Archive for the ‘At the Homefront’ Category

Since we’ve gone low meat and all, I decided for a quick white bean stew on this coldish day.  It is quick and easy-peasy.

Italian / Catalan -esque white bean stew


3 slices smoked bacon

1 med onion – fine dice

1 stalk celery – fine dice

2 cloves garlic (pressed)

1 bay leaf

1 large bunch spinach (stems trimmed off)

6 sun-dried / smoked tomatoes (softened in 1 cup boiling water)

1 can Cannelloni beans (16 oz)

1 cup homemade tomato sauce *see the tomato sauce recipe in the stuffed zucchini recipe.

1/8 tsp pimenton (spanish paprika)

salt (to taste)

pepper (to taste)

In a large saute pan render bacon.  Remove bacon to paper towel and drain off till only 1 Tbsp of oil remains in pan.  Saute onion over medium heat, season with salt and pepper.  Saute till translucent.  Add celery, till softened (2 min).  Add garlic, stir and then add the spinach.  Toss spinach in pan until spinach is reduced.  Add a bay leaf.  Add homemade tomato sauce and stir to combine.   Add cannelloni beans (drained).  Stir to combine.  Add sun-dried tomatoes with soaking liquid.  Season with salt, pepper and Spanish pimenton (smoked paprika).  Let it all simmer to combine (10 min).

Plate in bowls, topping with diced bacon for garnish.

*Note: if you don’t have the tomato sauce, use 2 tbsp tomato paste with water or stock to reach the desired consistency.

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Ok, I over-cooked for the cast party.  They said 60.  Do you know what it is like to plan for 60?  Unfortunately only about 25 showed up.  That is okay, since it just means I have “prepared ingredients” on hand.  I pretty much went through the Steak and Guinness pie and Colcannon without issue.  The pork loin, has taken on new forms.  After a couple of Sammies with plenty of Tzatziki, I decided I needed to use up some of the loin in a different form.  I had a ton of carrots, mushrooms and onions from the party.  So I decided to do a little home-cooked pork fried rice.

There are a couple of good tips for good fried rice:

1. Use rice that has been cooked and allowed to sit over-night in the fridge.  This allows all the grains to really separate well.

2. Oyster Sauce – this was a tip I learned from a lady while in TX.  She had offered an in home cooking course for the local public TV station.  Jen and I got it and had a few friends over.  That’s where I learned my special tricks for oriental cooking, making rice, oyster sauce for fried rice, corn starch for crispy breading, and ginger wine.  So special thanks to Gee Gee Bessey and her hand book : Wok With Gee Gee.  It was only a couple of hours, but I’ve been using those tips and tricks ever since!  I’ll probably hit the ginger wine and corn starch tricks on a later post.

Fried rice is a great fridge cleaner.  I usually have celery, carrot, onion for mirepoux, so this is an easy go to for clean-out dinners.  This also uses up leftover (“prepared”) 🙂 meats – pork, chicken, beef or shrimp.

Since you are Stir-frying, which is a high heat method, you must be prepared to add your ingredients.  This mean Mise En Place, everything in its place!  Have all of your veg chopped and ready to add.  I like to use little bowls to hold the prepared ingredients, and then just dump in.  Mise en place,  is not just for those TV cooks!  Mise en place will make you a better cook AND make cooking more enjoyable!

Pork Fried Rice


1 Tbsp – Vegtable Oil (Sunflower / Peanut preferred)

2 celery ribs – cut on bias

2 carrots – diced

1 med. onion – fine dice

8 oz Shiitake Mushroom – sliced

1.5 cup Pork = pre-cooked and cut into small cubes

1 egg – mixed with fork

2 garlic cloves – crushed and diced

1 tbsp grated ginger or prepared ginger (squeezy ginger works great!)

