Archive for May 2012

Variations On A Theme

May 27th, 2012 — 9:07am
gumbo pasta

Gumbo Penne Pasta

Sometimes you have the ingredients for a complicated dish but you do not feel like spending much time cooking a meal. In this case I had some andouille sausage and some frozen shrimp. This would normally lead me to making gumbo. Unfortunately that requires an investment of over an hour and a half of cooking time, with a fair amount of oversight. I have no problem throwing something in a pot and letting it cook by itself for awhile. But having to check in now in then was not in the cards.

This pushed me to find something that would cook in less than an hour and would be like gumbo. This led to one conclusion; a red tomato sauce using the gumbo ingredients. Honestly I approached this with some trepidation. I was afraid the tomatoes would overwhelm the other ingredients making it like marinara on the Mississippi. With a few tweeks, and reducing the cooking time of the vegetable ingredients, it turned out more like cajun on the Tiber.

In the end the celery and peppers were able to break through the tomatoes with a bit of remaining crunch. The addition of the pepper sauce and bay seasoning definitely gave it the hot New Orleans twist. Although I have to admit the shrimp were a bit lost with the other flavors, where as in gumbo they really hold up on their own. Not at all a bad combination if you are looking for something different on your pasta. So gumbo pasta? Not such a stretch after all.

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Odds and Ends

May 22nd, 2012 — 8:59am
cabbage and fennel gratin

Cabbage and Fennel Gratin

Sometimes you find yourself with some weird combinations of foods that through lethargy or the passage of time pose an interesting set of cooking challenges, or some would say opportunities. In this case I had one fennel bulb left in the garden that was about to flower and a head of cabbage in the refrigerator that was just about to reach the point of no return. I thought about doing some fennel and cabbage slaw. However the cabbage was not the freshest and the fennel was a bit tough having sat out in the heat of the approaching summer. Some sort of cooking was going to be required to use them in their current state.

I fell back on the old gratin idea. Although this time I used a bit of a twist. Instead of the usual briny, melting cheeses I chose to go with a milder, less intrusive queso fresco. This allowed me to add some interesting spices, fennel and caraway seeds. I browned the fennel with some red onion first. I then cut the cabbage into eight pieces and I browned the pieces while trying to keep them relatively intact. I do not like the visual of mushy cabbage on a plate. The onion and fennel went on the bottom of a baking dish. The cabbage went on top. The mixture was sprinkled with fennel and caraway seeds and topped with the queso fresco. I added a bit of broth, in this case beef broth, although a vegetable or chicken broth would have worked just as well. I baked the whole mixture covered for about an hour.

The result was really quite good. It was cheesy but not overly so. The cabbage pieces made a nice presentation on the plate. And the fennel and caraway made it just interesting enough to write down the recipe. So if you ever get caught with some cabbage and fennel you might want to try this twist on a gratin.

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Old Inspirations

May 14th, 2012 — 8:01am
chicken marsala

Earthy Chicken Marsala

As the spring harvest winds down (leeks, fennel, and greens) and before the summer harvest kicks in (tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant) there is a period of rather uninspired cooking. After a while there are only so many chicken parts to braise, pork sections to roast or grill, and pasta sauces from canned ingredients that you end up in an endless cycle of good but ho-hum meals. Without the inspiration of truly fresh ingredients I find it hard to get excited about preparing another meal.

Although certain habits never die no matter the season. Once again I had one of my oh-my-god-these-are-so-cheap moments in the grocery store and bought a huge package of skinless, boneless chicken thighs. Packaged for a family of eight or ten they were too tempting to pass up. Despite the money-saving inspiration I was dreading another pounding, breading, browning and saucing moment with the chicken thighs. I really needed a less labor-intensive project when I remembered chicken marsala.

Of course there would be some pounding, some dredging in flour, and some browning of the thighs. But the thighs could be finished in the sauce. And there is something so appealing about loads of fresh mushrooms cooked in wine to top the chicken. To make it more inspiring I used fresh sage from the garden to add another dimension to the sauce. Served over a bed of buttered fettucine, the earthy goodness of the mushrooms shone through with just a hint of the wine served with a tender, braised chicken thigh. I had long ago forgotten about this recipe. Thanks for old inspirations.

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