Birds of a Feather

Dear readers: please be advised that some may find this post objectionable as it skirts the very edgy topic of guns. No, I’m not writing about the latest gun-related tragedy nor is it a rant on gun control.  I’m just waxing nostalgic, because guns have not always been defined by mayhem and murder.

I grew up in the mid-part of the 20th century when guns were a big part of our existence. My dad was a marksman, an avid hunter, and was very proud of his gun collection and the many trophies that surrounded us.  We belonged to a gun club where we regularly took turns at target practice and skeet shooting.  He saw to it that I had my own .22 rifle and later a .410 shotgun; I learned how to care for them, to use them responsibly, and I became a pretty good shot. It never occurred to me that they could be used for violence against another person. At our house, guns were a form of recreation and largely related to delicious food—our freezer was well stocked with bear, deer, quail, pheasant and whatever else was fair game that year.

My mom was an excellent cook and prided herself in knowing how to best prepare whatever game came through the door. Those meals were highly anticipated events and deeply appreciated by everyone.  As I think about it now, one of my particular favorites was her Pheasant Cacciatore.

Since pheasant can be quite lean, she would soak the pheasant ahead in an herb and red wine marinade to moisten, tenderize, and remove any potential gaminess. Sometimes she would start with a bit of bacon and then brown off the pheasant.  She’d proceed to develop a hearty sauce with plenty of mushrooms, onions, carrot, tomatoes and capers—perhaps she’d throw in a little green pepper, celery, or olives.  I suspect she’d combine the pheasant and all the trimmings in a heavy covered pot and gently braise it in a moderately slow oven.

The recipe has long since been lost, but that’s my best recollection.  I recently reflected on those fabulous meals while preparing my easy mid-week Chicken Cacciatore.

It is made effortlessly with this Instant Pot treatment, yet it is a distant second to my mom’s ‘classic’ version.  When nearly done, mine became a one-pot meal with the addition of a few handfuls of penne pasta!  Still, with those flavors and few favorite pieces of plumb chicken, you really can’t go wrong.

Chicken Cacciatore, PC

Although this is presented in Instant Pot format, directions are included for standard stove top preparation, too. If using dry penne pasta on final, more liquid maybe required.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 to 6 chicken thighs (bone-in)
1 onion, slice
1 carrot, chop
2 ribs celery, chop
1 pasilla pepper, seed and chop
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, mince
½ teaspoon thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ pound mushrooms, trim and slice
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken stock, water or other liquid
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons capers
2 cups approximate, dry penne pasta
Garnish:  ½ cup parsley and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. If using an Instant Pot, set it medium Sauté, and heat 2 tbsp. oil. Pat the chicken dry, season with salt and pepper, and place in the hot pot. Brown 4-5 minutes per side and remove to a holding plate. Pour off excess fat.
  2. Add the remaining tablespoon oil and sauté the onion until soft. Add the carrot, celery, pepper, the fennel, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flakes, and cook 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add the mushrooms, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper to the pot. Stir to loosen the fond in bottom of pan with the liquid released from the mushrooms. Increase to medium if necessary, cook 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Stir in 1 cup chicken stock or water, the tomatoes and the capers.
  5. Return the chicken to the pot, nestle the pieces into the tomato mixture to barely cover them and bring to a simmer.
  6. Lock the lid, set pot to high Pressure for 12 minutes. (If using standard stovetop preparation, cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is tender.) When time is up, turn off the pot, disconnect, and let rest 10 minutes. Carefully release any remaining pressure and open.
  7. There should be enough liquid in the pot to also cook the penne pasta. Set the pot to medium Sauté and bring back to a simmer.  Add 1 handful of pasta per serving (about 2 cups) and simmer for 10 minutes, until al dente.  Adjust seasoning and dust with fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese.  Serves 4

Surprise! Surprise!

I was raised by a mother who took mealtime very seriously. Mom believed that dinner was a time to display our best manners, to chat, and enthusiastically enjoy all that she had lovingly prepared. She was a great cook, and dessert was always a highlight.  My brother and I were expected to arrive promptly for dinner and stay until we had polished off all that was served. If we balked too much, dessert was definitely off the table.

There were those painful nights when the most dreaded vegetables were served— like lima beans or asparagus—and Gary and I would eye each other knowingly. This could be a long night.  Mom was wise to our attempts at diffusing the situation: we’d spread food across the plate as if it had disappeared; we’d casually spit disgusting bites into a napkin, or desperately drop the worst to our loyal collie, Duke, who sprawled sympathetically under the table.

