Friday, June 20, 2014

Puff Pastry Unlimited

Piping hot from oven
When I clean out my fridge and freezer I usually find things I've totally forgotten. Of course most of them get tossed due to the condition. Forgotten leftovers and such. But in this case it was an unopened box of Puff Pastry in the freezer. A happy find. I try to keep it on hand, particularly around the holiday's for appetizer bundling. Brie for example, tucked snugly in with a drizzle of local honey and sprinkled with English walnuts. That's a favorite for Christmas and New Year celebrations. 

But there is an unlimited number of possible stuffing's to enjoy. The Horn Player actually (sit down now) said he would like spinach as a main ingredient. I know, that's a veggie, but hey, I'm giving it a try if he will eat it. Fruit, that's next since Summer is in full swing here in Dixie. I'll report back on my inspirational results. 

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It seems I'm really into the instant gratification type of cooking lately. My last post was an appetizer style nosh and now this. It's always a good time to test an idea, however. This is rich, gooey and quite tasty. But it isn't something you'd want to make very often. I think it would be very nice if thinly sliced and served as a heavy hors d'oeuvre. This time I divided the sheet of pastry into four equal blocks, but of course you could use the entire sheet and make one large roll. That would be super served on a long cutting board for a buffet supper. I'm thinking little bowls of pickled items served alongside would be perfect to counter the richness of the pastry and its filling. So many ideas with Puff Pastry.

Roll one piece of Puff Pastry into a larger rectangle as thinly as you can without tearing the tender dough. Cut into four equal sections and cover with a towel to prevent drying while you assemble the other ingredients.
Freshly grated Extra Sharp Cheddar
A serpentine drizzle of Ranch Salad Dressing
Cheese layered over the Ranch, then cooked bacon (not crispy)
A slice of Honey Roasted Turkey from the deli goes on next
Rolled up like a burrito and sealed with a brush of water around the edges to button the packet up nicely ~ I added a bit of cheese to the top

Getting puffy while baking

Golden brown and delicious

Flaky pastry, creamy Ranch, smoky bacon, sweet honey turkey and gooey cheese
Oh yum!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Naan Sense

Saturday was a busy day, chores and all that. Outside, inside and all around the realm we worked. By mid-afternoon it became apparent to both of us we hadn't eaten very much and the time had come to do something about that. I had bought a package of Naan a couple of days before, so I figured with a few more ingredients from the pantry and herb garden, I might just have a tasty nibble. A "pizzaesque" sort of thing. I always make my own pasta sauce, but I do store a red and white for emergency situations such as this. This time, no red sauce at all. Hmmm, Alfredo sauce in a pinch sounded doable. Let's go for it. I snipped a branch of basil from my patio herb patch and grated some Asiago cheese for the finishing touch. Hey, looking good now. Plus, I had a few fresh grape tomatoes in my fruit bowl that I'd bought on my last grocery buying trip and I do love tomatoes. Check this out...

Naan on an ungreased baking sheet with a smear of Alfredo
Chiffonade of basil on The Horn Player's side of the baking sheet,
and chiffonade of basil and tomato on my side.
Shard-like grating of Asiago cheese scattered over both.
Bake in a 375 oven until the cheese is bubbly and melted. The Naan will brown a bit more and become nice and crispy. Slice and enjoy with a cold libation and if you like, a small salad for a great lunch or light supper. 

Note: This method could be used with any ingredients. These two are totally vegetarian, but you could add seafood or whatever you may prefer. I think crab meat would be divine here. And red sauce brings on so many more choices,  for example a hearty sausage such as thinly sliced Andouille and fresh oregano. Oh my!
Out of the oven with a bit of black pepper sprinkles. was delicious!
Very delicious!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Anny's Fried Chicken

Tidbit for the cook ~ Gone
What says Sunday Dinner louder than Fried Chicken? In my book, nothing! My childhood in the river-bottom community where I was raised left me with more fond experiences than I can count. We had wide open spaces to play and explore, close family relationships with grandparents and learning experiences through living the small farm life. And the incredible food we enjoyed remains such a strong memory. I can almost taste it simply by thinking of it. On any given Sunday we enjoyed Spring fryers straight from coop to frying pan to table, as well as pot roast resting in rich, brown drippings, with rice or creamed potatoes waiting for a drizzle of the meaty gravy.

