A site for sore tastebuds and a woeful wallet


Glam the Leftovers

There are usually some leftovers when I cook.  Not the meal very often but its components.  For example, today I have about 4 cups of cubed and cooked potatoes in a tub in the refrigerator left from last week. They are running out of time. This seems like a place to start so I look around for other additions that will turn into a pot of something good.

I always keep carrots, olive oil and spices around.  In my dehydrated stores, mushrooms are a wonderful umami booster to any dish. There has been a leek in the crisper for a while the tops looking a little shabby.   In the fridge also is some milk I must use up and a tub of sour cream with a couple of nice dollops that need to go away before it’s too late.  Not sounding very glamorous is it?

Well, here’s how we’ll put the glam to the pan:

100_1486Clean, slice and sauté  a leek (an onion will also do) in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until soft and slightly golden on some pieces.  Add the cooked potato cubes and go over them with a potato masher until coarsely but evenly mashed.  Stir in about 5 cups milk (I had whole milk),  add 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.  Also add spices you like.  I used parsley flakes for a hint of greenery and coriander for a hot and lemony hit. A pinch of red pepper flakes adds 100_1490nice heat if you like that.  I do!  

This needs to be simmered until it bubbles a bit and while we wait for that use a carrot peeler and slice a medium carrot with it to make ultra thin slices.  It whiles away the time it takes for the soup to bubble and adds beautiful color to the pot. Those dehydrated mushrooms I mentioned come into play here.  I grab a few slices and crush them in my hand and add the flakes to the pot.  You can’t see them much but you sure will taste the mellow earthy goodness they impart.

100_1482Once everything has a chance to simmer and blend flavors it’s time to add a bit more creaminess. It’s time to close off the flame so the dairy components won’t break and look grainy. Those dollops of sour cream are just the touch.  If you happen to have some regular cream, a shot of that will add more richness.  Just stir it and let it melt right in. As a final touch that adds that Je’ ne sais quoi (that’s how a diva says “I don’t know what”) a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese gives everything a sharper taste.  Don’t add too much or the secret will be revealed.  You want just enough to have people try to guess what that great (or grated) taste is.  Another ingredient that does that in tiny amounts is nutmeg.  Grate some fresh or go to your spice rack an add just a wee pinch.

In the end our leftovers have never looked and tasted better.  The refrigerator is slightly cleaner and the company at the dining room table are enjoying themselves better after raking leaves, working on the car and cleaning and cooking.  I think after all this work we’ll have to dress up for a date night tonight.  And that’s how we glam the leftovers.100_1483


Oven Fried Catfish with Homemade Tartar Sauce

I dread frying anything for two reasons.  One, the calories; even though back in my restaurant employment days the executive chef told me over and over, “Fat equals flavor.”  He wasn’t lying but I found a way around that conundrum in this recipe.

The second reason for my disinclination is the greasy mess to clean up in the end.  Why not contain the mess in a pan rather than wipe down a multitude of surfaces including the range hood.  I can do without all the acrobatics this late in the evening.

100_1468A while ago I found a super deal on catfish nuggets at the store.  It was locally caught and freshly frozen…I could tell, so I jumped on a five pound bag of those babies.  About one and a half pounds were gently thawed in the microwave then placed in a container of milk to soak.  In the food processor I pulsed about a cup of corn bread stuffing mix with a tablespoon of butter and a glug or two of olive oil.  I added another 2/3 cup of crispy panko 100_1469breadcrumbs into a large enough plastic bag where I combined all the crumbs.  The fish was dropped into the bag in batches and shook until well coated then laid out skin-side-down in a baking pan (and a pie plate because there was more than I thought).

With an oven preheated to 450°F, I let the fish bake for about 25 minutes.  Without the fuss of turning and possibly getting burned from popping grease, I removed the fish from the oven and let them cool down slightly.

While they cooled I quickly whipped up a tasty tartar sauce to accompany this crispy delight with the following:

  • 100_14784 round tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp tarragon, freshly chopped
  • 1 tbsp finely minced red onion
  • 1 tbsp sweet pickle relish
  • salt and pepper to taste

As I plated up dishes for the family the fish was very delicate and flaky, not over greasy.  Because of the butter and oil I added to the crumbs, they toasted up nicely and tasted like grandma’s deep south recipe; all the flavor of fried fish.  As a bonus this diva doesn’t have to worry about an extra 120 or so calories.  It’s been a good day.


If You’re Busy, Try This

Man I have been busy!  I haven’t been able to blog much as over the summer I have been a part of all the Holy Sacraments according to the Catholic Church.  Even though it’s not a sacrament, our summer started with my husband changing jobs.  After the month long transition process my mother was given Last Rites just before passing.  My daughter then decided she wanted to be baptized. My other daughter was married weeks after that. These were a much needed joyous occasions.  We took communion the first Sunday of each month as usual and now the one baptized is preparing for Confirmation.  I love my Catholic roots but find myself in an Evangelical Free church both as worker and worshiper nowadays.  Both family and church family have helped me greatly through the ups and downs of summer .

Summer, as far as cooking, was spent either at the grill or on autopilot going over some of the hundreds of recipes already in this blog.

Now that it’s autumn and Jeff and I celebrated our 14th anniversary I’m ready to leave a crazy season behind and get back into my diva groove.  It’s good to be back even though I’ve got to start with the “quick and easy” recipes.  By Thanksgiving I hope to get more elaborate.

Quick and easy doesn’t mean it won’t be good and tasty!  Complexity doesn’t necessarily have to take all day.  With these ingredients you’ll see why:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 each, red, yellow and green bell pepper sliced in lengthwise strips100_1460
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced from pole to pole
  • 1 Turkey Polska Kielbasa Sausage cut in 1 cm slices on the diagonal
  • 1/2 can chunk pineapple (half the juice too) equaling about 1 cup
  • 2 tablespoons apricot preserves, or hot pepper jelly, or a combination of both
  • 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
  • a pinch each of garlic powder and crushed red pepper flakes
  • a handful of leaves of escarole lettuce, roughly choped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

100_1456In a large skillet pour in your olive oil and when it’s nice and hot add the onions and peppers.  Stir them around until the edges turn golden brown.  Add in the sausage and keep stirring.  When the vegetables get quite brown, pour in the soy sauce, the pineapple and juice to deglaze.  spoon in the preserves and/or pepper jelly (I used equal amounts of both). Let it melt in, reduce and thicken to an unctuous sweet and savory sauce.  Add the last three ingredients to season and you are ready.  Double the recipe to feed a crowd of 6 to 8.  You can get this dish done in less than 30 minutes so try this when ever you are on the go or get home late or just plain don’t want to be on your feet in the kitchen.  Prop those dogs up and enjoy a movie with the family. 100_1458

I’ll Subscribe to that Paper!

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