Let's Review Those Salted Potatoes from My Christmas Menu

This Christmas Eve we wanted a very simple dinner and be sure to not spend too much time in the kitchen. 
There were almost 25 people to serve, mostly adults and teens, so quantities needed to be generous. Based on the fun party we had on the 23rd, shopping for this meal didn't start until 8 am on the 24th, and cooking started at 11. We ate at 5:30. Not bad.

One dish that stood out in the menu was the Salt Crusted Baked Potatoes. Baking potatoes would be a "no-labor" proposition, and I could spice up a few toppings. But then I ran across the idea to coat the potatoes in egg white and roll them in Kosher salt, then bake them. I thought it would be a nice touch to add to an ordinary potato. And it was. They were a big hit.

Salted Baked Potatoes
Serves 8

8 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed
2 egg whites
1 cup Kosher salt
--- Preheat oven to 425 degrees
--- Pierce each potato in two or three places with a fork.
--- Spread salt over a foil lined rimmed baking sheet.
--- Roll each potato in the egg white, then in the salt.
You can make the coating as thick or as light as you wish. First time out, try a little of each - heavy and light. If the potatoes are heavily coated, people will tend not be be able to eat the entire skin. But since some salt will crumble off in serving, going too light loses the effect too. Find your preference.
--- Place pan in preheated oven. Check potatoes for doneness after 45 minutes. Larger potatoes, approx. 8oz each, will need an hour total.

Potato Toppings - The Usual Suspects
Sour Cream
Green Onion or Chives
Cheddar Cheese

Potato Toppings - Change the Pace
Roasted Garlic
Finely Grated Fresh Parmigianno Reggiano
Carmelized Onions and Fennel, with hot pepper flakes and fennel seed
Mexican Crema
Pancetta Crisps or Strips

2010 Christmas Dinner - Salt Crusted Potatoes / Tenderloin

My Caesar Salad Dressing

This is adapted from the Jamie Oliver Caesar Salad recipe I've mentioned a few times here, which includes a great crouton technique. I dind't publish the details of the salad dressing, respecting copyright.

But he's a little vague on lemon/oil proportions, and I've made some modifications to what he does. So I'm clarifying here with the proportions I've been using the past few months.

Also, he calls for a boatload of anchovies, but not a full tin, so there's wastage. I recommend anchovy paste instead.

Another benefit of anchovy paste - there are only one or two brands widely available. I use Alessi.  However, there are many, many brands of anchovies in tins. Even within the same brand you never know if you'll get whole, firm pieces or unappealing, gooey strands. Anchovy paste will introduce greater consistency in this recipe in multiple ways.

Awesome Fresh Caesar Salad Dressing

2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Fresh ground black pepper
2 ounces high quality parmesan, grated
½ cup olive oil

1.       Combine all ingredients, add oil last.
2.       Season greens with salt and additional pepper. 3. Top with parmesan shavings.

Makes enough for 3 heads of romaine. Use sparingly for better taste.

Awesome Flavors From A Few Simple Ingredients

This is the second, yet more complex menu I did last weekend for a friends holiday party. Most of the recipes are online on one of my sites, so links are included where possible.

Macanese Chicken Wings
-          Coconut Peanut Dipping Sauce

Americanized Gougeres
-          Roasted Corn, Bacon and Cheddar Gougeres

New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp
-          Rustic Bread for Dipping 

Asian Meatballs
-          Lime Dipping Sauce
-          Sichuan dipping Sauce
-          Sweet and Sour Roasted Peppers

Caesar Salad with Crispy Pancetta
- Homemade Rosemary-Chicken Croutons

Andouille, Shrimp and Crab Gumbo

Pork and Alligator Sausage, Shrimp and Crab Gumbo
- Steamed Rice

Coffee Amaretti Ice Cream Cake
-          Dark Chocolate Rum Sauce

In case anyone's keeping score.....

I've got at least one typo per article and I NEVER spell check my blog post titles. Which, if you read the last post earlier today, is quite embarassing.


Grilling in Houston in December - Whole Salmon and Salmon Skin Cracklins

Party for my golf buddies and families. I just did the grilling:
-          Grilled Whole Salmon Fillets stuffed (yes stuffed) with Dill
-          Crispy Salmon Skin Cracklin’s
-          Provencal Butterflied Leg of Lamb
-          Ribs, Ribs, Ribs…..

JV Swim Team Lasagna

Made this last weekend for the KHS JV swim team - about 50 hungry swimmers. We made a little over triple this recipe.
For two 9x13 pans
1.5 packages Barilla Lasagna
-- Cook pasta, drain and toss with olive oil so it won’t stick.

2 large onions, diced
4 large clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, skin peeled, then peel carrot into strips w/peeler
2 cans imported San Marzano tomatoes (28oz) – in Italian food section
3 sprigs fresh thyme
--Cook onion, garlic and carrot in 4 tablespoons olive oil
--Add tomatoes, thyme and season with kosher salt. Bring to a boil. Simmer 30 minutes

1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
½ a large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 large sprigs fresh oregano, (1 tablespoon dried)
3 sprigs fresh thyme (2 teaspoons dried)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
--Separately brown the ground meats and drain almost all the fat
--Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened.
--Finely chop the herbs and add to meat onions. Add meat back to pan to warm.
--Season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

8 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup grated parmesan, high quality imported parm, please.  

