November 30, 2009

Italian Meatsauce

Recently, on a 'broke' night and after watching Goodfellas, I went to the market in search of something simple to make.  I ended up buying 3/4 lb of ground pork and 3/4 lb of ground sirloin, 1 can of tomato paste and 1 large (29 oz) can of crushed tomatoes to make meatsauce.  I didn't buy the San Marzanos, but next time I think that I will. (I bought a local organic label, for what its worth)

I started by putting the tomato products, two small diced roma tomatoes, some italian seasoning, dried basil a bay leaf, salt and pepper into a large saucepan on low.

In a separate saute pan on low, I sweat a dried red pepper, 4 cloves of roughly chopped garlic and a small onion in some olive oil. After the onions take on a nice translucent color (but before they turn brown) I put them in the large saucepan. I then ground the pork and beef separately with some salt and pepper, drained and put into the saucepan. I left the whole thing simmer for about an hour.

I served over thin spaghetti and sprinkled some grated parmesano reggiano on top and for about $12 it made 6 servings of the best meatsauce that i've ever had. Imagine - for barely more than the cost of a jar of Prego, you can make something that's 10 times more delicious.

November 24, 2009

An Ode to Dad: Stir Fried Beef and Haricot Verts

Today was a bit of a return to my roots.  My dad used to cook dinner for my mom and I every night and one of the dishes that I remember from back in the day was beef and snap peas.  So I decided to make my version with just a few minor changes.

The first step was marinating the meat.  I took about 3/4 lb of top sirloin steak and sliced it into small strips of about 1 in by 1/2 in.  I placed the pieces in a bowl with a some oyster sauce, sweet chili sauce and soy sauce and added a touch of honey, yellow mustard, sesame oil, salt and pepper.  I sat them in the fridge covered for about 2 hours.

Then, I took about 1 lb of haricot verts, snapped the ends off of them, and split the long pieces into about 3 inch pieces.  I boiled them for about 4 minutes, then set them aside.

To finish, I sweat about 1/2 a yellow onion, 3 cloves of roughly chopped garlic and a dried red pepper for a few minutes over medium low heat then added the meat/marinade mixture and turned up to medium high, added the haricot verts and finished cooking it all for about 4-5 minutes.

It was delicious, just as I remembered.  thanks, Dad!

November 21, 2009

Potato and Leek Soup

What started as a whim at the fruit stand turned into a full bore 2 1/2 hour soupmaking expedition tonight. I bought a 2 lb bag of small white potatoes, a leek, sweet yellow onion, celery, carrots and a bag of small white mushrooms from the stand, and some cheddar cheese, cream cheese and heavy cream from the store.

Fat with fat sauce, here we come!

Step 1: Peel three carrots and take three celery pieces, chop into large pieces. Take stems from ten white button mushrooms. Remove first two layers of onion underneath skin and cut into large pieces. Dice the potatoes. Drop all veggies into a large saucepan. Fill pan with water about 2 in above the vegetables. Add salt, pepper, a bay leaf, 4 cloves of garlic and bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for an hour. After it is done, drain with colander into another saucepan.

Separate the vegetables. Chop the mushrooms and 1/2 of a carrot, and set aside these and the diced potatoes.

Step 2: While stock is simmering, pour a nice healthy coating of olive oil into a saute pan and turn on medium low. Thinly slice the onion and the stem part of the leeks (I usually remove the outer 2 or 3 layers of leek as well). Sweat in the oil for about 15-20 minutes. Put the mixture into a blender with 2-3 tsp of heavy cream and milk. Blend until smooth.

Step 3: About 10 minutes before the stock is done, melt three tbsp of butter in a large saucepan. Add flour to make a roux. Stir for 5 minutes to keep from solidifying. Slowly add about 1/4 of the stock into pot and make sure that the roux blends evenly. Once mixture is partially blended, add 8 oz block of cream cheese and mix and allow to blend into pot.

Add the blended onion/leek cream mixture into the pot along with the rest of the stock. Make sure to add slowly and incorporate. Cook on very low temperature for another 20 minutes.

Serve into bowl with shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

Don't forget to arrange a workout for the next day!

Baked Wings

I love chicken wings, but then again - who doesn't? I've started recently baking chicken instead of frying it and thought that I should try it with wings. It ended up delicious, with a nice spicy kick.

