Four-Cheese Shells and Cheese with Bacon on a Shallot Garlic White Cheddar Mornay Sauce

One of the ultimate comfort foods. The best way to make it is to keep it simple and basic. O.K., I snuck in some bacon, but just a little! I used medium shells here. Most any short pasta will do, just try to use one that has ridges on it like penne or shells to hold the cheese sauce. Plating it with the White Cheddar Mornay Sauce is optional, but takes it to another level.

Serves about 3-4.

Ingredients:

  • 2 thick slices of bacon, 1/4 inch dice, cooked
  • 2 tablespoon of flour, divided
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, divided, plus more for the baking dish
  • 2 cups of whole milk, divided
  • 1/2 cup of cream
  • 1/2 cup of Gruyere, shredded
  • 1 cup of white cheddar, shredded, divided
  • 1/2 cup of Velvetta, 1/2 inch cubes
  • Kosher salt and white pepper
  • 6 ounces of medium shells or penne
  • 1/3 cup of Panko crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley

Directions:

  • Cook the chopped bacon in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to a plate paper towel-lined plate. Remove all the bacon drippings.
  • In the same pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter then add the flour, cooking it for about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk and let it thicken slightly. Then add the cream and heat through. Add the gruyere, the cheddar, and the Velvetta and slowly cook until it all melts together into a smooth sauce. Season with salt and white pepper if needed.
  • Meanwhile, cook the pasta about 2 minutes less than the package directions. Drain well.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the pasta, cooked bacon, and cheese sauce together. If the mixture is too thick, add some milk.
  • Spread the mixture into a 8×8 buttered baking dish.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the panko and the parmesan then spread evenly over the pasta mixture.
  • Place in a preheated 450F oven for about 5 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
  • Sprinkle with chopped parsley and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving.
  • To serve, spoon about 1/4 cup of the White Cheddar Mornay sauce (recipe below) on a plate, spread it around a bit. Place a portion of the Shells and Cheese on the sauce. Drizzle more sauce on top if desired.

WHITE CHEDDAR MORNAY SAUCE:

  • Melt 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter in a small sauce pan. Add 2 tablespoons of minced shallots and 1 teaspoon of minced garlic and cook over low heat for about 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of the flour and cook about 2 minutes more to make a roux. Whisk in 1 cup of the milk and let it thicken slightly. Stir in 1/2 cup of grated white cheddar and let it melt until smooth. Season with Kosher salt and white pepper.

My Pasta Fagioli Recipe…or, is it Minestrone? Or neither?

What’s the difference between Minestrone and Pasta Fagioli? Meat and vegetables?

So, in my opinion, Minestrone recipes tend to have more vegetables than Pasta Fagioli. Die hard Minestrone fans also say, “No meat in Minestrone!”. Maybe my recipe here could be called Minestrone with Italian Sausage…yes? Or, Pasta Fagioli with vegetables (spinach and zucchini, in this case). It does have more veggies than P.F., but it does contain Italian sausage.

And, what’s up with Pasta Fasul or Pasta Fazool or Pasta e Fagiole? All the same thing? Apparently.

I love making soups. And with soup making, most of the rules go out the window. They are so versatile and chef-specific. Add whatever suits your fancy. And, by the way, call it whatever the f**k you want!

A recipe for Minestrone-ish soup…

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 ounces of Italian sausage, casing removed, crumbled
  • 1 cup of leeks, white part only, 1/4 inch chop
  • For a bouquet garni – 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, 4 basil leaves with stems, 1 bay leaf (tied together)
  • 1 – 2 inch piece of parmesan rind
  • 1 cup of white onions, 1/4 inch dice

Porcini Mushroom Sauce for Pork or Chicken…Beef version follows

I made this to go with my Smoked Pork Tenderloin. The beef version for beef changes up a few things (see below).

You can use almost any mushrooms, but porcinis really provide a funkier, umami kind of note. Shallots work better than onions. A cornstarch slurry to thicken works better than a flour roux. Can’t wait to try this with Chanterelles…just kind of not available right now, and more expensive!

