An Unconventional St Paddy’s Day

I was raised outside of Boston, Mass. where St. Paddy’s Day is reason to celebrate like nobody’s business and a big corned beef and cabbage dinner is expected, without discussion.

Corned beef still pulses through my veins, but I have to admit, I’ve started picking at the traditional boiled dinner.  I love the corned beef—but I’m ok with smaller doses, and those vegetables are looking pretty boring.  More accurately, it’s the spicy cooking broth I’m after—that’s where all the flavor and nutrients go.

Then it hit me.  This year, instead of hunks of meat, cabbage, potatoes, onions and carrots, why not scale down to a stylized soup?  OMG, what a sacrilegious thought… Is it wrong to shirk tradition?  Well, how about a small adjustment?   No problem, I was game.

I started by ensuring the corned beef and the soup stock it yielded were not left to chance:  I precooked the corned beef with onion, garlic and my private selection of special spices: cloves are key, as are coriander and mustard seed, dried chile pepper, peppercorns and bay leaf.

Boiled Beef

Once the beef was tender, it was cooled and chilled. The stock was strained and sampled:  was it too salty, did it have enough flavor?  It needed nothing but chilling time to remove any excess fat.

The next day I was on a roll and again, bucked tradition:  into the soup pot went spunky kale rather than worn out cabbage. I piled in plenty of sweet root vegetables like carrots and turnip, along with good ole potato, onion, and more garlic plus a bit of tomato and green pepper for good luck. The luscious soup stock was added along with a handful of barley, another bay leaf, and a sprinkling of thyme.

The soup needs to simmer for about an hour—or 22 minutes in pressure cooker. Once the barley is cooked, the tender corned beef pieces are added to the soup and it can wait for 20-30 minutes.

corned beef soup
St Paddy’s Soup

There is so much going on with this soup, it needs nothing more.  No horseradish, no lively snips or squiggles required.  Seriously.

St Paddy’s Soup: Corned Beef, Kale, Root Vegetables and Barley

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs (or more!) uncooked corned beef (I used lean round)
  • 1 onion, divided
  • 1 clove garlic, slivers
  • Pickling spice:  ½ tsp coriander seed, ½ tsp mustard seed, 8 cloves, 12 peppercorns, 1 hot dried chile pepper seed and mince, 2 bay leaves (divided)
  • 6 cups water

Soup Additions

  • 2 carrots, peel, cut into small chunks
  • 3 red or 1 baking potato, part peeled, chop into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 turnip, peel, cut into small chunks
  • ½ poblano or similar pepper, seed & chop
  • 1 Roma tomato, seed & chop
  • 1 small head kale, trim center veins, chop
  • 1/3 cup barley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ tsp thyme

 Directions

Cook the corned beef ahead:  trim and rinse the beef and place in soup pot or liner of multi-cooker along with ½ onion and garlic. Add the spices and 1 bay leaf.  Cover with water and simmer according to package instruction. If using multi cooker, bring to Hi Pressure and cook for 70 minutes.  Wait 10 minutes and slowly release pressure.

Remove corned beef from pot and allow to cool; cover and chill if not using soon.  Strain the broth, let cool; if time permits chill and skim off congealed fat.

When ready to prepare soup, cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces and place in soup pot.  Taste the corned beef stock, if very salty dilute with water, the potato will absorb some of the salt. Measure in 6 cups stock.  Add the barley, thyme and fresh bay leaf.   Bring to a boil and cook for 40 minutes.  If using multi-cooker, set timer for 22 minutes. When complete, disconnect, let stand 10 minutes, then slowly release pressure.

Add 1-1/2 cups of corned beef cut into bite-sized chunks and gently heat.  Adjust seasoning and serve.  Serves: 8.

Snow Day Soup

Like much of the nation we have been under snowy condition for the past week.  Highways running east and west over the mountains have been threatened with landslides and avalanches. Even a passenger train found it impassable, horribly stuck on the tracks for two days.

With a new storm approaching, I dashed to the market for a few staples. One essential was a rotisserie chicken—always a handy resource for quick bites and hearty soups.

Earlier in the week, my friend Elizabeth happened to mention she was planning to make a chicken taco soup. Huh, the idea stayed with me.  When I returned home from the store I set about making my own version of her soup.  Short on time, it became more a matter of opening up a few cans and dumping it all into a pot along with a few pieces of chicken.

It’s pretty hard to mess this soup up.  I began by making a chile-laced roux to thicken and flavor the soup along with fresh onion, garlic, and peppers.  More chicken stock and tomatoes were added and simmered briefly to form the basis of the soup.  To fill in the gaps I added part of a can of pinto beans, pieces of the roast chicken, simmered it for a few minutes, then set it aside to rest until ready to eat.

