Category Archives: Rice, Grains & Pasta

Tuna and Black Rice Poke Bowl

We ate too much.  Way too much.  Both Jimmy and I suffered from…how shall I put this? Let’s say upset tummies were the result of eating huge amounts of rich holiday food.  That’s not to say we won’t indulge again before, during and after Christmas but some days we crave clean.  Simple and clean.  And this is it.  What I call my “Wahine Bowl” is healthful and straightforward.  The ingredients may be changed, substituted, increased or cut out…it’s whatever one likes.  There is no right or wrong.  As for the recipe, a satisfying amount of sushi grade fish is about 3.5 to 4 ounces per person.  Tuna, salmon, hamachi, or pacific yellowtail, are all delicious; the only rule being, make certain you purchase the highest quality sushi grade fish you can get your hands on.  I buy mine at Fresh Market where they carry 7 ounce tuna pieces available either fresh or frozen and packed in cryovac.  I try to always have a few pieces in the freezer as they are great to flash grill as well.  White, brown or black “Forbidden” rice are all fine, however, if you’ve not tasted black rice yet I  strongly suggest you give it a try.  It’s delicious, loaded with antioxidants and we’re trying to clean our acts up, remember?  The gorgeous pink in the photograph is watermelon radish which I found in Whole Foods.  They don’t always have them in stock but when they do I tend to grab a few and plan meals around them.  They look like small, pale green turnips and although they cost a bit more these radishes have the additional advantage of tasting sweeter and less hot than traditional radishes.  And aren’t they positively gorgeous?  Sliced scallions, avocado, red onion, Serrano peppers, pickled ginger, seaweed nori, sesame seeds and kimchi are some of the many ingredients that work well in this dish.  I serve roughly 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of rice per person.   Oh, and 1 1/4 of water to  1 cup of black rice is the perfect ratio.  This is a quick meal to prepare.  While the rice is cooking I’m chopping.  When the rice is ready I leave it uncovered and every once in a while fluff it a little so as to cool it off slightly.  We like the rice served warm or even room temperature.  I hope you’ll try this dish on your “healthier” days during the Christmas season and the rest of the year.

Tuna and Black Rice Poke Bowls

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
  • 7-8 ounces sushi grade tuna or fish of choice
  • 2-3 cups cooked black rice or rice of choice
  • 1 Haas avocado, ripe
  • radishes, thinly sliced
  • pickled ginger
  • seaweed nori
  • sriracha or any sweet hot chili sauce
  • sesame seeds, black or white
  1. In two separate bowls place equal amounts of rice.
  2. Lightly rinse off fish and gently press between paper towels absorbing any excess water.
  3. Cut fish into small cubes and divide evenly between the two bowls.
  4. Cut the avocado in half and divide between the two bowls.
  5. Add equal parts of radishes, ginger and seaweed to the bowls.
  6. Garnish each bowl with sriracha and sesame seeds.
  7. Serve immediately.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

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Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

Ever wondered why restaurant whole wheat pizza always tastes better?  And why the at-home whole wheat pizza comes out of the oven hard and brittle, stony enough to break off a front tooth?  Well, last night I finally figured it out.  And let me say, the answer is not more olive oil in the dough.  No.  It’s the combination of two things…a little bit of white all-purpose flour mixed into the whole wheat flour and more water than you would think makes sense.  You would have thought I’d have figured this out by now.  I’ve only been making pizza at home for years now but I confess.  Every time I made whole wheat pizza using only whole wheat flour it came out hard as a flat brick.  I strove for a crisp crust with a chewy center while maintaining a relatively healthful dinner.  These pizzas were made palatable with generous toppings of turkey pepperoni, arugula or spinach and the great compromise of 2% reduced fat mozzarella.  Finally I just stopped preparing pizza altogether.  Months and months went by without it being served at our house.  But last night I had a hankering for it and, by gosh, I was going to get it right.  It had been such a long time since I had mixed up the dough that I couldn’t remember the recipe I had cobbled together and, boy, was THAT liberating.  I felt such freedom not having any rules or even any do’s or don’ts to follow.  I had escaped the confines of the culinary box I’d been living in!

I began in the afternoon with a free-flow of ideas and hunches rattling  around my brain.  Two thoughts remained front and center. 1.  White flour is produces a soft and tender product.  2.  Enough water will produce a sticky, floppy dough that won’t dry out.  After a few tries I believe I nailed it.  And the beauty of this dough is it’s so wet and unmanageable it can be mixed in a bowl with a spoon thus eliminating any kneading and messing up of your counter tops.  Life’s small blessings.  In any case, I sure hope you try this recipe out.  Look at it this way, whole wheat flour, turkey pepperoni and greens make for a more healthful pizza which means you can eat it more often!

