Breaking News - Jamie Oliver's Rosemary Salt

I was skeptical about this little salt concoction, even though it came from Jamie Oliver. I thought the final instruction "mash this through a sieve" didn't sound reasonable.

But, I used the rosemary salt on oven fries (technique and proportions also from JO), and it was incredible. So good, that my13 year old son, the pickiest eater in the house, requested more of "that fancy salt" - unprovoked, unprompted, unsolicited, even unsolicitated. This never happens in my house.

The recipe concept:
- Equal parts rosemary, chopped and Sea Salt.
- Add lemon jest
- Mash with a mortal and pestle, or the back of a fork.
- Press through a sieve / strainer (which makes it into a very fine grain salt).
- Sprinkle on oven fries (or anything - it's remarkably good).

You can find the original recipe, along with the oven fry technique in Jamie' Dinners: The Essential Family cookbook. Careful, though. There are some things I'm a little leery about in this cookbook. Simply put, it's not really for beginners, I think. But I could be wrong. I'm planning an article / review of this book after I make a few more things from it.

Chicken and Root Vegetable Soup

You can tell by the recent recipe choices that it's the dead of winter down here in Houston. Boy can it get chilly. You even need a light jacket some mornings. Brrrr.

Actually, it doesn't have to be below freezing to feel a chill. Damp, dank days in the 40's, especially with a drizzle, still make one long for a warm soup and fresh bread. So that's what I'm planning for tonight.

Chicken and Root Vegetable Soup
Serves 8

1.5 pounds chicken breast
3 cups potatoes
2 cups each parsnips, celery root, leeks
1.5 cups each carrot, onion
1 cup turnips
3 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons butter
6 sprigs fresh thyme (or 3/4 teaspoon dried)
1 fresh bay leaf (or 2 dried)
8 cups fresh chicken stock
3 tablespoons Sherry (optional)
  1. Cut chicken into 1" cubes. Peel and cut all root vegetables to 1/4" cubes. Finely dice the leek.
  2. Heat butter over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, cook until wilted. 
  3. Add the chicken and combine with onions. 
  4. Add all the remaining vegetables. Combine and cook 2 minutes to barely heat through. 
  5. Add the stock, thyme, bay, Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. 
  6. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if needed. Add the Sherry and cook for 3 more minutes. 
Note: This recipe is simple, but it takes a long time to cut up the vegetables. Plan on one hour total time. 

Root Vegetables with Orange

This recipe is adapted from Mario Batali's Molto Italiano, one of the few cookbooks I rely on regularly. I made it some time ago, maybe around Thanksgiving, and never entered it into this journal - which is a shame, as it's delicious. I happened to be thumbing through the Molto book looking for an idea for Lamb Shanks, when I ran across this recipe and realized I should capture it.

Root Vegetables with Orange
Serves 8

2 carrots
2 potatoes, russet or gold
1 large turnip or 2 small
1 large onion
2 medium parsnips
1 large sweet potato
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 orange, zested

  1. Peel and cut carrots, potato, turnip and sweet potato into 1/2 cubes.  
  2. Peel and cut the onion and parsnip into 1/4" cubes. 
  3. Combine the vegetables in a pot of salted water to cover. Bring to a boil then simmer 15 minutes. 
  4. Drain the vegetables and mash them. I use a dough cutter or dough blender, because it both mashes and cuts the vegetables, creating a texture which I prefer to head-on mashing from a blunt instrument. 
  5. If the mash looks a little dry, squeeze some orange juice into it, and add a drizzle of olive oil. 
  6. Stir in the remaining ingredients and season with Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. 

Can be made ahead and reheated easily.

Grilled Eggplant, Broccoli and Sausage Individual Lasagna & Pine Nut Spinach Sauce

As I wrote up the description of the individual lasagnas the other day, I was really enjoying the memory of making them about 10 days earlier. Sometimes these "journal" entries fall behind the timeframe of when the dish was actually cooked.

So last night I made the lasagnas again - this time using slices of grilled eggplant, Italian sausage grilled then sliced, and grill-roasted broccoli. These were just the vegetables and meats I had on hand, so that's where the combination came from. I used mozzarella and topped them with the all-important provolone slice. No ricotta on hand, so I skipped it.

For the kids, a put a spoonful of tomato sauce onto each layer. For the adults, a Pine Nut Spinach cream sauce that Pierre Franey recommended in his book Cooking in America. Of course from a cookbook that old, you usually have to cut any specified amount of cream or butter in half.

Results?.....Delicious again.

Now we have extra grilled eggplant slices, which will go nicely in a sandwich with mozzarella and sliced plum tomato.

Pine Nut Spinach Sauce
3 strip of bacon
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
3/4 cup cooked spinach, chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup white wine
Fresh ground nutmeg, salt and pepper.

1. Cook bacon, nuts, spinach and onions to soften.
2. Add flour to incorporate.
3. Add cream and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Add wine and spices.

