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Easy Fresh Basil Sauce for Appetizers or Pasta Salad

 

While Pesto, the classic basil sauce from the Genoa region of Italy, is basically a sauce for pasta, it is also a convenient topping to add flavor and color to canapés, marinated cheese, sandwiches and pasta salad, and even pizza. Commercially made pesto is available in small jars the US, as it is in Italy. It tends to be expensive.

Easy Fresh Basil Sauce for Appetizers or Pasta Salad

 

Pesto is somewhat complicated to make, requiring in addition to fresh basil leaves, pine nuts and pecorino or Parmigiano cheese. Because I’ve been making appetizer dishes for our restaurant’s catering, I’ve often needed a basil-based condiment for highlights or marinade. So I make a much simplified basil sauce that serves our needs.

 

Here’s a recipe for this simple sauce. It makes a small quantity, since not much is needed for most things. But the recipe can easily be multiplied if needed. Use it for lightly topping sliced fresh mozzarella for a side dish, or put a little on thinly sliced Toscano or Asiago cheese on a cracker (and add a couple drops of honey!). Or marinate fresh mozzarella balls or chunks with it for Caprese skewer appetizers. It can be mixed, in limited quantities, into pasta salad or drizzled onto sandwiches or other dishes where fresh basil highlights would be exciting. Mix some of it into a little more olive oil for a wonderful dip for crusty bread.

 

12 medium-large fresh basil leaves

Easy Fresh Basil Sauce for Appetizers or Pasta Salad
Basil Sauce served with Fresh Mozzarella
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 to 3 drops vinegar

A pinch of sea salt

A pinch of freshly ground black pepper

 

Rinse and drain the basil leaves. On a cutting board mince them very finely, almost to a paste, with a chef’s knife. Place basil in a small dish from which the sauce can be served. Gently stir in the remaining ingredients. Allow to season at least 10 minutes, then stir again.

 

The sauce tastes best when used within an hour or two of making it, but it will store for a day or two refrigerated.

 

 

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Prussian Meatballs Echo from a Vanished World



The historic and cultured East Prussian capital, Königsberg, is gone.


KFounded in the 13th century by Teutonic Knights as a Germanic outpost on the Baltic Sea, Königsberg ("king’s mountain") grew rich in the Middle Ages as a Hanseatic League port, and was the ancestral home and continued coronation place of the Prusssian kings. The city boasted a major university, cathedral, and opera house.

 

Severely bombed by the Allies in World War II, Königsberg was overrun by the Soviet Army. The German population was forceably expelled, the historic buildings were  destroyed, and the city was annexed and repopulated as Kaliningrad, part of Russia.

 

But one specialty of the imperial Prussian city lingers. “Königsberger Klopse” [KERH-nigs-ber-ger KLOP-zeh], the city’s celebrated namesake meatballs, still survive in North German cuisine.

 

I first had this luscious treat, as a teenager, at the home of a European couple my mother knew. Edy, the wife, who grew up in pre-war Germany, added exotic touches of curry to her otherwise very German caper sauce. This recipe, which took me considerable trial and error to develop, reproduces what I experienced at their home.

 

The recipe serves six plentifully -- in the German manner. Accompany the meatballs and their sauce with buttered boiled potatoes or noodles .


Meatballs:
6 tablespoons finely minced onion
2 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil
6 tablespoons quick-cooking oatmeal
1 (2-ounce) can anchovy fillets, including their oil
6 tablespoons unseasoned breadcrumbs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

3/8 teaspoon allspice
2 eggs

2 tablespoons water
2 pounds ground beef chuck or 1 pound each ground chuck and ground pork

Sauce:
4 cups low-salt chicken broth or water
3 (1/4 inch) slices of onion
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon curry powder
2 teaspoons flour mixed with 1 teaspoon sunflower or canola oil
2 tablespoons capers, drained
Minced parsley for garnish

Gently fry onion in oil until softened. Transfer to mixing bowl.

With chef's knife on a cutting board, coarsely chop oatmeal. Add to the bowl. Pour oil from anchovies into the bowl. Mince anchovies finely, and add to the bowl. Add crumbs, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, the nutmeg, pepper, allspice, eggs and water. Beat everything together lightly. Add meat and mix thoroughly, kneading with your hands.

Shape into 6 large evenly sized meatballs, packing them firmly. Wet your hands with water for the final shaping. Set meatballs on waxed paper.

