Sunday, February 27, 2005

Cheese Stuffed Shells With Tomato Meat Sauce

I’ve been cooking variations on this dish for about eight years now. The original recipe came off of the Muellers Pasta Manicotti box. When I first started cooking it I was quite intimidated by the concepts involved because I was early in my cooking career, but it is really not that hard to make—it just takes a little time and the results are definitely worth the efforts.

Last night I threw together a variation on my standard tomato sauce by tossing in some ground beef and Italian sausage. You can use the hollow tubular Manicotti shells or the Jumbo Shells that look like seashells. Either one yields basically the same dish, but the Jumbo Shells are easier to stuff. Here is what you will need…

Tomato Meat Sauce:

1 tsp extra virgin expeller pressed olive oil
½ medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced fine
(1) 28 oz can petite diced tomatoes
(1) 14.5 oz can pureed tomatoes
(1) Can beef stock
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried parsley
½ tbsp dried basil
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
¼ tsp paprika

½ lb lean ground chuck
1 link Italian sausage

For the Stuffing:

2 eggs, lightly beaten
One 8 oz package Mozzarella cheese
Two 15 oz packages Ricotta Cheese
½ cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
½ cup chopped parsley


One 8 oz package mozzarella cheese

Start the sauce first. Pour the olive oil into the bottom of a six quart boiler over medium low heat. Dice your onion and toss it in the oil and cook for a few minutes, then throw in you garlic and cook until the onions are clear.

Add the canned tomatoes to the onions and garlic, then add the beef stock and stir it all up. Next add the spices and bring everything to a low simmer and cook for a half hour, stirring every now and then.

While your sauce is simmering, lightly brown your ground beef and sausage in a medium skillet. Drain off any grease that cooks out of the meat.

Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, the mozzarella cheese, the parsley, the beaten eggs, and the spices. Stir everything up to mix well and place it in the refrigerator to chill.

After the sauce has cooked for a half hour or so, add the browned meat and stir it all up. Keep cooking at a low simmer.

After the sauce has cooked and reduced for a while, place a six quart boiler on the stove and fill with four quarts of salted water. Add a splash of olive oil. Bring the water to a boil and add your pasta (shells or manicotti.) Cook according to the package instructions, about 14 or 15 minutes. Don’t get all excited and stir the pasta too much because you will tear these big old shells if you are not careful.

Drain the shells through a colander, and toss them with a little olive oil, again being careful to not tear them up while handling them. Now set them aside to let them cool.

Turn off the heat on the sauce and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, get out a 9” x 13” Pyrex baking dish, and grease the inside of the dish. Now, while the oven is preheating, stuff your shells with the cheese mixture. Wash your hands and don’t be afraid to get the mixture on you while you work with it. For the Manicotti, I find that you can use the handle end of a butter knife as a “plunger” to push the cheese mixture into the shell from each end. Work over the bowl and keep stuffing until some of the mixture comes back out the other end.

The jumbo shells are easier to stuff because you can just spread them open with your thumb and fingers and spoon the stuffing into each shell. Place your stuffed pasta in uniform rows in the bottom of the baking dish. I usually get five shells side by side in about five or six rows. Don’t worry about using all of your shells—just stuff the number that you need to fill the bottom of the baking dish.

Now evenly spoon the tomato meat sauce over the stuffed shells to cover, sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top, and pop the dish in the oven to cook for 30 minutes.

Step back from the stove and give yourself a nice round of applause. Now rinse off your pots and pans and load the dishwasher while you drink a glass of wine in anticipation of dinner.

When the shells are done, pull the dish out of the oven and allow it to cool for ten or fifteen minutes. Place a couple of large pasta bowls in the oven to warm.

With a large spatula, cut and lift out two or three stuffed shells and some sauce and place in the center of the pasta bowls. Grate some fresh parmesan cheese on top, grab a fork and napkin, and EAT.

Enjoy Y’all,

The Redneck Gourmet

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Genuine Imitation Chicken Curry

I cooked some really good Indian Curry a couple of years ago and promptly lost the recipe. It might be on our other notebook computer, but I was too lazy to fire it up and take a look.

