Orecchiette with Sausage, Baby Kale, and Bell Pepper

Sat, Jan 17 • 0

Orecchiette_Pasta(Even though this recipe is called orecchiette, I’ve made it with other shapes of pasta. Rigatoni works well.)

2 ¾ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
5 garlic cloves, crushed
Freshly cracked black pepper
14 oz sweet Italian chicken sausage, casing removed
6 cups baby kale
10 oz orecchiette (or other shaped pasta)
¼ cup grated pecorino romano
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

Start a large pot of water boiling, with 2 teaspoons of salt.

Meanwhile, heat a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, onion and red bell pepper, crushed garlic, and the rest of the salt. Cook, stirring until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage using a wooden spoon, and brown for 10 minutes. Add the kale, and cover, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, then remove the cover, and stir and let the moisture evaporate.

Add the pasta to the boiling water, and cook according to the directions on the package. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Mix the sausage mixture and the pasta and the reserved water. Cook together until the water evaporates. Remove from heat and mix in the cheese and the optional red pepper flakes.


Cauliflower Soup

Tue, Oct 15 • 0

1 medium onion, chopped
1 leek, cleaned and chopped (white and light green parts only)
1 t salt
1½ T butter
1 cauliflower (about 2 lbs. trimmed, cut in half, and sliced into ½ inch pieces)
4½ c water

cauliflowerIn a large pot, sweat the onions and leeks with the butter for about 5 minutes with the salt. Add half of the cauliflower, along with the stem which you’ve peeled and sliced, and the water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 or 20 minutes. Add the rest of the cauliflower, and simmer for another 15 minutes. Blend the soup with an immersion blender until smooth.

When thinking like a weight-watcher, the only thing that you have to calculate, points-wise is the butter. Since this recipe makes about 6 servings, that works out to about 2 points a serving. Note: Don’t be tempted to replace the butter with bacon drippings, or the water with chicken stock — the soup is pretty delicate, and the strong flavors of these two items will overwhelm the subtle flavors of the cauliflower.

This recipe is based on an article in the September, 2013 issue of Cooks Illustrated. The reason why this recipe works, apparently, is the two stage cooking method. Cooking cauliflower for 15 minutes brings out the bright, pungent, cabbage-like flavors, while cooking it for 30 minutes brings out its nutty side. By splitting it up, you get the best of both worlds, but since neither flavor is going to knock you out, you can’t use other overpowering flavors, like garlic, bacon drippings, or chicken stock. And the beauty of the cauliflower is that when blended, you get all the satisfying feeling of a creamy soup without adding any cream.

The Cook’s Illustrated recipe goes on to have you add another 5 or so tablespoons of browned butter, plus some little bits of cauliflower sauteed in it, with a touch of sherry vinegar, but since I’m watching my weight, I eschewed the extra butter for a lower calorie soup.

 


Best Damn Smoked Chicken Recipe, period

Mon, Jan 9 • 0

This may be the best thing that could ever happen to a chicken.

I get a whole lot of compliments on this one. There are some members of my extended family who insist I bring this to any family gathering, regardless of the time of year. The technique of putting lit coals over top of unlit coals ensures a nice, long burn, and will provide enough heat for the 2-hour long cooking time. This recipe specifically relies on using a Webber kettle grill. You’ll need to further experiment in order to come up with the proper technique for a different kind of grill.

2 whole chickens, 3 to 4 pounds each
2 fist-sized lumps of chunk fruit wood
1 aluminium drip pan, 10×14
20 – 30 charcoal briquettes
cooking spray
1 cup salt
1 cup sugar
7 quarts of water

Take two chickens and cut them each into 8 pieces — 2 breasts, 2 wings, 2 drumsticks, and 2 thighs. Save the rest for chicken stock. Brine the chicken in 6 quarts of water that you’ve dissolved a cup of sugar and a cup of salt for 30 minutes to an hour. Remove the chicken from the brine and dry with paper towel. Season it with pepper, and spray both sides with cooking spray.

Soak wood in water for 15 minutes. (I’ve tried both apple and cherry wood, and can’t detect any difference in flavor, but do avoid mesquite because it’s just too strong a flavor.)

Light half a chimney full of briquettes and let burn in chimney until the top is white with ash. In your kettle grill, put an aluminum pan on one side and fill it with a quart of water. On the other side, put in 20 unlit briquettes, and nestle the wood chunks in it. Close the top and bottom vents of the grill to the halfway point. Pour the lit charcoal over top of the wood and the unlit charcoal, and put on the grill, and let it heat for 5 minutes with the lid on, then clean the grill and put on the chicken, skin side up, and putting the breasts around the outside, over top of the pan of water, furthest from the heat. Put the cover back on, and let the chicken cook undisturbed for 90 to 120 minutes.


