Thursday, December 30, 2010

Savory Stuffed Squid

I don't cook squid very often, in fact I go for months at a stretch without eating it or even thinking about it. But on a wander through Uwajimaya this week I was drawn to the seafood case and zeroed in on the tray of squid. I saw the array of glistening cephalopods, lined up soldierlike in precise formation, and my brain first registered "Wow! they look good", followed by "seafood-for-two priced under $3.00!" Eight large squid were selected, weighed and wrapped in record time and then joined the baby bok choy, lemongrass, kim chee and pickled ginger already in my cart. 

I usually buy calamari steaks and prepare them piccata-style with a lemon caper sauce. But this batch of squid was simmered in a Mediterranean manner, stuffed and nestled in a tomato sauce. Served with quinoa and bacon/balsamic green beans, the savory stuffed squid dinner rated two thumbs up.

Cephalopods have arms/tentacles attached to their head with a body/mantle trailing behind, not to mention changeable colors and an ink-jet defense system. I think Nature had a sense of humor when creating the squid.

Cleaning squid is time-consuming, but simple. First step - separate the body parts. Discard the head, finely chop the tentacles and clean out the mantle. 

Dice the stuffing ingredients and place in a bowl. This stuffing mix included chorizo, onion, Italian parsley and a mixture of cheeses.

Add the chopped tentacles, some capers, bread crumbs, pine nuts, garlic and a beaten egg. Mix until well blended.

The fun really begins with forcing the stuffing mix into those flexible tubes. It helps to put the stuffing into a plastic zip-loc bag, snip off one corner, and pipe the mixture into the body. The use of fingers is recommended to help fill the squid tube. Caution: stuff the tube lightly, or it might split during cooking.

Secure the open end with a small skewer or a toothpick. Add a thin coating of spaghetti sauce to the baking pan or dish, and arrange the squid on top.

Top the squid with the remaining sauce. Cover the pan with foil and bake.

Cooked stuffed squid look pretty good right out of the oven.

Savory Stuffed Squid

8 large squid bodies 5 or 6 inches long, cleaned and tentacles reserved
scant 1/4 pound of diced sausage (chorizo, hot Italian, linguica, etc)
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1/2 cup cheese, finely diced, grated or crumbled (parmesan, feta, etc)
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg, beaten
1 small jar of prepared spaghetti sauce
1/2 cup of wine or chicken stock
Optional garnish: parsley, basil, lemon zest, grated parmesan

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 f. Use an ovenproof pan or baking dish that will hold the squid in one layer.
  2. Keep the squid bodies whole but chop the tentacles into small dice. Place the tentacle bits in a medium bowl.
  3. Chop the sausage, onion, parsley and cheese into small dice and add to the bowl.
  4. Add the next seven ingredients (onion through egg) and mix to combine thoroughly.
  5. Using a zip-loc bag, spoon or fingers, loosely fill the squid bodies until they are almost full. The squid tube will shrink as it cooks and could split if overstuffed or packed too tightly. Close the opening with a skewer or toothpick.
  6. Combine the spaghetti sauce and wine; stir to mix. Spoon a scant layer of sauce over the bottom of the cooking pan or dish. Arrange the stuffed squid in a single layer on top of the sauce, then cover the squid with the remaining sauce.
  7. Cover the dish with a lid or aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover the pan and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
  8. Serve and garnish with parsley, basil leaves and/or lemon zest.

Serves 2 to 4

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Spicy Mango Chutney

Chutney? why would I make any when the pantry already holds several jars of Sharwood brand mango chutney? 

I can blame it on Trader Joe's tempting packages of Chile Spiced Mangos. That new item appeared in my shopping cart when I wasn't looking, or so it seemed. Around our house dried mango is a popular snack food. We love most things spicy, so chile heat topping sweet dried mango should be terrific, right? Wrong! One nibble was enough. We didn't like its mouth feel or the harsh flavor as a snack. The opened package of gritty, spicy, dried fruit sat on the shelf, rejected and fostering "food-waste guilt" every time I opened the pantry door. Finally, a week later, some self-induced pressure forced to do something with that damned 8-ounce package of chile mangos.