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

  • Servings: two 12 inch pizzas
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 package or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 1/4 cup warm water, tap is fine, no more than 115°
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon honey or agave
  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, plus additional to flour baking sheet etc.
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • cornmeal
  1. 1 hour prior to baking, pre-heat oven to 500°.
  2. In a large bowl mix all-purpose flour, yeast and warm water.  A wooden spoon works best.  You’ll a few have some lumps of flour but they’ll work their way out when you mix in the whole wheat flour.
  3. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and honey/agave to the mixture and combine well.
  4. Add 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour and salt and mix well until all the lumps are gone.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap, place in a warm corner and allow to rise for 45-60 minutes or until double in size.  Now is a good time to pre-heat your oven.
  6. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and gather the dough into a ball while still in the bowl.  If you don’t have a bench scraper you can cut in half the plastic top of an oatmeal can then cut off the rim or use a butter knife that’s been covered with a bit of olive oil.
  7. Cut the dough in half and using the bench scraper or butter knife, push the sides of each ball of dough into rounds.  To keep the dough from sticking, dust the rounds and bowl with some whole wheat flour using as little as possible.  The wetter the dough, the more chewy the pizza.
  8. Dust your hands and a baking sheet or pizza paddle with a good handful of cornmeal and quickly transfer one dough round to the center of the baking sheet.
  9. Gently pat out the round, moving the round on the cornmeal to avoid it sticking to the baking sheet, until you have an 11″ to 12″ pizza.  If you prefer a thicker crust make the pizza smaller.
  10. Top the pizza with the sauce of your choice then add your toppings.
  11. Bake 15-20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
  12. Allow to cool 4-5 minutes before slicing.
  13. Serve immediately.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Way Southern Grits and Greens Casserole

All y’all Southerners out there know and love this casserole.  It’s rich with cream,  two kinds of cheese and lots of bacon.  However, the addition of collards and tomatoes shine brightly through to make this one damn fine dish.  I’m crazy about grits.  I could eat them every.single.day.  But I wasn’t raised on them.  Oh, no.  Remember, Mama couldn’t cook, she grew up in a world where nice girls didn’t cook…”we have help for that”, besides grits ain’t Puerto Rican.  No.  I was introduced to grits when I was in college in Macon, Georgia.  I was close with some girls in another sorority, I had pledged the wrong sorority but that’s neither here nor there, and consequently ran around with a few Phi Mu’s who are still incredibly close to my heart.  These are girls who grew up in Macon… Southern… utterly, thoroughly, to the core, Allman brothers, Fincher’s Bar-B-Q, ATO, SAE, fix your hair, put on lipstick, Southern.  I don’t remember what BettyGeorge’s daddy did, but Parks’ daddy was a physician and bred roses.  All the girls in Macon called Parks’ daddy the minute they were engaged, “Doctuh Popejoy? Hey! It’s Elizabeth Louise and I’m gettin’ married in May.  Do you think you might could do the roses for the weddin’?”  Every girl wanted Dr. Popejoy’s roses.  Anyway, the morning I first tasted grits, Parks was to pick me up in her car and then we were to go on to BettyGeorge’s house and from there probably to some day drinking party or something event I’ll never recall.  I always thought “George” was Betty’s first or middle name but years later I found out it was her last name, though, to me, she’ll ALWAYS be BettyGeorge, one name, first name.  Regardless, Parks pulled up to my dorm, tooted the horn and off we went.  We laughed and chatted as she flew through the twisted streets of Macon when suddenly we slowed, entered huge wrought gates and stopped in front of the most gorgeous, majestic estate encircled by enormous, ancient trees dripping with Spanish moss.  The windows were floor to ceiling; the front door double and very, very thick.  The house was positively exquisite in every possible way. Now, Gentle Reader, I had traveled a good bit.  I had seen many a stately home.  I had not just fallen off the turnip truck.  But this was something else.  My jaw actually dropped.  As Parks popped out of the driver’s side of the car I turned to her and asked in complete disbelief, “THIS is Betty George’s house??”  Parks whooped and laughed while announcing, “No! I just always wanted to do this!  C’mon…we gotta get outa here before we get caught for trespassing!”  Gosh, but that was one good-looking piece of property.  Two seconds later we pulled into BettyGeorge’s house, Park’s let herself in and we met BettyGeorge in the kitchen.  Her parents weren’t home so we flopped down as teenagers are wont to do while BettyGeorge poured us glasses of sweet tea in faceted glasses, none of that plastic stuff.  As I sat I spied a cast iron skillet on the stove with a few golden rectangles each about the size of a pack of cards still glistening with oil and I innocently asked, “What’s that?”  They both whirled around and replying, “That?  Are you kidding?  You can’t be serious.”  “No, really.  I mean, I don’t know.  What is it?”, I questioned, embarrassed that I, clearly, didn’t know what “that” was.  “Those are fried grits,  shug!  Haven’t you ever had ’em?”  “No!”, I emphatically answered, “My mother doesn’t cook.”  They shot each other that pathetic, “Oh, God. Poor li’l thang” look.  I didn’t care.  I’d gone my entire life hungry and I did not care.  Just explain it to me, okay?  You don’t have to feel sorry for me, only will you please fill me in?  And they did.  Both girls ever so patiently explained to me that all manner of dishes can be made from grits, whether they be left over from breakfast or not.   All manner of ingredients could be added to them from cheese to sausage to greens.  There were only two rules.  The first, and most important, never, ever prepare quick or instant grits.  Ever.  Just don’t do it.  It’s nasty.  Only old-fashioned, regular grits will do.   You WILL know the difference.  And number two.  Always, always, always stir the liquid to make a “tornado” while slowly pouring in the grits.  And there ya go.  I’m pretty certain those girls have absolutely no recollection of that morning in BettyGeorge’s kitchen,  but I do.  It was magic.  Southern magic.  Make this.  You’ll swoon.

