I’m almost done with all my Christmas wrapping. I have two more gifts to buy both for my husband. I wish I could tell you what they are… you’d laugh your tail off. My girlfriend, Andrea, described them as the equivalent of Jimmy giving me a vacuum cleaner for Christmas. Believe me when I say, that would be a huge mistake! But I know my husband and I know he’ll be pleased. The beauty of this year is that although I have no money my modest gifts all have thought, consideration and much love behind them. For instance, and I can say this because I don’t think either of my two sisters read my blog, (thanks, y’all), I have for both Cynthia and Pamela a pretty little bag full of travel size shampoo and conditioner tubes. I get them every month in my hair color kit that comes in the mail. And as I’ve been using this hair color system for a few years now I have BAGS of these travel size products stored in my closet. They’ll love them! Of the highest quality these hair products enhance hair texture and color. Humble gifts, yes, but ones that will give sincere pleasure. I’ve taken that perspective with this meal, this humble and ordinary pot roast. It is pretty much a no-fail dish which gives such satisfaction and appreciation to the diner. My entire family will be coming over to our house this weekend to revel in each other’s company, catching up on family news and achievements of the year. It will give me great joy to serve them this simple but fall-apart tender and delicious dinner. That’s part of everyone’s Christmas gift. Glorious, unforgettable dinners at our house. Dinners full of laughter between cousins and secrets whispered in corners. More warm and loving memories to store in our ample collection. For those of you who’d like to know just what exactly it is I bought for Jimmy, keep reading. Jim, this is a spoiler alert. If you don’t want to know what you’re getting this Christmas close up this page and move on to answering your never-ending e-mails.
He’s getting a shovel. I broke his old shovel while I was digging up a palm we lost during Hurricane Irma. Now he’s getting a brand new one! But that’s not all he’s getting. I also bought him a new pool filter. Nice, huh? It’s all fine. He’ll enjoy his utilitarian gifts but most of all he’ll enjoy family time and great meals. Especially this one. This dish is infinitely easy, however, it cannot be rushed. If you don’t have the time it’s best to save this pot roast for another day. It is of paramount importance that the meat is well-browned on all sides. The browning adds mucho flavor to the dish. You’re only searing the meat not cooking it through. The hours in the oven will slow-roast it to tender, savory perfection. I don’t include potatoes in this dish as it reminds me too much of beef stew, which is fine, except I don’t want beef stew. I want pot roast. I serve it with mashed potatoes prepared with real butter, some cream cheese and a generous suggestion of sour cream. The juices left in the pot make a fabulous gravy if a bit of corn starch is whisked in and the gravy allowed to thicken. Mushrooms may be browned and included in the pot but I find they have a tendency to get soggy so it’s up to you. Oh, and the leftovers make for tremendous sandwiches when served up on toasted sour dough bread. Merry Christmas everyone! Here’s to getting it all done with peace and gladness in our hearts!
This is my new go-to, middle of the week, what the heck am I gonna feed ’em dinner. I love to cook, yes, but often I feel irritated and uninspired and just plain resentful that, once again, I’M in charge of dinner. Want to blow those dark feelings away? Well, here’s my solution. Mediterranean Chicken. My boys love, love, love it. We’ve had it maybe four times in the past week and a half and they are thrilled every single time. They hang over the pan, big, sad eyes wanting a taste. Every time I hear another story, “I just need a little taste to tide me over.” Or “Mama! Please! I never had lunch!”. I love it. And Lawdy, it is one easy recipe; most ingredients are probably lounging in your pantry waiting to be used. Redolent with the flavors of the Mediterranean, this dish is ready from start to finish in about one hour. Other ingredients may be added such as olives and capers but I tend to stay away from adding more ingredients with strong flavors as they take over and obliterate the more subtle notes of artichoke and lemon.
Mediterranean Chicken is heavenly served over noodles, mashed potatoes or rice and, my favorites, roasted spaghetti squash or mashed boniato, a kind of white sweet potato loved by Hispanics. This dish is perfect for all you gravy lovers and delicious the following day. Another quick dinner is to serve it with a few bags of fresh spinach sautéed with garlic, seared asparagus and hot, crunchy bread. Enjoy!
