Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Potluck Challenge

Bonzo Kitchen
I celebrate Thanksgiving in what most people would consider a nontraditional way.  Family is back east, so it's just me and the husband.  No football, no driving over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house.  We hang out in our pajamas and drink coffee with Bailey's until the turkey is done.  After we eat, we slouch on the couch with one hand on our bellies, Al Bundy-style.  It's a beautiful day.

This year I have the opportunity to change things up a bit.  We're having a potluck at the office on Monday and I get to cook for new people.  However, after making the same dishes for the two of us for years, I was lacking inspiration.  The bare minimum required to make it "Thanksgiving" in my mind already includes far more food than we can eat, what with the turkey, gravy, potatoes, dressing, cranberry sauce...  As far as dessert is concerned, if I don't make pumpkin pie someone in my house pouts.  It just doesn't leave me much time, or room in the fridge, for experimenting with new recipes.

Lucky me, I thought to ask my "fans" (indulgent family members and friends) for some new ideas.  I am thankful for their kind participation in this little project, and really enjoyed reading their submissions.  I had planned on making only one recipe from the bunch, but once I got started I was having too much fun to stop. After all my efforts this weekend, I'm far more excited for the potluck than I had anticipated.

All recipes can be found in their entirety at the end of the post.
Sausage Balls in Cheddar Cheese Pastry
Suggested by: Charlotte
Recipe from: cooking class

Sausage Balls in Cheddar Cheese Pastry
I think Charlotte, aka my mom, originally picked up this recipe at a cooking class.  It's one of my favorites, and is very simple to make.  In fact, it's rather goof-proof, as I made a tiny mistake and portioned-out the pastry incorrectly.  As a result I had sausage left over at the end with no dough to wrap it in.  But seriously, a little too much cheese pastry wrapped around a ball of sausage, there are worse things that can happen.  I saved the leftover sausage balls to make an omelet.  Even when wrapped in a generous amount of pastry, as seen above, the snacks baked up beautifully.  With 3 hungry people in the house, they lasted less than 20 minutes.  Sorry work friends, these beauties aren't going to make it to the potluck.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Suggested by: Karlen
Recipe from:  Smitten Kitchen

Pumpkin Bread Pudding
The second recipe I picked for the potluck challenge just came out of the oven.  It is delicious, and very hot, and my tongue is scolding my brain for my lack of patience.  This bread pudding is warm, comforting and pumpkiny.  It is a perfect blend of custard-soaked bread with crunchy bits of crust on  top.  I think it's going to be a hit at the potluck, just as it was at Karlen's event.  My only concern is that I will have to reheat it in the microwave, and I hope the crusty edges don't get too soggy.  But straight out of the oven, it is absolutely delicious.

Next time I might increase the bourbon, or make a bourbon whipped cream for the top.  The pudding is excellent as-is, I just really like bourbon.

Post-Potluck Update:  the bread pudding was the clear winner.  =)

Mashed Winter Squash with Indian Spices
Suggested by: Susan
Recipe from: Food and Wine dot com, Marcia Kiesel

Mashed butternut squash with Indian spices
I chose this recipe for the potluck challenge because it is vegetarian and will reheat easily in the microwave.  I think the addition of spices like turmeric, coriander and black mustard seed might be an interesting change from the usual holiday fare we encounter. 

The preparation is very simple, and the smell of the spices, garlic and onions cooking is absolutely drool-worthy.  My only issue is the mustard seeds.  Maybe it's because I couldn't find the black ones, which I understand are a bit more pungent than yellow.  Upon tasting, the seeds are slightly nutty, but otherwise unimpressive.  I guess we shall see when the dish is complete whether or not they're necessary, and/or included in the final product that goes to work.

Post Potluck Update:  skipped the mustard seeds and people ate it up!

Yam and Apple Casserole
Suggested by: Charlotte
Recipe from:  Charlotte

Yam and Apple Casserole
I picked this recipe because I love yams, and thought they would be really delicious when combined with sliced granny smith apples, currants, butter and brown sugar.  I have a vague recollection of my mother making this dish, but it's not one that shows up at her Thanksgiving table every year.  The assembly was very simple and wasn't all that time consuming, even with the necessary peeling of the apples and yams.  I did need to cook it longer than mom's recipe called for.  Either my yams were really tough, or I sliced them a bit too thick.  I stole a taste and it is very good; yammy, appley and buttery.

