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Created for the family on Thanksgiving 2012

A special thanks to the best sous chef in the family, Madison Beard, for assisting me in helping to prepare this during the family get together for Thanksgiving, 2012.

Jambalaya (Dwain and Madison’s version)

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2 Cups uncooked White Rice

4 Cups water

2 Tsp. salt

2 ribs Celery  –  1/4″ dice

1 cup Red Bell pepper – 1/4″ dice

1 cup Green Bell pepper – 1/4″ dice

1 large onion (about 2 cups) – 1/4 dice

7 Tbsp. butter (salted) *prefer unsalted, but this is what we had

4 Tbsp. Flour (all-purpose)

4 Tbsp Tomato Paste

3 cloves garlic (~ 2 tsp. minced garlic)

4 cups smoked ham (1/4″ dice)

1 package smoked sausage – sliced

1 Tbsp Tony’s Creole seasoning mix

1 Tbsp. Zatarin’s Cajun seasoning mix

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper – ground

2 Bay Leaves

2 Tsp lemon thyme

1 Tsp dried Oregano

1/2 cup Parsley

1 cup. cherry tomatoes – sliced in 1/8

1 scallion – diced

2.5 – 3 Qts. Turkey Broth

1 lb. cooked small shirmp – shelled, deveined, butterflied *packaged / frozen is fine.

Salt and Pepper to taste.

Preparation

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Prepare mise en place.

In a medium pot, per package instructions, cook 2 cups white rice with 4 cups water, 2 pinches of salt and 2 Tbsp of butter.  Cook and set aside.

In a small sauce pan, prepare 4 Tbsp butter and 4 Tbsp of flour into a dark peanut butter roux.  Note: Remember to only add the flour AFTER the butter has completed foaming.  See: https://luckyandcharmed.wordpress.com/2008/09/03/the-importance-of-roux/ 

In a medium dutch oven over low heat, start by sweating the onions in 2 Tbsp of butter with salt and pepper to taste.  Cook until onions are translucent.  Increase the heat to medium, add celery and red / green peppers and saute for 2 min.  Add garlic and cook for 1 min, stirring to ensure the garlic does not burn.  Add bay leaves and tomato paste.  Mix ingredients to coat the mixture with tomato paste.  Cook for 2 min, with light stirring.  Attempt to slightly brown the tomato paste without burning.  Add spices – Tony’s creole mix, Zatarin’s Cajun spice, cayenne, oregano.  Cook over medium high heat for 1 min.  Add roux and stir to incorporate, cook for 1 min.  Be careful to scrape the bottom of the pot when stirring, to ensure the roux does not burn.  Add ham and smoked sausage.  Stir-fry and allow meat to brown slightly, cooking for 2 min.  Add fresh herbs, parsley (reserving 2 Tbsp for garnish) and lemon thyme,  If desired, deglaze with 1/2 cup white wine, a buttery chardonnay preferred.  *note: we didn’t do this at Thanksgiving, but Madison and I discussed it while we stirred the pot.  Allow the wine to evaporate.  Add 1 Qt. turkey broth, stirring vigorously to ensure no lumps.  As it begins to thicken, add 1 – 1.5 Qt. of turkey broth (amount depends on desired consistency and amount of cooking time allowed).  Turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 20 min.  At the end of simmering, taste and adjust spices for desired picante or flavor.  5 min before service, add shrimp to simmering jambalaya.

Plate cooked rice into a serving bowl.  Garnish with sliced scallion and chopped cherry tomato.

Garnish Jambalaya with reserved parsley, serving in the dutch oven.

Completed dish is served in bowls with 2 scoops of rice with 2 large ladles of Jambalaya over the rice.

*Note: For extra spice, add a couple sprinkles of Tobasco or favorite Sriracha hot sauce.

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Vegetable Soup

I’ve noted a large creep up on the scale. This is probably due to a very meat-centric diet, of late.  To remedy that, I just cooked a big pot of veg soup. This will tide me over on lunch for the next couple of days, which will keep me available to enjoy the holidays!

A note on the Parmesan, I saw this on some cooking show, I just can’t remember which one! An easy way to get the most out of your Parmesan pieces is to reserve the crust and freeze them.  Basically, when you buy a piece of Parmesan, there is always that last bit of hard darker brown crust, that usually is thrown away.  Instead, reserve and freeze it. Then you can enhance the flavors of stock or soup by trimming,  and then just letting it simmer with the soup.  Later, just remove and discard the leftover piece. Now you have a greatly enriched soup!