1/2 packed cup sun-dried tomatoes, dried not in oil, chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
grated zest of one lemon
1 8.5 ounce can artichoke heart, drained, moisture squeezed out and roughly chopped
1 1/3 cups white wine, chicken broth or water
salt and pepper to taste
Pour olive oil into a large, high sided frying pan and heat over medium to medium high heat.
Salt and pepper chicken thighs and place all of them “skin” side down. Do not spread open the chicken. They’re best bunched up as they are packaged.
When chicken has browned turn all the pieces over to the other side, the side where the bone was.
When the bone side of the chicken has browned remove to a bowl and set aside.
To the pan juices add the onion, garlic and chopped sun-dried tomatoes and stir until well combined.
When the onion is clear add the grated lemon and artichoke hearts and stir well. Pour in the wine, broth or water. I’ve even done combinations of the three when I didn’t have much on hand. It all comes out great.
Return thighs to the pan, moving the onion artichoke mixture around and spooning it over all the chicken.
Cover and lower to a simmer. Cook the chicken over low heat for 30 minutes or until fork tender.
Last week we had a monstrous hurricane bearing down on us and after getting the house and yard storm ready all I could think of was the enormous amount of beautiful dolphin, wild caught shrimp, grass-fed beef and organic chicken lounging in my freezer. We lose power in our house about the time a storm picks up off the coast of Africa. It takes nothing for us to lose power. I hate it. A car can drive by and all of a sudden, flicker-flicker, and flat silence descends. No sound, no light, no cooling ceiling fans and no AC. The worst! And then, of course, things start thawing and dripping in my freezer. Not knowing if we would get a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew, and I thank God everyday that we did not, I figured I’d cook up a large portion of my frozen treasures and we would eat like kings for a few days. Here in south Florida we are blessed with a type of shrimp called Key West Pinks, so sweet, succulent and, yes, pink. And although their season peaks in June, they’re still quite easy to find in seafood markets. I quickly steamed a few pounds in a spicy lemony broth and set them aside for us to enjoy cold with cocktail sauce. I had all kinds of food items in my refrigerator that I was loath to toss. Bacon, peppers, milk, cream, butter, cheese…what’s a girl to do?
Well, I’ll tell you what this girl did. I prepared for dinner the most luxurious, creamy dish of Shrimp and Grits this side of heaven. I always have grits on hand, good grits. Slow cooking, stone ground grits. Not that highly processed, quick or instant, grocery store mess. All watery and bland. No. I like coarsely ground grits, loaded with texture and full of corn flavor that easily stand alone on their own merit. In fact, these are the grits you almost want to eat without anything on top but then I think of the sweet Pinks. I daydream of the bacon seasoned sauce puddling on top of creamy, white grits and I’m back on board. Oh, and by the way, Trader Joe’s store brand grits are really super if you don’t have a grist mill down the street. The shrimp will be gone in two seconds flat but you’ll probably have some grits left over. It can be gently warmed again the following day and eaten as is with nothing added but a quick grind of black pepper. The grits will take about 30 minutes to prepare so don’t start cooking your shrimp until the grits are almost done. If the grits get too thick it can be thinned out with a little warmed milk, half and half or cream. Pork is usually included in the shrimp mixture. Bacon, andouille sausage and Tasso are typically put into service. My first choice is bacon as its saltiness really brings out the sweetness of the shrimp. Andouille is good but I find its taste completely overwhelms the delicate flavors of both the shrimp and grits. Tasso is wonderful but it’s also strong plus can be difficult to find. This, Gentle Reader, is comfort food at its best. As there is such a difference in wild caught shrimp versus farmed so is there a vast difference in stone ground grits as opposed to highly processed, quick or instant. Make the effort to find wild caught shrimp and stone ground grits. You’ll be positively delighted at the difference they make in your dishes. I hope you enjoy these two recipes as much as my entire family does. They’ll do ya proud!