Mom finally relented and allowed us both to pick one item that we could pass on, but we couldn’t arbitrarily change it the next week.  For years, lima beans were my biggest contender: they were big, dry, and wretchedly hard to swallow with no redeeming flavor.

Overall, I pride myself on being open to new foods and welcome new taste treats; but still, I’d dismiss lima beans whenever there was a choice.

All that changed recently when I watched Rick Bayless prepare a dish called Banana Pepper, Leek Soup with Lima Beans and Smoked Meat. I was fascinated by the creamy, thick, green soup that was reminiscent of Vichyssoise, the fabulous chilled potato-leek soup. The concept was just enough to open the door and give me a reason to give it a try. I reasoned the bean’s texture might actually work in its favor!

Leek-Lima Bean Soup

The soup is prepared much like its French counterpart, but substitutes lima beans for the potatoes and eliminates the cream.  It begins with a quick sauté of smoked meat, like shredded ham hock (yes, it works!), then removed and saved for the finish.  Sweet root vegetables, such as carrots and parsnips are roasted or grilled ahead and held for the finish.

The actual soup is quite simple. Leeks and shredded peppers, such as pasilla, are sweated in the smoke-flavored oil and cooked down until meltingly soft.  All of this is pureed with half of the defrosted frozen baby lima beans and a good chicken stock. I opted to not over puree the soup, which added to its rustic appearance and charm.

The soup is returned to the soup pot and reheated with the other half of the lima beans. The smoked meat and roasted vegetables can be reheated with the soup, too. Since they are colorful and have so much flavor, I preferred to strew them across the soup when serving—visible and not lost in the soup.

That’s it.  Add a sprinkling of cheese, a little fresh herb such as cilantro or parsley and be prepared for a surprise!

Leek-Lima Bean Soup with Root Vegetables and Smoked Meat

Inspired by Rick Bayless’s soup: Crema de Chile Güero y Poros con Carne Ahumada

Ingredients
½ pound root vegetables (2 carrots and 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into thick slivers)
6 ounces smoked meat, like smoked ham hock, smoked turkey leg or smoked jowel
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ pounds (about 6 small) leeks, washed, roots cut off, cut in half lengthwise and each half sliced crosswise into ¼-inch pieces
3/4 to 1 pound (about 4-6) fresh güero or pasilla chiles stem, seed,  slice ¼-inch thick
1 pound bag frozen baby lima beans (defrosted)
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper
Garnish:  handful cilantro or flat leaf parsley
A few tablespoons grated Mexican queso añejo or other such as Parmesan

Instructions

  1. Toss the vegetables lightly with oil, salt and pepper, and roast the vegetables at 450°. Toss one or twice, cooking 20 minutes. Remove and set aside. (Can be grilled 2-3 minutes.)
  2. Using fingers to shred (or a knife to cut), break the ham hock (or one of its stand-ins) into bite-sized pieces. In a large (5- to 6-quart) soup pot, add about 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat and add the smoked meat until crisp. With a slotted spoon, scoop the meat onto a paper towel to drain, leaving behind as much fat as possible.
  3. Add the butter, leeks and chiles into the pot, cover and return to medium heat.  Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks and chiles are very soft, about 10 minutes.  Uncover and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks and chiles look thoroughly melted and are just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes more.  Scrape the leek mixture into a blender jar, add half of the bag of the lima beans (about 1 ¾ cup) and the broth.  Blend until smooth and return to the pan.
  4. Add the remaining beans and the charred vegetables to the soup and bring to a simmer over medium heat, add more stock or water to thin if very thick. Taste and season with salt, usually a scant teaspoon depending on the saltiness of your broth.  Let simmer for a few more minutes, then ladle into warm soup bowls, sprinkle with the crispy meat and garnish with fresh herbs and cheese. Serves 6-8.

Irish [Scotch] Eggs

For a casual brunch following St. Paddy’s Day, I opted to configure some of my fabulous corned beef hash into a riff on Scotch Eggs.

Often eaten as a cold snack, Scotch Eggs are hard cooked eggs wrapped in sausage and deep fried.   As such, my version included just enough of the corned beef hash to tidily encase a hard cooked egg. It was then treated to a gentle sauté in a thin layer of vegetable oil until hot and crispy.