Vegetable Soup
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1 med. onion julienne
2 stalks celery diced
3 med. carrot diced
4 oz. Crimini mushrooms diced
1 med. turnip diced
2 cups cooked farro
4 med. yukon gold potatoes diced
*peeled and cooked in the microwave for 5min on power-level 5
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 cloves garlic crushed
2 tbsp. dry oregano
2 tbsp dry basil
1 tbsp tarragon
2 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dry rosemary
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 can whole tomatoes
1 bag frozen corn
1 bag frozen green beans
1 bag frozen broccoli pieces
1 box Kitchen Basics Beef Broth
1 large piece reserved Parmesan crust
2 tbsp. Olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a large stock pot over medium heat, add olive oil.  Heat until fragrant.  Saute onions dressed with salt and pepper to taste. After a minute add mushrooms. Allow to mushrooms to brown and breakdown, about 2 minutes. Add carrot, celery and saute for 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and mix to combine. As the tomato paste browns, add in spices; garlic, cayenne, oregano, basil, tarragon, bay leaf and rosemary. Stir to combine and allow to cook for 2 minutes. Open a can of whole tomatoes and pour off the juice into the pot and stir to combine. The tomato paste and the juice should begin to form a thick sauce. By hand, take the tomatoes from the can and hand crush into the pot. Stir and let cook for 1 minute. Add frozen vegetables; corn, green beans and broccoli. Add beef stock and stir to combine. Add Parmesan piece. Cook for 5 minutes. Add in farro and potatoes. The farro and the potatoes will help thicken the soup. Set heat to medium and let the pot simmer for 25min. When ready, remove the Parmesan and discard.

Serve with garlic bread or a cheese toasty.

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Here is the chili recipe that I whipped up the other night.  Sorry to all my friends and family down Texas way, but this isn’t Texas chili (no beans), nor is it competition chili (1/4 inched diced cubes of steak, instead it uses ground beef to keep it inexpensive).  This is just standard, cheap and spicy chili con carne for a cold day.  It goes great with your grilled cheese sammies.  Lucky isn’t so hot on spicy foods, so if this is for everyone, I will remove or reduce the amounts of chipotle peppers used.

Four Pepper Chili con carne

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2 – 2.5lbs ground beef – 3 – 4 patties

1 medium onion

1 Green Bell pepper – 1/4″ dice

1  Ancient Sweets Red Pepper – 1/4″ dice

1 Poblano Pepper – 1/4″ dice

4 chipotle peppers from a can of Chipotle in Adobo sauce – whole

2 cloves garlic – pressed

3 tbsp Dwain’s not-so-secret spice mix

1 sm. can of tomato paste

1 box Kitchen Basics Beef Broth

1 med. can of Brook’s chili beans

2 tsp cocao powder

2 tsp dried thyme

Salt – to taste

Pepper – to taste

Heat a large pot over high heat until just smoking.  Sear the meat patties until brown, then break up into desired size.  Lower heat to medium high and add in onion.  Salt and pepper as desired.   Cook for about 1min, then add in all peppers except the chipotle.  Stir and cook for 2 minutes allowing the vegetables to begin to soften.  Add in 2 tbsp of Dwain’s-Not-So-Secret-Spice mix, thyme, cocoa powder and garlic.  Stir to incorporate and cook for 1 min.  Add in tomato paste and mix to combine.  Cook until tomato paste begins to carmelize, approximately 4 minutes.  Add half the beef stock and stir.  The tomato paste acts as the thickening agent for the soup, so we add in half and stir to determine the desired consistency.  Add in more beef stock if desired.  Add in Chipotle peppers, add more peppers if you like more spice!  Turn down the heat until the chili is just simmering and allow the chili to cook for 30 minutes stirring occasionally.   Add in the chili beans and stir to combine.  Check the consistency and add more beef stock as desired.  Add in the final tbsp of spice mix.   Allow beans to heat through.  Stir, taste and adjust seasonings.  You can remove the chipotle peppers if desired or mash them into the chili.

Makes about 8 – 10 servings

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The following technique is a basic technique than once mastered leads to an overall improvement in flavor in ALL your associated recipes!