3 cups cooked rice (cooled overnight in fridge)

1 can bamboo shoots – drained

1 can water chestnuts (sliced) – drained

3 Tbsp Oyster sauce

1 Tbsp Soy Sauce

2 tsp Fish Sauce

2 tsp Mirin

white pepper to taste

In a large wok, heat vegetable oil on high.  Add and stir-fry onion and season with salt to assist in drawing out the moisture.   Continuously stir-fry the onion for 30 sec, as the high heat may cause it to burn.  Add mushrooms, and continue to stir fry for another 30 sec.  Turn down heat to medium high, add carrot and celery and stir-fry for 1 min.  Add pork and stir fry for 30 sec.  Move contents up the sides of the wok, exposing the bottom.  Add egg to bottom and scramble.  Add garlic and ginger to egg and continuously stir for 30 sec.  Stir cooked egg into other ingredients.  Add Bamboo shoots and Water chestnuts and stir for 1 min.   Turn heat down to medium.  Add cooked rice and stir in to combine.  Add in seasonings – Oyster sauce, Soy Sauce, Fish Sauce, Mirin, white pepper.  Allow to heat through completely on low heat.  Serve with soy sauce and Sriracha on the side.


I always like to use bean sprouts or maybe some Thai basil to liven it up.

To add a little crunch, peanuts are a good topping or chow mein noodles.

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Well, as Robbie Burns used to say, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley”.

Due to lack of ingredients, there’s gonna be a couple of changes to the menu.  I had no luck getting a lamb shoulder.  Drat.  I’ve always wanted to do that.  Big ‘ol hunk roasting in the oven, with garlic, rosemary, plenty of olive oil.  Well, doesn’t look like it is going to happen this time around.  What I did find was a big whopping pork loin.  I mean the whole darn back of the pig.  I believe Alton Brown would call it a primal cut.  Darn thing practically won’t fit in the fridge.  Better yet, it was on sale.  So I only paid about $14 for the whole thing.  Dang.  Party estimates are running about 60 people, if everyone invites a guest.  60 people.  Yeah, most I’ve done is about 20 before.  Should be… fun…

Since I couldn’t find lamb to do the Shepherd’s pie, I’m going to have to go off topic and try little mini kebabs.  Jaime Oliver has a nice recipe which I’ll riff on. see : posh roast pork party kebabs I’ll probably go make some Tzatziki sauce, as I already have the yogurt and cucumber ready to go.  I’ll just need to find some mini pitas or something.  Add in a little greens, tomato, and that’s a good dish to feed a ton of people.

Also, unfortunately, I think I won’t have time to try the Yorkshire pudding.  Instead, I’m going to go with a bread pudding with whiskey sauce.  I only had Gail’s Triffle as a sweet, so this is probably a better sub.



Steak and Guinness Pie

posh roast pork party kebabs


Mushy Peas (Minted Peas) – Jamie’s Dinners Pg 21.

Fruit and Cheese tray with:

Stilton, Irish Cheddar, crackers

Gherkins, Apples, Dates, almonds, dried cherries

Bread pudding with Whiskey sauce

Triffle (Gail)

I’ve already got the Steak and Guinness pie innards cooking away over night in the dutch oven.  I’ll shred the meat then probably add a couple sauted parsnip and turnip to fill out the casseroles.  Day of the event, I’ll just slap on a puff pastry lid and bake till the pastry is done and the casserole is bubbly.

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Lucky and I are in the local production of Red Mask’s production “Tom Jones”.  Tech week has arrived.  As per tradition, cast parties occur usually at one of the cast and crew’s house, post-show.  Much rumination and ribbing over flubbed lines and “long pauses” ensue, with the help of a little libation and nibbles.

The production fortuitously fall’s on Charmed’s (my)  birthday.  So we get to do a combo-party for cast and Bday.  That’s not saying much because, if we did throw a Bday party, many of the same folk would already be on the list.  BTW – the cast for Tom Jones is huge, 24 actors, plus production crew.

