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December 2011

Happy New Year!

QuietPig72
I’m superstitious, and when I learned last year that making black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year’s Day is supposed to bring good luck, I tried it right away. It seems to have paid off: 2011 was fantastic. My book, “Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for their Families,” hit the New York Times best-seller list; we moved into a new home (though we’re still woefully living out of boxes), and we enjoyed good health.

So tomorrow I’ll be whipping up another batch of black-eyed peas and making my heretical collard greens, you can bet. How do you celebrate the New Year? What are your culinary traditions?

 

Abe de la Houssaye's Cajun Black-Eyed Peas for New Year's Day

 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 ounce of tasso (see notes; bacon can be substituted) - diced small
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 smoked ham hocks, about 6 ounces each
  • 1/2 pound andouille sausage (see notes) - cut in 1/8 inch rounds
  • 1 pound dried black-eyed peas (see notes)
  • 1sprig of parsley chopped
  • 1 small bunch of chives choppes
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper

 

In a 1-gallon stock pot, heat the olive oil.

When the oil is hot, render the tasso or bacon for 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the onions and continue sauteing for 2 minutes.

Stir in the garlic, bay leaves and ham hocks.

Season with salt and pepper.

Add the black-eyed peas and chicken stock.

Bring the liquid up to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer.

Cook the peas for about 45 minutes then add the andouille, and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes, or until the peas are tender and plump.

Remove the hamhocks from the pot and remove the meat.

Add the meat back to the peas and re-season if necessary.

Add the parsley and chives.

Sever with rice (white is traditional but we use brown and when we have guest we offer both), with one bottle of green and one bottle of red Tabasco served on the side.

 

Notes: It is advisable (but not necessary) to soak beans over night before cooking - it shortens to cooking time which allows for less nutrients to be cooked off and will make them  more digestible. Tasso, a specialty of Cajun cuisine, is a spicy, peppery version of smoked pork made from the shoulder butt. Andouille, a spiced and heavily smoked pork sausage, is another Cajun favorite. Both are available at specialty merchants and on the Internet.


Salmon Fried Rice with Broccoli

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One of my go-to meals around the house is a simple combination of salmon, rice, and broccoli. It’s a go-to meal for me, but Santa Maria tends to think of it as a go-away meal—she doesn’t like it.  She can’t argue with it though, because it’s perfectly healthy, and if one is hungry enough, perfectly tasty.

Still, I see her point, and for months, if not years, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to make the salmon taste better. I tried making sauces with ginger and rice wine, ginger and red wine, ginger and soy sauce, garlic and rice wine, garlic and red wine, garlic and soy sauce. Nothing ever worked, and more often than not I would have to throw the sauce in the garbage and give up.

Tonight, though, I nailed it. I was home late from work, and Santa Maria had already cooked a piece of salmon and steamed some broccoli. That morning, I had made a pot of rice, so that was ready, too.

I wasn’t really in the mood for cold salmon, cold broccoli, and cold rice, and I cast aside my past experiences, didn’t consider the failures that had graced the frying pan recently, and started thinking.

Fried rice with ginger and garlic came to mind. A chili pepper would be a nice touch. And a bit of egg could bind things together. The broccoli and the salmon, broken into pieces, would warm in the pan with the rice. As I cooked, it looked and smelled promising. I finished the dish with a splash of white-wine vinegar, and I knew I was on to something. It tasted just great, and I’m sure I’ll be making it again soon.

 

Fried Rice with Salmon and Broccoli

  • A few florets of broccoli, steamed
  • A quarter of half pound fillet of salmon, pan fried or steamed until cooked, crumbled into small pieces
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • A piece of ginger, about a half-inch long, peeled and minced
  • 1 chili pepper
  • A cup or so of rice, already cooked
  • An egg, slightly beaten
  • Canola, or other vegetable oil
  • White wine vinegar

In a large frying pan on high heat, sauté the minced garlic and ginger for a few minutes in the canola oil, until it is fragrant.