Truly, our family was favored with great cooks and green-thumb gardeners. When you put those two talents together you get farm to table goodness. Having both maternal and paternal grandparents with years of experience at vegetable gardening, coupled with acres of rich river-bottom soil, well, the results were bounteous. There was definitely lots of hard work, but with abundant reward. Those garden patches gave us peas and butter beans straight from the vine and fresh thin-skinned new potatoes that were scrubbed clean, cooked right then and there, plopped into an old crock bowl and served naked with only salt, black pepper and fresh homemade butter. Now that's a taste unmatched. Simply divine! Corn-on-the-cob wonderfully sweet and chin dripping delicious was always a favorite of my brother and me. I love the squeaky snap when biting into a fun food like corn-on-the-cob. 

You want luscious? Well, while the potatoes were still fresh and new, we scrubbed them spanking clean and scraped off most of their red papery skin, boiled them in salted water and ladled over a sauce closely akin to Béchamel. We called it white gravy and speckled it with loads of black pepper. That dish is truly one of my very favorite potato recipes. 

Fresh tomatoes sliced, chilled and sprinkled with crystalline salt and dotted with black pepper were always sitting pretty on the dinner table. Fried eggplant and fried green tomatoes sat beside hot cornbread, sliced and ready to serve. And my favorite squash (Patty Pan) cooked down-low with a whole diced sweet onion and a generous nub of butter. Of course, at Ma's table there was always a bowl of green Cayenne peppers fresh from the garden. Their long skinny pods twisted and gnarled as if to warn of their heat. Wow, were they evermore hot, too. She made pepper sauce with them and we poured the peppery vinegar over everything from fried fish to field peas. It remains a staple in my kitchen to this day. Another treat was fresh crisp cucumbers and sweet onions that were sliced thinly and doused with a generous splash of vinegar and a sprinkling of sugar, chilled and passed around the table as day pickles. So cool and stimulating, a real palate cleanser with its piquant vinegar bite. 

Looking back to those simpler times is a comfort to me now. My culinary chops learned and earned there in that tiny community and family kitchens of my raising. And now, there are certain dishes that speak loudly to me of those days and times like no other. Fried chicken is definitely one of them. When I make my version, I like to think I'm surrounded by the matriarch's of our family putting in their two-cents worth. So my way to crispy fried chicken employs a little bit of both my grandmothers methods and of course, Mama too. This is how it goes. 

First, I was taught at a very young age the proper way to 'cut-up' a chicken. I still practice that today. It's way too easy and economical to buy the whole bird and do-it-yourself. Don't be intimidated by a task that is dead simple.

A whole bird washed (yes I wash my chicken) and dried ready for the process.
Note: The process of breaking down a whole chicken into frying pieces begins by removing the wings. Then to the running gear, remove it and cut in half.  Done, a thigh and a drumstick, every kiddo's favorite piece. Then remove the wish-bone from the upper breast if you like. My little brother and I always made a wish on the 'pulley bone' as we called it. Then cut the breast in half and the back in half and you have a deconstructed chicken. I usually fillet the breast halves and leave the 'tenders' next to the bone. I also remove that narrow bone attached to the top of the breast as seen in the first photo here. It's my nibble while cooking. Ma always gave my brother and me that little bite before dinner to make us happy until dinner was ready to serve. I miss her so much.

As you can see I'm using only half the chicken. Just The Horn Player and yours truly for dinner so there's no need for a bunch of leftovers. So I cut the bird in half with kitchen, aka poultry, shears by using the backbone as a guide. Beginning at the neck, cut alongside the backbone all the way to the Parson's nose and voila, first step done. Next lay the chicken out flat, skin side down and using a sharp knife or the shears again, break through the breast bone and continue until there are 2 halves of chicken. You may need to put a bit of muscle in the breast bone area, but it isn't that tough to do. You can also completely remove the backbone if you like by cutting alongside just as you did in the first step and discarding it. Now, wasn't that easy.

I season with a dry rub mixture that, to me, is perfect. I usually make up a batch and use the amount I need to season the chicken and reserve the rest for later. It's also good on pork chops.

