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TATER TOT CASSEROLE

Our granddaughter and her father recently made a whirlwind trip to help her with her final decision about college. That meant our usual Sunday Family Dinner was changed to simple stir fry, and on return of the travelers Carol made a celebratory steak dinner for her family. Susan and I thought it was important for that to be a special time for parents and children, so we planned our own meal. A few days before that, Susan had plunked on my desk a recipe she had torn out of a magazine. It was for a combination of turkey and tater tots, and I took the message that Susan wanted to give it a try. So I went to the store for frozen tater tots and canned beans. Instead of turkey, though, I used some franks and diced ham that were in the refrigerator. The result was definitely not gourmet eating, but it wound up tasting better than either Susan or I had anticipated. The next day we got to give our granddaughter a big hug and our congratulations.

RECIPE

Tater Tot Casserole

Ingredients

  • 28 ounce can baked beans
  • 4 beef frankfurters, cut into ½-inch slices
  • 8 ounces diced ham
  • 6 small crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 scallions, white and green, sliced
  • 2 ounces, cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 pound frozen tater tots (about)

Method

  1. Combine the baked beans, frankfurters, ham, mushrooms, and scallions and pour into a baking dish.
  2. Sprinkle the top of the mixture with grated cheese and arrange the tater tots on top of the cheese.
  3. Bake in the middle of a preheated oven at 350°F for 45 minutes or until the tater tots are browned and crisp.
  4. Serve while still warm.
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BANANAS FOSTER CREAM PIE

Family Sunday dinner was off this week because Carol, her husband, and their daughter had an important school event. Susan and I spent the evening with our grandson, so I decided to fix one of his favorite meals, shrimp and grits. That Southern classic clearly needed a traditional Southern dessert to go with it. I thought about banana pudding ringed with vanilla wafers. What Southern cafeteria or Southern school lunchroom doesn’t have their own version? That led me to cream pie – in particular, banana cream pie – and as I was free-associating, bananas Foster. I know that shrimp and grits is very much part of the Low Country of South Carolina and Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina while bananas Foster is quintessential New Orleans and Brennan’s. Cream pie is more or less middle ground and definitely Southern, but traditional banana cream pie dressed up a bit with the flavors of bananas Foster might be tasty. This is my spin.

The topping is Swiss meringue, but you could top it with whipped cream. You could even set it ablaze with some added heated brandy like a baked Alaska. Then you would wind up with an even more authentic bananas Foster.

RECIPE

Bananas Foster Cream Pie

Filling

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups milk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons banana liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 9-inch baked pie shell in a pie pan
  • 2 bananas

Method

  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir to combine evenly. Gradually whisk in milk to form a smooth mixture. Whisk in the egg yolks until they are completely incorporated.
  2. Place the pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue to stir for several minutes until the mixture is thickened and smooth.
  3. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cinnamon, banana liqueur and rum.
  4. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes while you prepare the bananas.
  5. Peel the bananas and cut into ¼-inch slices, spreading the slices across the bottom of the baked pie shell.
  6. Pour the cooled filling over the banana slices. Chill the pie while you prepare meringue.

Meringue

Ingredients

  • 5 egg whites
  • 8 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a bowl that can be set over – not in – a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from the water bath and beat with an electric mixer at high speed for 5 minutes or until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
  2. Remove the pie from the refrigerator. Spread the meringue over the pie being careful to completely cover the filling.
  3. Place the pie with topping under a preheated broiler for only a moment or two until the meringue is lightly browned. At this point it is very easy to burn unless you are paying constant attention.
  4. Remove the pie from under the broiler. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

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FEIJOADA

This is not the real thing, so Brazilians who might be reading this should not comment that it is missing an ingredient that made their mother’s version the best that ever was or that the recipe has an ingredient that makes the dish NOT feijoada.  Traditional recipes often call for unpeeled pork tongue, snouts, ears, and tail. This recipe has none of those.  The two essentials are black beans and meat. This recipe has both. If you serve this dish, you should be aware that the only thing you will want to do after the meal is to take a nap. Be warned. Feijoada is usually described as the national dish of Brazil. The first time I ever had it was over 40 years ago. One of several international colleagues served it at his home as part of sharing among us at the end of long work weeks. Over time we enjoyed cuisine from Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Greece, Australia, Turkey, India, and Pakistan – and of course, the United States –  so it was an excellent culinary world tour.