I skimmed recipes in cookbooks and online, looking for inspiration. In the end I worked out an approximate ratio of liquid to dried fruit, sweetened liquid (fruit juice) to sour (vinegar and lemon juice), and went from there. The ingredient list came from what was available in the pantry and the seasonings reflected flavors we like. The free-form afternoon chutney fest was organized; its goal was a thick condiment featuring sweet/sour/spicy flavors. 

The process was a simple one: chopping, measuring and stirring at a simmer. Only the dried fruit was briefly problematic, sticky and moist enough to grab my chopping knife. Kitchen shears were more effective in cutting up the apricots. 

Many recipes recommend holding the chutney for one or two days to let the flavors blend. We couldn't wait that long and kept taste-testing as the chutney cooked, checking for seasoning. We nibbled a few spoonfuls while it cooled, still checking for seasoning. Finally we spooned it over Hawaiian chicken meatballs and rice, and declared it a keeper. No need to adjust the seasoning. Yum! 

I can almost taste this chutney on a pork, brie and sliced pear panini, or accompanying grilled chicken, lamb or pork. Imagine it on a crostini with creamy cheese, or filling a baked wonton cup as an appetizer... There might not be any left to put in glass jars for canning. No problem, another batch won't take more than an hour to prepare. 

Diced dried chile mango bits

The rest of the chutney ingredients

Cooking at a low simmer

Spicy Mango Chutney with Hawaiian meatballs and rice
(Note: the blur in the center is a fast-moving fork!)

Filling jars of chutney for canning (hot water bath)

Spicy Mango Chutney

2 1/4 cups apple cider
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup (8 ounces) TJs dried chile mangos, in small dice
3/4 cup (6 ounces) dried mangos (regular, not flavored) in small dice
3/4 cup (6 ounces) raisins (or Sultanas or dried cranberries)
1/4 cup (2 ounces) dried apricots, in small dice
Extra liquid, if/as required

  1. Add cider, vinegar, lemon juice and  honey to a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Heat over medium heat until just boiling, stirring until the honey melts. 
  2. Add the curry and ginger; heat and stir briefly to incorporate. 
  3. Add the dried fruit and return the pot to a boil, stirring occasionally. 
  4. Reduce the burner heat to the lowest setting possible, and simmer until fruit is rehydrated and liquid is reduced and thick, about 20 minutes on my stovetop. Add more liquid if needed.
  5. Remove from the heat; cool; store for a day to let the flavors blend. 
  6. Refrigerate to store or use a water bath to can half-pint jars.

  • We ate it warm and the flavor didn't suffer. The recipe doesn't need any adjustments, but variations are always fun.
  • On my next batch I might add some diced onion and sweet peppers.
  • Chopped almonds would be a tasty addition after step 5.
  • A glass half-pint jar of this chutney is an eye-catcher, with vibrant jewel colors that glow in the light. Keep a few extra jars on hand for attractive and tasty gifts.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Breakfast Hash

December is often a month full of baking sweet things like cookies, sticky buns, coffee cakes, quick breads, et al. Baking is fun but I was tired of being splattered with flour and up to my elbows in dough. One morning the kitchen counter still held half a pan of Awesome Sticky Buns, but that just didn't tempt me. No, I'd grown tired of all things sweet. Sigh, I really do prefer savory bites. 

Unlike RL, who recently enjoyed this healthy breakfast choice of a pecan sticky bun and huckleberry ice cream...

...I wanted something tangy, a breakfast with a little crunch and some chili heat. Breakfast hash was the answer to that craving. A colorful, delicious dish, hash is also an inspired way to deal with all sorts of leftover meats and vegetables. Cooked pot roast, roast beef, ham, brisket, sausages, pork chops, lamb and even smoked or barbecued salmon all work well. What? no cooked meat in the fridge? then fresh bacon will do.

An adaptable dish, hash works equally well for breakfast, lunch, dinner or even as a midnight snack. It embraces a wide range of flavorings, from TexMex chili heat to Indian curry or a lemon zest and dill pairing with salmon and more. It has been a popular Company Brunch entree, topping a crispy tortilla with a side salad of mixed greens, avocado and orange slices, and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. Now that's a fiesta of flavors, colors, and textures!