1.       Oil the bottom and sides of two 9x13 pans.
2.       Spoon a very thin layer of sauce on the bottom of each pan.
3.       Create one layer of lasagna pasta across pan, add a 1 cup mozzarella, 3 tablespoons parmesan, 1 cup of the meat mixture and top with 1-1/2 cups sauce. Repeat twice. Top with additional mozzarella and parmesan.
4.       Drizzle a stream of olive oil randomly over top of lasagna and season with kosher salt fresh ground pepper.
5.       Bake uncovered in 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. Allow to rest 15-20 minutes after removing it from oven.

Chocolate Mousse with Raspberries

Amy (age 7): What kind of mammal can you eat? Chocolate Moose.

She made that one up and cracks herself up over it.
This version of chocolate mousse was a special treat on my anniversary a few weeks ago. It's a simple recipe, but good ingredients and technique are required.

Chocolate Mousse with Raspberries
4 servings

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 ounces sweet or semi-sweet chocolate
1 stick butter
3 eggs separated
1/4 cup dark rum or amaretto
1/4 cup sugar
1 pint heavy cream
1/2 pint of raspberries
  1. Simmer a saucepan of water; place a metal bowl over top of pan. Add chocolate until it melts.
  2. Add butter 1-2 tablespoons at a time, until incorporated into chocolate.
  3. Remove bowl and stir in egg yolks one at a time. Add rum or amaretto. Chill bowl while performing next step.
  4. Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Add sugar to incorporate.
  5. Gently fold whites into chocolate mixture, starting with a small amount of the whites.
  6. Spoon mousse into ramekins.
  7. Whip cream to stiff peaks. Top ramekins with whipped cream and raspberries.

Shrimp and Lobster Cocktail with Rose Marie Sauce

I read the ingredients for this recipe and thought of the mayo/ketchup salad dressing my Mom made in the '70's. But the addition of lemon juice, Worchestershire sauce and Brandy caught my attention. It was shockingly refreshing.

Shrimp and Lobster Cocktail with Rose Marie Sauce
Serves 8

1.5 pounds medium shrimp, preferably 16-20 or 20-25 count, peeled
2 medium lobsters, approx. 1.25 pounds each
Seasonings: 1 bay leaf, 12 whole peppercorns, 1 lemon, sliced
Butter lettuce
2 tablespoons mayonaisse
2 tablespoons ketchup (really, trust me)
1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
1 tablespoon brandy
1 small lemon
  1. Prepare an ice bath.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil – add seasonings and simmer about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add shrimp, cook for 2 or 3 minutes depending on size of shrimp.  Remove shrimp with a slotted spoon and put in the ice bath. Let cool for 2-3 minutes, then drain.
  4. Cook lobsters for 10-12 minutes, one at a time. Plunge into ice bath, or run under cool water until they can be handled.
  5. Combine ketchup, mayo, worchestershire sauce and brandy.  Season with salt and pepper, then squeeze the juice of the lemon into the sauce.
  6. Toss shrimp and lobser pieces in sauce, serve over butter lettuce.
You can make homemade mayo and homemade ketchup if you want to go crazy. That’s actually what I did. J But I made a “regular” from the jar version too, so see if it would work as well, and it does.

Rich Turkey Soup with Sherry and Herbs

After a week of Thanksgiving cooking (preceded by almost a week of support and fun with Golfers Against Cancer), it's time to catch up on some great cooking entries. There are a few highlights from our multiple Thanksgiving dinners and follow up, including:

- A twist on Shrimp Cocktail, with Rose Marie Sauce
- Improved recipe for Braised Carrot and Parsnip with Shallots
- Lightly Smashed Root Vegetables with Orange


Really, no matter how good the stock is, no matter what choices I've made in veg or grains or pasta, no matter the technqiue, I've never ever been excited about my results with a "leftover" turkey soup. Some have been good - but none have ever been excellent, until yesterday. Here's the recipe:

Rich Turkey Soup with Sherry

1 to 1.5 pounds leftover turkey meat, roughly torn or cut into 1-2" pieces
1/2 a large onion, chopped finely
3 medium carrots, in 1/8" sliced rounds
4 medium garlic cloves, lightly smashed and skins removed
2 quarts rich brown turkey stock
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh, or 1.5 teaspoons dried tarragon
1/3 cup dry sherry, such as Amontillado or Fino
  1. Saute onion, carrot and garlic until slightly softened. Season lightly with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.
  2. Add stock and herbs, bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat, check seasoning and simmer 15 minutes.
  4. Add sherry and simmer 2-3 minutes.

What Did You Think of the Show "Master Chef?"

Many of you know that I was a finalist to appear on the reality cooking show Master Chef, with Gordon Ramsey. One step further and I would have been on TV.

Auditions for the second season are underway, and the producers have even contacted me directly to try out again.

What do you think? Many of you saw the show, with both it's ups and downs. I'm certain I cook as well as any of the finalist, or even the young winner. But, is it a show you'd like to see me on? Do you think it's worth the publicity - both positive and negative - to be associated with a show like that?

I'm thinking it over. Let me know what you think......you can email me (Tom) at tmcguff@gmail.com.

Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon and Mint

I seem to have a soft spot for cauliflower. I know some people dislike it strongly, something about a funny smell. I've never experienced that, so it's somewhat toward the top of my list of favorite everyday vegetables. AND my kids like it. That's almost all that matters.

I prefer to roast cauliflower, as it's so easy to overcook it in water or by steaming. Cut the florets into bite size pieces or larger, toss in olive oil, S & P, and roast for 12-15 minutes. That's it.

A restaurant in San Francisco, Thermidor goes a step further and browns the roasted florets in a skillet to crisp them up a little, then tosses in lemon juice, hot pepper flakes and mint.

