No Recipe Breakfast, but Some Handy Techniques – or Inventing the BCT

I had a craving for a late breakfast/early lunch BLT – classic bacon lettuce and tomato. I was out of L and only had a partial carton of grape T’s. I wasn’t about to let mere ingredients stop me!

My goal was to create a BCT sandwich – bacon cheese and tomato. I recalled a bacon cooking technique I had tried and liked but hadn’t used in a long time.  I sliced four pieces of thick-sliced bacon in half, put it in a pan and added a half inch of water and set it to simmer. Boiling the bacon renders the fat without splattering drippings everywhere.. When the water in the pan evaporates, the bacon crisps up nicely in the drippings without making a spatter mess and it doesn’t curl.

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Bacon slices coming to a simmer in a half inch of water on the stove top.

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The water has evaporated leaving drippings in the pan to crisp the bacon. You can save the drippings for another use. I blot up bacon dripping with shredded news paper and toss them into the garbage when they are cooled. Makes clean up easier.

While the bacon cooks, I made a blistered tomato sauce, a favorite you’ve seen here before.  I halve the grape or cherry tomatoes using a technique friend Darryl taught me. Fill a saucer level with the tomatoes. Top with another inverted saucer and slice between the saucers to halve the tomatoes.  Watch your fingers while holding the two saucers tightly together and move the knife through. It is a slick trick. I fill the depression in the bottom saucer tightly so the tomatoes don’t get pressed agains the far edge by the knife blade. I prefer a serrated blade for the slicing.

Once the tomatoes are halved,dump them into a hot dry sauté pan and let them get a slight blister or char. Reduce the heat and add a tablespoon or so of water to steam the tomatoes and cook them faster. I like to sweat the juice from the tomatoes and let them soften and caramelize.  The result is a thick, chunky sauce with a flavor reminiscent of sun dried tomatoes’ intensity.  This time I mushed the tomatoes a little with a potato masher to make them thicker and spreadable.

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Grape tomatoes go into a hot dry pan.

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Blistered tomatoes ready to mash a little and let dry out a tiny bit more.

Now the assembly of the BCT. Toasted multi-grain bread, a schemer of mayo to seal the bread, a slice of sharp cheddar to hold the tomatoes, a heaping spread of blistered tomato sauce, strips of crisp bacon and the toast topper for the sandwich.

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BCL under construction. Layers of toast, sharp cheddar, blistered tomatoes and bacon.

There is always an internal debate over adding a second slice of cheese on top of the bacon.  Fortunately, the second slice of cheese won!

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The BCT is now an official creation of the Gringo Gourmet Academy. No recipe. Just ingredients that work together and a review of some good techniques to try.

A New Take on Potato Salad

I ran across a new potato salad that is simple enough to almost be criminal! Potatoes, poblano chiles, cilantro, canola oil, brine from pickled jalapeños and a dash of salt. And even better than simple, it is delicious!

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Poblano Potato Salad with sides of steak and beans. So easy and very, very good!

I didn’t time the recipe, but it had to come in at close to 30 minutes including prepping the chiles.

Poblano Potato Salad

 8 servings ( recipe reduces easily – I allow 4 fingerling potatoes per person and one or two poblanos.)

Ingredients

Three fresh poblano peppers*

2 lbs tiny yellow new potatoes, halved after cooking

1/3 cup pickled jalapeño pepper brine

¼ cup canola oil

½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro (flat leaf parsley if you don’t like cilantro)

toasted pepitas (optional)

Method

Preheat oven to 450°. Place peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast 20 minutes or more until skins are blistered and charred. Wrap in foil (or place in a lidded casserole dish) and let stand 20 minutes or so until cool enough to handle.

Remove stems, skins and seed from peppers; chop coarsely.

While chiles are cooling, cook potatoes in lightly salted boining water 12 – 15 minutes or until tender. Drain. Halve baby potatoes or cut fingerlings in thirds. You want bites to be about ¾ inch.

Beat canola oil and pepper brine until emulsified, stir in cilantro. Toss potatoes and chopped chiles with the emulsified oils. Adjust with a little salt.

Play With Your Food

I found a recipe for Creamy Grits and Black Beans that sounded good. It had a companion recipe for a Pice de Gallo Salad. It perked up my interest because I’d been reading about a new cookbook by Anthony Lamas, a Mexican American chef in Louisville, KY, and Gwen Pratesi who are adding some Mexican and Latin touches to Southern-style cooking. I’ve ordered it digitally and am looking forward to exploring it.