Ingredients:

  • 1 ounce of dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 medium bay leaf
  • 2 cups of low-sodium chicken stock, reserve 1/4 cup for thickening
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oilk
  • 1/4 cup shallots, 1/4 inch dice
  • Kosher salt and white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic, thin sliced
  • 1/4 cup of dry Marsala wine
  • 14 cup of dry Sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon of fresh thyme, minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon of fresh parsley, chopped
  • About 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons of reserved chicken stock/mushroom liquid

Directions:

  • Combine the dried porcinis, bay leaf, and 2 cups of hot chicken stock in a bowl, makes sure they are all covered. Let sit for 20 minutes. Remove mushrooms from the liquid, squeezing excess liquid back into the bowl. When they mushrooms are cook enough, roughly chop.
  • Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute for about 3 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper. Add the chopped mushrooms and cook on low for about 7 minutes. Add garlic for 30 seconds and stir.
  • Add the Marsala and the Sherry, increases heat and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about 7 minutes until the liquid is almost gone.
  • Add the stock/mushroom liquid and bring back to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes until reduced to about 1 cup. Turn off heat, cover, and let sit for about 30 minutes.
  • Bring the mushrooms back to a simmer. Mix together 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with the reserved stock/mushroom liquid, stir well. Stir in the cornstarch slurry, stir, and cook until it thickens. Add the chopped parsley. Taste. Reseason if necessary.
  • Spoon over Pork Tenderloin medallions or sautéed chicken breasts with pasta.
  • FOR BEEF DISHES: Substitute beef stock for the chicken stock. Sub 1/2 cup of brandy for the wines. Add cream to finish, no need to thicken. Sub chopped chives for the parsley.

I Never Talk Politics, Religion…or BBQ in Mixed Company!

Those first two, politics and religion, are a given for me to never discuss in any social environment…that goes for a cocktail party, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. If you want to open up a can or worms, mention Trump or the border wall on Facebook with an opinionated statement.

As I delve further into the world of BBQ, ie, traditional smoker-type BBQ, I haven’t found a more passionate cast of characters as I have on BBQ forums. They really are a vehement group when it comes to their love in life…slow-cooking BBQ!

To set some things straight…here’s the deal with with BBQ’ing and Grilling. BBQ’ing is low and slow…grilling is hot and fast. In other words, the first thing BBQ people will correct you on is this difference. Just say to an Old School BBQ guy or gal, “I love to BBQ steaks, hamburgers, and hot dogs”. And they will correct you immediately…grillers are not necessarily BBQ’ers. And, by the way, some BBQ folk are not good grill people. So, put that in your smoker and…ah, smoke it!

To me…its’s all good…slow-smoking on a BBQ, or grilling. And both take some skill and a lot of practice, at least to get it right. I have been to many a BBQ at friend’s houses in my life. I can’t tell you how many of my buddy’s wives whispered in my ear when I got there, “Skip, please help (name withheld to avoid embarrassment) cook the chicken, it’s never cooked enough”. So, these things just take a little practice, some failures, and an understanding of what you want your end product to be…just like any cooking.

Back to “the pit”. One of the differences you will find amongst BBQ people is whether or not pellet wood smokers are relevant in the world of classic BBQ. Some competition BBQ folk have been known to say, “Hmmm…look, Marge, that guy has a pellet smoker, an Easy Bake Oven!”. Though smoking food on a pellet grill/smoker is, admittedly, much easier than on straight wood pits, it is just as exacting to get the ultimate result right…and that is flavor. I’ll repeat that. The ultimate result with cooking on a BBQ or any cooking, is the flavor, right?

A word or two about grilling. It involves a very hot fire and, typically, a tender cut of meat since you are cooking it very quickly. Obviously, burgers work very well grilled…so do ribeyes, NY Strips, Sirloins, and so on. If you try to cook a brisket, ribs, or a pork shoulder (butt) high and fast…well, you won’t even be able to chew it. They need a low, slow cook (just like braising in the kitchen) to break down the fibers and make it tender. Chicken can be grilled quickly, or slow smoked. Seafood should be grilled hot and fast. The list, and the arguments, go on and on. Try discussing seasoning techniques with BBQ people. Season way before cooking…or just before cooking. Dry season, wet season, salt first, salt after. And saucing! Wow, this is where the BBQ Civil War really rages. Sauce or no sauce? Sauce before or after? Sauce during? Generally speaking, Texas BBQ is a no sauce deal. Kansas City, slather it on. Again, it’s all good. I prefer a dry rub, no sauce cook. Depending on the meat, maybe a small dip or two after cooking. As far as seasoning goes, I have my own seasoning mix and it is salt-free (recipe below). I prefer to season before cooking with that then use a little sea salt flakes after it is sliced. That way, you get just the right amount of sodium for flavor and for health reasons. They say salting before cooking makes the meat juicier, some say it dries it out. Not a given, it depends on the cut and the cooking technique.