I knew I wouldn’t go back to sleep when my body rebelled and I awoke at 4:00 Sunday morning. I lay in bed wondering what the day would bring…would I go to church or work out? Would it be a sunny day or a rainy day? I watched the silent paddles of the ceiling fan slowly rotate in giant sweeps, appreciating the cool, early morning darkness. When early morning sleep eludes me, I typically reach for my cell phone and peruse my favorite news outlets, NYT, BBC and CNN. This Sunday was no different until I glanced at all the screaming banners across the face of the phone. Now we know all the horrific details of the Orlando shootings. And my heart aches for all the friends and families of those whose lives were so brutally ended. As I write this I can’t get past the thought that those kids, and they were kids, weren’t hurting anyone. And now their loved ones are suffering indescribably and they weren’t hurting anyone either. Life for them, those left behind, will never, EVER be the same. When I want to give comfort or take away someones pain and helplessly can’t, I turn to food. Many an almost-strangers door I’ve knocked on with a pan of hot, buttermilk biscuit, a gentle and calming pound cake or a warm, reassuring casserole in hand. Whether my offering is for a close friend or neighbor or someone I’ve never met, food is always my contribution…my way of wrapping my arms around someone I may or may not know. So this is what I wish I could take to all those in pain. I’m not foolish enough to think it would ease their agony but it is all I have to give. That and my sincere and earnest prayers.
This recipe is incredibly forgiving. If you’re a little low on ingredients it rolls with it. Really the only part that can’t be played with is the broth/rice ratio. Feel free to add more or less of the vegetables or any combination you prefer. The final baking in the oven ensures the rice will be beautifully cooked. There’s enough for your family and another family. It always seems to be what a loved one with a cold wants. If you plan to take it to another household don’t bake it just include the baking instructions. That way it can be frozen and pulled out to bake when needed. It really should be served soon after baking.
Sometimes I get such a jonesing, such a strong pull towards Creole food that I can’t stop myself. What I can do though, is change-up some of the more rich ingredients and substitute them for more healthful ones. That’s precisely what I did with traditional dirty rice and dinner was a triumph. I want preparation to be a speedy, low-labor process and this was. All my vegetables were organic and non-GMO plus I made use of organic chicken sausage in place of conventional sausage or ground beef. The chicken livers melt into the other ingredients giving the meal a satiny finish. So don’t get all scaredy cat over the word “liver”. White rice was replaced by fragrant brown Basmati rice and with so many flavors ricocheting in your mouth, you’ll never notice the change. This is the perfect dish to bake whenever you have leftover rice on hand.
Mardi Gras is coming to a close, people. Ash Wednesday is day after tomorrow and this is the time when suddenly I begin to crave pork and beef and chicken and all manner of dishes that will be given up by me once I get that black cross of ashes traced onto my forehead. Every year I say “Oh, I don’t care about meat. I don’t even like it! I never eat it anyway.” That’s right about the time when visions of $12.00 bacon cheeseburgers, spicy, homemade jambalaya and hot, crispy chicken wings begin to pop up in my head. I pulled out my giant pot, the one big enough to bathe a baby, and set about to make the best pot of jambalaya I’ve ever had. I’ve been making this for the longest time and I think I’ve worked out the kinks. That said, no shortcuts may be taken ie: frozen bags of the Trinity which always leave you waiting for the promised burst of flavor. This iconic dish begs, no, DESERVES, to be prepared properly…leisurely, and it will reward you by delivering that slow and sultry combination of Louisiana flavors that cause you to roll your eyes back in your head. Well-made jambalaya, good jambalaya, is like finger-poppin’ music in your mouth. Layer upon layer of ingredients make themselves known, some subtly others not so discreetly. It is a one-pot marvel of unpretentious components that ultimately yield a sophisticated dinner of comfort food while at the same time an over-the-top indulgence. And it is the best possible way to celebrate Fat Tuesday. So put on some boom-boom radio or zydeco, haul out your big pot and get to it. Laissez le bon temps rouler!
Jambalaya is a great dish for a crowd. It’s best prepared in a large, heavy bottomed pot with a lid that fits well. Having all your ingredients cut, chopped and ready to go will also ensure a fantastic meal. If you’re not able to locate converted Louisiana white rice just substitute it for a good quality, converted, white, long grain rice. What cannot be substituted is the Andouille sausage. I get mine from the butcher’s and if they’re out I use Aidell’s brand which is stocked at Publix. I find using sausage other than Andouille in this dish ends up tasting like hot dogs. Not a flavor I want after I’ve been standing in the kitchen for a few hours. So put off making jambalaya until you can find the real thing. I use a mammoth, wooden spoon to stir this dish. You’ll want to use the largest spoon you can get your hands on as the ingredients become heavy and bulky as you get further into the cooking.