Since I had hard cooked eggs ready to go, this treat took no time at all.  My yolks were more cooked than I normally prefer— the perfect enhancement would be a slightly moist yolk.

Once I had a grip on the egg preparation this was a fairly effortless undertaking. The lively plates consisted of the highly entertaining Irish Scotch Eggs along with a mild mustard sauce, pickled onions, radishes, sharp cheddar cheese and warm soda bread slathered with cranberry apple jam.  Irish Eggs,  Scotch Eggs, Irish-Scotch Eggs… enjoy and call them whatever makes you happy!

Irish [Scotch] Eggs

Ingredients (per serving)
½ cup heaping, Corned Beef Hash (see blog recipe)
1 hard cooked egg, peeled
1/3 cup flour (approx.) lightly seasoned with salt and paprika for dredging
2 tablespoons vegetable oil for pan
Accompaniments:  mustard sauce (see below), pickled onions, cheddar cheese, radishes

 Directions

  1. Heat a skillet with oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Place flour in wide bowl and lightly dust the egg with flour.
  3. Mound hash in palm of hand and make an egg-sized indentation in the center. Insert the hard cooked egg into the center and mold the hash around the egg to completely encase it. Lightly moisten hands with water if it becomes sticky.
  4. Carefully dust the exterior with flour and place egg in hot pan. As the surface begins to take on color, roll it over slightly with spatula, continue until entire surface is crisp and lightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes.  Serve with accompaniments of choice.

Light Mustard Sauce: combine ¼ cup sour cream and ¼ cup mayonnaise, blend in 1 tablespoon deli mustard, or to taste.

Post Paddy’s Day

St Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite days of the year—it’s right up there with another food day, Thanksgiving. Mid-March, my east coast roots tend to surface and the need for corned beef rages!

Of course, it wouldn’t be worth getting out of bed if I wasn’t secure in the knowledge that corned beef and cabbage were planned for later in the day.

Over the years, I’ve gotten in the habit of making more than necessary so there will be leftovers. One of the spoils of the day is the assurance that corned beef hash is also right around the corner.

Hash hardly requires a recipe. I used to grind the corned beef and vegetables in a meat grinder; later the grinder was replaced with the food processor.

Now, I simply mince up the cooked beef, chop up some of the boiled potatoes, carrots, onions—and perhaps toss in a bit of cabbage. Then, I give it a good mash to bind it all together, and drop it into a skillet, either in one mass or in separate patties, and cook until hot and crispy.

Add an egg or two and it’s a beautiful thing.

Post St. Paddy’s Day Corned Beef Hash

Ingredients
2 cups cooked corned beef, minced
2 cups mixture of leftover chopped potatoes, carrots and onions
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter

Instructions

  1. Place the corned beef and vegetables in a mixing bowl and gently mash to form cohesive mass. There should still be plenty of texture.
  2. Heat 10-12” skillet over medium heat and form the hash into patties. Place in the pan and heat until crisp on bottom, about 5-7 minute. Turn and repeat on second side. Serve with eggs of choice. Yield: 4-6 servings.

Pasta Fazool: the ultimate vegetable soup

Several years ago I traveled with an Italian family, and this was one of their most requested soups.  They referred to it as Pasta Fazool, but it is also known by its traditional name, Pasta e Fagioli.

This easy, hearty dish is built on a zesty tomato based white bean soup, with plenty of fresh vegetables thrown in. Then, the ever-present pasta is added for the crowning touch.  What’s not to like?Fazool

Pasta Fazool is quite affordable to make, and great for a group. The more the merrier—just add water!  It’s perfectly delicious for vegetarians, too.  Of course, when I made it last, I went the other way. I pulled out a thick slab of ham tucked in the freezer from the holidays—a terrific addition, but not essential for this special soup.  A day ahead I tossed the ham cubes in an oil rub laced with garlic, fennel, red pepper flakes, and rosemary and set it all aside.

To get things started, beans are first simmered until near tender with crushed tomatoes flavored with onion, garlic and sage.  Either dried or canned cannellini or mayocoba beans work nicely.

To pull it all together, I briefly sautéed the seasoned ham (optional) in olive oil, and stirred in a few fresh vegetables. Next, the cooked beans are added and it’s briefly simmered to incorporate the flavors.

