Monday, October 29, 2012

Creamy Lemon Herb Pasta with Smoked Chicken

The weekend’s cool weather made me yearn for the outdoors. I didn’t go far, but I did make several trips to the grill and back. I can see a large-scale smoking session in my near future (I’m talkin bout pecan smoke, don’t ya know - maybe with a hint of mesquite tossed in for good measure).  Pork ribs, pork butt, brisket... oh my! But this past weekend I only had time to hit the grill, as I was knee-deep in cake pops (and those little suckers demand a great deal of attention).

When I fire up the grill, I like to make a small foil boat for some wood chips to set on the grate alongside the meat…a makeshift mini-smoker as it were. Just enough to add an earthy hint of smoky goodness to the layer of chicken breasts and sausage I was grilling. And I always throw a few extra chicken breasts on the grill/smoker, as they make excellent leftovers to be reincarnated into tacos, pastas, salads, nachos and more.

Tonight’s dinner – another quick and easy pasta with chicken. This whole thing takes about 5 minutes more than it takes the pasta to cook.

Creamy Lemon Herb Pasta with Smoked Chicken

(2 Servings)

Pasta – 2 servings cooked (you can use whatever you love – I usually default to Angel Hair)
Philly Cooking Crème Savory Lemon and Herb – ½ container
2 tablespoons dry white wine (or water/broth)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
1 large (or 2 small) smoked or grilled chicken breast(s)
Green onions, chopped, for garnish

Cook pasta according to directions. While water is boiling/pasta is cooking, chop green onion. Mix cooking crème and wine in a small saucepan over low heat to combine; cover and remove from heat. (If you do not have a wine handy, you can use water or chicken broth - this is to thin the sauce just a bit to a creamy sauce consistency.)

When pasta is al dente, drain and toss back in cooking pan with butter and olive oil. Toss to coat well. Cover pot.

Reheat chicken; slice. Cover with foil to keep warm.

Just before serving, toss pasta with sauce. Salt and pepper to taste.

Dish pasta into bowls and top with chicken slices; garnish with green onions. Sprinkle with Parmesan.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Texas Twister Chili

I have been waiting (not so patiently) through the long summer days of heat and humidity that seemed to drag on and on… waiting for the mercury to mercifully settle somewhere below seventy. This weekend, my friends, has brought a smile to my previously melting face. Clear blue skies and 60-degree days, nights in the 40s! I could really get used to this.

With the welcome chilly nights comes the craving for chili days. Texas red, that is. Chili brings back memories of high school football games, where the concession stand sold hot chocolate and Frito pie. Why was Frito pie so awesome? A small bag of Fritos, split down the side, with industrial canned chili ladled in (no beans of course…this is Texas, after all). If you were lucky, you may get a sprinkling of cheese on top, or a small spoon of nacho cheese (another questionable culinary topic). But for some reason, Frito pie was awesome. Perhaps it was the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the Friday night lights… who knows.  It was magical, but then those were magical years.

Present day (adult years) chili and football is different. Chili competitions are everywhere, with cooking teams who are dead serious about holding their recipes and methods sacred. Tailgaters munch their own chili concoctions with beer chasers. Armchair quarterbacks watch the game from the kitchen while cooking up their favorite spin on this regional treat.

Texas red, as purists will tell you, is simply beef and chiles. No beans, no tomatoes, no nada. Some folks like to add a secret ingredient here and there, such as chocolate, cinnamon, coffee…which a purist would argue redefines your dish. I do agree with them that beans have no place in a Texas chili. But I like my chili the way I like it; I don’t need it to fit a mold. When you make your own chili, you experience firsthand the orchestration of the ingredients melding together in the cooking process to reach that heavenly carnivorous pinnacle.

I have never actually committed this to a recipe until now, as it has always been a labor of love, without consideration for measurement. I measured everything very carefully this time, including every last chili and seasoning (you will notice that there are a plethora of peppers listed – I will explain this as we go). I have dubbed this gem Texas Twister; I like to think of it as Texas Red, turbocharged.

