Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Baked Stuffed Brie With Tarragon Chicken Shiitake Mushrooms

I’ve always been fascinated with Mediterranean dishes that used a pastry to encase some kind of savory meat and vegetable filling. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on them in restaurants over the past twenty five years and had no idea that making my own dish “en crue” or “in puff pastry” was so easy. And then there is that ambrosia, the nirvana of Greek desert, Baklava, made with Filo pastry—err…ummm--another day perhaps

This recipe has been a favorite in our kitchen for the past year. I cook it about once a month--every time the Brie is on sale at the local grocer. It started out based on this appetizer recipe from recipesource.com. A bit of modification to the recipe and experience gained cooking it a half dozen times has yielded a great entree for two served with asparagus on the side (or your favorite vegetable du jour) or as a rich appetizer with fancy water crackers for those small, intimate get-to-gathers.

You’ll need the following ingredients:

One small wheel of good Brie Cheese

¼ pound of Shiitake mushrooms
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast

½ cup white wine (chill the rest of the wine to drink with dinner)
1 clove of garlic, diced very fine
½ tbsp tarragon
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp un-salted, semi-sweet butter

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (or if you are into pain—a pile of filo dough sheets)

Now, in the words of Jackie Gleason, “and away we go…”

Toss the wheel of Brie and one sheet of puff pastry dough out of the Fridge onto a piece of wax paper on your counter top. Cover the puff pastry dough with a clean, damp dish towel and let it thaw while you do the following steps.

Rinse the chicken, pat dry, and slice the breast into 1” thick strips. Place the bird into a shallow bowl and pour the olive oil and sprinkle the dried tarragon over the chicken strips, turning to coat evenly.

Slice the mushrooms, dice the garlic clove, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Also preheat a large heavy skillet on the stove top over medium low heat in preparation of cooking the chicken/mushroom mixture.

Add the chicken strips and cook for a couple of minutes on each side. Then pour in the wine, the garlic, the mushrooms, and kick the heat up just a little until everything is simmering nicely.

Spray a little “Pam” olive oil based non-stick spray on the inside of a small, deep casserole dish. Remove the chicken strips to a cutting board, let cool slightly, then slice thinly. Add the butter and return the chicken to the mushroom wine mixture for another few minutes. Turn off the heat and let everything coast.

Slice the wheel of brie into two half thicknesses and place one half in the center of the thawed puff pastry dough. Spoon the cooled mushroom chicken mixture on top of the brie, then top with the other piece of brie.

Fold the corners of the pastry up and over the brie, flip the package over, and place it in the casserole dish tucking the pastry neatly underneath. Place it in the 350 degree oven and cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and let cool for ten minutes, slice, and serve with your vegetable and a glass of the white wine.

Enjoy Ya’ll

The Redneck Gourmet

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Kicked Up Meatloaf--Emeril Style

First—a confession. I had a bit of a cooking disaster last weekend that resulted in me not posting my weekly recipe as it needs a bit more work. Crab and Shrimp Mornay was the dish, and the Mornay sauce did not work like I wanted because I started out with the wrong recipe as a basis. As a result, I wasted about $12 of fresh backfin crabmeat. I’ll do a little more research and have it figured out later this winter for publication.

Now, as to this evening’s dish--having spent the day after Thanksgiving avoiding the malls, I instead spent the afternoon working at the local theater on the set I’m building for Agatha Christie’s play “The Mousetrap.” By five PM I was tired and didn’t want to face two or three hours prepping and cooking a dish. Pat suggested a nice meatloaf and a quick run by the local grocery on the way home from the theater yielded the fresh ground beef necessary for the dish.

A quick check of the Food Network website yielded Emeril’s “Most Kicked Up Meatloaf Ever.” I made some modifications based on having dried spices rather than fresh, and instead of using butter I cooked the vegetables in bacon drippings left over from brunch this morning. The modified ingredient listing, making enough for four to six people, looked like this:

3 tablespoons bacon drippings
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 eggs
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup ketchup, plus 1/4 cup
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup Heavy cream
1/2 cup Breadcrumbs
1-1/4 pound ground chuck (try 90% lean—I used 80% and it was too greasy)
1/3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoons plus 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Three or four medium potatoes, quartered
1 6oz jar green giant button mushrooms

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 cup canned tomatoes, chopped or crushed

In a large heavy skillet, heat the bacon dripping over medium heat. Add all but about 4 tbsp of the chopped onion, the celery, and all but 2 tbsp of the bell pepper to the skillet and cook until they soften, about 5 minutes or so.

Add one tsp garlic, the thyme, rosemary, and the parsley and cook an additional 2 minutes. Set skillet aside to cool. Preheat your oven to 350 deg F.