4 tablespoons coarse Kosher salt
2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried sage or poultry seasoning
1 tablespoon garlic powder

Sprinkle the seasoning mixture over the chicken and toss around coating every piece of chicken well. Cover and place in the fridge for an hour or so for the spices to meet and greet one another. I use waxed paper pressed down against the chicken to cover. I love waxed retro.

Into the fridge
Remember I mentioned I feel so connected to Ma and Mammy when I cook. This is one of those times. Mammy used nothing but all-purpose flour to coat her chicken and Ma used nothing but white corn meal. So, you can guess what I do, I bet. Half all-purpose flour and half white corn meal. I add a bit of paprika to the dredge and mix it in. Mama loved paprika. Place the chicken pieces in one at the time and coat very well.

The flour/meal combination adds so much crunch to the chicken. It's frying and getting nice and crispy. I use cast iron to fry my chicken in just enough hot oil to come up about half way on each piece of bird while it's frying. I love cast iron.

Thigh (my favorite) and drumstick

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Louisiana Strawberry

Louisiana Strawberries ~ Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!
I recently purchased this luscious flat of Louisiana strawberries from our local 4-H club. I couldn't resist supporting our local 4-H and our local Louisiana strawberry farmers. An annual benefit the likes of this is right up my alley. Who wouldn't want ripe, sweet strawberries? What a fantastic thing to sell.

The afternoon they were delivered I was of course working, however, going home to a chore like processing strawberries is not a chore at all to me. I reserved two boxes to just enjoy. The's how I did it. I used the dry sugar method which is a bit of a misnomer since the sugaring process creates copious amounts of juice.

First, I removed and discarded the caps and tossed the berries into a bowl for a cool bath. I rinsed them twice to be sure they were spanking clean. Next, I carefully laid them onto a super clean cotton kitchen towel to dry. After draining and drying sufficiently I tossed the berries back into a large bowl and added the sugar, one-half cup sugar per pint. I had six boxes so three cups of sugar. After sprinkling the sugar over all the fruit, I very carefully and gently mixed the sugar and berries. Then I allowed them to sit at room temperature until the sugar melted. I stirred them carefully again and sealed them, juice and all, using my fabulous Food Saver. I ♥ my Food Saver a bunch. I happily found room in the freezer for four brilliantly red bags of this delicious fruit.

Perfection in a fruit!

A bath in cool water.
They look happy, don't you think?

Big, sweet and juicy ~ And the color is striking
Showered with sugar
Ready to seal
Four bags of sweetened, crimson strawberries in the freezer for tasty pies or cakes or as a topping for creamy cheesecake

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I'm thinking strawberry jam, à la minute, for a weekend brunch will probably be my first creation with one of these bundles of Spring

~ * ~

Tastes like home

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Waste Not ~ Want Not

I love cooking Sunday dinner for my guys. Or anyone for that matter. And I love the traditional dishes I grew up eating at the family tables of my childhood. This past weekend I did Pot Roast, a staple at Ma's Sunday dinner table. A big Beef Chuck Roast to be exact with potato, onion, carrot and sweet potato thrown in at the end of the cooking time. I never add these until the last to keep them from overcooking. No mushy veggies for me. I serve the veggies cooked in the pot roast stock separate by removing them to a warm platter and layering the sliced roast alongside. I never leave them in the stock. That's reserved for gravy. Oh, yum. Trouble is, I cooked too much this time. I can't stand to throw away food if I can dream up a redo that's interesting; a way that totally transforms the ingredients into something almost exciting. My bright idea this time I must share with you. Monday is a day I frankly do not want to get in the kitchen and cook for too long. So it's usually simple and quick. Soup and salad is simple and quick and that's what we had last evening. Romaine Salad and Creamy "Pot Roast Veggie" Soup.  

Note: Having lots of veggies leftover was fortuitous for utilizing on Monday's menu. These veggies have tremendous flavor, so what a shame to waste them. To store them for later use I put them in a plastic bag and toss in the fridge.

