Friday, December 25, 2015

Happiness = Cooking Christmas Breakfast with my Boy (Mexican Sweet Potato Hash with Sunny Side up Eggs)

Merry Christmas!

If you’ve read my blogs, or know me well, you won’t be surprised to hear that all I wanted for Christmas was to spend time with my family – and cook with Will.  He’s been my culinary sidekick since he was a little guy, and we make a great team in the kitchen. 

Both Christmas wishes came true this morning.
Scatter and squish
The inspiration for this breakfast came yesterday as Will and I watched Bobby Flay’s brunch show.  Funny thing is, the only things that are the same as Bobby’s dish is only the use of sweet potatoes and serving family style with the sunny side up eggs atop the hash.  But his show got us thinking about how to make a sweet potato hash with the flavor profile we gravitate toward – the traditional flavors of Mexico – cumin, coriander, poblano peppers, and cilantro.
Oh yeah, slid on those sunny side up eggs

The dish also gave us a chance to try out the cast iron pan Steve and Will got me for Christmas – by far the largest and heaviest cast iron skillet I’ve ever used.  

Here’s how Will and I put that bad boy to use this morning:

Mexican Sweet Potato Hash with Sunny Side Up Eggs
(Serves 4 – or 3 Barnett’s with leftovers for Will’s breakfast tomorrow)

  • ½ roll of Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage
  • 1 ½ sweet potato, cut into ½ inch cubes, boiled until just tender and then placed into a bowl of ice and water to stop the cooking.  We did this the night before, strained and kept in the fridge.
  • ¾ cup sweet onion, diced
  • ¾ cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 poblano pepper, diced
  • ½ cup cilantro chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 4 eggs
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • Spices – Note, you will add these into the spices 2 to 3 times throughout the cooking process.  Measurements are approximations.  The amounts below are the total you will use, but feel free to add a bit more to taste.
    • 2 tsp ground cumin
    • 2 tsp ground coriander
    • 1 tsp chili powder
    • ½ tsp chipotle chili powder (optional – if you have it use it! But no need to make a special trip to the store.
The method

Create the hash
  • Pre-heat a large cast iron skillet (or other pan of your liking), lower the heat to medium
  • Drizzle a little olive oil in the pan to get things going, then add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon
  • Sprinkle about a third of the spices, but no salt or pepper
  • Cook until browned, remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel
  • Now add a bit more olive oil to the pan and add in the onions, red pepper and poblano pepper – in that order, sautéing each one before adding the next.  Add the next third of the spices and keep sautéing.  You can add some salt and pepper at this stage, but go easy.
  • Now add in the sweet potatoes – and yes, you guessed it, the rest of the spices.  Scatter them into a single layer, squish them down with a spatula and step away.  You want this to cook low and slow to form a nice crust.
  • When you’ve started to see some crust formation, drizzle a tad more olive oil if necessary and flip, scatter and squish again.  This is best done with a spatula so you can get up those yummy crunchy bits.
  • Continue to follow this method until the right level of doneness is reached – then add the sausage back in, gently stirring as you go.
  • Now add 1/2 the cilantro and stir
  • Then pile up the hash into the center of the skillet….
  • Right about now you should lower the heat to the lowest setting an start the eggs

Cook the eggs
  • This is best served with a sunny side up egg, but if you like your eggs cooked longer, I won’t judge.  
  • To cook ours, Will heated a non-stick pan, added some butter (heck, it’s Christmas!), cracked in the eggs, added a bit of salt and pepper, lowered the flame and topped the pan with a plate, cuz my pan lacks a lid.  
  • The heat and steam cook the eggs to just the right doneness, no flipping required.

Assemble and serve
  • Once the eggs are done, slide them on top of the hash, divide into portions and serve, with a sprinkle of cilantro. 


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Rainy Day Comfort Food – Brussels Sprouts with Apples, Grapes, Pine Nuts and a Wee Bit o'Bacon

It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring….. Given my SoCal roots, I’m feeling kinda guilty about the fact that it has rained for the past 10 or 11 days (I’ve lost track) and we might even get some more….  But right about now, I’m ready for it to stop. 
Ready to serve

Headed into the oven
Perfect Brussels sprouts as
easy as 1 2 3
The rainy weather did lead me to come up with a new recipe for Brussels Sprouts.  This one screams FALL and will likely end up on our Thanksgiving table.  I hope you give it a try and enjoy it as much as Steve and I did tonight.

Brussels Sprouts with Apples, Grapes, Pine Nuts and a Wee Bit o'Bacon

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  I used convection roast, which led to a ridiculously short cook time – somewhere between 10 and 12 minutes.  But normal baking temp would work fine.  Just pop ‘em in and pay attention….

