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100_1310Cooking “en papillote” has been a fancy way to steam vegetables and light meats and fish for decades.  Even back thousands of years folks were wrapping their fish and veggies in banana leaves and steaming them over hot coals.  It’s great fun to open the paper or leaves for that big reveal. There is such a waft of good food smells when you crack open the package and everything inside is so sumptuous and tender from this gentle yet efficient means of steam heating.  I had never tried this before but found this to be way more fun than regular steaming.
In this version of cooking I used:

  • 1 tbsp butter per package
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion per package
  • 1/2 a small squash or zucchini cut in thin  strips per package
  • 2 small frozen salmon fillets per package
  • Seasonings per package (a pinch of paprika, 1 smashed garlic clove, salt and pepper to taste)
  • 2 10″x 10″ parchment paper sheets.

100_1311To assemble, put the onions all around the bottom of one half of parchment, then place the squash strips on top of them making little support beams for the fish.  Place the two fillets of salmon on the squash, place the butter on top of everything, season well then seal the parchment sheets together by twist folding every half inch of the perimeter of the parchment until it is completely sealed all around.

100_1313You could cook this in the oven but I  put mine on the grill on foil with offset heat sources at either end but not directly under the parchment packs.  after 20 minutes I did move the packets under more direct flame for about 6 minutes until I started to smell the onions cooking.  I shut off the fire once the packs appeared to be inflated by the steam inside.  They stayed that way until I served them at the table.  I wouldn’t want to serve them until the risk of super-heated steam was gone.  About a ten minute rest period took care of that
Opening your own ballooned pack of fish and vegetables is like opening a birthday present!  That puff of steam really enhances the experience when it all comes out at once to your nose.   The onions on the bottom made a caramelized base for every thing else to rest upon,  The squash was still slightly crispy but glazed in the melted onion.  The salmon was tender and flaky, spiced just right and done to perfection throughout.    All of the flavors really infused well with one another and the juices that precipitated from the steam were like a condiment to soak up with the fish.    All of it was nicely spiced and so delicious, we ate our packets up in minutes.  My friends and I really enjoyed experimenting with this method.  It was great how this dinner of intrigue actually turned out…not the prettiest but absolutely delicious!  Bonus; clean-up was mostly throw away and a bit of rinsing.  Now if only my family would try this.  How can you not love salmon?100_1315

Creamy Corn Chowder Has Everything

We got a bit of a cold snap today with temps around the 50’s.  Jackets were called for to block the chilly winds.  A warm bowl of soup was the next order of the day so I conjured up something warm and creamy and comforting; creamy corn chowder.

To make this rich and tasty soup I started with these ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp bacon grease/ butter
  • 1 medium onion finely diced
  • 1 large rib of celery finely diced
  • 1 carrot thinly sliced
  • 1 cup frozen, or freshly cut corn
  • 1/2 red pepper finely diced
  • 1 clove of garlic minced
  • 2 medium baked russet potatoes peeled and finely diced
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp parsley flakes
  • a pinch of ground thyme
  • a pinch of ground sage
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 and 1/2 cup milk or half and half
  • 1 cup chicken broth (or a bouillon cube dissolved in 1 cup boiling water)
  • 1 cup chopped greens.(I used red and green lettuce mix from the garden)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

This looks like a lot of ingredients, but half are seared vegetables and half are the liquids and spices (I combined the spices and cornstarch into a bowl to add it all at once).  You add them in that way, preparing the vegetables in the pot with the oil on high heat, just searing the edges about three minutes.  Add the potatoes along with the seasoning mixture, stir it all in for a few seconds to let the herbs bloom a bit and the corn starch stick to the vegetables.  Right away add the water and stir until the bottom of the pan cleans up a bit from the seared vegetables and spice mixture.  Let those caramelized flavors brew into the water, add the other liquids, and let everything simmer together for about 30 minutes.  All the individual ingredients add their own special pizzaz.

