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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chorizo Eggs

Back when I worked at a Mexican restaurant in the mid-90s, I learned that I really like chorizo sausage and eggs cooked up together. The chorizo is so sassy and I just love what it does for the common scrambled egg. There was just one itsy-bitsy little problem... the stuff was always so greasy that, without fail, the end result was a wicked case of heartburn. It didn't matter which Mexican restaurant I went to; every time I would end up in misery for hours afterwards. It got to the point where the misery just wasn't worth the enjoyment.

I guess because it happened regardless of the restaurant I went to, I came to work under the assumption that the greasiness was just a part of chorizo. So, to be honest, I'm not really sure what came over me when I was at the grocery store last weekend. Perhaps it was that I hadn't had a ripping good case of heartburn for a while and was feeling nostalgic, but I decided I would try some home-cooked chorizo and eggs. While I can't say that it wasn't completely grease free (it is sausage, after all), it was nothing like what I experienced at all those restaurants. And after? Nothing! I enjoyed my breakfast and then continued on my merry way. And it was so easy and delicious. What a great change of pace from bacon, sausage, or corned beef hash (our three staple breakfast meats). This is definitely getting added to the rotation!

This was the sausage that I purchased. For my husband and me, I used one of the sausages and froze the other for later. To be honest, I think that this is a great breakfast meat; maybe because it is so flavorful, it goes a long way and makes you believe you've had more meat than you have (not a bad thing when you're married to a carnivore like my husband). Please note that the chorizo is not pre-cooked.

The other thing about this chorizo is that the casing needs to be removed. As far as I know (but I'm certainly not a chorizo expert!!), chorizo is usually used as a loose sausage. Simply heat up a skillet, remove the sausage from the casing and it throw in the pan. Let it get mostly cooked and add your scrambled eggs. For the 7.5 ounces of sausage, I used four large eggs and the proportions seemed to be perfect.

Serve immediately for the best flavor and texture. I served it with home fries for breakfast, but it's also really good as a main dish with rice and refried beans. Oh, and in case you've never had chorizo and are worried, in my experience it isn't spicy hot - and I have a very low tolerance for that kind of heat - it just has a darn good, peppy flavor!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Feta & Sweet Pepper Pasta

Last night was one of those nights where I started making dinner before I knew what we were having. I knew that chicken breast was going to play a role because - as usual - I forgot to pull something out to thaw ahead of time. I also knew that pasta sounded like a good plan. Unfortunately, we were out of Parmesan cheese. How do you make a creamy sauce for pasta without Parmesan? I was at a loss until I eventually saw the tub of crumbled feta I got last week to make my carrot salad. I wasn't sure how that would work, so I took a spoon out and scooped up some of the sauce that I had made so far and threw a few pieces of feta in there. I had no idea that feta could make such a delicious cream sauce!

On top of it, I had a clam shell of those cute little yellow, orange, and red sweet peppers that were starting to get wrinkly in the fridge, so they got thrown in there. Somehow, the flavors ended up being wonderful. I love it when "make-it-up-as-you-go" night works so well!

Now, the only problem is that making recipes this way is that it makes it a bit challenging to record the exact proportions because there is a lot of fiddling going on, but I think I can give you a good approximation. This is a great tasting sauce with pizazz and gusto. The green you see in the picture above is fresh parsley, but I think this dish would really be great with some spinach in it, too.

Feta & Sweet Pepper Pasta
Yield: serves 4

3 TBS butter
3 TBS minced shallots
3-4 large chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/3 cup chopped sweet peppers (the small ones have great flavor)
3 TBS white wine
3 TBS all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light cream
1 cup milk
1/3 cup crumbled feta
salt & pepper, to taste
2 TBS minced fresh parsley
cooked fettuccine noodles

Melt the butter over medium-high heat until pan is hot and butter is lightly sizzling. Add the shallot. Cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes. Maintain the heat and add the chicken. Make sure your pan is large enough that the chicken is not too crowded. You want to develop some good browned bits in the pan. When the chicken is well browned but not quite cooked through, add the peppers. Cook for another 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Turn the heat down to medium.

