Recovering from St. Patrick’s Feast Day

My DNA test shows me to be about 15% Irish Ancestry.  I do know my maternal great grandmother was Irish, but not much else.

I count a fondness for Guiness Stout and Harp lager and black and tans as positive evidence. I like both Jameson’s and Buchanan’s Irish Whiskeys, as well.

And, there’s no denying a fondness for corned beef and cabbage and the accompanying potatoes and carrots served in a bowl with just a wee bit of the broth.

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St. Pat’s dinner on a platter: corned beef, cabbage, carrots and potatoes.
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Irish Soda Bread baked in a cast iron skillet. Quick and easy!

Simple Irish Soda Bread

Ingredients

2 C flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp table salt

1 C milk

1/tsp white vinegar

Method

Heat oven to 400º

In a medium bowl, mix together dry ingredients.

Add vinegar to milk.  Let stand 10 minutes to curdle. )My mother always called this clabbered milk. If you’d rather, you can use 1 C buttermilk which will work as well as clabber with the salt and baking soda to make the bread rise.)

Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients and mix well.  Scrape out of the bowl onto a very well floured surface.  Flour your hands well and pat the sticky dough into a disc shape.  Transfer the disc into an ungreased cast iron skillet.  Bake for 20 or so minutes until the crust is firm to the touch. Turn out of the pan and let cool a bit; slice and enjoy.

I found the bread to be much like a giant baking soda biscuit. It was wonderful with a smear of butter (Kerry Gold, of course) and dunked in the corned beef broth.

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A little Irish blessing, a corned beef dinner and bottle(s) of Harp’s lager.

 

 

What to do on a snowy day?

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We had a cold snap today. I went out for the paper about 6:00 a.m. and it was windy and starting to get damp.  By 7:00 a.m. snow was starting to stick and El Paso was starting to panic. Mountain roads were closed, streets were getting slick and reports of car crashes were on the news flashes. We don’t handle snow and wet very well here.

It was a good day to stay off the streets, hike down to the doublewide and think about a big bowl of something. I wasn’t in the mood to go to the store, so I went to the cupboard to see what was there. When I found a bag of Anasazi beans, I knew what to do. Anasazi beans are an ancient bean grown by pueblo dwelling farmers in the southwest. They are now grown commercially and are readily available in New Mexico and Arizona. They have a pale background marbled by cranberry colored lines.  When cooked, they darken and look like pale pinto beans.

I used a quick cook method for them. I boiled them in plain water for 15 minutes, then turned off the burner and let them sit a half hour.  They began to absorb the water and start to get tender.  This technique substitutes for soaking them overnight.  After that half hour, I drained them and added   fresh water to cover them and poured in 1 Cup of chicken broth. I brought them to a boil and reduced them to a simmer.  After they got “going good,” I added a chopped onion, a couple of crushed garlic cloves and two or three diced slices of bacon and let it all simmer for a couple of hours, checking for doneness along the way.

When the beans were done, I turned the burner to its lowest level, added a pinch of salt to the pot and let them stay warm a while longer.

Next I made skillet of cornbread. I use my step-grandmother’s cast iron skillet that has been used only for corn bread since before I was born. It is perfectly seasoned and I will have her haunt anyone who messes with that pan.

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At last the corn bread was done.  I dished up a bowl of beans, topped it with a generous side of corn bread with a dab of butter and a spoonful of green chile sauce —  just the way to end to a snowy day!

Cornbread makes me think of my grandfather. One of his favorite suppers was a tall glass of buttermilk and crumbled up cornbread left over from lunch.  It took me a long time to learn to like buttermilk. As a senior citizen, I like a glass now and then.  With a salute to my grandfather’s memory, my dessert was a short glass of buttermilk with cornbread and a grind of black pepper.

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Cornbread and buttermilk with a grind of pepper – pure goodness from the doublewide.

By the way, I had to cross town to pick up someone at the airport.  The wind stopped around 7:00 p.m. and so did the snow.  It is now 10:45 p.m. and streets are clear and most of the snow has melted. Bad weather seldom lasts long in El Paso.

Doublewide Cornbread

Ingredients

1 C cornmeal

1 C flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

*note

1-1/4 C buttermilk

1 egg

1/4 C vegetable oil

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sift dry ingredients into a medium mixing bowl, or, you can also stir them with fork until the white and yellow ingredients are a uniform color.

Whisk egg, milk and oil together.  Melt 1-4 tsp butter in a an 8-9 inch cast iron skillet, pour in batter.