Frenchman’s Franks & Beans

Tue, Mar 29 • 0

1 T olive oil
1 large leek

1 stalk of celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 or 3 sprigs of thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 small to medium russet potato, peeled and quartered
stock
or water
1 cup puy lentils
bunch of fresh spinach, chopped fine

salt & pepper

3 T balsamic or other vinegar
1 lb. (4) sausages (optional for vegetarians)

Trim and clean the leek, concentrating on the white and pale part, and cutting it into a small dice. (Reserve some of the dark green part for later.) Put in a heavy bottomed sauce pan with olive oil and the celery and carrot, and cook until the leeks have gone soft, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, make a bundle of the herbs and tie it inside the reserved dark green leek with some kitchen string, add it and the potato, and the lentils to the pot, and cover with water or stock (or both). Simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, monitoring to make sure the water doesn’t completely boil away before the lentils are tender but chewy.

Pierce the sausages with a fork, and cook them in a little simmering water, covered, for 5 or 10 minutes. Remove the lid, and let the water evaporate. If the sausages don’t shed enough grease while they are simmering, add a little butter or olive oil, and, turning frequently, brown over medium low heat.

When the lentils are tender, remove the herb bundle, and mash the potato (now softened) on the side of the pan to thicken the sauce. Add the chopped spinach and let it all cook down for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, taste for seasoning, and add the vinegar. Slice the sausages, and serve on top of the lentils.

One serving of the lentils is ½ cup, and is 3 points. One Whole Foods chicken sausage with basil and sun dried tomatoes is 4 points.


Hungarian Goulash

Sat, Mar 12 • 0

2 large red bell peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 lb boneless beef shank, or normal stew beef, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
Kosher salt & pepper
2 large onions, chopped
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 t caraway seeds, toasted and ground
3 T Hungarian sweet paprika
3 T all-purpose flour
2 T red wine vinegar
1 15 oz can tomatoes, diced
2 c low sodium beef broth
2 c low sodium chicken broth, or water
2 large russet potatoes, cubed
½ c lite sour cream
8 oz wide egg noodles, cooked according to package

Preheat the oven to 450°. Roast the peppers on the rack for 15 or 20 minutes, turning once. Remove them from the oven, and put them in a paper sack until they are cool enough to handle. Pull out the core, remove the skin and all of the seeds, and slice into bite-sized pieces. Set aside. Reduce the oven to 350°.

Trim the fat from the beef, brown in small batches in a dutch oven. Pour off the oil if it is scorched, and replace with fresh. Cook the onion until it is wilted, then add the garlic, the roasted red pepper, and the spices and cook until fragrant. Add the flour and stir until dissolved. Add the vinegar, tomatoes, and stock (or water) and bring to a simmer. Clamp on the lid, and put it in the oven for 1 hour in the oven.

Stir in the potatoes, and cook partially covered either in the oven or on the stovetop until the potatoes are tender. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, and stir in the sour cream. At this point, you might decide to let the whole thing cool and then refrigerate for a day. (Some people think it improves the flavor.) When ready, serve over egg noodles.


Wild Rice Stuffing

Sun, Nov 7 • 0

Tried this in a chicken last week. I’m usually against putting stuffing inside a chicken or a turkey, since it means longer cooking time, and increases the chances of bacteria, but I figured if I didn’t make the stuffing too tightly packed, and if I put it in the bird hot, just before roasting it, I could get away with it. The cooking time did end up being longer than I expected, but that may have been due to the chicken being larger than I usually go with (4½ pounds as opposed to 3). In the end, I think I liked it more than my wife did.

The following quantities are for a 3-5 pound chicken, but you could increase it for a larger bird, like a turkey. The recipe still needs fine tuning, and you could easily swap out or omit some of the items. For example, replacing the onion with shallots or leeks. You could replace or augment the chestnuts with the chicken or turkey’s giblets. (Note: I was enticed into making up this recipe by an article and recipes in the Washington Post food section. In it, they talk about the best place to buy prepared, steamed chestnuts, and that’s apparently Trader Joes. They sell them in skinny maroon-colored boxes, nearish the flour and other baking supplies in my local store.)

1 cup prepared basmati and wild rice mix (fully cooked)
¼ yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed
¼ cup chopped celery (ideally, the light yellow stalks and leave tops from the heart)
¼ cup chopped steamed chestnuts
liquid: vegetable or chicken broth, white wine, vermoth, or water
herbs: sage leaves, fresh thyme, to taste, finely chopped
salt and pepper

Prepare the rice ahead of time, and allow to cool. Avoid adding salt at this stage.

In a frying pan, soften onion and celery in butter or olive oil. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant (30 seconds). Add rice and chestnuts, and enough liquid to moisten, and allow it to  all get quite hot. Remove from heat, and taste for salt and pepper. You want it to be saltier than normal, since it’s going to flavor the whole bird from the inside. Add the herbs at this point, too.

Spoon the hot stuffing into the cavity, being careful not to pack it too tightly. Tie the opening closed with kitchen string. Roast in a hot oven (425°) until the juices run clear when you pierce the flesh near the thigh. Allow the chicken to rest, then cut the string and spoon out the stuffing before carving.


