Archive for February 2011


The Need for Speed

February 22nd, 2011 — 10:08am

Agnolotti in a Mornay Sauce with Mushrooms and Asparagus

Although I have slowed down a bit with the work load I am still often arriving home around 7:30 in the evening and sometimes much later. At that point something had already be on the table, or if I am cooking something, it better take as little time as possible. When I lived alone I would often just cook up some pasta, toss it with some butter and parmesan cheese, and call it a meal. It was usually quite satisfying if not quite a fully nutritional meal.

To increase the satisfaction and nutrition factor I have been experimenting with fresh pastas such as ravioli and tortellini which can be purchased usually in the refrigerated foods section of the grocery store next to the fresh pasta sauces. These sorts of pastas have come a long way since they were first introduced in the early 1980’s. I would say that most of them are pretty good, and some of them are quite good. You just have to experiment a bit to see which ones strike your palate in the correct manner.

To make it look like I actually cooked something I also have gone to a mornay sauce instead of just tossing some pasta with butter and cheese. It does add the extra step of having to thicken some milk with butter and flour. It also provides a handy base for adding some mushrooms, peas or other vegetables to add a more interesting dimension to the meal. In the case above, mushroom agnolotti is combined with a mornay sauce that includes some mushrooms and asparagus. This particular pasta by Buitoni is really very tasty. It has a bit more complexity than ravioli and the mushrooms and asparagus work well to round out the dish. I am not saying this is the most innovative way to make pasta. But it is ready in 15 to 20 minutes. Just what you need at 7:30 in the evening.

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An Early Spring

February 19th, 2011 — 9:55am

An Early Spring Al Fresco Lunch

Last week were covered in a three inch layer of ice. Yesterday the temperature peaked at 81 degrees. It looks like we will be going from winter to summer again this year. I have to admit that since I have moved to Dallas I have never seen a weather pattern change so rapidly. I still have not had a chance to wash all the salt and grime off my truck from the previous two weeks of nasty winter weather. And now we are dining al fresco with friends for lunch. It is not that I am complaining. It is just hard to adapt to all of these quick changes.

So seizing the opportunity I went ahead and whipped up a Catalan pastis (think crustless quiche) and a simple spinach salad with lemon juice, olive oil, and a sprinkling of kalamata olives and feta cheese. I opened a bottle of nice cabernet just for the occasion. And just for a moment it felt like we were in Rome, or Barcelona, or Buenos Aires or anywhere else but Dallas. Enjoying a casual, conversation-filled lunch. Ahhh…if only the weather would stay like this forever.

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Updates…

February 17th, 2011 — 8:00am

La Fogata - San Antonio, TX

After you have been writing a blog for awhile you realize that a few things on the site really need some updating. In rereading some of the early posts I also realized that a good editor would have been helpful in the beginning. A conversational writing style works well to a point. If you do not know me that well, my conversations can be a bit chaotic at times. Ergo the blog was a bit rambling in the beginning. I was thinking about reediting some of the entries. I then quickly reconsidered as the early entries were sincere attempts at finding a writing style. So the ramblings will stay.

As to the other updates we have two. I recently revisited La Fogata, the Mexican restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. I also found a better way to make the leek gratin. As to La Fogata I have to say that my original review was quite accurate. This is a great place to enjoy authentic Mexican cuisine. Now I know you are saying, “What does the old gringo know about Mexican cuisine?” (Or perhaps “El gringo viejo no entiende la comida Mexicana!”) But the old gringo does know a thing or two about Mexican food. And with the help of two people who were born in Mexico, my friends Lionel and Emmanuel, I was able to get a “si o no” about the place. Both said “si” and I did as well.

The last time I was there it was a very slow Sunday night. I did not get a really good feel about the restaurant when it is full. The second time I went on a Saturday night. Wow! It was like being in some chaotic Mexican mercado, with people, food and drinks flying everywhere. This type of atmosphere only made the evening more enjoyable. The staff was very attentive despite the crowds. The food was very good, this time I had pechuga poblano, a grilled chicken breast in a poblano cream sauce and topped with thin strips of poblano pepper, and my companion had the tacos campesinos, corn tortillas filled with chicken and refried beans. Both dishes were so simple and satisfying. This is not a place for a quiet date. But if you want some good, simple Mexican food I highly recommend it.

Leek Gratin Revised

I was also able to make the leek gratin the other night with my filet mignon. When I was at the store the leeks were of the very thin variety. It turns out that this is a much better way to make the leek gratin. The thin leeks seemed to be more tender and a bit sweeter than the larger option. And the portions are much more manageable than having some gigantic leek covered in cheesy goodness. I know most times you have to buy the leeks in bundles. If you are making the leek gratin try to get the leeks as thin as possible. I think it makes a big difference in the taste.

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Flavorful Filet Mignon

February 15th, 2011 — 10:37am

Pepper Crusted Filet

When I think of a special meal I guess I have a bit of a different idea about the whole subject. I would prefer to make a Catalan dish such as pork shank with white beans or maybe a French influenced dish such as poulet a la grecque. Most other people would tend to cook an expensive cut of meat. I suppose the price of the dish has an influence on how special the whole meal seems. There is also an attraction to the simplicity of cooking a steak. It is done in a matter of minutes and you can dress it however you like.