Add the flour and stir to coat the pieces in the pan. Add the cream and milk and stir until it begins to thicken. Add the feta and stir to help it melt in evenly. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Add the parsley right before serving. Serve over cooked fettuccine noodles.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Chilling Bat

I'm not sure I can convey the amount of joy I feel for the recent change in weather down here in Florida. While the majority of folks here are lamenting how "cold" it is (you know, temperatures below 60 degrees), I am singing hallelujah. Did you know that yesterday I took my dog for a walk and did not even break a sweat? Granted, I am a bit freakish in that department... what can I say? Apparently, I was genetically made to live in the desert. But, still! It was so enjoyable! I keep trying to tell myself that I simply have to trick my brain into thinking summer here is like winter up north in that you don't spend a lot of time outside. As far as I'm concerned, we're just now getting into the good season.

But, despite the cooling temperatures, I'm pretty sure we'll never really get truly cold here. One of my favorite things about living up north is that in the winter, I don't have to worry about food safety when it came to chilling things quickly. You never worry about putting hot soup into the refrigerator; you just stick it outside! It's like the largest walk-in cooler ever! I'm pretty darn sure I'll never be able to do that here.

That means I have to stick with using a chilling bat when I have hot liquid I want to cool down quickly. Putting a big pot of hot stuff into your refrigerator not only means that the liquid will take a long time to chill down but it will also warm up the other items in your chill box. That leaves a fair amount of time for little microscopic critters to get a foothold in your food. Down with food creepy crawlies! Away!

In restaurants, they use a chilling bat... or paddle... or wand. The gizmos go by many names, but they all have the same purpose: to help cool down your hot liquids quickly so that they spend less time in the temperature "danger zone." Here is a picture of a chilling paddle from the Webstaurant store. Do you know food service suppliers want over twenty bucks for such a device? Crazy!
But, don't you fret, because for less than $1.50, you can have your own chilling bat. Just carefully wash and remove the label from a 2-liter soda bottle. Fill it with water until it's about an inch shy of being full, put the cap on, and store in your freezer. The next time you make a pot of something that needs to be chilled down quickly, you've got it made! I reuse mine over and over. Just wash the outside between each use and replace in the freezer.

Not a bad deal until I can make my way back to the land of real winters...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fried Gizzards

It's game day! You know what that means, don't you? It means the football obsessed men in our lives are craving football food. And because it really turns out to be only 12-14 days out of the year, I like to oblige him. For my husband, football food means big sandwiches, hot wings, and fried food.

One of his favorites are fried gizzards. Although fried gizzards are much easier to find down here in the south than they were up north, I still just have a hard time with fried foods that have been held on a steam table. Kind of defeats the whole purpose of frying foods, if you ask me. I have another problem with store bought fried gizzards... they leave them whole. I just cannot tolerate eating a whole gizzard at once. The toughness in a mouthful of that size just does me in.

Here is what the gizzards look like whole when you buy them. Granted, that's just a paring knife there, but that gizzard is still nearly three inches across. I like gizzards for the flavor more than the texture.

So, I cut them into much smaller, bite-sized pieces. Not only do they cook more quickly and evenly, but they are much easier to eat. If you've always been a bit turned off by fried gizzards, I suggest you try them this way before you completely write them off. It makes a huge difference.

Now, I tried all kinds of batters and breadings, and the one that is the best is a simple batter. Fried gizzards, in my book, are best with a crunchy, dense (aka not fluffy) coating, so you don't want to add baking powder to the batter. Flour, water, seasoning, and a little bit of oil are all you need. It may sound odd to add oil to the batter when you are frying them in oil, but I really found that they develop a better color when there is a bit of oil in the batter.

Fried Gizzards
Yield: variable

1 cup flour
1 cup water (adjust as necessary)
2 tsp seasoning salt (such as Lawry's)
1 TBS vegetable oil

Cut the gizzards into nice, small, bite-sized pieces. Pat dry with a paper towel. Start your oil heating in a pan or frying appliance. Use a fry thermometer to keep track of the temperature. Shoot for keeping things around 375 degrees F.

