Thursday, February 25, 2010

Meatless Monday & Snowy Tuesday

When Taco Tuesday is blurred by the weather in Texas, hang's going to a bumpy ride!

My Meatless Monday endeavors since the New Year have been making me put more thought into the post weekend meals. We typically get more indulgent on the weekend. Thinking about more positive choices since the New Year have been a goal of mine for our household. This past week was a busy week as we knew on Monday evening that we could receive several inches of snowfall in Central Texas. Seriously, folks Texas does get snowfall now & again. I have friends who are shocked each time they hear we had snow in Texas! A state of this size has alot to offer weather wise & as the old saying goes: "If you don't like the weather, wait a minute & it will change". This Meatless Monday I was busy planning a meal while; figuring out which plants I needed to drag into the house from the garden or were worth salvaging after our previous freezes this Winter.

When the weather folks talk about the three P's.....plants, pets & pipes you had better buckle down & prepare for a real cold snap! I've recently heard family stories of storms in the Hill Country in the 1930's which caused my Grandfather, Aunts & Uncles to haul all the baby livestock into the old Ranch house in Hayes County & bottle feed dozens of goats & sheep in front of the fireplaces for days while the storms raged & the countryside froze. It is a fact in the Lone Star state it can & will drop as much as 50 degrees within hours when a Texas Blue Northern front blasts down through the plains. By Tuesday morning the Austin area had sleet & snow flurries. I saw larger snowflakes than I even remember from living in Alaska as a child. Across Texas weather forecasters & bloggers were in a frenzy as the road crews covered the bridges & overpasses with sand. School age kids were excited to be released early from school & our local golf courses turned ski slopes for an afternoon. We may not see snow often here in Texas but when we do it is a sight to behold & everyone enjoys the excitement.
Of course I digress from the Meatless Monday since Snowy Tuesday temporarily replaced Taco Tuesday at our home!(sheesh!!!)Weather truly was the big event of the week. But quite possibly the best meal of the week was the meatless meal which always gives us a little bounce to our step & manages to make us feel a bit more virtuous for a few days. Taco Tuesday? Well let me just say this Tuesday I thought a pot of soup was good for the soul. Next Tuesday we will tackle the tacos again!

For a little history about Meatless Monday, long before the modern food movement made it cool & hip....Please, people! We reinvent the wheel over & over again. Everything is a cycle, the longer I live the more I realize what is "in" one moment, will be back again if you wait long enough. Thank goodness, this movement is back again~

Two of my top 10 favorite ingredients, how can any meal be bad with Artichokes & Mushrooms?

Artichoke & Mushroom Stuffed Eggplant
1 1 1/4 lb Eggplant
2 tsp. Olive Oil
1 cup Onions, chopped
1 cup Mushrooms, chopped
1 cup frozen Artichoke hearts, thawed & chopped
1 clove Garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. Oregano
1/2 tsp. Basil
1 tsp. Soy Sauce
1/2 tsp salt & pepper
1/4 cup Vegetable stock *more may be added if needed
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded

Cut Eggplant in half, lengthwise, carefully scoop pulp out leaving 1/4 inch shell on the outside. I use a melon scoop to help with scooping process. Chop pulp into 1/4 inch pieces. Preheat oven to 350*.
Heat oil in a large non stick skillet over medium heat. Add eggplant pulp, onions, mushrooms, artichoke hearts & garlic. Add spices, soy sauce & stock. Cook 10 to 12 minutes, stirring frequently until vegetables are tender. During this process if more liquid is needed add more vegetable stock to keep the eggplant mixture moist. Remove from heat & stir in rice & half of the cheese.
Lightly oil a shallow baking dish. Spoon cooked mixture into eggplant shells. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the tops. Pour 1/4 inch liquid either stock or water into the bottom of the dish so the eggplant shells will steam tender. Cook uncovered 30 minutes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

If it's Fat Tuesday we must have Gumbo & plenty of Seafood.

