Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Smoked Chicken and Sausage Gumbo OR Part 2 of "Failure Builds Character, My Ass"

(Tuesday) I'm sitting here staring at the computer because I'm making roux. I put it on about 8:30; it's 10:41 now. At first, I just left it to cook on low heat and stirred every now and then. It's the color of peanut butter now, so I have the timer set and every five minutes I go in and stir. Since I'm going for the really dark roux, the next hour promises to get tricky...that timer's not very loud and in a little bit I'm going to have to stand there full-time. That's okay...when The Not Nice Kid had her birthday party this year, I had it at a smokehouse restaurant and there was chicken left over...not just smoked chicken, but smoked chicken. This has potential.

Is it talking to you? Because it is sooo talking to me.

(Wednesday) This is the first time in 22 years I've made something that was totally inedible. I've made things we didn't like, but this wasn't just bad. It was AWFUL. It was beautiful, everything seemed to be working and the only thing I can figure is that I used too much roux. I know it wasn't burnt, and everything else that went into the pot was top notch so I'm guessing...a couple of tablespoons was all I needed. But nooooo, I was so damn proud of that beautiful caramel toasty mass that I used it all.

Live and learn. Just live and learn.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Asparagus Pasta

The salmon was good...not absolutely positively over-the-top good but as good as frozen grocery store fish can be good.

THIS, however, was great. The Big Boy rolled in from Aldi Saturday with asparagus...lovely tiny frozen ones and slightly larger fresh ones. (Remind me sometime...I just can NOT get the Aldi thing down. He does great...fresh German sauerkraut, with real German knackwurst a while back. Ninety-nine cent pineapples. Twenty-four cent cucumbers. I go in there and can't get past the stacked boxes and and the influx of people from Wayne County.) A while back he bought a box of Italian fusilli. I meant to do it with chicken in a cream sauce but...I didn't. It happens.

Asparagus Pasta
1 pound pasta...I used fusilli because it was here but I think bowtie would be nice
1 bunch fresh asparagus
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 cup water
1 bouillion cube (dissolved in the water)
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh thyme
1 cup grated hard cheese...I used Asiago; Parmesan or Romano would be nice
1 cup toasted pecan pieces
Cook the pasta just until done...rinse and set aside. Cut the asparagus into bite-size pieces, minus the ends, and saute in olive oil/butter for about four minutes. Add the red pepper and garlic and saute another two minues. Stir in the bouillion water and simmer another two minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Toss together the asparagus, pasta, cheese, thyme and pecans.

On the way to the grocery store I swore I wasn't going to pay $3.50 for a red bell pepper. Got there and lo and behold! There was one in the sale bin! Still had to pay $1.40 but when the dish came out, it was well worth it. I also used fresh lemon thyme, because that's what I put on the salmon. This was very good the next morning, cold out of the refrigerator. If I were going to serve it cold, as a pasta salad, I'd throw in a splash or two of balsamic vinegar.
(I know that picture's blurry and...can't help it. Don't know why. I'll worry about it later.)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Plank Salmon

When we lived in Texas, The Big Boy went to Alaska every year...actually, British Vancouver, I think. To go salmon fishing. They fished salmon and flounder (flounder? that may not be right. It was a flat, tasteless fish with a lot of bothersome bones) but after the first year we realized...we ain't messin' with the flounder. You fished for a week, lived in a cabin with full-time chefs, and ate everything cooked over a fire. Chocolate chip cookies cooked over a fire that to this day, he swears were heavenly. Everything was flash frozen on the boat as they caught it and then on the day you left, your fish was overnighted to your house...there were years the fish got there before he did. After the first year, he always traded out his flounder for salmon and they would mail me 90 or 100 pounds of real, out-of-the-creek, salmon.
This is how they cooked the salmon, creekside. The first time TBB told me how to do this I was doubtful...this sounds like too much seasoning for fish, even if it IS salmon. But after the first time we made it at home I was hooked. THEN, along came the cedar plank craze and it's like beer butt chickens...it's a keeper. Yesterday I was in another town (one with real grocery stores) and I bought a whole salmon fillet, plank included. So guess what's for supper tonight?

Cedar Plank Salmon
Salmon...steaks, fillets, your choice
Dried thyme
Seasoning salt
Rinse the salmon in cold water and pat it dry. Put it on a baking sheet or platter and sprinkle with seasoning salt and thyme (tonight, because I have it and it looks so pretty, I'm using fresh lemon thyme from the garden). Sort of pat the salt and thyme into the flesh, then sprinkle liberally with Worcestershire. Set aside. Submerge the cedar plank in salt water and soak for an hour.
Heat up the grill. Remove the cedar plank from the water and arrange the fish on the plank. Grill until your preferred doneness...most recipes call for flaky but we like it one hair short of total flaking. Serve with a crisp green vegetable and pretend you are surrounded by whales and icebergs.
HALIBUT!!! It was halibut and it was awful.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Green beans dressed from the yard!