In a wide pot, simmer chicken broth or water, onion slices, bay leaves, and salt. Gently place meatballs in the water. Cover pan and steam meatballs 10 minutes over medium-low heat. Carefully turn them with a large spoon. Steam them 10 more minutes. Turn once more, and steam a final 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let them rest, covered, another 5 minutes.

With slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to shallow serving bowl. Cover loosely with waxed paper or a lid, and keep them warm.

Remove bay leaf and onion from broth. Add curry powder. Boil broth down to about 2 cups. Reduce heat. Whisk in flour-oil mixture. Simmer 2 minutes, whisking often. Remove from heat. Stir in capers. Taste sauce, and add salt if needed.

Spoon sauce (do not pour from pan) over meat balls. Dust with minced parsley. Serve with boiled, buttered potatoes or buttered and dilled egg noodles.

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Deviled Egg Salad – for Appetizer or Sandwiches

 

 

At the risk of blasphemy, I’m starting to write about Deviled egg salad on Easter Sunday. Worse yet, I made it today, on Easter, as part of dinner.

 


For many centuries, for Christians the egg has symbolized Christ emerging victorious from death and the tomb after his crucifixion, as a baby bird emerges living from inside its seemingly dead shell. But while Christians have long venerated the egg at Easter, it actually goes back much further to pre-Christian pagan traditions as a symbol of new life, rebirth, and springtime, when nature reemerges from the dead of winter. All of that was captured by early Christians.

 

Given the positive religious veneration of the egg, it’s ironic that Deviled Eggs are quite popular. This even includes at church receptions and pot luck socials. Of course some church traditions, especially in the South, delicately refer to these questionably named treats as “Stuffed Eggs.”

 

The Devil has, to my knowledge, little to do with dishes named after him. It’s a fun theme used by cooks in recent centuries to indicate that mustard is a prominent ingredient in the dish. Mustard, being hot and sulfurous, suggests the fumes emanating from a smoldering volcano with its fire and brimstone, which is supposed to be the Devil’s lair. Early people almost certainly assigned the active volcano pit metaphor to their sense of what Hell must be like.

 

After all that, I’m not actually making Deviled Eggs (which I like) at Easter, but rather an egg salad influenced by seasonings in Deviled Eggs. This egg salad can be an appetizer or dip, or can in the traditional way be a sandwich filling.

 

The recipe makes sufficient egg salad for appetizers for six people or can make two to three hearty sandwiches.

 

4 eggs, hard-boiled 13-15 minutes and cooled

1 tablespoon Dijon or spicy brown mustard

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon cider or wine vinegar

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Large squirt of hot sauce or large pinch cayenne

Paprika for garnish

 

Shell and rinse the hard-boiled eggs and put them in a mixing bowl. With a fork break uo the white and yolks thoroughly, so the white is in tiny pieces. Add all the remaining ingredients except the paprika  Mix thoroughly. Let rest ten minutes, mix again and then taste it. Add a little salt, if needed.

 

The egg salad can be stored, cold, until serving time, up to a day. If serving as an appetizer, spoon into an attractive serving bowl and sprinkle with paprika. Accompany with crackers or crudités for dipping or spreading. Otherwise, use as a sandwich filling.

 

 

 

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Caprese Skewers, a Summertime Appetizer

 

Recently at the restaurant we’ve been catering a number of events serving “finger-foods,” small appetizers and baked goods. Such events are typically receptions with light, but colorful, nibbling foods to accompany drinks. A very frequent dish right now, in addition to the inevitable mini-sandwiches, is skewered fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil kebabs based on Caprese “salad.”  That’s the Italian classic appetizer or starter course that’s usually served on a platter rather than bamboo skewers.

Caprese Skewers, a Summertime Appetizer
 

As I am generally the one who prepares this particular appetizer, I’ve developed a fairly simple method and refined it with practice. The fresh mozzarella is easiest to work with if it’s the small balls called “ciliegine,” meaning “cherries.” But blocks can be cut into half-inch cubes, as well. And small “grape” tomatoes are easiest too. But sometimes they are large enough to need cutting in half. Short (4-5-inch) bamboo skewers work well, and do not need soaking before using.

 

For the basil I generally mince up fresh leaves very finely on a cutting board and mix them with a little salt, pepper and olive oil for marinating the mozzarella. Depending on the amount of basil, the specks on the mozzarella will be lighter or greener, but the basil flavor penetrates the mozzarella, even if the surface doesn’t look really green. I used to use small pieces of basil leaf skewered between the tomato and cheese, but I think the basil-marinated cheese works best.