Since it is Tom Jones, I decided to take a stab at “British fare”.  For all those, in the know, that is something of a challenge as our friends from Merry ‘Ol England are not usually known for their food.  However, good to note of late, the UK seems to be taking their food up a notch with the help of Jamie Oliver .  I have quite a few of his cookbooks, and I love the informal style of prose of his recipes.

The added bonus is that I’ll have to be totally prepped for this and have assistance to put items in the oven, as I’ll be on stage.  We’ll see how that goes…

So here are the ideas to feed the hungry masses:



Steak and Guinness Pie

Spring Lamb Shepherd’s Pie


Mushy Peas (Minted Peas) – Jamie’s Dinners Pg 21.

Yorkshire pudding

Fruit and Cheese tray with:

Stilton, Irish Cheddar, crackers

Gherkins, Apples, Dates, golden raisins, dried red currants

Triffle (Gail)

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Simple Sides

Ok, sometimes you just don’t have time to have your two veg and meat quickly prepared.  The next couple of posts are  easy side dishes I throw together, when I’m short on time.  Remember, make the most of your “pre-cooked / prepared ingredients” a.k.a leftovers…

Red and Green Rice

This is the easy use for left over prepared white or brown rice.  Since plain rice is sometimes “boring”, I try to zip it up with a little spice and herbage.  I grab the big bottle of Sriracha and one of the squeezy tubes of cilantro.

I’ve become a fan of the “squeezy” herbs.   They usually keep better than if I buy fresh, but then lose half the bunch to the rubbish bin.  So, for things like this, squeezy tube it is!

Red and Green Rice


2 cups cooked white or brown rice *usually leftover / chilled from fridge

1/2 tsp. Sriracha or to taste

1/2 tsp cilantro or to taste

Pull that leftover rice out of the fridge, give a squirt of Sriracha and a sploosh of cilantro.  Mix into the rice.  Reheat in the microwave.

Using the R/G rice, I can enjoy focusing on finishing out the chop or steak on the grill.  And maybe sip a bier, whilst I wait.

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Yep, at it again…  Time to clean out “Ye Olde Refridgerator Bins”.  Add this to the fact that I’ve gone “low meat” lately, which makes it quite a challenge.

So here’s what I came up with.  I had four zucchini needing to be used up.  I had a poor wilted and floppy celery stalk, along with some baby carrots.  There is always a bag of onions and garlic bulbs on the counter.  We had the leftovers of a bottle of wine ( “Little Black Dress”, a Pinot Noir, of course).   I had Shiitake mushrooms, that  I’d originally intended to use in a mushroom tamale, but let’s just say they were getting long in the tooth and decidedly wrinkled.  The pantry always contains a can of tomato paste or two.  Also, my lovely wife had left me with some local cheeses, one of which was definitely Parmesan-like.  Throw all these together and you get… dinner.   Here’s how it came together.

*One other especially helpful tip is to use a melon-baller to assist in cleaning the seeds out of the zucchini.

Homemade tomato sauce


2 tsp Olive Oil

1/2 onion

1 celery heart (approx. 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup carrot

1 large garlic clove (pressed)

1 tsp Red Pepper Flake

2 tsp Basil (dry)

2 tsp Oregano

1 cup dry red wine (Pinot Noir “Little Black Dress” for this occasion)

1 can tomato paste

Beef stock to appropriate thickness

In a high sided pot over medium heat add olive oil.  Add onions, season with salt and pepper, then let cook till translucent.  Add carrot and celery.  Add garlic.  Let the mixture begin to carmelize.  Turn up the heat and add 1/2 the wine to deglaze.  Let the mixture reduce till most of the wine is gone.  Add tomato paste.  Let the tomato paste begin to brown/carmelize, stirring occasionaly.  Add basil and oregano and stir to incorporate.  Add the rest of the wine and let the sauce reduce over low flame.  Add in beef stock and stir, to acquire desired thickness.   Let sauce simmer at low heat, with a lid for 15 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let cool.