Post Potluck Update: another crowd pleaser, full of yam and apple flavor!

I had a fabulous time trying these new recipes, and we had a ball at the potluck.  To those of you who made suggestions, THANK YOU for making The First Annual Bonzo Bean Thanksgiving Potluck Challenge so much fun.  I can't wait to do this again next year!


Sausage Balls in Cheddar Cheese Pastry:
1 lb pork sausage
3/4 c bread crumbs
1/3 c water
*combine all ingredients, form into small balls and fry slowly until done, but not crusty.  Cool on a paper towel.
1 1/2 c flour
1/4 t salt
1t + paprika
8 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
*Combine dry ingredients, stir in cheese.  Cut in butter to make a firm dough.  Wrap dough smoothly around sausage balls.  Chill 1/2 hour.  Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
Makes 4 dozen (if you portion-out your sausage and dough correctly)

Pumpkin Bread Pudding:
1 1/2 c whole milk
3/4 c canned pumpkin
1/2 c sugar
2 large eggs, plus 1 yolk
1/2 t salt
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Dash ground cloves
2 T bourbon
5 c cubed crusty bread (I dried mine out in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes)
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
*Whisk together the pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, salt, spices and bourbon.  Melt butter, and toss with bread cubes.  Pour pumpkin mixture over bread, and stir until thoroughly combined.  Pour into an ungreased 8x8 baking dish.  Bake until custard is set, approximately 25-30 minutes.

Mashed Butternut Squash with Indian Spices:
8 lbs butternut squash (I bought 2 and came in around 7.5 lbs), halved lengthwise and seeded
1/3 c + 1T vegetable oil, and more to drizzle
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 T black mustard seeds (I couldn't find these, so bought regular mustard seeds)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1 t ground coriander
1 t turmeric
1/4 t crushed red pepper
1/4 c water
*Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Drizzle cut sides of squash with oil, salt and pepper.  Place cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet.  Roast until tender, about 45 minutes.
*In a large pot, heat 1 T of the oil.  Add the mustard seed and cook over moderately high heat, shaking the pot, until the seeds pop (about 1 minute).  Remove the seeds to a bowl.  Add the remaining 1/3 c of oil to the pot with the garlic and onion.  Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened.  Add the coriander, turmeric and red pepper flake.  Stir and cook until fragrant, a minute or two.  Remove from heat.
*Using a large spoon, scrape the flesh from the squash and put in the pot.  Add the water and cook over moderately high heat, stirring and lightly mashing, until blended and heated through.  Season with salt, pepper, and sprinkle mustard seeds over the top.

Yam and Apple Casserole:
4 medium yams, peeled and sliced 1/2" thick
2 tart apples, peeled and sliced
1/4 c currants
1/2 t salt
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1/4 c unsalted butter, cut into little pieces
*Layer yams, apples and currants in a buttered 2 qt baking dish.  Sprinkle with salt and top with butter and sugar.  Cover tightly with foil and bake for 50-75 minutes, or until tender, at 375 degrees. (original recipe calls for 50-60 minutes of cooking time, mine went a bit longer)

Topping:  I didn't make the topping because I worried it would just get soggy being reheated in the microwave.  If you don't have to reheat this way, I would try it.

1 c soft white bread crumbs, 2 T melted butter.  Mix and sprinkle over casserole, bake uncovered 10 minutes until brown.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Scenes From An Italian Restaurant

My first job was washing dishes at a family restaurant.  I was 13 years old, and I loved every stinking, filthy minute.  It was nasty work; scraping people's leavings into the giant drain, rinsing the plates and cups, loading the racks that slid into the industrial dishwasher.  The steam from that machine would curl my hair, and the dishes coming out burn my hands.  I'd slip and fall on the greasy floor of the line while stacking clean plates.  The cooks would laugh at me from their stations.  But I was proud of myself.  Even at that age, I knew any job worth doing, was worth doing well.  I suppose I have my parents to thank for that.