Mix the flour, water, seasoning, and oil together in a bowl. The amount of water needed may vary depending on the flour and the day. You want a batter that is smooth and thick enough to coat the pieces well, but thin enough that you don't end up with huge chunks of batter clinging to the gizzards. Dip the gizzards into the batter and drop one by one into the hot oil. Stir to break them up (they will tend to clump when first added). Fry until they float and are a nice golden brown. Drain on a paper towel lined tray and sprinkle with a little additional seasoned salt. Serve immediately!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chicken Salad Sandwich

I think that there's a tunnel... I'm not sure I can see any light yet, but I'm pretty sure I'm at least in the tunnel. That's progress, right? This whole teaching a new high school science content area is rough stuff (I'm an earth science teacher suddenly being asked to be a chemistry teacher). You remember those old ads for the Peace Corps? "The toughest job you'll ever love." That's teaching, too. In a lot of ways, I really regret taking this job. I miss being able to do so many of the things that I enjoy doing - like cooking!

The other day I finally made it back to the grocery store and when I walked by the hot table with those rotisserie chickens, the smell was so enticing. I love those little chickens. You just can't beat them! Heck, you can't hardly even buy a raw chicken for what you pay for one of those rotisserie things.

I like to make all kinds of things from these guys, but lately, what I've enjoyed the most is the chicken salad. This dressing is so simple and quick, but you'll enjoy it like you slaved over it all day. Mix the chicken and dressing with whatever add-ins appeal to you. I used shallots, celery, and Craisins, but you could also add grapes, diced egg, or anything else that sounds good.

Chicken Salad Dressing
Yield: about 1/3 cup of dressing, enough for about 4 cups of chicken

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 TBS sugar
1/2 tsp poppy seeds
2 TBS white wine vinegar
salt and fresh cracked pepper
hint of lemon zest (1/4 tsp or so)
1/2 clove of "zested" garlic

In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, sugar, poppy seeds, and vinegar. Using a microplane, zest a little bit of lemon into the bowl. Then use the microplane to "zest" a little bit of garlic into the bowl as well (perhaps 1/4 to 1/2 tsp). Mix well and pour over diced or shredded chicken. Add desired mix-ins and serve in a bowl or on a sandwich.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What have I been making lately?

Not much, let me tell you. The nice thing about cooking from scratch, though, is that back in that world where I wasn't crazy, I put a lot of "convenience" food up in the freezer and pantry. Now, even though life is out of control, my husband and I can enjoy home cooked, healthy meals in the time is takes to blink an eye.

Soup and sandwiches have been enjoying a resurgence in our household lately. I just never get sick of eating homemade tomato soup! It is so good with a grilled cheese sandwich. I canned mine months ago, but every time I want to relive that fresh tomato goodness, all I have to do is open the pantry!

The other thing I eat a lot of are these muffins. I like the chocolate chip ones best (duh!). I make a batch every couple of weekends and then I have a good, portable breakfast. I store them in the freezer and then grab two out every morning and zap them in the microwave. My favorite part about heating them up in the microwave is that it gets the chocolate chips all gooey again.

Some days I don't feel like a muffin and so I make toast. I don't need to go to the boulangerie! I only need go as far as my freezer. Because most of my bread recipes make multiple loaves, every time I made bread in the last year, I had an extra loaf that I froze. Now I can reap the reward. I love that chewy, holey ciabatta di birra bread!

Then there's the weekends. I like to still throw together one good home cooked breakfast a week, but I've been a little tired lately. I love this pancake mix because when ready to make it you only have to add water and oil. And the taste! These are absolutely the best pancakes ever! The name does not lie; I swear.

I'm kind of sad about these guys, actually, because I finally finished them up. Talk about a quick fix weeknight meal, though! Drop the frozen raviolis into boiling water, throw together a little butter, cream, and cheese (the pasta triumvirate!) and less than ten minutes later, you are eating the perfect meal. But now they are all gone. It was a bittersweet day...

And what better snack is there than the curry cashew? If you store these guys in a canning jar with a sealing lid, they keep well for months. If you keep them in a plastic bag, you might get three days out of them. I just finished the last of these the other day, too. I love the salty, curry, garlicky taste. And a few always help me tide over until my husband can get home for dinner.

Oh... and then there's these guys. I've been trying to get around to making another batch of them for a month now. Actually, I always make a double batch when I make them, but I love fact that for a couple hours of work, I end up with the makings for 8 quick meals for me and my husband. Who doesn't love pizza? And I really like the fact that because we have our own individual pizza round, I don't have to compromise on toppings. I can put whatever I want on it! Including sun dried tomatoes. Yum! Maybe this weekend. Wouldn't that be nice?

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