 

Several of our recent catering customers, when returning the platters, have told me how much the guests liked our Caprese skewers.

 

Here’s a recipe based on 8-ounces of fresh mozzarella, that will make enough appetizer skewers for 6-8 people. For bigger groups, multiply the recipe. Allow 2 skewers, or more, for each diner. The skewers can be assembled up to several hours before they’re served. Store them refrigerated and covered with plastic wrap until needed.

 

10-12 fresh basil leaves, medium-large

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

8 ounces  “cherry” sized (“ciliegne”) fresh mozzarella balls, or 8 ounces of a block

8 ounces small grape tomatoes

4-5 inch bamboo skewers

 

On a cutting board and using a large knife, very finely mince the basil leaves. Transfer to a bowl and add the salt, pepper and olive oil. Drain the mozzarella balls or cut the block or log into 1/2-inch pieces. Mix these carefully into the basil mix to coat well.

 

Rinse the tomatoes. If small (grape-sized), use whole. If they’re longer, cut them in half, Thread about three pieces of mozzarella alternating with two pieces of tomato.. Arrange the skewers on a serving platter. Cover with plastic wrap and store refrigerated until served. 

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Irish Colcannon for St. Patrick’s Day

 

Thinking about Irish food for St. Paddy’s Day required sipping some Jameson, neat. It’s silky and elegant, more like cognac than whiskey. It shimmers across your palate. Now where was I? Oh yes, a dish for St. Patrick’s Day.

 

I propose colcannon, the savory combination of lightly caramelized cabbage, or braised kale, with mashed potatoes.


 

While not specifically a St. Patrick’s Day treat, it’s solid winter fare and will pair nicely with salmon and watercress-cream sauce or with lamb chops and mint. It’s also ideal with boiled ham or corned beef for a classic Irish dinner.

 

The name derives from the Gaelic words for white-headed cabbage. “Cál” is the Irish version of “cole,” an Old-English and Germanic word, though of Latin origin, for cabbage (think coleslaw, kohlrabi, cauliflower). Either cabbage or kale combines heartily with potatoes – and plenty of butter, of course -- to make an amazing dish.


Irish fare is infrequently considered a gourmet offering. But in fact, some dishes are extremely tasty. Well-seasoned mashed potatoes, which my New England-Irish mother served nearly every day of my childhood, is one of those, as chefs at classy restaurants now recognize. The greens in colcannon makes mashed potatoes even richer.


Since this is a side dish, I’m not recommending specific accompanying drinks. Those would depend on the meat or fish in the dinner. But if having beer, please not Guinness stout, as good as it is, especially if serving salmon. A low-hop lager beer would be preferable.


Actually, as my Irish informants inform me, wine or beer is uncommon with dinner there. Men are more likely to drink stout or porter after dinner, while the ladies take sherry.


My recommendation is sipping neat Jameson while you’re cooking. 


Irish Colcannon

1 small cabbage or large bunch kale, cut in 1-inch pieces

1 very small onion, diced

6 tablespoons butter, split

3 tablespoons canola oil

Salt

2 pounds potatoes, baking type or Yukon Gold type

1 clove garlic, peeled

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Large pinch cayenne or 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish (optional)

1/2 cup half-and-half or whole milk

About 1/2 cup water reserved from boiling the potatoes

Gently fry onion and cabbage or kale in 3 tablespoons butter, the oil plus 1/2 teaspoon salt in covered pan, stirring frequently. Add a tablespoon of water from time to time to keep vegetables from sticking. Fry until tender and color is becoming pale golden in places. Taste and add salt, if necessary.


Meanwhile, peel potatoes (or keep skins if not too thick or spotted: if not peeling, scrub potatoes and remove any bad spots). Cut into 2-inch chunks. Place in cold water to prevent browning.


In a pot boil potatoes in just enough water to cover them, adding garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Boil until quite tender and beginning to flake on the edges (10 -12 minutes). Test for doneness with a tooth pick.


Drain potatoes, saving part of the water in a bowl. Return potatoes to pot. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, the pepper, cayenne or hot sauce, horseradish, if used, and 3 tablespoons butter. Mash well to break up lumps. Add half-and-half or milk and continue to mash and mix. With the masher, beat in enough reserved boiling water to obtain a soft fluffy consistency. Taste and add salt if necessary.


Add cooked cabbage or kale. Mix thoroughly with spoon. Taste again and adjust any seasonings necessary. Cover and keep warm until served.