Redneck Tip: Tilt your skillet slightly and spoon off any extra bacon grease that you can.

In a large mixing bowl, transfer the cooled vegetable mixture and add the eggs, the mustard, 1/3 cup of ketchup, the Worcestershire sauce, the cream, and mix well. Then add the breadcrumbs, ground chuck, salt, and pepper. Mix until everything is uniformly combined (no dry spots,) but don’t over mix.

Turn the whole blob out into a greased oval corningware casserole dish (I used an oval, 3” deep dish,) shape into a loaf with your hands, and place the potatoes in the gap between the sides of the loaf and the dish.

In a small saucepan, combine the rest of the onion, garlic, the red bell pepper, ¼ cup ketchup, the red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and canned tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat and simmer for a few minutes to reduce slightly. Pour the mixture over the top of the meatloaf, sprinkle the button mushrooms on top of that, smooth out with a spoon, and toss the whole thing in the oven for 60 to 75 minutes.

Redneck Tip: At the hour mark, start checking every five minutes or so because you don’t want to burn the top of the loaf.

When you think it is done, turn off the oven and take the meatloaf out and set on a rack to cool for ten minutes or so. Put your plates in the oven for a minute to warm.

Since it is in season and cheep, I steamed some fresh asparagus in a double boiler while the meatloaf was cooling.

When the loaf has cooled a bit, put your warmed plates on chargers, slice the loaf, spoon out some of everything onto your plates, and serve with your asparagus or other vegetable on the side. No ketchup required!

Enjoy Ya’ll

The Redneck Gourmet

Update: November 28, 2004

This dish reheats in the oven very well and tastes even better the second time than the first night. I simply removed the leftover meatloaf from the refrigerator and let it set for a half hour at room temperature, preheated the oven to 300 deg F, poured a half can of beef broth over it, and reheated for twenty minutes. Yum.

Also, I used Russet potatoes which are better cooked whole as baking potatoes. Next time I'll use new red potatoes which would have been much better. There is a whole posting that I need to write on potatoes and other vegetables. Look for it in the future.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Chicken and Veal Piccata

Another Saturday night, and there’s another dinner to be prepared--what to do, what to do? Pat and I were too tired to dress and go out for dinner, so it was up to me to come up with something and I just wasn’t inspired.

We chatted about my “standard” list of chicken and pork dishes based on provisions we already had in our kitchen, then I mentioned the Veal Piccata I had enjoyed several weeks ago when Pat’s displeasure with her Greek dinner had inspired my Moussaka, stuffed grape leaves, and spinach pie adventures (see below.)

Pat, like many people out there, isn’t that fond of Veal dishes because of media coverage of inhumane farming techniques employed in some instances. Being a gun toting, card carrying country boy that grew up huntin’ and fishin’, I figure that since it is already dead and plastic wrapped on a foam tray in the butcher shop, I might as well eat it rather than letting it go to waste. I asked Pat to tell me the difference between the veal I wanted to cook and the lamb we ate last weekend? She capitulated, and off the grocery store I went.

In deference to her apprehensions, I decided that a compromise was in order. I would make a combination of veal AND chicken piccata. The dish is really simple, and Emeril on the Food Network has a very good basic recipe.

Here is my modified version producing servings for two people. You’ll need:

1/2 package of pasta (spaghetti, linguini, etc.)

1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 boneless, skinless, breast of chicken
2 veal scallops

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp unsalted butter
Fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup white wine
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 clove of garlic, diced very fine
1/2 lemon, juiced
1-1/2 tbsp capers, drained
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped--plus a few sprigs for garnish

Heat a couple of quarts of water for your pasta in a 3 or 4 quart boiler, adding a little salt and olive oil if you like.

Put the flour, the bread crumbs, and the beaten egg in separate shallow bowls. Lightly season the flour and bread crumbs with salt and fresh ground pepper. Place the chicken and veal pieces between a couple of layers of plastic wrap and pound to a thickness of approximately 1/8”-to 1/4”.

Redneck Tip: Use a meat mallet to pound the meat, not your framing hammer or the heal of an old shoe.

One at a time, dredge the chicken and veal pieces in the flour to coat, then into the egg, then into the bread crumbs to get an even, light coating. Place the pieces to the side on a platter.

Your water should be boiling by now, so add the pasta.

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat until it is almost smoking hot, then melt 1 tbsp of the butter and quickly place the breaded meat pieces in the skillet

Cook the meat until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Watch your pasta cooking…don’t let it boil over. Meanwhile, put your plates in the oven to warm.

Remove the browned meat and place on a platter to the side. Pour the wine into the skillet and scrape the bottom with your spatula to deglaze. Bring to boil and cook the wine mixture for two or three minutes to reduce, then add the chicken stock, lemon juice, garlic, and capers.