It's a great combination, but now it becomes easy to overcook the cauliflower. So, either be sure to under-roast in the oven. Or, don't worry about it. Just toss the roasted cauliflower with the lemon, pepper and mint when it's still hot. It will still be a great flavor combination.

Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon and Mint
1 head cauliflower, cut into roughly 1" pieces
1 medium or 1/2 a large lemon, halved

Fresh Herbs: mint leaves
Staples: olive oil, red pepper flakes, kosher salt, fresh ground pepper
Equipment: rimmed sheet pan, large skillet

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Line a rimmed sheet pan with aluminum foil (for easy cleanup), toss cauliflower florets in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast cauliflower for 10-12 minutes if you plan to re-crisp it in a skillet, 13-15 minutes for the one-step dish.
  4. If re-crisping, allow florets to cool. Then cook in olive oil over high heat for 2-3 minutes, until crispy brown edges form.
  5. For either version, add lemon juice, hot pepper flakes to taste and a half dozen mint leaves, chopped.

Chicken Breasts with Capicolla, Mozarella and Herb Roasted Tomatoes

This dish is almost "stuffed chicken, only easier, because you don't have to carefully carve out pockets, nor flatten the chicken breasts.

The only thing to pay close to is the done-ness and browning of the chicken. If you cooked the chicken for the complete 40 minutes that the tomatoes roast, you'd dry out the breast. Adding the chicken part way through cooking, then using the broiler for browning, solves these problems. The exact cooking times may vary based on the size of your roasting pan and specific of your oven. Just make sure the chicken is cooked through. If it's browned and beautiful too, it's a bonus.

In the corner of the picture below you'll see fresh fava beans and peas with butter and lemon.

1.5  pounds boneless chicken breasts
1/4 pound capicolla (regular or hot), very thinly sliced
1/3 pound mozzarella cheese, cut into roughly rectangular pieces
1.5 pounds plum tomatoes, quartered
1 pint yellow cherry tomatoes

Fresh herbs: bay leaf, thyme, rosemary
Staples: Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper
Equipment: Roasting Pan
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Line a roasting pan with quarters of plum tomatoes, unseeded, and the yellow cherry tomatoes.  
  3. Add 2 bay leaves, 3 thyme sprigs, 2 rosemary sprigs, salt, fresh ground pepper and olive oil. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Toss together. If fresh herbs are unavailable, substitute each sprig with a teaspoon of dried.
  4. Roast vegetables for 25 minutes.
  5. While vegetables roast, place chicken breasts in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper, then drizzle with olive oil and toss together. .
  6. Slice each chicken breast lengthwise, being careful to not cut all the way through.
  7. Layer 2-3 slices of capicolla in this fold, then add a rectangle or two of mozzarella. See picture below to see uncooked breasts lined with capi and cheese.
  8. After vegetables have cooked 25 minutes, remove from oven and place the chicken breasts on top of vegetables and herbs, pocket facing up. 
  9. Cook for another 15 minutes. Turn over to broil to slightly brown the tops of the chicken and capicolla and completely melt the cheese (it may brown a little).
  10. Serve over rice or pasta or with bread.

Italian Sausage and Herb Roasted Tomatoes

This is yet another Jamie Oliver homage and a brilliant, simplistic technique. Again, I'll paraphrase, not repeat as a detailed recipe, as I encourage you to buy his book "Jamie at Home".

  1. Line a roasting pan with quarters of plum tomatoes, unseeded, and a pint or so of yellow cherry tomatoes.
  2. Add a couple bay leaves, thyme sprigs, rosemary sprigs, salt, fresh ground pepper and olive oil. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Toss together.
  3. Add a dozen sausages into the mix, toss again, then place sausages on top of vegetables and herbs.
  4. Roast at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or so. Serve over rice, pasta, bread. The resulting sauce is to die for.

Mushroom, Maple, Lime Fllling for Soft Tacos

I've made a side dish for steaks a few times that combines mushrooms with lime and a little maple syrup. Here's the full recipe: Mushrooms with Pancetta, Maple and Lime

During the soft taco extravaganza, I happened to have a few mushrooms lying around. First I was going make them spicy with poblano and serrano peppers. Then, I realized that a little maple and lime would be awesome, especially with roasted peppers, queso fresco, quacamole, and a touch of sour cream. Massively appealing vegetarian tacos, if I can say so myself. Any combo of the above is good - probably just not all at once. Here's the simple, simple mushroom portion.

Mushroom, Maple, Lime Filling for Soft Tacos

1 pound mushrooms, quartered if large, halved if small
1/2 a medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 serranno pepper, seeded and cored (more or less to taste) (or a few good shakes of red pepper flakes)
1/2 cup chicken of beef stock
1 tablespoon good quality maple syrup
1 lime, halved
Queso fresco, sour cream, gaucamole to accompany.
  • Rinse and chop mushrooms
  • Add to a hot skillet over medium high heat with a good tablespoon of olive oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add onions, garlic and pepper and reduce heat to medium. Cook until mushrooms stop releasing liquid.
  • Add chicken stock, turn heat to high. Add syrup and squeeze lime over mushrooms. Cook 1-2 minutes as stock is absorbed. Remove from heat.
  • Cover to keep warm.
  • Serve over lightly grilled tortillas, with a small amount of queso fresco, sour cream, guacamole to taste.

Creamy Chicken and Kale Soft Tacos

This recipe is insane. It originated with Rick Bayless, the American authority on authentic regional Mexican cooking. He's got a few restaurants in Chicago, many cookbooks, TV series....major respected food personality.