In any case, one must experiment. Try different things until you get the result you are looking for. Salt before, salt after. Sauce, no sauce. Cooking times and temperatures. Mix it up, have fun…isn’t that what it is all about?

Below is my list of Do’s and Don’ts, some suggestions for BBQ’ing success you may find useful. It is by no means the definitive guide. But I have read and tried…read and tried…read and tried many times. By the way, you may notice I have not mentioned gas or electric grills. I have owned many gas and electric units. I love them all. I just prefer cooking with wood. And, yes, pellets are real wood! They are made by compressing the saw dust from all the favorites: Oak, Mesquite, Hickory, and so on. I am a “pellet-head”. I love my pellet grill. I have owned several, including Traeger. They are all good, some better than others. And pellet frills do not use propane, they are electric-fired, ie, the wood is kept burning at a temperature-guided rate with an electric probe and auger. Right now, I have a Pit Boss (820D), purchased at Lowe’s (10% discount to veterans, btw). So far, it has performed the best of anything I have owned. It is far superior when it comes to hot grilling as some smokers just do not get hot enough for that…this one does. But, that’s just my opinion of course. Do I support a border wall? LOL…not gonna go there!

  • Some Do’s and Dont’s:
  • First, decide whether you want to go through the routine. Are you willing to put in the time to research, then practice? Know this: if you do decide on a pellet grill, you will find find it is easier to manage the fire, temperature, and times. It’s not quite an Easy Bake Oven, but more fool-proof than whole wood smokers.
  • Buy a grill you are comfortable with. Read about them online in forums. And, by all means, take everything with a grain of salt (pun intended) as this is where you will find varying opinions on both ends of the spectrum with every model and cooking technique.
  • Own a reliable, remote meat thermometer, one that has a probe you can leave in the meat and monitor from the outside of the grill. This is very convenient and reduces the amount of peaking at your food, ie, opening the grill and letting out the heat. I have one that also has a wireless unit I can monitor from inside the house. You must also have a way of checking the cook box temperature if using a whole wood BBQ. Pellet grills already have a probe and digital read out for that.
  • When the meat is done, let it rest. With any meat cooking, inside or out, let it rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting it, especially the larger pieces like pork shoulder or Prime rib. Cover loosely with foil. Then, slice just enough to consume at that meal. Save the rest whole, wrapped tightly in plastic after cooling and place in the refrigerator for a few days or freeze for up to 3 months. I use a Food-Saver sealer for freezing.
  • Don’t let your pellets or wood stash get wet. they must remain dry to burn properly. Keep the pellets in a sealed plastic container next to the grill. Speaking of the wood, choose your wood depending on the food you are cooking. This list goes on and on but generally, Oak works well with most meats, Alder goes well with fish, pork, and poultry, Apple as well. Hickory is great for pork and ribs, especially pork belly. And Mesquite has a strong flavor and burns hotter than most, good for most red meats.
  • Don’t get discouraged initially if something doesn’t turn out right. Adjust and try again until you get it right, just like kitchen cooking.
  • Buy a grill cover.
  • Don’t let the pellets run out. No major thing, you just have to start the process all over, and that takes time.
  • If you are using a whole wood BBQ, the smaller the wood pieces the hotter the fire.
  • Try different seasonings. Or, like I do, make your own (recipe for my salt-free mix is below). A little birdie told me that the best Austin, Texas BBQ place seasons their brisket with Kosher salt and black pepper, 50/50 blend before smoking. I use this on occasion.
  • Do have fun and enjoy yourself.
  • Salt-free BBQ Seasoning Mix: (great for most everything you will BBQ or Grill). Add 2 tablespoons of sea salt if you don’t want it salt-free.
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons granulated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chile powder

Lasagna: Make it. Then walk away from it for a day before baking it.


A couple of things about making lasagna.

Do you have to make it in a 9×13 pan? No. Should it have ricotta and mozzarella? Not necessarily. And, should you let it “set up” in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours before baking. Yep!