Check your pasta and if it is done, pour off the water and set aside.

Redneck tip: Don’t be tossing your noodles against the kitchen wall to see if it is done—just pull out a piece with a fork every few minutes, let it cool slightly, and TASTE IT. Is it done? Also, to keep the pasta warm while you finish your sauce, pour the pasta through a colander to drain and toss with a little olive oil. Add about a ½” of water back to the boiler, set the colander containing the pasta on top, cover everything with a large lid, and set the whole shebang back on the stove on very low heat.

Cook your sauce another five minutes or so, stirring occasionally, then whisk in the final 2 tbsp of butter, salt to taste, and the chopped parsley. When the butter has melted, put the breaded chicken and veal back in the skillet and cook for another minute while you take your plates out of the oven.

Plating it all up…

Place a serving of pasta on each plate. Lift a piece of each meat out of the skillet and place adjacent to the pasta on each plate. Spoon the remaining sauce out of the skillet over the pasta and meat.

Serve with your favorite bread and wine…

Enjoy Y’all

The Redneck Gourmet

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Baked Salmon for Bucky & I

(Baked Salmon with Citrus Vinegar Glaze)

My neighbor, Mr. Harlan “Bucky” Strader, the gentleman that lives in the condo downstairs from us, called me late yesterday afternoon asking that I come down for dinner. Mr. Bucky, a graduate of Dartmouth Class of 1942, has been a pleasure to know over the past nine months here on St. Simons Island. He’s a World War II veteran of the Corps of Engineers, a retired business executive, and now he spends his time alone here on the island since his wife passed away.

I try to make time to visit Bucky several times each week and I enjoy his company very much…Great stories! Since he’s a widower and my girl Pat spends half of her time traveling on business, we’ve decided to start pooling our resources to put together an occasional dinner every few weeks.

Last evening Bucky offered a Salmon fillet dinner, but Bucky has admitted in the past that he isn’t much of a cook—he told me he was going to microwave the fish. I immediately went down to his condo to see what he was up to. I went armed with a couple of fresh lemons, a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, and my best intentions augmented by a little research on the Food Network.

It turns out Bucky had purchased two very nice Salmon fillets from a local seafood house and, knowing that I like to cook, he was willing for me to take charge of their preparation. I gave him a quick lesson in baking fish so he could do it for himself in the future, and here is what I did:

The ingredients:

2 salmon steaks or fillets
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon

¼ cup dry white wine
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp lemon juice
Fresh ground black pepper

Place the fillets in a dish and squeeze the juice of one/half lemon over them, turning to coat evenly.

Redneck Tip: Take out the Lemon seeds...duuuh!

Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil over each fillet and again turn them to coat. Let the fillets marinade for at least 30 minutes.

While the fillets were swimming, combine the wine, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and citrus juices in a small boiler and heat over medium high heat until boiling, reduce the heat, and simmer until the glaze is reduced by about two thirds. Reduce heat and keep warm.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and toss the fillets into a greased baking dish.

Redneck Tip: I love "Pam" cooking spray made from olive oil for pre-coating baking dishes.

Bake fillets for 7 to 10 minutes, turning once. Remove from oven, allow to rest for a minute, then serve with your favorite vegetable, fresh bread, and a glass of Merlot.

Enjoy Y’all

The Redneck Gourmet

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Arming Yourself For the Battle--Part I

Rather than posting another recipe, this morning I’m gonna take a minute to talk about cooking in general and share with you some of my observations about learning to cook and the things you need to do a good job.

I didn’t start cooking regularly, other than being the king of the charcoal grill, until the past ten years. I got really serious in the past five years, although I have no grand aspirations to do anything other than over-feed my own rapidly growing stomach and entertain guests in our home.

To those out there (particularly the gentlemen) that don’t cook regularly, I can remember the feeling of helplessness when faced with even something as simple as frying eggs and bacon and getting it all to the table moderately warm and properly done. Guys, our mothers and (ex)wives usually stepped up to the oven (or in my case, over me) and we just didn’t have the opportunity to cook much. Some women I know out there also have chosen the path of take-out and freezer-food fare. My heart goes out to you all.

News Flash--you have to cook regularly to be any good at it. Another News Flash—you often have to cook a given recipe more than once to get it right. I constantly piss myself off analyzing the food on my plate before my home cooked dinner is even over with. It’s a curse, I guess, and I have to be careful not to insult my hosts doing the same in other’s homes.