Bake 25 minutes or until a straw or tooth pick inserted into the bread comes out dry.

Rest pan on a rack for 10 minutes and invert onto a plate.  Slice and serve.

*If you have Yankee ways about you, you could add 2-4  Tbsp sugar to the dry ingredients. Then you might as well drench it in syrup or molasses.  If you like good cornbread, you will skip the sugar. All it really needs is a generous pat of butter.

Pollo Pot Pie con Chile Verde (Green Chile Chicken Pot Pie)

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Green chile pot pie topped with cornmeal biscuits made with fresh corn and jalapeño/habanero jack cheese.

Another cold night means I want comfort food.  At the doublewide, we find pot pie is very comforting.

Some time ago, I made a pot pie with chicken and green chile.  I decided that was just a beginning and the dish could evolve. At my house, pot pie is usually topped by purchases puff pastry or homemade biscuits.  It was time to raise the bar on the biscuits and make cornmeal biscuits with fresh corn kernels and grated jalapeño/habanero jack cheese.

I’ve spent some time reading Mark Bitman’s new How to Cook Everything Fast and am rethinking how I do my prep work.  I’m doing less prep everything at once and more do some prepping while other things are happening.  For instance, while my chicken for this pie was cooking, I did my chopping of it’s ingredients.  Later, while the corn was cooking, I mixed the dry ingredients for the biscuit topping.  Hardly an Ah-Hah! technique, but it does shorten cooking time a little and make me wonder why I had never thought of multi-tasking instead of doing all the prep at one time.

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Pollo Pot Pie Con Chile Verde out of the oven and resting on the stove top.

The nice thing about making a pot pie this big is that there is another serving to be had the next day!

Ingredients

Pie filling

Four bone-in chicken thighs (I removed the skin from three thighs and left skin on the smallest one for flavor.)

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 Can black beans, rinsed

2 ears fresh corn kernels (frozen would work)

1/4 jarred sweet red pepper, diced

3/4 C roasted long green chiles, peeled, seeded and diced (I get already roasted chiles from a local grocery that makes them every day. See Techniques below for chile roasting instructions if you choose to roast them yourself.  You’ll need five or six fresh green chiles, but you might as well do more and have some for another time.)

1 tsp Better Than Bullion chicken base

1 can cream of chicken soup

Water to  cover chicken in large pot

Technique

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Roasting chiles: lightly oil the chile skins and make a slit in the pointy end.  Put them on a baking sheet and broil until evenly charred.  You’ll need to turn them two or three times to get an even char. I put my roasted chiles in a lidded casserole and let them steam and cool enough to handle, then peel them. The peeled chiles can go back into the casserole and into the refrigerator.  You can also steam them  in a plastic bag or paper bag. When your chile’s are done and cooled, start work on the rest of the the recipe.

Use a heavy pot big enough to hold the ingredients.  This recipe fills a 9X13 inch baking dish.

Sweat onion in olive oil until translucent, add minced garlic and let it bloom (get fragrant) stir in chicken base and add a couple of cups water.  Bring to a simmer and place thighs in pot.  Add enough water to cover.  Simmer until thighs are done.

While chicken cooks, prepare corn, open cans, rinse beans and peel and chop chiles.

When chicken is done, remove from pot and set aside to cool.  Add corn to broth in pot and let simmer

While chicken cools and corn cooks, measure and mix dry ingredients for biscuit topping (Ingredients and Technique below).

Remove and discard the skin left on one thigh.  Remove meat from bones and cut into about a 3/4 inch dice.

Skim fat from broth in pan and remove about two cups broth and set aside. Blend in Cream of Chicken Soup

Return diced chicken to pan and add beans, chopped chiles and diced pepper. Stir to mix.  You want enough broth in pot to allow the filling to simmer and blend flavors, but not so much that it is difficult to thicken or make the bottoms of your biscuits gummy when you put the pie together.  It’s an eyeball process.

While the filling simmers, finish the biscuits and lightly old your baking dish for the pie.

Ingredients

Corn Meal Biscuits with Corn Kernels and Chile Jack Cheese

1 C all purpose flour

3/4 C corn meal

1/3 C shortening

2-1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 C fresh or frozen whole corn kernels

1/2 grated chile jack cheese (found a jalapeño/habanero jack cheese and really liked it in this recipe)

3/4 C buttermilk

Using a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients.  Using a pinching motion between thumbs and fingers, blend shortening into dry ingredients until it resembles a very board meal with small pea sized lumps in it.  If you don’t want to use your hands, use a pastry cutter.  I find it more fun to play in the meal and shortening.  If you are slow and the shortening gets too soft, pit the bowl into the refrigerator for a few minutes to firm up the shortening.   The lumps of shortening melt during cooking and make the biscuits flakier tender.