I have been thinking of making feijoada for our Sunday family meal for some time, but it seemed like a lot of effort. Now, the inspiration is the coming together of a number of things. First, Sarah has engaged a lovely young woman from Brazil to help with the children so that Sarah can focus more on the restaurants and on a cookbook that will be published soon. Second, Bia, the young woman, brought a gift with her, The Brazilian Kitchen by Leticia Moreinos Schwarz (Kyle Books). Finally, I was up for cooking Sunday dinner.

The cookbook is so beautiful that I bought my own copy. The author is from Brazil but an American culinary school graduate and professional chef. Her recipes are simplified and often modernized versions of traditional dishes. Instructions are clear, and the images are mouth-watering. Like me, you may have a hard time finding Brazilian ingredients in your local grocery store. Of course, these days you can order them online. The most basic and hardest-to-find ingredients are sweet and sour manioc starch and manioc flour. To add to the confusion, in the USA sweet manioc starch is often called tapioca flour. You can substitute one for another, but then – as I found out – the results won’t be the same.

To go with the feijoada I made hearts of palm salad and pão de queijo, a delicious Brazilian cheese bread that we first enjoyed in an eclectic restaurant in Redondo Beach. This is where I ran into trouble. Schwarz’s recipe for the bread called for both sweet and sour manioc starch. All I could find at the store was tapioca flour. The resulting batter was so sticky it stuck to everything and was impossible to shape into balls, but after some extended time in the refrigerator before baking, the results were still excellent.

Here’s the recipe for my version of feijoada. Many recipes call for carne seca, akin to jerky but not so tough. As a substitute, I used fresh beef seasoned with dry meat rub and dried in a warm oven for several hours. I also used the slightly spicy Portuguese sausage, linguiça. As an aside, many beans contain phytohemaglutinin which can cause nausea, vomiting, and even blood problems. The toxin is inactivated by cooking at boiling temperatures. Red kidney beans are said to have the highest content, cannellini beans next, and others down the line. Black beans have lower levels.  It has been reported that very slow, low-temperature cooking, like sous vide or a slow cooker set on low, fails to raise temperatures sufficiently to inactivate the toxin, so if you are concerned, you should cook the beans in a pot at a good boil. In any event, be prepared for a hearty meal and the need for a long nap.

RECIPES

Feijoada

Ingredients

  • 1 pound black beans
  • 1 pound beef cut for stir-fry
  • dry meat rub (your favorite)
  • 4 slices smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • beef stock
  • 1 pound linguiça, cut into ¾-inch slices
  • 1 pound pork stew meat
  • salt and pepper
  • 4-6 cups cooked rice
  • parsley, chopped finely
  • 2 oranges, peeled and cut crosswise into ¼ inch rounds
  • farofa (recipe follows)
  • cooked collard greens

Method

  1. Soak the beans overnight with enough water to cover them at least two inches deep.
  2. Spread the pieces of beef in a single layer on a foil-lined baking pan, sprinkle with dry meat rub, and heat in warm (170°F) oven for at least 8 hours to dry out, turning occasionally.
  3. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, cook the bacon pieces over medium-low heat until the fat has rendered and the bacon has started to crisp. Stir in the onion and cover the pot for 5 minutes to sweat the onions. Add the celery, bay leaves, and garlic. Then add the beans with their soaking liquid, and enough beef stock to cover the beans. Bring to a low boil and cook until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Add additional beef stock as needed.
  4. Add the dried beef, linguiça, and pork. Continue to simmer until the meats are cooked through, about one hour. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Arrange a mound of hot, cooked rice in the middle of a large serving bowl or platter and top with parsley. Surround the rice with the feijoada. Arrange sliced oranges around the feijoada. Serve immediately. Pass the farofa separately, to be sprinkled on top of the feijoada if desired. Serve with collard greens that have been braised, covered, with additional bacon and water for 30 minutes or until the collards are wilted and cooked through. Drain excess water from the collards.