Can you tell? I really like crispy, savory hash. It cooks up in a flash if you already have some cooked meat, potatoes and roasted vegetables hanging out as leftovers in your refrigerator. If not, the hash still comes together quickly. Your biggest decision will be to select seasonings to flavor your combination of meats, taters, onions and vegetables. 

The possibilities are endless, but some of our favorite hash ingredients include
  • sausage or pork, taters, onion, poblano chili, red pepper with cumin, fresh cilantro and green Tabasco sauce
  • pot roast, taters, onions, kale, sun-dried tomatoes with oregano and rosemary (or maybe some pesto)
  • salmon, taters, onion, bacon with dill and cream cheese chunks
  • lamb, taters, onion, Brussels sprouts with rosemary and garlic 
If you really want to pop this dish, drizzle some flavored Hollandaise sauce over the top. Experiment with cayenne Hollandaise for Tex Mex, dill and fennel Hollandaise with salmon, etc. Be as creative as you like, but serve mine unadorned. Simple egg-topped hash is what I crave.

Breakfast Hash
Serves 2

1/2 pound red, Yukon Gold or even Russet potatoes, scrubbed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cooking oil (omit if using bacon)
4-6 strips of thick-sliced bacon (or 1/4 - 1/2 pound of another meat)
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped poblanos or sweet peppers (any color)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon thyme (or other seasonings)
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons each chopped fresh parsley and green onions

2 eggs

Cut the potatoes into 1/4-inch dice; add them to a pan of boiling, salted water and boil for several minutes to partially cook. Drain in a sieve, rinse under cold water, and pat them dry (dry is important so they crisp, not steam). Set aside.

Cut the peppers into 1/4-inch dice. Dice the bacon into 1/2-inch chunks.

Melt the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet (cast iron is good); cook the bacon until it begins to render it’s fat (but not till it’s crispy!). Add the potatoes, onion, peppers and seasonings. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring and turning occasionally, until the potatoes are golden with crispy browned edges.

Smooth out the hash into a flat-topped mass. Use a large serving spoon to press two depressions into the top of the hash. Break an egg into each depression. Cover the skillet and cook until the eggs are set to your liking (or poach or fry eggs in a separate pan and serve on top of the hash).

Use a wide spatula to carefully plate on warmed dishes; top with a scattering of parsley and green onion bits. Accompany with your favorite hot sauce, ketchup, salsa, grated cheese or... whatever. 

Enjoy, any meal of the day.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fettuccine with Lemon Sauce

Menu: Fettuccine with Lemon, Mixed Greens Salad with Vinaigrette, toasted slices of French Bread and Sliced Oranges or Clementines for dessert

Do you have a favorite, go-to dish that is simple to prepare, tasty enough for company and only calls for a few ingredients typically found in the pantry? One such recipe is Fettuccine with Lemon. The original version came from Marcella's Italian Kitchen (1986) by Marcella Hazan, and this pasta dish has been a winner for me for years. The pungent citrusy fragrance of lemon perfumes the kitchen or the boat galley, whetting appetites for the light, distinct flavor of the sauced pasta. An added bonus - the sauce takes less time to make than it takes to boil the water for the pasta. (OK, the grating of zest and cheese add an extra minute or two.) 

Here's the short version - 

Melt the butter and cream over high heat until boiling.

Add lemon juice and zest and keep stirring while reducing to almost  1/2. Turn off the heat and let the sauce sit while the pasta cooks.

Grate the Parmesan cheese.

Add the pasta to the sauce and toss; add the grated cheese and toss. 
Plate and add your choice of optional toppings.

Fettuccine with Lemon
Fettuccine al Limone
Adapted from Marcella’s Italian Kitchen by Marcella Hazan (1986)
Serves 4 to 6 as a first course, 3 to 4 as a main course

4 TB butter      
1 cup heavy cream (non-fat half and half works just fine)             
2 TB freshly squeezed lemon juice (or more, to taste)      
The grated zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons (no white pith!)
Fettuccine made with 3 large eggs and about 2 cups flour
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano reggiano, plus additional for the table
*Optional toppings