Texas Twister Chili

4 pounds of MEAT. Allow me to explain. I use a combination of meats and textures, adding to the complexity of the dish. I use cubed beef (approximately 1/2-3/4 inch cubes), ground beef, cubed pork, ground pork, and hot breakfast sausage, ground). You can use whatever you like, and whatever you can find, in whatever proportions you wish. I like to use marbled meat to ensure that it comes out very tender. Season each with salt and pepper.

2 cups diced onion
2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon Mexican oregano, crushed
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 cup strong coffee (or a single serving of espresso crystals + 1 cup water)
2 cups beef broth (or water + bouillon)
1 can Rotel

Chiles (I am using ground, as I have a great source that sells premium quality ground chili):
1 tablespoon Mulato (mild, dark, roasty and full-bodied)
1 teaspoon Guajillo (medium, bold)
1 teaspoon Pasilla Negro (tart, citrusy, mild, roasty)
1 teaspoon de Arbol (light, biting lingering heat)
1 teaspoon Chipotle (warm, smoky, rich, hot)
1 teaspoon Ancho (dark, roasted, mild, rich)
1 tablespoon New Mexico Red, mild (mild, flavorful)
1 teaspoon Jalapeno (green, spicy, medium)
1 teaspoon Chimayo (hot, earthy)
In total, about 4-5 tablespoons of good chile powders. You can experiment and tweak this to your own taste, using your own combination of chiles. The blend I have concocted here is actually a nod to a group of guests I will be sharing it with – the heat factor has been toned down (it would be rated a medium heat). When I make a batch of chili just for myself, I add more of the hotter chiles, including Ghost Peppers!

2 tablespoons cornmeal
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons water

You can certainly make a good chili with fewer; I understand that availability can be an issue. But this is the way I like to do it since I have the pepper collection on hand - I end up mail ordering for best selection. I have been a huge fan of chiles for years, growing them, tasting them, roasting them, experimenting with them. They have different flavors and nuances, and their heat will actually occur at different times while you are tasting them. For instance peppers such as the Habanero and Chimayo have a delayed heat that builds up. Arbol, African bird pepper, Cayenne and Serranos have a quick, bright heat that hits you right away. Jalapeno has a nice “green” flavor, and the heat comes in mid-taste.

Heat a large skillet on high. Brown your seasoned diced meat, a batch at a time (with a single layer). You want a nice caramelized brown crust on the bottom, so keep the heat high. As the first batch is browning, cook your onions. Keep an eye on the meat, and turn/stir once it is good and browned on one side.

In a large pot on medium-high heat, brown the butter. 

Add onions, do not stir for a couple of minutes. Allow the bottom onions to begin to caramelize (but not burn!), for a hint of sweetness (I do not like to add sugar to a dish to offset the slightly bitter chile edge – this is my solution). 

Stir, and cook another 2 -3 minutes or so until the onions begin to turn translucent.

Add the first batch of browned meat to the onions, stir to blend. 

Cut the heat to medium. Add Rotel tomatoes. Cover the pot as you cook.

Reheat the skillet on high, and brown the next batch of meat. Drain excess grease if needed; add meat to pot. If the meat is not overly fatty/greasy, you can dump it all in the pot to save the tasty liquid. You can always skim excess fat later.

Add broth/water and coffee.

Once all meat is browned and added to pot, skim any excess grease off the top if necessary. 

Cover and simmer for 2 hours.

Add cumin, oregano and garlic, along with all the chiles. Stir until perfectly blended. Cover and simmer 1 hour.