Let the pot of soup cool for about ten minutes before serving and get ready for a mouthful!  With everything cut in tiny pieces in the beginning, everything in the end is sufficiently intermingled with everything else.   The result is so much flavor throughout each bite and each bowl you won’t believe it!  Warm, rich, savory, sweet, bright, satisfying and delicious; this soup’s got it all.100_1307

Kabob Quickly

Nothing could be faster than throwing hunks of food onto a stick and laying them on a grill over hot coals or a gas flame. cropped-3715388319.jpgShish kabobs are fairly fast in prep time, cook time is much less, and clean-up takes hardly any time.  You can kabob just about anything too…well naturally except ice cream or jello but any fruit, or meat or, sturdy vegetable.  Shrimp and dense fish like grouper and sea bass could also work .

I purchased a whole pork loin a month ago and had it in the freezer.  I let it thaw over night.  The next day we planned to go to a family picnic so we brought about 20 kabobs ready to grill.  Each one included a serving of meat and four vegetables. Green and red peppers, onion, baby ‘bella mushrooms, and grape tomatoes were my “go-to guys”.  I cut the pork loin into cubes measuring 1 and 1/2 inches and marinated them in a teriyaki sauce I made.

100_1301Most marinates contain something savory, something acidic and an oil.  You could add something sweet as an option.  I made mine with 1/3 cup soy sauce, 1/3 cup pineapple juice and a dash or so of olive oil.  Ginger and garlic powders were also added for a little kick.  The meat soaked in this for about an hour then assembly began.

Prepping was simple but took about 30 minutes once the meat marinated a while.  Cutting Vidalia onions and peppers into little 1 and 1/2 inch pieces took 10 minutes but loading twenty skewers took about 20 minutes.   For uniformity I started with a plank of onion, then green pepper with the cupped-side-up to cradle a cube of meat, a plank of onion placed cupped-side-down to cap the meat, and last a tomato.  I repeated this pattern three times on each skewer which, in my opinion, made a complete and perfect paleo meal on a stick.

Cooking all 20 them on the grill was all of a 10 minute process.  By the time the twentieth one was laid on the grill it was time to go back and turn the first one.  Giving the meat a press test for donenness, I was looking for a firm feel.  If I was cooking steak kabobs, I would want to feel a little bit of give…not too squishy though unless you like it very rare.  If I was cooking chicken kabobs I would definitely want it to feel very firm when pressed.

After coming off the grill a rest period is always a good idea to let the juices settle in the meat.  They could be eaten right off the stick but removing the stick and cutting things in smaller bites is a less primitive way (it’s how a diva does it).

The men really loved them.  The kids loved the idea, most of them discarding the onions and peppers, and the women marveled at how pretty they were.  And let me tell you, they were GOOD!100_1303

Pork Tenderloin and Honey Crisp Apples

I’m not big on pork but it’s  really hard to not like bacon.  For an affordable luxury dinner the pork tenderloin is my favorite.

Any lean meat could easily dry out if not prepared correctly. Whether it is pork tenderloin or beef (quite a bit more expensive…maybe after my Christmas bonus), the first step in enduring it stays tender is to season with salt and pepper and sear the meat on all sides using a tablespoon of so of olive oil. This creates some wonderful brown coating on the bottom as the juices evaporate.  Keep your heat high enough to sear the meat but don’t let the browning juices reduce to black.

100_1234As soon as the evaporated juices are the color of cola splash in about a half a cup of a sweet wine.  I used red zinfandel then the juice of a whole orange.   If you like garlic, sprinkle on a bit of powdered garlic at this time.  The liquid melts off the brownness stuck to the pan and makes a beautifully colored sauce.  Next add some thinly sliced apples.  The market had my favorite on sale; the Honey Crisp.  They were big so I peeled, cored and sliced two of them very thinly and tossed them in the big stainless pan right along side the tenderloin.  Put a lid on everything and let it all steam together for about 15 minutes on medium heat.

When the apples are tender and floppy, remove the meat to a plate (to be sure, check with an instant read thermometer for a temperature of 135°-140°F for a medium to medium well doneness) and let it rest.  The cardinal rule of cooking expensive meat (and what meat isn’t expensive these days?) is to let it rest at least 10 minutes for smaller cuts.  For a cut as thick as this 15 to 20 minutes would be appropriate.  Slicing it too soon will make all the juices spill out.  After resting, the juices appear to soak back in and make each slice as tender as can be.