Zucchini with Shiitake stuffing


1/2 med onion finely diced

Green Salt for seasoning

Pepper to taste

1 med. garlic

8 oz.  Shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and very finely diced

Panko breadcrumb

1/3 cup grated Krotovina cheese (Prarie Fruits Farm <Champaign, IL>)

1 tsp thyme (dry)

4 medium Zucchini

Cut off the stem end and peel the zucchini and split down the middle.  Using a melon-baller remove the seeds leaving a channel.  Place in a baking dish.  Season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle olive oil and use your hands to completly coat both sides.  Set aside baking dish.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a saute pan, melt butter.  Add onion and season with Green Salt (from previous post – lemon thyme, rosemary, parsley, winter savory, kosher salt) and pepper.   Add garlic, and let cook for 2 minutes.  Add Shiitake mushrooms.  Cook for 3 minutes.  Add thyme and breadcrumbs and let toast.  Add cheese, reserving about 4 tablespoons for topping.  If the consistency seems to dry, a small amount of water or stock to wet.

Portion Shiitake stuffing into the zucchini channels, pressing lightly with the spatula to place the stuffing into the groove.

Add tomato sauce around the zucchini, shake the dish slightly to make sure sauce evenly coats the bottom of the pan.

Place baking dish on the middle rack and bake for approximately 30 min, until zucchini are tender and the sauce is reduced.  In the last 2 minutes, remove and sprinkle with the reserved cheese.  Return to oven for 2 minutes until cheese melts.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then serve.

Serve with white rice or rice pilaf.  We had some leftover white rice from some asian dish I’d made.  So I just added some almonds and called it a side-dish.  Great for sopping up that lovely tomato sauce!

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So as per normal, the end of the summer season provides me with a quandry.  What do I do with my herbs that need to be brought inside?  Usually, this means I bring them in and hope that they can get enough sunlight in the office as to stay mildly productive.  Unfortunately, what normal happens in a slow withering death.

Since my lemon thyme was looking exceedingly unwell, I decided to try something new, green salt.  Green salt, is just a flavored salt, using herbs.  I have used it before taking a recipe from “The French Laundary” cookbook to make duck confit.  The first part of the prepartion was to rub a little green salt as a dry rub.  I know, I know, salt, “It will pull all the moisture out of the meat!”.  Well, if Thomas Keller says to do it, ummm…  I’m going with him.  Just saying…

So I sat at the sink stripping the leaves from the stems into my spice grinder.  I then added kosher salt, in about a 3:1 ratio.  I gave it a quick buzz, and viola, green salt, starter at least.  Unimpressed with thyme only, I quickly went around picking at the herbs, rosemary, parsley, winter savory with a few black pepper corns.  I buzzed those all together with the salt mixture.  So now I have a tasty seasoned salt of my own.  To ensure that the moisture won’t cause too much clumping, I could have toasted in the oven on about 300 for 30 min or so.  This should drive off excess moisture.

I then parked in an air tight container for use over the week.  Since I had the salt, I tried a dry brine with it on about five chicken thighs.  Be careful, remember, THIS IS SEASONED SALT.  So it isn’t just seasoning people!  If you go at it like you normally do, your dishes will be SALTY.  So key is to rub and then rinse.  After sitting overnight in the fridge, I gave it a good washing, to make sure excess salt was removed.  I then let the chicken thighs come up to room temp with a little garlic and olive oil for good measure.

Since it seemed to be the last nice day for a bit, I lit the grill and had at them on the little Smokey Joe.  Unfortunately, I probably should have stuck with my original plan and made chicken and noodles, as the grilling process overpowered anything from the rub/dry brine.  Ah well, live and learn.

I’m seeing the “flavored salt” thing popping up all over food blogs, culinary magazines, and cook books.  I also had a good primer in Jaime Oliver’s cookbook, “Jaime’s Kitchen pg. 244”.  Especially, “Smoked salt”.  Just saying, another food trend spotted here…

So give it a shot, save and herb, and love the meal!

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