Combine cornmeal, flour and 2 tablespoons of water to make a runny paste with no lumps – add an extra spoon of water if necessary. Stir into the chili, blending quickly as you go to prevent lumps.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Your chili is now ready to serve! I like to top mine with diced onions, shredded cheese, and a dollop of sour cream. Of course for me, those ever-so-nostalgic Fritos are always lurking nearby as well…unless I just made a batch of cornbread!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Double Dip Day

As it turns out, today has been pretty much a double dip day all around. The morning started off with a bang when I apparently hit the snooze button twice as many times as I normally would. I had to rush twice as fast to get ready for work. Then at work, I found myself buried under the work of at least two people. It then took twice as long, as I suffered twice the normal number of interruptions, and ended up twice as far behind as I had anticipated.  Double the pressure! Double dip day! But I suppose that’s where it all ends, as I just checked my bank account for my direct deposit, and unfortunately there was no double pay. Oh well. Guess I should have two glasses of wine to wrap up the day.

Cream cheese. Who doesn’t love a good cream cheese dip? I am a huge fan, of course since its first cousin sour cream is one of my flavorite pals. In my college days, I was fortunate enough to work with my aunt and uncle in their boutique gourmet stores in Austin. They carried a marvelous variety of imported foods, cheeses, coffees and teas. They also made several cream-cheese based spreads from scratch, and occasionally showcased their wares by making fondue and other delicacies for the customers. This was the most wonderful place for a starving college student to work! I am sure this helped form my long-standing love of cheeses and gourmet indulgences. The following recipes are inspired by these cream cheese spreads, and the memories of my aunt lovingly assembling care packages of dips, crackers, cheeses and other snacks to share with my college dorm mates. Wait – share?

Black Olive Spread

1 8-ounce package of Cream Cheese, softened (microwave on medium for a minute or so to facilitate softening, or leave it out of the refrigerator for about a half hour)
4 ounces chopped black olives (use your preference, whether that means opening a small can, or chopping your favorites from the grocery’s bulk selection)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (1/4 teaspoon if you prefer less heat)
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (1/4 teaspoon if you prefer less heat)
¼ teaspoon salt (if the olives you use are extremely salty, please taste before addition of salt)
2 tablespoons chopped green onions

Veggie Spread

1 8-ounce package of Cream Cheese, softened
¼ cup finely diced cucumber*
2 tablespoons finely diced celery*
2 tablespoons finely diced carrot*
1 tablespoon finely diced fresh jalapeno*(optional)
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon salt
*the finer you can dice the veggies, the better – you can also use a small food processor to pulse chop

For either concoction, combine all ingredients in softened cream cheese, and stir until completely blended. Refrigerate for at least an hour to chill. Enjoy with crackers, veggies, or your favorite spoon if the mood strikes! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sour Cream Green Enchiladas with Avocado Relish

Oh how I love sour cream. I could write an entire blog featuring sour cream. But, I realize not just everyone shares my unnatural love of this most delicious dairy product. I think this hearkens back to my formative years, when my aunt would make copious amounts of green onion dip (didn’t we call that “California dip” back in those days?) for me to snack on. Or for dinner. Or to serve as a babysitter perhaps. I was a fairly shy kid, and a painfully slow eater, but I would slowly, meticulously destroy as much of this as she would shove in front of me. It was almost like a challenge – is she going to stop eating? Is she ever going to stop feeding me? Bring on another bag of Fritos! There is still some dip left at the bottom of the vat!

For this recipe, I actually refrained from going overboard on the sour cream. This recipe makes a tangy, spicy sauce that is offset by the creamy goodness of avocado relish.  You can tailor it to your own heat tolerance, but of course I went for the spiciest versions of the ingredients that were used. And feel free to add more sour cream to your enchiladas once they are finished - I did! (Shocker...)

Sour Cream Green Enchiladas with Avocado Relish
 (2 servings)

Sour Cream Green Enchiladas
Approximately 2 cups Chicken breast, shredded (use whatever you like or have on hand – leftovers, grilled, baked)
½ cup sour cream
1 small can tomatillo salsa
1 small can green chiles
¼ cup onions, finely diced
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon flour (or Wondra)

4-6 corn tortillas
oil, to heat tortillas
4 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded

Avocado Relish
1 large avocado, large dice (try not to use the squishier avocados)
¼ cup tomatoes, finely chopped
1 tablespoon onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon cilantro, finely diced
1 tablespoon lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper

For the relish, chop the avocados, tomatoes, onions and cilantro, and add to a bowl.