I forwarded the grits and bean recipe to my vegetarian daughter.  We are to compare notes when we both have made it.

The spices called for made my mouth water.  The picture with the recipe was a little bland looking, so I started to play with it. I roasted the corn in a hot dry pan to give it a little color and intensify the flavor. Instead of canned chiles, I bought roasted green chiles, peeled them and gave them a coarse chop for some extra color in the grits. I used yellow grits (polenta), as well.  The recipe’s salad was so simple (read that skimpy looking) I knew I didn’t want it on the side. It it didn’t look finished, so I decided play to with it and use it for garnish on the dish.

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Plated, its not bad, but a little on the blah side visually.

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A sprinkle of cilantro makes a big difference visually!

And then the big finale! I wouldn’t mind this as a side dish or as an entree for the house vegetarian, but I’m a carnivore. I decided to do a southern riff on grits and shrimp by adding a Mexican beat.  I love Tajin chile/lime powder and use it on many dishes. I marinated shrimp in a little olive oil and a lot of Tajin for a couple of hours while I napped before starting dinner.  Tajin is a soft heat with a bright lime under current.

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The shrimp picked up some color from the Tajin. A couple of slices of avocado left from the avocado diced for the salad and a wedge of lime make a big difference on the plate.  Meatless Monday was a success if you count seafood as a meatless addition to the meal.

CREAMY GRITS AND BLACK BEANS – RIFFED

This dish comes together quickly (unless you count the time it takes to peel roasted chiles), so make the salad first.

Serves two

Ingredients:

for the grits

1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup corn grits (polenta)

1/3 cup diced green chiles (canned or fresh roasted)

1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

salt to taste

for the beans:

1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn

2 tsp each minced fresh garlic and vegetable oil

1/2 tsp each ground cumin and dried oregano

1/4 tsp each ground coriander and cayenne pepper

1 can black beans (15.oz), drained and rinsed

1 avocado, diced

Method:

for the grits

Heat milk in a saucepan until boiling. Reduce heat to medium-low and gradually whisk in grits and chiles, stirring to prevent lumps; cook five minutes. Stir in cheese, season with salt and set aside.

for the beans

Heat a medium sauté pan. Add corn and brown slightly. Add oil and garlic, stir while garlic softens, stir in spices and stir until they bloom (release their flavor and scent), add beans and 1/4 cup water and cook until water has evaporated and ingredients in pan are heated through. You can mash the beans a little with a potato masher if you wish.

Serve grits topped with beans, diced avocado and a squeeze of lime.

Pico de Gallo Salad

1 large tomato, cut into wedges

1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion (I like to soak the sliced onion in water for about 10 minutes to reduce their sharpness.)

1 fresh jalapeño, thinly sliced (I like to seed the jalapeño before slicing it.)

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1 Tbsp fresh lime juice.

Salt to taste

Method

Drain onion, combine tomato, onion,  jalapeño; stir in lime juice and season with salt.

Riffs: how to play with your food

I added shrimp to the dish.

I marinated the shrimp in olive oil and Tajin chile lime powder and cooked them in the dry sauté pan, then set them aside in a bowl. I wiped the pan clean and lightly browned the corn in the dry pan, then added the other ingredients.

I put the avocado in with the pico salad and saved the cilantro for garnish on the whole dish. My avocado was large, so I diced half of it for the salad and served the other half sliced as garnish.

I used the salad on top of the grits and beans instead of as a side dish.

 

Playing Without a Recipe for Breakfast

I was putting things away and glimpsed my underused panini press. Inspiration hit – panini for breakfast.

Ingredients and Method

Whole grain bread, sharp cheddar cheese, a slice of ham a schmear of whole grain Dijon mustard on one slice of bread and a schmear of mayonnaise on the other, and then, the clincher, Pink Lady Apple sliced thin on a hand-held mandoline and layered between the cheese and ham.  A few minutes on the heated panini press and it was love at first bite.

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My favorite apple is the Honey Crisp for flavor, texture and sturdiness under heat.  A very close second is Pink Lady which is just a tiny bit more sweet than the Honey Crisp.