I know that the temptation is to run out and blow your entire equipment budget on all of the wrong stuff. Actually, a good kitchen is equipped over a period of years, not in one trip to the mall. Any way…forget those funky pots and pans sold on late night TV and about 90 percent of the gadgets sold in stores, I’m here to tell you a few things about outfitting a good working kitchen, and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

Food processors are neat, but first you absolutely must have a couple of good knives and a good cutting board. For knives, you also don’t need to spend a bunch of cash on a giant wooden block radiating with 25 different stainless steel implements of torture. All you really need are three knives--a good 8” or 10” chef’s knife for dicing and chopping, a small pairing knife for de-boning, and a nice serrated knife for cutting bread. Buy the best you can, preferably Henkele, but even some store brands can be had for less that $50 for all three that will do a good job. Only cut food with the knives and only cut on the cutting board. Also, get yourself a sharpening steel, learn how to use it, and use it regularly. It’s easier to keep a knife sharp than it is to re-sharpen it after using it to work on your lawn mower or pick up truck carburetor.

For a cutting board, I like the synthetic boards that are immune to absorbing water and chicken guts while you are working. I also like hard maple boards, but only for vegetables. If you have a wooden board, splurge for a synthetic one too for use with meat. The more cutting area you have, the less dish washing you have to do because you can simply leave the ingredients in piles on the board rather than dirtying up bowls.

Next comes mixing bowls. Don’t spend a bunch of money on fancy heavy bowls at first, buy yourself two inexpensive sets of graduated sizes and get at least one set with matching plastic covers. It never fails that I have my largest bowl loaded with something and need it to hold something else. The second set saves a lot of dishwashing and you can store things in the fridge in the bowls with the plastic covers. While you’re at it, get a couple of sizes of plastic colanders for straining.

Regarding pots and pans, I absolutely hate Teflon. I have one medium Teflon boiler my girlfriend inherited and a small Teflon omelet pan. Teflon is a good crutch for making omelets, but solid stainless steel is the only way to go with everything else. Buy the heaviest stainless you can afford, and everything doesn’t have to match. You pay extra for matching sets that often include things you won’t use. Make sure the pans have metal handles so that they are oven proof.

You need, as a minimum, a 12" or 14" round, heavy, deep (3"-4") skillet for frying, several medium skillets, a four quart and an eight quart boiler, and a small sauce pan. I also have a large inexpensive stainless steel stockpot that holds 20 quarts that I use for canning and for boiling shrimp.

Another tool I like is a mortar and pestle. This ancient, simple tool is excellent for crushing together small quantities of foods like those used in sauces or for making pesto. As I said earlier, I try to avoid the food processor unless large quantities are involved.

I believe that all of the other stuff on the isles of the cooking and chain stores is useless if you don't make good decisions on the basics. It don't have to look fancy to cook good.

And there it is--Part I of “Arming yourself for the battle.” Look for part II later this week where I’ll cover kitchen gadgets and some other stuff I need to get off of my chest.

Byzantine Dolmathes and Spanakapita--Say What?

(Stuffed Grape Leaves and Spinach Pie)

My Greek cooking (see my post on cooking Moussaka without the Mouse or the Moose below) last weekend left us wanting more Greek food again this weekend, but I wasn’t about to take the risk of dining out to get it. I’d have to cook it myself again, and I did.

On tonight’s menu are two Greek standards—Stuffed Grape Leaves and a big ole’ slice of Spinach Pie. I must admit that I’ve only had each dish a few times in the past and didn’t really have any idea what was involved in cooking them. After a little research on the Internet, I came up with several ideas based on these recipes for the Stuffed Grape Leaves and Spinach Pie.

It’s not rocket science, but each dish does require a good deal of work. The results were definitely worth it. I’m going to list the ingredients I used for each dish separately, but address the order of preparation and cooking together.

First, for the Stuffed Grape Leaves:

1 Jar grape leaves in brine (you only need 20 or so leaves)

1/8 pound ground beef
1/8 pound ground lamb
1/4 cup long grain rice
4 oz can tomato sauce
2 tbsp good extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 8 oz can of beef or chicken broth
1 bunch green onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/4cup currants (small resins)
1/8 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup parsley chopped (reserve the stems)
1/4 cup mint, chopped
1/4 cup red or port wine
1/8 TSP cinnamon
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste

Avgolemono sauce:

Juice of one small lemon, strained of seeds
One egg

And for the Spinach Pie:

Two bunches fresh spinach (about 2 pounds)
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 small bunch green onions, diced
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 eggs
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 package frozen puff pastry dough
1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil

Putting it all together:

In order to get both dishes prepared in less time than the three hours it took me and have them both hot on the plate at the same time, there are certain things that must be done in the correct order. (The preparation didn’t really take three hours of continuous work--I was distracted watching the end of the Georgia/Auburn football game on TV along with part of “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” while I was doing my prep.)