It's possible I need to do some research on growing sage...that little plant is bearing definite resemblance to something blobby from outer space, as it attempts to take over the entire bed in which it is planted. It's getting ready to bloom, too, which sort of makes you wonder if James Arness is going to show up in the next couple of days.
The Big Boy came in last week with frozen green beans...small delicate beans he found at Aldi, of all places. Last night, after vacation and take-out for ten days, we ate "real" food...center cut pork chops, wild rice and green beans. But since going to the grocery store STILL hasn't renewed its appeal, I had to work with what we had. So...bacon and sage. I'd eat cardboard if it had bacon and sage.

Bacon and Sage Green Beans
1 pound fresh/frozen thin green beans
3-4 slices bacon
1/4 cup fresh sage, julienned
Salt, pepper and as a last thought, balsamic vinegar
Dice the bacon and cook until crisp. Throw in the sage, turn off the eye and stir. Set aside. Plunge the green beans into boiling water and cook for six minutes...I timed this from when I put the beans in the water as opposed to when the water came back to a boil, and they were a lovely crisp-tender. When they're done, drain well. Put the bacon/sage back onto an eye, turn it on high and wait just until mixture starts to heat up. Dump in the green beans and toss to combine...heating just enough to dry out the last bit of cooking water on the beans. Season with salt and pepper. After we got to the table, I splashed a little balsamic vinegar onto my portion and then...dressed the entire batch. Good!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Tomato Bites

My aunt in Columbus sent this recipe, and the first time I made it I messed it up every which way from Adam. And it was WONDERFUL!! These are yummy, and open to interpretation...I'll bet a couple of spoonfulls of corn would be good...or chopped tomatillos, simmered just until soft, instead of the tomatoes. Or a few black beans. So much food, so little time.

Tomato Bites
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 green onions, white and green part, finely chopped
4-6 strips bacon, cooked crisp, drained and crumbled
1 can Rotel, drained
1-1/2 cups four cheese blend
Mini phyllo shells or extra-flaky canned biscuits
Mix mayo, green onions, bacon, Rotel and cheese. Spray mini-muffin tins with Pam. If using biscuits, separate each biscuit into three layers (This was a little tricky because I was trying too hard to keep the layers equal. Just do the best you can.) and press into mini-muffin cups. If using phyllo shells, just set them into the cups. Spoon filling into each cup and bake at 350 degrees for about ten minutes. (This made 30 bites, with about one-half cup filling left over...so if you added some corn or beans, you could probably fill 60 bites which would be two cans of biscuits.)

First time I made them...got halfway in and realized those weren't green onions in the vegetable bin. I chopped a small red onion and it was fine. The recipe called for a package of Oscar Meyer Real Bacon Bits, but why? It also called for Hellman's, but I don't LIKE Hellman's so I used Kraft. AND, after I mixed up the filling and opened the biscuits I realized they were...cute biscuits. Too small. So I refrigerated the filling for a couple of days, until I remembered to buy the right kind of biscuit, and just spooned it cold into the shells.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Real Pie Crust

One of the things I'll pay for, when the time comes, is not appreciating the things my grandmother did for us. And right up there on the top of that list is...pie crust. Looking back I now know: that pie crust was a work of art. Heaven in a mouthful. But, at the time, I just didn't realize that getting a pie crust right? Can't be done. Just flat out...can not be done, the way my grandmother did it. I've tried.

Having said that (!), this comes pretty close and in this day and age...works a lot better. It makes five single crusts. You freeze them. You can use the food processor. I can do that.

Anne's Pie Crust

4 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1-3/4 cup shortening
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 large egg
Mix unsifted flour, sugar and salt in food processor. Add shortening, in chunks, and pulse just until crumbly. In a small bowl, mix water, vinegar and egg. Add to dry ingredients in food processor, just until mixture forms a ball. Divide into five portions, wrap in wax paper and chill at least 30 minutes. To freeze, wrap in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Cabbage and Polish sausage

This is one of those dishes that...happened. And since I wrote it down, will happen again.

My friend, Ann, had been telling me about cooking cabbage and Polish sausage. She layered them in a baking dish and baked it. And that was it. Layer it. Bake it. Well, maybe.

So when they came for St. Patrick's, she brought the dish and it was...surprisingly good! She drizzled the top with a little olive oil, covered the dish with aluminum foil so the cabbage sort of steamed and then cut it into squares. Served it with sour cream. Interesting.