I worked my way up through that restaurant; from dishwasher, to hostess, to waitress.  I made a lot of friends.  I made a ton of money in tips (and oh, how I should have appreciated all that dough, with no bills to pay).  I dated one, or two, of the cooks over the years.  I had fun.  I also developed an understanding of how much work it takes to make a restaurant good.  "Pre Prior Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance," was the owner's favorite saying.  How can that not stick with you?  It was the first restaurant I worked in, but several others followed.  Usually Italian, or run by Italian families.  One was an Italian restaurant, run by a large Persian family.  Either way, my love for carbs was evident early on.

I am unable to separate myself from those experiences when I'm in a restaurant.  I haven't waited tables since college, but I find myself deconstructing, all the same.  Do the employees look happy to be there?  As the customer, do I feel welcomed, and appreciated?  Does the menu make sense; or even if it's a bit challenging, am I excited to try something I've never had before?  For God's sake, is the place reasonably clean?

I am most critical of the servers.  Having done the job for so many years, I can't help it.  Do they smile at me?  Do they impart the necessary information about the menu, without making it a Broadway production?  Do they care if my glass is empty?  Do they know when to stop talking, walk away, and let me enjoy myself?  It's a delicate balance to strike.  I know it when it's done well.

I have found a haven from the over-analyzing at Il Terrazzo Carmine.  I discovered this place relatively recently.  I've ordered carry-out for the office,  I've lunched at the bar, and I've eaten in the restaurant.  Every single experience has been flawless, from the moment I walked in the door, to the second I stepped outside, my belly full, a smile on my face.

Soup & Salad:  Carmine's has great soup.  The Tuscan White Bean has been my lunch choice several times, as has the Minestrone, and the Shrimp Bisque.  They are all delicious.  They serve a salad I order frequently; Insalata Di Pollo Suprema.  It has the perfect balance of grilled chicken, fresh greens, candied walnuts, and a little bit of sliced provolone.  This salad is the bomb; enough chicken to keep you full until dinner-time, without a heavy dressing, or other fatty garnishes.  I also enjoy the Insalata Mista.  For such a simple green salad, it's surprisingly delicious, and the various lettuces exceptionally fresh.

Pasta:  The Fettuccine Al Pesto Con Gamberi is so good; tender fettuccine, with robust pesto sauce, and delicately grilled shrimp.  The Ravioli Di Capriolo... on a cold and windy Seattle day, there is absolutely nothing more comforting than this meaty, venison ravioli.  It's topped with a decadent veal sauce, that is spiked with wild mushrooms.  Where do you even see that on the menu? 

Staff:  The people who work at Carmine's make it a very special place.  When I ate in the dining room, I immediately noticed the professional, white-coated servers.  Ours spoke Italian as his first language, and has worked at Carmine's for more than 10 years.  He was classy, knowledgeable, and just the tiniest bit aloof.  This is no diner-slouch slinging hash, he is a Pro.  The hostess introduces herself by name when I call-in orders.  Carmine himself will come to say hello, and shake my hand.  I can barely remember the last time I saw this much regard for the customer.

The Bar:  Not only is the bar a perfect place to sneak away for a solo lunch, the bartender is my hero.  He manages some regular take-out orders I place for work, and takes care of me when I have the chance to get away myself.  He's one of those people that makes my life easier, and I appreciate him immensely for that.  On those rare days I stay for lunch, he's quick to make me feel at home; laying out a pristine white cloth over the bar for my plate.  We chat as I get settled, but he's content to leave me to read while I eat.  This guy gets it.  Oh, the guilty pleasure of silence.  Only someone who waits on other people all day can understand how precious that is.

A Typical Lunch:  Mid-week.  It's chilly, and raining.  I slip across the street to Carmine's.  The bartender recommends the special, says it's his favorite.  Pappardelle pasta, tomato sauce with spicy Italian sausage, and pretty little lumps of fresh ricotta.  As the words are spoken, all pre-conceived notions of lunch disappear.  I enjoy a piece of fresh, crusty bread, sip my diet coke with lime.  Ah... quiet.  Nobody's asking me for anything.  I'm reading a novel.  The experience is delicious, despite the fact my food has yet to arrive.