1.  Fill a large, deep pot and with water for the pasta. Bring it to a rolling boil.
2.  Meanwhile, in a skillet or sauté pan large enough to hold the cooked fettuccine later, add the butter and cream and heat to boiling over high heat.
3.  When the cream just begins to boil, add the lemon juice and stir thoroughly. Add the grated lemon peel and stir some more.
4.  Keep stirring and reduce the cream to almost half its original volume. You do not want to reduce it completely. The pasta will be tossed with it later in the pan and will absorb a lot of sauce.
5.  Turn off the heat and let it sit until the pasta is cooked.
6.  Drop the pasta into a pot of boiling salted water. When almost cooked but still firm, drain and add it to the pan with the lemon sauce. Turn on the heat to medium and toss the fettuccine thoroughly in the sauce for 15 or 20 seconds. It will finish cooking and will absorb the sauce.
7.  Transfer all the pasta and sauce from the pan to a warm serving bowl. Add the grated cheese and toss two or three times. Bring the bowl to the table and serve at once with additional grated cheese on the side. OR if your pan is attractive enough to serve out of, just add the cheese to the sauced pasta, toss and carry on with one less dish to wash up.

*Optional toppings:
Pignoli (pine nuts), minced green onions, chopped Italian parsley, toasted fresh breadcrumbs, or even a scatteringl of fresh lump crab meat. Use these topping suggestions singly or in paired combinations, but not all of them at once! Let the lemon shine through as the main flavor.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Spiced Nuts

Sometimes I feel like a nut, sometimes I don’t…

No wait, I’m always ready to nibble on Spiced Nuts, even if they were intended for another purpose, and not meant for snacks. Really, you can’t eat just one… they are too delicious, almost addictive. These sweet, spicy nuts are a favorite appetizer at home and on the boat. Quick and easy to prepare, they are perfect for impromptu company. 

Such flavorful morsels are real stars when sprinkled over a salad of mixed greens with sliced pears and blue cheese crumbles. Add pomegranates or plumped, dried cranberries and you have a festive holiday look.

Spiced Nuts are a terrific topping for a bowl of ice cream and chocolate sauce, and add crunch and a flavor pop when crumbled over brownie batter. Oh yum, now I’m getting hungry.

The original recipe specified pecan halves, but I choose to prepare batches of mixed nuts - almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews, etc. Since not everyone like every variety, it is nice to give your guests a choice. Pick your favorites. (Me? I reach for the pecans.)

The nuts keep well, stored for a several days in an airtight container, or frozen in a zip-lok bag and held in the freezer for a few months.

Disclaimer: I have trouble keeping them in my pantry; some mysterious shrinkage phenomenon causes them to disappear rapidly. One solution is to fill a small container for immediate snacking and freeze or hide the rest of the batch.

Photo: Spiced almonds, pecans and walnuts

Based on a recipe from Bon Appetit, December 1990


1 10-ounce package pecan halves (or some other nut)
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 F. 
  2. Place the nuts in a medium bowl. Melt the butter over low heat in a heavy small saucepan. Add cumin and cayenne and stir until aromatic, about 15 seconds. Pour the flavored butter over the nuts. Add the sugar and salt and stir to coat. (If there's excess butter in the bottom of the bowl, add more nuts, sugar and salt and stir again.) 
  3. Transfer to a baking sheet large enough to hold the nuts in a single layer. Bake until nuts are toasted and fragrant, stirring and turning occasionally, for about 20 minutes. Be careful not to burn the nuts! 
  4. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Pecans can be prepared 5 days ahead. Store in airtight container. The nuts will freeze well for months.


  1. Substitute other nuts or spices, according to your preferences. Dried rosemary, garlic powder, curry and smokey Spanish paprika (pimenton) have worked well (but not all at the same time). 
  2. Adjust salt and sugar to taste.
  3. The recipe doubles and triples easily, but you will need additional baking sheets to handle the larger quantity in single layers.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tuscan White Bean Soup- a variation

Photo; Tuscan White Bean Soup with Sausage and Winter Vegetables, and a basket of toasted pita chips, some sprinkled with sumac and some with za'atar. Comfort food for a rainy day lunch.

It was a stay-at-home kind of Seattle day, gray and damp outside with no particular reason to be out and about. A new bread experiment with an Italian braided loaf sat rising on the kitchen counter. Ingredients for gift packages of cookies, candies and spiced nuts awaited my efforts... and still wait. Sitting at the computer to shop on-line was easier than fighting the traffic and crowds at the mall, so I was happy to stay at home. No issues with cabin fever any longer - knowing that finally can drive makes a ton of difference.