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Chicken Braised with Black Beans “Veracruz”

 

 

All right, this richly flavored dish is something I created, not a specialty of Veracruz, that Mexican city and state bordering the Caribbean. But it employs a number of ingredients used in Veracruzana cooking, and highlights their favorite black bean.

 

Chicken Braised with Black Beans “Veracruz”

The dish is a sort of stew, and is designed to be accompanied by rice. I make it a little on the hot side in terms of peppers, but the people I’m making if for, including my grandchildren, like their food peppery.

 

The recipe serves 6-8 people, but leftovers are very enjoyable. Serve with rice on the side.

 

The Chicken:

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

 

The sauce:

2 medium-large onions, finely diced (or chopped in a food processor)

6 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon (or less if preferred) dry crushed red pepper or cayenne

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground annato (sold in Mexican groceries as “Achiote Molido”)

1/2 teaspoon dry oregano

1 1/4 cups chicken broth (low salt)

2 (14-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed well

1/2 cup sour cream or crema

Chopped cilantro for garnish, optional

 

Prepare and marinate the chicken: Trim off tough or fatty parts from the chicken breasts. Cut flesh into 1-inch cubes. Mix well with the salt, cornstarch, and next three spices. Set aside to marinate.

 

Prepare the onions, and fry them over medium-low heat in the olive oil in a wide pot, covered when not stirring. Every several minutes, open the pot and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot well, until onions are very soft and starting to turn pale golden.

 

While the onions are frying, prepare the garlic, measure out the seasonings into a small bowl, and drain and rinse the beans.

 

When onions are done, stir in the garlic, and fry them in for several minutes. Add the chicken broth plus the seasonings. Stir well, then simmer, covered, five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the marinated chicken, raise the heat under the pot, and cook, stirring frequently until the raw color of the chicken is gone. Then cover the pot and simmer 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

 

Stir in the drained black beans, and simmer 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste the sauce, and add a little salt to taste. Stir in the sour cream, and bring back just to a boil, then remove from the heat. Taste one last time and if under-salted to your taste, stir in a little more salt.

 

The dish can be served now, or reheated later. When serving, sprinkle the top with coarsely chopped cilantro, if desired. Accompany with rice.

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Louisiana-Style “Dirty Rice” made with Mushrooms

 



 “Dirty Rice” is a Louisiana-Cajun sort of rice pilaf in which the rice was traditionally cooked with finely chopped chicken livers, ground meat or sausage, plus seasonings. I prefer it made with chopped dark mushrooms rather than chicken giblets. That idea came from having the wonderful Riz Djon-Djon in Haiti, a specialty rice dish enriched as well as colored a rich brown by local hill-side black
mushrooms. I use Basmati or other long-grained rice, but in Louisiana cooking medium-grained rice, from Louisiana or Arkansas, is more typical.

Louisiana-Style “Dirty Rice” made with Mushrooms
 

Dirty Rice in Louisiana is frequently served with stewed red beans. It makes a good side for a number of savory braised or stewed dishes.

 

The recipe serves six to eight as part of dinner.

 

1 1/2 cups Basmati or other long-grained rice

1 medium-small onion

1/4 large green bell pepper

1/2 stick celery

1/4 pound (4 ounces) baby Bella or Portobello mushrooms

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon tomato ketchup

1 1/2 teaspoons Cajun Seasoning (or 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1/4 tsp celery salt, 1/4 tsp garlic salt, 1/4 tsp cayenne)

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

2 bay leaves

2 1/4 cups low sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth

Coarsely chopped parsley or thinly cross-cut green onion tops for garnish

 

Rinse and drain rice twice to remove excess starch, and set aside to dry. Finely chop together in a food processor the onion, bell pepper, celery and mushrooms, or finely mince them on a cutting board with a chef’s knife.

 

In heavy cooking pot in which the rice will be cooked, fry together the minced vegetables and olive oil. Stir frequently, scraping the bottom of the pot. When the mixture is becoming softer and darker, add the ketchup, dry seasonings, and bay leaves. Add the drained rice and stir well. Add broth and stir briefly. Then do not stir again until cooking is done. Bring pot to the boil, uncovered. When boiling, without stirring, cover tightly and turn heat to lowest setting. Set timer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn off heat and allow to rest without opening the pot for 10 more minutes.

 

Open pot, remove bay leaves, and fluff gently with a fork. Cover and keep warm until served. When serving, sprinkle lightly with chopped parsley or sliced green onion tops.

