Slow-Cooker Pork Belly Ramen

Urban Belly would be jealous

OK. By now you may have noticed that this blog has taken a turn into decidedly comfort food territory. I could give a number of reasons for this change of course but one rises above all others. Baby, it’s cold outside!!! Even worse, we’ve just endured a 9 day period where it snowed each and every one of those day! Is there any wonder why there’s Pork Belly Ramen slowly simmering in my slow cooker as this post is being written?

I was first served this wonderful ramen on my way home after a visit to the Garfield Park Conservatory late last winter. I stopped at a restaurant, Urban Belly, and ordered the Pork Belly Ramen based upon recommendations of previous diners. Bless them!

Once home, I immediately googled “pork belly ramen” and started comparing recipes. Off the top, I wanted to use my slow-cooker, rejecting the recipes that didn’t. Hopefully, slow-cooking  would not only result in tender pork but the broth should benefit, as well. With luck, the finished dish would include a soft-boiled egg. No matter. That egg was such a nice addition to the Urban Belly ramen that I was going to add it to whatever recipe I eventually chose.  Within minutes, I found the recipe that’s shared here. Of course, being the conscientious blogger that I am, I would never post a recipe without rigorous testing. So, I prepared the recipe again and again… and again … and again … and, well, you get the idea. Needless to say, the recipe not only passed the tests but has become a regular guest at my winter-time dinner table. I buy the pork belly, divvy it up into 1 pound pieces, use one for that night’s dinner, and freeze the rest. In fact, right now I’ve 2 pieces of pork belly resting comfortably in the freezer. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Aside from adding a couple garnishes, the only change I made to the recipe is in the handling of the pork belly.The recipe indicated that the belly should be cooked with the skin attached, to be removed just prior to slicing. The meat isn’t seared. When I tried it that way, I had a devil of a time removing the skin without (badly) butchering the belly. I even tried slicing the belly first before removing the skin. And the fat? Without any type of sear, it was a bit of a disappointment. For me, one of the most appealing things about well-cooked pork belly is the crispy fat. Believe me, it’s well worth the time (5 minutes) time and effort (minimal) to place that belly into a hot frypan and sear its fat side. Just be sure the pan is hot. You want to sear the fat quickly without further cooking the meat. Once sliced, place the slices on top of the ramen, keeping the seared side above the broth to maintain its crispness.

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Note: Because this recipe endured such thorough testing, the link was never saved (to be later lost) but printed instead to allow easy access. So, unlike recent posts, it gives me great pleasure to give credit where due. This recipe can be found on the Australian Good Food website.

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This just about says it all

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Pork Belly Ramen Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb  (approx 500 g) boneless, skinless pork belly (see Notes)
  • 1 quart (1 liter) chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp tamari
  • 2 tbsp sake  (don’t forget to toast the chef)
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 garlic gloves, chopped
  • 3½ oz (100 g) white (Shiro) miso paste
  • 1½ inches (4 cm) grated fresh ginger
  • 1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • i piece kombu (see Notes)
  • 1 lb  (approx 500 g) cooked ramen noodles (see Notes)
  • One 3 to 5 minute egg per serving, peeled & sliced in half
  • for garnish (optional)
    • sliced scallions, nori sheet, cilantro leaves, sesame seeds, a splash of ponzu, a sprinkle of sesame oil (see Notes)

Directions

  1. Add the chicken stock, tamari, sake, mirin, sugar, and miso to the slow-cooler and stir thoroughly.
  2. To the pot, add the leek, ginger, garlic, and carrot. Stir.
  3. Place the kombu into the pot before adding the pork belly.
  4. Cover and set the cooker to “LOW” and the timer to 7 hours.
  5. When finished, remove the pork belly. (If using a belly with skin, remove the skin before proceeding.)  Place fat-side down on to a hot frypan over med-high heat. The object here is to crisp the fat without burning or over-cooking the meat. Reserve, slice, and keep warm. (see Notes)
  6. Cook the noodles per package directions.
  7. Meanwhile, pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer. Return to the slow cooker and keep warm.
  8. To serve:
    • Divide the cooked noodles evenly among the serving bowls.
    • Add equal amounts of the strained broth to each bowl.
    • Slice the egg, if using, and add to each bowl.
    • Place the sliced pork belly into each bowl. To maintain its crispness, try to keep the seared edge above the broth.
    • The remaining garnish may be added now or brought to the table to be added by your dinner mates.
  9. Serve immediately.

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Not quite crispy enough.

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Notes

Don’t be overly concerned when chopping the vegetables. Once the pork is cooked, the broth will be strained and the vegetables discarded.

I’ve a smaller-sized slow cooker and, therefore, use a small piece of pork belly. This recipe results in 4 bowls of ramen, each with 2 slices of pork belly.

Kombu is dried kelp and can be found in the Japanese section of many Asian markets. It is purchased in sheets and should be lightly wiped with a damp cloth before use. Store in an airtight container.

Similarly, nori — used here as a garnish — is dried seaweed also purchased in sheets. It’s very often used to wrap sushi rolls, maki. You, or your guests, may wish to place a small sheet into each bowl to add some texture and crunch to your ramen.

Although “ramen” noodles can be purchased at many groceries, feel free to use whatever noodle — rice, bean, egg — you prefer. Just keep an eye on the clock to insure that they are ready when you’re filling the bowls. Badly cooked noodles will spoil any dish, no matter the country of origin.

You needn’t sear the pork belly, if that’s your preference. Whether you do, be sure to slice the meat so that it can be evenly divided among the serving bowls. Remember: always slice the meat against the grain.

You may have noticed the small bowl to the right of the ramen in the opening photo. It contains sriracha and hoisin sauces. I got the idea of combining both by observing patrons at a number of pho restaurants. Additionally, one of this area’s food critics — more about him in a future pho post —  mentioned that some chefs are insulted when a patron adds sauce(s) to their pho. Placing the sauces in a small bowl allows one to dip the cooked meat(s) into the sauces, leaving the pho/ramen just as the chef intended, thereby averting an International incident.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Stormy Lentils 3

Here we stand, feet firmly planted in comfort food country, and here we shall stay. Today’s look back was — and still is — a great recipe for these wintry days. Easy to prepare and oh, so very hearty, you won’t care what’s happening outside your door with a bowl of this lentil soup before you. The recipe for this lentil dish can be found HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Marinella’s Meatballs

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Slow-Cooker Mole Pork

Pork Mole over Rice - 1

Pork Mole over Rice

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Written almost 1 year ago, this is another “source-less” recipe, for I’ve long since lost those links. I do recall that the original protein was chicken but, to my way of thinking, things go better with pork. (See Notes)

Much like last week’s goat, this dish is all about comfort from the first whiff of its aroma, and perfect for these dreadfully cold winter days. Cooked long and slow, the pork grows more tender with each passing hour. When time to serve, you can serve it as-is over rice, or shred it. If you choose the latter, tacos or tasty sandwiches result. Versatility is its best feature and I take full advantage of all 3 options before the pot is empty.

I have prepared this dish several times with no 2 meals alike. I’ve little experience preparing mole, so, I’ve played with the amounts of Mexican chocolate, peanut butter, and chili pepper. This recipe represents my last — and best, for me — attempt. Feel free to adjust them to suit your own tastes. In fact, please come back and share your changes. With so little experience with Mexican cuisine beyond tacos and chili, I am open to any suggestions.