Creamy "Pot Roast Veggie" Soup
Leftover potato, onion, carrot & sweet potato
(you could use plain oven roasted veggies)
Chicken stock
Freshly grated nutmeg
Black pepper
Chives as garnish
Dill as garnish
So to begin this soup, I filled my Vitamix blender a little more than half-full of leftover veggies and 1 cup of chicken stock. I pureed until smooth. Add more stock if needed to blend well. Then into a small pot to finish. I added about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of cream and enough milk and stock to thin it out a bit. Roughly half milk to half stock. I brought it up to a low simmer and grated a bit of nutmeg to my taste. Probably a pinch if measured. Black pepper to taste and salt if needed. Boom! Done! Just like that I had a tasty soup with tons of flavor. To garnish, I just drifted over some chives and some dried dill weed. You could grate a bit of hard cheese over such as Parmesan, Asiago, Romano, Dubliner etc. Served with a light salad it was a perfect dinner. Simple, quick and scrumptious.  

My creamy soup and Romaine salad with tortilla strip crunchies

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pork and Pineapple

The Purple Pot
I recently purchased a new pot for my collection of cast iron. This one is enamel lined and purple. I have another enamel lined cast iron pot that's bright green; a sassy French one to be exact. The new purple pot is much larger, six quarts, which was my main reason for seeking it out. The size of this pot will allow plenty of room for chicken frying or gumbo for a crowd. So needless to say I couldn't wait to wash it, dry it and begin cooking. I just never expected to buy a purple one, however. Now I need a gold one...Geaux Tigers! 

I think I've used it every day since I brought it home. Here we go with a recipe I invented from ingredients I had on hand. Sans the Pork Chops. I had to stop off at Mac's for those. Two thick cut beauty's I might add. Although I know there's nothing new under the sun, a recipe that I invent is new to me. Happy ingredients in a pretty pot is a beautiful thing. My spur-of-the-moment idea was well received by The Horn Player and me and, yes, I will make it again. 

Note: You could use pork tenderloin sliced across the grain and flattened. A pork tenderloin paillard so to speak. And I think I will do just that the next time I make it. And you could use canned or frozen pineapple, but I personally think fresh pineapple is one of the most delicious fruits there is, so I will use fresh again on my next effort. One more thing; I served this with Fried Rice which was a perfect side for the sweet/savory main dish. I'll post my recipe for that later.
Pork Chops in Pineapple Sauce

2 thick center cut pork chops
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 to 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1-1/2 heaping tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
1 jar Cocktail sauce
1-1/2 cups fresh pineapple, largely diced
Black pepper
Green onions, sliced

Rinse the pork chops under cold water and pat completely dry. Sprinkle very lightly with salt and black pepper; set aside. Splash the olive oil into the pot and bring up to heat. Add the pork chops and brown on both sides. Do not cook completely. Remove the chops and add the chopped onion. Cook on medium/high heat until the onion is soft, about 5 or so minutes. Toss in the garlic, ginger and fresh pineapple and stir well until heated through. Add the jar of Cocktail sauce and scrape the bottom of the pot to remove the sticky bits that give so much color and flavor. I'm very fond of fond.  Nestle the pork chops back into the pan allowing the sauce to cover the meat for better cooking and to capture the essence of the delicious sauce.

Taste for salt balance and adjust as you like. Cook on low heat until the chops are done. At the last, sprinkle over sliced green onion's. Serve each pork chop with a generous ladle of the pineapple sauce and plenty of the pineapple bits. Add more green onion for garnish.

Isn't it gorgeous!

I love using a sheet of wax paper to prep messy foods. All you need to do when your task is complete is crumple it up and toss it away. So here's a chunky little Pork Chop on a sheet of wax paper ready to be salted and peppered.
My salt cellar is an antique butter dish from Ma and the black pepper is in a shell from Ship Island given to me by The Horn Player's mom

Lightly seasoned with Kosher salt and black pepper

In the Purple Pot getting brown
Flavorful fond in the bottom of the pot with onion and garlic
I ♥ my Microplane ~ Perfect for mincing fresh ginger
Fresh pineapple and spicy ginger sweetening the pot
It's saucy now with the addition of the Cocktail sauce
Ready to slice, serve and yum!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Baby, it's cold outside!

The Lott's Chicken and Rice
The title of this post, cliché as it sounds, reflects just how I've felt over the last few days. A Polar Vortex has descended into the swamp land and that's actually a bit scary to me. I'm a Deep-South lovin', flip-flop wearin' Louisiana lady and I do not like cold weather. I confess heartfelt sympathy for my Northern family and friends and wonder how in heaven's name they can stand wearing all those clothes just to go check the mail. No thanks!