 

An alternative cooking method can be used with a rice cooker. Put drained rice in rice cooker. Fry vegetables and the olive oil in a pan until color has changed. Add this mixture to the rice in the rice cooker. Add the ketchup, dry seasonings, bay leaves and broth. Stir briefly. Cover and cook as usual without opening the cover. When heat goes off, again without uncovering, let rest 10 more minutes. Then remove bay leaves, and fluff the rice with a fork. Keep warm until served. Sprinkle with the parsley or green onion garnish when serving.

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Créole-Style Chicken Stewed with Andouille Sausage

 

This dish has some elements of Louisiana Créole cooking, and some overlaps specifically with Gumbo. But it contains no okra, which is not liked by one of our recent dinner guests when I made this, and no roux and therefore no gluten (or tedious roux preparation).

Créole-Style Chicken Stewed with Andouille Sausage
 

I ran the idea for this past a friend from Louisiana who was formerly a chef, and she approved. So, here is my stewed dish inspired by my somewhat limited knowledge, though high appreciation, of Créole cooking. I served it with “Dirty Rice” and Céleri Rémoulade. It went well with a nice Sauvignon Blanc. My friend, the former Louisiana chef, might have chosen a Grüner Veltliner.

 

The recipe serves six. Accompany it with a rice or grits dish, and perhaps a salad.

 

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon salt for the chicken

1 (14-ounce) smoked Andouille or Cajun sausage

1 medium onion, coarsely diced (1/4-inch)

1 small green bell pepper, cored then coarsely diced (1/4-inch)

1 small red bell pepper, cored then coarsely diced (1/4-inch)

1 large stalk of celery, split lengthwise then cut in 1/4-inch lengths

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 medium-large tomatoes, cored then coarsely diced (1/4-inch)

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons Cajun Seasoning (or 1 teaspoon paprika, 1/4 tsp garlic salt, 1/4 teaspoon celery salt + 1/4 teaspoon cayenne)

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Salt to taste for the sauce, starting with 1/4 teaspoon

2 green onions, green parts cut in 1/4-in lengths, for serving

 

Trim off any tough or fatty parts of the chicken and cut the flesh into 3/4-inch cubes. Mix in a bowl with the salt and cornstarch. Set aside.

 

With a chef’s knife, split the sausage lengthwise into halves. Slice the halved sausage into 1/4-inch lengths. Prepare the onion, peppers, celery, garlic and tomatoes, setting them out in separate piles on a platter.

 

In a heavy pot, fry the onion, peppers, and celery in the olive oil, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softening. Add minced garlic, stir and fry half a minute. Add diced tomatoes, and stir as the mixture begins to cook. Add the dry spices, other than salt.

 

When vegetable mixture is becoming more moist and the tomato begins to soften, stir in the sausage. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are becoming like a sauce, about 10 minutes. Stir in the prepared chicken. Cook, stirring very frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the raw color has gone from the surface of the chicken. Stir in the salt. Cover the pot and simmer 6 minutes, stirring frequently. Taste the sauce, and add salt if needed. Test a piece of chicken for doneness by cutting in half. If the raw color is gone from the center, bite into one of the halves to see if it’s done to your taste.

 

Cool, then reheat to serve. Sprinkle with the sliced green onion. Accompany with a rice dish or a seasoned grits dish.

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Céleri (Celery Root) Rémoulade

 

Celery Root (Celeriac), or in French, “Céleri Rave,” is the heavy, bulbous stem base of one variety of celery plants. Although botanically part of the stem rather than a true root, it is treated like a root vegetable. It has a delightful, subtle celery flavor, and is used extensively in colder parts of Europe where the “root” stores well in winter, when the more typical stalk celery was not available prior to modern transportation. Used in soups and stews, or boiled and mashed, it also makes a wonderful type of slaw, “Céleri Rémoulade,” that is somewhere between a salad and a condiment.

Céleri (Celery Root) Rémoulade

 

This special dish is most typical in French cuisine, showing up in appetizers and small side dishes. It is also popular in Louisiana Créole (French-descended) cooking. Fortunately it is simple to make, other than the grating by hand, which is made easier using the shredder blade in a food processor. Recently I got a celery root for another cooking purpose, and prepared a rémoulade with the generous amount I had left over.

 

The recipe makes enough for six or more people as a side salad and may more with appetizers. Leftovers keep well for several days in the refrigerator.