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Pork Mole Taco 2

Pork Mole Taco

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Slow-Cooker Mole Pork Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 to 5 lb (1800 to 2300 g) pork shoulder (see Notes)
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 3 garlic gloves, smashed
  • 1 c chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1½ tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp Arbol chile powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ⅓ c light brown sugar
  • 1 small can (7 oz, 196 g) chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • ¼ tablet (23 g) Mexican chocolate
  • ¼ c peanut butter
  • ½ c raisins

Directions

  1. Coat the slow-cooker container with cooking spray.
  2. Place the onions and garlic in an even layer on the bottom of the slow-cooker,
  3. Cut the pork into large chunks (see Notes) before placing in slow-cooker.
  4. In a bowl, combine the chicken stock, spices, light brown sugar, chipotle peppers, chocolate, peanut butter and raisins. Stir before emptying bowl into the slow-cooker, fully covering the pork.
  5. Set slow-cooker to LOW and timer to 8 hours (see Notes).
  6. When finished, remove pork and reserve.
  7. Using a stick blender, food processor, or blender, purée the sauce until as smooth as you prefer.
  8. Serving options:
    1. Return pork to slow-cooker before serving over rice, garnished with sour cream and cilantro leaves.
    2. Shred the pork before returning to the slow-cooker.
      • Prepare tacos with shredded lettuce/cabbage, onion, sour cream, cilantro, and/or whatever toppings you prefer.
      • Use to make pulled pork sandwiches with lettuce, onion, and whatever condiments you prefer

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Mole Pulled Pork Sammich - 1

Pulled Pork Mole Sammich

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Notes

This will produce a fair amount of sauce, particularly if you use a pork shoulder roast smaller than 4 lbs. (Been there.)  In fact, too much sauce may be produced for tacos or sandwiches. Then again. some may love a good, messy taco or sandwich. If so, have extra napkins on-hand and go for it!

While cutting the pork roast, remove any bone(s) and trim away as much fat as possible. Reserve the bone(s) for use in your next pot of tomato sauce.

If you prefer to use chicken, substitute 4 to 5 lbs of skinless, boneless chicken thighs for the pork. (This is not a recipe for chicken breasts.) Cut the thigh meat into chunks, flour, and lightly sear before proceeding with the recipe.

If you haven’t 8 hours to wait for your dinner, you can set the slow-cooker to HIGH and cook for 4 hours. In short, 1 hour on HIGH equals 2 hours on LOW.

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Mex Choc

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About that Mexican Chocolate (ETA)

When writing this, I didn’t consider that not everyone has access to Mexican chocolate. I hope the following helps.

I use the brand pictured above principally because it is the most readily available. There is another popular brand, Ibarra, that I have yet to find in the groceries that I frequent. If all else fails, you can make your own, the recipe being found on The Balance website. In it, use semi-sweet or milk chocolate equal in amount to the Mexican chocolate indicated in the recipe. To that, add 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and a drop of almond extract (optional). If nothing else, it makes a great cup of hot chocolate!

 

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

I’ve made no secret of my love for tart cherries, buying bags of them every summer. In fact, for a number of years, I drove 100 miles to a Michigan farm to get the little red beauties directly from the farmer.  Although I’ve plenty of uses for them, I always save some for this time fo year. A cherry muffin in February tastes almost as good as a piece of cherry pie in January. Both serve to remind me that the falling snowflakes will soon give way to cherry blossom petals.

My recipe for cherry pie can be found HERE and the cherry muffin recipe HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Pork Belly Ramen

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Goat Slow-Cooked with Harissa & Borlotti Beans

harissa-braised-goat-4

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Hello there! When last we spoke, it was Christmas Eve and I announced my return to the wonderful world of Word Press. Well, that was the plan anyway. Shortly after posting, I met dear friends for dinner, during which I mentioned a “scratchy throat.” (Cue ominous music.)

Christmas morning I awoke with what would become the Mother of all Chest Colds. (It couldn’t possibly have been flu because I had received a flu vaccination last fall.) With Max playing nursemaid, I was sofa-bound for much of the next month. Even now, I’ve a mild case of the sniffles. Worse, this “thing” is making the rounds and a number of friends are similarly affected. Happy New Year!

But enough about me. Today’s recipe, like many to come, was written during my ever-so-lengthy “brief” hiatus last year. If and when I came upon a great recipe, I’d prepare it, record the recipe, and post its URL in a special file so that I could credit the author when the time came. What could possibly go wrong?

Earlier this week, I pulled up this recipe and looked for my file of recipe links. As you may have already guessed, the file was nowhere to be found, and my attempts to recover it from back-ups have, thus far, been unsuccessful. As such, we’ve little choice but to soldier on and I promise to come back and give credit for the original recipes when and if I find them.

I truly enjoy this dish and it has become part of my winter rotation of suppers. It is pure comfort food and just what’s needed when a Polar Vortex threatens. Truth be told, it’s for dinner tonight, although lamb is the protein but more about that later.

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harissa-braised-goat-1

Brown the goat

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Harissa-Braised Goat with Borlotti Beans Recipe

Ingredients

  • at least 4 tbsp Olio Santo, divided (see Notes)
  • 2 – 3 lbs (900 – 1300 g) goat cut into 1 to 2 inch pieces (See Notes, & Variations)
  • approx. 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground (see Notes)
  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground  (see Notes)
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 inch ginger, grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 1 small can (14.5 oz, 400 g) diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 tbsp harissa sauce — more or less to taste
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon — 1/2 preserved lemon, sliced, may be substituted (recipe follows)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 lb (450 g) fresh Borlotti/cranberry/Roman beans (see Notes)
  • salt and pepper

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for the Gremolata  (see Notes)

  • 2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped — anchovy paste may be substituted
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • zest of 1 lemon

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harissa-braised-goat-2

Start of Braise

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Directions

  1. Heat 2 tbsp Olio Santo in a large frypan over med-high heat.
  2. Season the goat with salt and pepper.
  3. Use the flour to coat the goat pieces.
  4. Brown the goat pieces on all sides. Work in batches and it will take about 5 to 7 minutes per batch. Add more Olio Santo as needed. Remove and reserve the browned meat.
  5. Heat 2 more tbsp Olio Santo in the same pan and add the onions. Sauté until soft, about 8 minutes.
  6. Add the ginger and garlic, continue to sauté until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, add the tomatoes, tomato paste, harissa, honey, lemon juice & zest, rosemary, and bay leaf to the slow cooker. Stir to combine.
  8. Add the cooked onion mixture to the slow cooker when fully sautéed. Stir.
  9. Use the wine to deglaze the frypan. Add the liquid to the slow cooker when the pan is fully deglazed.
  10. Add the meat to the slow cooker and stir.
  11. Set slow cooker to LOW and cook for 4 hours.
  12. After 4 hours, add the beans and stir.
  13. Continue to cook on LOW for 4 more hours.
  14. Make the gremolata towards the end of the cooking process:
    • In a small bowl, combine the anchovies, garlic, parsley, and zest. Stir until fully combined.
  15. Serve immediately, garnished with the gremolata. A chunk of bread wouldn’t hurt.

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harissa-braised-goat-3

End of Braise

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Notes …

Olive oil may be substituted for Olio Santo. If preferred, add red pepper flakes to the pan when the onions are added.

Use 2 lbs of meat when boneless, and closer to 3 lbs when bone-in.

This recipe requires 8 hours on LOW to prepare. You can reduce the cooking time by setting your cooker to HIGH for all or part of the time. Just remember that 1 hour on HIGH equals 2 hours on LOW.

When using whole herb seeds, it’s best to toast them prior to grinding. I use a small frypan on the stove top, while others prefer to spread the seeds on a baking sheet before placing in the oven. Either way, if you intend to use the same utensil, place the larger seeds on the heat source before the smaller to prevent the small seeds from scorching. Here, I toasted the coriander seeds for a minute or so before adding the cumin. Once cooled, I ground them together and added the mixture to the recipe.

Although I used fresh beans, you can use canned or rehydrated beans. If using canned, be sure to rinse them before adding to the slow-cooker 2 hours before the dish is fully cooked. If using dried beans that you’ve pre-soaked, treat them as fresh, adding them to the pot 4 hours before completion..

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Variations …

Good quality goat is not available in all areas. Not to worry. You can substitute lamb and still enjoy a fantastic meal.

The gremolata recipe is one that I found in one of Mom’s recipe notepads. I prefer it because, unlike most others, it includes anchovies. If you prefer, you can omit the little fishies, or the gremolata altogether. if you do choose to leave out the gremolata, a bit of citrus zest — lime, orange, or lemon — makes a great garnish, as does a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt. The latter being particularly useful when you’ve added a bit too much harissa.

Although it is meant to be served as-is, I’ve found that a scoop of plain rice is a welcome addition, resulting in a very flavorful beans and rice dish.

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Preserved Lemons Recipe

Preserved lemons are believed to have originated in Pakistan and India, before making their way to the Middle East. Today they are an integral part of many Moroccan recipes. The lemons add a distinct citrus-y flavor to a dish, and some say that the flavor intensifies the longer it cooks in the pot. Although there are a variety of recipes, each using a number of spices, all are based upon the same 3 ingredients: salt, lemons, and lemon juice. I use the simplest of recipes so that I can better control the flavor of the final dish.

Here in the States, Meyer’s lemons are in season. It is said that these lemons are closest to those found in Morocco. Of course, if you cannot find Meyer lemons, any old lemon will work.

To begin, take 4, 5, or 6 (Meyer) lemons, depending upon the jar size, and scrub well. Place 1 tbsp of kosher salt into a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid. Remove no more than the tip from each end of the lemon. Beginning at one end, slice the lemon at least halfway down but no more than 3/4. Do not separate the halves. Turn the lemon and repeat the process, slicing it into quarters. Place a tbsp of kosher salt between the sections, covering the cut surfaces, before placing the lemon into the jar. Repeat the process with more lemons, stuffing the jar as best you can. When finished, add another tbsp of kosher salt on top. If there isn’t enough liquid to cover the lemons, add the juice of a fresh lemon to “top off” the jar. Cover the jar and place in a warm room, shaking daily, for one month. Use as the recipe requires.

Your preserved lemons will last indefinitely. The liquid can be replenished using fresh lemon juice, as required. The liquid can even be used in recipes, or, to help start your next batch of preserved lemons,

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

You may recall that in recent years, I’ve prepared honey mustard and ketchup at Christmas time, giving friends jars of the condiments as gifts, This year was no exception. Both are easy to make and so much better than anything that might be found on a grocer’s shelves. You can find the Honey Mustard recipe HERE, and the Ketchup recipe HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Slow-Cooker Mole Pork

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Meat Loaf – Finalmente!

Meatloaf sliced

Here it is, the very much delayed meatloaf recipe. Taa-daa!

My love affair with meatloaf goes back more decades than I care to say. I was a boy and didn’t think much about this dish, wondering why we weren’t having hamburgers instead. Then I tasted Zia’s meatloaf. She and Mom were great cooks but Zia’s meatloaf was heaven-sent. I was perennially trying to steal away from our dinner table so that I could have a taste of her meatloaf when she was serving it. Mom caught on quickly enough but rather than get annoyed, she tried to make a better meatloaf. Although hers did, in fact, improve, Zia’s remained the best in my book.

Now move ahead many years. Zia and I have decided to create this blog and we’re making a preliminary list of recipes to include for our family. Well, very early in the process, I added her meatloaf to the list. You can imagine my horror when she confessed that she no longer had the recipe nor could she remember it. All she knew was that she added oats (see above) and nothing else. At that point, I resigned myself to eating mediocre meatloaf for the rest of my days. And let me tell you. I was responsible for many a mediocre meatloaf in those days. (It also drove home the point that these recipes needed to be put to paper and preserved.)

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meatloaf-4

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About 2 years later, I came upon a post by my now good blogging friend, Tanya. (You may know her as Chica Andaluza. If you don’t, get over to her site for some tasty dishes and to learn of life on her beautiful Mountain in Spain.) She’d shared a recipe for ketchup, and, once I made it, I was instantly converted. I no longer buy ketchup and use this homemade version exclusively. It’s also a permanent member of my Christmas gift baskets, the recipients of which — friends and family —  cannot get enough.

At some point — I don’t remember exactly when — I was preparing what would become another mediocre meatloaf when I experienced a true epiphany. Why not use the homemade ketchup? It was a life changing moment … well, meatloaf changing. My meatloaf reached a new level of excellence and, best of all, consistency. No need to worry about which and how much spice to use. The ketchup had everything I would have added. Best of all, during her last visit here, I prepared a meatloaf dinner for Zia and she declared that mine reminded her of her long forgotten recipe. She could not have pleased me more. That’s the day I decided to share the recipe — it’s also the last time I served sliced meatloaf for dinner.

You see, I’m a mid-western boy and we love our meat and gravy sandwiches. It was a special treat on a cold winter’s evening when Mom placed before me a plate containing a meat sandwich and mashed potatoes smothered in gravy. Oh, boy! Over the years, even when serving a mediocre loaf, I dreamt of the next day’s smothered sandwich. Once that craving was satisfied, there would be meatloaf sammiches. These would be gravy-free but would instead contain lettuce, a slice of tomato, and a bit of horseradish sauce. I mentioned it to Zia and learnt that she, too, loved both sandwich and sammich. I’ve not served sliced meatloaf since. Make note of this post’s opening photo. It is the last of its kind in my home.

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This is a very easy recipe to follow but it does result in plenty of meatloaf. I usually fill 2 small foil loaf pans first, and then use the rest of the meat mixture to create a larger loaf. I rarely place this loaf in a pan, preferring to create a free-form loaf by hand. The smaller loaves will eventually find a home in the freezer and, I must say, I get a certain amount of satisfaction knowing that I’ve got a meatloaf in the freezer. I feel the same about its neighbor in there, the tray of lasagna. This brings up another issue …and an invite. If ever you hear of a major power outage lasting for days/weeks in Chicago, rent a car, catch a train, hop a bus, take a flight, pirate a ship, or do whatever you need to get here. My guests and I will be eating mighty fine for the duration — or at least until everything melts.

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meatloaf-duo

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Meatloaf Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 – 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1.5 lb (680 g) ground beef (See Notes)
  • 1.5 lb (680 g) ground pork
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stalk, leaves included
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1 cup oats (I use good old Quaker Oats for “Nothing is better for thee…”)
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup homemade ketchup, divided (See déjà vu)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C)
  2. Chop the carrot, celery, and onion to equal size.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over med-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables and cook until soft – about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic midway through.
  4. Set aside to cool until safe to handle.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, add the meats, eggs, oats, sautéed vegetables, and 2/3 of the ketchup. Mix to combine but do not over-mix.  (See Notes)
  6. Use part of the meat mixture to fill 1 or 2 small loaf pan(s). The rest will be used to fill a large loaf pan or to create a free-form loaf on a foil-covered baking pan.
  7. Use the remaining 1/3 of the ketchup to lightly coat the tops of the loaves.
  8. Place the loaves in the pre-heated oven.
  9. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes. Each loaf is cooked when its internal temperature reaches 160˚ F (70˚ C).
  10. Once cooked:
    • For the larger loaf:
      • If using a loaf pan, allow to rest 10 minutes, drain the liquids from the pan, removing the meatloaf and placing on a serving platter.
      • If not using a loaf pan, allow to rest 10 minutes and place on a serving platter.
      • Serve immediately.
    • For the smaller loaves:
      • Set aside to fully cool. Completely cover with plastic wrap before tightly wrapping in aluminum foil. It can now be frozen for up to 6 months. When ready to serve, unwrap the plastic wrap, replace the foil, and thaw in the fridge overnight. Once thawed, place in a pre-heated 300˚ F (150˚ C) and cook until heated through. (See Notes)
  11. If you’re like me, forego the platter and use the liquids to prepare a gravy with cornstarch, a cup of beef stock or low sodium bouillon, and a little milk  (optional). Meanwhile, create a sandwich using 2 slices of bread  and a generous slice of meatloaf. On the same dish, serve some mashed potatoes with a well in the center. Use the hot gravy to smother the sandwich and fill the mashed potato well. Buon appetito!

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meatloaf-3

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Notes

At one time, I used equal amounts of ground veal, beef, and pork to make meatloaf. I prefer not to use veal these days unless I can be sure it’s been humanely raised.

If you do not have — or do not want to use — oats, an equal amount of bread crumbs may be substituted.

Overworking the meat mixture will result in a meatloaf that’s too dense. Mix until al of the ingredients are combined but no more than that.

You needn’t thaw the meatloaf before re-heating but I find the results much more reliable. I never seem to get the timing right and dinner is just about always delayed when I stick a frozen meatloaf into the oven. Remember: it’s already been fully cooked so there’s no worry of serving raw meat — just really cold.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

ketchup-throwback-photo

As I mentioned, the secret to this meatloaf is the ketchup, although the recipe I shared is about as close to the ketchup we all knew as kids as is salsa. Thanks to a recipe derived from one posted by the Kitchens’ good friend, Tanya, the one and only Chica Andaluza, the flavor of my meatloaf has improved greatly. The fact is that I always have a few jars in reserve and am lost without it. (Sorry, Heinz.) You can see my recipe HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Soft Shell Crab Curry Preview

Curried Soft Shell Crab

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Dad’s Grilled Red Snapper

red-snapper-5

Those of you who follow me on Instagram know that I’ve been recently waylaid by a rather unfortunate run-in with a bit of black walnut-shell. In perhaps the most unkindest cut of all, the blow was delivered by one of my beloved post-Thanksgiving turkey sammiches. (I knew The Fates could be cruel but who knew they had a taste for irony, as well?) The resultant series of appointments meant that I’ve not been around WordPress very much of late. Although there’s more work to be done, I’m happy to say that the worst of the ordeal is now behind me. I’ll be back at 100% before you know it but, please, I’m begging you, no more jokes about whistling merry Christmas.

Neither of today’s dishes — I wouldn’t really call them recipes — are in any way complicated or difficult to prepare. Given my current situation, they are just what the dentists ordered. In my mind, however, both are closely tied to the upcoming holidays. The first, red snapper, was a favorite of my Dad. It’s also my last post before Christmas Eve and I’ve a tradition of offering a seafood dish for those preparing a Feast of the Seven Fishes.  The second dish shared today, roasted chestnuts, was the very last Mom served on the holidays.

I’ve wanted to post a red snapper recipe for some time but it’s a little complicated. You see, snapper is endangered depending upon where and how it’s harvested. If caught by hook and line in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s OK to purchase. Red snapper caught in the South Atlantic, however, should be avoided. Ruby snapper — its Hawaiian cousin — is OK to purchase. (Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch). I’ve often seen red snapper for sale but, as a rule of thumb, if the monger cannot tell me where or how a fish is caught, I choose another fish or, in some cases, another monger. Over the years, I’ve passed up a lot of red snapper. That’s not so complicated. Well, stay with me.

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Recently, my fish monger had fresh red snapper and I eagerly bought 2 fillets, one to be grilled that night and the second to be prepared the following night. See the opening photo? That’s  proof that I actually grilled red snapper. Unfortunately, it’s the only photo that I have because moments later my grill ran out of propane. I finished cooking the fillet on a grill pan.

That was a Friday 2 weeks ago. The following day, Saturday, we were hit with a snowstorm.(We’ve had snow on each of the past 3 weekends with more expected tomorrow.) I spent my day pushing the snow off of the walkways. For some reason, replacing my grill’s propane tank never crossed my mind — until dinner time. That’s when I made an executive decision. I wasn’t going anywhere and fired up the grill pan, instead.

Complications aside, this is about the easiest preparation for a dish that  I’ve ever posted. It’s not so much the fish but the memories that go along with it. Yes, it was  Dad’s favorite fish but he wanted it grilled. No matter the season, no matter the weather, if red snapper fillets were on the menu that night, Dad was at the barbecue getting the grill ready.

grandpas-barbecueAs I’ve mentioned in other posts, our barbecue was made of brick and built by Grandpa in the late1950s. Mention that barbecue and In my mind’s eye, I see Dad standing before it, preparing our main course.  Once, during a summer storm, Dad was wearing a trench coat over a pair of shorts, his bare legs extending beyond the coat’s hem. His right hand was tending our meal while his left hand struggled to maintain control of the wind-whipped umbrella. Now that’s dedication.

red-snapper-1Although I can’t say for certain what he was grilling on that foul weather day, it would be a pretty good bet to say that it was red snapper. That’s how much he enjoyed grilled red snapper fillets! I do, too, maybe not to that extent but I do enjoy red snapper when grilled.

The fish is easy enough to prepare. Season both sides of the fillet with salt & pepper before drizzling with olive oil. Light the grill and while it heats, place equal amounts of butter and lemon juice in a small sauce pan over low heat. Softly simmer the two while the fish cooks. Red snapper fillets flake easily so we, Dad and I, use(d) a fish basket to hold them in place on the grill. There’s nothing worse than watching part of your dinner fall between the spaces in your grill plates. Depending upon how hot your grill is, the fillets should cook in about  3 to 4 minutes for the first side and about 2 minutes for the other. Place the fish skin-side down to start. (See NOTES) Once finished, remove the fillets to a serving platter and drizzle with lemon butter sauce. Serve immediately with lemon wedges. See? Couldn’t be easier but oh, so very good!

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Since the red snapper dish was so simple to prepare, I thought I’d make this post a two-fer. Recently my Brother asked where my post for roasted chestnuts was located. Um … it wasn’t. I’d forgotten all about them. So, here’s another easy recipe that also means holiday to me.

On Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day, once the deserts had been served and the table cleared, while the adults dipped anise-flavored biscotti into their caffè and chatted, Mom would bring freshly roasted chestnuts, castagne, to the table. No matter how sated, everyone at that table managed to eat a few chestnuts, You see, much like the old Jell-O advert, there’s aways room for castagne.roasted-chestnuts-2016

Sometime that afternoon or early evening, Dad would use his penknife to slice an “X” in the rounded side of each chestnut. Later, they would be placed on a baking sheet which was then put into a 425˚ F pre-heated oven. After about 20 to 25 minutes, the chestnuts were removed and allowed to cool slightly before being served.

I wish I could be more precise but much depends upon how fresh the nuts are and whether all have been properly roasted. You see, a chestnut has a shell within a shell. We’re all familiar with the brown outer shell but the one on the inside will give you fits. It’s inedible, paper-thin, fuzzy, and can stick to the chestnut like glue. If your chestnut is roasted for tool long or too short, you can expect problems with that inner shell. Oh! There’s an added bonus to roasting them for too long: the chestnuts become rock-hard.

Now, there are those who par-boil their nuts before roasting but I’ve never tried that. Mom boiled a few and, once chopped, included them in her turkey stuffing. If I remember correctly, she didn’t fare any better with the boiled chestnuts than we did later that evening with them roasted. Problems aside, a few roasted chestnuts to end the meal are as much a part of my holiday feast memories as are those of the much-beloved platters of ravioli that began them.

Speaking of the holidays, we at the Bartolini kitchens wish you all a holiday season most memorable, with a new year filled with wonder and joy.

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Notes

The red snapper fillets can easily be prepared on a grill pan or under the broiler. In the first case, heat the grill pan as you would a barbecue. Cook the fish as if it were on a grill, skin-side down, for a few minutes before turning it over for about another 2 minutes. If you broil the fillets, place them skin-side down on an unheated broiler pan/tray about 4 inches under the heating element, They should be ready in about 4 minutes but keep a close eye on them. If you’ve used a broiler with seafood, you know exactly what I mean.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

braised-eel

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve so why not take a look back at a dish traditionally served on that night? I’m talking about eels and though I only remember it being served once when I was very young, peering into a sink full of eels definitely left an impression. You can see how they’re prepared by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

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Panettone: A Bread with Promise

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End of the Harvest Hot Pepper Relish (GF)

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This was not the best year for my garden. You already know about my zucchini troubles but those were only the beginning. My tomato plants, as well as those of my neighbors, just didn’t do well. Yes, I harvested cherry tomatoes but nowhere near as many as I have in prior years. The San Marzano tomatoes were no bigger than 1/4 of their normal size, while the Brandywine didn’t even bloom until mid-August.  I gladly yanked them out of the ground during the 1st week of October.

On the other hand, my eggplants did far better than I ever imagined and I have trays of eggplant lasagna in my freezer to prove it. I picked the last of the eggplant on about Halloween and sadly cleared those plants from the bed.

Left standing were the chile/pepper plants. They, too, produced a great deal right up until the morning of November 11th, when everything was picked from that raised bed but I held off pulling them because there were still peppers ripening. That morning, I took stock of this season’s pickled pepper inventory. There would be no more pepper pickling this year. Great! Now, what?

Well, I did what most of us do under similar circumstances. I called upon Mr. Google. First, I checked to see whether green peppers would be as hot as fully ripened red peppers. I was swamped with every reply imaginable. Yes, green peppers are just as hot. No, they’re much more mild. They’re the same but red — no, make that green — are sweeter. The only response I didn’t see was that young peppers were inedible or, worse yet, poisonous. So, I went searching for a recipe.

I chose today’s recipe because it was so simple to prepare and, best of all, I already had all the ingredients. There would be no mad dash to the grocery today! So, here’s the relish recipe that I followed. To prepare the peppers, all I did was remove the top of each, leaving the seeds and ribs intact. I did nothing to limit the heat of the relish. The result? One spicy relish but not so hot to ruin your palate midway through the meal. Perfect.

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hot-pepper-relish-1

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Hot Pepper Relish

Ingredients

  • 3.5 lbs (1600 g) mix of cayennes, jalapeños, and cherry bomb peppers, tops trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1.5 tsp pickling salt
  • 3/4 tsp black peppercorns
  • 3/8 tsp yellow mustard seed
  • 3/8 tsp celery seed
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed

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hot-pepper-relish-3

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Directions

  1. Use a food processor to finely chop the peppers. (A knife may be used to dice them.)
  2. Add the remaining ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil before simmering for a few minutes. Lower heat to keep liquid warm.
  3. Fill clean, sterile jars with the chopped chile mixture.
  4. Remove the garlic before adding the hot liquid to each jar, filling to 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) from the top.
    • If you like, strain the liquid before using to fill the jars
  5. Seal each jar until “finger tight”. (See Notes).
  6. Place in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Start the timer after the water returns to the boil.
  7. Remove from the bath and place atop a clean kitchen towel away from drafts. Do not disturb for 24 hours.
  8. Store on a shelf in a cool, dark place. Use within 1 year. (See Notes)

Based on the recipe, “Hellish” Hot Pepper Relish, by BKLaRue.

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Notes

When dealing Large quantities of peppers and chiles, be sure to wear rubber gloves and do not touch your face as long as you’re wearing them. If you choose not to wear gloves and absent-mindedly rub an eye, I guarantee you’ll wear them next time.

This recipe resulted in 4 pints of relish but can be easily adjusted to suit the amount of peppers on-hand. Just be sure to maintain the relative amounts of the vinegars, sugars, and salt. The rest of the spices can be changed to suit your own tastes.

When preserving in jars, it is very important to seal the jars but not too tightly. “Finger tight” means to fully tighten the jar and then loosen it just a bit to allow for the contents to expand during processing in the hot water bath. Failure to do this may result in shattered jars. (Been there.)

Relish that has been properly preserved will last up to a year on a dark, cool shelf. Refrigerate after opening, however, and use within a few weeks.

You needn’t preserve the relish. If you prefer, it can be prepared as described and then refrigerated rather than being further processed in hot water. Be aware that relish stored in the fridge will remain good for a few weeks and not a year like its preserved counterparts. On the plus side, relish stored in the fridge will retain its vibrant colors and crispness.

  • Hot Pepper Quick RelishOur weather was most unseasonably warm when I wrote this post so I did not pull my pepper/chile plants right away. In fact, they remained until after the first killing frost during the early morning hours of November 20th. As a result, I had another batch of peppers to pick from which I made 2 half-pints of relish, though neither was processed and preserved. Call them a “Quick Relish.”, if you like but, whatever the name, è finito!

If you find that a jar has not sealed properly during processing, just store it in the fridge and use as you would a jar that you’ve opened.

For information regarding canning/preserving, please refer to the USDA Principles of Home Canning guide.

For information on preserving virtually any/all vegetables, fruit, and berries, be sure to check out the Pick Your Own website.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

honey-mustard-deja-vu

 

A few weeks ago, when I shared our recipe for Olio Santo, that post’s look back took you to our recipe for tomato ketchup. Well, with today’s recipe a relish, why not take a look back at one of the honey mustard recipes that I shared a couple of years ago? It’s a great little recipe and if you prepare gift baskets for the upcoming holidays, these 3 condiments make perfect additions to accompany the Olio Santo. You can see how we make honey mustard by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

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Dad’s Red Snapper

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Sweet Potatoes au Gratin (GF)

Sweet Potatoes au Gratin 4

When I look at most of my holiday dinners,  many are of the meat and potato variety. (OK, there’s more likely to be pasta or polenta on the table but they do start with a “p” and that should qualify them.)  Up until several years ago, those potatoes were either mashed or baked au gratin. That’s when I decided enough with the plain potatoes. Sorry, Idaho. Bring on the sweet potatoes!

Initially, I made them as I would my potatoes au gratin: with milk, Swiss cheese, and a little butter. Over time, I swapped out some of the ingredients and in the process these potatoes earned a standing invite to my holiday tables.

The recipe below is the latest version. Earlier editions included  pancetta, bacon, garlic, and/or nutmeg. Although I liked each, the individual flavors worked better with normal potatoes, their flavors being a bit too much for the sweet potatoes. You may feel that way about the onions used here. If too much for your tastes, substitute diced shallots in their place.

One more thing to remember. Do not bring these potatoes from the oven directly to the table for serving. They really do need to sit for no fewer than 10 minutes — 15 is better — so that they set. You want to serve creamy potatoes not a runny mess.

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Sweet Potatoes au Gratin 3

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Sweet Potatoes au Gratin Recipe

Ingredients

  • butter or cooking spray
  • about 1,5 lbs. (680 g) sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced (See Notes)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 to 6 oz (140 – 170 g) Gruyère cheese, grated  (Swiss, Fontina, or Emmental, among others, may be substituted)
  • 6 oz (118 ml) heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp arrowroot (flour or cornstarch may be substituted)
  • 1 tbsp butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1/4 c (25 g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano (Pecorino Romano may be substituted)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Use cooking spray or a tab of butter to liberally grease an oven-proof baking dish.
  2. Make a slurry using 1/2 of the heavy cream and the arrowroot. Once thoroughly combined, add the remaining cream, stir, and set aside,
  3. Pre-heat oven to 375˚ F (190˚ C).
  4. Use 1/3 of the sliced sweet potatoes to create a layer covering the bottom of the baking dish,
  5. Cover that layer with 1/2 of the sliced onion.
  6. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  7. Use 1/3 of the grated Gruyère to cover the onions and potatoes.
  8. Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6. using all the remaining onion in the process.
  9. Use the last of the sweet potatoes to cover the dish’s contents.
  10. Stir the cream slurry before pouring it evenly over the top of the dish.
  11. Cover the dish with the remaining Gruyère.
  12. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  13. Dot the surface with the butter pieces.
  14. Sprinkle the grated Parmigiano Reggiano to evenly cover the entire dish.
  15. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until the potatoes are nicely browned.
  16. Allow to rest at least 10 minutes before serving.

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Notes

I used a 9 inch (23 cm) square baking dish and the potatoes weren’t sliced too thinly. (.15 inches, 4 mm). More or less of the posted ingredients may be needed if the size of your baking dish differs appreciably from the one used here.

The recipe, as written, is gluten-free. If you haven’t arrowroot but wish to keep it GF, add an equal amount of cornstarch into the cream. Of course, if you and your guests have no issues with gluten, flour can be used as the thickening agent.

WIth its heavy cream, butter, and cheeses, this is not a low-calorie dish. (That’s why I only serve it on special occasions and holidays.) If you’re looking for something a little more waist and heart-friendly, hop on over to Fanny Reggiori’s blog, foodidies, where she recently posted a delicious, lighter sweet potato au gratin recipe. No matter the recipe you choose to prepare, you really cannot go wrong.

Since we’re talking healthy, which do you think is healthier, baking potatoes or sweet? Click HERE to find out. And if that kind of info floats you boat, go HERE to see a list of similar comparisons. Some of the results may surprise you.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

standing-rib-roast-deja-vu

Since we’re talking holidays, here’s a look back at the method I use to prepare standing rib roast every New Year’s Day. You can catch a glimpse of one in the first photo of this post.) It’s easy to prepare but much depends upon aging the roast in your fridge before cooking it. Interested? You can learn all about it HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

hot-pepper-relish-preview

Hot Pepper Relish

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Fish Tacos with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Yes, you read the post’s title correctly. Today I’m sharing a recipe for fish tacos. As I’ve said on several of your blogs, I rarely make tacos. I don’t think it worth the effort just to make 2 or 3 tacos for my dinner. I still feel that way but at the time this post was written, my chile plants were producing at a rate that rivaled my eggplant crop.. If only my tomato plants had been so competitive.

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Fried Fish Tacos - 1

This Fish is Fried

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Well, it was far too humid to try to dry the peppers and without a dehydrator, I was loath to turn on the oven, no matter how low the temperature would be set.. So, I cooked some, pickled others, and added a few to the cherry bomb peppers that I was preserving. But the chiles kept coming and Lucy can only eat so many. Thanks to a couple blogging friends, I decided to make tomatillo salsa. (That recipe follows this one.)

Well, the salsa did make a dent — albeit a small one — in the chile inventory but what to do with it? I was stumbling around the grocery, trying to figure out what to prepare when I saw that there was a sale on pollock. That’s all I needed to make up my mind. Fish tacos would be on the night’s menu.

Since my tomatillo salsa was rather smooth, I felt that the taco needed something more crispy than shredded lettuce. That’s why the shredded cabbage was included but you should use whichever you prefer. The same is true for the tortillas. As much as I like corn tortillas, I bought flour because I felt that corn tortillas would just about disintegrate by the time I was done snapping photos. Oh, to be a better — read faster — photographer. And, by the way, hats off to those who would make their own tortillas for a dinner for one.

To prepare the fish for breading, the fillets were cut into strips about 3 inches (8 cm) long. Seasoned corn starch was used to coat the strips, just as was done when soft shell crabs were prepared several weeks ago. Once coated, the strips were dipped in a mixture of eggs, milk, and Sriracha. From there, they were coated in Panko bread crumbs and reserved. Easy peasy.

A note about the ingredients. Few amounts are listed because they will depend upon the number of tacos to be prepared and your own taste preferences. More cornstarch and breadcrumbs will be needed if you’re feeding 4, for example, than if you are preparing tacos for 1.

Lastly, for those avoiding fried foods, I’ve included instructions for baking the fish, as well as for frying.

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Fish Tacos - Baked 1

Tacos with Baked Fish

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Fish Taco Recipe

Ingredients

  • Fish fillets cut into strips (see Notes)
  • corn starch seasoned with paprika, ground chipotle, cumin, salt, and pepper, to taste
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 2 tbsp Sriracha sauce, more or less to taste
  • Panko bread crumbs
  • tortillas
  • roasted tomatillo salsa – recipe follows
  • shredded cabbage
  • diced tomato (optional)
  • sour cream (optional)
  • diced red onion (optional)
  • limes, quartered

Directions

  1. Set up a breading station:
    • In the first dish, place corn starch seasoned with paprika, ground chipotle, cumin, salt & pepper to taste.
    • In the second, combine and beat the eggs, milk, and Sriracha.
    • In the 3rd dish, add enough Panko breadcrumbs to coat the pieces of fish.
  2. To fry:
    • Add enough oil to the pan for a depth of 1/2 inch (1.5 cm).
    • Heat over med-high heat to 360˚ (180˚C).
    • Place breaded strips into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.
    • Remove from oil, place on paper towels, season with salt immediately.
  3. To bake:
    • Pre-heat oven to 400˚ F (200˚ C)
    • Place breaded strips on to a rack placed atop a baking sheet.
    • Bake until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes, turning them over midway through the bake.
    • Remove to a platter and season with salt.
  4. To assemble the tacos:
    • Over med-high heat, warm the tortillas on a grill pan, cast iron fry pan, skillet, or barbecue grill until heated through.
    • Create a taco using a tortilla, pieces of fish, a couple tbsp of salsa, some shredded cabbage, and a squeeze of lime.
      • Sour cream, onions, and tomatoes may be added, according to personal tastes.
  5. Garnish with lime quarters and serve.

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Fried Fish Tacos - 2

More Fried Fish Tacos

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Notes

Although I used pollock here, feel free to use any white fish. Cod, hake, or tilapia come to mind, although mahi mahi, halibut, or even tuna would be very good, too. You may want to adjust the seasoning depending upon the fish you’ve selected.

Roast Chicken Tacos 2Fish not your thing? Tacos are a great way to re-purpose leftover roast chicken. Use a fork to pull apart the chicken meat and warm it quickly in a frypan with a little butter. Once heated, use it to build your taco with a bit of tomatillo salsa and whatever other fixins you like: shredded cabbage/lettuce, sour cream, diced onion, diced tomato, fresh cilantro, and/or a bit of shredded cheese would work just fine.

Roast Chicken with Tomatillo SalsaDid I say roast chicken leftovers? Well, first you have to roast that bird. Do it however you wish. Mine was spatchcocked and seasoned with plenty of herbs, lemon juice, and olive oil before roasting. Be sure to have the salsa nearby so that you can generously spoon some atop the chicken once served.

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Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Recipe

I have 2 blogging buddies to thank for this post, Kathryn of Another Foodie Blogger and MJ of MJ’s Kitchen. Had it not been for Kathryn, I never would have bought tomatillos, and MJ is the Queen of Chiles. Now, this salsa and serving suggestions may not be exact duplicates of their recipes — shower them with all the praise and I’ll shoulder any blame — but I was certainly inspired by them. If you’re looking for some inspiration, by all means check out these 2 wonderful blogs.