First, open the jar of grape leaves and carefully remove them, reserving the brine. The leaves are rolled tightly like a big fat green cigar and must be unrolled carefully to avoid tearing them. Remove 20 leaves, roll up the balance, and place them back in the jar along with the brine for use another day. Top off the brine with fresh water to cover the ends of all of the leaves.

Redneck Tip: Twelve leaves need to be large and nearly perfect. The other eight leaves can be smaller and less than perfect because they only will be used to line the pan during cooking and for garnish on the plate.

Soak the grape leaves in fresh cold water for at least one hour. Change the water a few times in order to completely rinse the brine away.

While the grape leaves are soaking, rinse your spinach bunches under the sink faucet. Tear off the larger stems and place the rinsed leaves in a bowl of cold water. Again, change the water several times to remove all the dirt.

Remove the frozen puff pastry from the freezer, open the package and thaw at room temperature for 30 minutes covering with a damp dish towel.

Redneck Tip: Use a clean dish towel guys, not the one you wiped your hands on after cleaning a mess of fish yesterday.

While your greens are swimming and your dough is thawing, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. Slowly sauté your diced onions until they are clear, then add one bunch of the diced green onions and two cloves of diced garlic. Don’t burn your garlic.

Next add the ground beef and lamb to the skillet and brown, stirring occasionally. Add the rice, the tomato sauce, some of the broth, the wine, the cinnamon, the parsley, the currants, the pine nuts, the mint, and stir it all up. Cover and simmer until the rice is done. Add some more stock or some water (I used both) to keep things moist until the rice cooks tender and all of the water is absorbed.

While the meat stuffing is cooking, in another large skillet, heat two table spoons of olive oil over medium low heat and sauté the thinly sliced onions, another bunch of chopped green onions, and garlic. Drain the spinach greens in a colander, and then pile the spinach greens and parsley on top of the onions and cover. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes to wilt the spinach, stirring occasionally.

In a medium mixing bowl, lightly beat two eggs, then add the ricotta and feta cheese. Mix it all together with a spoon to blend. Once the spinach/onion mix is wilted, allow it to cool slightly, then add it to the egg cheese mixture and fold together.

Your puff pastry dough should be thawed by now. Carefully unfold the sheets and place one sheet in a 9”x9” greased dish. Spoon the spinach cheese mixture into the middle and fold the corners up and over the top. Add the second pastry sheet, rotated 45 degrees, over the top and carefully tuck the corners and edges down and under the pie. Brush the top with olive oil. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and cover the pie with a damp dishtowel.

By now the meat stuffing should be done. Test the rice again, turn off the heat and place the mixture aside in a bowl to cool. Scrape the skillet pretty clean because you’re going to cook the stuffed leaves in it. Also hang in there with me, folks, we’re heading down the stretch now. Pour yourself another glass of wine and relax a minute while the meat mixture cools.

Once the meat mix has cooled enough to handle, lay out your rinsed grape leaves and pick the 12 best ones. Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet and lay out four of the irregular grape leaves in the bottom. Place a few dozen large parsley stems in a grid over the grape leaves to keep the stuffed leaves from sticking.

Carefully trim the woody stem off of each leaf. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the meat mixture in the center of each leaf, fold the left and right sides over, then fold the bottom of the leaf away from you and roll the whole thing up. Place the rolls in the skillet in a tight cluster, then cover with the other four grape leaves and place a plate or saucer on top to keep them from unrolling while cooking. Add a half cup of water and enough stock to cover the rolls about half way up.

Bring the stuffed leaves to a low boil in the skillet and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.

Place the Spinach pie in the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.

While everything is cooking, make the avgolemono by beating one egg for 3 to five minutes until light yellow in color and thickened. In a small boiler, combine the beaten egg and the juice of one lemon and stir as you warm on low heat. Keep warm on low.

Put your plates (hopefully oven proof) in the oven briefly to warm them up.

Plating it all up:

When the pie is golden brown, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool on a cooling rack. Turn off the heat to the stuffed leaves and remove the weight. Scoop 1/2 cup of clean (no stems or chunks) broth out of the skillet and add to the egg/lemon sauce and stir well.

Place the warmed plates on chargers, lay a couple of the flat grape leaves on a section of each plate, and lay out six stuffed leaves on top. Slice the Spinach pie and add a piece to each plate. Drizzle the egg/lemon sauce over the grape leaves, pour a couple glasses of wine, and serve. Give yourself a nice round of applause.

There should be enough pie to serve four to six people and by offering three stuffed leaves per person, this is definitely a meal for four or makes a nice leftover for lunch the next day. You can reheat the stuffed leaves or serve at room temperature.