 

1 medium-large celery root, about 1 pound after peeling

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

 

Peel the celery root, cutting off the twisted smaller roots at the bottom (the peelings and small roots make excellent vegetable broth). With a sharp knife, cut out any crevices left between the bottom roots. Grate the celery root on the coarse side of a hand grater, or use the coarse grater blade of a food processor (first cutting the root into chunks small enough to fit down the feeder tube). Transfer the grated root to a mixing bowl.

 

Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Let the mixture rest five or ten minutes and mix again. Do this once or twice more, as the salt draws a moisture from the grated root and the rémoulade becomes moister. Its best to make this at least a half hour before eating time. Taste the mixture and add salt, if needed, to taste.

 

If serving as part of a meal, place in an attractive serving dish.

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Green Chile with Chicken

 

I’ve loved green chile since I first encountered it many years ago in New Mexico. A meat, like pork or chicken, is cooked in a sauce rich in roasted medium-hot green peppers. And no beans are included in the chile, as they typically would be in Tex-Mex chili, though beans are often be served as a side dish.

 

Green Chile with Chicken
Not having easy access to the wonderful New Mexico green “Hatch” chilies (they can be bought roasted and ground, frozen, on the Internet), I’ve made green chile both at the restaurant and at home using a mixture of Poblano, Jalapeño and ordinary green bell peppers, along with tomatillos, onion and garlic for the sauce. And most recently I’ve tried not roasting these vegetables before grinding them for the sauce, rather grinding them raw in the food processor then “frying” the mixture with olive oil before adding the meat. It’s not like being in Santa Fe, but it still tastes good!

 

Here’s my current, much easier, recipe for green chile with chicken. It makes enough to serve six. It can be accompanied by a bean dish, rice, and/or cheese biscuits.

 

2 large poblano peppers

1 small green bell pepper

2 whole jalapeño peppers

3 medium-large tomatillos

1 medium-small onion

3 large cloves garlic

1/2 cup olive oil

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 teaspoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons salt, part for chicken part for sauce

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon dry oregano

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

 

Remove the stems, cores and seeds from the poblano and bell peppers. Cut the flesh into large chunks and place them in a food processor. Cut the stems off the jalapeños, but keep the seeds. Cut the jalapeños in half and add them to the food processor. Thoroughly puree the peppers, scraping down the inside of the processor several times. Transfer the pureed peppers to a heavy cooking pot.

 

Remove the outer husks from the tomatillos and twist out or cut out the small tough stems. Cut tomatillos in half and place in the food processor. Peel the onion and cut it into large chunks and add it to the processor. Peel the garlic cloves and add them to the processor. Thoroughly puree these vegetables. Add the mixture to the pot, scraping out the processor container well.

 

Add olive oil to the pot and cook the mixture over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pot frequently.

 

Meanwhile, trim away any tough or fatty parts from the chicken breasts. Cut the meat into medallion-type pieces, 1-1/2 by 1 by 1/2 inch. Mix the chicken with cornstarch plus 1 teaspoon of the salt. Allow chicken to marinate until ready to add to the vegetable sauce.

 

Add the other 1 teaspoon of the salt plus the dry spices and herbs to the vegetable mix, reduce the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.

 

Bring the mixture back up to a boil and stir in the marinated chicken. Stir frequently until the raw color has fully left the chicken. Reduce the heat again, cover the pot and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste the sauce and a bit of chicken and add salt to taste, if needed.

 

It’s best to let the chile cool, then reheat it to serve. Do a final taste-test on the salt at this time, and add a little if needed.

  

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Easy Rémoulade Sauce for Vegetables

 

 

Rémoulade, a traditional cold, tangy condiment for seafood or vegetables, is originally a French  sauce based on, or derived from, mayonnaise. There are many rémoulade versions, especially in Louisiana cooking. It can be easy to make, and at our restaurant we have used various rémoulades, particularly for enhancing roasted vegetables for catering.

 

Easy Rémoulade Sauce for Vegetables

Here’s a version I’ve made recently for steamed cauliflower. It can also be used over steamed broccoli or asparagus, or even over baked “Tater Tots.” I was thinking of seasoning it with pickled green peppercorns, but was not pleased with the outcome.

 

Since this one is intended for steamed vegetables, I’ve included a method of steaming cauliflower below.

 

The recipe makes enough sauce for food for six people. It keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days.

 

1 clove garlic

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 teaspoons wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/8 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/8 teaspoon paprika

Minced parsley for garnish

 

Peel the garlic and bruise it by crushing it lightly with the side of a knife. Rub a mixing bowl well with the garlic, and discard the garlic remnants.