There’s not much better on a Friday evening than mouth-watering, delectable dinner that’s put together with ingredients you happen to have on hand. Having discovered some time ago goat brie at Trader Joe’s, I thought maybe I would incorporate it into some sort of puff pastry tart for dinner. Looks like any brie but this one has a strong, goaty flavor that’s positively sublime, and, yes, now I am an addict. If you’re not able to locate it, the combination of a small wheel of brie chopped and mixed a small amount of chevre, goat cheese, will also work quite well. I wanted a creamy backdrop to support the brie and one small container of ricotta was the perfect foil, rich and spreadable but not as gooey as mozzarella. An egg to bind, some fresh basil, zucchini ribbons, a quick drizzle of a fragrant, green olive oil and I had one gorgeous, undemanding dinner. The only fly in the ointment was neither of my boys had gotten home yet. Jimmy was speaking at some conference and James catching up with a co-worker he had worked with on a gubernatorial campaign. All fine and well but, hey, dinner’s ready! I chased away the feeling of discouragement by serving myself the prettiest part of the tart. Cut into quarters, my portion had the most browned, runny, chewy bits of cheese. Not exactly first prize but I’ll take second prize any day. I had prepared a splendid salad of leaf lettuce dressed lightly with creme fraiche; the requisite glass of Malbec had been poured. Each bite was a song of flavors. The buttery puff pastry gave a satisfying crunch as did the barely cooked zucchini. But the goat cheese was the star of that musical. Not too sharp and creamy-dreamy, the brie made its presence known in every bite. Happy Friday night to me!
Puff Pastry Tart with Goat Brie, Ricotta, Basil and Zucchini
This tart may be made with fresh baby spinach or fresh basil leaves. If you have a handful of some strong, flavorful cheese and you want to get rid of it, it’s most welcome in this dish. I’ve used the odd bits of Gruyere and even used the last quarter cup of bagged, shredded Publix brand 4-cheese Italian . One cup of marinated artichoke hearts roughly chopped is lovely, too.
1 puff pastry sheet, I use Pepperidge Farm, keep chilled until assembling tart
1 wheel goat brie 4.4 ounces, or cow’s brie with 3 or 4 ounces of chevre added
1 15-ounce ricotta, fat-free is great…that’s all I use in this tart
1 large egg, lightly beaten
12-15 zucchini ribbons made with a vegetable peeler or mandolin
fresh spinach, washed and dried, as much as you like to scatter on top, optional
fresh basil, cut into strips, optional
1 cup marinated artichokes, drained well and roughly chopped, optional
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil to drizzle when serving
Preheat oven to 425°.
In a medium size bowl place a paper towel. Gently dump the ricotta cheese on the paper towel, bring the corners of the towel around the cheese and softly press all excess liquid away. Turn cheese back into the bowl and discard towel.
Roughly cut the brie into 1/2 chunks and add to ricotta.
Add the egg to the cheeses.
If using spinach, basil or artichokes add to cheese/egg mixture and mix well.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cover baking sheet with tin foil.
Open puff pastry on floured surface.
With a rolling-pin, use a cold wine bottle if you don’t have a rolling-pin, quickly roll puff pastry out to a 12″X15″ rectangle. Don’t fret. It doesn’t have to be perfect but you do want to keep the dough cold so move fast.
Using your finger or a small brush and a little water paint a 1/4″ rim around the entire rectangle.
Fold 1/4″ of dough from the edge each of the four sides of the rectangle onto the wet area to make a collar or dam, if you will, to keep in the cheese mixture. Press the dough firmly to adhere to the water painted dough.
Cover the puff pastry evenly with the cheese mixture just up to the folded edge and smooth the top.
Arrange the zucchini on top of the cheese, flat and on its side to resemble a lovely jumble of green ribbon.
Bake 45-60 minutes until corners are browned and top is slightly browned.