Lastly, escarole, kale or other hearty green is added to the pot, followed by a small pasta, such as ditalini.  It’s simmered for another 10 minutes or so, until al dente.Pasta Fazool

Top with a grating of Parmesan Reggiano and pass plenty of warm crusty bread.

 Pasta Fazool

Aka, Pasta e Fagioli

 Ingredients
2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 onion, chop
2 cloves garlic, mince
1 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 cup dried and soaked cannellini or mayocoba beans
2 cups water or stock (approximate), divided and used as needed
1-1/2 cups ham cut into ½” chunks (optional), in herbal rub (see below)
1 carrot, diced
1 poblano chile, seed chop
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1”x2” chunk Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon each sea salt and ground pepper
1 small bunch lacinato kale, ribs removed and leaves torn into 2” pieces
1-1/2 cups ditalini pasta
Grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onion until soft, then add the garlic and sage, stirring briefly. Add the crushed tomatoes, the beans, and 1 cup water.  Simmer about 1-1/2 hours. Or, using pressure cooker, set on High Pressure for 18 minutes with pressure valve set to Sealing and use Quick Release.
  2. In a fresh pot over medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté the seasoned ham for 2- 3 minutes (optional). Add the carrot, green pepper, and ½ teaspoon oregano, cook 4-5 minutes. Stir in the beans, Parmesan chunk, salt and pepper, 1 cup water, and simmer covered for 20 minutes.
  3. Add the kale to the pot and simmer for 3-4 minutes, stir occasionally, until it begins to soften. Stir in the dry pasta and simmer an additional 10 minutes until pasta is al dente. Add more water as necessary, it should be thick yet soupy.  Adjust seasoning.
  4. Serve with Parmesan cheese and plenty of crusty bread.  Serves 4-6.

For the ham rub:  marinade cubed ham 1 day ahead in: 2 cloves garlic crushed, ½ tsp fennel, ½ tsp red pepper flakes, ½ tsp rosemary, 2 tbsp olive oil, pinch sea salt.

It’s Meatloaf | No Muss, No Fuss

Meatloaf is real comfort food, and we may have differing opinions about it. Whether we prefer it with or without ketchup—and what we like with our meatloaf can be real deal breakers.

Here’s a meatloaf solution that makes perfect sense to me. It’s a one pot meal with three separate components: a moist and succulent Italian-influenced meatloaf, smashed potatoes and cauliflower with green onions, and steamed carrots with sage butter.

There is nothing complicated here, beyond soaking the meat loaf’s bread crumbs in milk for 5 minutes—which is a crucial step in the success of this entire extravaganza.  Of course, there is a pressure cooker involved, too.

It is simply a matter of loading a layer of quartered red potatoes and cauliflower florets in the bottom of the pot with 1 cup of water.  The very basic meatloaf is assembled, formed into a ring, sprinkled with a bit of Parmesan, placed in a steamer insert, and set atop the potato layer.  Carrots are cut into fingers tossed with sage and butter, salt and pepper, folded into a foil packet and perched over the meatloaf.

The pot is brought up to pressure and it cooks for 10 minutes. Seriously.  While the meatloaf reaches its full potential its excess juices drip down and flavor the potatoes.

Once the pressure is released, the carrot packet is removed, and the steamer insert is lifted out. The potato water is drained off. The potatoes and cauliflower are quickly smashed with a bit of milk, seasoned to taste, and finished with green onions.  The meatloaf is cut into wide wedges and dinner is ready.

meatloaf combo (1)

No muss, no fuss.

meatloaf plate
It’s Meatloaf

Meatloaf, Potato-Cauliflower Mash, Sage Carrots Packet | One Pot PC

Inspired by Hip Pressure Cooking by Laura D.A. Pazzaglia

Ingredients
1 cup water for pot
Meatloaf
1 pound ground beef, or a combo of meats
½ cup fine dry breadcrumbs
1 cup milk
½ onion, chop
1 clove garlic, crush
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
One pot add-on vegetables
4-5 red potatoes, quarter
1 cup cauliflower florets
½ cup milk
Salt, pepper
2 green onions, chop
3-4 carrots, peel cut into fingers
1 teaspoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon crumbled dry sage
Salt, pepper

