Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Omelets with Super Powers*


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.

Yesterday, I had a whole baked potato that needed eating.  I always, always bake one more potato than we need because sometimes I find a black something inside that makes the potato inedible.  If you know what causes this, please let me know.  It is a mystery to me how a perfect specimen of a potato from the outside can have a rotten bit inside with no visible signs of how it got in there.  Anyway, my extra baked potato did have the black something but it was small enough to cut out so I could eat the rest.  

Ick
I chopped the potato up and warmed it in my non-stick skillet with a little olive oil. (Some people prefer butter for this. Use butter if you will, but add a drizzle of olive oil as well to keep it from burning too quickly.) If you have other vegetables or meats, chop and warm them in the same manner.  (If you are going with only cheese, just warm the pan with a little olive oil/butter and skip ahead to the next step.)


Meanwhile, I grated some cheddar cheese with my favorite new implement, the Microplane.  Most incredible grater ever! As you can see from the photos, my cube of cheese was very small. After I had grated plenty enough for my omelet, the cube hardly reduced at all. Talk about stretch the cheese! It performs the same miracle for Parmesan.  




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

I also headed out to my little backyard deck herb garden and harvested a bunch of green onion tops and then lightly beat a couple of pastured eggs.   I chopped the onion tops very finely and added them to the egg.



Once your vegetables or meat or whatever are warmed through, add the eggs, sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper, and cover the pan. 



Reduce the heat to low and let the omelet 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 and put the lid back on till it melts.  Serve! 



* 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 18, 2011

Neen’s Stuffed Crab

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.  

Ingredients
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 *

Method
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.) 



Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes.


Enjoy!



* Monosodium glutamate or MSG




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

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?

Ingredients
1/2 cup lardons (We cut slices of smoked bacon into little pieces. Same thing.)
2 nice plump Cornish game hens, cut in half
2 tbs. butter
1 tbs. olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 or 2 large cloves of garlic, pureed 
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





Method
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.) 

Whoooop!

Then close the lid and simmer the hens in the wine, stock and chopped tomato, adding some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

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.



Serve over white rice or some creamy mashed potatoes.



Enjoy!
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Roast chicken with Almost Never-Ending Pesto


My first cousin, Misty, came to visit from the spiritual home of food lovers, Louisiana.  (You want to refute that and nominate your hometown or state or country for the position, write me a comment. I have to admit that Malaysia is close behind.)  She loves to eat, although you wouldn’t know it by looking at her.  Fortunately, I love her so I can overlook that enormous fault.

Her first night here, I decided to roast a whole pastured chicken from Olde World Farms with pesto stuffed under the skin, since I still have homemade pesto.  (The Olde World Farms website is sadly out-of-date, but, if you are in Houston, you can buy their products at the Eastside Market of a Saturday morning. Looks like the Urban Harvest website is a bit out-of-date too but at least you can still get directions. What’s with these people?)

Ingredients
1 whole pastured chicken
1/2-3/4 cup or 120-180ml pesto
Sea salt
Black pepper, freshly ground

Method
Preheat your oven to 400°F or 200°C.

Clean the chicken thoroughly and cut off all extraneous fat.  


Slip your finger under the skin at the point of the breast, up to the wishbone on both sides.  Spoon a large scoop of pesto under the skin and use your fingers to push it up towards the wishbone. 




Add another scoop on the other side and do the same.  Turn the chicken over and make a small slit in the skin of the thigh and run your finger around over the thigh meat. Add a little pesto and stuff it under the skin. Do this on both sides.




Pop the chicken into a roasting pan, breast side down and liberally sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper, making sure to get some inside the bird as well.  Turn the chicken over and liberally salt and pepper the top of the bird.  Put it in the oven.  After 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 350°F and drizzle a little olive oil over the bird. Return him to the oven for about one hour or until a thermometer stuck into his thigh reaches 190°F.

Upon reflection, I decided that we probably really needed some extra breasts to roast alongside the first bird since a couple in our party won’t eat anything but breast meat and I wasn’t sure about the rest of them.  Leftovers never go amiss when they are roasted chicken so off we went to Whole Foods to choose some breasts.

I was gratified to see that Whole Foods has a rating system for showing the treatment of their butchery items, including chicken.  The chicken breasts were rated at a lowly two, while the whole chickens were a pastured four.  The choice was simple.  I would roast two whole chickens.

At that point, while I had plenty of basil, I was out of already made pesto.  I decided to do something different with bird number two: Sun-dried tomato pesto.

Ingredients
1 oz or 30g Alessi sun-dried tomatoes
1 3/4 oz or 50g Parmesan
 1/4 cup or 56.7g butter 
2 cloves of garlic
Enough olive oil to loosen into a basil pesto-like consistency

Method
Soak the tomatoes for about 15 minutes in enough hot water (from the tap hot, not boiling) to cover.  


Drain the liquid.  Add the garlic, the butter and a glug of olive oil and mix with a hand blender.  



Grate your cheese with a fine grater and add to the container.  Mix again with the hand blender, adding a little more olive oil if necessary.  This is going to be a thick paste, like the basil pesto, so you may have to keep removing the paste from the hand blender blades and bearing down upon it again in the container till everything is smooth.   

Now you follow the directions above for putting the pesto under the chicken skin and roasting the bird.





I put them both in the baking pan together and the juice they created as the basil pesto bird and the tomato pesto bird roasted was sublime.



The finished chickens were lovely and juicy and delicious.


Side dishes seem like such an afterthought now, but, I can assure you, they were not. I made Johnson Stuffing from Baked Bree with help from younger daughter.  We also made a simple salad of tomatoes, bell pepper, feta cheese and romaine. 


And roasted golden and purple beets.

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

Method
Cut the greens off the beets and trim the stalks, leaving just the leaves. 


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.  Cut the beets in half and put them in a bowl big enough to allow stirring and/or tossing.  


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.  


Grease a baking tray with more olive oil and tip the beets onto it. Turn them to expose the cut sides and roast them in a preheated oven at 400°F or 200°C.  



Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a skillet and gently fry the sliced garlic. 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.  Then I arranged them lovingly on the bed of greens. 


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



For dessert, we had two special recipes, made by younger daughter, quite a whiz in the kitchen from a young age:  Divinely moist brownies and chocolate-dipped strawberries.  Words are not necessary with photos like these.



It was our wonderful pleasure to have Misty over and we hope she comes back soon!


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