Much like a tortilla soup, it’s the garnishes that make the soup. Thus far, I’ve topped it with avocado, lime slices, grated cheese, salsa, jicama slaw, cilantro, salsa, chips… you name, it’s all good.

Chicken Taco Soup

 Ingredients

  • 1 rotisserie chicken, or 2 each cooked thigh and leg, shred
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, chop
  • 2 cloves garlic, mince
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pasilla, ancho or other hot pepper, seed and chop
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seed and chop
  • 1 tablespoon chile powder
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon masa flour or AP flour
  • 4 cups or more chicken stock
  • 1 cup canned diced tomato and liquid
  • 1 cup canned pinto beans, drain
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Garnishes: avocado, grated cheese, sliced lime, cilantro, salsa, tortilla chips – any or all

Instructions

  1. In a soup pot over medium, heat olive oil.  When hot add onion and sauté until it begins to soften. Stir in the garlic and oregano.  When aromatic add peppers and cook to soften for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Stir in the chile powder to combine with vegetables.  Add the flour and stir to form a roux.  Slowly add 1-2 cups stock, stirring to dissolve any lumps. Bring to a simmer and let thicken.
  3. Add the tomatoes and remaining stock.  Allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in the beans and the chicken and cook 10-15 minutes longer.  Adjust seasoning.  Serves 4.

Friday Fennel Pizza

If it’s Friday, it must be Pizza — and I’ve got fennel on my mind.

Today’s pizza showcases a tempting combination of flavors and textures that covers all the bases.  We’ve got creamy ricotta,  fabulous fresh anise-scented fennel, slices of spicy sausage, and more.

This easy pizza begins with a mild ricotta base designed to complement fennel’s sweet and subtle flavors.  Any firm precooked sausage will work, but I’m particularly fond of linguica — or perhaps an Italian or Portuguese style laced with a hit of fennel or anise seed,  garlic, and red pepper.  

It’s not too late to latch onto fresh fennel before it goes out of season.  Its bulb is the most tender and mild part; to easily slice it, first cut the bulb into quarter wedges and remove any lurking hard center core.  Save those tougher stalks and shoots for use in soups, stews and other cooking projects.

 If you are as crazy as I am about fennel’s mild licorice flavor, sprinkle some of the feathery fronds across the pizza before popping it into the oven.

Remember to remove your smartly prebaked pizza crust (see here) from the freezer for a quick defrost before launching into pizza mode. If not, have one medium pizza crust ready for topping.  It’s that easy and that good!   

White Pizza with Fresh Fennel and Sausage

  Ingredients

  • 1 medium prebaked pizza crust or 1 recipe pizza dough 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Ricotta filling:
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese, good quality
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • Toppings
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 1 cup chopped seeded pepper, pasilla, or other
  • 1 cup fennel, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup sliced olives, optional
  • 8 oz. sliced fennel-flavored cooked sausage
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh or dried rosemary or oregano
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil

Instructions

  1. In a medium pizza pan, roll out the pizza dough and prebake, or have prebaked pizza on hand. (see pizza crust)
  2. Preheat oven to 375° to 400° F.
  3. Prepare the ricotta filling: if the ricotta is watery, drain it well. Season with Parmesan, garlic, nutmeg, salt and pepper and fold in freshly chopped parsley. This can be done ahead.   
  4. Toppings: thinly slice the onion, fennel, olives and precooked sausage.
  5. To assemble: lightly brush the crust with olive oil.  Spread the ricotta filling evenly over the crust.  Distribute the onion, pepper, fennel and olives over the ricotta and top with the sausage.  Season to taste with red pepper flakes, rosemary or oregano, and sprinkle the Parmesan and fresh fennel fronts on top.  Drizzle a little olive oil across the top.   
  6. Bake until the center is bubbly and the crust is browned, 15-20 minutes. Let stand briefly, then slice.  Yield: 1 medium pizza.

 

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

Anyone familiar with this site knows that homemade pizza is one of my favorite indulgences.  I tend to think of it toward the end of the week—with the unrealistic plan of enjoying leftovers on the weekend. That so rarely happens.

The pupose of today’s post is is to eliminate my on-going irritation concerning the whereabouts of my current pizza dough recipe. More exact, I tend to misplace or lose track of my latest pizza-dough-du-jour because it regularly changes. It’s a mirror of my life: as my life evolves, so goes my pizza dough.