Mix corn and grated cheese into meal the with a spoon or your fingers.  Then stir in the buttermilk until a loose dough forms.  If the dough is too wet, stir in a few pinches of flour until it is dry enough to dump from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface.  With floured hands, fold and knead the dough a few times. Don’t overwork it or your biscuits will be tough.  Pat the dough into a 1/2 inch thickness.

Assembly

Lightly oil the baking dish and ladle in hot filling. Remember, you don’t want it too wet

Cut biscuits and gently lift and place them on top of the pie filling.  Biscuit sides can touch. My mother used an old small condensed milk can as a biscuit cutter.  I use a tomato sauce can, that with a few more serve as ring molds for cold salads in warmer weather.  If you are a fancy cook, you may use a store-bought biscuit cutter.

Put dish into oven.  Check on biscuit browning after 10 – 12 minutes.  Rotate pan and cook a little longer for even browning if needed.

Remove from oven, let set up a for 5- 10 minutes.  Dish it up and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Reimagined Ribs and Slaw

Who doesn’t like pork ribs? I tried a new-to-me technique for cooking them:  Wash and dry the rack of ribs, then rub them evenly all over with 1/2 or so tsp. salt.  Seal them in heavy duty foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for one hour and 40minutes.  The ribs steam themselves in their own juices and come out pale and oh, so moist.  I pour off the accumulated liquid in the foil packet and rub the paste described below evenly over the top of the ribs.  I up the oven to broil and put the paste covered ribs under the broiler for just over three minutes until the sugar in the paste is melted and sticky. I then slide the oven rack out far enough for me to safely sprinkle chopped peanuts over the rips and pat them into the molten paste with the back of a spoon.  Back under the broiler for a minute so the nuts brown a little and adhere to the paste.  Out of the oven, I let the ribs rest a few minutes, then slice them into one bone pieces and plate them.

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The rib paste is one tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, two tablespoons turbinado sugar and two chopped red Fresno peppers or red jalapeños.  I used my electric mini food chopper to grind peppercorns then added the peppers and then the sugar.  The moisture in the peppers turns it all into a mealy paste.  The first time I made this, I didn’t have any red chiles so I used a couple of green jalapeños.  The flavor was right, but the color was not the most attractive.  The red Fresnos do turn almost black when they are mixed with the pepper and sugar and the ribs are almost black when the paste cooks – a much more eye appealing black than the paste made with jalapeños.  By the way, I don’t find Fresno chiles too must less hot than jalapeños, put perhaps they are a tiny bit sweeter.

Of course a good slaw always goes with ribs.  This slaw features julienned raw turnips and Pink Lady apples with brussels sprouts leaves.  It helps to core the brussels sprouts with a paring knife to get the leaves loose.  The slaw is dressed with three tablespoons fresh lemon juice blended with three tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.  If you have them on hand, a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger and a pinch of poppyseed are good additions to the dressing.  This slaw is refreshing and, for me a new take on turnips and brussels sprouts. It is a good foil for the spicy ribs.

Getting Spicy Down at the Doublewide

Cooler nights inspire comfort foods.  I tried a new variation on a favorite – baked sweet potatoes with chipotle cream.  I usually peel and slice sweet potatoes and bake them in a casserole with a mixture of minced chipotle chiles in adobo and Mexican cream.  Delicious, but sometimes the crema breaks and the casserole looks like it was sprinkled with cottage cheese.  Tasty, but not attractive.

Time to think outside the casserole dish! Would the hassleback potato technique work with sweet potatoes?

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Hassleback sweet potato with chipotle crema and cilantro.

It worked!  To make hassleback potatoes (white or sweet), I place the potato between two pencils on my cutting board and slice the potatoes at 1/8 inch intervals.  The pencils keep me from cutting through the potatoes.

After slicing, I brush them lightly with butter or oil and get a little inside the slice cuts.  Bake them at 375 until done.  I poke them with a tooth pick toward the middle to test for doneness.

I topped my hassleback sweet potatoes with that mixture of minced chipotle pepper in adobo, a little extra adobo sauce and Mexican crema.  You can add as much chipotle to the crema as your tastebuds allow.