Grill Roasted Broccoli
What is grill roasted broccoli? Cut some broccoli crowns into smaller pieces and place them on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Fold up the foil into a package, then place on the grill. When the top of the foil is warm to the touch the veg is almost done. Open the packet, test for doneness. If not cooked all the way to you taste, allow them to cook a little longer with the foil open. When you take the packet off the grill, open it a bit, so the beg doesn't continue to steam inside and overcook.

Individual Salmon and Sausage Lasagna

I cooked in December for my daughters JV swim team, where we as a small team cooked commercial sized pans of lasagna. People liked it, mostly because we used our own sauce made with fresh herbs. You can find the recipe here.

Just about the opposite of that would be individually prepared lasagnas. Sounds a little crazy with overhead, but you'd be surprised. I ran into this recipe in a somewhat older cookbook by Pierre Franey, called  Cooking in America. His idea was that individual lasagnas are a great dish to put together with children. He's right. Do a little prep cooking early, then just assemble them with kids and pop them in the oven. It's a twist on the pizza night, with lasagna.

The original recipe was simplified to use only ricotta, mozzarella, parsley, salmon and provolone. I took it a little further, because I had a few more ingredients on hand. Make it as simple or complex as time allows, but do the prep cooking of the pasta earlier in the day.

You cook up some lasagna pasta early in the day, lay it out on plates with a little olive oil so they don't stick to each other. You can prep other ingredients, like browning a little Italian sausage, cubes of pancetta, strips of chicken, or panful of fresh spinach, garlic and red pepper flakes.

Then place a few strips of lasagna in an oil coated oven-proof dish, add a few ingredients - I placed cooked Italian sausage on the bottom, then a chunk of salmon, then a mixture of goat cheese and ricotta into which I put some chopped herbs, and a sprinkling of decent mozzarella. Fold over one side of the pasta, add another dollop of cheese and/or sausage. Fold the last third over, then top with - and I think this is a brilliant yet simple touch - a slice of provolone.

Sure more mozzarella would be OK, but the provolone adds a third or fourth kind of cheese. Using a slice, say from the deli, provides a perfectly even thickness, which makes for excellent browning in a high heat oven.

I didn't mean to write a whole story about this dish, but I guess I can't contain my excitement about the technique and the results. I hope you try it.

Individual Salmon and Sausage Lasagna
Serves 6-8

1 pound lasagna noodles cooked - about 20 or 24
1 pound Italian sausage
1 pound fresh salmon, preferably Sockeye
1 cup ricotta cheese
4 ounces goat cheese
1 clove garlic, smashed and finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons of fresh herbs, finely chopped
1 cup or more fresh mozzarella, torn or grated coarsely
8 slices provolone
Tomato sauce, optional

  1. Cook lasagna per package directions. Reserve, brushed with olive oil so noodles don't stick. 
  2. Brown sausage and drain oil. 
  3. Combine ricotta, goat cheese garlic and herbs. Mix thoroughly, season with Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. 
  4. Preheat over to 375 degrees. 
  5. Place 2 or 3 lasagna noodles into individual oven-proof baking dishes, laying long ends over the sides of the dish.   
  6. Sprinkle cooked sausage onto pasta. Place a salmon fillet atop the sausage. Add a dollop or two of the herb cheese mixture. Sprinkle mozzarella atop. 
  7. Fold one side of the pasta over the fish/cheese mixture. Add more herb cheese and mozzarella. 
  8. Fold the last side of the pasta over and top with a slice of provolone. 
  9. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is browned. Top with a spoonful or two of warm tomato sauce, if you think lasagna must have some red in it:)

Pierre Franey's Cooking in America

Tom's Pork and Beef Chili A La Franey

This recipe is my adaptation of a recipe that Pierre Franey published in 1989 in his classic cookbook Cuisine Rapide. It's been updated to include products that are now easily available at virtually all grocery stores - like ancho chili ground pepper and fresh poblano peppers. I also use fresh oregano and a number of other subtle improvements.

I know that the list of ingredients below is long, but the recipe isn't complicated in any way. I usually chop the vegetables while the meats cook and drain. Other than the chopping it's a very easy recipe.

Tom's Chili A La Franey
Serves 6-8

1 pound ground beef, 80% lean
1 pound ground pork
3 large ribs of celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
5 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large or 2 small poblano peppers, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
5 teaspoons Ancho chili powder
5 teaspoons New Mexico chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 large sprigs fresh oregano
   -- or -- 1 tablespoon dried
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 28 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes, with sauce
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1.5 cups homemade chicken or beef stock
1 pound of dried black beans, soaked overnight, simmered 45 minutes
   -- or 1 pound canned black beans, drained and rinsed

Serve with:
- Sour cream
- Shredded cheese
- Small pasta shapes
- Lime wedges
  1. In a large Dutch Oven or stock pot, drizzle a small amount of olive oil and add ground meats. Season lightly with Kosher salt. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until meat loses pink color. 
  2. Take pot off heat, place on a heat resistant surface, then place the handle of a wooden spoon under on side of the pot. Push all the meat to the higher side of the pot and let any greases collect in the low spot for about 3-4 minutes. Use a large spoon or ladle to remove all but 2 tablespoons of oil. 
  3. Return pot to medium high heat and add all vegetables, fresh peppers, dried chilies, oregano and bay leaves. Add 2 teaspoons salt and a generous grinding of fresh ground pepper. Cook for 6-8 minutes, until vegetables soften a little. 
  4. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and stock, and bring to a boil. Add beans and simmer for 10 minutes, then serve. 