Whether you call it Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, the same day seems to mean one last culinary celebratory event leading up the the date Lent begins on the Christian calendar. Festival season in many cultures encompasses the period between Epiphany & Ash Wednesday. Fat Tuesday is the celebration of & end of Mardi Gras as we know it in the South. In our family whether we are in New Orleans, Mexico or Texas it is cause for Gumbo, stews, etoufee or jambalaya. Wherever you find yourself this day let the good times roll & make it hot, hot, hot!!

Start your Fat Tuesday off with Shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico over Poached eggs. A quick 10 minute breakfast. In the words of my Cajun friends; "Talk about good, Cher, nes pa?"
Poached Eggs & Shrimp for two
2 large eggs
2 jumbo shrimp, peeled, deveined
Lemon wedges
2 tbsp. white wine
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. garlic
salt, pepper & red pepper flakes
2 slices Roma tomato
fresh baby spinach leaves
2 whole grain English muffins, sliced & toasted

Poach the 2 eggs at the same time you are sauteing the shrimp for this dish. If you have never poached an egg, here is a quick how to Poach guide.
In small pan saute garlic in butter, add shrimp, quickly sautee shrimp till opaque. Add seasoning & white wine. Remove from heat. Place toasted English muffins the serving plate, add 3 to 4 fresh baby spinach leaves over the bottom half, ease the poached egg onto the spinach (as you can tell from the photo I enjoy my eggs soft), garnish with 1 slice of tomato, carefully set the jumbo shrimp onto the tomato & serve with lemon wedge on each plate.

“Gumbo, of all other products of the New Orleans cuisine, represents a most distinctive type of the evolution of good cookery under the hands of the famous Creole Cuisinieres of old New Orleans.”

The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book (1901)

My friend Vickie Thibodeaux said years ago as she taught me to make Gumbo..."the Roux is all important but the onion, celery & bell pepper are the holy triumvirate!" She taught me to make the roux & get it nice & dark like a cup of Cajun coffee. Roux is equal parts oil & flour which is browned & used as thickening in many South Louisiana & French style dishes. A roux makes or breaks a pot of gumbo. Anytime I have tried to rush that process I have been truly disappointed. If I do not have a full 20 minutes to make a good roux then I'd better not bother. This seafood gumbo is based on a recipe I have used for years from one of my favorite Louisiana cookbooks. A book called "Cajun Cooking" has recipes compiled from kitchens across South Louisiana & like any community or church cookbook the tidbits are endless & the flavors superb. The cover has a great photo of a sweet Cajun Grandmother peeling shrimp which puts a smile on my face each time I see it.

Seafood Gumbo
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup flour
2 lbs shrimp, peeled & deveined
4 oz. Wild Caught Crab claw meat
4 oz. Oysters, *Gulf coast oysters
2 Quarts Water
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 lbs. okra, fresh or frozen
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Salt, Pepper & Cayenne Pepper to taste
Parsley chopped
Cooked Rice
File, a seasoning made from ground Sassafras root used to garnish Gumbo when served.

Saute Shrimp & crab meat with 2 tbsp of the oil in a large pot, add water & set aside.
In remaining oil make the Roux: Mix oil & flour together in a large cast iron skillet, stir every few minutes, at first roux will be light brown (coffee with cream color), continue stirring for several minutes longer till the roux is a dark brown or rich brown coffee color. The roux will be very hot, then add the onion, bell pepper, celery & cook vegetables slightly. Add in the garlic & okra. Continue sauteing till slightly browned.
Add the sauteed vegetables & oysters to the seafood, along with the can of diced tomatoes, stir well. Add seasonings, Worcestershire sauce & cook slowly for about 1 hour.
Finally add parsley & serve over mound of cooked rice. In our home we always serve gumbo with File. A light sprinkle at the edge of the bowl is nice & adds a certain: "Je ne sais quoi!" (a certain "something")

*Anytime I use fresh Gulf Coast Oysters in my gumbo I use the liquid the oysters have along with the water or stock for my gumbo.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Quiche, the language of love~

Love means Quiche this Valentine's Day.