This casserole is beyond perfect for brunch or a special occasion.  It’s one of the dishes I’ll be serving this Easter Sunday.  It’s rich and gorgeous and everyone goes crazy over it.  All ingredients can be prepared in advance except the grits.  That said, cook up the grits before church, mix it all together, slap it in the oven and take off.  When you come home the casserole will be all warm and bubbly.  Btw, sliced spring onions scattered over the top right before serving are really great.

Way Southern Grits and Greens Casserole

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 15 or 16 regular bacon slices or 10 thick sliced bacon slices
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely grated
  •  1 1 pound bag frozen, chopped collard greens
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, well-drained
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups grits, not instant or quick cooking
  • 1 1/4 cups parmesan cheese, grated and divided
  • 1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, grated and divided
  • 2-3 pinches red pepper flakes, optional
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350° and grease a 9X13 casserole dish and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet cook the bacon, set aside to drain on paper towels and discard bacon fat leaving 3 tablespoons in the pan.
  3. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook until soft and clear.
  4. Add the collards, stirring continuously until completely coated with the onions and garlic.
  5. Add tomatoes and pepper flakes, stir well and turn off heat.
  6. To a large pot add the heavy cream, half and half, chicken broth and bring to a boil.
  7. Drop the heat to simmer, and stirring the liquid with a large whisk, slowly pour the grits into the boiling liquid.
  8. Continue whisking until the grits are done according to the package directions, 15-20 minutes.
  9. Add to the grits 1 cup of parmesan and 1 1/4 cups of Monterey Jack to the grits, stirring until melted.
  10. Add the collard mixture to the grits and gently fold until well combined.
  11. Pour the collard and grits mixture into the baking dish.
  12. Top the dish with the remaining parmesan and Monterey Jack.
  13. Crumble the bacon and scatter over the casserole evenly.
  14. Bake until golden on top or serve at room temperature.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Puerto Rican Pigeon Peas and Rice, Arroz con Gandules