Add the rice and keep stirring with a spatula

Add the salmon and the broccoli

Add the egg, and keep stirring

Keep it on the heat until the egg is cooked

Finish with a splash of white-wine vinegar


Croque Monsieur

Croque_monsieur
I was making lunch for Nina and Pinta yesterday, and our options were limited. At least that's what Nina thought. I had cooked up a batch of dhal, but that only satisfied Pinta. Her older sister wanted a grilled cheese, but we were short on cheddar, so that made things difficult. Santa Maria suggested using Parmesan, but I didn't think that would quite work.

Nina had a solution. "What about gruyère?" she said, "does that melt well?"

"Yes, it does," I said, remembering that we had a bit in the fridge.

"And can you make that sandwich with the ham and two pieces of bread?" she asked.

"A Croque Monsieur?" I said. "Yes, we can. We do have ham and gruyère."

She started to run around the house crying "Croque Monsieur, Croque Monsieur, Croque Monsieur!"

And so it was. We had Croques Monsieurs for lunch. Along with the dahl.

 

Croque Monsieur

  • A few slices of ham
  • Two pieces of bread
  • Butter
  • A few slices of gruyère (or other cheese such as cheddar, which I combined with the gruyère because that's all we had on hand)

 

Sauté the ham until it is brown on each side.

While the ham is cooking, butter the bread on one side, and put it in a frying pan on low heat butter side up.

As soon as the bread is warm, but not toasted, flip it so the butter side is down.

Place cheese on each piece of bread, and put a slice (or more) of the ham on one side of the bread.

Flip one piece of bread so it makes a sandwich with the other, with the ham in the middle.

Toast on a low heat until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted. Use a weight, such as a kettle, to compress the sanwich to speed things up.


Mashed-Potato Pancakes

Potato_pancakes_finished
I started this blog for a couple of reasons. One was to help other dads learn about how to cook for their families. Another was to help me remember what I cooked myself for dinner each night. I tend to forget, and such was the case this evening when I found mashed potatoes in the fridge. When did I make those?

I know I made them, but for what meal was it? Oh, now I remember; I whipped them up last week when I made pork chops with corn grits, one of my favorite, quick-as-a-whistle, weeknight dinners, for Santa Maria and myself. The mashed potatoes were an easy side.

One of the things I love about mashed potatoes is that they are simple to make. That evening, I started the mashed potatoes at the same time I started to put Nina and Pinta into bed for the night. By the time lights were out, the potatoes were ready.

Another nice thing about mashed potatoes is that they make great leftovers, and with a little onion and parsley, they can be turned into savory potato pancakes. I made some this evening, and paired them with hamburgers, blue cheese, and a Romaine and spinach salad. It was a dinner I won’t soon forget.

Mashed-Potato Pancakes

For the mashed potatoes:

  • 2 or 3 baking or other potatoes, washed but not skinned (or skinned, if that’s your preference; mine is for ease and nutrition, two things leaving the skin on gets you)
  • A bit of milk
  • A bit of butter
  • Salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes in a small pot until they are cooked through, about thirty minutes

Drain the water, and return the potatoes to the pot

Put it on a low heat and add some milk and butter and mash them until they are creamy. Adjust the milk and butter to your taste and/or your doctor’s orders

Salt and pepper, to taste

For the pancakes:

Add a bit of minced onion and chopped parsley to the mashed potatoes

Form the mashed potatoes into small patties

Saute the patties in a frying pan with a bit of oil until brown on each side


English-Muffin Pizzas, or I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing

English_Muffin_Pizza
Some things are so obvious that I don’t know if I should write about them or not. But I’m nothing if not a master of the obvious, so I’ll go ahead and talk about English-muffin pizzas. When I was a boy, my mother used to make them for me, and the other day I was at home, the kids were out, and I needed to make myself lunch. I stopped at the store and bought a package of Thomas’, the only ones to use as far as I’m concerned, and started cooking.

The trick, I’ve learned, is to take care when layering the ingredients. I put a bit of commercial marinara sauce on the muffin, then the mozzarella, then a bit of parmesan, and then a touch more sauce. I dust the whole thing with oregano, what GI’s returning from Italy at the end of the Second World War called “the pizza spice.” And, this time around, I had a bit of leftover Bolognese sauce, so I mixed that in with marinara sauce, and it made them even more delicious.