Quiche has a history of being feminine or ...not for men! I first learned how to make Quiche when I visited my Grandmother one summer. My Grandmother had been a home economics teacher for years & told my sister & I we could cook anything we wanted that Summer. My sister & I tried our best to cook things which sounded different or exotic to our impressionable palettes. We chopped, sauteed & cooked our way through my Grandmother's vast library of cookbooks. Our endeavors were not limited either. Grandmother told us to choose recipes & would then purchase any ingredients she could locate in Greenville Texas in the mid 1970's. We used the old Royal typewriter to type out the recipes we wanted to replicate in the future. My sister & I felt like the reigning Cooking Queens that summer long ago. We certainly thought so anyway. Several years later when I was engaged to my husband I asked the future Mr. Texas to Mexico if he liked Quiche? He replied yes. I then told him "Great, I know how to make 4 things, Chili, Gumbo, Spaghetti Sauce & Quiche!" He was a man in love & very patient. I made those few things many times the first year we were married.

Considered part of French cuisine, quiche actually originated in Germany, in the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, under German rule, and which under French rule was later renamed Lorraine. The word ‘quiche’ is from the German ‘Kuchen’, meaning cake. Quiche is great for lunch, dinner or my family has enjoyed it for breakfast on occasion. I ran across my time worn, type written copy of Quiche Lorraine not too long ago. I thought fondly about the summer my sister & I were the cooking Queens in my Grandmother's kitchen.

Spanish Mushroom & Spring Onion Quiche
1/2 recipe Simple Pastry Dough
8 large eggs
2 cups plain low fat yogurt**
1 cup fat free half & half
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
8 oz. Chorizo, Mexican or Spanish
1 cup Crimini mushrooms, sliced
3 medium sized *Spring onions, tops & bulbs sliced
1 cup Monterrey Jack Cheese or Queso Chihuahua, shredded

On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough into a 16-inch round. Brush off any excess flour; fit dough into a 2-inch deep-dish tart pan with a removable bottom, gently pressing it into the sides. Using a sharp knife, trim the dough evenly with the edge of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap; chill tart shell until firm, about 20 minutes. (for my heart shaped pans I used 1 recipe cut into quarters, following the same instructions.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Line the pastry dough with a sheet of parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Transfer to oven and bake until light brown, about 25 minutes. Remove weights and parchment paper and continue baking until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together 1 egg and flour on high speed until smooth. Add the remaining 7 eggs and continue mixing until well blended.
In skillet, saute mushrooms & Spring onions till slightly tender, set aside & the use the same skillet to cook the chorizo till browned. Cut chorizo into bites if it is in sausage link form, otherwise cook & then drain well onto paper towels.
Place plain yogurt in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth; add half & half and continue whisking until well combined. Add to mixer along with salt, pepper, and thyme; mix until well combined.
Place chorizo, mushrooms, onions & cheese in prepared tart shell. Pour over egg mixture until tart shell is full (you may not need to use all of the egg mixture). Bake 20 minutes; reduce temperature to 325 degrees, and continue baking until filling is slightly firm, rather than liquid, and crust is a deep golden brown, 40 to 50 minutes more. Transfer quiche to a wire rack to cool until set, about 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. To reheat, cover quiche with aluminum foil and bake in an oven heated to 325 degrees for about 15 minutes.

Simple Pastry Dough
recipe for two 9 or 10 inch pie shells

1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup ice water
3 cups plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 cup(2 sticks)plus 5 Tbsp. very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

In a small bowl, mix together salt and water. Keep very cold until ready to use.
Place flour and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse briefly until mixture forms large crumbs. Add the salt water mixture and continue pulsing until a dough has just formed but is not smooth.
On a lightly floured surface, evenly divide dough. Form each piece of dough into a round about 1 inch thick. Wrap each pastry round with plastic wrap and chill at least 2 hours and up to overnight. I have even frozen these prepped pie crusts for a few weeks in a Ziploc bag.

*Spring Onions are the onions which look like very large Green Onions. They have nice plump round bulbs & a very mild flavor.
**I began using plain yogurt when we lived in Mexico & creme fraiche was difficult to come by.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Of Saints & Sinners....

