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 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'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: . 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.

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