Our pizza night growing up was rarely an affair catered by Pizza Hut or Dominos. We used to frequent a family-owned joint that most Northern Virginians are probably familiar with called Joes. We’d get take out from the Bailey’s Crossroads location, ordering doughy Sicilian pies with mounds of thinly-shaved toppings. Their crusty calzones hid pools of creamy ricotta, melty mozzarella and tender ham. They made the steak and cheese hero that I continue to judge all others against. And their hippie rolls, a sausage stromboli of sorts with a tasty touch of crushed red pepper, became the fodder for regular, late night food cravings. Pliant and chewy pizza dough held sweet roasted peppers and onions and a smidge of mozzarella cheese. My dad would order a couple and slice them into rings for everyone to snack on, and they rarely lasted long. Continue reading Hippie Roll
If I told you that this soup takes a mere 10 minutes to simmer for the taste of a soup labored over for a day (or two), would you brand me an infomercial? Because it’s true – every word of it. And it doesn’t come at the hands of any crazy Ron Popeil device, although you do pretty much “set it and forget it.” This baby is simmered to perfection in a pressure cooker, and for that great savings of time and effort and the steaming up of the household, I am eternally grateful. Continue reading Italian Sausage and Rice Soup
Say what you will about Texas, but they get things absolutely right when it comes to fast food – chiefly, above all else, the glory of Taco Cabana. The name is so misleading in its plebian nature, while the franchise dishes out tasty fillings in tender, pliant tortillas. May all the Taco Bells be stricken from the earth in place of this bastion of tex mex wonders.
I first had Taco Cabana on a trip to Austin City Limits – the hubby and I woke up early at the hotel and decided to forage for breakfast. We wandered out of the hotel and found a shopping center with a closed Whole Foods and a very open Taco Cabana. With the best of intentions, we ordered a dozen mixed breakfast tacos in the hopes of bringing back the bounty to our friends back at the hotel. But no – we lapsed into total food amensia and ate every single taco without even realizing what we were doing. Dennis and I stared at each other in wonderment after attacking the mass of eggs, beans, potatoes, chorizo and cheese. It was just so good, we devoured the goodness with no hesitation.
In that I don’t find myself in Texas too often (read: ever), I had to find a way to get my breakfast taco fix at home. I’d be lying if I told you that I actually eat this for breakfast though. This is the kind of home cooking that is thrown together at midnight and eaten directly from the kitchen island standing up. Utensils be damned, eating this dish transports us back to that day where we found some serious goodness in a Texas parking lot in a moment of unexpected perfection.
Breakfast Tacos with Potatoes, Chorizo and Egg
2 medium potatoes, cubed
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 tsp. of salt
1 lb. of fresh chorizo (pork or beef)
flour or corn tortillas
Add potatoes, garlic and salt to a small saucepan and cover with water. Heat on high and boil until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Drain and set aside.
In a large skillet, cook the chorizo, breaking up the large pieces with a spatula. When the meat is just about cooked through, add the potatoes and allow them to crisp up with the chorizo. Set aside.
In another skillet, heat 1 tbs. of olive oil on medium. Scramble your eggs in small bowl and slip into the pan with the oil. Turn the heat to medium low and gently push the eggs around the pan, allowing curds to slowly form.
Assemble your taco by scooping some of the chorizo and potatoes onto a warmed tortilla. Top with eggs and a bit of the condiments of your choosing – Dennis likes shredded cheddar, but I love a bit of cilantro, tomato and onion. Dab with a bit of salsa and eat with reckless abandon.
Like Italian Wedding Soup, Caldo Verde is a celebration of meat, greens and broth, with the star carb as tender, simmered potatoes. This soup is as hearty as it is easy to make, and a great use of winter kale when in season, cheap and plentiful. The soup, Portuguese in origin, traditionally uses linguica for the sausage, but I’ve made this in a pinch with kielbasa, andouille, chorizo and even Bruce Aidell’s chicken sausage. Regardless of what ingredients you employ, you can expect a warm, nourishing bowl of comfort that is both simple to prepare and good for you.
Quick Caldo Verde
3 qts. of chicken stock
6 small potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 lb. of mild sausage, removed from casings
1 bunch of fresh kale, ribs removed and chopped
1 tsp. of black pepper
Bring quarts of chicken stock to a boil. Toss the potatoes, garlic and kale into the pot. In a sauté pan, brown the sausage until crumbly and no longer pink. Drain the grease from the sausage and add the meat to the soup. Simmer until the potatoes are very tender, about 20 minutes. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes right in the stock pot until the potatoes are loosely mashed. Serve.
This recipe is decidedly a hack – upon researching recipes for Thanksgiving, I came across a stuffing that looked to be a welcomed alternative to my tried and true Classic Stuffing. Given that this year’s celebration was a pot luck extravaganza, why not two stuffings instead of one? Truthfully, I wanted to do a third Oyster Dressing like the ones we used to have at my paternal grandmother’s house every year, but not enough people were into oysters, so I skipped it.