Lately, I’m making a dough that uses instant yeast. It is brilliant because it requires no advance proofing of yeast in warm water, thus eliminating 10 to 15 minutes lead time.  The instant yeast is combined with the dry ingredients and blended with hot water (120 to 130 degrees). The dough is briefly mixed, then given a quick knead to get the gluten going, and left to rest for only 10 minutes—opposed to the usual 30 to 60 minute rise.

pizza dough ball (1)
Ten minute pizza dough

The longer traditional yeast development is regarded essential for optimum rise, texture, and flavor.  However, this dough has fine flavor; it is quick, malleable and can be patted out quite thin, all for which I give high marks. I like to keep the flour at least 50% all-purpose or bread flour, then fill in the remainder with whole wheat, semolina, a bit of flax meal, or other fun flours.

When I have my act together I prefer to pre-bake the crust for 8 to 10 minutes, which moves past the ‘fussing with dough’ phase and wards off potential sogginess.

pizza crust
Pre-baked crust: a blank canvas

Pizza is ready when I am.

Either way, then it’s a simple matter of gathering toppings and baking it all off in a hot oven for 15 or 20 minutes. In the throes of a busy week this dough wins hands down.

Here is my current Quick and Easy Pizza Dough, ready for topping.

Quick and Easy Pizza Dough

Ingredients

  • 1½ – 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup warm water (120-130 degrees F)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, mix together 1 cup of the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Add the hot water and olive oil and stir to combine with spatula.
  2. Continue adding the flour until the dough just clears the sides of the bowl. In bowl or on a floured surface, knead for about three minutes, until the dough is soft and slightly sticky without leaving a lot of residue on your fingers.
  3. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 10 minutes, lightly covered with a towel.
  4. While the dough rests, preheat the oven to 400-425 degrees F. Well oil a pizza pan or baking sheet.  With floured hands pat the dough into the pizza pan. Add sauce and toppings of choice and bake in lower third of oven for 15-20 minutes, until center is bubbly and crust is golden brown.    Yield: 1 large or 2 medium

To pre-bake the crust: Well-oil 1-2 pizza pans. With floured hands, pat the dough into a large pan, or divide the dough in half and pat with floured hands into two oiled medium pans. Bake at 400-425 degree oven until firmly set but not colored, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool on rack or store lightly wrapped until needed. A well-sealed crust can be frozen up to a month.

Turkey Adventures

Thanksgiving turkey is such a tradition, it’s hard to imagine the perfect holiday dinner without it.  But, when faced with wresting a big honking turkey  I’ve often fantasized with options less overwhelming… like succulent bundles of turkey wrapped around a luscious filling.

This year, it finally came to pass.  Of course, my fantasy wasn’t quite as easy as imagined.  It would have been smart to prepare the exotic mushroom pâté ahead of the big day.  I opted to go with a fresh turkey breast cavity… with two breasts.  That meant double the effort; and naturally, I wanted to test this idea in the multi-cooker.

The good news is that it worked out just fine.  Once I had boned the first breast and pounded it out, the second went very quickly.  Happily, the two stuffed and rolled breasts fit nicely in the bottom of the pot, too. The mushroom pâté filling was the perfect complement, it provided great flavor which penetrated into the the turkey breasts.  Apologetically, there was such urgency to eat, I was barely able to get one photo…

More good news.  My favorite part of the turkey is the skin, so how would that work in a pressure cooker? Turns out, browning the breasts in the pot with a sprinkling of paprika was enough insurance to maintain a beautiful color and tasty skin—no flabby weirdness!  With a mere 20 minute whirl in the multi-cooker, dinner was ready in a flash.  Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Turkey Breasts Stuffed with Mushroom Pâté, Multi-Cooker

Ingredients
Whole turkey breast, bone-in, skin on (2 breasts total)
Salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 cup chicken stock

Mushroom Pâté
1/4 pound mushrooms, combination domestic, exotic and dried soaked, sliced
1 tablespoon butter and evoo combination
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, rosemary, sage each
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons dry sherry or brandy
3 green onions, chopped
½ lemon, juice of, approximate

 Directions

  1. Prepare pâté and cool completely: sauté the  mushrooms in butter and oil to soften, add garlic and toss, add thyme and rosemary, sage, nutmeg and salt and pepper add sherry, cook down, and point up with lemon juice if necessary.   Process until well minced, not pureed.  There should be no liquid.  This can be done ahead.
  2. Bone the turkey breasts: with boning knife, remove one breast at a time from the cavity. From the top of the cavity, cut the breast away from the bone, scrape down with boning knife along the bone to loosen; work around the cavity until the breast is removed. There will the oyster and other random pieces which can be used or reserved for another purpose. Repeat with second breast.
  3. Lay out one breast at a time, skin side down and cut horizontally from the narrowest part of the breast to about ¾” from the thick end. Open the breast to form a large piece. Cover with plastic wrap and pound evenly to ½” thick.  Season both sides with salt and pepper. Repeat.
  4. To fill and roll: Divide the pâté in half. Cut side up, starting in the center of each breast, spread an even layer of pâté over the cut sides, leaving ½” or more uncovered at edges. Roll the breasts up by starting at narrowest part of the breast and tightly roll up like a jelly roll, tucking in the edges.  Tie the rolls securely with kitchen twine.
  5. With multi-cooker set to Saute, heat enough oil to thoroughly coat the bottom of the pot until shimmering. Brown the two rolls on all sides for about 10 minutes, adding a light dusting of paprika.  Pour in 1 cup chicken stock and heat the stock. Turn off the pot and reset to High Pressure for 20 minutes (45 minutes to 1 hour in conventional oven).  Seal the pot and bring to pressure.  Once the cycle is complete turn off the pot and let the pressure come down normally for 10 minutes.  Carefully remove the lid and check the internal temperature. It should reach at least 155 degrees, as it will continue to cook as it sits.  If not, reset pot for another 5 minutes.
  6. Remove the breasts to a warming plate or board, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes before artfully carving into slices. The pan dripping will make delicious gravy.  Yield: 2 rolls, 4 or more servings.

 

 

 

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Nixtamalized Corn = Hominy = Posole

Nixtamalization is getting a lot of buzz these days, especially with the many vested in preserving and promoting the traditional foods of Mexico.  For anyone else interested in authentic flavors and elemental nutrition it should matter, too. It seems we have come full circle from what the Aztecs knew centuries ago.

The Aztecs would grind the kernels of their maize or field corn against the limestone rocks found in the riverbeds, and they discovered the beneficial interaction between the two.  They noticed how their bodies responded after eating corn that had been ground in limestone. This corn did not cause digestive problems and gave them energy and spiritual alertness.

Scientists have since confirmed that lime releases niacin, an essential amino acid, in the corn.  The increased health benefits of nixtamalized corn are substantial:  it can reduce bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, and contribute to the optimal functioning of other body processes such as digestion, cellular repair and elimination of toxins. Niacin also seems to reduce the level of triglycerides in the blood and much more.

Hominy is made with either white or yellow corn, but specifically it is from flint or dent corns which have a tougher outer seed coat than others. Soaking the kernels in an alkaline solution loosens or dissolves this outer portion. In the process, the kernel absorbs water and the alkaline solution which is key to nixtamalization. When cooked, the chemical composition of the kernel is altered, boosting the nutritional value of maize.  This process also provides hominy with its readily identifiable flavor and chewy bite.

Posole, hominy,  nixtamal, are all the same thing: they are corn that has undergone the nixtamalization process. Posole, a derivation of the Nahuatl word for hominy, has come to broadly refer to a soup or stew made with hominy.  So popular is posole in Mexico, it is considered a national dish, with various regions proclaiming their unique version as the best.

Here’s an easy posole made with a combination of pork, tomatillos, and pasillas or other hot peppers.

The hominy and tomatillos  provide added thickening power and flavor that melds with the pork into a rich and supple stew. Serve it straight up in bowls with favorite toppings like avocado, cilantro and crema. Or, cook it down until thick for a tortilla filling. Enjoy with spicy slaw, fresh avocado, salsa, cilantro and whatever else pleases you!

Pork Posole

Ingredients
2 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
1 large onion, slice into strips
2-3 pasilla peppers, or other hot peppers, seed & cut into strips
3 cloves garlic, divided
1½ – 2 lbs pork sirloin, trim, cut into strips
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. oregano
7-8 tomatillos, husk, quarter
1 tomato bouillon cube
Few dashes favorite hot sauce
2 tostadas or corn tortillas, in small pieces
1½ cup water, enough to barely cover
2 cups cooked white hominy, rinse and drain

Accompaniments:  warmed corn tortillas, guacamole, cilantro, crunchy slaw, hot sauce

Instructions

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté to soften, add the pepper strips, 2 cloves garlic cut into thin strips, and continue to cook until the peppers have softened and garlic is aromatic. Remove all from pot and set aside.
  2. Season the pork strips with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium high and add remaining 1 tbsp. oil to the pot.  When shimmering add the pork and brown on all sides.  Add the third clove of garlic cut into slivers, and toss briefly along with smoked paprika and oregano.
  3. Stir in the tomatillos, crumbled tomato bouillon,  a dash of hot sauce, the corn tortilla pieces, water to barely cover the pork, and stir to combine well.
  4. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until the pork is tender. Or, to use multi-cooker, seal the lid, bring to high pressure and cook for 25 minutes. Turn off system, let pressure come down naturally for 10 minutes, then release remaining pressure.
  5. When the pork is tender add the reserved onion and pepper medley. Stir in the hominy and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or longer, until flavors are well blended and the posole has thickened. Adjust seasoning.
  6. Serve the posole in bowls with favorite garnishes. Serves 4.

 

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