Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Omelets with Super Powers*

Traditional omelets are made with eggs - of course! - but often include cheese, meat and vegetables in various proportions. Make your omelet suit your tastebuds and use whatever you have leftover in your refrigerator. 

When time is short and the fridge is full of leftovers no one really wants to see again, an omelet (perhaps with a green salad on the side?) is just the perfect meal. Anything and everything is fair game for an omelet. I have been known to add leftover chicken, pork, beef, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, rice and every kind of cooked vegetable known to man. Add a little cheese and you have a meal worth eating.

First, check out the potential additions. What’s in your fridge? A chicken leg, fajita meat, one last pork chop? Any fresh herbs in the garden? Bits and ends from the cheese drawer? If you only have cheese, don’t despair. Cheese omelet is a classic.

Approximate ingredients to feed two - mix and match as your taste and leftovers dictate
Olive oil or butter for greasing the pan
1 cooked potato or other starch - My grandmother loved to use leftover rice!
Healthy handful cooked vegetables (about 1/2 cup or 75g)
Healthy handful cooked chicken, beef, pork roast, etc. (about 1/2 cup or 75g)
2-3 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
Small handful fresh herbs of your choiceSalt
Black pepper
1 3/4 oz or 50g cheese or more! (about 1/3 cup, grated)

For instance, yesterday, I had a small baked potato that needed eating, one breast leftover from a roasted chicken and some Brussels sprouts from an entirely different meal.

I chopped the potato, chicken and sprouts up and warmed them in my non-stick skillet with a little butter. You can also substitute olive oil.

Meanwhile, I whisked the eggs with the milk in a small bowl and grated some cheddar cheese.

For an omelet like this, any cheese you have will do. I have used feta and chèvre and various blues and Brie and Camembert and Tomme and many others. If your cheese won’t grate, just slice it up or crumble it instead.

I also headed out to my little backyard herb garden and harvested a bunch of green onion tops. I chopped the onion tops and added them to the eggs.

Once your vegetables or meat or whatever are warmed through, add the eggs, sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper. Turn the fire down to its lowest setting and cover the pan.

With the heat on low it may take a few minutes for the omelet to cook through. If you are feeling brave, you can try to flip it halfway through but, with the lid on and a low enough heat, this won’t be necessary.

Once the eggs are cooked, top with the grated or sliced cheese, turn the stove off, and put the lid back on till it melts. This happens pretty quickly.

Serve with a lightly dressed green salad. And, a glass of wine if it's dinnertime.


* They clean your fridge.

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Breakfast Plátano

Plátano, or plantain as is called in the US, comes from the banana family but it is much more starchy than our every day eating bananas and can be cooked either sweet or savory.  In South America and Southeast Asia, I find it frequently sliced very thinly and fried up like a potato chip. Sometimes the cook (or manufacturer in the case of bagged chips) has chosen to sprinkle the chips with sugar, sometimes with salt, so if you have a preference (mine is always salt) read your ingredient list carefully.

Plantains are ripe when their skins are very dark, sometimes even black.  The riper they are, the sweeter they become.  Green plantains are hard and inedible unless they are cooked thoroughly. Imagine eating a cloying, very dry, raw potato.  We prefer the ripe ones.

This is how we cook ripe plátano or plantains for breakfast. It’s simple, nutritious (if you don't heap the sugar on) and delicious.

Using a sharp knife, cut a slit down one side of the plantain and then the other, so you can peel the skin off the top half of the fruit. 

Cut the plantain into diagonal slices, making sure not to cut all the way through the bottom skin.

Place the slices in a non-stick skillet with a couple of pats of butter and a drizzle of oil to raise the burning temperature of the butter. Plain butter alone scorches easily which will give you an undesirable burnt flavor.  (I always add a tiny bit of oil whenever I sauté in butter.)

Turn the heat down to low and let the plantains cook, covered, for several minutes.  As they start to brown, turn them over.

Continue to cook them with the lid on until both sides are browned and the plantains are fork-tender, meaning you can poke a fork in them with no resistance at all. 