Regarding these things that are “in my humble opinion”, first, the last one. Do you want your lasagna, you know, that involved, messy, expensive culinary project you worked on for hours or days, to stand tall and salute you when you cut into it and place it on a plate? I know I do. If you don’t care about that, it’s O.K. Just make it, bake it right away, then scoop it into a bowl with a large serving spoon. If you do want it to stand up, do these things when you make it. #1: For the actual “build”, make it high from the start, ie, make it with many layers of thin pasta (my recipe calls for 7 layers of thin pasta). If you don’t want to make your own fresh pasta, use the flat, oven ready pasta sheets from Barilla. #2: Don’t skimp on the meat sauce. #3: Build it one day, refrigerate it overnight, cook it the next day. #4: After you bake it, let it sit, uncovered, on the counter for at least 90 minutes or longer. Don’t worry, you won’t be arrested by the food police as the “safe time” is at least 2 hours.

If you follow this recipe, it is built and baked covered with 2 layers of foil. Parked overnight in the refrigerator. Let it sit on the counter for at least 60 minutes after baking, uncovered. Then, carefully cut your desired, individual pieces and place each one on an oven-safe plate. Preheat oven to 350F. Now, this is important…ladle some hot marinara sauce, about 1/2 cup, over the top of each piece. Then the sliced provolone, then 1/2 tablespoon of grated Parmesan (or more if you want) on the sauce. Stick it in the oven on the middle shelf (not the top shelf or it will brown too quickly or even burn). Cook for about 5 minutes until slightly browned and heated through.

The overnight “pre-set” works, and, we all know how good things like this taste the next day! I cover the baking dish with foil, then completely wrap the dish in another layer of foil.

Pan size? It’s just my wife and I who I’m cooking for (and maybe a neighbor or friend occasionally). Truthfully, more often than not, if there are enough leftovers, they will be frozen. So, I usually make lasagna in an 8×8 (square) baking dish. Certainly, double up the recipe and build it in a 9×13 baking dish if you wish. Be patient, this is going to take a while!

Ingredients:

BOLOGNESE;

  • 1 cup of onion, 1/4 inch chop
  • 1/2 cup of carrots, peeled, 1/4 inch chop
  • 1/2 cup celery, 1/4 inch chop
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 pound of lean ground beef
  • 1 – 3 ounce Italian sausage link
  • 2 thick slices of bacon, 1/4 inch chop
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup of dry white wine
  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 1 – 14 1/2 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups of low sodium chicken stock, divided
  • 1 – package of Barilla Flat oven-ready lasagna sheets

BECHAMEL:

  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 2 cups of whole milk
  • Kosher salt and white pepper

MARINARA SAUCE

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of red wine
  • 1 – 14 1/2 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 tablespoon of chopped parsley
  • 1/8 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 pound of provolone, sliced

Directions:

  • BOLOGNESE:
  • Heat the oil in a lager heavy pot over medium heat. Add the ground beef, crumbled Italian sausage, bacon, and vegetables. Cook, breaking it up with a spoon, stirring until meat is browned, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Add the wine and bring to a bowl for about 2 minutes. Add the milk and return to a boil, lower heat and simmer until moisture is almost gone, 8-10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and 1 cup of the stock, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally until most of the liquid is gone, about 2 1/2 hours. Add more stock if it gets too dry too soon.
  • Let the sauce cool, then cover and chill in the refrigerator about 12 hours or overnight.
  • BECHAMEL:
  • Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk a little at a time, reduce heat, and simmer, whisking occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper. Remove from the heat. If not using right away, transfer to a medium bowl, cool, then place plastic wrap directly on the surface.
  • MARINARA SAUCE:
  • Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic for another minute. Add the wine and bring to a simmer, cooking until most of the liquid is gone. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, and red pepper flakes. Cover and simmer on low for about 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  • ASSEMBLY:
  • Reheat the sauces if neccessary. Add 1 cup of stock to the bolognese and heat until sauce is warmed through.
  • If you made the bechamel ahead, heat in a medium saucepan over low heat just until warmed through, do not let it boil.
  • Coat an 8×8 baking dish with butter. Spread 2 tablespoons of the bolognese over the bottom. Top with 2 uncooked pasta sheets. Spread 3/8 of a cup of the bolognese over the pasta. Add 2 more pasta sheets and spread 1/2 cup of the bechamel over the pasta sheets and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese. Repeat the process7 more times (there are 16 pasta sheets in a box of Barilla oven-ready lasagna pasta. The top layer should be bechamel with bolognese on top.
  • Place aluminum foil tightly over the top of the baking dish. Now, completely wrap the dish, all the way around, with more foil. Make sure it is sealed tightly. Place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight.
  • Remove the lasagna from the refrigerator about 1 1/2 hours before baking. Preheat oven to 350F.
  • To bake, leave covered, place the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the internal temperature is at least 165F.
  • Remove from the oven and remove all the foil. Let sit for at least 1 hour.
  • To serve, carefully slice a piece of lasagna on an oven proof plate. Top with some marinara sauce (depending on the size of the piece). Place in the oven for about 15 minutes or until reheated to your liking. Add a slice of provolone and place back in the oven or broiler until the cheese is melted and golden brown-ish.