My special meal for Valentine’s Day was influenced more by the ease of cooking rather than the complexity of the dish. I opted for a filet mignon, cut 1 and 3/4 inch thick, to order. The issue with filet is that it is not the most flavorful cut of meat. The problem then becomes how do you enhance the beef flavor without overpowering it. I have a lot of tricks in the pantry to do just that. Last night I opted for black peppercorns and caramelized onions in port wine (The picture does not do it justice. Annie Leibovitz I am not).

The peppercorns are roughly ground and are used to coat the exterior of the meat before cooking. The onions are caramelized in butter and olive oil, and finished with port wine, which is reduced until the onions and port become a rather thick condiment. The filet itself is seared for a couple of minutes on both sides and then finished in a hot oven for an additional 5 minutes. The result is a medium rare filet coated in a rather sharp tasting peppercorn crust which is offset by the sweetness of the onions and port wine. The meat itself tastes a bit sweet with all the contrasting flavors.

Dallas is the steak house capital of the world. I have had filet mignon in just about every venue (I once had an expense account). This recipe beats all of those $40 dollar filets that are out there. Which is of course why I do not frequent many steak houses (I also lost my expense account). My two filets cost me $24. This left me with enough money to buy a nice bottle of wine (Rodney Strong Cabernet $18) and prepare my extravagant leek gratin ($4). For about $23 dollars per person we had a great meal at home and saved about $150. And while the kitchen table does not have much ambiance it was also a quick trip to an after dinner drink and bed!

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Chicken Noodle with a Twist

February 10th, 2011 — 10:01am

Chicken Noodle Soup

In researching quick and hearty soups there is no

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better example of the genre than chicken noodle. When I was a kid we would eat it by the gallon especially if we were feeling under the weather or when we came in from playing in the snow all day. The version we ate was the reconstituted variety out of a can. Luckily my culinary skills have improved to the point that I can whip up something a bit more healthy and satisfying.

I really do love the variety that is just chicken, broth, carrots, celery, and noodles. You can make it in about 15 minutes without much exertion. However, I usually like to add to the flavor a bit especially if I think a runny nose is coming on, or the house seems especially cold. What I add is a bit of diced ginger root and a touch of soy sauce. The ginger gives it a bit of spice. The soy sauce gives the soup a little bit of depth. It is not radically different from the basic variety. I also skip the parsley and use cilantro in mine. This puts it closer to the Asian category.

I guess we can debate the ins and outs of grandmother’s variety of chicken noodle soup or the variety with a twist. Either way it is one of the most essentially satisfying and quick soups you can prepare. And the next time you go to reach for the can, invest about 15 minutes in making the real thing. It is so much more satisfying.

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Warmth in a Bowl

February 4th, 2011 — 10:20am

Garbanzo and Spinach Soup

This week has been nothing short of miserable. The roads have been all iced over. The drivers her in Dallas are reckless on a good day. Perhaps if they were not they would wreck less; especially on the ice. And the temperature has not been above 30 degrees since Monday night. Adding to the mess we just received about 6 inches of powdery snow. All very pretty unless you have to drive to the airport later today.

Awaiting the Summer Weather

I have been using my time to work on the quick soup ideas. The next version is a garbanzo and spinach soup. I was not sure what direction to take this. When I think of garbanzos I think Middle Eastern or Indian. A bit of curry powder seemed in order. I swung it over a bit to Asian with some fresh ginger, a touch of hot chili sauce, and a splash of soy sauce. Not too much of any ingredient. I just wanted a hint of flavor.

Snowy Landscape

Much like the white bean and poblano soup it was quite hearty. The warmth came from the ginger and the chili sauce. The spinach added some heft to the soup; a bit of leafy goodness wrapping around all those filling garbanzos. With a bit of crusty bread topped with some melted cheese for dipping it really turned into a complete winter meal. For those of you less inclined to heat I think you can skip the chili sauce. After this week I needed as much heat as I could get.

Snowy Statue

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A Quick Winter Fix

February 2nd, 2011 — 10:04am

White Bean and Poblano Pepper Soup

I have been neglecting my kitchen duties of late working a lot of hours with not much time to prepare a meal or research a recipe for that matter. I decided that I could of course work on some soups for two reasons; with some canned broth and a few ingredients they come together quickly and with the cold weather I enjoy a bowl of soup at night with some bread or a salad.

A Good Day for a Nap

Fate intervened yesterday in the form of an ice storm. I think the Kharmic forces were telling me to slow down and take some time to cook again. I had already planned my soup that I was going to make after I got home from work. The good news is that there was no way to get to work with all the ice. So not only did I get to take a much needed day off, I was able to take a nap, and I was able to prepare a nice soup which did not take up a whole lot of time.

With our temperatures getting ready to plunge into the single digits, the white bean and poblano pepper soup really was perfect. It was hearty, but not heavy. The poblano peppers added a bit of spice. The white beans gave it a bit of substance. The cilantro and lime pushed this all the way over to the Mexican side of the recipe list. Although that was not my original intent. And to make sure this was fully Mexican I served it with quesadillas instead of bread. There is nothing like dipping a warm quesadilla into a bowl of beans or soup. Que rico! So if you are in a hurry but want something fairly substantial the white bean and poblano pepper soup will fit the bill.

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