Any way, it came out pretty well (the curry, not the computer) and watching Jamie Oliver, “The Naked Chef on Food Network last night brought my desire for Curry rushing back to me.

Take a gander at what Jamie did, but don’t get all impressed because I couldn’t find half of the ingredients here on our little island necessary to make his Curry. What I did do is sorta make up my own “Genuine Imitation” Curry tonight, and it came out yummy.


2 tbsp extra virgin expeller pressed olive oil
½ tbsp mustard seeds
2 cloves garlic, diced
¼ cup fresh ginger, pealed and diced (ok, ok, as much fresh ginger as you want)
½ medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
½ medium red bell pepper, julienned
½ medium yellow bell pepper, julienned

¼ tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp chili powder (optional, be very, very careful--you don’t hurt your self)
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups hot water
1 14 oz can coconut milk
½ tbsp green curry paste
1 bunch green onions (scallions for all you Yankees)
Salt to taste

2 boneless chicken breasts
2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup of rice per person

You need three pots to do this recipe--A 6 quart boiler for the curry, a 2 to 4 quart boiler (depending on the quantity) for the rice, and a large heavy skillet to stir-fry the chicken in.

Toss all three vessels on the stove and put 2 tbsp of olive oil in the skillet and the same amount in the large boiler. Turn the heat on the large boiler up to medium and leave the skillet cold for now.

While your oil is heating, dice your garlic, onion, ginger, and julienne your bell peppers.

After your oil has heated in the boiler, toss in the mustard seeds and let them toast. As they start to pop like popcorn, toss in your onion and turn down the heat slightly while stirring. Cook everything for a couple of minutes, then toss in the ginger and the garlic and keep stirring for a few minutes.

Now add your bell pepper. Keep stirring until the onions are clear.

Add your canned diced tomatoes, the coconut milk, two cups of water, and bring everything to a low simmer. Add the green curry paste and the green onions. Stir.

Cook for about ten minutes, then taste your curry and carefully add your salt.

While the curry is simmering, go slice your chicken breasts into ½ inch strips, then cut the strips in half. Place them in a bowl and squeeze the juice of ½ lemon over the pieces, then drizzle lightly with olive oil. Let the chicken stand for twenty or thirty minutes.

After the chicken has marinaded, preheat your skillet and the 2 tsp of olive oil on medium low heat, then add your chicken and stir-fry until it is lightly done (pink in the middle.)

Add the chicken pieces to the curry, stir it all up, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot with a lid, and let everything cook for another half hour or so.

Cook your rice according to the package instructions and keep covered to stay warm.

Put your bowls in the oven to warm.

Check back by and stir the curry mixture every ten minutes to ensure that it isn’t burning or sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Put the heated bowls on chargers, add some rice, spoon the curry over the top, grab a napkin, and EAT.

Enjoy Y’all

The Redneck Gourmet

Friday, February 18, 2005

Late Night Boiled Shrimp Salad

My girl Pat’s travel schedule has recently changed and she gets to come home on Thursday nights rather than leaving Chicago’s O’Hare airport on a 6:00 AM flight on Friday mornings. The only problem is that she doesn’t get home until about 11:30 PM and she doesn’t have time to eat dinner making the connections to St.Simons.

Last night I was tasked with making her something to eat that was rather light in nature and easy for me to put together.

My standard solution…SHRIMP!

Luckily, we keep a couple of pounds of frozen shrimp in our freezer at all times and we have a pretty well stocked fridge and pantry, so here is what I came up with…


A couple of dozen 35-55 count frozen (or fresh) shrimp
½ tbsp Old bay seasoning
¼ tsp Red pepper flakes
Baby field greens (or salad greens of your choice)
One can of pear halves
One can of mandarin orange slices
Ricotta cheese (or cottage cheese if you like)


1/8 cup Good balsamic vinegar (16 year old if you got it)
Extra virgin expeller pressed olive oil
Black pepper to taste

Cocktail sauce:

½ cup catsup
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Juice of ½ lemon
2 tbsp prepared horseradish (or to your taste)
Black pepper to taste

First, toss a couple of bowls into the freezer to chill.