Turn them over once more so that the original side is up again. Sprinkle lightly with sugar, or to taste.  Let the sugar melt and then turn them over and sprinkle more sugar on the other side. You can put the lid on again at this point to make sure the sugar melts. When it is all melted, serve.  Who says a hot breakfast has to be oatmeal or eggs?

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Roasted Golden and Purple Beets with Sauteed Greens

I am a lover of purple beets but had never tried golden beets. They remind me of parsnips and I would definitely buy and cook them again. Roasting seems to bring out the best in both colors.

These beets, greens attached, were bought at the farmer's market in Houston called Eastside. I love that place and go whenever I can. I originally posted this recipe along with the roast chicken a couple of weeks back but I decided to give it its own post, in case anyone is looking for a great way to cook beets. Seriously. Try roasting them. And don't waste the greens! They are delicious!

3 purple beets with greens
3 golden beets with greens
2 cloves of garlic
Olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper

Preheat your oven to 400°F or 200°C and grease a large baking pan with a little olive oil. 

Cut the greens off the beets and trim the stalks, leaving just the leaves. The stalks can be discarded or to the pot when you are making vegetable stock. 

Rinse the leaves several times in a full sink of water until you are sure all the dirt and sand are gone. Scrub the beets and rinse as well. Any dirt will make for a gritty mouthful so you want to clean these suckers longer than you would think necessary to make sure. 

Slice your garlic very thinly. 

 Cut the beets in half and put them in a bowl big enough to allow stirring and/or tossing. I left a little bit of the stalks on, because I think they look pretty.

Drizzle with olive oil, white or dark balsamic vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. By stirring or tossing, make sure the beets are completely coated.

Tip the beets onto it your prepared baking pan. Turn them to expose the cut sides and pop them into your preheated oven.

Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a skillet and gently fry the sliced garlic with a little olive oil. 

Add the beet greens and let them cook just a few minutes until they wilt. Add a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook a few minutes more. Spread the greens around on the serving platter and put the garlic slices on top.

After 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 350°F or 180°C and cook the beets until they are fork tender, turning halfway through so that the cut sides face the pan. I ran out of time for the beets because my chicken needed to be on a middle shelf. It was browning much too quickly up higher, with the beets down below, so I ended up taking the beets out after about 45 minutes and putting them back in their mixing/tossing bowl which was glass and microwaving their already well-roasted selves into fork-tenderness. You should cook them the whole time in the oven, if you can! 

Then I arranged them lovingly on the bed of greens. 

Absolutely delicious! A little sweet, a little salty and with the hint of balsamic still showing. This may even win over a non-beet person. 


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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Neen’s Stuffed Crab

Straight from the pages of The Shadows on the Teche cookbook from New Iberia, Louisiana, this crab stuffing is made with fresh picked lump crab meat. It's rich and delicious.

From Susie Pharr in the Shadows on the Teche cookbook

This recipe is a tribute to extended family. My Aunt Nonnie, our lovely hostess for the weekend in New Iberia, was blessed with a wonderful sister-in-law named Susie Pharr. Susie’s reputation as a great cook, gracious hostess and generous friend is known far and wide. Sadly, we lost Susie to cancer a couple of years back but her legacy of recipes remains because she generously contributed to the Shadows on the Teche cookbook, even as she willingly shared her recipes with friends and family.  This recipe goes back even farther, as it came to her from her husband Mark’s Aunt Neen, who raised him.  Passing on recipes is what family is all about.  Cooking together and eating together make that all the more special.  

2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 medium bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 pound margarine
3 stale or day-old hamburger buns
1 cup evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
2 pounds crabmeat
1 teaspoon Accent (Monosodium glutamate or MSG)

Sauté onions, garlic, celery and bell pepper in 1/2 pound margarine until very, very soft.

Crumble hamburger buns and add milk, let soak about one minute.

Add eggs to hamburger buns and milk. 

Add crabmeat to the sautéed seasonings and mix gently.  

Fresh picked, never frozen - it makes all the difference!

Add hamburger bun mixture and heat thoroughly.  

Season to taste.  This filling may be put into crab shells or into a casserole with bread crumbs on top. (Aunt Nonnie also got me to add a few pats of butter.) 

Bread crumbs going on.

My only contribution - the pats of butter.

Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes.


Even before the meal itself, the best part of getting together with family is the opportunity to hear the old stories. We laughed until we cried at the foibles of family members as youngsters.  Unfortunately, I cannot share those stories because said relatives are now successful adults and would undoubtedly sue. :)

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Coq au Vin with Cornish Game Hens

Coq au vin is a classic French dish cooked with love, time and wine. The sauce created as the chicken simmers is divine. Try not to drink it straight from the pot with your stirring spoon. 

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, after cooking my little hens, but circumstances intervened and I didn’t post it. If you’ve been reading a while, you know that these game hens are special.

Adapted from Julia Child's Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin is chicken in red wine with small-braised onions, mushrooms, and lardons of pork, which are small slices of smoked bacon. Julia wanted me to blanch my bacon first to get rid of the smoky flavor, but frankly, the reason I love bacon is because of the smoky flavor so I skipped that step. I also changed the onions for shallots and tipped them in the pot after peeling. I do not know what a small-braised onion is but it seemed to me that they would add to the flavor of the whole dish if they were added early instead of using them as a garnish for serving. Oh, and I substituted fresh baby carrots for the mushrooms.  Mushrooms might have added to the sauce but carrots will make this a meal to serve over rice or even mashed potatoes, n’est pas?

1/2 cup lardons (I cut slices of smoked bacon into little pieces. Same thing.)
2 nice plump Cornish game hens, cut in half
2 tablespoon butter
tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 or 2 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced 
1 imported bay leaf
1/4 tsp or so thyme (I used one nice spring of fresh thyme. I scraped off the little leaves and then threw the stem in as well. Why not?)
1 large ripe red unpeeled tomato, chopped (or 1/3 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes)
3 cups young red wine (Zinfandel, Macon or Chianti type) I used Merlot, because that's what I buy.
1 cup chicken stock (or more)
Beurre manie, for the sauce (1 1/2 tbs. each flour softened butter blended to a paste)
Fresh parsley sprigs (or chopped parsley)
1/3 cup good brandy (optional)
8-10 small shallots, peeled and left whole
Small bunch of baby carrots, scrubbed

Before browning the chicken, sauté the bacon and remove to a side dish, leaving the fat in the pan.

Brown the chicken in the pork fat, adding a little olive oil, if needed.

Notice the bacon in the little dish on the side. 

Flame the game hens with the brandy, if you wish -- it does give its own special flavor, besides being fun to do. (Julia was right! That step was very fun but next time I will wait until my able assistant, who was napping, is awake and poised with the camera. I almost dropped it when the flames shot up way higher than I expected.  Also, I felt restrained from shouting the loud WHOOP! this really deserved.) 


Now add the wine, stock, tomato, herbs, garlic and bacon back in along with a sprinkle of sea salt and  freshly ground black pepper. Close the lid tightly and turn the fire down to simmer. 

Yeah, it looks like a lot of wine, because it is. But it will cook down.

I let this simmer a few minutes while I peeled the shallots and then added them and a knob of butter as well, poking the shallots down into the wine and stock.  I covered the pan again and continued the simmering.

After half an hour of simmering, I turned the little chickadees over.

After an hour of simmering, I skimmed as much fat as I could off the top and then I added the carrots.

After another half an hour, I took flipped the hens upright again and left the lid off to allow the liquid to cook down and skimmed some more fat.

Two total hours into the simmering, it was probably time to finish the dish. Take all the solid things out of the pot with a slotted spoon until you are left with only the liquids. (I took this opportunity to discard all the parsley and thyme stems and the bay leaves.)  If there is still visible fat on the liquid, use a spoon to skim what you can and discard. 

Thicken the sauce by whisking in your beurre manie. 

Allow this to cook for a few minutes to get rid of the floury taste. I wish I could show you how rich and thick and succulent the sauce turned. The photos do not do it justice. Check the seasonings and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Return the game hens to the pot and baste with the sauce. Add the carrots and any other solids that were removed. Simmer for a few minutes, still basting, to rewarm the chicken and to blend flavors.

Okay, this is a terrible photo, but you get the idea. 

Serve over white rice or some creamy mashed potatoes.

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