The pasta appears; holy Christmas on a plate.  It's one of the most perfect dishes I've ever eaten.  Pappardelle is a wide noodle, about an inch or so.  Perfectly al dente, it pairs beautifully with the spicy sausage, and bitty pieces of ricotta.  The pasta wraps itself luxuriantly around the meat and cheese as I twirl my fork.  Every bite is the perfect blend of pappardelle, sauce, sausage and cheese.  Sublime.

If it wasn't clear, I'm in love.  If you live in Seattle, or are visiting, and are looking for excellent Italian food, impeccable service, and a blissful dining experience.... look no further.

On top of all this, and likely more charming to me than others...  Carmine's takes me back to the old days.  I can't help but feel nostalgic.  I wish I was going out with the staff after work.  We'd count our tips, have a cocktail, smoke a cigarette.  We'd reflect on how busy we were, or how slow.  We'd talk trash, about who dropped a plate that night, or burned themselves on the grill.  Or who had the most demanding customer.

My restaurant days feel so long ago, but my appreciation for the people who do the work will never fade.  There is so much more involved than one might realize, if you've never stepped on the other side of that line.  When it's done well, it is a work of art.  That's what Carmine's is to me.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Recreating the Original Coney Dog

Coney Dogs are one of those foods... I know they're bad for me, but I love them anyway.  An original Coney, or a Michigan dog, is a chili dog of the highest order.  It's a beef and pork hot dog, stuffed into a natural casing, and served in a freshly steamed bun.  The dog is topped with Coney Sauce, which is more of a rich, viscous sludge, than a chili.  The sauce is followed by mustard, and chopped onions.  I have yet to meet a Michigan expat who didn't get misty eyed when you brought these things up.  Similar to euchre, or holding your hand out like a mitten to point out which part of the state you're from; it's one of those things you didn't know you'd miss so much.

Who makes the best hot dog and sauce is hotly contested.  Are the onions under, or on top of, the sauce?  I'm not really interested in that debate.  I miss Coney Dogs so much, it would be tough to quibble over their subtle differences.  I crave this food like no other food.  All attempts to satisfy this craving locally have left me feeling sad, and homesick.  I'd happily eat at National, Lafayette's or American; all brands resonate equally in the stomach of the coney-deprived.

The last time I was in Michigan, eating at a National Coney Island with my mom, we realized you could have a kit shipped to you.  While wiping a glob of sauce off my chin, I wondered how I had failed to consider something so obvious.  It was like a choir of angels was singing.  True, the angels were overweight, sweating through their sauce-stained undershirts, and spewing crumbs, but that made me no less grateful for the revelation.

Mom sent my husband one of these kits for his birthday last month.  For a man who is notoriously hard to buy gifts for, it was a score.  His surprise, his smile of delight, his wife giddily bouncing up and down in the kitchen.  It was a beautiful moment.  I have to confess, it was possible I was more excited than him.  We cracked a beer, and toasted our good fortune.

National Coney Island Hot Dog Kit

An original Coney Dog, made with the kit
I have only one complaint about National's Coney Kit.  They sent us two packs of dogs, two bags of buns, even mustard and onion...but only one container of sauce.  Now I am faced with a dilemma.  Do I simply order another container of coney sauce online for the reasonable price of $5.95, or do I attempt to recreate the original at home?  The decision really isn't that hard to make.  I have hot dogs defrosting, and I want to eat them today.

Let's break it down...

The absolute, most important part of the Coney Dog, is the chili.  It does not have beans, it's heavy on the cumin, and has a creamy texture entirely unique to Detroit-style coney sauce.  It's sticky, and the beef is cooked down to the point of disintegration.  I struggled to figure out how the meat could be not just tender, but almost liquefied.  I did some research for coney sauce recipes and noticed that several of them direct you to NOT brown the meat before adding the rest of the ingredients to the pot.  Interesting, I've never done that before.  But then it started to make sense.

The original Coney Sauce from the kit
By not browning the meat first, would you prevent it from clumping up, and making the chili too chunky?  Further, not having the opportunity to drain-off the grease after browning, as most of us would instinctively do, would add additional fat to the sauce; thereby increasing it's creamy stickiness.  The fat idea is validated by the addition of vegetable shortening, or lard - EEK!, to many of the recipes I found. 