NOTE: Lasagna is very involved. If you do all of the steps ahead of time, ie, the day before, you will be much happier with the results. Do not try to cut the lasagna right out of the oven. Let it sit, rest, and set up. You can use regular lasagna noodles, but those are much thicker than these Barilla pasta sheets, so, there will be less layers in the build. Also, if you want to go ahead and make a full 9×13 baking dish of lasagna, just double everything. The Barilla doesn’t not need pre-cooking. In my opinion, the more layers the better. I have also added a layer of fresh basil to the build. Of course, add more cheese in the layers if you want. This recipe as listed works well, stays high, and has a fantastic flavor profile. By the way, using home made pasta…even better. I have done that with this recipe as well.

National Grilled Cheese Day

National Grilled Cheese Day…April 12th. This unofficial “holiday” was supposedly started in the 1990’s. The history is kind of irrelevant…it’s just an excuse to relish the comforting goodness of an ooey-gooey, fried cheese sandwich. The only requirement is that you add your favorite cheeses…yes, cheeses, plural…and grill the bread to a slightly crispy golden brown that cheese melts.

I like to spread mayonnaise on the first side (which becomes the inside), then grill it. Then, stack at least three cheeses on the first grilled side…I used slices of Gruyere, White Cheddar, and Kraft American. Spread a little butter on the other side (the outside), making sure the butter is edge to edge evenly. Grill in a heavy skillet over medium heat, bring careful not to burn the bread before the cheese melts. Serve along side your favorite dipping sauce…mayo, Ranch, Blue Cheese, ketchup, or, the best: Cream of Tomato Soup!

Pass the napkins and have at it!


Poutine, baby!

Poutine…it’s fun to say and easy to make.

It’s a ubiquitous Canadian pub item that we, as Americans, may not be entirely sure of what it is! Think French Fries, and instead of them slathered with ketchup or Bleu Cheese or Ranch dressing, its got cheddar cheese curds and brown gravy. Good luck finding cheese curds in the U.S., but they are available. They, by definition, are the moist pieces of curdled milk, kind of “new” cheese. Actually, cottage cheese is cheese curds. The cheddar cheese variety, IMHO, are the best for poutine. The brown gravy? Pretty much a basic brown gravy made from beef stock and a little Guinness or other stout. Believe it or not, most pubs use a packaged brown gravy mix. I know because I managed a couple of gastro-pub type restaurant concepts a few years ago. The real brown gravy traditionalists make stock from roast beef bones, etc. I used Better Than Buillion Low-sodium Roasted Beef Stock here…with some shallots and garlic. I also embellished a bit on the final poutine service by adding some chopped bacon and sliced green onions. However you make it, it is a tasty pub comfort food that Canadians swear by. I would have to agree…I have spent some time in Toronto for business and they do, indeed, love their poutine!