Directions

  1. Add 1 cup water to pressure cooker insert.  Spray the stainless steel insert with non-stick cooking spray.  Cut one foil sheet approximately 12” square.
  2. For meatloaf: in mixing bowl combine dry bread crumbs and milk; soak 5 minutes to absorb liquid.
  3. Place ground beef to the bowl, add all ingredients through nutmeg and combine well.  Add the egg and combine lightly.
  4. Shape the meatloaf into a long loaf, place in steamer joining into an even ring. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
  5. Lay the foil out flat, place carrots in center, drizzle with melted butter and oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and dried sage. Fold ends together to form a sealed packet.
  6. Place the potatoes and cauliflower in the water in the bottom of the liner. Place steamer basket on top with carrier handles up, if available. Rest the carrot packet on top.
  7. Lock the lid, set pressure to High and pressure valve to Sealing.  Set time for 10 minutes.  When done, allow pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes, then use Quick Release to expedite process.
  8. Remove the carrot packet and the steamer basket with meat.
  9. Remove the potatoes and cauliflower with slotted spoon to a flat bowl and mash with milk. Season with more salt and pepper if desired, and add green onions.
  10. Cut meat into wedges and serve with potato-cauliflower mash and sage carrots.  Serves 4.

 

Friday Night Special

There are times when admittedly, my meals are a little wacky.  They can be downright self- indulgent and make little sense to others.  Especially on Friday nights.

It’s the end of the official work week and it’s time to relax. There are no rules!  My refrigerator looks deranged with a mere mishmash of odds and ends and pathetic leftovers. Since I will likely do a grocery shop over the weekend, I resist a stop—and prefer to pass on fast foods.

In my experience, there’s always a pizza in the works. Like another stand-by, the taco, a few toppings can become a full meal.  To that end, I like to stock at least one pan-size portion of pizza dough in the freezer. It easily defrosts in the microwave and is ready to go in no time. Occasionally, I have even stashed a pre-baked crust in the freezer. It’s a matter of gathering up a few compatible toppings and tucking it all in the oven for a quick bake.

That was the situation this past Friday night, between Christmas and New Year’s. Thanks to the holidays, my fridge was ripe pickings for fabulous toppings. No pathetic odds and ends here; I had a little hard Spanish chorizo, a collection of fontina and other cheeses, pasilla peppers, sweet onion, Greek dried olives and — fresh green tomatillos.

Tomatillo Sauce 1Whatever.  I treated the 8 tomatillos as if they were treasured San Marzano tomatoes. I removed their husks, chopped them up, and made a fast sauce with onion, garlic, jalapeno, oregano. I simmered it briefly, then ran the immersion blender through it until thick and cohesive. The results: a light, bright sauce worthy of this splendid occasion.

Turns out, the sparkling sauce brought all of these disparate characters together.

The final topping was another gift that kept on giving, too.  I had a little cheese mixture left from making stuffed mushrooms earlier in the week: a combination of shredded mozzarella, Parmesan, green onion, garlic, herbs and Panko. These amazing bread crumbs kept the stuffing light, absorbed moisture, and allowed for a beautifully browned top. Who knew it would one day end up on my pizza?

20171229_194857

It’s another Friday Night Special…  and that’s the way it goes.

Friday Night Pizza

Ingredients
1 pizza crust
Tomatillo Sauce
2 tablespoon olive oil
½ onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, partially seed, chop
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon dried oregano
8 fresh tomatillos, husk and chop
½ teaspoon.dried thyme (or Herbes de Provence if available)
½ cup chicken bouillon
Salt and pepper to taste
Toppings
1 pasilla pepper, seed and cut into strips
½ cup hard Spanish chorizo, cut up
½ smoked ham chunks (if available)
½ sweet onion, cut into strips
A handful of dried Greek olives, or other
1 handful shredded fontina cheese
1 cup cheese combo: mozzarella, parmesan, green onion, garlic and @ ¼ cup Panko
Dried oregano

Instructions

  1. For Tomatillo Sauce: in saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil and sauté the onion until soft. Add the pepper and stir, then the garlic and allow to cook until aromatic.  Add the dried herbs, then stir in the chopped tomatillos.  Just barely cover with chicken bouillon and allow to simmer until thick, about 7 minutes.  With immersion blender, whirl until the sauce is thick, cohesive and still has texture.
  2. Prebake pizza crust at 425° in lower 1/3 of oven to set, about 7 minutes.
  3. To assemble: cover the crust with a coating of some of the sauce. Top with a layer of green pepper, then the meat selection, the onion, olives, and cheese.
  4. Sprinkle with dried oregano and bake another 12 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Cut into portions and serve hot.  Serves 2.