Additional suggestions include placing the ground beef in cold water, letting rest in the fridge for 30 minutes, then draining and cooking.  Others claim the only authentic way to make this chili is to use a combination of ground beef hearts, ground hot dogs, and cracker meal.  I think I'll skip the beef heart etc. and just try the water method.  But that's just me, if you really want to cook a beef heart, have at it.

I'm using a recipe from my stepmother as a jumping off point.  She cannot remember it's origin, but knows that it's more than 30 years old, and from somewhere in Michigan.  It's similar to many recipes I found online, and as good a place as any to start.

1T butter
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 chopped onion
1 clove garlic
2-4T chili powder
6 oz tomato sauce
6 oz water

Cook for 30 minutes, do not brown beef before adding other ingredients.

Let us begin...

I soaked the ground beef in water for 30 minutes.  I've never put ground beef in water before, and simply said, you don't want to see that part.  I could make all sorts of unfortunate comparisons, but I will restrain myself.  I then drained the water off, and put the meat in the pot.  Then I dumped in the rest of the ingredients.  The soak, however visually unappealing, was a good idea.  The ground beef broke down into tiny, tiny little pieces, just like I wanted.

I have a feeling once I get this up to temperature, and a good simmer going, I'll to want to add cumin and mustard.

... and I'm right; after about 3 T of mustard, and 6 T of cumin, we're getting close to the right flavor.

I know, that seems like a lot of cumin, doesn't it?  I thought so too.  But it's working. 

And now comes the vegetable shortening.  I hoped this ingredient would be a last resort, and simply cooking-down the sauce would get me the sticky texture I was seeking.  I was wrong.  See, there's a reason refried beans taste so much better when you eat them in a restaurant.  There is lard, or shortening, in those beans.  It's the same way with this chili.  You don't get that sort of mouthfeel unless there's a lot of fat.

I added the shortening slowly, tablespoon by tablespoon.  It was about 12 T total, the last two of which I mixed with a little flour.  This final step brought the chili together, and transformed it into the sticky, sludge-like sauce I was looking for.  Despite whatever reservations you may have about vegetable shortening in your chili, as you likely should, this stuff is gooooood.  This is the closest I have ever had to "the real thing," without traveling to Michigan.
That's the stuff, baby
Now it's dog time.  Heat a skillet to medium and add 1 T of vegetable oil.  Roll the dogs around every few minutes, and they'll be done after about 20.  We liked the National Coney Island dogs fine, but honestly, Nathan's or Hebrew National are just as good.

And there you have it; Michigan style Coney Dogs, direct from my Seattle kitchen.  I give it a 90%.  That's not too bad, considering the alternative includes long distance air travel.  And since I'm uninterested in experimenting with beef heart, I am happy to make do with what you see here.  This Coney Dog satisfied the craving, and that was the goal.  I feel like I can go another year before having one again.  After what we've learned today, about our beloved special sauce, once a year is probably just right.

Coney Dog and Chili Fries, Bonzo Style

Coney Sauce by Bonzo Bean

1T butter
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 large white onion, chopped (3/4 for the sauce, 1/4  for topping the dogs)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3 T chili powder blend
6 T cumin
3 T yellow mustard, Plochman's if you have it
6 oz tomato sauce
2 T ketchup (he made me do it)
10 oz water, you can add more as needed to keep it saucy
12 T shortening, the last 2 T mixed with 2 T flour

Soak the ground beef in cold water, in the fridge, for 20 minutes.  Drain.  I used a colander lined with a sheet of paper towel, as the pieces were small.  Put everything but the shortening in a pot and cook for about 30 minutes.  Stir occasionally.  Do not brown beef before adding other ingredients.  As the sauce cooks down, add shortening, and shortening/flour mixture, until you get a thick, sticky texture.  If you're not a freak about true, Michigan-style coney sauce, do what you will with the shortening.  You might be healthier, but I am sated.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


There is nothing in my kitchen I love more than my Le Creuset Dutch Oven.  People, meet Big Red.  Big Red and I have been together for less than a year, but it's a relationship made to last a lifetime.  This pot makes me a better cook.  This pot makes me want to cook.  This pot makes me happy just sitting on the stove, because it is that beautiful to look at.  She wasn't cheap, but Big Red was worth every penny.  If you like to cook, I cannot recommend the purchase highly enough.  