And, lest you think we only had sweet potatoes for dinner at the double wide, here’s the rest of the meal – braised boneless beef ribs topped with barbed sauce and steamed kale with garlic chips (paper thin slices of garlic steamed with the kale).  A few drops of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce kept the spicy them going all around the plate.

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The whole Dinner at the Doublewide. Braise boneless beef short ribs, hassleback sweet potato with chipotle crema and steamed kale with garlic chips and a sprinkle of hot sauce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Savory Supper at the Doublewide

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I went to the store intending to get salmon, but I found a pair of beautiful inch-thick pork chops that I couldn’t pass up.  The chops looked like small roasts and set my mind spinning about how to set off their flavor.  I pan broiled the chops with just salt, pepper and a hint of garlic powder.  I set the chops aside and caramelized a sweet/tart and crispy Pink Lady apple and strings of onion in the pan drippings.  The apple and onion were the perfect enhancement for the rich pork flavor. On the side, I roasted halved Brussels sprouts and cauliflower florets tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper for a savory side. I roast the vegetables at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, toss them around and put them back in the oven for a final 10 minutes.  The loose sprout leaves get a nice char which accents the whole dish.

That thick chop was just shy of a pound.  I couldn’t finish it in one setting, so there will be a pork and dijon mustard sandwich coming in the near future!

Sunday Dinner at the Doublewide

I’m still playing with the cast iron skillets. One of the recipes that got me started on this kick was for cornbread with caramelized apples and onions. It was intriguing, to say the least.

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The cornbread overran the cast iron skillet. It made a nice picture, but complicated slicing

I used my multi-use cast iron skillet, not the one for cornbread only, since I had to caramelize the onion and apples in the pan. After the onions softened and took on a little color, I added paper thin slices of Pink Lady apples.  When they softened and began to give up their moisture, I added granulated sugar and died thyme, and stirred it all together.

I try to follow a recipe exactly the first time for a baseline flavor assessment. I used all butter for the shortening in the cornbread and three tablespoons of sugar in the batter along with buttermilk and eggs.  It is no wonder that this cornbread clocks in at 400 calories a slice!

Half the apples and onions were folded into the batter and half were reserved for topping the cornbread.  It baked for about 45 minutes.  The recipe was supposed to be for an 8 inch skillet. I used a 9 inch skillet and it still overflowed the edges.  Thank goodness I had put it on a foil covered baking sheet, just in case.

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Side dish or dessert? It’s hard to know what to call this super moist, rich, savory/sweet cornbread.

The apples, onions and thyme were a savory delight on the palate.  The cornbread was almost as sweet as a cake – a little too sweet for my personal taste. I think I’ll make this another time, but with my usual corn bread recipe in which I use canola oil rather than all butter for shortening.  Since half the apples and onions are folded into the batter, it will still have some sweetness.  And, I’m thinking, stirring in some crispy chopped bacon wouldn’t be a bad thing.  I’ll let you know when I experiment again.

The headline says Sunday dinner at the doublewide. In addition to the cornbread, I pan browned and oven finished center cut pork loin chops and fried up the last of the green tomatoes.  The bowl of ‘maters I’d been planning on using are ripening quickly and I wound up with just two small green ones to fry.  That was probably a good thing.

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Sunday dinner. Cornbread with caramelized apples and onions, a pork loin chop and fried green tomatoes.

Monday will be a day of repentance with dinner at the salad bar.

Meanwhile, Back at the Doublewide

Haven’t been down to the doublewide in a while. With cool weather is settling in, there’ll be some hearty comfort foods cooking there for sure!

Pot pie is a fall and winter favorite.  Pot pie can be be made from just about anything in the fridge, freezer or pantry.  My mother never put vegetables in her chicken pot pie.  Her’s was all chicken and a creamy white with biscuits baked on top of the filling.  Forgive me, Mom, but I like vegetables in mine.  I find that you can get a great surprise by experimenting with different veggies in the mix and even with different toppings.  For instance, spinach and butternut squash topped with puff pastry!

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Pot pie with a puff pastry crust cooked in a cast iron skillet.  If you look close, you can see the skillet handle, even on the black cast iron stove grates.

I have a couple of old cast iron skillets.  One is my sacred corn bread pan that once belonged to my step-grandmother.  It has always been used only for cornbread and woe be to anyone who even thinks of using it for anything else!  The other one is for experimenting and trying out new recipes.  Both are so well seasoned that they are slicker than Teflon!