Summary

For best results:

  • Portion meat into patties
  • Meat should be dry
  • Salt the meat before browning
  • Use High heat
  • Brown then breakup meat

The following technique is a basic technique that is helpful in many recipes.  The goal here is to sear the meat to create characteristic “nutty, meaty, roasted, toasted, burnt, or caramel” flavors.

This is provided via the chemical reaction called, the Maillard reaction.  The Maillard reaction (pronounced may-YAR) is a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar, usually requiring heat.  The browning reactions that occur when meat is roasted or seared are complicated and occur mostly by Maillard browning with contributions from other chemical reactions including the breakdown of the tetrapyrrole rings of the muscle protein myoglobin.  Furthermore, high temperature, low moisture levels, and alkaline conditions all promote the Maillard reaction.   In cooking, low moisture levels are necessary mainly because water boils into steam at 212 °F (100 °C), whereas the Maillard reaction happens noticeably around 310 °F (154 °C): significant browning of food does not occur until all surface water is vaporized.

So what does all this mean?  Well, to promote that great seared flavor, we need to provide the best environment for the Maillard reaction, ie. high temperature, low moisture and an alkaline condition.  This means we need to have a really hot pan with a flat surface to provide maximum surface area for heat transfer.  A raised grill surface, for say a grill pan, is also effective, but it is effective because they maintain a high temperature (cast iron), but also because the channels allow for the moisture to be channeled away.  However, the browning will be only on the areas in direct contact with the cooking surface, eg. grill marks.  For this instance, I will focus on using a flat surface pan.   Other conditions, such as high alkaline environment, really just means, salt your food well before you sear.  The last item, low moisture is important.  This means if we are to sear a steak, we would want to pat the meat down with a paper towel to wick away excess moisture.

For ground meat applications, this also has an impact.  Instead of just placing the ground meat in the pan, which then would allow all the juices to mingle and essentially just boil the meat rather than sear, we can patty the meat.  This will provide a means to provide portion control and a large surface area to brown without the release of all the juices.  Also, by using patties and a large pan, we can ensure that there is enough space between patties, so the moisture release from one patty, doesn’t bleed over into another, causing more boiling than searing.  Once you have seared the meat to get the lovely browning, you can then break up the patty into smaller bits to provide you the desired consistency, for say Beef Strouganhoff or Chili con carne.

In our household, they easy way to allow this is to purchase the ground meat, but then create patties using a plastic hamburger press.  The patties are then separated by wax paper into 3 – 4 patty packs, which are then placed in a freezer bag and frozen until needed.  This means I already have items portioned for separate preparations, I just need to thaw and I will be ready to go.  *note: just remember to fully thaw and dry them right before browning!

One note on seasoning before searing.  You need to be careful.  You can salt without any issue, however, most people might attempt to season with pepper or herbs.  There are two problems here.  One, if we are using fresh herbs, this just introduces another moisture provider, which will not allow the browning we are looking for.  Two, you have to be careful not to burn the seasonings.  Herbs and spices release wonderful oils under heat to season the meat.  However, they can also burn leading to not so great flavors.  Specifically look out for paprika and fresh garlic, which can easily burn.  My recommendation is to use just salt and pepper, then apply the seasonings on the grill after the meat is broken up.  If I am attempting to keep the patty together, I might consider working in the spiced throughout the patty, rather than just on the top.

On a short side note, you have probably heard, I sear it to seal in the juices.  This is a fallacy, it just doesn’t happen.  You sear to get the wonderful flavors, not to form a rocky crust which somehow envelops the meat to contain the juice.  See here for more detail.

Recipe

1.5 – 2lbs meat *pattied into 3 – 4 patties

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Using 1 large, flat surfaced, grill pan, preferably cast iron, heat over medium high heat until just smoking.  Wipe down patties with a paper towel to remove excess water.  Salt and pepper the patties on both sides.  Place the patties on the grill with 1 – 2 inches of space between them, they should not be touching.  Allow the patties to brown 1 – 2 minutes depending on the intensity of the heat.  Flip the patty, moving the patty to an area that was not previously used for maximum heat.  The patty should be a light brown to dark brown color, if the color is more black than brown, you waited to long.  Brown the other side.  Once the patty is browned, break up the patty using a wooden spoon into the desired size.


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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

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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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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

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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

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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

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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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