A rainy December day seemed perfect for a soup lunch, some easy-to-make comfort food. (I say the same thing on those cold Spring days afloat when we're cruising north; soup comforts the body and soul.) The refrigerator held the ingredients for a batch of soup with cannellini beans, spicy sausage and an assortment of winter vegetables added for vitamins and color. I don't usually add the vegies to Tuscan White Bean Soup, but it was a tasty variation I would repeat again. 

The soup is best when it can rest overnight in the fridge to temper and mellow the flavors, but we couldn't wait. It was delicious on Day 1, and even better on Day 2. The potatoes would not freeze well, but we usually finish the soup before freezing is an issue.

Tuscan White Bean Soup with Winter Vegetables

Adapted from recipes and variations found in The Best Recipe: Soups and Stews by Cook’s Illustrated; serves 8 to 10

1 links of sausage, spiced with chilis and herbs, cut into coins and halved or quartered
4 oz thick-cut bacon, chunked (I used bits & pieces)
1 medium onion, chopped in medium dice
1 large carrot, chopped in medium dice
1 large celery stalk, chopped in medium dice
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried rosemary)
4-6 cups chicken stock (low-sodium is my choice)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste (salt if desired)

1 waxy potato, in medium dice
A handful of spicy greens (escarole, mustard greens, etc), julienned
2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Several big handfuls of baby spinach

For garnish (optional)
Zest of one lemon
Fresh basil, julienned or Italian parsley, rough chopped
Grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Drizzle of balsamic vinegar

1. Saute the meats in a heavy soup pot over medium heat and cook until golden. The idea is to render the fat, but do not cook until crispy. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside, leaving the rendered fat in the pan.

2. Saute the onion, carrots and celery until just softened, but not browned. Add the garlic, bay leaf and rosemary and cook briefly until fragrant but not crisp.

3. Add 4+ cups chicken stock, the diced potato and julienned mustard greens and bring to a boil. Cover, turn off the heat and let sit until the potatoes are barely tender, about 10-15 minutes.

4. Add the beans to the pot and bring back to a boil over medium heat. Remove the rosemary sprig. Taste and adjust seasonings. Return the meat to the pot. Add the baby spinach and stir into the soup. Cook until potatoes are soft.

5. Ladle the soup into individual bowls, top with any or all of the suggested garnishes and drizzle a splash of balsamic vinegar over the top of each serving.

Note: The beans and potatoes absorb considerable liquid as the soup simmers, or rests overnight if you hold it. Add additional chicken stock as needed to gain the consistency you desire.

Note: updated directions on 4/16/13

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Chicken Marbella

Weekly menus can become repetitive, a routine of pizza on Friday, roast chicken on Sunday, grilled steak and fish... well, you get the point. I do experiment with a lot of new recipes, but all too often I shop for and cook the familiar. Chicken Marbella had been ignored for many months while we ate other chicken dishes - roast chicken, coq au vin, arroz con pollo, cacciatore, curry, piccata, marsala, chorizo and white bean chili, stroganoff, enchiladas, gumbo, paella, Greek feta baked, yogurt-marinated and more. But just before my knee surgery, when it came time to cook ahead and freeze some entrees, Chicken Marbella headed the list of must-cook dishes. It ranks high on my list of cold-weather comfort foods, is easy to prepare and a snap to reheat. RL appreciated the easy reheat feature during his weeks as The Butler.

The recipe comes from my 1982 well-used paperback copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook: delicious recipes, menus, tips, lore from Manhattan's celebrated gourmet food shop. The text notes this was the shop's first main-dish offering and remained a favorite for years - hey, we still love it 28 years later. It gets my vote as a winning entree, a reliable buffet item served hot or at room temperature, tasty picnic fare and a delicious hors d'oeuvre presentation for wings and small drumsticks. How is that for versatile?

What it's not is a spur-of-the-moment dish, since an overnight marination is essential to keep the finished dish moist and tasty. It's also improved by cooking and then holding it in the refrigerator for a day or two to temper and improve the flavor. It freezes well, a handy feature if you make the full recipe which serves 10 to 12. I tend to divide the recipe and cook a 1/2 or even 1/3 recipe, especially if I'm not planning to to freeze any.