Farofa

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Stir in 1 cup of tapioca flour. Stirring frequently to avoid burning, cook the mixture until the flour turns a golden brown. Remove from the heat. Serve with a spoon so that it can be sprinkled over the feijoada.

 

 

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ROASTED CHICKEN

At least in my neighborhood, it has become increasingly difficult to find a whole chicken at the grocery store. Nowadays, there are shelves and shelves of chicken parts – breasts, wings, thighs, and drumsticks – with increasingly processed sub-types – chicken tenders, boneless breasts, “drumettes”, skinless thighs, and ground chicken. You get the idea. When Ralph’s announced a sale of whole chickens, my menu-driven mind went into overdrive. Usually I boil a whole chicken for the resultant stock along with enough meat picked from the bones for gumbo or green chile chicken or something similar. This time I wanted to do something else that was also not too hard or tome-consuming. I flashed on roasted chicken, inspired by Jacques Pépin who wrote in his classic La Technique, “There is nothing as simple and as delicious as a well-cooked roast chicken.” He went on to say, “Unfortunately, to get it properly done in a restaurant is as rare as it is simple.” That sounds like an intimidating challenge from one of the most important cooking experts of our time.

Sarah knows about intimidation by Jacques Pépin and André Soltner, both very warm and generous individuals. They were deans at the French Culinary Institute in New York City when she was a student. Chefs Pépin and Soltner  provided instruction in their lectures and demonstrations along with kindness and encouragement in their personal interactions, but they were also involved in examinations. Roasting a chicken was one of the tasks in the final exam. Sarah was anxious, but she passed – with great relief and celebration.

This recipe is drawn freely from Pépin’s La Technique. If you can find a copy, you should by all means buy it. Published in 1976, it is out of print, but you can find it on-line. The book is a heavily-illustrated step-by-step narrative of French cooking techniques, and the photos are all of Pépin himself performing the actions required in each technique. On top of that, La Technique is an excellent cookbook in its own right. It goes without saying that my roast chicken is not in the league of Jacques Pépin’s, but hopefully it would pass the test.

RECIPE

Roasted Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken, about 3 pounds
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup water

Method

  1. Remove liver and other giblets that may be packaged with the chicken. Pat dry and sprinkle generously inside and out with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large cast-iron or other heavy, oven-proof pan, melt the butter. Place the chicken in the melted butter, and using a basting brush, paint the entire chicken with the butter.
  3. Place the chicken on its side in the pan and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 400° oven for 15 minutes. Turn on the other side and roast for another 15 minutes.
  4. Turn the chicken on its back and baste with dripping using a large metal cooking spoon. Continue to roast for an additional 30 minutes, basting every 5 minutes with scraped-up drippings and frond.
  5. Add water to the pan and roast for 5 more minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, cover with foil, and rest for 10 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile stir the pan gravy. Correct seasoning if needed. Transfer to a serving bowl.
  8. Carve the chicken and serve immediately.

 

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SEVEN LAYER TACO DIP

Last night was Oscars Night and we headed to Carol’s house to watch the festivities and to compete in the family predicting-the-winners sweepstakes. This is a long tradition at Carol’s, and we have been invited each year since our move to California. Carol had planned to have steak and cold boiled shrimp for what was our usual Sunday family dinner, but she has been under the weather lately. I suggested that I make some odds and ends of thing so that she could stay off her feet. She insisted on the steak and shrimp – which was alright by me – but I went ahead and made some snacks that we could enjoy in front of the television. I tried to make the food simple so that nobody had to do too much cooking. This dip is simple. It takes about 30 minutes to assemble and with store-bought tortilla chips makes an attractive party platter.

