Category Archives: Rice, Grains & Pasta

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
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  • 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
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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
  • 2 pounds wild caught uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 cup cream or half and half
  • 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.

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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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THE Classic Bolognese Sauce, Marcella Hazan’s

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This is the sauce you want.  And this is the recipe that will give it to you.  Almost creamy, silken in texture and rich beyond belief, this sauce is better than most restaurant’s Bolognese.  Marcella Hazan’s version of Bolognese is the linchpin of one of Italy’s fundamental sauces.  Have you ever spent hours in the kitchen, hunched over your cutting board and pot, to ultimately finish with a pasta dish that when plated resembles a scarlet island surrounded by a watery moat?  Well, I have.  But not with this dish.  Ain’t nothing sloshing around your bowl when you have this sauce.  Although it’s been around for years there is no better recipe than this robust and satisfying rendition.  For all its big, luscious flavor this dish is not expensive to prepare; it only requires time and high quality ingredients to render perfection in a bowl.  So, let’s get started.  Marcella’s recipe calls for ground beef chuck and she’s not giving permission to pick up a pack of 7% fat chuck.  Full fat is the only ratio that will give you the buttery consistency you’re looking for.  And that’s exactly what you’re looking for.  This is NOT a diet dish.  It’s a treat, a reward if you will, for finally losing those first 8 pounds, for biting your tongue and not saying all those hateful things you thought of this week when you exchanged a few words with a family member, for getting up, dusting yourself off and giving the middle finger to the latest thrashing life may have served you.  This is the dish that confirms what everyone else seems not to have noticed.  You ARE special and this is the dish that will bow down and quietly obey.  For that reason, use a cup of whole milk and not almond milk although I completely understanding you wanting to substitute ingredients…hell, it’s one of the crosses I bear.  But do that with another recipe, not this one.  To do it absolute justice, stick close to the recipe.  It is a wonderment. Oh, and make certain to wrap it up in a high quality pasta.  I chose pappardelle and my boys swooned.  Swooned.

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Marcella Hazan's Bolognese Sauce

  • Servings: 2 heaping cups
  • Print

 

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter plus 1 tablespoon for tossing pasta
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2/3 cup chopped celery
  • 2/3 cup chopped carrot
  • 3/4 pound ground beef chuck
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
  • 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta
  • freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese at the table
  1. Put the oil, butter and onion in the pot and turn the heat on to medium.  Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent, then add the chopped celery and carrot.  Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.
  2. Add ground beef, a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper.  Crumble the meat with a fork, stir well and cook until the beef has lost its raw, red color.
  3. Add milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely.  Add a tiny grating – about 1/8 teaspoon – of nutmeg and stir.
  4. Add the wine, let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well.  When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface.  Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time.  While the sauce is cooking, you are likely to find out that it begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat.  To keep it from sticking, add 1/2 cup of water whenever necessary.  At the end, however, no water at all must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce.  Taste and  correct for salt.
  5. Toss with the cooked, drained pasta, adding the tablespoon of butter and serve with freshly grated parmesan on the side.

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Shrimp, Sausage and Chicken Jambalaya…let the good times roll

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!

My pot holds 3.5 gallons. the spoon could probably be used as a paddle in a row boat!
My pot holds 4 gallons. The spoon could probably be used as a paddle for a row-boat!

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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.