I made his recipe for this about a year or two ago, and have simplified it a touch. It's not only delicious, but I've served it to 7 teenagers and 4 grade school kids in the past week - and it contains KALE - and they go back for seconds, thirds and fourths. Then the teenagers eat even more. Here's my version.

Creamy Chicken and Kale Soft Tacos

2 poblano peppers.
8 boneless chicken thighs
1 onion, chopped.
1/3 to 1/2 large head of kale, about 5-6 cups before cooking
1/2 cup cream
Queso fresco for topping
  • Roast poblanos over a grill or gas flame until charred on all skin parts. Place in a bowl and cover with foil.
  • After resting 10-20 minutes (while cooking chicken), peel off skins and remove seeds and cores. The easiest way to do this is under gently running cool water. Chop poblanos into 1/2 inch peives. 
  • Cook chicken thighs in a large skillet in with a tablespoon of olive oil. Brown on one side, then turn over and brown. The chicken does not need to be cooked all the way through, yet. Remove from the pan. Pour off excess oil/fat, leaving 1-2 tablespoons in the pan. 
  • While chicken is cooking, rinse kale carefully, tear the leaf portion off the stems, then chop into 1/2"  pieces. Don't worry about drying the leaves.  
  • Add onion to skillet and cook about 8 minutes over medium heat.
  • While onion is cooking, chop chicken into 3/4" or so pieces.
  • When onions are begining to turn gold, add poblanos, kale and chicken and stir frequently until kale is wilted and small.
  • Season with salt and fresh ground pepper.
  • Add cream and turn heat to high. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer until cream thickens.
  • Check seasoning. Spoon mixture into lightly grilled soft tortillas. Top with crumbled queso fresco. 

Awesome Simple Soft Tacos or Fajitas

Soft Tacos
R: Mushroom, Maple, Lime with sour cream
L: Grilled chicken, cilantro, queso fresco
Both with roasted red and hatch peppers

Last weekend I made a number of different soft taco fillings for a few dinners. One of the menus is here. Frankly, I don't think I'm going to be able to get all the variations into this blog in a timely fashion.....so here's what I'll do for you. A couple tips on basic chicken and beef, then two of the awesome recipes in detail. Email me if you want more details.

Awesome grilled chicken for tacos / fajitas: Marinate about 2.5-3 pounds of chicken breasts with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, a huge handful of cilantro, a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1tablespoon of kosher salt and a generous grinding of fresh black pepper. Cook on medium-high grill about 4 minutes, THEN squeeze lime juice the uncooked side. Turn over, squeeze more lime juice on the cooked side. cook about 3 minutes. Timing depends on thickness, just don't cook until they chicken is dry. You can always put them back on the grill. Adding the lime juice at the end means it won't cook off. Not using it in the marinate means it won't precook the surface and lose the lime flavor.

Simple Skirt Steak / Flank Steak for Tacos / Fajitas: Put a generous amount of Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper on skirt or flank steak. Drizzle with olive oil and THIS TIME, squeeze lime juice on the steak and let it sit for 20 minutes at room temperature. This begins to breakdown the stringy proteins in the steak. Cook over medium high heat for 3 minutes per side. Remove to a platter and cover with foil. Let rest for 10-15 minutes. Slice into thin strips, or bite sized pieces (especially if you have pretty little kids around).

Some people (to remain nameless, even if one is 7 years old and the other is much older and they both live in this house and the both are female), like grated sharp cheddar cheese and sour cream on their tacos.

I prefer:
  • Roasted Red Bell Peppers, Poblano Peppers and Hatch Peppers (regional specialty)
  • Queso Fresco (easy to find in Texas and Hispanic markets)
  • Toasted Pumpkin seeds
  • Maybe a touch of guacamole and......sour cream.

Roasted Strawberries with Balsamic and Pimm's

Anyone reading this column lately realizes I have a bromance with Jamie Oliver. Actually, just his cooking, 'cause I don't go for that stuff.

There almost couldn't be an easier, yet unique recipe than this. I'll admit, in the hoity-toity late 1980's western suburbs of Chicago, going to polo matches in Oak Brook, even if you were over reaching, was a social vista I traversed - inappropriately. However, in the process I learned about the Pimm's Cup. An  obscure British aperitif, mixed with club soda and lime, it was.....well, if you're over reaching who cared what it tasted like. You were at the polo matches.

Pimm's is gin-based liqueur containing quinine, fruits and herbs, originally created by a pub owner in 1823. It's.....OK. It's....and acquired taste. But, mixed with balsamic vinegar, vanilla syrup and strawberries....it's very nice indeed. Here's my recipe, inspired by my bro-man Jamie Oliver.

Roasted Strawberries with Balsamic and Pimm's

1 pound fresh strawberries, stems removed, cut flat across the stem end so they can lay flat in a pan
2 tablespoons Pimm's liqueur
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla syrup, or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon sugar
3-4 shortbread cookies
Ice cream or sorbet

  • Turn broiler in high
  • Toss strawberries with liquids, then rearrange in a baking pan, small enough to crowd the strawberries into one layer. Place strawberries cut side down.
  • Roast for 3-6 minutes, until strawberries soften.
  • Remove and toss berries with liquids.
  • Crush shortbreads or other cooked in a fresh towel (wrap up and smash against the counter). Sprinkle crumbs over berries and top with ice cream or sorbet.