Sprinkle with lime juice, salt and pepper.

Mix carefully – try not to make this into guacamole. Refrigerate until enchiladas are done.

Shred chicken, grate cheese. If your chicken is really bland, you may want to season it a bit. I simply threw in a smidge of cumin, for that nice earthy flavor, and a bit of garlic. Set aside.

Add butter to a small pan with the onions, sautee until translucent. Add flour (or Wondra) and stir until well blended. (I love Wondra – it’s so awesome to cook with, I wondra what I ever did without it!)

Add tomatillo salsa and green chiles, stir. Cook on medium for a couple of minutes, remove from heat.

Stir in ¼ cup of sour cream. YUM.

Cover pan and set aside. 
Warm tortillas in a small skillet with a small amount of cooking oil. On medium-high heat, cook each tortilla for 15 seconds on each side. They should be pliable and starting to bubble. You can dab any extra oil with paper towels if you wish.

Slather the bottom of your cooking pan with a spoon or 2 of enchilada sauce. Slather – I hate that word.

Down the center of each tortilla, slather (there it is again!) a teaspoon of sour cream. Sprinkle about a half cup of shredded chicken in a line down the sour cream. Sprinkle Monterrey Jack along the same line.

Roll tortillas and place seam side down in the pan.

Cover with the enchilada sauce, and top with the remainder of the Monterrey Jack cheese.

Cook at 350 for 30 minutes. Crank it up to Broil, and cook an additional 5 minutes, to get the top cheese nice and bubbly.

It’s best to let these set for 5-10 minutes, as they fall apart easily if you serve them right out of the oven.

I hope you enjoy my recipes! If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to comment or email me – I would love to hear from you.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chorizo Burritos Smothered in Chili Con Queso

I admit, I am not a huge fan of breakfast. It is literally a mood thing, especially on weekdays. I have a hard enough time waking up at o’ dark-thirty and getting myself into gear to go to work – it almost seems that my digestive system sleeps a couple of hours later. By the time my stomach is awake enough to consider breakfast, I usually defer to lunch.

But there are times, especially on a lazy weekend, that I really enjoy a breakfast/brunch throw down. Especially if my stomach and I were able to sleep late. Breakfast (or brunch) is also more fun, to me, if there is a social element (and brunch is more fun if there are bottomless mimosas involved, but that is another story). My mother was a huge fan of breakfast, and I have fond memories of taking her to huge breakfast buffets. She would skip a fancy home-cooked meal, or a gourmet dinner out, in favor of breakfast.

There was an awesome restaurant in Austin in the nineties that served down-home Southern cooking, with someTex-Mex thrown in for good measure. They served a mean chicken fried steak and cream gravy - and that same gravy pulled double duty for breakfast, ladled over fluffy biscuits made from scratch. They also had a seriously tasty Tex-Mex breakfast diversion, a chorizo burrito, smothered in chili con queso. It was… amazing. The restaurant has since gone the way of the dinosaur, but this dish lives on as one of my all-time favorite breakfasts.

First, I must clarify that the chorizo I am referring to is the Mexican breakfast sausage variety. Some of my Texan friends will ask, “is there any other kind?”. For those of us who love steaming chorizo and eggs snuggled in warm, fresh tortillas, you know what I am talking about. Mexican chorizo has a unique flavor, pork tinged with chilis, vinegar, and a complex blend of spices. Spanish chorizo, on the other hand, is a cured link sausage that can be sliced. It is quite flavorful as well, bursting with garlic, paprika, oregano, but would not work well in this dish.

Chorizo Burritos Smothered in Chili con Queso

(4 Servings, can easily be halved)
½ pound chorizo
8 XL/Jumbo eggs
¼ cup sour cream
1 small can diced green chilis
¼ cup diced green onions
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt

Shredded cheese (Colby-jack or cheddar)
4 large tortillas
1 cup of chili con queso
Fresh jalapeno rings, to garnish

Brown chorizo in a large skilled on medium-high heat, stirring frequently.