Now that the meat has had its beauty rest, it slices like butter.  Serve up each plate with a bunch of apple slices and a few medallions of tenderloin. Don’t forget to spoon on some of that unctuous sauce from the pan!

If I had my Christmas wish this would be a beef tenderloin, I would roast in in my biggest pan in the oven, deglaze it with a dry red wine and toss in slices of zucchini, mushrooms and onions to flavor the sauce.  In the meantime, this poor man’s version turned out to be a delectable feast for a Tuesday night.  100_1235

Dehydrated Vegetables Make Delicious White Bean Chicken Chili

If you are one of the folks who dehydrate food to save money, storage space and preserve the wonderful taste of summer, this recipe is for you.  The growing season is not quite here where I live but my desire for that home grown taste sure is. Since we dehydrated our green peppers and onions from last year we have the taste and all the goodness ready to reconstitute in a pot of white bean chicken chili.

100_1210To make this sumptuous meal we used the following:

  • 2  boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup dehydrated onions
  • 14 cup dehydrated green peppers
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons cumin powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 can great northern beans.

To begin,  I thaw the chicken breasts and get a stock pot to reconstitute the vegetables.  In the 2 cups of water I add the onions, peppers, (you could use fresh vegetables and dice them) and all the spices.  I cut the chicken into strips and add them to the boiling liquid.  100_1211The heat is turned down to a simmer and I put a lid on it and let it go for about 15 minutes. When the chicken is firm to touch I remove it to a plate to rest until it is cool enough to handle.  By now the vegetables are back to their re-hydrated state and have imparted their flavor to the broth and the chicken along with the spices

100_1215When the chicken is cooled I shred it into bite size pieces and add it back to the broth.  I add the whole can of beans with the liquid and everything.  This simmers for about 20 minutes.  I adjust the liquid because re-hydrating vegetables drinks up quite a bit of it.  I also adjust the spices and salt at this time.

100_1218Now we are ready to have a delicious lunch before we tackle the preparations for the coming year’s garden.  This meal makes our plans clear to grow more onions and peppers.  There will also be tomatoes, beans, and all kinds of herbs.  All these foods will feed us throughout summer and what we don’t eat we will can and dehydrate to get us through the next winter.

T100_1225he best part of this chili and most dishes using dehydrated food, no fat is added to get it back to an edible state.  All you need is water.  A bowl of this chili contains about 4 grams of fat and all of the protein you need for the day.  This dish would be great with vegetables sauteed in olive oil but bikini season will be here before we know it!


A Do-Ahead Dish Italian Style

Whether it’s a wedding or just Tuesday night, this baked mostaccioli is a winner because it can be made in advance and either frozen or refrigerated, then re-heated to make a casserole as delicious as lasagna.  Whatever the occasion calls for, it can be made in quantities or in just one pan.   The hardest part is cutting up the vegetables.  For one 13″x 9″ casserole you will need the  following:

  • 1 pound pene rigate pasta, cooked al dente and drained (reserve 1 cup pasta water)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped100_1175
  • 1 large carrot in tiny dice
  • 1 large rib of celery in tiny dice
  • 1 clove of garlic finely minced
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 1 can Italian style diced tomatoes
  • 1 jar traditional spaghetti sauce.
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese divided in two equal portions
  • 6 oz.  grated Monterrey jack cheese
  • 2 or 3 slices of bread pulsed in the processor to fine crumbs
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning

100_1176First, prepare the pasta and drain.   Reserve a cup of the pasta liquid and set them both aside.  In the pot saute, the diced vegetables in a little olive oil until the onions  just begin to brown a little.  Add the ground beef and brown it off well.  Stir in the garlic and tomato paste and heat through.  Add the diced tomatoes and spaghetti sauce and simmer a few minutes.  Add the pasta and a little of the pasta water if the sauce is too stiff.  Stir everything until the noodles are well coated.  Add one half of the Parmesan and all of the Monterrey jack cheese and stir it in until it’s melted.

Dump the contents of the pot into a 13″x 9″ baking pan, press the noodles down with a large spoon and smooth the top.  Mix the bread crumbs in a plastic bag with the 1 and 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and the remaining Parmesan, season with salt and pepper and shake the contents of the bag until the crumbs are coated with oil.  Break up any clumps.  Coat the noodles with the crumbs and bake at 425° for 25 to 30 minutes or until the bread crumbs become golden brown. Allow to cool 10 minutes and serve with a wide spatula.

This dish is great for a crowd.  One pan serves 10 to 12 guests.  4 standard 2″ deep steam table dishes could easily feed 100 guests. Whatever size party you pesent this easy dish to, you will not only be feeding them a super delicious meal but a meal already containing four vegetables, less fattening cheese than lasagna and far less fuss.

Because I Can

During the wintry months it’s good to find projects that make us think about the seasons ahead of homegrown tomatoes and fresh green beans, tilling the soil and tending the garden.  In my mind I hear the sounds of life teeming all around from birds you only hear in warmer times like the goldfinches and Carolina wrens, to the chorus of cicadas in the evening  and the crickets chirping at night.   Even though it’s 7°F outside right now, we found a bargain at the supermarket which sparked our normally autumnal desire to do some canning.

Since there was a great sale of potatoes, carrots and even chicken breasts, we purchased a good amount to preserve. Canning is usually a late summer to autumn activity but doing it in the dead of winter not only gives us a great project to while away these times of cabin fever, but also serves to save us money in the future.  Carrots aren’t always 59 cents a bag and 10 lbs of potatoes are $1.39 only at Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day…maybe another time or two depending on crops.  When you can find any meat for a dollar a pound these days, its time to jump on the opportunity.  We found chicken breasts on just such a sale and discovered they can beautifully as well.

When we think about it, going to the store a year from now prices may be double on these things if not more.  I’ve already seen 10 lb bags of potatoes100_1123 for $3.50 a pound when not on sale.  Bargain hunting can really make a difference.  Canning is like putting a treasure in a time capsule.  The time capsule lasts only two years but even just two years ago food prices were so much lower.  We don’t see it getting any better so winter time is a good time to think about the savings of years to come.  The possibilities are endless as to what bargain you wish to preserve.

Stews and soups can be preserved  by canning as well.  If you make a large batch of something, the left-overs can be processed and stored for another time.  Think of the trips to the supermarket you can replace with a trip to the basement or cupboard for a delicious meal waiting only to be re-heated, the work already done.  Save that gas money and invest it into a pressure canner.  They can be as affordable as $88.00 at Target but go up to nearly $400.00 for the more serious cook.  Either way, it will pay for itself if used when the food you can is on sale, or better yet, food you grow in your own garden for pennies a pound.

If I went to the store and purchased five cans (only 15 oz. or  24 oz.) each of soup, beans, spinach, corn, carrots, peaches, apple pie filling, jelly and jam, chicken and beef, I could easily spend  upwards from $100.oo.  For half the money or likely, much less I could put up 5 quarts (32 oz.) each of my own fruits, meat, beans, vegetables and soups with the added benefit of being organic and BPA free (metal cans treated with BPA have been linked to breast cancer and asthma).  I could easily spend $1.39 on a can of potatoes but that whole 10 pound bag cost just as much and makes roughly 3 quarts…more than six times the amount prepared and available any time I want!

Canning must be done properly for the food you preserve to be safe to eat.  For instance, foods high in acid require only a water bath which is as easy as boiling water but low acid foods like the ones pictured above require the pressure canning.  The carrots and potatoes took 25 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure and the chicken 90 minutes at 13 lbs, pressure (higher altitudes require higher pressure).    Follow the guidelines in the Ball Blue Book a Guide to Canning and Preserving.  Also, I’ve found this link which has vintage recipes for free.  It too is a good guide to safe preserving.

Sure, I purchase canned goods from the store for convenience but it is becoming less and less.  It just makes good sense to preserve food myself and store it for leaner times.  Shopping in my own home-store is convenient and there is nothing prettier than the colorful things preserved in shiny glass containers displayed in the cupboard or kitchen shelves.  This, along with the previously mentioned health benefits makes me want to do all my own canning.  I have the equipment so I should can…because I can.


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