Dutch ovens can be used on the stove top, or in the oven.  They have superior heat distribution and retention.  When you brown meats you get beautiful fond, or little brown bits of flavor, on the bottom of the pot; something I was missing all those years using nonstick cookware.  The lid is heavy enough that it keeps the heat locked in; a feature important to today's recipe, in particular.  I'm always on the lookout for new recipes to make in Big Red, and this Jambalaya was the perfect test of her strengths.

I was watching an episode of Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network, and had the pleasure of seeing Ina Garten prepare Jambalaya with her friend, Amelia Durand.  Jambalaya is a traditional Creole dish made with meat, vegetables, rice and stock, and is a cousin to Spanish Paella.  There are as many varieties of Jambalaya as there are Louisianans, according to Amelia, and this is her recipe.  The list of ingredients is long, and includes andouille sausage, smoked ham, shrimp, onions, peppers, celery, rice, chicken stock etc...  The recipe worked exactly as written, and I couldn't have been more pleased with the results.

The actual cooking time for this Jambalaya is a little more than an hour, but there is a considerable amount of prep involved.  I estimate I spent another hour chopping the various vegetables, herbs, meats, and organizing my ingredients, before starting to cook.  However, once that was done, the cooking of the dish was very straightforward.  I definitely recommend that you do all prep beforehand, so that you can relax and enjoy the assembly.  This is a great recipe to make on a weekend when you have a little more time on your hands, or you could prep your ingredients one night, and cook the dish the next. 

This Jambalaya will easily serve 6-8 people.  I thought about cutting the recipe in half, but it doesn't lend itself all that well to being split.  At least at my market, you can't buy the andouille sausage, or ham, in quantities of less than a pound.  And I didn't happen to have half of a red and green bell pepper hanging about.  But if you get creative, you could easily make a smaller quantity by skipping the ham, only using one type of pepper, reducing the amount of rice etc...  I'm glad we liked the dish, because I have a ton of leftovers in the freezer.  I'll add a comment after we eat them to let you know how well the dish freezes.

Once you have all your ingredients ready to go, start by browning the sausage.
After about 8-10 minutes, remove the sausage to a bowl and set aside.  Now brown the ham.
After 8-10 minutes the ham will be done, set aside in the bowl with the sausage.  See the bottom of the pot?  That's the fond, the brown bits, the flavor that makes the dish sing.  Next, add the butter, onion, celery and bell peppers to the same pot...
...and saute for another 8-10 minutes, or until onions are getting translucent. 
Now add the tomato, garlic, jalapeno, oregano, thyme, and tomato paste, and cook for several minutes...
...until all vegetables and herbs are well blended.
Add the chicken stock, and bring to a rolling boil.  Stir in the rice, sausage, ham, bay leaves, salt, pepper and hot sauce.  Bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes add 1/4 cup of the scallions, 1/4 cup of the parsley, the lemon juice and shrimp.  Stir well to combine.
Cover pot and remove it from heat.  Let sit undisturbed for 15 minutes so the Jambalaya can steam, and cook the shrimp.  
Just look at that!  That right there, is why Big Red ROCKS!  The shrimp were perfectly cooked.  They were not overdone, or rubbery; something I always fear when cooking shrimp.  The shrimp also were not undercooked; so don't worry about turning off the heat.  The pot retained enough heat to steam the shrimp through, resulting in very tender and tasty shrimp.

Garnish with the remaining scallions, parsley, and a dash or two (or three) of hot sauce.
Oh me, oh my-o!  Son of a gun, that's some good Jambalaya!