Crack 8 eggs into a medium mixing bowl.

Add cumin, salt, cracked black pepper; whisk.

Add green chilis, green onions, and sour cream, whisk until blended.

When chorizo is done, leave it in the pan, but blot excess grease with paper towels. Reheat pan to medium-high.
Add egg mixture to hot skillet. 

When it begins to curl around the edges, fold and stir gently. 

Continue to fold until the eggs are almost cooked through. Turn off heat. Continue to turn; eggs will finish themselves, “coasting” from the heat that remains in the pan. Cover pan and set aside.

Heat the chili con queso, either in microwave or on stovetop.

Make sure your tortillas are pliable – pop them in the microwave for 20 seconds or so to ensure this, or into a hot non-stick skillet. If not, they will break when you try to roll them.

Take one tortilla on a plate and sprinkle it with shredded cheese. Top with ¼ of the egg mixture. 

Roll the ends together and roll the seam to the underside of the burrito (depending on the size of the tortilla, the ends may not overlap by much)!

Ladle chili con queso over the burrito, and garnish with fresh jalapeno slices. 


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Southwest Shrimp and Sausage

What a day what a week! Normally I handle work stresses easily enough, but this past week has seemed like an ongoing effort in futility. Frustration! So today, I could not wait to get home, and into the kitchen. Something truly yummy was in order. I had just braved the throng of eager customers at my neighborhood HEB's grand opening, and picked up some fresh shrimp and a pound of seriously tasty sausage. This is where we begin.

Rummaging through the refrigerator, I spied a container of Philadelphia Cooking Crème Santa Fe blend. Having never used this product before, I had no idea what to expect (now I do!). Grabbing every pepper I could find, along with a red onion, I set out to wow myself (mission accomplished!). This rich, creamy dish was so incredibly quick and embarrassingly easy to prepare – had I not been busy snapping photos I probably could have finished it in 30 minutes.

I served the sauce over rice this time, but when I make it again I will probably go with pasta (bowtie, to capture the rich, creamy sauce in its folds).

Southwest Shrimp and Sausage

4-6 servings
1 pound medium shrimp peeled and deveined, seasoned with a pinch of salt (patted dry)
1 pound sausage, sliced (I prefer spicy Andouille – you may use your favorite. One of my general rules of cooking: If you love what you put into it, you will love what you get out of it.)
2 cups  chopped bell peppers (I used tricolor because they are oh so pretty and I think they have a nice well-rounded sweetness. )
1 cup chopped red onions
1 Serrano pepper, sliced thin
1 Jalapeno pepper, sliced thin (If you hate the heat, you can skip the Jalapeno and Serrano. You can also reduce the heat by handling the peppers carefully during preparation, making sure to remove the seeds and the membranes they are attached to without crushing them. This is where the heat comes from. I personally like it HOT, so I abuse the peppers, roll them around on the counter, beat on them, call them names, and THEN, mercifully, chop them up.)
1 container Philadelphia Crème Santa Fe Blend
½ cup water
Pasta or Rice, to serve

Prepare your pasta or rice, whichever you prefer . This should be started first, as the main dish moves quickly.

Chop peppers and onions, set aside.

Preheat skillet on high. Slice the sausage in ¼-inch slices, and add to the heated skillet. 

Cook on medium high until sausage has a nice crust forming on one side – this should take about 7-10 minutes. Stir and flip the slices for another 2 minutes.

Add vegetables, and stir – cook for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally.

Add Shrimp.

Stir for another 2 minutes or so, until shrimp lose their translucence. Your skillet should be very hot and fairly dry at this point – add ½ cup of water. Stir and scrape skillet to deglaze those tasty sausage bits.

Once the mixture is completely blended and the bottom of the pan is smooth, add the Philadelphia Crème Santa Fe Blend, and mix well.

Lower the heat to simmer, and cover the sauce while you finish setting up the rest of your dinner. Serve over pasta or rice.