beans and grains throughout the year but somehow they seem to fit in better with the heartier dishes of the Fall and Winter months.  Bean and lentil dishes bring out the heartwarming, rib-sticking memories of years past.

I also believe that beans and grains lend themselves to simple dishes.  For many of the people living south of the United States a meal of beans and rice is considered an entire meal.  Having been served this dish many times in many forms I can attest to its appeal.  As the saying goes in Mexico, “Barriga llena, corazon contento.”  A full bully leaves a happy heart.  And beans and rice certainly fits the bill.

But not so in our house apparently.  A meal of black beans and andouille sausage was met with derision last night.  “Not even a salad to go with it?” Was the response I got.  Alas, no, young Will.  Beans and sausage are all you get.  And be glad.  “Most people in the world cannot afford the sausage to go with their beans.”  I replied like a scornful parent.  So we ate like peasants last night.  A plate of black beans, and one link of andouille sausage.  I was  more than content when all was said and done.

My take on black beans can be found here.  Buen provecho.

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Quick Luxuries II

October 19th, 2009 — 9:30am
Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Risotto

Sometimes recipes appear a lot more intimidating than they really are.  I used to feel this way about risotto.  All that measuring and mixing and incorporating ingredients all at the right time seemed daunting.  So I usually saved my risotto eating for Italian restaurants in New York.  I would not even try risotto in, let’s say, Cleveland because no one would have the patience there to do it correctly.

My wake-up call with risotto came during my year of being a private chef.  My employer informed me that risotto was his favorite comfort food.  It was expected to be served about once per week.  When I balanced fear against a paycheck I quickly learned not only how to make risotto but also how to enjoy making it as well.  I found the addition of a glass of wine in my hands made the 20 minutes of stirring a magical time.

Risotto is also a dish that lends itself to variety.  Which means that as long you you have the basic ingredients you can raid the pantry for just about any other additions.  Among my many additions over the years included chicken, scallops, shrimp, asparagus, artichokes and on and on.  I have to admit though that my favorite always comes back to a simple mushroom risotto.

So pour yourself a glass of wine and begin cooking the recipe I offer here.

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Quick Luxuries

October 15th, 2009 — 9:10am
Scallops With Asian Vegetables

Scallops With Asian Vegetables

I think it is interesting how we connect certain foods with holidays or special occasions.  In our house if it’s prime rib it must be Christmas, if it’s filet mignon it is probably a birthday or anniversary, and if it’s turkey, well you get the gist of it.  Last night when I explained we were having scallops for dinner the response was “What’s the occasion?”

Usually I reserve the scallops for house guests or dinner parties.  There is no reason for this other than people expect me to whip up something wonderful when they come to visit.  So I go to my go-to recipes and that includes scallops.

The occasion last night was “Wednesday.”  I just felt like something other than the usual stuff.  And it had to meet my criteria of cocktail hour not being interrupted and little cooking time.

I invented this version of scallops with Asian-style vegetables a couple of years ago.  I was getting tired of the usual butter and champagne sauce for the scallops.  I thought a flavor contrast was in order.  So sweet, milky scallops were paired with crunchy savory vegetables.  It works beautifully.  And that’s not just my opinion.  We had a local notable chef over for dinner one night and throughout the meal he would not stop commenting about the scallops.  I’ll trust his opinion any day.

My recipe for this quick luxury is here.

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Two Essentials For Cooking

October 14th, 2009 — 10:05am

cookbooks

I was originally going to call this post “For Beginners.”  The reality is whether we are a beginner or an old hand cook we still adhere to some very basic recipes and techniques which we have to learn somewhere.  Long before the day of the ubiquitous cooking shows we had to rely on cookbooks and maybe a person who was kind enough to let us watch how recipes really came together in a meal.  Not having enough mentors around most of my learning was by trial and error guided by my old friend the Fannie Farmer Cookbook.  Whether it was telling the difference between a veloute or bechamel sauce or finding out how long to cook the turkey this book has stood the course of time.  My paperback volume purchased in 1983 is held together with heavy tape and stained with every conceivable splatter from the kitchen.  I suppose I could buy a new one but the old one seems to be such a good friend. I would hate to give it up.  This is one of those essential volumes to keep on hand to get you through the basics of cooking.  It has lots of good illustrations to help you truss that chicken or debone a duck.  This is my “go to” volume for everyday cooking.

The other essential I came to a bit late is a notebook where you jot down new recipes, changes to recipes, or any ideas that pop into your head.  I am a great experimenter.  Many of my original ideas turned out great.  However, if you do not write them down the next time you make them they may not be such a good idea.  Under much pressure I began documenting my ideas many of which I will share here in the blog.  I also use my notebook as a catchall for the recipes that always seem to be floating around on scraps of paper.  It is not an ideal filing cabinet but it keeps the scraps from floating around all over the kitchen.

My suggestions is this.  Get these two essential in your kitchen.  The first a good everyday cookbook for learning.  The second a good journal for sharing ideas.  After all that is what cooking is all about.

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