1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound sausage, such as kielbasa or andouille, sliced
1 pound smoked ham, cubed
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup diced celery
1 green bell pepper, cored and diced
1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
1 cup seeded and diced tomato
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced OR 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons diced fresh oregano
1 teaspoon diced fresh thyme
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
3 cups long-grain rice, rinsed
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 dashes hot sauce, optional (recommended: Tabasco)
1/2 cup chopped scallions, divided
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed (20 to 24 count)


Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or black iron pot over medium heat, add the sausage and saute for 8 to 10 minutes, until browned. Remove the sausage to a bowl, and set aside. Add the ham to the same pot and cook 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to the bowl with the sausage, and set aside. Add the butter, onion, celery and peppers to the same pot and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the tomato, garlic, jalapeno or cayenne, oregano, thyme, and tomato paste and cook until all the vegetables and herbs are blended well. Add the stock and bring to a rolling boil. Stir in the rice, and add the sausage, ham, bay leaves, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Return to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of the scallions, 1/4 cup of the parsley, the lemon juice and the shrimp, and stir well. Cover the pot, remove it from the heat and allow the jambalaya steam, for 15 minutes, before serving.

Garnish with the remaining 1/4 cup scallions and 1/2 cup parsley, and a dash of hot sauce, if desired.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Jalapeno Corn Muffins with Cheesy Centers

I'm going to try something new, and let the pictures speak for themselves.  Recipe at the end of the post.

Jalapeno Corn Muffins with Cheesy Centers, by Bonzo Bean

3/4 cup flour
4 t baking powder
3/4 t salt
1 1/4 cups yellow corn meal
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, softened
1, 4 oz can diced jalapeno peppers
12 cubes of cheese; cheddar or pepper jack, approx 1 " in size

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Grease muffin pan with melted butter, using a pastry brush.    In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt.  Add cornmeal to bowl, and whisk until combined.  In another bowl, mix wet ingredients.  First, beat the eggs.  Then add milk, and stir.  Add the softened butter, and whisk until butter is broken into pea-size chunks.  Add wet ingredients to dry, and mix until combined.  Fold jalapeno peppers into the batter according to taste; 2-3 T will make a milder muffin, while the entire can will make a spicy muffin, with a lingering pepper taste.  I used the whole can.  

Spoon about a tablespoon of batter into greased muffin cups.  Add a cube of cheese to each cup, but do not press the cheese down.  You want it to rest on top of the layer of batter.  Spoon the rest of the batter carefully over the cheese cubes, being careful to distribute the batter around the cube of cheese.  Bake for 9-11 minutes.  Let muffins rest in the pan for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.  Serve muffins while hot, or store in the refrigerator until they're gone (which won't take long).  To reheat, microwave for about 30 seconds, until cheese gets melty and gooey.   

*This is a Bonzo Bean original recipe.  Special credit goes to my husband Al, for lending me the use of his hands for one of the pictures in this post.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes and Steamed Asparagus

Short ribs are a delicious new discovery for me.  They first caught my attention at a sinfully decadent feast at one of my favorite restaurants, where they were served alongside seared scallops.  Both meat and fish were tasty in-and-of themselves, but didn't make for the best pairing.  The meat was removed from the bone, cut into anonymous little slivers, and served in a tiny mound next to each scallop.  What followed was one of those experiences I seem to have frequently when dining in "fine" restaurants.  Without the help of the menu to refresh our memories, it was difficult for myself and my companions to identify those little piles of meat, and truly appreciate what we were eating.  The dish left me with a nagging itch for more short ribs; prepared in such a way they could be enjoyed for the richly delectable little morsels they are.

So, what's so special about the short rib?  They are like tiny, juicy, little pot roasts, except better.  A small piece of meat, attached to a smaller piece of bone, with layers of marbled fat holding it all together like the wrapping on a present.  When cooked, the meat is so tender, it absolutely melts.  If you like pot roast, you will find the experience of eating short ribs sublime.  If you're not a fan of pot roast, because you think it's dry, boring etc..., try short ribs.  I believe you would be pleasantly surprised by their exceptionally tender texture, and rich flavor.

To compliment the short ribs, and take advantage of the copious amount of gravy produced by this recipe, I served them with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes.  Yukon Golds are my absolute favorite, would eat them on my deathbed, potato.  They are rich, buttery, and are my first choice when making mashed potatoes.  Their flavor is so much richer, and less floury, than russets.  If you've never made mashed potatoes with Yukon Golds before, you are missing out.

Finally, to add some balance to a dinner that was leaning toward the heavy side, the second vegetable I served was steamed asparagus.  This is a favorite of the husband,  he puts up with a lot, so I do what I can.  Steamed asparagus is also a nice, green contrast to the meaty, buttery, richness of the rest of the meal.  Steamed broccoli or green beans would also be great.