Fingerling Potatoes with Bacon, Sage and Lemon

Prep - prior to tossing and roasting

You need to make this dish. I've been on a Jamie Oliver tear for the past few weeks, with good reason. Yesterday I saw a recipe that called for coring medium sized potatoes, then stuffing them with bacon, an anchovy, a sage leaf and lemon zest. Stunning presentation, but all I had were fingerlings - too small to stuff.

So I halved the fingerlings and used similar ingredients, mixing a little anchovy paste with lemon juice. Roast for 25 minutes. Unbelievable. You can't stop eating these.

Fingerlings are a nice, but expensive, shortcut in the kitchen. They usually just need a gentle rinse and never need peeling. So preparatiaon is super fast. The trick is if you can find fingerlings at a great price. Spec's flagship store in mid-town Houston has them for about $1.50 per pound.

Fingerling Potatoes with Bacon, Sage and Lemon
1-1/4 pound fingerling or baby potatoes, mixed colors and sizes
4 slices thick cut bacon, cut into 3/4" pieces
1 lemon, zested, juice reserved
1 teaspoon anchovy paste, or 1-2 anchovies, mushed up with a fork.
1 tablespoon olive oil
4-6 fresh sage leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Rinse the potatoes, and slice all by the smallest ones in half lengthwise.
  • Mash anchovy paste into lemon juice to combine
  • Toss potatoes with lemon zest, oil, bacon pieces, lemon juice mixture, sage and thyme.
  • Season with salt and fresh ground pepper.
  • Roast for 12 minutes - check doneness, and roast for 8-12 more minutes. Turn pan if your oven heats unevenly.
  • Serve immediately or at room temp.

  • My herb garden
    Thyme on bottom left, sage on right.

The Soft Taco Party Won't End

If you're reading this on Kindle, there will be additional entries regarding the soft taco bonanza we've been having since Friday night. Saturday I cooked much the same menu again. Snacked on it today. Will serve some of the same, refreshed tomorrow.

Weird thing.....multiple groups of different friends, teens, more friends, more teens keep dropping in over the last few days, so I just keep fueling the soft taco party. They're good enough that those of us re-eating soem of these dishes don't mind.

But this little blurb is out of order, since I haven't written the recipes from Fri/Sat, and need to write this down for menu planning/shopping for tomorrow.

Menu plan for tomorrow's "Night before moving to Colorado" for our friends the Elliott's.
  • Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
  • Quesedillas for Qids - Oh, don't do that. Quesedillas for Kids.
  • Soft Tacos:
    • Creamy Chicken with Poblanos and Kale
    • Steak Fajita with Pumpkin Seed Guacamole
    • Tuna Escabeche and Sour Cream
    • Stewed Mushrooms and Chilies
    • Queso Fresco and Roasted Peppers
  • Lemon Sorbet with Lime Zest and Chiles

Cheddar Horseradish Dip

My friend Brad wants a sardine recipe. Hmm. I don't have one. But I did have fresh sardines grilled, with a grapefruit viniagrette at a restaurant in Houston once - DaMarco. It was awesome. But still, Brad probably won't find fresh sardines anyway.

Brad also likes cheddar dip. Well, now we're talkin. I've made this about 6-7 times. It's got a great blast of flavor, is a little piquant from the horseradish and fresh radishes. Quite unique. You'll like it I'm sure, it's one of my favorites and my guests have raved over it.

Note: It's best to make this the day you're serving it. The radishes will release some liquid. However, if you have leftovers the next day (rare) you can drain that liquid and add a little more cheese to firm it up.

Cheddar Horseradish Dip

2 cups sharp white Cheddar, grated
1/2 cup finely fresh radishes, or more to taste
1/3 cup mayonnaise
4 tablespoons fresh horseradish, finely grated -or- 2 tablespoons bottled horseradish, drained
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and fresh ground pepper

Combine all ingredients and serve with vegetable, crackers or Wheat Thins. Using a mandoline to julienne the radishes will speed this recipe up.

Pasta With Garlic, Tomato, Basil and Asparagus

There are plenty of recipes and techniques for making a simple pasta dish with basil and tomato. Michael Ruhlman, author of many great cookbooks and cooking non-fiction, published a recipe this week on his website for Pasta with Garlic, Basil and Tomato Water. There's a quickie video from an iphone, which makes the technique even clearer.

I had that recipe mind, but had too few tomatoes on hand to generate as much liquid as I'd need (only two average sized plum tomatoes). But I had some asparagus. So a marriage ensued among asparagus and about half the Tomato Water approach.

2-3 plum tomatoes, diced
1 few tablespoons of finely diced basil
  • Toss tomatoes, basil and a generous amount of sea salt into a bowl.
  • Let tomatoes sit for 20-30 minutes to release juices
1 pound asparagus, trimmed
  • Prepare an ice bath. (Bowl of water + ice cubes. But it sounds fancy and professional, doesn't it?)
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to boil
  • Cook asparagus in boiling water for 2 minutes. Test for doneness. Cook another minute if needed.
  • Retrieve asparagus with a spider strainer or tongs. Immediately place in ice bath to stop cooking.
1 pound pasta, such as angel hair or linguine
  • Cook per package directions
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
A handful of torn or chopped basil, to taste
3 tablespoons butter, cut into several pieces
  • Heat garlic in olive oil until slightly golden.
  • Hold a large strainer over the hot pan.
  • Pour tomatoes into a strainer, allowing juices to fall into the pan.
  • Add basil, salt and pepper. 
  • Allow juices to combine with garlic and tomato juices (tomato water :) )
  • Add butter and swirl pan continuously to melt, but keep butter emulsified.
  • Add reserved asparagus pieces and put in sauce to slightly warm, while butter melts.
  • Toss together sauce and pasta.