We don't have the extreme problems they have but nevertheless, it's still very cold here. And even though I confess I'm (already) getting a bit tired of winter food, there is a simple one-pot recipe that always hits the spot, no matter. It warms you up and that's just what I need/want for dinner tonight. My Pappy and Mammy Lott were the best at making Chicken and Rice. Not by any means an elaborate dish, no swanky presentation, just a piping hot bowl that comfort's like nobody's business. It's the only thing our family really wants to eat when any of us get a cold or flu in the winter. It hugs you and then tucks you in. It's culinary medicine, y'all. 

My version remains simple just like my grandparent's recipe, but I do tweak a bit. Chicken and Rice is a simple dish, but not really that easy. To achieve the perfect consistency, there's a few steps that must be exact. The timing needs to be spot on or the result is too dry with squishy overdone rice. Adding too much stock to rice ratio can result in soup, not Chicken and Rice.  Now, mind you, I prefer mine a bit soupy, not to say swimming in broth, but not dry either.

I also like to add a bit of green onion and at times a veggie, such as zucchini when in season. Finely diced carrot or fresh English peas are also delicious. It's a recipe that is open to interpretation or can remain as plain as a Puritan. But the must for me is at serving time, the pièce de résistance, lemon. I adore lemon and lime and orange and grapefruit, all citrus really. Citrus juice and zest are indispensable in my daily cooking. And lemon is precisely the right acidic spritz to cut the richness of the chicken, add brightness to the stock and pair perfectly with the aromatic rice. My grandparents would never have added lemon or green onions and veggies in season, but if they could be with me tonight (God rest their souls) I bet they'd like my version. 

Chicken and Rice isn't indigenous to the South or to Louisiana either, but since we're a rice producing state it's a very common favorite, hereabouts. We cook lots of recipes that call for rice and for me chicken is a great partner. Let's begin...

Note: This recipe would serve 4 people easily. It can be adjusted for your needs. I used 4 large chicken thighs and 1-1/2 cups rice.

The Lott's Chicken and Rice

4 to 6 chicken thighs
1 box of chicken stock
Water if needed
1-1/2 - 2 cups raw white long grain rice
3 or 4 chopped green onions (both white and green)
Kosher salt
Black Pepper

Into a stock or soup pot add the chicken thighs and enough stock to cover. If the stock doesn't cover the chicken, add enough water to do so. Bring up the heat to just below a boil, but quickly reduce to low/medium simmer to poach the chicken. Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the chicken is just done. Remove to a platter and cool. Then de-bone into bite sized pieces. 

Chicken thighs ready for the stock

Poaching in a pot of stock

Rinsing the rice
Rinse the rice in cold water until it runs clear. There is always a question from someone on whether to wash rice or not. I always wash rice and this is a place where I do not want excess starch to cloud or thicken the wonderful stock. So rinse your rice.

Note: The only exception I can think of at the moment is in Risotto making. Here you would want to begin with dry rice and the Arborio rice used for this is meant to be starchy to create the characteristic creaminess of Risotto. 

Pearly rice drifting into the chicken stock
Before adding the rice, adjust the stock to at least 4 *heaping* cups and add plain water if more is needed. Taste test here for salt because none has been added with the stock being salted. Add to your preference, but carefully. Add the black pepper, bring to a boil and shower the rice into the pot, stirring well afterward. Add the green onions and the diced chicken. Reduce the heat to simmer and cover with a lid, but not tightly. Angle the lid slightly. This is where it gets tricky so keep a close watch on its progress. When the rice begins to swell, taste test to check the tenderness. Just before its done, when still rather al dente, remove the entire pot from the heat and close the lid completely allowing it to steep for 5 minutes or so. And be sure there is enough liquid to finish without becoming too dry. Add more warmed stock if necessary. Remove the lid and add the juice of 1/2 lemon and stir. Serve to a happy family or friend.
LOVE lemon
Big pot of luscious comfort

Chicken and Rice with another burst of lemon, served with a hot slice of Cornbread

It's just right!