To make the chicken, I took a package of 6 wings - separated the drumettes from the wings and removed the wingtips. I pat the pieces dry with paper towels and sprinkled both sides with salt and pepper. Then I placed the pieces fat side down on a ceramic pan (cast iron skillet would work even better) and placed in an oven set at 425. I flipped over the pieces after 20 minutes, and cooked for another 15 minutes.

To make the sauce, I melted 2 tbsp of butter and added about 2 tbsp ketchup, 1 tsp paprika, salt, pepper, 1 tbsp honey, 1 tbsp thai sweet chili sauce and some Louisiana Hot Sauce to taste. I poured this in a large bowl and coated the wings in them.

Sweet, crispy, tangy and hot. Simple and cheap to make and delicious!

November 15, 2009

Cheatham Family Chili

This is yet another Cheatham family recipe, this time for Chili. One of Emily's dad's brothers, Roy, lived in Cincinnati for a while and this recipe filtered through the family. Its fairly simple, costs about $10-$15 and takes about an hour and a half to prepare and feeds 4-6.

First step is to finely dice one medium large white onion. Sweat the onion along with a dried chili in a few tbsp of vegetable oil on medium low in a large saucepan for about 5 minutes until they start to turn clear. Add 1 lb of ground meat (we use turkey, but beef or probably any other meat would work fine) and turn heat to medium high and brown with some salt and pepper.

Once completely browned, drain most of the grease and add one large 28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes cut in the can into smaller pieces (the higher quality the better but works fine even with regular), one can of dark red kidney beans (drained), about 10 oz tomato sauce, 4 tbsp of chili powder, one more dried chili and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer.

Cover pot for 35 minutes, then uncover. Heat salted water and cook 3/4 lb of elbow pasta. At about the hour mark, turn off the heat and serve chili over pasta in bowls with crumbled Ritz crackers and grated sharp cheddar on top (not pictured).


November 12, 2009

Cauliflower Parmesan Pasta

This is a recipe that was passed along through my wife's family, specifically her brother Chris (whom we owe many thanks for this and other things). We've brought it/made it for quite a few dinner parties and its always a hit - in fact, any meal that is cheap, delicious, creamy and cheesy and that you can prepare in an hour is a hit as far as i'm concerned.

The first step is to salt and boil about 8 cups of water. Chop up a large head of cauliflower into large portions and boil for 15 minutes. Save the water from the cauliflower and bring back to a boil, preparing 1 1lb box of ziti.

After the pasta goes in the pot, you create a roux. This is something that i've learned over time making bacon gravy, but I digress. I use about 3 tablespoons of butter, the higher quality the better, melted over very low heat. Add flour slowly and stir until the mixture turns very thick but still retains a liquid form. Keep stirring over low heat for about 5 minutes, letting the roux darken a bit, which adds a bit of nuttiness to the flavor.

Heat 2 cups of milk and add slowly into the roux - stop once the sauce reaches the consistency of a nice gravy but remember that the heat will thicken as you mix it. Once you hit this point, add 1/2 cup of nice parmesan or pecorino/romano or similar cheese and the boiled cauliflower. Stir and add about 2 Tbsp of milk until you reach a uniform consistency.

Add the pasta and then salt and pepper to taste.


November 9, 2009

Chinese Chicken Soup

One of the things that I have spent quite a bit of time on over the last few months is making stocks at home. Between making shrimp stock a few times for gumbo and other seafood dishes, i've made chicken stock from a raw whole chicken fryer. However, i've discovered that making chicken stock/soup from a store-bought rotisserie chicken is one of the quickest, cheapest and easiest ways to make a really tasty and comforting meal.

You really only need a few ingredients in addition to the chicken - some leafy greens and noodles - and you're set!

Step 1 is to de-skin and debone the entire chicken. It takes much less time that taking apart a raw fryer, for sure. I fill up a large saucepot with about 10 cups of cold filtered water and drop in the skin and bones as I prep the chicken, making sure to cut the chest cavity into at least 5 or 6 pieces. I typically add 2 dried red peppers, some sesame oil and soy sauce, bring to a boil and let simmer for at least 1 1/2 hours, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

After its done, I add about 1/3 to 1/2 of the chicken pieces, cut and shredded into small pieces. This last time I diced up some fried tofu, which was a tasty extra touch.

In a separate pot, I boiled salted water and added chinese noodles, spinach, chinese lettuce and mung bean sprouts then combined with the broth and chicken in the serving bowls. This was a tasty meal on a cold night, with enough leftovers for another serving for 2 (in addition to the remainder of the 1/2 of the chicken, which we used for chicken biscuits) and cost less than $15.