 

Place all the remaining ingredients except the garnish in the bowl and whisk the mixture (or use a fork) until the sauce is smooth. Taste, and add salt, if needed. Allow to sit at least 15 minutes for the flavors to mellow together.

 

Spoon sauce over steamed vegetables, and sprinkle with minced parsley for garnish.

 

Steamed Cauliflower:

1 small head of cauliflower, about 1 pound

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

 

Easy Rémoulade Sauce for Vegetables
Cut off the leaves. Separate the cauliflower flowerets off the main stem, cutting the stems where necessary. For bigger pieces cut through stems lengthwise up toward the tops and then tear the two sides apart (so the tops don’t get bits cut off). Aim for one-inch pieces, which may require splitting bigger pieces again. (See the photo for an example.)  Place the pieces in a steamer basket, away from the heat.

 

Bring several inches of water to a boil in a pot that the steamer basket will sit on top of. Just before putting the steamer basket over the boiling water, sprinkle the vegetable with the salt. Place steamer basket containing the vegetable over the rapidly boiling water and cover the pot.

 

Steam  cauliflower exactly 5 minutes. Uncover and transfer the steamed vegetable into a shallow bowl or onto diners’ plates.

 

Spoon rémoulade over the vegetable and sprinkle with minced parsley for garnish.

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Easy Cheese Sauce for Broccoli or Cauliflower

 


The idea for this cheese sauce for serving over vegetables emerged out of my experiments on an easy hot cheese salsa for dipping tortilla chips, which my grandkids like at Tex-Mex restaurants.


Easy Cheese Sauce for Broccoli or Cauliflower

Here’s an easy non-Mexican cheese sauce for spooning over hot steamed or roasted vegetables. I’m also including an easy steaming method for broccoli and cauliflower to enjoy the sauce with.

 

Cheese Sauce:

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

3/4 teaspoon cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

A large pinch of cayenne

A large pinch of garlic salt

1/2 cup milk

1 tablespoon ketchup

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Minced parsley for garnish

 

In a microwaveable serving bowl, mix together the cheese, cornstarch and dry seasonings. Stir in the milk, ketchup and mustard. Mix well. 


Ten minutes before serving, stir the mixture again, then microwave it for 1 minute. Stir the mixture and microwave for another minute. Stir and microwave another minute. Continue in this manner until the cheese sauce is hot and thickened. Stir and serve the sauce to spoon over steamed or roasted vegetables. Sprinkle, if desired, with minced parsley for garnish.

 

Steamed Broccoli or Cauliflower:

1 pound of broccoli crowns or small head of cauliflower

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

 

Easy Cheese Sauce for Broccoli or Cauliflower
Separate the broccoli or cauliflower flowerets off the main stems, cutting the smaller stems where necessary. For bigger pieces cut through stems lengthwise up toward the tops and then tear the two sides apart (so the tops don’t get bits cut off). Aim for one-inch pieces, which may require splitting bigger pieces again. (See the photo for an example.)  Place vegetable pieces in a steamer basket, off the heat.


Bring several inches of water to a boil in a pot that the steamer basket will sit on top of. Just before putting the steamer basket over the boiling water, sprinkle the vegetable with the salt. Place steamer basket containing the vegetable over the rapidly boiling water and cover the pot.


Steam broccoli exactly 3 minutes, or cauliflower 5 minutes. Uncover and transfer the steamed vegetable into a shallow bowl or onto diners’ plates.


Spoon cheese sauce over the vegetable and, if desired, sprinkle with minced parsley for garnish. This is more needed and effective over cauliflower, but it  also looks good over the more colorful broccoli.

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Lentil Chili with Red Beans

 

 

Lentils, one of my favorite dry legumes, make fine chili. Tasty, versatile, inexpensive and quick-cooking, lentils are are also loaded with vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. In many ways they’re a wonderfood.

 

Lentil Chili with Red Beans

Here’s my easily made lentil chili, in which I’m now using red beans. Small red beans, as opposed to red kidney beans, are a variety I’m recently getting to know. They’re the favorite bean for New Orleans and Louisiana cooking as well as one of the most popular beans in several countries in Central America and the Caribbean. While I use them in this recipe, other beans could also do, including pintos, light red kidney beans, and black beans.