Ingredients:

  • Sliced Green onions (optional)
  • 2 tbsp of unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp of minced shallots
  • 1 tsp of minced garlic
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 tbsp of flour
  • 1 cup of low-sodium beef stock
  • 1/2 cup of low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup of Guinness, or your favorite stout beer
  • 1 tbsp of ketchup
  • 1/2 tsp of Worcestershire
  • 1 tbsp of cornstarch (optional)
  • 2 tsp of milk (optional)
  • Your favorite French Fries, frozen or fresh made
  • 1 cup of white cheddar cheese curds
  • Sliced green onions
  • 2 thick slices of bacon, cooked crisp, chopped (optional)

Directions:

  • Place 2 tbsp of unsalted butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the minced shallots and cook for about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the minced garlic for another 30 seconds. Add 2 tbsp of flour and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring . Whisk in the beef and chicken stock, then the Guinness. Add the ketchup and Worcestershire, bring it all to a simmer and let it thicken. If it is too thin, mix 1 tbsp o cornstarch in 2 tbsp of milk and stir into the simmering gravy. Cook a bit longer until thickened to your liking.
  • Make your favorite French Fries.
  • To serve, place a handful of hot, salted French Fries in a single serving salad bowl. Place about 1/2 cup of the cheese curds over the fries. Ladle on some gravy. Garnish with chopped bacon and sliced green onions.

Tequila Braised Chile Verde Pork Chili

If you want a green chili, a chili verde, one that tastes “green” with the flavors of fresh roasted tomatillos and fresh roasted green chiles (Anaheim and Poblano)…then give this one a shot.

Seasoned with fresh ground chile powders, fresh ground cumin, and braised in a bit of sherry, chicken stock, and tequila, this one really makes the grade…a welcome break from the usual red, tomato-based chili recipe. Make it as thick or as thin as you like by adjusting the amount of masa and simmering near the end uncovered. Of course, no beans in the chili…though, instead of rice, serve it over cooked beans if you like. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, and warm flour tortillas. Note: This recipe is relatively tame, not real spicy. If you like it spicier, add a medium jalapeño or two during the cooking process.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium white onion, peeled, quartered
  • 1/2 pound of fresh tomatillos, husks removed, halved
  • 1 medium Anaheim green chile, stem removed
  • 1 medium poblano chile, stem removed
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed
  • Canola oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds of boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3 inch cubes
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp of Ancho chile powder
  • 2 cups of low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup of dry sherry
  • 1/2 cup of gold tequila
  • 4 or 5 cilantro sprigs
  • 1/4 cup of masa harina
  • Steamed white rice
  • Diced white onions
  • Fresh chopped cilantro
  • Fresh limes
  • Grated Cotija cheese
  • Sour cream or Mexican crema (optional)
  • Flour tortillas

Heading:

  • Preheat oven to 400F.
  • Place the tomatillos, the fresh chiles, and the onions of a baking sheet. Spray or drizzle with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until soft and starting to brown, about 20-30 minutes, flipping once halfway.
  • Season the pork cubes with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tbsp of canola oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, brown the pork well on all sides. Remove to a plate and set aside. Drain and discard the oil.
  • Place the roasted tomatillos, onions and chiles in the pan. Add the chicken stock, the sherry, and the tequila and bring to a boil, deglazing the pan. Add the cumin and the chile powders. Add the pork back to the pan, cover, lower the heat to low, and cook until the pork is very tender, about 1 1/2 -2 hours.
  • When the pork is tender, remove to a plate and let cool slightly. Cut into 1 inch chunks.
  • Remove the cilantro sprigs from the Dutch oven. With an immersions blender, process the vegetables and liquid until it’s smooth, not puréed. Bring to a simmer and add the masa harina. Cook until thicken to your liking, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the pork back to the pan. Taste. Reseason if necessary. If it is too spicy, add a tablespoon or so of honey or agave nectar. This recipe is relatively tame, not super spicy. If you want it spicier, add a couple jalapeños with the other chiles.
  • Serve with grated Cotija, diced white onions, fresh chopped cilantro and lime wedges. Sour cream or Mexican crema optional. Ladle over white rice with warm flour tortillas.


Chicken Fried Sirloin Steak with Fresh Cracked Black Pepper Gravy

First, let’s explain the difference between Chicken Fried Steak and Country Fried Steak. Simply put, arguably, Chicken Fried Steak is served with creamy, white gravy…Country Fried Steak is covered in a brown gravy made from the pan drippings. Of course, neither are chicken…but, we knew that, right? Chicken F.S. often has the gravy served on the side so as to maintain the crispiness of the meat…Country F.S. is often smothered in the gravy to finish cooking. I kind of prefer the Chicken F.S., and this is my recipe for it.