Enjoy Ya’ll,

The Redneck Gourmet

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Huevos Rancheros For Two

Huevos Rancheros generally is taken to mean “Mexican Eggs.” I’ve always seen them on the menu at the many Mexican restaurants found every two hundred yards up and down the streets of the suburbs in Atlanta, Georgia. To quote Mark Twain, you can't "swing a cat" and not hit a Mexican restaurant in Atlanta. I never ordered a plate of them (com' on...mexican eggs, not cats, sheesh...) in the 27 years I lived there, however.

I was cruising the Internet a few months ago, looking for something “different” to cook for a weekend breakfast and this recipe for huevos rancheros caught my eye. As usual, I just couldn’t follow the recipe and, having cooked them a half dozen times now, I have a pretty good idea what works best.

Here’s the deal. Basically, you are cooking a tomato and chili pepper based sauce in a skillet, then poaching the eggs on top of the mixture just before you serve them. Any one of a number of variations can be accomplished by including additives like sausage, bacon, mushrooms, you name it. I generally just try to make it not taste too much like spaghetti sauce.

Spices are the key. Also, I've tried to keep the quantity of sauce down to an amount sufficient for a maximum of four eggs. If you have more people to feed, increase the size of the skillet and the quantities proportionally.

So here we go. You’ll need the following ingredients:

(1) 8 oz can of diced tomatoes
(1) 8 ounce can of Rotel tomatoes and chilies (use as hot a mix as you can stand)
(1) small can mushroom pieces and stems (optional)
¼ pound sausage or ground beef (optional)
chicken or beef broth
(2) tbsp olive oil
½ cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, diced fine
2 tsp cumin
a FEW chili pepper flakes to taste
salt to taste

Medium eggs at room temperature (one or two per person)

The cooking process:

Heat the olive oil in a 10” skillet over medium low heat. Add onion and sauté until clear. Add Garlic and cook lightly

Redneck Tip: don’t burn your garlic or you’ll have to start over.

If you are using sausage or ground beef, go ahead and brown it with the onions and garlic.

Redneck Tip: If you are a cheep SOB and you bought crappy ground beef or sausage, drain and spoon off the extra grease that has cooked out of the mixture. I use 95% fat free ground sirloin to help keep my girth and tonnage under control, such as it is.

Now add the diced tomatoes, Rotel mixture, and other ingredients you’re using like mushrooms or whatever.

Redneck Tip: You can pour off some of the juice of the Rotel tomatoes/chilies to keep the “heat” down to whatever your taste can stand. (You can also put the toilet paper in the freezer…err…um…never mind.)

Add the seasonings and a little broth and stir everything up. You want a little extra liquid so that you have something to cook down over the next 20 minutes or so. Cover the whole thing and simmer.

Check the consistency, but don’t stir the mixture once it starts reducing. You want it to sort of cook a “skin” on the top that you can float the eggs on when the time comes. After twenty to thirty minutes of cooking, it’s time to poach the eggs. Carefully crack them and gently lay them evenly spaced around on top the tomato mixture. Cook the eggs for four to six minutes until they are done like you like them.

Turn off the heat and let everything coast for a few minutes. Use a large spatula to cut and lift a generous portion of the mixture out along with each egg. Watch out because it will be hot, so don’t burn the roof of your mouth.

Redneck tip: Mix a fat screwdriver with lots of ice while your Huevos cool.

Enjoy Y’all,

The Redneck Gourmet

Oven Puff Pancake

I can’t remember where I found this recipe, so excuse me if it goes unreferenced. It eats like a pancake, but as the title says, you cook it in the oven.

This means you can serve four people a hot slice (like a pizza) all at once. This is important for me since pancakes come off the stove one or two at a time and I end up having to eat after everyone else is fed.

Anyway, toss some bacon or sausage on the side with eggs and you have a meal for four, or serve two people two slices each, push back from the table, and go take a nap after breakfast.

The basic topping is sautéed apples and raisins, but I have combined pears and other fruits based on what are available at the grocery store seasonally. Now, on to the recipe….


The topping – One apple, pealed and sliced thin
2 tbsp raisins
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp butter

The pancake-- 2 eggs
½ cup milk
¼ cup + 2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp sugar

The topping is made in a medium skillet, beginning with melting the butter over medium low heat. Add the Apples, raisins, OJ, and begin sautéing and stiring. Sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon over the top and cook until the apples are soft.

The pancake batter is a no-brainer, but I wouldn’t recommend substituting Bisquick or other premix. I like doing things from scratch…remember, GOOD home cooking is not necessarily done quickly.