Traditionally Cooked Ribs - Great Homemade BBQ Sauce

You may have read my prior article titled "I've Never Cooked Ribs". Well, last weekend, I got the itch to do them again. I also knew the kids would like them, and it was a chance to make more homemade barbeque sauce. There also was a Bears game and a couple high schoolers joining us.

I'll start by mentioning homemade barbecue sauce. Here's my recipe and advice. It's not hard to make, just dump a bunch of spices into cooked onion and tomatoes. But, it's getting rave reviews, and is not like any sauce you've ever had - in several good ways - if I can say so myself. Oh, here's an even simpler, quicker homemade barbeque sauce, which uses no specialty spices and even more common pantry items.

No important comments about technique, really. This time I did the long, slow cooking on two outdoor grills after smoking the slabs over pecan. I went a total of about 4.5 hours, rotating 5 large slabs, keeping the heat between 225 and 250 degrees. If you want some really, really high quality discussion of ribs, try this website: http://amazingribs.com/ . This might be the best food site I've ever seen, and he covers far more than ribs. I know it's far better than what I'm writing and providing. However, it is limited in focus to the grill / casual cooking world.

Halibut with Asparagus Veloute

This recipe is adapted from a Gordon Ramsey creation. It uses surprisingly few ingredients. The key here is that there will be few goes back and forth with ice bath, pureeing, straining and re-heating the asparagus and sauce. However, this can be done one sauce pan, one saute pan, a chinois and a bowl (or two).

Fresh tagliatelle is an option and was my original plan. Then, after buying halibut and asparagus, I realized I only had one egg - not enough for fresh pasta for five people. Oops.

Halibut with Asparagus Veloute

1 pound asparagus, trimmed carefully.
  • Only break off the smallest stem end piece you can. Most of the asparagus will be pureed. Then trim the tips to 2" lengths.
  • Prepare an ice bath. Sounds fancy right? It's a bowl of water with ice cubes - big enough to hold the asparagus. 
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  • Toss the asparagus in the water for 3 minutes. Test for doneness, and remove with a strainer or slotted spoon and immediately place in the ice bath. 
  • When cool, reserve the tips and chop the stems into small pieces
1 shallot, diced
1/2 cup fresh fennel, diced
2 sprigs fresh tarragon
1 cup chicken or fish stock
2 cups baby spinach leaves
3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Saute shallots, fennel and tarragon in 2 tablespoons olive oil until softened, about 4 minutes.
  • Season with salt and fresh ground pepper
  • Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 4 minutes.
  • Add the spinach until it is wilted and fully incorporated. Remove from heat.
  • Blend these sauce ingredients, and pass through a chinois into a bowl. Return sauce to a small saucepan over a very, very low flame.
  • When you start the step below for cooking the fish, add asparagus tips to sauce to heat through.
1 pound fettuccine
2 tablespoons butter
Kosher salt
  • Return water in large pot to a boil. Add pasta and cook per directions.
  • Drain and rinse pasta, then drain and rinse one more time with warm water. Quickly add butter, combine to melt, then return to the pan to the warm burner (turned off). This will keep the pasta warm but not sticking to itself. Season with a pinch of kosher salt.
5 portions halibut fillet, approx. 1/3 pound each, about 1 inch thick or slightly thicker
3/4  cups chicken or fish stock
Fresh chives
  • Heat a tablespoon of oil in a nonstick skillet.
  • Season fish with salt and fresh ground pepper
  • Add asparagus tips to saucepan with veloute
  • Cook the fish for 1 minute per side.
  • Add stock and bring to a boil. Continuously spoon the sauce over the fish. You may want to tilt the pan to gather the stock from the edges.
  • Cook until stock has mostly evaporated, and fish is cooked through.
Serve fish atop a bundle of fettuccine, placing asparagus tips decoratively. Spoon a liberal amount of veloute over the fish and surrounding the pasta (even though I didn't do that in the pciture above - it would look better!).

Jamie Oliver's "Proper" Chicken Caesar Salad

I'm not quite sure how the word 'proper' slipped into the title Jamie Oliver gave to this salad, excepting that the wor itself is a common Britishism. I'm going to step on the toes of his so-called proper salad by showing you a picture that clearly has arugula, radicchio and endive in addition to romaine. So there.

Actually, I'm quite excited to share this recipe and technique. Last week I got copy of Oliver's book Jamie at Home, and have actually made this caesar salad three times since. Granted, I had a lot of croutons and caesar dressing left over after making a double batch for the homecoming dinner. But it was so good we kept making it every other day.

There's a technique offered in this recipe that I've never run across. Toss rustic bread cubes in olive oil and rosemary, then place chicken legs atop the bread cubes. Actually, toss the chicken with the oil and rosemary first, then place them atop. As the chicken roasts for an hour, the drippings will infuse the croutons as they crisp up. 45 minutes into cooking, lay strips of pancetta or bacon over the chicken, and let that crisp up and also drip into the croutons. Have I said enough? You want to make this right now, don't you?

Chicken Legs and Pancetta over Rosemary Croutons

Frankly, I've read several recipes from Jamie At Home, and seen eipsode of the TV show, and they frequently make me want to stop what I'm doing and cook that dish. He's got quite a palate and a great imagination for simple but innovative technique - as proven above.