But because we had a TON of food, there was about half the baking dish of cabbage and sausage left over. I scooped it onto a sheet of aluminum foil, wrapped it and put it in the refrigerator. And then?

A couple of days later I took it out and since it was chilled, it was solid. I chopped it into small pieces, put it in a dutch oven with some olive oil and sauteed it. Chopped an onion and added it. After everything was steamy and well-acquainted, I added a 28-ounce can of tomatoes. A chicken bouillion cube and some extra water. And then about 12 ounces small, cooked tortellini. It looked really good, but I stirred in a couple of tablespoons of grated Parmesan on general principal.

It was a hit! A great hit! I served it with hot cornbread and butter, which I guess worked with the rustic theme.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Hawaiian Brie

This weekend is the first weekend...ever...that we don't have three million things to do. Best I can figure out as of now, other than a junior high dance tonight, we don't have to do anything anywhere. I am overjoyed.

So on my way out this afternoon I'll pick up goodies for the weekend, and for breakfast tomorrow, we'll have brie. The guy who taught me how to do this only used the bread and cheese; and he and his wife would open a bottle of wine and eat this and pears for supper, in front of the fireplace. I'm guessing he got lucky.

Tomorrow we'll have this for breakfast. I'm even thinking there's a cold bottle of champagne left over from something.

Hawaiian Brie
1 round loaf Hawaiian bread
1 round Brie
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup slivered and toasted almonds
Turn the bread upside down and slice the bottom off. Hollow out a circle in the top half, the size of the cheese. Set the round of cheese into the indention, pour the honey over the cheese and sprinkle with the toasted almonds. Place the bottom half of the bread on top of the top half, and wrap the entire concoction in aluminum foil. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes...you want to soften the cheese without totally melting it. To serve, unwrap and place on a round platter and slice into wedges. Serve with pears. And champagne. And good company.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Center Star Chicken Stew

Chicken Stew is a Center Star staple...all fundraisers, get-togethers and family reunions include a pot of chicken stew. GOOD chicken stew comes out of a black cast-iron kettle, over an open fire. That, however, also involves a lot of beer and an entire Saturday so sometimes, we fudge.

My mother grew up about 25 miles north of here, in another state, and she never heard of chicken stew. I moved to Fort Worth, in the middle of nowhere, and no one in my neighborhood had ever heard of chicken stew (although they all consider it a staple now.) I have NO concept of life without chicken stew...it fixes a lot of ills, it's really good and it's really simple. There is only one rule to follow and that is: Five Things. You only put five things in chicken stew. Get cute, add some other stuff and you have sinned and God will get you. Just mark my word.

The basic ingredients are chicken, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and corn. That's the five things. The proportions vary by family, and by occasion. If you're cooking for home? Half as many potatoes as chicken. Cooking for a crowd/fundraiser? Equal chicken and potatoes. No one will notice.

Center Star Chicken Stew
5 pounds chicken...whole, packaged, all-white, all-dark, your preference. Best is whole chickens, where you stew them, let them cool, debone and de-little black things and return the meat to the broth. This method also requires a Friday night before the Saturday. Next best/easiest is a bag of boneless, skinless breasts and a bag of boneless, skinless thighs.
2-3 pounds cubed potatoes
1-2 pounds diced onions
2 28-ounce cans diced or pureed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 28-ounce can corn
Chop the chicken, put it in a large stewpan and cover with water. Add a bay leaf or two and the onion. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer at least until done and an hour or so if you have the time. Peel and cube the potatoes and add to the chicken...no salt and nothing else. (For some reason at this point, if the other ingredients are in there the potatoes won't get done before Christmas.) When the potatoes are done add the tomatoes and stir well. Then add the corn and simmer for about 20 minutes to let everyone make friends. Salt and pepper to taste. (And if someone says, "This needs pepper," don't pour in an entire red and white can of pepper because if you do, the next day we'll have to pour out the entire kettle-full.)

Individuality...My sister-in-law likes tomato soup as part of the tomatoes. I like half whole kernel and half creamed corn. My sister doesn't like the smell of corn (I didn't make that up) so she uses shoe-peg, but that gets expensive for a crowd and besides...well, never mind.

When you first make this, it's all this stuff sitting in a pot. After it's cooked for a while everything melds...at a Chicken Stew (the event) there are no chunks of potatoes, they've all cooked down. And there are no chunks of chicken...just strands of meat throughout the pot. You eat this with slices of white bread or saltines. You season each bowl with Tabasco. You have a lot of cold beer.

And life is really good.
(Last year I paid...over $200...for this house-friendly black cast-iron pot. Number one, because I could make chicken stew at home and still have a semi-kettle, and number two because it came from a foundry that used to operate here.)