Monday, February 20, 2012

Slim Tuesday

Guess what tomorrow is? It's Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday! This marks the last chance to indulge before 40 days of Lent sets in. It usually involves a lot of drinking, eating, carousing and parade attending. It's basically my kind of holiday. :-) But this year I'm not in New Orleans for the festivities but figured I could celebrate in spirit. I found a way to go "slim" though without losing any of the flavor with a beautiful and healthy riff on a stuffed pepper—Cajun style. It tastes sinfully good.

This dish is perfect for entertaining (easy, impressive and delicious) so you don't have to miss out on any of the fun. Invite some friends over, make one of these traditional New Orleans cocktails, and throw some beads at each other. Shirt lifting is optional . . . .

Happy Mardi Gras!

Cajun Stuffed Peppers
Adapted from The Food Network magazine

1 package frozen brown rice (or 1 cup long-grain brown rice)
1/2 cup quinoa
2 large red or green bell peppers, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 lb cooked andouille sausage, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Large pinch of allspice
Kosher salt
1 14-oz can low-sodium diced tomatoes
1 bunch of kale, stems removed, leaves chopped
Chopped fresh parsley, for topping (optional)

1. Cook frozen rice in microwave according to directions. If you're using conventional rice, prepare according to directions. Place 1 cup water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add 1/2 cup quinoa, simmer and cook 12 minutes. Mix together and set both aside.
2. Meanwhile, drizzle peppers with 1 Tbsp water in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap; microwave 10 minutes.
3. Preheat over to 350 degrees.
4. Heat olive oil in a wide saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, garlic, thyme, allspice and 1/2 tsp salt and cook, stirring, until the sausage is brown and crisp, about 3 more minutes.
5. Add the rice mixture, as well as the tomatoes and 1 cup water, to the pan. Pile the kale on top, cover and cook until the kale wilts, about 5 minutes. Stir the kale into the sauce and simmer until liquid is mostly reduced and kale is tender, another 8-10 minutes. Check seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed.
6. Spoon heaping spoonfuls of rice mixture into each half of the softened peppers until very full. Cover with aluminum foil and cook in over for approximately 30 minutes or until heated thoroughly.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Better With Bacon?

TGIF! And boy do I have a treat for you today! My dear friend Ames, an old college buddy and beer aficionado from Dallas—who has a personal goal of drinking 366 different beers in 2012 (it's a leap year!), was kind enough to accept my invitation to guest blog here. Well, it may have been more of a challenge than an invitation, which was the result of a post he made on Facebook announcing Jack in the Box's new Bacon Milkshake. As Southerners, we often proclaim that everything tastes better with bacon, but can that apply to a milkshake too? So I dared him to try it and then blog about it. And he did! So take it away Ames!

Thanks! It's an honor to be asked by Holley to guest blog on SB in SB, as I'm much more prolific in my drinking (see here and here) than my discriminating palate. But as I've recently turned 40 (I'm sooo much older than Holls), I'm making an effort to consume for quality rather than quantity. However in some respects, I lack discrimination and refinement. Like when it comes to bacon.

During the Super Bowl I was actually put off a bit by the Jack and the Box (JITB) commercial with the annoying guy who announces to his mother that he is going to "marry Bacon." But the following week, I was intrigued and then quickly obsessed with the news that JITB had come out with a bacon milkshake! I quickly proclaimed on Facebook that I was going to try one, and Holls challenged me to do it and then blog about it here.

The same day I got Holley's challenge, I decided I had to try the bacon milkshake. I went through the drive-thru line, placed my order and drove up to the pick-up window. The young lady at the window asked me if I like the bacon milkshake, and I told her it would be my first. I then asked her what she thought about it, to which the young lady—who had multiple facial piercings and looked like she knew the meaning of the phase—said "It's wild, man" and handed it over to me.

My first thought upon seeing it was . . . whipped cream and a cherry? I'd forgotten that JITB tops all of their shakes thusly. So once I got past that I took my first sip: Salt and smoke. The flavors overwhelmed the first sip, which was very confusing given how cold and creamy it was. I didn't even taste bacon until I had the second or third sip. I had to agree with the cashier. It was wild. The combination of the mouthfeel of a milkshake—though it did have some grainy chunks I can only assume were supposed to be bacon—with the smoky, salty, slightly bacony flavory was disconcerting although not off-putting for the first half of the milkshake. Once I reconciled the cold and sweet of the shake with the savory flavors, it really wasn't all that bad.

Now, I'm not saying it was outright great, but I did finish the shake. If you're at all temped to try this—and I do think you owe it to yourself to give it a fair shot—I would recommend getting it without the whipped cream and cherry. The end of the shake was too sweet for my taste once the whipped cream mixed in. But honestly, I'll probably end up getting another (despite the 773 calories and 75 grams of sugar) before this promotion is over. That is if I can squeeze one in between all the beer.