Jamie Oliver's Proper Chicken Caesar Salad
I'm not going to give the detailed recipe for this dish here. The cookbook is newly published, and I encourage you to buy it. On the other hand, you barely need a recipe - especially for the crouton, chicken, rosemary part of the dish. The dressing, well, the proportions would benefit from reading Jamie's book. There's a link below so you can order a copy from amazon.

  • About 8 chicken legs
  • Enough large cubes of rustic bread to cover the bottom of a roasting pan
  • Toss chicken and bread in olive oil and add fresh rosemary leaves. Bake for an hour at 400 degrees.
  • Shred chicken off the bone after it cools enough to handle.
  • Caesar dressing: anchovies, a small amount of garlic, a liberal amount of high quality parmesan cheese, a good couple squeezes of lemon juice, olive oil in triple the amount of lemon juice. Stir together and season with fresh black pepper.
  • A couple hearts of romaine lettuce (or other mix if you prefer).
  • Toss all ingredients together. I recommend very lightly dressing the salad to let the other flavors, tastes and textures shine.

Chimichurri Rojo Turkey Tacos

1. Roast whole fresh turkey breast. Cut breast meat into strips
2. Get freshly made tortillas from your local tacqueria, if you can. Warm tortillas.
3. Toss Turkey in Chimichurri Roja
4. Toss mixed greens with olive oil, lemon juice, S & P.
5. Fill tortilla's with salad, then turkey.
6. Top taco with a dollop of plain yogurt.

Chimichurri Rojo

1/2 cup Spanish sherry vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon pimenton (smoked paprika)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Bears Win! Bears Win! We Win with Chicago Style Italian Beef Sangwiches

Monday Night Football, September 27, 2010
Bears 20 - Packers 17

It's a rivalry you group up with in Chicago, and the intensity of the rivalry has only increased in the last couple decades. Bears-Packers. This past Monday was the 180th meeting of these two teams. 180. Think about that you Carolina Panther fans.

Anyway, we had just completed the massive homecoming menu, weren't in the mood for a lot of cooking on Monday, but DID have some steak left over. So I came up with the idea of slicing up the steak and putting it into a Chicago style Italian beef sandwich (often pronunciated as "sangwitch" by the local denizens).

The biggest problem was that we weren't cooking the beef, we already had cooked steaks. So the delicious juices that help create the sauce for the beef sandwiches wasn't going to develop. I went ahead and made a decent sauce with beef stock, red wine and a couple dried herbs. Why dried? Well, trust me, those sangwitch shops are not gourmet outposts. And I wanted to get as close as I could to the real thing, given my previously mentioned limitations.

The next thing I considered was toppings. There are two Chicago style approaches, roughly.
  • Hot - which means Giardiniera, a spicy mix of peppers, onion, cauliflower and other vegetables.
  • Sweet - which implies pan roasted bell peppers. Usually green, sometimes green and red.

I had some Giardiniera on hand, but Margie and the kids would probably pass on the spicy version. In fact, most of them would pass on the sweet version too, but whatever. So I went "High End Sweet", and slowly cooked onion, garlic and fennel with red, orange and green peppers. I added a few fennel seeds, dried oregano (bowing to local tradition) and hot pepper flakes. It looked like this, and was delicious.

In the end, we had a surprisingly nice interpretation of an Italian beef sandwich. And a GREAT outcome, as the Bears took advantage of the Packers 18 penalties (their most since 1945 when they played the Boston Yanks) to win the game and start the season at 3-0.

Chicago Style Italian Beef Sandwiches

2 cups beef stock
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
(I swear, this is the first time I've recommended two dried herbs. But, we're trying to stay authentic-like)
Salt and Pepper to taste
     --- Bring sauce ingredients to a boil in a small sauce pan, then simmer while making peppers.

Peppers and Fennel
1 small red onion, sliced
1 bulb fresh fennel, white parts, sliced thinly
1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
1 green pepper, seeded and sliced
1 orange or yellow pepper, seeded and sliced
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (again, an homage)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
Salt and fresh ground pepper
      --- Add 1-2 tablespoons olive oil to a skillet over medium-high heat
      --- Add onion and fennel and cook for 5-6 minutes
      --- Add remaining ingredients, cook for 5-6 minutes
      --- Lower heat to medium-low or low.
      --- Cook for 5-6 more minutes, or until peppers are soft, but have not changed colors.

1 pound of thinly sliced steak or roast beef (don't forget, this recipe was a way to use leftovers). I'll publish a "real" Italian Beef recipe someday too.
8 thick sandwich rolls
      --- Add beef to sauce and let sit over low heat to warm through.
      --- To serve, use tongs to place beef into sliced rolls. The rolls CANNOT EVER be toasted, just in case anyone from outside Chicago gets any crazy ideas.
      --- Spoon additional sauce over the sangwitch to make it as "dry" or "wet" as you prefer.
      --- Top with a generous portion of mixed peppers and onions.

2010 Homecoming Dinner - Kingwood High School

We've started a tradition of over-the-top Homecoming Dance dinners served at our house for our daughter and her friends. Last year's theme was "Looks like a kid's menu". You can read about it here.

The highlight of this year's menu was over ten pounds of fresh tuna, caught by Nora's friends Amanda and Lauren during their recent vacation to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Their father Chris, who has business connections to Brazil, also suggested serving Picanha, Brazilian style skewered steaks. For this surf and turf entree, we'd carve the steaks off the skewers tableside.