Typically, you use heavily tenderized cube steak made from round or chuck. This one uses sirloin, and it is cut thin then tenderized with a mallet.

Please note, as with almost all of my recipes, it has been seriously cut down to feed 2 to 3 adults. Even with that, you may have enough gravy (and a steak) for a leftover the next day…maybe not! Don’t on the pepper in the gravy.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound sirloin, cut into 1/2 inch slices, pounded with a tenderizer mallet to 1/4 inch
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup of flour + 1 tbsp
  • 1/2 tsp of granulated garlic
  • 1/2 tsp of onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp of paprika
  • 1/4 tsp of cayenne
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • 2 thick slices of bacon, small dice (optional)
  • 1 tbsp of shallots, minced
  • Canola oil for frying
  • 1 cup of low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup of dry sherry
  • 1/2 tsp of fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 cup of cream
  • Paprika, chopped chives, and chopped parsley for garnish

Directions:

  • Make your favorite mashed potato recipe. Keep warm.
  • Bring the sliced steak pieces to room temperature. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
  • Mix together the granulated garlic, the onion powder, the paprika, the cayenne, and the flour in a flat bowl. Place the buttermilk in another flat bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  • Heat the oven to 250F. Place a rack on a baking sheet and place it in the oven.
  • In a medium skillet, heat about 1 inch of canola oil over medium high heat to about 375F.
  • Dredge the pounded sirloin pieces in the flour. Then dip them in the buttermilk, letting the excess dip off. Then dredge them again in the flour, shaking of the excess.
  • When the oil is hot, cook the coated sirloin pieces, turning once, until they are golden brown and cooked through. If your sirloin is 1/4 inch thick, it will cook in about 1 1/2 minutes per side in 375F oil.
  • Remove the steaks to the rack on the sheet pan in the oven while you make the gravy.
  • Drain all the oil out of the skillet, saving to filter and use again. Lower the heat to medium. Add the chopped bacon and cook until slightly crisp. Remove all but 1 tbsp of bacon fat. If not using bacon, just add a little oil or butter to the skillet after draining the cooking oil and saute the shallots that way.
  • Add the minced shallots and saute for about 3 minutes, do not let them burn. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp of flour and cook an additional 1 minutes.
  • Slowly add the chicken stock, whisking until it begins to thick. Add the sherry and the fresh minced thyme. Bring to a low simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the cream and heat through. Add fresh cracked black pepper to taste. Taste. Reseason with salt and pepper if neccessary.
  • To serve, place a large dollop of mashed potatoes on a plate. Place about 1/4 cup of the gravy next to the potatoes and ladle some over the potatoes. Place 1 or 2 crispy chicken fried steak pieces next to the potatoes on the gravy. Garnish with paprika and fresh chopped parsley.

Chicken Piccata

Of the many Piccata recipes around…Veal, Chicken, Pork…I really prefer this one. The simple fact is, this is the simplest, and, for my money, the most traditional. Piccata refers to a cooking method where the protein is thin sliced, sautéed, then served in a sauce with lemon juice, butter, and capers. Piccata recipes abound using garlic, shallots, even mushrooms and cream. I did choose to use wine and a little stock (not just lemon juice) to round out the pan reduction. The pounded chicken will cook quickly, maybe 1 1/2 minutes per side. Try not to overcook it.

For 2 people.

Ingredients:

  • 1-8 ounce boneless chicken breast
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 tsp of olive oil
  • 2 tsp of unsalted butter + 1 tbsp
  • 1/4 cup of dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup of low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp of fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp of capers, drained
  • 1 tbsp of fresh chopped parsley

Directions:

  • Butterfly the chicken breast. Gently pound the breasts to about 1/4 inch, the cut each one in half. Season the pieces with salt and pepper then lightly coat with flour, shaking off the excess.
  • Heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and the 2 tsp of the butter. When the oil is hot, add the chicken pieces and sauté until both sides are golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate and keep warm.
  • Pour off the oil and any dark flour left. With the pan still over medium heat, add the stock, the wine, the lemon juice, and the capers. Bring to a boil for about 2 minutes. Swirl in the 1 tbsp of butter. Taste. Reason if neccessary.
  • Place a helping of rice (pilaf like I used here works well). Place 2 slices of chicken against the rice. Drizzle with the pan sauce and capers. Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley.