Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Italian Sausage Bolognese

   I don't care if it is the middle of summer, sometimes you just need a huge plate of pasta with red sauce.  Normally I find such a thing a bit too heavy for hot, humid evenings.  But there are always those occasional grey, rainy days in a Southern summer.  Despite the fact that the air is sticky beyond belief and so oppressive you can barely breathe, the cravings of fall start to kick in.  I lightened the traditional meat sauce a bit by using fresh-canned tomatoes and turkey Italian sausage.  Those two things alone cut down on the fat, sugar, and salt.  So needless to say, the calories are greatly reduced.  Even though this simmers on the stove for a while, you still have a fresher taste than if you use a jarred sauce.

Italian Sausage Bolognese
1 med onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 links turkey Italian sausage (I like hot, but mild will work too.)
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 C water or broth
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flake (optional)
salt and pepper
~1 T extra virgin olive oil

   Heat oil over med heat in a pot.  Saute onion until soft, about 5-7 minutes.  Remove casing from sausages.  Add meat to pan.  Break meat up into small bits as it cooks (a potato masher works well to help this along.)
   Add garlic, tomatoes, water, herbs and crushed red pepper flake.  (Add salt at this point if your canned tomatoes are salt-free.)  Cover and simmer over med-low for 40-45 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  It pairs really well with whole grain/whole wheat pasta.
   Serves 4-6.
   (This also freezes really well if you want to make a huge batch and then portion it out.  Allow to cool completely, divide into plastic ware containers.  Spread a little oil over a piece of plastic wrap and lay on the surface of the sauce before sealing and freezing.  This will prevent freezer burn.  Thaw in the the fridge overnight and then heat over med-low/med heat for a quick weeknight meal.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Black Bean Cakes

   How can you resist an easy and unique side dish?  You can't, that's the point.  These black bean cakes are the perfect compliment to yesterday's stuffed cubanelles.  Or any stuffed pepper.  Hell, they could be your main item with a nice big summer salad.  Crispy exterior and creamy, hearty interior.  They feel like an absolute indulgence but aren't too bad for you.  Sure, they are technically fried but it is a shallow fry and as long as your oil is hot enough and you drain them well, you aren't ingesting a lot of fat.  Even if you don't make the cubanelles, I strongly suggest making the spicy beer tomato sauce to go with the black bean cakes.

Black Bean Cakes
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can black beans, drained
black pepper
1 egg
seasoned bread crumbs
extra virgin olive oil and light oil (canola, peanut, veg...)

   Saute onions in a little bit of oil until tender.  Add garlic and beans.  Cook 1-2 minutes.  Use a potato masher to mash black beans.  You want it to be a half mashed, half whole bean mixture.  Allow to cool.  Salt and pepper to taste  Form into 6 discs.
   Set up 3 plates or bowls for flour, egg, and bread crumbs.  Salt and pepper the flour.  Lightly coat the cakes in flour, egg, then bread crumbs.
   In a deep sided skillet add a mixture of evoo and light oil to a depth of 1/2 inch.  Heat over med/med-high heat until bubbles rise rapidly from a toothpick dipped into the oil.  Place cakes in oil.  Fry for 2-3 minutes a side until crispy and golden brown.  Drain well on paper towels.
   Serves 2-3.  2 main dish portions, 3 side dish.

Additional Note in Response to Comment (9/2/11):  For deep frying I would make balls instead of patties, golfball sized or a little larger.  I have issues with deep frying, but a sphereical shape always seems to hold together best for me.  And they would make a great little party bite... hmmm, doing that in the future!  (I tried to leave this as a comment, but Blogger temporarily hates me and won't let me comment on my own blog.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Stuffed Cubanelles in Spicy Beer Tomato Sauce

   I adore stuffed peppers and right now is peak pepper season.  Yesterday as I was browsing the Saturday Market at the square in Murfreesboro (my old and new-again town) , I was so excited by all the beautiful, fresh, local, and cheap pepper.  From spicy to mild, tiny to huge, every variety looks good right now.  I made these while still back in NC, but I will definitely be coming up with some other variety of stuffed pepper very soon. 

Spicy Beer Tomato Sauce
1 12 oz beer
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 chipotles, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp black pepper

   Combine in ingredients in a pot.  Cover, bring to a gentle bubble over medium-low heat.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Stuffed Cubanelles
4 lrg cubanelle peppers (~6 inches long)
3/4 C rice, cooked according to pkg directions 
1/2 lb ground chicken
1 small onion, diced
2 lrg cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp oregano
1/3 C of sauce (above)
red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
salt and pepper
~1/2 C shredded Monterrey jack cheese
Chopped cilantro and scallions

   Prep peppers by cutting across the top about 3/4 through and down the length of the pepper forming a "T".  Remove seeds.  (See picture for reference.)

   Heat about 1 Tbsp oil over medium heat.  Saute onions for 3-4 minutes.  Add chicken and cook most of the way through.  Add garlic and spices.  Cook about 2 more minutes.  Remove from heat.  Add rice and sauce.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Mix thoroughly.
   Fill cubanelles with chicken/rice mixture.  Place in lightly sprayed baking dish.  Cover with sauce.  Top with a little cheese.
   Bake at 350 deg F covered for 30 minutes.  Bake uncovered for 15 minutes
   Sprinkle with cilantro and scallions.
   Serves 4.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Shrimp Creole

   Shrimp Creole is one of those incredibly easy dishes that has somehow been mystified into a complicated endeavor.  How it happened?  I have no idea.  But I do know that if people knew how easy it really is to make, it would disappear from a lot of menus.  We are talking 12-14 ingredients... for a complete meal.  I love loading the sauce up with veggies so I don't even have to make a salad (even though I usually do.)

Shrimp Creole
1 lrg onion, diced
2 lrg stalks celery, diced
1 lrg green bell pepper, diced
2 lrg cloves garlic, minced
~2 C (1 1/2 cans) petite diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 lb peeled, deveined shrimp
extra virgin olive oil
Tony Chachere's seasoning salt
Tabasco and chopped parsley (optional)

   Heat about 1 Tbsp of evoo over medium heat.  Saute onion, celery, and bell pepper until soft.  It will take about 13-15 minutes, be patient.  Add tomatoes (liquid and all), Worcestershire, thyme, and bay leaf.  Sprinkle with a little bit of Tony's, actual amount will depend on sodium in the tomatoes.   Cover, reduce heat to med-low, simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Stir occasionally.
   Toss shrimp with some Tony's Creole seasoning.  (This is used just like salt, so you know.)
   Uncover sauce, return to medium heat.  When sauce is bubbling, add shrimp and cook through, 5-7 minutes.  If sauce has reduced too much and seems sticky and thick, add a little bit of water to loosen it.
   Serve over cooked rice.  (I suggest using parboiled rice.)  Top with parsley and hotsauce.
   Serves 4.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Garliky Spinach Pizza

   Homemade pizza is one of my ultimate comfort foods.  The whole process is enjoyable: making and kneading the dough, gathering and prepping toppings, [im]patiently waiting for it to bake to gooey, crispy perfection.  This past month I found myself craving pizza constantly.  I didn't give in, but I wanted it so bad.

   This is one of the pizzas I made in NC right before I moved.  It uses creamed spinach as the sauce.  Oh, yeah.  But it is not that gloopy, fatty, runny greenish stuff of the frozen food aisle.  It is actually a healthier version of the steakhouse side classic.  Still creamy and cheesy but without the guilt of a traditional creamed spinach. 
Garliky Spinach Pizza
Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
3 oz goat cheese, crumbled
1/3 C shredded mozzarella
10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed
3 lrg cloves roasted garlic, mashed
1 tsp fresh minced garlic
3 oz light cream cheese
2 Tbsp half & half or cream
1/4 C parmesan
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil
corn meal

   Partially squeeze water out of spinach.  Heat a little oil over medium heat, quickly saute raw garlic for about 30 sec.  Add spinach and roasted garlic.  Heat spinach through.  Melt in cream cheese.  Add half & half.  Melt in parmesan.  Cool.
   Spread dough onto a 13x9 sheet pan sprinkled with corn meal.  (Or into a 12 inch circle.)  Pre-bake at 450 deg F for 5-7 minutes, until bottom is lightly golden.
   Spread spinach evenly over crust.  Sprinkle cheeses over top.  Bake at 450 deg F for another 8-10 minutes, until cheese is melted and crust is browned and crispy.
   Serves 4-6

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Past Few Weeks and Fried Butter

   I must have been crazy thinking that things with the house would only take a couple of weeks.  A month later and I am still working every day on various things with very little down time.  While the days are more consistent now, we are still dealing with little things like getting our new computer all proper.  (I really wish we had the other computer still.... But it is lost and most likely destroyed by the side of some road on Camp Lejeune.)

   One of our breaks from the house included the Wilson County Fair.  Which is apparently a crazy awesome place and has won several awards for being so kick ass.  We watched pig races; I was excited about the redneck-ness surrounding this event but it was one of the cutest damn things I have ever seen.  Piglets and mini pot belly pigs racing for cheese doodles?  Yes please.  The "art" of crawling was also brought to my attention; it is an oddly addictive spectator sport.

  Now, I don't know about the county fairs around you but in the Southeast and Midwest, fried butter has been boasted as this year's most unique fair-treat.  Naturally, that was the first food we hunted down.  I was picturing some tempura-ed stick of butter.  I was hoping it would be a little hunk of butter wrapped in pizza dough and fried, like fried dough buttered from the inside.  In actuality it was a mere tablespoon of butter, dipped in funnel cake batter and deep fried.  It was too much, as I thought it would be, but I can say that it happened in my life.

   Then we had to move onto real food.  And what better to soak up the coating of butter in your mouth than pork?  BBQ pulled pork to be exact.  We are in Tennessee so there was no shortage of BBQ trucks.  Burr's BBQ is the one we ended up at.  Mostly because we got turned around and didn't know where we were on the map.  But there was good sized line which is always a good sign and if anything it was operated by the Vietnam Vet chapter of Lebanon.  They are usually good people and do some awesome charity work.  It ended up being some of the best pulled pork I've ever had.  Not too saucy, just enough to hold it together.  A little sweet, a touch spicy, and perfectly smokey, tender, melt-in-your-mouth meaty shreds of pork shoulder on the traditional soft white bun.  (The sides were ok, nothing special, a little subpar.  But it was out of a truck and they were focusing on the proteins, I'd expect the sides to be much better from the restaurant location. )
512 N. Cumberland St.
Lebanon, TN 37087

   I seriously suggest checking these guys out and maybe have them cater your next backyard party.  Maybe those Labor Day cookouts coming up?

   And for your cuteness viewing pleasure:  mini pot belly pigs racing... well, sporadically making their way around the little track.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Schizophrenia, Steve McQueen, and Garlic

   I am so sorry for my yet again absence!  You know I recently came back to Tennessee and I have been working everyday at the house.  Let me just say, if you ever have the opportunity to move into a house after a legit crazy person... don't.  The woman who lived there the 19 years before us was schizophrenic.  She died a year ago and the place hadn't been touched since.  It is a lot of work to say the least.  She had a love of putting nails and screws in all available locations, cooking over an open log fire in her gas fire place (yeah...), and what I assume to be a deep passionate love for Steve McQueen.  The only thing left on the walls when I got there was a a newspaper clip of the man taped under a window in the strange and creepy upstairs bathroom.

  As soon as I get a new computer (that is another story......) I will be back to my regular blogging.  Then I will show you a picture of my new tattoo:  a head of garlic.  Yup.  It was a spur of the moment thing when my friend who is apprenticing needed some skin to work on.

   Ok, I am back to the house now to work another day.  I love and miss you all!