The seven layer taco dip turned out to be a big hit. The first time that I ever enjoyed it was over fifty years ago at a family gathering. Susan’s sister, who was famous in the family for no-fuss party foods brought a huge platter that was devoured in short order. Like so many classics of fifty years ago, taco dip has faded into obscurity. I’m not sure why because it is tasty, a crowd pleaser, and easy to make. It was popular last night. As an aside, I was nowhere close to winning the sweepstakes. Just like last year, the teen-age film buff walked away with the prize, although she was tied by her dad, who is also a movie fan. Susan, who is oblivious to movie stars, always gives the two champs a run for their money. How does that happen?

RECIPE

Seven Layer Taco Dip

Ingredients

  • 14.5 ounce can refried beans
  • 1 envelope taco seasoning
  • 2 ripe medium avocados
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 16 ounce bottle salsa
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • ½ green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 snacking peppers seeded and chopped
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced, green tops included
  • ¼ head iceberg lettuce, shredded finely
  • 2 cups grated cheddar/Monterey jack cheese (packaged pre-shredded is great)
  • 4 ounce can sliced black olives, drained
  • salt and pepper
  • hot sauce (optional)

Method

  1. Layer One: Combine the refried beans and taco seasoning. Spread on a 12-16 inch serving platter.
  2. Layer Two: With a fork, mash the avocados, along with the lime juice, in a small bowl to your preferred consistency. Spread on top of the refried beans.
  3. Layer Three: Combine the cream cheese and sour cream until they are smooth and completely blended. Spread on top of the avocado.
  4. Layer Four: Pour the salsa over the cream cheese mixture. If the salsa is too runny, you may wish to drain it in a strainer over the sink before pouring it over the cream cheese.
  5. Layer Five: Combine the tomatoes,  chopped peppers, and green onions. Arrange on top of the salsa and then add the shredded lettuce.
  6. Layer Six: Sprinkle the grated cheese over the vegetable layer.
  7. Layer Seven: Top with sliced black olives.
  8. Serve with tortilla chips. Adjust seasoning of each layer as you go with salt, pepper, and optional hot sauce.

 

 

 

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MARDI GRAS KING CAKE

It’s Carol’s turn with our Sunday family dinner. As a nod to Mardi Gras this next week, she plans to make jambalaya. I am looking forward to that. Since Carol is cooking, that means that I am up for dessert. There are lots of Louisiana desserts that would go with jambalaya, but King Cake seemed to be the most appropriate. King cake is a tradition in many parts of the world, but in Louisiana it is served across the state, starting on Epiphany (January 6th) and ending on Mardi Gras (this year, February 13). There are many versions of king cake. Some folks make rings of filled cream puffs; others make baked meringues, etc., etc. The most common version is a brioche-like sweet bread, often filled with raisins or other dried fruit. The cake is topped with icing and sprinkled sugars in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of green, yellow, and purple.  I couldn’t find purple-colored sugar sprinkles, so I made do with red. I hope no one will notice. You can go all-out and fashion a “crown” of a circle of candied or maraschino cherries. The best part of the tradition, though, is finding the baby. A small plastic baby is hidden in the cake before it is baked. In the absence of the baby, a black bean will do. The person who gets the slice of cake with the baby (or bean) is supposed to have good luck. A less recognized part of the tradition is that the person is also supposed to bring the next king cake for the next celebration.

Interestingly, none of our many cookbooks from Louisiana contain a recipe for king cake. The recipe I have used is from King Arthur Flour. Laissez les bon temps rouler.

RECIPE

Mardi Gras King Cake

Ingredients

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • ¾ cup lukewarm milk
  • 2 large eggs + 1 large yolk, white reserved
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • 1 package (2½ teaspoons) fast rising yeast
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Filling