I know I’ve written of Christmas in Puerto Rico but, truly, it is a thing to behold.  The breezes were balmy and cool especially in the mountains where we spent a considerable amount of time during the Christmas holidays.  My sinfully handsome uncle, Tio Enrique, had serious parties on his farm, the entire family coming from all corners of the island.  Often Mama’s second cousins and their families would come and make merry because, as on any island, everyone is family.  The house was big and airy, several balconies had hammocks strung up.  Set back off the main road and nestled within undulating hills, we looked forward all year to the celebrations at Villa Josefina, the farm named after one of Tio Enrique’s sisters, an aunt who died young before I was born.  My parents gave me a second middle name which I share with Josefina.  Villa Josefina was a favorite destination for all of us when on holiday whether we were little ones, during the gawky, awkward preteen years or sophisticated, cigarette smoking, makeup wearing high schoolers.  My uncle gave us free rein and let us take his horses out for a ride whenever we wanted, without even asking.  You want to chew on a stalk of sugar cane?  Go get a machete and cut it down…go on!  You know how to do it!  He didn’t care if we sneaked a smoke behind one of the massive royal poinsiana trees, its fiery flowers blanketing the ground.  On the contrary, he’d bum cigarettes off us.  No.  We were left to do what we like with the only caveat being we had to stay on the property regardless if the iron gates were locked or had been left open.  To pass unsupervised and without permission through those gates was tantamount to that of jumping off a cliff.  We knew without a doubt we were secure and protected from any harm while behind the lovely iron portal.  Well, except one time.  My little brother and sister, Tommy and Pamela, and Tio Enrique’s sons, Quico and Tommy, were careening down a hill in a wobbly wagon which happened to deposit them right in front of the open gates.  Pamela told me she was miserable and frustrated being excluded just because she was a girl.   The more she tried to be part of the fun and excitement, the more they shut her out.  None of the kid’s were aware of any commotion around them; Tio Enrique shouting and running toward them, frantically gesticulating, fell on deaf and uninterested ears.   He was the cool uncle, nothing he did surprised us.   The boys were occupied with an out of control ride as well as thoroughly enjoying a bothered, angry Pamela so all their attentions were focused on that merriment.  Two of my uncle’s workers ran behind him as fast as their legs could carry them.

Tommy and Pamela back at my grandparent's house after an exhausting day of fighting, arguing and tears. With only a little over one year between them, who would have believed that 45 years later they're still best buds?!
Tommy and Pamela back at our grandparent’s house after an exhausting day of fighting, arguing and tears. With only a little over one year between them, who would have believed that 45 years later they’re still best buds?!

When Pamela turned to look where they were excitedly pointing she turned pale at the site of a monstrous, runaway bull charging down the country road straight at them.  A posse of men followed behind the beast futilely attempting the animal’s capture.  The children froze, eyes as big as dinner plates, while the sound of the thundering hooves rained on their ears.  My uncle and his workers slammed the heavy gates shut with barely a moment to spare, the bull swerved, surprisingly agile for such an enormous creature, and continued down the road.  When relief replaced the fear in Tio Enrique he proceeded to give the young boys a blistering tongue lashing.  I watched them hang their heads with embarrassment as he verbally took them to the woodshed.  Pamela relished every moment.  “Your beautiful cousin could have been killed while you played with your wagon!!!” But she wasn’t and minutes later we were all laughing and teasing each other, some were dancing, some were eating, all were drinking.  Feliz Navidad!

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This dish of arroz con gandules is a traditional Christmas treat in Puerto Rico, rich with pigeon peas, pork, olives and capers.  It is typically served with pasteles, lechon asado or roasted pig, salads and root vegetables.  Rum and wine cut beautifully through the richness of these foods so feel free to let the alcohol flow.  Arroz con gandules can be prepared with or without pork so if you’d rather not include it just leave out the steps preparing the meat.  And last, when I prepare white rice it’s almost always medium grain.  Short grain can be too sticky or gummy and long grain is just….I don’t know….wrong.  Oh, and this recipe will feed a crowd, too.  So go tropical.  You’ll love it!

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Arroz con Gandules or Puerto Rican Pigeon Peas and Rice

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean pork, in 1/2″ cubes
  • 8 ounces diced ham, I use Smithfield Ham in cryovac pack
  • 2 cups onion, chopped, divided
  • 2 large bell peppers, chopped, divided
  • 1 large bunch cilantro, rough chopped, divided
  • 1 head garlic, minced, divided
  • 5 cups water, divided
  • salt and pepper to taste
  •  4 cups medium grain white rice
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2-3 tablespoons paprika
  • 1  21/4-ounce bottle green olives, drained
  • 1 heaping soup spoon of capers
  • 2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 13-ounce can green pigeon peas, rinsed and drained
  • 5-6 culantro leaves, optional (if your store carries them)

Pork mixture:

  1. Over medium heat, pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed, medium size pot.
  2. Add the cubed pork and cook until lightly browned.
  3.  Add the diced ham, half of the onion, half of the bell pepper and half of half of the garlic.
  4. Stir well to coat all the vegetables with the oil, add salt and pepper to taste and 1 cup of water.
  5. Cover, lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes or until the pork is tender but not falling apart.  Set aside.
  6.  In a large, heavy bottomed pot or caldero add the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil and raise heat to medium/medium high.
  7. Add the rice and stir well to coat all the grains with the oil.
  8. Add the oregano and paprika and stir until well combined.
  9. Add the olives, capers and tomato paste and mix well.
  10. Pour the entire pork mixture into the rice and stir to combine making certain the tomato paste has dissolved completely.
  11. Add the pigeon peas and culantro leaves if using, the remaining 4 cups of water and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well.  Remember, rice needs salt or it comes out bland.
  12. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 25 minutes or until all the moisture has been absorbed and the rice is tender and fluffy.
  13. Serve hot.