Lori, mom to Nora's boyfriend Jack, offered to make Key Lime Pies. They were out of this world, and looked better than any KLP I've ever seen. A twist of lime was expected, but the grated lime zest sprinkled atop was perfect, and she resisted the temptation to overdo a good thing. It was gorgeous and delicious.

Nora asked for Caesar salad. Well, OK. But the menu was now kind of all over the map, so to speak. So I just kept spreading it further over the map, and here's what we ended up with:

A Taste From Every – No, Make That Almost Every – Continent**

Strawberry-Kiwi Sangria (non-alcoholic)

Europe / France
Roasted Corn, Bacon and Cheddar Gougeres

Africa / Middle East
Mini Kefta Kebab Wraps

North America 
Chicken Pancetta Caesar Salad
Homemade Rustic Bread

Fennel Coriander Grilled Tuna
Sesame Aioli
Wasabi Mayonnaise
Long Beans with Sichuanese Ya Cai

South America
Grilled Brazilian Picanha Steak
Roasted Sweet Potato Disks
Chimichurri Rojo

North America
Key Lime Pie
Lori's Awesome Brownies 

** Penguin Pops and Krill Burgers were a serious consideration, but ruled out based on international law.

Much like last year, once the quests arrive there's little time for taking pictures. I snapped a couple, mostly of ingredients in process, not finished dishes. As I get more pictures from the other families, I'll add to the small collection below.

Kefta Kabobs
Grilled then broken into toasted flatbread with mesclun and yogurt

Roasted Pancetta and Chicken Legs over Homemade Croutons
Drippings from chicken season the croutons
Chicken was shredded, then added to Caesar Salad with the croutons and shaved Parmesan

Long beans starting to dry-fry
Sichuanese Ya Cai, Xiao Xing Rice Wine and Soy
Beans served under Coriander-Fennel Grilled Tuna
Entree prep team (parents) in the kitchen
Entrees ready for service

Mr. G carving Picanha tableside

Roast Cornish Hens with Herb Crust

Roast Cornish Hens with Root Vegetables

The last full meal from my Sept 18-24 family menu plan was Roast Cornish Hens. They were on sale for $3.99 for two. I figured one hen per person, and we've got a $2 entree. I had some great root vegetables to use, but other than that, no specific recipe or plan, especially for the hens.

It was still blazing hot outside, so a long grilling wasn't appealing. But I did quickly brown them on the grill. Think about how much time it would take to brown 6 hens on both sides, even if I used three large skillets at a time. And the splatter all over my fairly clean stove wasn't appealing either. So I threw all six hens on the grill for about 7-8 minutes a side to get some browning.

While they grilled, I sauteed a few diced shallots in olive oil, then tossed them with panko (breadcrumbs), fresh thyme leaves and S&P.

Before putting the hens into the grill, I drizzled melted butter over them, then pressed on the herbed bread crumbs. I roasted at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then let the birds sit for almost that long to re-absorb juices.
The birds were......OK. Inexpensive, easy, decent taste, pain in the butt to eat. Not bad.

My original expectation was that the kids would think having their own individual chicken would be so cool that they'd attack the birds with youthful glee. They did not. Maybe the kids were tired. I also thought that with enough carrots in the root vegetable medley, they'd like that too. Not so much.

Is this menu good for an adult dinner party? Kind of - there's a good bit of labor and fine knife skill involved. Maybe this is why I don't cook Cornish hens too often.

On the other hand, I thought the root veg was fantastic. I'll place the recipe in the next post.

2009 Homecoming Dance Menu

Last year we had about a dozen freshman high school kids over to the house for Homecoming dinner. Nora's friend Amy and I though it would be cool if we had a menu that appeared to be kids food, but each dish was actually a gourmet twist on a kid-sounding item.

Several of the recipes were inspired by Grant Achatz at Alinea in Chicago. Others were my own creations. It was a blast, as we had about eight parents in the kitchen all working for me to do final plating and serving.
Somehow, I was too busy to take pictures of the food - a mistake that won't happen again in 2010.

Note: I'm publishing this on What Tom Cooked now, because it was originally published on my old web site http://www.recipereview.biz/, which will be retired in October. So I'd like to capture it here. I hope you enjoy this. The 2010 menu was just created and will be served this weekend.

Kids Menu

    Chips and Dip


    PB&J Sandwiches



    Chili Cheese Fries

    Ice Cream Sandwiches

For each of these menu items, the actual dish was far more complicated, with restaurant style presentation. We handed out a menu that had "Kids Menu" on one side, and "Young Adult Menu" on the other, with these descriptions:

Young Adult Menu

Chips and Dip
Homemade French Onion Dip and Kettle Chips

Homemade Pretzels Filled with Aged White Cheddar Cheese and Italian Country Ham, served with Jalapeno Honey Mustard
PB&J Sandwiches
Gigantic Ruby Grapes wrapped in Toasted Brioche with Peanut Butter and Almond Dust

Baby Spinach and Arugula with Frozen Balsamic and Thyme Viniagrette, accompanied by Figs and fresh Buffalo Mozzarella

A Deconstructed Hamburger served over homemade Garlic Toast, topped with an Oven-dried Tomato slice

Condiments:  ]
Homemade Tarragon Pickles
Celery and Apple Slaw
Tomato Compote
Roasted Garlic Mayonnaise
Raspberry Wasabi Mustard

Chili Cheese Fries
Constructed Tower of Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Fries, filled with Chili a la Franey, topped with aged Cheddar and lime wedges

Ice Cream Sandwiches
Lemon-infused Blue Bell Ice Cream with Blueberry Swirl, topped with Brown Sugar Crumble

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