I cooked the filling in my cast iron skillet. It started with chopped onion followed by garlic in a little olive oil right on the stovetop.  When they were ready, I added about a teaspoon of ground sage and let it bloom for a moment. Next, I added roughly chopped spinach and wilted it on the onions – three big handsful before chopping.  Next, I sprinkled on a generous quarter cup of all purpose unbleached flour and stirred and cooked it for four or five minutes to make a roux with the savory vegetables.  Then, I stirred in two and a half cups of chicken stock made when I cooked chicken thighs for the pie. When the roux and stock were blended, I added half a small butternut squash, peeled and cut into a 1/2 inch dice – roughly a heaping cup and a half.  The stock thickened as the squash simmered, covered, and softened in about 15 minutes.  I stirred in the chopped meat from two chicken thighs and topped the skillet with a sheet of puff pastry.  The pastry got a rough trim hanging over the edge of the skillet.  After poking a trio of steam vents into the pastry, the pie went into a 425 degree oven for 12 minutes until the crust began to brown.  I reduced the temp to 375 and let the crust finish rising and baking for another 12 or so minutes to a golden brown crispy, flaky delight. I let is rest for about 10 minutes and dished up a plate of savory goodness with a hint of sweet from the squash. There were no leftovers.

I can’t wait to make it again with a regular pie dough topping!

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Chicken and butternut squash pot pie with a puff pastry crust. Good eats at the doublewide!

 

Start with Chile, Make Chili, and Voila! Frito Pie

Still cloudy, a little rainy, breezy and a high in the 60’s.  Time for an old favorite from the comfort food arsenal – Frito Pie.

I love Fritos.  I can eat them by the bagful anytime. I rarely let them in the house for that very reason.

I remember nickel bags of Fritos and stores and food stalls that would cut open the bag, add a big spoonful of chili con carne and a sprinkle of shredded cheese for an extra dime and hand it to you with a plastic spoon.  My first love affair with Frito Pie.

Now, Fritos are $1 and up a a bag. The bags are bigger,  of course, and I make my own chili con carne.  More often than not, I convert my chili and Fritos into a more adult version of Frito Pie.  It’s a little more sophisticated than a tiny bag of chips and chili, but it is still rock solid comfort food that can’t be beat.

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My chili is a mix of onion, garlic, ground beef, ground pork, several kinds of powdered chile’s and a little cumin in a beef broth base with tomato sauce and, sometimes, diced tomatoes.  Usually, I’ll add a can of rinsed pinto beans.  Not competition chili, but still very good.  I serve a couple of ladles of chili in a wide shallow bowl, tuck Fritos around the edge and garnish with cilantro and chopped green onion an dig in.  I had some little jalapeños, so I added one for the picture and a couple of extra zingy bites with the chili.  Maybe I’m regressing to the days when joy was a glass of cold milk and a little bag of Fritos for an afternoon snack, but I still like milk with my Frito Pie – even better than beer!

Rainy Days Mean Comfort Food

Rain has been scarce this year.  We’re at barely half the average rainfall so far.  For the past few days, we’ve been getting moisture from the hurricane that was so bad in Baja California.  It’s been cool, cloudy and damp and that means it’s time for comfort food!  I wanted something meaty, warm and rich.  What fills the bill better than a hearty braised stew? And, what could be richer than short ribs and oxtail braised in dry red wine?

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Short ribs and oxtail browning in a cast iron Dutch oven.

I began by browning the ribs and oxtail, then removed them from the Dutch oven.  Next I sweated onion and garlic.  When they were soft and translucent, I added a cup of dry red wine and scraped the fond from the bottom of the pot.  I returned the meat to the simmering wine and savories, then added potatoes, carrots, sprigs of thyme and three cups unsalted beef broth.  When the pot came to a boil, I covered it and transferred it to a 300 degree oven for 2.5 hours.  The kitchen smelled better and better every minute of the braise.

When the meat was tender, I removed it from the pot and let it cool down enough to handle so I could take the meat off the bones.  Ribs and oxtail, while delicious are fatty.  As the meat cooled, I ladled fat off the broth and vegetables. That done, I took meat from the bones, returned it to the pot and brought it back up to temperature.

A hearty bowl of the stew with a light sprinkling of thyme leaves warmed the spirit on a cool evening.  It didn’t hurt that there was wine left that just had to be used!

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Comfort food deluxe – braised spare ribs and oxtail stew on a rainy evening.