Photo: recipe using prunes, waiting for the white wine

Photo: recipe using raisins, after the white wine pour

Photo: cooked and ready to leave the oven

Chicken Marbella
recipe originally from The Silver Palate Cookbook

16 pieces, yields 10+ servings

4 chickens, 2-3 lb each, quartered (or use packages of pieces, thighs, drumsticks, breasts cut in half or even thirds)
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed or minced
¼ cup dried oregano
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes (raisins work equally well)
½ cup pitted Spanish green olives (I use the stuffed ones)
½ cup capers with a splash of juice
6 bay leaves
1-cup brown sugar (I have a heavy hand with the sugar and use more)
1 cup white wine (or lemon juice)
¼ cup Italian parsley or cilantro, finely chopped

1. Combine chicken pieces, garlic, oregano, pepper and coarse salt to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves in a large bowl or plastic freezer-strength ziploc bag. Cover and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

2. Preheat oven to 350F.

3. Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow non-reactive baking pans (Pyrex for example) and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces (generously) with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.

4. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices. Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, produce clear yellow (not pink) juice. (or check the center of the larger pieces, near the bone.)

5. Use a slotted spoon to transfer chicken and marinade solids (prunes, olives and capers) to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Pass remaining pan juices in a sauceboat. (If the juices look too thin, reduce them a bit on stovetop. This can happen if the chicken is water-injected.)

6. To serve Chicken Marbella cold, cool to room temp in cooking juices before transferring to a serving platter. If chicken has been covered and refrigerated, skim off any congealed fat and allow it to return to room temperature before serving. Spoon some of the reserved juice over the chicken and garnish with the parsley.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Parmesan Puffs

Saturday was one of those busy days, full of appointments and a few necessary errands; a special day, since it was my first solo outing since recent surgery.  By evening I had no energy left and all that sounded good for dinner was a big salad... and something else, something crunchy and comforting and easy. It would take too much effort to hop back in the car and drive to the local bakery, though Columbia City Bakery's breads and rolls are divine. Instead I turned to an old reliable recipe for Parmesan Puffs, guaranteed to take minimum effort and produce tempting savory bites.

The recipe comes from a useful little cookbook, Gourmet's In Short Order: Recipes in 45 Minutes or Less and Easy Menus. The book includes 100 recipes from the old In Short Order column from Gourmet magazine plus 140 new recipes; it's a useful reference for meals for two that are table-ready in under an hour. As a bonus feature, there's an index of recipes that can be doubled - a handy reference for impromptu company. 

The puffs come together in minutes and bake up quickly, filling the kitchen with their fresh bread/melting cheese aroma long before their crunchy goodness is ready to eat. Since they require only 20+ minutes in the oven, I had to hurry up the Cobb salad assembly. 

Eight Parmesan Puffs might serve more than two people, but not in my kitchen. We did exercise some self control and save two puffs for a morning-after photo op, but I ate one early this morning, long before the sun came up. It was a real challenge to ignore the one remaining puff while I waited for daylight, waiting to do a food shot in natural light. 


Parmesan Puffs
Recipe from Gourmet’s In Short Order, 1993

¼ cup milk
¼ cup water
½ stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
¼ tsp salt
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or a package of pre-grated, but NOT the stuff in the can))
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 green onion, chopped small, using the green part, or fresh herbs (optional)

In a small heavy saucepan combine milk, water, butter and salt; bring it all to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to moderate, add flour all at once and beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until it leaves the side of the pan and forms a ball.

Remove it from the heat and transfer the mixture to a bowl, whisk in the eggs, 1 at a time, whisking well after each addition; stir in the Parmesan and pepper (and finely minced scallions or herbs, etc. if you choose).

Drop batter in 8 mounds on a buttered baking sheet (or silpat). Bake puffs in upper third of a preheated 400 oven for 20 minutes, or until crisp and golden. (my oven takes 27 minutes)

The puffs may be kept overnight in an airtight container, if you have any left over. (This is never an issue in my kitchen.)

Serve puffs as an hors d’oeuvre or an accompaniment to soups, meats and poultry.