Roasted Chicken Strips Caribbean Style

I made red beans and rice yesterday - perfect on a chilly winter day. But I assumed my kids wouldn't touch the red beans, despite the sausage pieces and their overzealous fondness for rice. The brick-colored goo just doesn't look that appealing.

So as a protein backup plan I pulled out a package of chicken breast strips, with no plan for what to do with them, except keep it simple. Here's what happened, and it was VERY simple with lots of flavor.

And go figure - my picky eater loved the red beans and my spicy eater didn't try them. Kids.

Roasted Chicken Strips - Caribbean Style

2 pounds chicken tenders
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Kosher salt - about a teaspoon
Fresh black pepper - about 1/2 teaspoon
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped. (or 1.5 teaspoons dry)
Half a lemon
1 lime
Fresh cilantro

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Combine garlic,  flour, crumbs, salt, pepper and oregano in a large bowl. Add chicken strips and coat them with the dry mixture. 
  3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Spread a little olive oil around the surface, so the chickens won't stick. 
  4. Arrange the chicken strips so they don't touch each other (better browning). Drizzle a very light stream of olive oil over the chickens. Gently squeeze some lemon juice over the chicken strips, but don't release all the juice from the lemon half. 
  5. Roast for about 12 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. 
  6. Sprinkle remaining lemon juice and lime juice over the chickens, then top with fresh cilantro.

Another aspect of ease was that I didn't want to brown these little strips on the stove and splatter a bunch of oil and butter, so I opted for a foil-line rimmed baking sheet. This would make clean up super fast. In last night's case, nothing got past the foil liner, so essentially the pan was as clean after cooking as it was before.

Rimmed baking pans like this, also sometimes called hotel pans, I believe, are a mainstay in professional kitchens and now in mine too. Simply lining one with foil eliminates anywhere from 50% to 95% of cleanup.

Orange Rosemary Menu with Margarita

About a week and a half ago I made a new friend - my neighbor's sister Margarita who was visiting from El Salvador. Moments after we met, we learned of our common respect and enthusiasm for Jamie Oliver and talked about food all night.

Especially if you read my other column, Be A Better Cook, you'll know that I've been really impressed with some of the techniques and flavor combinations that Jamie recommends for home. In fact, I now recall I wrote a column about Jamie called "Remember the Naked Chef? He Grew Up".

So at the end of the night we quickly made plans to cook together for our extended families.

Margui is fond of a Jamie recipe for Orange Rosemary Chicken. I can't find it online, so I'll have to get it from her later. With that as a core, we planned the following dinner that employed rosemary or orange in most dishes.

Braised Octopus with Citrus Sauce
Grilled Orange Rosemary Chicken
Grill-steamed Mixed Vegetable Packets with Balsamic 
Grilled Eggplant in Balsamic

Margui's treatment of the vegetables was almost as good as the masterful chicken dish, which just popped with flavors. I remember her words clearly, and they will help me with grilled vegetables from this point forward.

"I chose all vegetables that you can eat raw, so it doesn't matter how long they cook - as long as you don't overcook them."

Well, yeah. But I never thought of it that way. And the number of times I've overcooked vegetables on the grill....let's just stop. Thank you Margui.

Zesty Slaw with Cilantro and Jalapeno

Last week I zipped up a batch of Creamy Chicken and Kale Soft Tacos for a casual dinner. That dish has become a favorite for my high school daughter and her friends. Spicy, creamy, out of the ordinary. They ask for it all the time.

But I worry that they don't get enough vegetables, even though there's a good amount of kale in that dish. So I threw together this slaw. You can vary the prorporations in any manner, but I think a couple things that made this good were:
  • Lots of cilantro, chopped coarsly, not finely
  • A light touch with the red onion
  • A nice kick from jalapeno
  • No sugar
  • The use of lime juice instead of a vinegar

Zesty Slaw with Cilantro and Jalapeno
Serves 8 easily

1/4 of a red cabbage, coarsely chopped (not shredded in the usual manner)
1/2 of a green cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 small jalapeno, cored, seeded and sliced very thinly
1/2 of a small red onion, sliced very thinly
1 cup of cilantro leaves, coarsley chopped
Zest of one lime
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons peanut oil or canola oil
  1. Toss the chopped vegetables and cilantro to mix.
  2. Combine zest, juice, oil, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Whisk or stir to emulsify, then pour over slaw. Allow one hour or more for flavors to develop before serving.
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