The original recipe from Food Network Kitchens is good, but I lost the leeks and butternut squash for caramelized red onions and canned pumpkin – MUCH easier, which is really what you are going for at Thanksgiving. The result was moist, flavorful and complex – a nice accompaniment to turkey and gravy, if I might say so myself. Give this one a try if you are looking to make a new tradition or two – how can you form a tradition if you don’t try something out for the first time, right? Right?!?
Sausage, Pumpkin and Kale Stuffing
2 round loaves of foccacia (onion or herb)
1 stick of butter, melted
1/2 can of pumpkin
1 can of chicken stock (or 2 cups of homemade stock)
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbs. of olive oil
2 tbs. of butter
1 lb. of sweet italian sausage
1 bunch of kale
1 tsp. of whole fennel seeds
1 tsp. of rubbed sage
1 tsp. of white pepper
shredded pecorino romano
Cube foccacia and spread on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 350° oven until crisp and golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
In a bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the white pepper, sage, fennel seeds, pumpkin and chicken stock and mix until incorporated. Set aside.
In a skillet, brown the sausage and remove with a slotted spoon. Add the olive oil and sauté the kale until wilted. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to sausage. Add the butter to the pan and turn the heat to medium low. Let the onions sweat it out in the pan until dark brown and soft, about 10 minutes.
In a huge bowl, add the foccacia cubes, sausage and kale, and caramelized onions. Toss to combine and then pour in the pumpkin mixture. Turn out into a greased 13x9x2 casserole and bake in a 375° oven until puffy and golden on top, about 35-45 minutes.
For as long as I’ve known, my family has been whipping up several varieties of comforting rice dishes – I can recall many a time coming into the kitchen to a pan of Arroz con Pollo finishing up in the oven, or a pot of Jambalaya simmering away on the stove. This version of the simple dish, a combination of rice, chicken, sausage, seafood and veggies, reminds me of home each and every time I whip up a batch.
This version is far from super traditional, but I love it because it is way easy to prepare and incredibly piquant and flavorful. Some of the harder ingredients to find are substituted with pantry and supermarket staples. Though cajun purists would call this Creole Rice for its inclusion of tomatoes, culinary great Paul Prudhomme puts tomatoes in his, so I feel that I’m not in the wrong. Plus, this dish’s roots are born of the freshness and availability of ingredients, so use whatever suits your fancy – tasso ham (or smoked ham), seafood of any kind, smoked andouille sausage, duck, and homemade stock all have a place in this dish. Case in point, this recipe originates from the Spanish classic, paella, and if it weren’t for a few noble chefs swapping out a few ingredients, we wouldn’t have the jambalaya that we know today.
Chicken, Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya
1/2 lb. of raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 kielbasa, thinly sliced into rounds
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into large chunks
2 tbs. of olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 plum tomatoes
1 can of tomatoes with chilies
seafood stock (can substitute beef or chicken)
1/4 tsp. of white pepper
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
1/2 tsp. of garlic powder
1/8 to 1/2 tsp. of cayenne pepper (to taste)
pinch of oregano
1 tbs. of Worcestershire sauce
2 c. of converted rice (such as Uncle Ben’s)
splash of white wine vinegar
scallions or parsley for garnish
Season chicken lightly with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven and add the chicken. Brown very well on both sides and then add the onion, scallions, celery, bell pepper and garlic. Once vegetables begin to soften, add the kielbasa, thyme and bay leaves. Allow to cook for a minute and then add the chopped tomatoes, white pepper, black pepper, garlic powder, cayenne and oregano. Stir in the rice.
In a 4 cup pyrex or a measuring cup, drain the juices of the can of tomatoes into the cup. Dump the tomatoes into the dutch oven. Add the tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce into the measuring cup, and then add enough stock to make 3 3/4 cups of liquid. Add the mixture to the pot and stir. Bring the pot to a boil, cover and turn it down to a simmer. A trick, if you are careful, is to stick your ear to the bottom of the pot – you should hear a gentle bubbling. If it sounds like hell boiling over, turn the heat down. If you hear nothing, turn the heat up. Cook for 20 minutes, undisturbed. After 20 minutes, take the top off and add the shrimp. Recover and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove lid. Stir a splash of white wine vinegar into the jambalaya and taste rice for doneness – it should be tender at this point. If not, turn heat back to low and cook another few minutes. If the rice is done but there is too much liquid, let rice sit, covered, for 5-10 minutes so that the liquid will be absorbed into the rice.
Serve with scallions or parsley and tabasco sauce.