Set a medium boiler with a couple quarts of water on the stove to boil. Season the water with the Old Bay Seasoning and red pepper flakes.

While your water is coming to a boil, make up your dressing and cocktail sauce.

For the dressing, whisk together the balsamic vinegar with the olive oil—a little at a time—until you have a good emulsion. Add the olive oil SLOWLY and whisk rapidly (without getting it on your shirt or the ceiling) until it is sort of foamy. You got it?

The cocktail sauce is easy—catsup in a small mixing bowl, then the Worcestershire, lemon juice, horseradish and pepper. Stir it up.

By now the water should be boiling, so toss your shrimp into the water along with the leftover lemon halves after you have juiced them.

While the shrimp are boiling, let’s jump over to the salad.

Pull the salad bowls out of the freezer and put a couple of hands full of greens in each bowl. Place the mandarin oranges and pear halves around the edge of the salad and drizzle the dressing evenly over the plate. Place a scoop of ricotta cheese in each pear slice (I like lots of cheese.)

Don’t let your shrimp boil longer than three to five minutes or they will get tough. Drain the shrimp and toss them into a bowl of ice cubes to stop the cooking and chill slightly.

Now pour yourself a glass of wine and rest for a minute while your shrimp chill.

Divide the shrimp evenly (OK, OK, I actually get more shrimp than Pat) in the center of the salad plates, top off your wine glass, put everything on the table with the cocktail sauce, and EAT.

Enjoy Y’all,

The Redneck Gourmet

Monday, February 14, 2005

Eat What You Want and Die Like a Man

I have been following the blogging and cooking adventures of Steve over at Hog on Ice for a couple of months. In addition to being a good cook, Steve is hilarious.

Currently working on his second cookbook, his first book Eat What You Want and Die Like a Man is even making him a little cash to pay for his blogging and eating habits.

Steve says: “Live Fat, die young, and leave a really big corpse.” I LIKE IT! Steve and I are men of the same (clogged) vein when it comes to cooking.

Then there is this news story: Southern Food Frustrates Health Officials.

“DECATUR, Ga. Feb 13, 2005 — When Becky Cleaveland is out with her girlfriends, they all pick at salads except for the petite Atlanta woman. She tackles "The Hamdog."

The dish, a specialty of Mulligan's, a suburban bar, is a hot dog wrapped by a beef patty that's deep fried, covered with chili, cheese and onions and served on a hoagie bun. Oh yeah, it's also topped with a fried egg and two fistfuls of fries.”

I love it, a hot dog weiner wrapped in a beef patty, etc., etc.

I am happy as hell that Southern food still frustrates the bed wetting liberal-know-it-alls over at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. If I listened to them, when it comes to cooking, I would have to leave out a very important ingredient…


And I just can’t do that, no matter what my waist size expands to..

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Horseradish Crusted Pork Tenderloin

I have a love hate relationship with Walmart. In spite of my fear and loathing of giant retail spaces full of people that generally look and act like the audience from The Jerry Springer Show, I still find myself compelled to make at least one monthly trek from our little island, across the Torres causeway, to mainland Georgia, grocery list in hand, to shop at our local Walmart.

In addition to truck loads of paper towels, toilet paper, and cases of bottled water, we also find that Walmart carries a very nice whole pork tenderloin. Not one of those tiny tenderloins which is actually two smaller pieces strapped side by side in the plastic wrapper mind you.

Noooooo, I mean a real MAN’S pork tenderloin—about 3” by 5” x 16” long. I like to buy one every so often and I slice it into nice fat 1” chunks to cook as boneless pork chops. I also cut a couple of thicker slices (2” or 3”) to cook like a small pork roast. Our freezer happily contains a half dozen slabs of pork tenderloin as I write this piece.

Here is what I did with our pork tenderloin last night.