Makes 8 puffs

At different times I have added scallions, minced fresh Rosemary, finely diced jalapenos with good results. Just don't add too many flavors at the same time - let the Parmesan star.

Grated cheddar with cayenne and/or Spanish pimenton (smoky paprika) is another tasty variation of this cheese puff recipe.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Red Beans and Rice

The great jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong loved red beans and rice so much that he used to sign his letters "Red beans and ricely yours".

I would love to embark on a leisurely eating tour through Louisiana. Just imagine meal after meal of Creole and Cajun cooking, dining on gumbos, etouffees, jambalayas, crawfish and barbecued shrimp, blackened redfish, grillades and grits... the list goes on. And then there's beignets, pecan pie, red velvet cake, and more. Well, it's not happening this month, but I can dream, and I can do some Louisiana style cooking at home.

Monday was a wet, gray Seattle day and called for some easy-to-cook comfort food. Red beans and rice are traditional Monday fare in New Orleans. Typically there would be a ham bone left over from Sunday dinner, and since Monday was a busy wash day, home cooks needed a meal that could simmer untended for hours. I didn't do any laundry on Monday, but the slow-simmering beans left me the whole morning to focus on other things before enjoying a wonderful lunch with friend Pat L.

My version of red beans and rice has evolved from a 1980 recipe in Bon Appetit. It calls for pre-soaking the beans overnight, and then doing a bit of chopping and dicing before setting things to simmer. I didn't have a ham bone, so I substituted bacon. Instead of cooking the beans in water, I used chicken broth and a bottle of beer. I also added garlic and a few more spices than the original recipe called for, and next time might make other adjustments, but it won't matter too much. The creamy smoothness of the beans plus the spicy heat of the sausage account for most of the appeal of this dish.

   Photo: A one-pound package of dried beans yielded over a quart of soaked beans.

Photo: Bacon substituted for a ham bone in Monday's batch of red beans and rice.

Photo: Coins of andouille sausage and a spicy smoked pork sausage with chiles.

Photo: The "trinity" of green pepper, celery and onion, ready to saute in bacon and sausage drippings.

Photo: Just a few of the seasonings that went into the pot. Somehow bay leaves, cayenne, chicken stock and beer didn't make the photo op.

Photo: Finally, everything is simmering away, perfuming the entire house, whetting my appetite and prompting countless taste tests. 

Red Beans and Rice
adapted from Bon Appetit, October 1980, serves 8 to 10

1 LB red beans
2 qt water 

1 meaty ham bone or thick slice pork, cubed (I substituted 4 thick slices of bacon)
1 LB hot sausage, thinly sliced (andouille and a smoked pork sausage with chiles)
2 cups chopped onion
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
Pinch of thyme (plus 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp smoky paprika)
3 TBS minced garlic

4 bay leaves

6 cups chicken stock and a bottle of beer

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 bunch green onions, chopped for garnish (Italian parsley is good too)

Hot pepper sauce (we favor Cajun Sunshine or Green Tabasco Sauce)

Freshly cooked rice

Rinse beans thoroughly and discard any bad ones. Place in Dutch oven, cover with 2 quarts water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and let the beans soak overnight or at least several hours.

Drain the beans and set aside.

Dice the bacon; put into a Dutch oven and cook over medium heat until cooked but not crisp. Remove from the pot and set aside, but leave the drippings behind.

Slice the sausages into 1/4 inch coins and saute in the bacon drippings until lightly browned. Remove from the pot and set aside, but leave the drippings.

Chop the onion, celery and green pepper into medium dice and saute in the meat drippings for 5 minutes. Add the thyme, cayenne, black pepper, smokey paprika (pimenton) and garlic and saute for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant. 

Add the bay leaves and stir the meats back into the pot; cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Add the presoaked beans, chicken stock and beer. 
Set over medium heat, bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 2 hours.

Remove the bay leaves. Using wooden spoon, mash about 1/4 of beans against side of pan to give a creamy smoothness (or use immersion blender). Cook at a very low simmer for an additional hour.

Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. Serve over freshly cooked rice, topping with chopped green onions (and parsley).

Note: Don’t chop vegies too small or they disappear and mush up the pot. Don’t mash so many beans that it resembles refried beans, keep it chunky.

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