Redneck Tip: The most important thing about this recipe is to carefully sift and measure your flour. I said SIFT YOUR FLOUR. I tend to keep a lot of flour around my kitchen and it gets to sit in the humid island air in a paper bag or canister and even if it is “pre-sifted” it still needs sifting by the time I get around to using it.

The first three or four times I made this recipe I got different results until I understood how critical the consistency of the batter was to the outcome. SIFT and MEASURE your flour and the results will be beautiful. Your girl will love it.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Beat the eggs in a medium mixing bowl until foamy, then add the milk and sugar. Mix it all up a little, then add the flour a little at a time and beat 2 minutes longer until smooth.

Redneck Tip: Now go make a fresh Bloody Mary or Mimosa and let the apples finish cooking and the oven finish preheating. Turn the apples down real low to keep them warm.

Put a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large deep, oven proof skillet. I use a skillet like you fry chicken in. Whatever you use, it must have a flat bottom. Toss the skillet in the oven for about a minute to preheat.

Redneck Tip: I always hang a dishtowel on the oven door handle to remind me to not grab the skillet with my bare hand. I keep the towel wrapped around the handle once the skillet is out of the oven when I am done. It’s amazing how far you can throw a 10 pound metal skillet once it reaches 425 degrees.

Once the skillet is preheated, pour in the batter and bake for 10 minutes.

Remove the skillet and spoon the apple topping into the center of the pancake. Bake an additional 12 to 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven, slice into quarters and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Enjoy Y'all

The Redneck Gourmet

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Moussaka (Without The Mouse or the Moose)

Recently, my girlfriend Pat and I broke our regular Friday night tradition and didn’t eat at our favorite restaurant, The Blackwater Grill—a sort of combination Cajun/low country place we’ve come to love over the past eight months we’ve lived here on St. Simons Island, Georgia. We dine there five out of every six Friday nights.

Instead, we ate at the Mediterranean restaurant across the street from Blackwater Grill. I won’t name the establishment's name out of deference to their public reputation, but our review was less than great. My Veal was “pretty good,” Pat’s stuffed grape leaves were “not great.” It was our second try at dining with them—we probably won’t be back for a while. We like the location and the atmosphere, but their food just doesn’t quite make it. Can you say “Bland Greek?” I didn’t know that there was such a thing as bland Greek food.

Neither of us is of Greek or Italian origin, nor have we ever even traveled to Europe in our lifetimes, but we have a pretty good idea of what the region and style of food should embody from our prior positive restaurant experiences.

This being the first recipe posting to my new food blog, The Redneck Gourmet, I have chosen the Greek eggplant standard—Moussaka—for my first topic. I cooked my first 9x13 casserole dish full tonight, and it was excellent, if I do say so myself.

First, the research. I give these sites credit for my recipe inspiration:


In my opinion, the key to this dish, in addition to good basic ingredients, is that you must get the spice mixture right to make it taste like “Greek” Moussaka. I don’t want a dish of Italian eggplant lasagna, I WANT GREEK MOUSSAKA!

So without further fanfare, on to the ingredients:

2 medium eggplants
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely sliced
1 cup sugar snap peas (optional)
1 cup button mushrooms
3 garlic cloves, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ pint sherry

½ LB Chopped Lamb
½ LB lean ground beef

1 can (8 oz) pureed tomatoes
1 can (8oz) diced tomatoes

½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin powder
½ tsp red pepper
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp salt

1 cup un-seasoned bread crumbs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup crumbled Feta Cheese

For the Béchamel Sauce Topping:

4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 tbsp flour
1-1/4 cup scalded milk
2 eggs
1/8 tsp red pepper
¼ tsp salt

And finally, the implementation:

Peal and slice the eggplant into ¼ pieces. Soak eggplant in cold salted water for at least one hour.

Redneck Tip: Weight the eggplant slices with a couple of saucers or plates (whatever will fit in your water bowl) to ensure that all of the slices stay submerged under the water.

Peal and cut carrot into thin slices. Blanch carrot slices and sugar snap beans for 2 minutes in boiling water. Drain in colander and set aside.

For the meat sauce, in a large deep skillet or sauce pan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil and add diced onion. Cook onion until clear, then add garlic, stirring regularly.

Redneck Tip: Don’t burn your garlic or you’ll have to start over.

Add the chopped lamb and ground beef and cook until browned.

Next add the tomato puree and diced tomatoes, carrots, sugar snaps, and mushrooms, along with the allspice, cinnamon, cumin, paprika, and red pepper. Add the ¼ pint of sherry

Redneck Tip: Don’t attempt to do the rest of the ½ pint bottle of Sherry as a shot. You’ll end up dancing by yourself or watching TV and eating corn chips for dinner.

Bring the whole thing to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, back to that delicious eggplant. Pour off the water through a colander.