1 pound slab of pork tenderloin

1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste
¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper

4 tbsp prepared horseradish, drained

3 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp mayo

Trim the extra fat and muscle “sheath” off of the tenderloin. Rinse and pat dry.

Toast the bread crumbs in the olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat until lightly browned.

In a mixing bowl, combine the horseradish, the salt, the pepper, and the browned bread crumbs. Mix well.

In a small mixing bowl stir together the mustard and the mayo. Now place the tenderloin in a small, greased ( I use Pam Olive oil spray) baking dish. Smear the mustard/mayo mixture evenly over the entire surface of the pork.

Now comes the fun part. Scoop out the toasted bread crumb/horseradish mixture with your hands and pat it onto the outside of the pork. Keep working it until the entire thing is covered. If some falls off into the baking dish, don’t worry, just scoop it up and press it back on.

When you are happy with your crummy pig part, place it in a 450 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

Pull it out of the oven and let your pig rest for ten minutes or so, then carefully slice into ¼” to 1/2" thick slices.

Serve with your favorite pasta or some vegetables.

Enjoy Y’all

The Redneck Gourmet

Monday, February 07, 2005

Killer Cornbread For Two (Or A Few)

I think that everybody has a cornbread recipe. The problem for me is, the average recipe makes enough cornbread for as family of twenty (ok, family of eight.) I love cornbread, but I only want to eat it one or two days in a row and not have to throw half of it away.

Also, I find that cornbread is somewhat “sensitive” to the proportion of ingredients you put in it. Every day for me has been a new adventure since historically I only cook cornbread once every few months.

I’ve recently solved that problem by cooking four “pones” of cornbread in the past two weeks. Three of the four came out of my little Lodge 6-1/2” diameter cast iron skillet perfectly. The fourth one that I cooked last night decided to stick a little and tore the “crust” off of half of the bottom of it in front of my dinner guests. Oh well…

Any way, here is what you need to do to make cornbread for a few (or one really hungry guy…)

1/2 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup all purpose flour
3/4 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tbsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 can creamed corn
milk—as much as you need—about ¼ of a cup
1/4 stick butter

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Put the ¼ stick of butter into the cast iron skillet.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, the flour, the baking powder, the baking soda, and the salt. Stir it all together.

Place the skillet into the oven for five minutes to preheat and melt the butter.

Meanwhile, back in the mixing bowl, add the two eggs and the vegetable oil. Stir it all up. Now dump in the cream corn. Stir it all up

Add the milk a little at a time as you keep stirring. You want the batter to be “loose” but not runny. I know, I know, it’s hard to explain…but for me about ¼ cup of milk works well. It will vary depending on the “grind” of your cornmeal and the consistency of your canned cream corn.

Work with me here I've said so many times before, you have to cook any given recipe several times to get it right...

Remove your skillet from the oven and pour in the batter. Cook at 450 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

Redneck Tip: I have a mental block about skillets. Once I take one out of the oven, I just can’t resist trying to pick it up bare handed. For this reason, I place an skillet handle cover (mitt) from Crate and Barrel over the handle when I take it out of the oven. It is amazing how far you can throw a 5 pound skillet when you forget and pick it up when it is about 449 degrees F.

Let the cornbread cool for five or ten minutes, then cut and serve.

Enjoy Y’all

The Redneck Gourmet

Genuine Imitation Cajun Gumbo

Pat and I attended our local Mardi Gras parade Saturday afternoon here on Saint Simons Island. Having attended the celebration in New Orleans a half-dozen times, I found that St. Simons has embraced the spirit of the season in a surprisingly enthusiastic manner. Zideco music, gaudy bead throws, and costume clad citizens (many of them senior citizens) making spectacles of themselves while imbibing from plastic “to go” cups of beer and spirits…you get the picture.

Since it was Mardi Gras, I found myself wanting to do some “Cajun cooking” this weekend and I needed some Okra to do it. What should it be? Red Beans & Rice, Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffee, or how about Gumbo?