I offered some of the pizzas to Santa Maria. She ate half of one, but they’re not really her thing, so I gobbled up the rest. And then I made more. I ended up eating the whole package of muffins. Santa Maria was shocked, but I really love them.

English Muffin Pizzas

  • As many Thomas’ English Muffins as you’d like to eat
  • Marinara sauce from a jar (or homemade, if that’s your thing)
  • Mozzarella slices
  • Parmesan slices
  • Oregano, to taste

Layer the sauce, cheeses, a bit more sauce, and the oregano on one half of a muffin.

Heat under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly, just a few minutes.


Creamy Mushroom Bruschetta: A Guest Post

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I was recently interviewed by Paul Kidwell, a public relations consultant and freelance writer, for an article about men and cooking on the Good Men Project website. It was a pleasure to hear from Kidwell, who lives in Boston with his wife and son, a nineteen-year-old sophomore at Boston College. Kidwell told me that “he thinks about food – its preparation and consumption – about every two seconds, and is happiest when in the kitchen making a meal for his family.”

Naturally, I wanted to hear more, and he was kind enough to send me a beautiful guest post. I like it for two reasons. One, I love mushrooms; and two, my kids are still very young, and I can only imagine what it will be like when they are in college. It kind of makes me misty-eyed, frankly, but I’ll stop. Here’s his guest post.

Christmas Help

The emails started coming in early December; finding my In Box at the oddest hours of the morning. 2:17, 3:47, 4:12 was when my son, Songwen, who is a Boston College sophomore, decided to take a break from one of his many all-night study excursions in preparation for final exams and end-of-term papers to send me notes requesting that I make certain dishes during his semester break. The subject lines read like a menu from a restaurant specializing in warm, cozy comfort food asking for dishes such as lobster paella, beef stew, mushroom cassoulet, Tuscan white bean soup, and veal marsala.  I had to laugh when I thought of his classmates who were probably also sharing the same pre-dawn hours dreading upcoming tests of their own academic mettle, while my boy has visions of shimmering garlic, bubbling  stews, and simmering soups dance in his head. He is nothing if not my child when it comes to sharing my passion for cooking and eating good food; something I schooled him on at an early age. 

And this Christmas he will not only enjoy eating the meals, but also join me in the kitchen in their preparation; a greater gift I cannot imagine.

For his first meal I am planning on making Pasta Alla Carbonara, Tuscan white bean soup, roasted asparagus and creamy mushroom bruschetta. The first three are classic dishes and everyone has their own recipe. The bruschetta is a recent find from a feature in the Wall Street Journal. It comes from April Bloomfield, chef/owner of New York’s Spotted Pig.

Creamy Mushroom Bruschetta

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra as needed
  • 1 pound mushrooms (chanterelle, maitake or king trumpet), sliced into ½-inch pieces
  • Salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 tablespoons roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche
  • 2 tablespoons finely sliced chives
  • 4 (¾-inch) slices rye bread

1. Set a large, heavy pan over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons oil. Once very hot, add mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Sauté them, stirring from time to time, until browned and tender, about 6 minutes. Once mushrooms cook down, traces of their juices should streak the pan. If too dry, deglaze with splashes of water.

2. Stir in garlic, butter and parsley. Cook until garlic is golden, 3-4 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Remove pan from heat. Stir in crème fraîche and chives until evenly distributed.

3. Set another pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add a slick of oil and lay in bread. Toast both sides until crisp and golden, 1-2 minutes per side.

4. Whisk together 2 tablespoons oil and lemon juice. Place arugula in large bowl and toss to lightly coat with dressing. Season with salt.

5. Spoon mushroom topping over toasts. Serve bruschetta with salad.


Late Autumn Sangria Recipe

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In my item about Progressive Dinners, a month or so ago, I mentioned that I would post some of the great recipes for the food and drink that was served that night. In the holiday spirit, I present a recipe for Sangria, served by a dad who used to be a professional chef, so he knows what he is talking about. It's an autumnal recipe, and even though the temperature is dropping, trees are lighting, and carolers are out, it is still autumn. He does mentions glüwein, or mulled wine, in his intro, though, so I'll have to see if he has a recipe for that. It might be more appropriate for the coming months (and if you have a good glüwein recipe, be sure to let me know).