Ingredients

  • 6 tomatillos, husked and washed (see Notes)
  • 4 cayenne chilies, tops trimmed (see Notes)
  • 1 chile de agua, top trimmed
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic
  • small sweet onion or half of a large, cut in half
  • olive oil
  • cilantro, to taste
  • lime juice, to taste
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400˚F (205˚C).
  2. Place tomatillos, all the chilies, garlic, and onion into a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and spread on a baking sheet in an even layer. Roast for 30 minutes.
  3. Once cooled, place all the roasted ingredients into a food processor, along with cilantro and the juice of 1 lime.
  4. Pulse the ingredients several times until the salsa is the consistency you prefer. Midway through, taste and season with salt and pepper. Add more cilantro or lime juice, if needed.
  5. Refrigerate until needed.

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fried-fish-tacos-3

One More Fried

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Notes

After removing their paper coverings, be sure to rinse the tomatillos very well to remove their somewhat sticky coating.

Until this point, I hadn’t tasted any of my home-grown chiles, all having been pickled and preserved. Now that I’ve tasted this salsa, I will only add 2 cayenne peppers in the future. For my tastes,  4 of these cayenne are a bit much. (Please pass the milk.)

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Crostini Look Back

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s never too early to start working on the menu for the holiday feast(s). It wouldn’t be much of a celebratory meal if there aren’t any appetizers, and crostini/bruschette are tasty ones to whip up. You can see a couple of suggestions by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Sweet Potatoes au Gratin Preview

Sweet Potatoes au Gratin

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Trenette with Zucchini Blossoms & Cream

Trenette con Fiori di Zucchini e Panna

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Ever notice that if someone asks whether you’ve spotted something unusual, something you’ve only seen rarely, if ever, that suddenly it becomes commonplace? Say, for example, you’re asked if you’ve ever seen a pink Cadillac. No matter your answer, over the next few days or weeks, you’ll see enough pink Cadillacs to make you wonder whether there’s a Mary Kay convention in town. (Now there’s an allusion that will send some of you to Mr. Google.)

I mention this because when in Italy in 2014, my friends and I noticed that boar was often on the menu. True enough, once it was mentioned, boar was seemingly served in virtually every restaurant we entered. Was it a question of boar suddenly being readily available, or, was it that we had finally noticed? It mattered little because I must admit that I did take full advantage of the situation, enjoying everything from lunches of boar prosciutto panini to suppers of tagliatelle dressed with a variety of sauces prepared with boar meat.

Oddly enough, I noticed a similar phenomenon during my visit to Italy this past spring. Somewhere along the way, while struggling to meet the rigors of my newly created pasta-a-day diet, I noticed that zucchini blossoms were very often included in my pasta. (There were a lot of sardines, too, but I’ll save them for another post.) Though the sauces were very often “white”, a few did include some halved cherry tomatoes. The protein could be a little pork. like today’s recipe, or seafood, as was served to us in Riccione, where my family gathered for a seafood feast. (In that dish, passatini were served with shrimp and both zucchini and its blossoms.) Needless to say, I took full advantage of the situation ordering my pasta with blossoms as frequently as possible. (It’s the little things — zucchini blossoms, calamari, clams, boar, a glass or three of wine — that made it easier for me to adhere to the strict rules of my new diet.) The question, however, remains. Was there a sudden increase of menu selections that included zucchini blossoms, or, did I just happen to notice them during this visit? I guess I’ll never know … Unless … Maybe I should go back to Italy and conduct more research. You know, for science …

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zucchini-blossom

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Today’s dish was certainly inspired by those that I was served while in Italy. In fact, upon coming home, I immediately planted zucchini while the memories of so many tasty dishes still lingered on my mind’s palate. Well, that was the plan. You see, for some reason, each and every blossom that appeared suddenly vanished. At first, I thought it was a cute little bunny that I saw lingering around my yard. A well-placed fence would keep it at bay, to be sure. Even with the fence installed, however, the blossoms continued to disappear. Unless that once-cute-little-bunny-now-full-grown rabbit knew how to use tools, it could not possibly have been the culprit. (If it does know how to use tools, I’ve got more to fear than a few missing zucchini blossoms.) No matter the cause, I harvested only 1 blossom this season. More to the point, the blossoms used here, as well as those used in future recipes, were all purchased at the farmers market, save that one.

ETA: Kathryn, AnotherFoodieBlogger, mentioned that I need to plant as many as 3 plants to ensure any sort of zucchini crop. I certainly haven’t the space for 3 and do not know whether I’ll try again next year with 2 plants. I really don’t care about the zucchini. All I want is a steady supply of blossoms and I’ve yet to figure out why the blossoms all vanished.

There’s only really one thing worth mentioning before getting to the good stuff. The most difficult part of this recipe is preparing the blossoms. Be sure to open each one and remove its pistil, anthers, and whatever else you may find in there. (That last bit, the part about “whatever else”, is the difficult one. You’ll know what I mean if you find an 8-legged behemoth in there staring back at you.) Once cleaned and debugged, only the flower’s petals will remain. Cut them in half, lengthwise, and you’re set to go. The rest of the recipe is quite straightforward and you shouldn’t have any trouble preparing this tasty dish.

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zucchini-blossoms-1x

Blossoms Before & After Neutering

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Trenette with  Zucchini Blossoms & Cream Recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 oz trenette pasta cooked about a minute shy of al dente (see Notes) – linguine, fettuccine, or tagliatelle may be substituted
  • olive oil
  • 2 oz pancetta – guanciale or unsmoked bacon can be substituted (see Notes)
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 6 zucchini blossoms, cleaned and halved lengthwise – more or less to taste and availability (sigh)
  • 3 to 4 ounces of heavy cream, depending upon the amount of pasta being prepared
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese — Parmigiano Reggiano may be substituted
  • reserved pasta water
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • torn fresh basil leaves for garnish

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zucchini-blossoms-pasta-1

This year’s zucchini harvest. (It was delicious!)

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Directions

  1. In a large frypan, heat a little olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the pancetta and sauté.
  2. Once the fat has rendered and before the pancetta hardens, add the shallots and sauté until soft. If the pan is dry, add a bit more olive oil. (See Notes)
  3. Add the halved zucchini blossoms and continue to sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Add the heavy cream and allow to reduce just a bit before adding the cooked pasta.
  5. Add 2 tablespoons of grated cheese, stir gently, and continue to cook until the pasta is al dente. If too dry, add a little pasta water to moisten the pan’s contents.
  6. Taste to see if salt or pepper is needed.
  7. Remove to a serving platter, garnished with grated cheese, torn basil leaves, and freshly cracked pepper.
  8. Serve immediately, dreaming of the day when you’ll no longer need to buy zucchini blossoms. (Maybe that’s just me.)

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zucchini-blossoms-pasta-4

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Notes

Like most simple pasta dishes, the secret lies in the timing. Try to have the pasta cooked just shy of al dente when the zucchini blossom mixture is just about fully cooked. Remember to check package directions when using store-bought pasta. If using freshly made, allow about 3 minutes for cooking.

In today’s dish, pancetta was used but guanciale, or even bacon, could easily be substituted. Whatever pork product you choose, try to avoid using one that’s smoked. Very often, the smoky flavoring will overpower every other element of the dish. You want to taste pork, not smoke.

The amount of pancetta and blossoms needed will depend upon the number of servings being prepared. For example, here, I prepared 8 oz (225 g) of pasta. You’ll need more if you’re going to prepare a pound (450 g) of pasta.

It is always better to add more oil to the pan once the pork fat has been rendered than to use too much early on and have to pour off any excess. There’s plenty of flavor in that excess that you’re removing from the pan.