The word “Gumbo” apparently comes from the word “Gombo” in one of the African dialects. ”Gombo” means “Okra” in English. It’s not a bad thing, because I love Okra…cooked just about any way except plain old boiled Okra.

I personally have dined on at least a couple of hundred bowls of Gumbo over the years. Most was edible, some was excellent, and a few bowls were awesome. I don’t like tomato based Gumbo, however. I like Roux based Gumbos, and I wanted to make some awesome Gumbo, if possible. I've watched Justin Wilson make Roux based Gumbo on his TV show many times before, so here is what I did…

For the Roux:

1 stick of semi-sweet unsalted butter
2/3 cup of plain flour
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp sausage (or bacon) drippings

Everything Else:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6 cups water

1 cup, browned spicy sausage, sliced into thin pieces

¼ stick of butter
1 medium onion-diced fine
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
¼ red bell pepper, diced
¼ yellow bell pepper, diced

1 can chicken broth
1 can beef broth
½ lb sliced, fresh okra (or 1 can chopped Okra—I had to use this)

½-¾ pound pealed shrimp (your choice of size)

1 cup rice

Diced scallions (green onions--for all my southern friends)

First, brown your sausage in a heavy skillet (preferably cast iron), reserving the grease which cooks out of the meat. Turn the heat down to low and let the skillet cool off a little, then add the butter and let it melt.

Redneck Tip: You absolutely HAVE to carefully pay attention to your skillet temperature and not let your Roux burn during this step. Adjust the temperature of the cook top eye SLOWLY as you cook your Roux. Using a cast iron skillet, there is a delay in the heat distribution, so don’t make sudden changes. If you burn your roux, you will have to start all over.

While the butter is melting, put the 6 cups of water into an 8 quart boiler and add the chicken breasts. Bring it to a low boil and skim off any foam that floats to the top.

In another large, heavy skillet, melt ¼ stick of butter. Add the onion, then the celery, and cook for a few minutes over medium heat. Stir the mix every now and then—com’ on…When the onions start to get clear, add the colored bell peppers and turn the heat down slightly. Cook for another ten minutes while you start your roux

Back over in the skillet in which you cooked your sausage--when the butter is melted in with the bacon grease, start sprinkling in the flour a little at a time and stir continuously and slowly. Once the flour is all in, add the vegetable oil and KEEP STIRRING.

What you are trying to do here is to bring the Roux to a very, very, low boil (it will actually have little bubbles in it.) In this process, the flour will change chemically and the Roux will thicken and start changing color. We want to make a dark brown roux. KEEP STIRRING, don’t let it burn.

Meanwhile, over in the boiler, check your bird parts and don’t let them boil over. After 20 minutes, turn off the heat and let everything coast. Also turn off the heat on the vegetables and finish your roux, turning off the heat on it when you are done.

After the chicken has cooled a little, remove the pieces to a cutting board and dice or tear it into bite sized pieces. Add the pieces back to the water in the boiler over medium heat and bring it to a low boil. Now add the cooked vegetables, the sliced sausage, the chicken broth, and the beef broth. Turn the heat down a little and stir in your thickened brown roux. Now add the piece de resistance, the sliced Okra.

Adjust the heat so that the Gumbo is just simmering, then toss a lid on the pot and go shell your shrimp. Remove the tails also, place them in a bowl, and squeeze some fresh lemon juice over them. (Don’t add them to the gumbo yet.)

Now mix yourself a cocktail and go watch the Weather Channel or Food Network, stopping back by to check on the progress every ten or fifteen minutes or so.

A good Gumbo can cook anywhere from one to four hours, or even longer if you have enough liquid. About ten or fifteen minutes before you are ready to serve your Gumbo, toss in your shrimp and cook until pink and done.

My Gumbo cooked for two hours before we turned it off and served it over rice, with a piece
of my Killer Cornbread for Two (or a Few) on the side, garnished with fresh parsley and diced green onions.

Ummmmmm, Ummmm Good...

Regards Y'all

The Redneck Gourmet