Shrimp, Sausage and Chicken Jambalaya

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

  • 5 cups converted long grain rice
  • 3 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon celery salt
  • 3 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 pound ground pork sausage, preferably spicy
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 pound Andouille sausage or 1 12-ounce package from the grocery store, thinly sliced
  • 12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of all fat and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 3 large, sweet onions, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, seeded and diced
  • 6 stalks of celery, leaves included, diced
  • 1 large head of garlic, minced
  • 3-4 fresh bay leaves
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
  • 3 pounds medium-sized shrimp, peeled and deveined, preferably not farmed
  • salt and pepper
  1. In a medium-sized bowl add paprika, celery salt, thyme, cayenne pepper and rice.  Stir well to break up any lumps in the spices.  Set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot up to medium heat and add ground sausage, breaking up and stirring while it browns.
  3. When sausage is browned add oil and Andouille sausage.  Stir occasionally but allow Andouille to brown and get color.
  4. Add chicken pieces and cook until golden.  Stir occasionally.
  5. Add the onions to the pot and stir continuously.  Cook until clear.
  6. Add the bell pepper, celery and garlic and cook for another 7-10 minutes stirring all the while.
  7. Add the rice mixture to the pot and stir so the grains of rice are evenly coated with the contents of the pot.
  8. Raise heat to high, add bay leaves, crushed tomatoes, chicken stock and stir well.  Taste broth for seasoning and add salt and black pepper as needed.
  9. When pot comes to the boil, drop the heat to medium-low, cover the pot and simmer until rice is cooked according to package instructions.
  10. When rice is cooked, gently mix in the shrimp, this is where you truly need a big spoon, again cover the pot and turn off the heat.
  11. Allow the shrimp to cook in residual heat another 15 minutes then serve.

 

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Cilantro Rice will Save the Dinner

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Why is it every time we finish preparing dinner, eating dinner then cleaning up from dinner, it seems we have to start all over again; from deciding what to have, to making a list, assembling the meal, it seems as though the cycle just doesn’t end.  Lord knows, it’s exhausting.  To add to our woes, our families become bored and disinterested when the same meal is prepared over and over.  I know I could eat salad EVERY SINGLE NIGHT but, for some reason, my husband and son revolt on day number 2.  Precious little time and money also contribute to the problem.  As luck would have it, I ran across an article in the New York Times cooking section that brought to mind something I keep on hand, in the freezer, that I had completely forgotten about.  I puree large quantities of cilantro, fresh baby spinach, a little onion and garlic and a bit of lime zest together in the food processor and, after freezing the mixture in ice-cube trays, I transfer the frozen cubes to a plastic freezer bag for soups, stews and anything else that might need a blast of color or flavor.  I had forgotten about them because my freezer is an ice-covered disaster.  I label everything but the freezer’s small and packed…and…whatever.  I can’t go into it.  I’ll get all angry and mean.  Just believe me when I say these cilantro cubes are just the ticket to wake up a dreary, tiresome dinner.  I add five or six of these babies to a pot of rice cooking and my dinner has completely changed.  My leftover chicken thighs stand up a bit taller next to cilantro rice and sliced tomatoes.  Leftover steak and grilled shrimp or fish love cozying up to the bright and cheerful side dish.  I prepare the cilantro puree in batches, mix it all together in a large bowl then divvy it up into the ice-cube trays.  After the cubes have frozen solid I’ll put them in a labeled freezer bag, squeeze out the air and flatten the bag for easy storage in the freezer.  I add a bit less water to the pot if I’m preparing rice, maybe one or two tablespoons less per cube.  Towards the end of the rice’s cooking time I check to see if more water is needed and if the color is to my liking.  If the rice has a little too much water I’ll remove the lid of the pot and allow that excess to steam off.  I might add another cube or two or only water if that’s what’s needed.  But I find cilantro rice is a welcome change from plain white or brown, jasmine or basmati.  The spinach gives almost no flavor but deepens the rich emerald color.  The onion, garlic and lime zest takes this condiment to another savory level.  They take away the raw harshness that a strong cilantro taste can sometimes bring.  I add no salt as I can season the dish itself later.  So tuck this recipe under your bonnet and the next time you find yourself wanting to rattle around in the kitchen consider preparing this.  Keep the cubes on hand and you’ll buy yourself shortcut and a culinary hack.  Your sweet family will love you for it!

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Cilantro Cubes

  • Servings: 2 ice cube trays or 28
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 4 large bunches fresh cilantro, washed, dried and leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 8-ounce bag baby spinach leaves
  • 2 bunches flat leaf parsley, washed, dried and leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • zest of two limes

IMG_0404

 

  1. Working in batches, combine all ingredients in your food processor pulsing until mixture has pureed.
  2.  Transfer mixture to ice cube trays or storage containers and freeze until ready to use.

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