Autumn Sangria

Sangria is a great way to use bottles of wine that have been opened but not finished. A wise restaurant will use all of the opened by-the-glass bottles from the previous day to make a house sangria or similar punch e.g. glüwein, resulting in consistently fresh wines by-the glass (I hate it when I get served a glass of wine in a restaurant that was clearly opened days ago.) This is an autumn adaptation of the Spanish classic.

Many sangria recipes specify wine varietals, but due to the amount of sweeteners and adjuncts, I feel that this is irrelevant. The only exception is over-oaked wines, which I feel are inappropriate for all occasions.

The purpose of making sangria is to use the ingredients at ones disposal; including, but not limited to, the season and one's preferences. The following recipe is only a framework from which to work. The crucial ingredients after the wine are the sugar, orange juice, and citrus to provide a balance of acidity and sweetness.

 

Sangria

  •       Approximately one 750 ml bottle of red wine (mixing in some white wine is fine too)
  •       1 cup spiced simple syrup (see below)
  •       1/2 cup orange juice
  •       1/2 cup brandy
  •       1/4 cup Triple Sec
  •       2 juice oranges, cut into thin half slices
  •       1 lemon, cut into thin half slices
  •       1 red apple, halved, cored and cut into large dice
  •       1 red pear, halved, cored and cut into large dice
  •       1 cup sparkling apple cider (can substitute Sprite)

Combine all the ingredients, best if allowed to macerate overnight. Add the sparkling apple cider just before serving. Serve over ice.

Spiced Simple Syrup

  •       2 cups water
  •       1 cup sugar
  •       1 cinnamon stick
  •       ½ teaspoon whole cloves
  •       1 teaspoon whole allspice
  •       5 whole star anise
  •       2 slices fresh ginger
  •       Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

To make the spiced simple syrup

Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by half. Allow to cool and strain.


Weekend Treat: Blueberry Pancakes

Blue_berries
Now that we are in the high season of holiday parties, I’ve had to adjust how I cook. We were at a big party on Saturday night, so I didn’t make dinner that night. Santa Maria whipped up meringues, and that’s all we had to do.

I was back in the kitchen on Sunday, though, getting reading for the week to come. I have a couple of work-related holiday parties to attend over the next few days, and I wanted to make sure that there will be plenty of good food for Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.

So I make my Turkish Lentil Soup (and discovered that I can skip the tomato paste without any ill effect-my kids still don’t eat it, even though it is incredibly delicious), and I made my black beans, and I made two roast chickens (so I could have leftovers for lunch during the week). And I made pesto. Everybody is pretty well set up for the week.

Sunday was a day of heavy cooking, but I started it with a celebration. As the girls hung decorations on our newly purchased tree, I made pancakes. I varied my usual fresh-fruit pancake recipe by making blueberry ones for Santa Maria. I thawed a few frozen blueberries and dropped them into the batter as it cooked in the pan. It was a nice treat for her.

Fruit Pancakes

 


        For the batter:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups of milk
  • 2 eggs, whites separated
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons butter

        Combine the dry ingredients and mix well with a fork (many cookbooks will tell you to sift the flour;             I've never bothered to do so)
        Melt the butter.
        Mix the yolks in with the milk.
        Beat the egg whites until they can barely hold a peak.
        Combine the dry ingredients with the wet.
        Don't mix too much.
        Fold in the whites.


        For the toppings:
        Slice a banana, pear, apple, or other fruit thinly.

        Heat a frying pan over medium heat, add some butter. Pour in the batter. When bubbles form, layer             on the fruit. Flip the pancake. Cook until finished. Serve with Maple Syrup.

And if you want to make blueberry panckaes, just substitute the frozen fruit for the fresh. Thaw the berries by placing them on a plate on the counter while you make the batter.