So, my friends, it seems that the macaroni and cheese adventure continues with this spicy, south of the border version. Clever name aside (come on, you love that I rhymed mac with jack), this is full of piquant flavors and lovely texture that will become a welcomed departure from the usually cheddar pasta conglomeration. If you like things hotter than hot, use a hefty pinch of cayenne pepper when making your cheese sauce. Or dice a little chopped jalapeno into the mix as you saute the veggies. I use mexican-style smoked chorizo for this, but you can also crumble and brown fresh chorizo, or dice a nice andouille sausage as well. The choice is yours, dolls.
The bechamel for the macaroni and cheese is similar to most of the other versions I’ve posted, with the exception of the milk. Here I use canned, evaporated milk of the fat-free variety, which provides lovely creaminess with half the fat. Another variation is that in most of my mac and cheese recipes, I bake the entire thing after saucing. This version is actually perfectly lovely unbaked and topped with a smattering of sliced scallions. It’s excellent weekday eating – heck, you could even replace the chorizo for browned ground beef for truly the best Hamburger Helper you may ever have on this green earth. Given that actual Hamburger Helper is abysmal, this isn’t much of a challenge. Cook on!
Spicy Mac with Chorizo and Jack
1 lb of elbow macaroni
1/2 c. of chopped piquillo peppers (roasted reds are fine)
2 tbs. of onion, finely chopped
1 lb. of smoked chorizo, diced
3 c. of evaporated milk
4 tbs. of butter
4 tbs. of flour
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
1 tsp. of mustard
3/4 tsp. of garlic powder
3/4 tsp. of salt
1 c. of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 c. of pepper jack, shredded
Preheat oven to 400°. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente and drain.
While pasta is boiling, make your sauce. In a large sized pot, melt your butter on medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the piquillo peppers and stir. Whisk the flour into the butter to form a smooth paste. Slowly add the milk in a steady stream, whisking the whole time to prevent lumps. Add the salt, black pepper, mustard and garlic powder. Turn up heat and continue whisking until sauce thickens. Turn off the heat and add the cheese, whisking until melted. Stir in diced chorizo and taste for spice. Add cayenne pepper or hot sauce to taste.
Toss macaroni and sauce in a large bowl. Let sit for 4-5 minutes and then serve.
There’s something to be said for the beauty of a small bite – as an eater, you are (hopefully) treated to a microcosm of flavors all combined in a single tasty morsel. As the chef, you are tasked with creating a complex body of flavors, carefully melded together to treat the diner with a one-punch knock out sensation. It’s goodness. Nay, the bestness. Unlike my grammar.
This dish is a shout out to my love of Caribbean and Spanish flavors when combined and/or fried. There’s something about spicy, salty, cool, crunchy and sweet that just makes me swoon big time. One of my favorite examples of this is in this incredibly simple, savory croquette made with a combination of sweet potatoes and chorizo. Based on the famous Spanish tapas, Croquetas con Picadillo, this dish is prepared under many names and with various flavor combinations (like the delicious Cuban twin, Papas Rellenas). The potato/meat mixture is formed into small balls and then breaded and fried into a lovely golden morsel. Play up the gorgeousness of sweet and salty by serving this with a light mango sauce, grilled pineapple or peach salsa.
Sweet Potato Croquettes
3 c. of mashed sweet potatoes
4 tbs. butter, melted
1/4 c. of milk
1 tsp. of pepper
2 tsp. of salt
2 eggs, lightly scrambled
4 tbs. of flour
pinch of nutmeg
1 lb. of fresh chorizo, removed from casing
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 c. of flour
1 egg, beaten
2 tbs. of water
1/2 c. of bread crumbs
oil for frying
Mix the mashed potatoes with the butter, salt, pepper, salt, beaten eggs and nutmeg. Place in a fridge to chill. In a large skillet, brown the chorizo well. Once fully cooked, add the garlic and red pepper and continue to cook until fragrant. Cool the chorizo filling and stir into the mashed potatoes. Return mixture to the fridge to cool.
Scoop the mashed potatoes into portions 3 tablespoons each. Wet your hands and form each of the portions into a smooth ball. Place on a cookie sheet lined with a sheet of wax paper. When you’ve rolled all of the croquettes, place in the freezer to allow them to solidify a bit.
While the croquettes are cooling, break out 3 shallow dishes. Add 1/2 c. of flour to one dish. Scramble the egg and two tbs. of water together in the second dish. Place the breadcrumbs in the third dish. Take the croquettes out of the freezer and start an assembly line. First dredge them in the flour, shaking off the excess. Then, plunk them in the egg to wet them all over. Lastly, dredge in the breadcrumbs and place on a clean dish or another cookie sheet lined with parchment.
Heat a pot of cooking oil to 340° and gently lower a batch of arancini into the hot oil (5 at a time is good). Cook until beautifully golden on the outside, about 9 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve with a fat wedge of lime and a sweet dipping sauce of your choice.