For the first step, we brown the short ribs.  Dry ribs thoroughly using paper towels.  Add enough oil to cover the bottom of your pot, and heat until the smoking point.  Brown the ribs 2 minutes per side, on all sides, then set aside.  Do them in batches so that you don't crowd the pot.
Once all the ribs are browned, set them aside to rest.  Then add the onion, carrot and celery to the pot.  Cook for a couple minutes while scraping up the browned bits from the bottom.  
After cooking for a few minutes, add the tomatoes, garlic, red wine or vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves and pepper.
Cook for a couple minutes and stir.  Then add the short ribs back to the pot.
Just look at that and make grunting, carnivorous noises with me.  Once that's out of your system, add beef broth to just cover the short ribs.
You can see the bones there, just rising above the surface.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  When the meat is falling off the bone, remove the short ribs from the pot.  Strain the cooking liquid, reserving 1 cup of it for the cornstarch, and return the rest to the pot.  Bring the pot to a boil.  Mix 2 T of cornstarch with the reserved liquid and stir until there are no lumps.  Add the cornstarch mixture to the pot, and whisk together until smooth and thick.  Season gravy with salt and pepper to taste.

Yukon Gold mashed potatoes are a snap.  Peel potatoes and cut into large chunks.  Put in a pot, and add enough water to cover by an inch or so.  I like to add about a teaspoon of chicken base to the water, it enhances the flavor of the potatoes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.  Drain potatoes and let sit in the pot for a couple minutes to evaporate extra water.   Add 1 stick of butter cut into chunks, and about 1/2 cup of heavy cream.  Blend with hand mixer until smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Steam the asparagus until tender.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Put it all on a plate, and drizzle some gravy over the meat and potatoes.
And there you have it; substance over style, identifiable and delicious.  Meltingly tender short ribs, buttery mashed potatoes and gravy, slow-cooked vegetables, and bright, green steamed asparagus.  It was a perfect dinner last week when it was cold and rainy, and is the very definition of "stick to your ribs" food.  Enjoy!

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes and Steamed Asparagus by Bonzo Bean
3-4 T of vegetable oil, enough to coat the pot
3 lbs short ribs
Salt and pepper to cover ribs
1 lg. white onion, roughly chopped
3 carrots, roughly chopped
3 ribs celery, roughly chopped 
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
6 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup red wine vinegar, or red wine
2 T Worcestershire sauce
3 bay leaves
2 t black pepper
1 32 oz container beef broth
2-3 T cornstarch for gravy

Heat oil in dutch oven or large pot until smoking.  Brown short ribs 2 minutes per side, on all sides, until brown and crusty.  Brown the ribs in batches so you don't crowd the pot, and set aside on a plate when done.  Add onions, celery and carrot to pot and cook for a couple minutes, while scraping up browned bits from the bottom.  Add tomatoes, garlic, vinegar or wine, Worcestershire, bay leaves and pepper.    Cook for a couple minutes more, then return ribs to pot and add beef broth to just cover them.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  When meat is very tender, remove from pot to a plate, and cover with foil to keep warm.  Strain liquid from pot,  set cooking vegetables aside to keep warm, reserve 1 c of liquid.  Return strained liquid to pot and bring to a boil.  Add cornstarch to reserved liquid and whisk with fork until smooth.  Add cornstarch slurry to pot, and whisk constantly until gravy is smooth and thick. Season gravy with salt and pepper to taste.

6-7 medium to large Yukon Gold potatoes
1 t chicken base
1 stick butter, cut into 1" pats
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel potatoes and cut into 1-2 inch chunks.  Put in pot and add enough water to cover by about 2 inches.  Add 1 t of chicken base and stir.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes, or until tender.  Drain water and then let potatoes rest in the pot on low heat for a couple minutes to evaporate extra moisture.  Add the butter and cream, and blend with hand-mixer on medium-high until very smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

1 lb asparagus spears

Snap ends off asparagus and place in steamer pot or basket
Steam over high heat for 5-7 minutes, depending on your tastes, and the thickness of your asparagus.  Dress with salt and pepper.

This meal serves 2 with leftovers, or 4 for a sit-down meal.