 

This chili is purely plant-based. But unless someone is observing a Vegan diet, some cheese or sour cream would typically be served with it. Chili can be the  main course, particularly if accompanied by rice or corn chips, avocado, grated cheese, sour cream, and salsa. Chili, can also be a snack or, if thinned down with extra liquid, can serve as a soup.

 

The recipe serves six, but leftovers are great to have.

 

1 small-medium onion, diced

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 1/4 cups (1/2 pound) dry tan-green lentils, rinsed and drained

2 1/2 cups water, plus more as needed

1/2 cup canned crushed tomato

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

A pinch of ground cloves

2 (14-ounce) cans red beans (or pintos or others), drained

1 teaspoon vinegar

 

In a heavy pot, gently fry the onion with the olive oil, stirring frequently, until softened. Add the minced garlic and fry one minute, stirring most of the time. Add the rinsed and drained lentils plus the water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat. Simmer, pot covered but stirring frequently, until lentils are becoming tender. Add a little water from time to time to keep a little liquid on the bottom of the pot. This cooking takes 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, assemble all the other ingredients.

 

Lentil Chili with Red Beans

When lentils are nearly tender, add the crushed tomato, all the seasonings, and 1/2 cup of water. Simmer, covered, and stirring frequently, 10 minutes. Add drained beans and simmer about five minutes. Add a little water as needed to keep the mixture moist.

 

Remove from heat. Stir in the vinegar. Taste the chili and add a little salt, if needed, to taste. The chili can be served now, or for better flavor, cool, refrigerate, and rewarm to serve. When rewarming, add a little water, if needed, to the desired thickness. And re-check the salt, adding a little if needed.

 

Accompany with sliced avocado, sliced tomato, shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa and corn tortilla chips. Optionally, serve with rice as well.

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Pork Tenderloin “Steaks” with Spiced Apple

 

 

OK, so this was an experiment: one of my favorite meats for cooking, pork tenderloin, with some of my favorite seasonings, even if they don’t usually go together. It was a chilly evening right now, so this hearty though fairly easy dish fit well for dinner. It seems like something that should be Central European, maybe German or Czech or Hungarian, but if it is, that’s a coincidence.

 

Pork Tenderloin “Steaks” with Spiced Apple

Currently pork tenderloin is often a screaming bargain meat. Much cheaper, usually, than  pork chops – which incidentally I find difficult to cook without being dry, tough and dull. Tenderloins are packaged two to a container, and typically weigh between one and one and a half pounds each, They have very little waste, and take limited time to cook. But they can be herb-rubbed and roasted, chunked and made into a quick and elegant stew, thinly sliced for Asian stir-fried dishes, made into kebabs, and cut in  1/4-1/2 inch “steaks” for quick frying or braising. I don’t understand why they are often on special, say buy-one-get-one-free sorts of deals. I’m guessing that many people don’t know how to cook them. Hey, that works for me.

 

Here’s my chilly January dinner creation: “Pork Tenderloin Steaks with Spiced Apple“ It goes well with buttered egg noodles and either a green vegetable or a simple salad. The recipe serves four. A light-bodied red wine or a hearty white go with it.

 

1 small-medium pork tenderloin (half of a package),about 1-1/4 pounds

Seasonings: 3/4 tsp salt + 1/4 tsp black pepper.+ 4 teaspoons flour

2 medium apples

1/4 small onion

2 tablespoons olive oil for pork plus 2 for the sauce

2 tablespoons white wine

4 tablespoons water, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sugar

A pinch of cayenne

Chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish

 

Trim off any fibrous or fatty parts off the pork. Cut the meat across into 1/2-inch thick slices. Sprinkle on both sides with the salt-pepper-flour mix. Peel the apples, quarter and core them and cut the flesh into 1/4-inch slices. Thinly slice the quarter onion.

 

Heat a large frying pan to medium hot. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, then fry the pork pieces in a single layer, turning them after they start to brown. When lightly browned on both sides, transfer them to a plate.

 

Add the other 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan. Fry the onion, stirring and scraping frequently, until softened. Add the apple and fry 2-3 minutes, stirring and scraping. Then add the wine, water, and all the seasonings (not the garnish), and stir and fry as the apple cooks down, 5-7 minutes.

 

Add back the previously seared pork and combine well. Keep the pork in a single layer, and simer 5-7 minutes, covered but turning frequently and adding a little water as needed, until pork is tender (cut off a little piece of one to test by biting). Taste the sauce for salt, and add a little as needed.

 

Serve with buttered noodles, plus either a green vegetable or salad. Sprinkle the chopped cilantro or parsley over the pork.

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