Thanks for letting me share, Holls, and if anyone feels compelled to share a beer to help me meet my goal of drinking 366 different beers this leap year, drop me a line at or post a comment on my blog.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

What to Cook Next

I buy a lot of skinless, boneless chicken breasts with big plans to cook them in high rotation, but then when I go to reach for them, something stops me. It's like a little voice in my head pipes up and says, "Do you really want to eat a dry and tasteless piece of rubber?" Well, when you say it like that, the answer is a definite no.

But recently (or maybe not so recently, I can't keep track these days. OK, I just checked and it was October.), I tore out a recipe from Food & Wine magazine showcasing the most succulent, juicy looking chicken I've ever seen from a feature called "What to Cook Next." It was a pretty haughty directive, but one I was willing to (eventually) take. And I'm glad I did.

It kind of started when I decided I had to clean out my freezer. I saw the sad bag of chicken breasts and knew it was probably one of the first things I should address. I recalled said recipe but thought the food editors might have met their match this time. Frankly the recipe looked too easy. I felt like I needed something magical to transform this pitiful chicken. And that's exactly what happened. Magic.

It started out with pretty much the same drill: heat olive oil in a skillet and season and cook the chicken over moderately high heat, turning, for about 10 minutes.

You add garlic and onions and then some broth with crushed coriander. It cooked on low heat for another 15 minutes, until the chicken was cooked through. I actually split the breasts in half to make them cook more evenly and quicker. 15 minutes definitely did the trick.

Next, I transferred the cooked breasts to a platter and coverd to keep warm. I then whisked the whole-grain mustard, crème fraîche and tarragon into the broth and simmered over medium heat until thickened, about 5 minutes. This is the magic part I mentioned earlier.

I added back in the chicken breasts to coat in sauce and then plated.

And it was so frickin' good. Make this. It's what you should cook next.

Chicken Dijon
from Food & Wine

1 tsp coriander seeds
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (cut in half across if needed)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp whole-grain mustard
3 Tbsp crème fraîche or sour cream
2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
Crusty bread for serving

1. In a large skillet, toast the coriander seeds over moderately high heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer seeds to a mortar and let cool. Crush the seeds coarsely with the pestle.
2. In the same skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add them to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat, turning, until golden brown all over, about 10 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the broth and crushed coriander and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over moderately low heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
3. Transfer the chicken to a platter, cover and keep warm. Whisk the mustard, crème fraîche and tarragon into the skillet and simmer the sauce over moderate heat until thickened, about 5 minutes. Return chicken to the skillet to coast. Plate and serve with crusty bread.
Note: Serves 4 and can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, but it will be eaten well before then!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fast Food

Let's be honest. At the end of a long day, few people fantasize about spending hours in the kitchen to produce a desirable dish. I actually don't mind spending several hours slaving over a hot stove to produce an amazing meal, but after I've been slaving away at my desk for even more hours, it seems like punishment. But I can only take so much take-out in one week. So I'm always looking for true 30-minute meals—prep included. My go-to dish of late has been mussels.

I didn't grow up on mussels. I don't even know where I was the first time I had them. Maybe in Europe? But what I do recall was the wonderfully garlicky broth and the polka dots of parsley scattered about. I was amused by the mound of shells presented to me and I enjoyed the purposeful task of fishing the meat out with a tiny fork. There was some satisfaction in it. And it was a helluva lot easier than picking crab meat, which was the standard shellfish of my youth. Over the years, I've been exposed to many variations on the traditional French white wine preparation, and rarely have I had one that I didn't genuinely enjoy. My favorite might be a Spanish interpretation with tomatoes, paprika and chorizo. Ahhhh, just thinking about it transports me to my favorite country. All that's missing is a nice glass of Grenache!

But this week I whipped up a beautiful rendition with crème fraîche, jalapeños and cilantro. It was some kind of Mexican, Thai and French ménage à trois. While that may sound like a whacky combination, the ingredients married so well together. It was both refreshing and richly comforting. And it came together in minutes. Seriously. It's like the perfect lazy man's meal. I would have no qualms entering the kitchen after a brutal day at the office and happily throwing this together. It's also dummy proof, which is great if you're feeling brain-dead by the end of the day like I usually am.

Mussels with Crème Fraîche, Jalapeños and Cilantro
from Food & Wine

4 thick slices of white peasant bread
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
2 garlic cloves (1 left whole and 1 thinly sliced)
1 medium shallot, minced
2 Tbsp thinly sliced pickled jalapeños
salt and fresh ground pepper
4 lbs mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
1 1/2 cups bottled clam broth (or juice works too)
1/3 cup crème fraîche
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice

1. Preheat the broiler. Brush the bread with olive oil and transfer to a baking sheet. Broil the bread a few inches from the heat, turning once, until golden and toasted. Lightly rub the whole garlic clove over the toasts.
2. In a large, deep pot, heat the 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add the shallot, sliced garlic and jalapeños, season lightly with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring, until the garlic is softened and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the mussels and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the clam broth, cover and steam the mussels until they open, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to 4 deep bowls, discarding any mussels that do not open.
3. Add the crème fraîche and cilantro to the broth, swirling and shaking the pot until combined. Stir in the lime juice. Slowly pour the broth over the mussels and serve with the garlic toasts.