For this breakfast sandwich, the earthy bread, richness of cheddar and ham accentuated with a bit of  mayo, contrasting with the tart sweetness of the apple slices and the tang of dijon all worked together. I couldn’t wait to taste it and had to force myself to slow down enough for a picture. I’m wondering, “Next time maybe Swiss cheese and rye bread?”

 

There’s Still Time to Enjoy Winter Greens

One of the joys of gardening in the Southwest is winter greens. Chard, mustard, turnip, collards and even spinach brighten our tables through our mostly mild winters. And, thanks to modern agriculture, we can continue to enjoy them year ’round from the super market.

I frequently serve sautéd or steamed greens with slivers garlic and bits diced of bacon.  I’ve posted variations on greens and beans many times.  The are a great combination and very versatile in soups and as side dishes. With a little tweaking, they can be the stars of the plate.  Wilted red Swiss chard with shallots is beautiful to behold.  A splash of sherry vinegar makes it extra special.

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Simple ingredients enhance Swiss chard. Finely chopped chard stems add color and and texture;  sliced shallots and grated garlic add savory depth the the mildly bitter leaves.

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Sautéing the shallots and minced chard stems together deepens the pink of the shallots and makes the greens spectacular on the plate. They steal the show from a pork chop and fingerling potatoes.

WiIlted Chard With Shallots And Vinegar

 Use the stems from the Swiss chard; chopped fine,  they add texture and a layer of flavor to any sauté.

Ingredients

1 bunch Swiss chard, ribs and stems separated from leaves

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large shallots, thinly sliced into rings

2 garlic cloves, grated

Kosher salt

2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

Method

Cut Swiss chard stems into very small pieces. Tear leaves into 2″ pieces and rinse well (you’ll want some water still clinging to the leaves).

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add chard stems, shallots, and garlic and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are starting to soften but haven’t taken on any color, about 2 minutes. Add chard leaves, season with salt, and cook, tossing occasionally, until leaves are tender and have released some liquid, about 3 minutes (stems will have a bit of crunch). Mix in vinegar; taste and season with more salt if needed.

Savory Spring Flavor Treats

I’ve discovered that baby peas and asparagus are good companions. I have always been fond of alliums. Onions and garlic are staples of most kitchens. Leeks, shallots and chives are there, too. When I found a recipe for braised chicken thighs with asparagus, peas and leeks, I couldn’t resist. It takes a little prepping, but is well worth the work!

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Braised chicken thighs, asparagus, peas and leeks is a savory broth of wine wine, lemon juice and chicken stock.

 

BRAISED CHICKEN WITH ASPARAGUS, PEAS, AND LEEKS

INGREDIENTS

2 medium leeks, white and light-green parts only, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch rounds

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more

2 teaspoons whole fennel seeds

8 bone-in chicken thighs (about 4 pounds)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

3/4 pound medium asparagus, trimmed, cut crosswise in half and on the bias

2 cups shelled fresh peas (from about 2 pounds pods) or frozen peas, thawed

1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, divided

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons chopped dill

METHOD

If you see or feel dirt in the leeks, rinse well, separating layers, then pat dry; otherwise, leave rounds intact.

Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high until hot but not smoking. Add leeks in a single layer; season with 1/4 tsp. salt and a pinch of pepper. Reduce heat to low and cook, turning once, until leeks are lightly golden, 16–18 minutes. Separated rings of leeks brown very quickly. Transfer leeks to a plate; reserve skillet.

Lightly crush fennel seeds with the bottom of a heavy skillet or pot. Pat chicken thighs dry with paper towels and season with fennel, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a 5–7-qt. Dutch oven or large wide saucepan over medium-high. Cook thighs, skin side down, until well-browned, 12–14 minutes. Transfer skin side up to a plate. Pour off and discard fat. Add wine to pot, bring to a simmer, and cook, scraping up bits from bottom of pot, 1 minute. Add broth and return chicken skin side up to pot. Lower heat to medium-low, cover pot, and cook until chicken is cooked through, 15–18 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine asparagus, peas, and 2 Tbsp. water in reserved skillet, cover, and cook over medium heat until asparagus is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add 1/2 tsp. lemon zest, remaining 1/4 tsp. salt, and a pinch of pepper; stir gently to just combine.

Divide chicken, asparagus mixture, and reserved leeks among large shallow bowls. Bring broth to a simmer, add lemon juice, then ladle into bowls. Top with dill and remaining 1 Tbsp. lemon zest.