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Shrimp and Grits…yes, please

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?

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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!

Creamy Grits and Collards...it's a natural!
Creamy Grits and Collards…it’s a natural!

Shrimp and Grits

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Grits

  • 1 3/4 cups stone ground grits
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 5 1/2 cups water
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  1. In a large, heavy pot bring the water and salt to a boil then reduce the heat to low.
  2. Using a whisk or large wooden spoon, stir the water in a circular motion while slowly pouring in grits and stirring constantly.
  3. When the grits begin to thicken add the milk, cream and butter.  Stir until all the ingredients are incorporated.
  4. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes or until grits are tender, stirring often.
  5. Add the cream cheese and mix until the cheese has melted into the grits.
  6. Cover, set aside and keep warm on low.

Shrimp

  • 5 slices thick sliced bacon, cut into matchstick size pieces
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely minced or grated
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup half and half or heavy cream
  • 2 pounds wild caught uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • serve with Tabasco sauce or Crystal Hot sauce on the side, optional
  1. Place the bacon pieces in a medium size skillet and cook over medium heat until crisp, 6-10 minutes.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and set aside in a small bowl.  Leave the bacon drippings in the pan.
  3.  To the bacon drippings add the onion, bell pepper and garlic and cook over moderate heat until the onions are clear and soft but not brown, about 5 minutes or so.
  4. Add the butter and stir until melted.  Add the shrimp, lemon juice and white wine.  Stir well to cook evenly.  Cook until shrimp just turn pink.
  5. Quickly add reserved bacon and stir well and remove from heat.
  6. Spoon warm grits in shallow soup bowls.
  7. Using a slotted spoon top grits with shrimp
  8. Pour remaining sauce evenly over shrimp and grits.
  9. Serve immediately.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

 

Comfort Food…Chicken, Sausage and Collard Pilau

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.

 

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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.

Creole Tomatoes and Peppers Stuffed with Dirty Rice

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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.

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Creole Tomatoes and Peppers Stuffed with Dirty Rice

  • 5-6 medium sized tomatoes, cored and hollowed, tops reserved.  Save the inside of tomatoes for another recipe
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 5-6 small to medium sized bell peppers, ribs and seeds removed, tops reserved
  • 3 cups cooked long grain rice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
  • 1 cup finely chopped cooked ham
  • 1 pound hot Italian sausage, out of casings, chicken or turkey is fine
  • 1 pound chicken livers, drained
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 ribs of celery, finely chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 large tomato, cored and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  1. Preheat oven to 350° and cover the inside of a 9X13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.  Set dish aside.
  2. In a large, deep, non-stick skillet place 1 tablespoon of olive oil and bring heat up to medium-high.
  3. Add chopped ham to the pam and lightly brown.
  4. Remove browned ham, I throw it in with the rice so as not to dirty up another bowl, and add sausage to the pan, breaking it up as it browns.
  5. When sausage is thoroughly cooked remove from skillet leaving the pan drippings.  I put the sausage with the rice and ham.
  6. Add the drained chicken livers to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes per side.  You want them still pink inside as they’ll cook further in the oven.  Leave any pan juices in the pan.
  7. Add the second tablespoon of olive oil to the pan juices and add the onion, stirring and cooking until translucent.
  8. Add the celery, garlic and scallions, stirring well and cooking for 2-3 minutes.
  9. Add the thyme and Worcestershire sauce and stir until all ingredients are well combined.
  10. Add the chopped tomato and stir to combine all flavors.
  11. Taste for any needed salt and/or pepper.
  12. Remove skillet from heat and mix in rice-meat mixture.
  13. Spoon dirty rice mixture into the hollowed out tomatoes and peppers, replace tops of the vegetables and position snugly in baking dish.
  14. Pour wine onto bottom of baking dish, cover with tin foil and bake in oven for 45-60 minutes or until vegetables are fork tender.
  15. Cool for 10-15 minutes prior to serving.

 

 

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