Roasted Delicata

Thu, Oct 21 • 0

In one way, I think my wife usually dreads the autumn, because that’s when I start doing things with winter squash. For the most part, she’s not into them. I think it has something to do with the way they sort of stick to your teeth, and their tendency to be sweet like sweet potatoes (also not on her list of favorites). So I was pretty surprised by her reaction to roasted and sliced delicata squash.

The delicata squash is ovoid in shape, with slight ribs running along its length. Their default color seems to be a light, creamy yellow, but that’s streaked with orange and green most times. They’re relatively easy to peel compared to most other winter squash, as the skin is smooth and mostly unblemished. I use a Y-peeler for the main body, pulling it towards me as I go, and a normal peeler for the rounded ends, which I trim off mostly anyway. I cut it in half, and core out the seeds and guts with a spoon. Then I slice the meat in quarter inch slices, toss them in olive oil and salt, and spread them on a foil lined baking sheet. I cook them in a hot oven, 425, for about an hour, tossing them halfway through.

The result is almost like french-fries, but with more fiber. She especially likes the dark and crispy caramelized parts. I bet if your kids don’t like to eat vegetables, they’ll dig these, too.


Bolognese Ragu

Tue, Aug 10 • 0

I ended up getting a bumper crop of red plum tomatoes from my garden this week, so I made this sauce. I prepared the tomatoes by peeling the skins off (dip into boiling water for 30 seconds), then cutting them in half, removing the seedy goo inside, and dousing them with a little balsamic vinegar on sheet pans, and then roasting them in a very hot oven. When they were done, I ran them through the food processor. But you could whiz a couple cans of plum tomatoes if you want. The trick about reducing the wine and adding it as a syrup is probably cheating, but it cuts down on the cooking time by 45 minutes. Overall, expect this sauce to take 2 to 3 hours to make. Freezes well.

1 onion, cut into 8ths
½c baby carrots
2 stalks of celery, cut into 3rds
2 T butter
½ lb ground beef
½ lb ground pork
½ lb ground bison (or ground veal)
2 T tomato paste
1 pint whole milk
2 c red wine
3 cans San Marzano plum tomatoes, whizzed in the food processor, or fresh tomatoes, treated as described above.
2 cups chicken stock

Run the vegetables through a food processor until they’re chopped quite fine. Put into a preheated, thick bottomed pot (over medium heat) with the butter and cook until softened and fragrant. Add the meat and break it up with your spoon. You’re not really trying to brown anything, just get it all into smaller pieces. Mix in tomato paste. Add the milk and bring it to a boil, then simmer until most of the liquid is evaporated, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, in a separate sauce pan, reduce the red wine to a syrup, then add it to the milk and meat mixture.  Add in the tomatoes and then simmer, simmer, simmer. Low and slow, with the lid off. You want it to barely bubble. Stir it often, and cook it until it’s thick.


Alabama Smoked Chicken

Sun, Jul 11 • 0

Caught a random episode of Cooks Country this weekend where they made an unusual barbecued chicken recipe. I tried to replicate it, though I didn’t follow the recipe exactly.

The weird part about the recipe is that the barbecue sauce is mayonnaise based, as opposed to ketchup based, and it was quite tasty. The real recipe has you smoke a chicken cut in half over hickory chips. I used apple wood. The real recipe has you rub the chicken with a mixture of salt, black pepper and cayenne, and let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes (or up to 8 hours). I don’t use cayenne because the people I feed don’t like the heat of cayenne, so I made a bit of a mix of salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and adobo seasoning.

The sauce is made up of a quarter cup of mayonnaise,  what was left over from the spice mixture I didn’t rub on the chicken, and a tablespoon of jarred horseradish.

So you cook the chicken (3 to 4 lbs., cut in half with the backbone removed) over an aluminum pie pan, with a chimney full of fully lit charcoal distributed evenly on either side of the pan, and then the soaked wood chips over top of the coals. I cooked it 45 minutes, skin side up, and then 20 minutes with the flesh side down. Then you remove the chicken and brush the sauce over top.


BBQ Pork Chops

Thu, Mar 18 • 2

3 or 4 thick cut natural pork chops, rib cut, on the bone
1 onion
whatever fresh herbs you have on hand (rosemary, thyme, sage)
3 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
water
2 tablespoons oil
ground black pepper
2 ounces port wine
¼ cup of your favorite bbq sauce

In a zip-top bag, combine the sugar, salt and about a cup of warm water. Mix to dissolve. Cut the onion into quarters or eighths, removing the papery skin. Add the pork chops and the fresh herbs. Zip the bag mostly closed and remove as much air as possible before closing it completely. Toss it around a little, then put in a shallow pan and let sit in the fridge, turning it after 4 hours. After 8 hours, remove the chops from the brine, and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan. Dry the pork chops of excess surface moisture, pepper each side, then fry in the hot pan, 5 minutes per side. Pour off excess fat, and replace with port wine. Put on the lid, and put it in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove lid, and baste with bbq sauce, return to oven for 10 more minutes. Remove from oven, and let rest for 10 more minutes.


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