Redneck tip: Remove the weights first, duuh…

Turn all of the eggplant pieces up on edge in the colander and separate them as you can so that all of the water drains out. You don’t want soggy eggplant for the next step.

Redneck Tip: Guys, you might want to put on a shirt when you start frying the eggplant, particularly if it is wet, because it will pop a good deal and you risk burning your beer belly if you stand too close to the skillet (Ladies, I assume you were already wearing a shirt.)

Fry the eggplant slices in a skillet in about ¼” of vegetable oil over medium heat until tender. Drain the slices when they are cooked on lots of paper towels. Don’t skimp on the paper towels, you want to get as much grease out of the eggplant as is possible.

The Bechamel sauce is made as follows. Melt butter in a medium skillet. Add flour a tablespoon at a time, stirring constantly. In another pot, scald the milk, and keep warm.

Redneck tip: For all of you Cajuns out there, we’re making a roux.

Keep adding the flour a little bit at a time until the roux is thick, but don’t cook it until it is brown. Add the warm milk a little at a time, again stirring constantly with a whisk. After the milk is added, bring the whole thing to a low boil and cook until it thickens to the consistency of a medium gravy. Turn off the heat and let cool.

In a separate bowl (or a coffee cup), beat the eggs until smooth. Slowly add a little of the cooled sauce to the eggs so as to not “scramble them.” Add the warmed egg/sauce mixture to the balance of the sauce, add red pepper, cinnamon, and salt to taste. Turn off heat and stir to blend.

Putting it all together:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Sprinkle a few tablespoons of bread crumbs into the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 Pyrex dish. Layer one half of the eggplant on the bottom of the dish. Pour half of the meat sauce mixture on top of the eggplant and smooth out evenly.

Layer the rest of the eggplant slices and sprinkle with another couple of tablespoons of bread crumbs, half of the grated parmesan cheese and all of the Feta cheese. Add the balance of the meat sauce mixture and smooth out evenly. Sprinkle with the rest of the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Pour the Bechamel sauce over the top of the dish and smooth evenly.

Place in the 350 degree oven and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown on top.

Allow the Moussaka to cool and rest for 15 minutes, slice into squares, and serve with your favorite red wine and bread.

Enjoy Y’all

The Redneck Gourmet

Why The Redneck Gourmet

I’m from southern Alabama. Some people like to call it “lower Alabama,” or LA for short. Call it what you will, it was home for me growing up. The older I get, the more attractive it becomes as a place to live, but it hasn’t always been that way.

You see, when you grow up living in LA, you tend to sort of take it for granted. The people, the lifestyle, the land, the food; by the time you are eighteen years old, you have had enough of the “simple life” and Atlanta, Georgia (or “anywhere else” in the USA) seems to beat the heck out of Ozark, Alabama.

The problem is, when you get to college in Atlanta and you’ve spent your first seventeen years in Ozark, you generally don’t have a clue about fine dining. There weren’t exactly a bunch of French, Italian, Greek, Japanese, or Thai restaurants in LA, and where I come from, Sushi is what we call fish bait. We could, however, fix you up with some deluxe fried chicken, country fried cube steak, fresh vegetables, biscuits & gravy, and we did a mean sirloin steak on the grill (charcoal, not gas…thank you very much.)

Fine dining just takes awhile to learn, and the one thing I learned very quickly was that throwing money at the problem definitely did not guarantee results. There was nothing more disappointing in 1979 than having the opportunity to dine with a member of the fairer sex, throwing $40 of hard earned summer job cash at food and wine, and going home hungry and disappointed (about the food, we’re not discussing women here, guys—get your minds out of the gutter.)

Fortunately, over the past twenty-five years I have learned a thing or two about fine dining and how to use raw fish as something other than fish bait. I’ve had the opportunity to dine in many of the well known restaurants in the major cities of the US. The Redneck Gourmet is not a restaurant review blog, however.

The Redneck Gourmet is about good home cooking, but not necessarily grits and cubed steak. Just like finding that throwing money at dining out doesn’t guarantee results, I have found that having just any old recipe for a given dish doesn’t ensure your home cooking efforts will yield the desired results—a perfect home cooked meal with authentic seasoning and flavors.

To this end, I’d like to share my interest and ability in cooking high quality food in my own kitchen, and telling you, my (soon to be) devoted reader, how to do the same. I realize that the internet is loaded with good cooking sites, places like Food Network, Epicurious, and others that I have to compete with, but competition is not my intention. I just love to cook and I love to write and The Redneck Gourmet allows me to combine both of these passions into one exercise…and on Blogger.com, it’s free.

I really hope that you enjoy my efforts.

Virgil R. Rogers, III