The phrase, "I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints..." keeps running through my head on this day. No, I am not drawing lines calling anyone a Sinner here. We all know the literal version of what that statement means however I am thinking of the New Orleans Saints today & Drew Brees our Texas born quarterback....

When I was living in Louisiana during college I initially noticed the die hard rabid fan base of the New Orleans Saints were not that different from our beloved Dallas Cowboys fans. There was one big difference in Louisiana. In Louisiana the fierce love of the game, the sport & the team left little room for the outsiders. It is an all or nothing Saints fan base. The State of Louisiana was behind the Saints & cared not who else was in on the gig! Seriously, all Texans want people to like our football teams. We do think we perfected or invented the sport!! They are a tough group of fans too, even when they sat in the stands some years ago with paper bags over their heads watching the Saints loosing game after game. Saints fans held onto the hope that their day would come. Well that day has arrived & the Saints have marched through much more than most Football franchises could imagine in the past 5 years. The "Who Dat" nation is now set in stone in Louisiana & the fans are beyond proud. If anyone doubts that there will be partying in the Big Easy tonight regardless of what happens in Miami they do not know the resilience of the people of Louisiana. My money is on the New Orleans Saints. The Colts may have an incredible quarterback but the Saints have all that & more! The Colts may be out to bring home another trophy but Saints are searching for a triumph & the sweet fragrance which should follow Victors who have come through more than just a game.

**A typical Mexican Artesania showing an image of a Saint resisting the temptations of the ultimate "Sinner".

Our Superbowl Appetizers are full of typical Texas to Mexico kick. For the first time in several years we will watch the Superbowl without Spanish broadcasting voice over (yipee) & we will not miss those great Superbowl commercials. It is odd what bits of Americana one misses when living abroad!
Chorizo stuffed Jalapenos
3 tbsp. olive oil
12 jalapeno peppers, seeded, halved & membranes removed
10-12 Crimini mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup of diced onion
8 oz. Mexican Chorizo
1/4 cup black Spanish olives, seeds removed & roughly chopped.
1 cup whole grain breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp. melted butter
1 large egg, beaten
3 tbsp. chopped green onion tops
1/2 cup of Monterrey Jack Cheese, reserve extra for top of peppers

Saute the Chorizo over medium heat in a large skillet until the pieces begin to crisp and brown, about 5 minutes. Drain Chorizo well & set aside. *I drain mine onto a paper towel to remove grease. Into skillet add onion & mushrooms, saute 5 minutes. Remove to medium mixing bowl, add Chorizo, chopped olives & green onions. Next add in breadcrumbs & cheese. Add beaten egg, melted butter & blend till the stuffing is moist & clumping.

Stuff each peppers the stuffing, rounding it on top of the pepper halves. Once they’re all stuffed, top with small amount of cheese, place into an oven safe dish & bake @ 375 for 20 minutes or until tops of stuffed pepper are slightly browned & cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

Spicy Artichoke & Crab Queso Dip
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups heavy cream
8 ounces Monterrey jack cheese, shredded
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
salt to taste
3 Roasted green chilis, seeded, cleaned & diced
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded, & finely diced
1 plum tomato, diced
4 oz. Artichoke frozen hearts, thawed, diced
1/4 cup diced yellow Spanish onion
4 oz *Crab claw meat, drained
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground, Chipolte Chili

In a medium saucepan, add butter & onion, allow to melt over low heat. Add flour and stir until it is well blended with butter and mixture is free of lumps. Color will be nice & golden after 1 minute or so.
Add cream and stir to combine, allowing to heat up until thickened, about five minutes. Stir frequently with spoon and do not allow cream to boil. Add cheese, and whisk vigorously until completely creamy and fluid when stirring.
Taste for salt and add accordingly. Add chilis, artichoke hearts, tomato, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne, and stir to combine. Finally add crab meat. Do not over heat or stir vigorously enough to break up the crab meat. Nice lumps of crab within the dip are best.
Serve warm with your favorite tortilla or pita chips. Makes approx . 1 quart dip.
*I used Crab claw Meat since it is in sturdy lumps & will not break up as easily in this dip.