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract

Icing

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2½ tablespoons milk

Garnish

  • sparkling sugars – green, yellow, purple

Method

  1. Add all of the dough ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low speed until a soft, silky, but sticky dough is formed. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
  2. Transfer the risen dough to a lightly oiled work surface. Shape the dough into a 24 inch x 6 inch rectangle. Let rest while you prepare the filling.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and flour until smooth. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract and continue to beat until smooth.
  4. Transfer the filling to the middle of the rectangle of dough, leaving enough of the dough bare so that it can be pulled up around the filling and pinched closed. Before sealing the filling, position the baby or black bean in the filling.
  5. Transfer the filled and sealed dough rectangle to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Shape the dough into a circle, sealing the ends together. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise for 1 hour.
  6. Bake in the middle on an oven preheated to 350°F for 20 minutes. Then cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and let it firm up for 15 minutes before transferring it to a baking rack to cool completely.
  7. Beat together the icing ingredients. Pour or drizzle the icing over the completely cooled cake. Sprinkle the colored sugars in bands over the icing. Make a ring on top with the optional cherries if desired.

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MARASCHINO CHERRIES

Kevin has developed a strong interest in Manhattan cocktails. He has read many recipes and tried many. He has looked into the qualities of various bourbons and rye whiskeys. The one thing he has settled on is the maraschino cherry that is an obligate part of any authentic Manhattan. He quickly dismissed the fluorescent red cherries that were available in my refrigerator and adopted the burgundy-colored cherries that are favored in most of the restaurants and bars in town. I will admit that they are delicious. They are also expensive. A small jar at the local Whole Foods competitor is $24. The cheaper fluorescent variety is not available at that store; at a more traditional grocery store a much larger bottle of the old standby is around $6.

The story of the two maraschino cherries is very interesting. Going back to the eighteenth century, Croatia on the Dalmatian Coast preserved its small, sour marasca cherries in alcohol for later consumption. Eventually that led to the development of a liqueur called maraschino which enjoyed wild popularity around the world. In the United States, Prohibition was established so that both the liqueur and the cherries preserved in the liqueur were banned. Meanwhile, an enthusiastic chemist in Ohio set out to develop a method to preserve cherries. No alcohol was involved, but a lengthy chemical process that involved bleaching of the cherries, multiple preservatives, and FD&C red dyes (now FD&C  red dye 40) produced the familiar bright red cherry that as a child I loved on top of banana splits and in punch bowls. (I made myself sick as a ten-year-old, fishing out the maraschino cherries from the punch at my uncle’s wedding)

Until recently, we had no choice but the bright red synthetic maraschino cherry, but the real thing has made a comeback. The limitation in the resurgence is, of course, the cost. Being the tightwad that I am, I was unwilling to spend $24 for a little jar of real  maraschino cherries. I decided that I would make my own rather than shelling out the money to Luxardo, which has become the (almost) monopoly of maraschino cherries and maraschino liqueur. So far my investment has included $30 for a bottle of Maraska maraschino liqueur from Zadar, Croatia (the original site of the whole maraschino industry), $8 for a pound and a half of Bing cherries (marascas are not readily available unless you visit Croatia), several dollars for sugar, cinnamon sticks, spices, etc., and my free labor. It is clear that I have made a strong statement about the economies of DIY over the high prices of the authentic stuff.

The good news is that making your own maraschino cherries is easy. The bad news is that they don’t taste the same as the real thing. The really good news is that they still taste mighty good, and you have well over a half bottle of liqueur left to enjoy on its own. You definitely need a cherry pitter, but a small one works just fine. The only thing else that is required is a little patience.

RECIPE

Maraschino Cherries

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh Bing cherries, rinsed, stems removed, and pitted
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 large strip lemon peel without white
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup maraschino liqueur

Method

  1. Pit the cherries and set aside.
  2. In a pan large enough to hold the cherries in a single layer, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Add the cinnamon, lemon peel, and vanilla.
  3. Add the cherries to the boiling mixture and continue to simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the liqueur. Turn off the heat, and allow to cool.
  4. When the cherries are completely cool, transfer to clean jar(s) (You will have enough cherries for about 1 pint) and cover with the cooking liquid.
  5. When the jars are completely cooled, move them to the refrigerator and let them continue to macerate for at least two days.
  6. Well covered and refrigerated, the cherries should last for at least a month’s worth of Manhattans (or Old Fashioneds).

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