November 7, 2009

Simple Cooking

I've increasingly found that great food really is driven by great ingredients. Most of the food that we eat tastes mediocre because the ingredients are mediocre and often doused with salt, butter and sugar to mask that fact.

I'm sure that i'll make it again and post pictures soon, but one of the best ways that i've found to make chicken is to take it with the bones and skin on it, dry it and season with salt and pepper and then simply put them in the oven for a little while. It comes out juicy, the skin is crisp and it really lets the taste of the chicken come out to shine.

Ditto with fish. Any time i've ever tried to get too 'cute' with fish - it turns out like crap. A little bit of oil in the pan, salt and pepper a nice cut of fish for a few minutes each side and voila - delicious.

Complex flavors can be developed in sauces and within dishes through combinations of simple great ingredients but it should all revolve around those great ingredients and letting them shine. I think that this more than anything else has influences my cooking as of late. Well, thats with the exception of really starting to work on some of those classic french sauce preparations but that's for another post..

November 5, 2009

Chicken and Broccolini in Lemon Sauce over Pasta

This is a dish that has evolved quite a bit over the years. It started as a standby during my college days, when i would cook up a pot of pasta, flavor it with butter, olive oil, salt and pepper and whatever dried green herb that I had from the supermarket.

It served to satisfy a lot of hungry days and at about $2 per box of pasta it was a cheap alternative to ramen. But as my tastes have evolved, so has this dish - and as my cholesterol number has risen, the butter has been replaced by all olive oil.

In addition to the pasta part, i've created a chicken and broccolini dish with lemon sauce to serve on top of it. This evolved from the stir-fry that dad used to always make at home (and when the wife lets me, I replace the chicken with fresh sweet sausage out of the case, but that and the loss of butter is another story for another post). The concept is the same though - saute small pieces of your protein in oil, then mix in the veggies. Of course, I've added dried red pepper for heat, onion for texture and sweetness and lemon for acid and sharpness.


Chicken and Broccolini:

Sweat 1 diced small white onion, 1 dried red and 3 coarsely chopped cloves of garlic in 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add .75 lb of sliced chicken breast that has been lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. Add the juice of one and a half lemons. Saute until light brown and add lightly boiled very roughly chopped broccolini.


Prepare 1 lb of thin spaghetti. Place in colander to rest. Place 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and dried red pepper in large pot under low heat for 1 minute. Add spaghetti in small batches while also adding salt, pepper, dried basil (fresh parsley or green onion or basil will work as well) and fresh lemon juice.


Serve chicken and broccolini on top of pasta.

November 3, 2009

Snapper with Garlic Pecan Sauce

I'm often at the market trying to piece together what looks good and what might work well with it. In this case, I was home with a bag full of leftover pecans from something or other that was made a few weeks ago and couldn't figure out what to do with it.

I came across this recipe in the NYT - Ajo Blanco American Style, and decided to give it a shot. It involved three steps:

1) frying some fish
2) making a garlic/pecan sauce
3) creating a citrus topping

As always the case, sauces take longest so I prepared that first. The sauce was probably the only part that went according to recipe. I toasted the pecans in the pan and tossed them in the blender, with some warm water. I blended in a few cloves of garlic and slowly added in extra virgin olive oil. This ended up tasting REALLY good.

I dredged some snapper in flour and pan fried them. Fried fish is always good.

Finally, I cut a grapefruit into small pieces and mixed it with strips of roasted poblano pepper for some heat. I served it with some wild-rice in a box.

The dish turned out like this:

It tasted as good as it looked. The only complaint that I had was the topping. Next time, I cut the grapefruit and pepper much smaller.



Roast one Poblano pepper while Pan toasting 1/3 cup of pecans. Blend/Liquefy pecans with warm water until consistency becomes on the verge of smooth. Add poblano, salt, pepper, honey and four cloves garlic then blend until smooth. Gently add extra virgin olive oil and blend until consistency turns creamy


1 lb of mackerel or other firm fish with skin on one side, filleted into at lest 4-6 pieces. Salt and pepper both sides then flour the skin side (both sides if there is no skin side). Fry in olive oil for 5 mins total.


Cube one large grapefruit, mix in a bowl with little sea salt, honey and balsamic vinegar.


Pool sauce on plate. Top with fish and garnish then serve with veg and/or rice of choice.