Whenever you prepare a pasta dish, ALWAYS reserve a few ounces of the pasta water just before straining the pasta. It can be used to resurrect even the driest of pasta dishes and its starch content will help to thicken the thinnest of sauces. In my kitchen, it’s better than duct tape.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

fried-sage-look-back

 

How could I share a food souvenir of my last trip to Italy without taking a look at my favorite souvenir from my trip to Italy in 2014? That was the trip when we discovered fried sage leaves stuffed with anchovies. This little antipasto is both salty and fried. Simply put, it has everythingI You can learn how to prepare it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Fried Fish Tacos - Preview

Fish Tacos with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

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The Incredible Edible Eggplant

Eggplant Blossom

Such Promise

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It all started innocently enough, with a blossom identical to the one pictured above. I had learned my lesson well, or so I thought. See, last year’s 2 eggplants were just about smothered by my tomato plants. The tomatoes quite literally took over my then-new raised garden bed as if the soil had been smuggled out of Chernobyl. I picked only 1 eggplant and it was a Japanese variety, not at all what I had expected. This type of thing has happened enough times to convince me that there are people who delight in swapping name tags between differing varieties of the same vegetable. This spring’s cuckoo was a jalapeño masquerading as a cayenne pepper.

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Growing Up Eggplant

Growing Up Eggplant

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This year, I planted 3 eggplants with the conviction that I would keep my eye — and pruning shears — on the neighboring tomato plants. I won’t bore you with the details but I was partly successful, with two plants growing nicely. The 3rd, well, is now engulfed. All facts considered, I really cannot complain. The 2 remaining plants have managed to produce more of the bulb-shaped vegetables than I thought botanically possible. (I really must get that soil tested.) As a result, I’ve pulled out every eggplant recipe at my disposal in trying to stay ahead of these 2 overly productive plants.

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The Day's Eggplant Harvest

The 1st Eggplant Harvest 

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Here are the dishes that I’ve prepared thus far. I’ve supplied the recipe for the first dish and links for the rest, the exceptions being the eggplant lasagna and a pickled eggplant. Both of those recipes are in the works.

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Grilled Eggplant & Tomato

Grilled Eggplant & Tomato

Pre-heat the barbecue or grill pan. Slice the eggplant into approximately 3/4 inch (2 cm) rings. Cut the plum tomatoes in half, removing the seeds if you like. Use a pastry brush to sparingly coat the eggplant with olive oil. Lightly drizzle the tomato halves with olive oil and then season everything with salt and pepper. Giving the eggplant slices a head start, grill both vegetables until cooked to your satisfaction. Remove to a platter. Garnish the vegetables with a mixture of chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, basil, and parsley. Season with salt & pepper before adding a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or Olio Santo (See Coming soon … ).

This vegetarian dish may be served hot, warm, or at room temperature, and will make a great light lunch or tasty side for any meal.

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Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma

A favorite of Sicily, this eggplant & tomato sauce was created in honor of the Bellini opera of the same name. You needn’t travel to Sicily nor the nearest opera house to enjoy this dish, however. Just take this LINK to see the recipe that I posted.

The recipe calls for a garnish of ricotta salata. If you cannot find this cheese, crumbled feta is a great substitute and more readily available.

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Caponata

Eggplant Caponata

Also originating in Sicily, caponata is another dish that celebrates the eggplant. Today, it is found throughout Italy with ingredients that often vary from region to region. I’ve shared Mom’s recipe, which you can find HERE.

Don’t forget to make more than needed. Add a few beaten eggs to the leftovers to make a tasty frittata the next day.

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Stuffed Eggplant

Stuffed Eggplant

Grandma served this dish to her girls, Mom & Zia, when they were young. You can well-imagine my surprise when my Zia in San Marino also served stuffed eggplant during my recent visit. The recipe for this tasty contorno — and popular in both sides of my family —  can be found HERE.

Any of the stuffed vegetables in the linked recipe can be used to make a great tasting sandwich for your lunch the following day.

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Eggplant Lasagna

Eggplant Lasagna

A layered dish, eggplant lasagna features pasta sheets, baked eggplant slices, and a tomato sauce, with or without meat. Oh! I almost forgot the cheeses. Asiago, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano combine to make this one flavorful main course.

True confession time: I had thought that I’d already published this recipe and was surprised to learn that I had yet to share it. Not to worry. That oversight will be corrected in the weeks to come.

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Jamie Oliver’s Pickled & Marinated Eggplant

Marinated Eggplant

Jamie has done it again. In his recipe, eggplant is chopped, bathed in a pickling liquid, and then marinated in herbed olive oil. Best of all, this same technique may be used with mushrooms, onions, small peppers, zucchini, and fennel, with each vegetable having its own suggested herb to include. You can check them all out by taking this LINK.

I did make one substitution to his recipe. In place of oregano, I used marjoram. For those unfamiliar, marjoram is related to oregano but is a bit more mild and is favored in Le Marche, the ancestral home of the Bartolini.

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Indian-Style Pickled Eggplant

Indian Pickled Eggplant - Preview

Looking for something with a bit more heat? Well, with my cayenne pepper plants competing with my eggplants for top honors, I went web surfing for recipes. With many to choose from, the final recipe is an amalgam, using ingredients that I had on-hand or that could be easily sourced. The result was a spicy dish that I really enjoy. Best of all, it’s reduced my eggplant AND cayenne pepper inventories. A bit too involved to be shared here — this post is long enough already — I’ll publish the final recipe in the weeks ahead.

This eggplant dish supplies the heat that Jamie’s pickle was missing.

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Baba Ganouj

Baba Ganouj 1

Can you detect which has been garnished with a drizzle of Olio Santo?

Although I’ve enjoyed baba ganouj far too many times to count, I’ve never actually prepared it, relying instead on one that I purchase from my favorite Middle Eastern grocery. Well, with a glut of eggplant filling my vegetable crisper, baba ganouj seemed like yet another great use of the melanzane and I sought help from the blog of our resident Middle Eastern food expert Sawsan, The Chef in Disguise. Her blog is brimming with delicious recipes and you can view her baba ganouj recipe HERE.

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And there you have it. This is my way of handling 2 incredibly productive eggplants. If you think I’ve eaten plenty of eggplant lately, well, you’d be correct — and you haven’t even seen the inside of my freezers. I’ll be enjoying(?) eggplant dishes for months to come.

If I’ve missed an eggplant dish that you’re particularly fond of, or, you prepare a tasty variation of one of the recipes that I’ve just highlighted, don’t be shy. Please share the recipe or link in the Comments section below. These plants just won’t quit!

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You may have noticed …

… My recent absence from the blogging world. This is Honey Time in Michigan’s Thumb and my Cousin and his Wife graciously offered to open Zia’s home so that I could get honey for my friends and neighbors. That’s the official explanation. In reality, my Cousin – aka “The Max Whisperer” – hadn’t seen Max in about a year and missed their “nature hikes”. In the photo above, the 2 BFFs are returning from their last hike of the visit. Also above is a photo of 2 of the 3 cases of the honey that I brought back. All told, our little group of honeycombers purchased about 6 cases of honey that day.

As luck would have it, my Cousin found a baseball-sized puffball growing in the yard. When picked 3 days later, it had grown to the size of a cantaloupe. As of this writing, I’ve yet to prepare it — but I will!

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant parmesan is the one dish in my repertoire that I’ve yet to prepare using the current harvest. Having made 2 trays of eggplant lasagna – one of which is still in my freezer – I took a pass on eggplant parmesan. Who knows? If we don’t have a killing frost soon, I just may turn to eggplant parmesan to help me deal with this surplus. Worse things could happen. You can see the recipe that I’ll be following simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Olio Santo - Preview

Olio Santo

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