  • About 4 Brussels sprouts per person.  Washed, dried and then prepared per the photos below.  I cut the core out, then slice in half, and then peel a couple of layers off. Tossing the leaves and the remaining piece of veg into the bowl, and the core into the trash.
  • About a 1/8 cup of diced bacon.  Diced and zapped in the microwave for about a minute to partially cook.  Drain on paper towel.  (Note:  I keep a slab of good bacon (thick cut, wood smoked) in the freezer and cut off a couple of inches). 
  • A quarter of an apple per person, Diced.
  • A tablespoon of diced sweet onion per person.
  • A table spoon or so of pine nuts. 
  • 3 red grapes per person
  • Pinch of red chili flakes
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • Bunch of grinds of black pepper
  • Olive oil to coat lightly
  • Put all of the ingredients into a bowl; toss with the olive oil and dump onto a foil lined baking sheet
  • Put into the oven
  • Roast until the Brussels sprouts are browned and soft.
  • Pull from the oven and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes
Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Rainy Girls Night In (Roasted Grapes with Rosemary, Thyme & Garlic)

One of my fondest memories from my friendship with my bestie Sheryl was an afternoon that we spent with our friend Julie at the Bower’s Museum in Santa Ana.  

It was supposed to be a cultural affair. We’d have a bite of lunch under the olive trees at the al fresco restaurant at the Bowers, then tour the museum --  which had some sort of mummy exhibit that was all the rage.  Maybe we’d hit the museum store afterward.  Who knows?
Done in 15 minutes and crazy good.
Pretty, too, on my grandmother's peacock plate.

Well.  Let’s just say we never made it to the museum. 

Nope.  Sheryl ordered a “wunnnndaful” Spanish Pinot Grigio, and as I recall we all spotted the roasted grapes and manchego cheese appetizer, and agreed that we had to have it.  A bottle or two later, we said to heck with the mummies, did some tipsy shopping in the museum store and called it an afternoon.

That day and that dish was my inspiration when my friend Norma stopped by this evening with a bottle of a yummy white.  Our men are in California for golf and a car race (playing and watching the former, and just watching the latter - thank you, Lord).  It’s been raining here all day – perfect chance to try my hand at roasting some grapes.

Oh yes.  They were as good as I remembered.  And this would be a perfect appetizer if you are having folks over.  I know it was the perfect light dinner for the two of us to catch up.

Here’s how you do it.

Roasted Grapes with Rosemary, Thyme & Garlic
Heat the oven to 375 degrees – I used my convection roast setting, but it’s not necessary

  • 1  big bunch of grapes, removed from the stems, washed and dried. We used a mixture of seedless red and green.  We preferred the red, but the green were awesome, too. 
  • 1 stem fresh rosemary
  • 1or two large stem fresh thyme
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • A couple glugs of olive oil - seriously, I don't know how much.  Just coat the grapes and be done with it. 
  • Big pinch of kosher salt
  • Bunch of grinds of pepper – I used a pepper mix I got in Barcelona last winter.  Red, black, green and even some allspice thrown in.  But plain black pepper would be just fine.

  • Cheese to serve with the grapes. I'd go with Manchego or other firm, mild cheese.  I didn’t have manchego, so I used a firm queso fresco (also sometimes called queso blanco).  A nice hard goat cheese – like Drunken Goat (you'll find it at Whole Foods and many cheese stores)– would be great too.
  • I'm sure crusty bread would be nice.  We started to have crackers and then decided that the grapes and cheese were perfect on their own.

  • Remove the rosemary and thyme leaves from their stems, and peel the garlic.
  • Mince the rosemary, thyme and garlic to a very very fine dice. 
  • Toss all of the ingredients in a big bowl.
  • Scatter the grapes on a baking sheet, so they are in an even row.
  • Put in the oven. 
  • Set the timer for 15 minutes.
Open a bottle of nice, crisp white wine. Go ahead, have a sip.  Or two.
  •  After 15 minutes, check the grapes.  
  • They should be just about to pop, and some of them will shrink a tad.
  • Remove from the oven.  Let them cool a bit and then enjoy with cheese or as they are.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Wimbledon Brunch (Mexican Tortilla Strata)

My good friend Bev is coming over to watch Wimbledon this morning. A great excuse to get together, watch some awesome tennis, catch up on life, and drink a little bubbly.  Who could ask for more?

Things get really quiet when folks tuck into this one...
followed by, "There's seconds, right?"
Bev and I are both SoCal Expats, and former members of the Orange County (California) marketing and communications community.  Funny thing is, we didn’t meet until she moved to Chapel Hill a few years ago.  A mutual friend connected us and we’ve been fast friends every since.  It is so fun to explore your new home with someone who understands where you’ve come from.  I love my time with Bev.

So when the weekend rolled around we started looking for a place to have brunch while watching the Men’s Finals Match.  Much to our dismay, we struck out on two counts: 
Ortega chilies and vine ripe tomatoes. 

1) Places that are open for breakfast at 9am on Sunday don’t typically have TVs
2) Restaurants can’t serve alcohol in North Carolina before noon (big sigh)

Not to be deterred, we decided to get together at my place.  I’ve been wanting to write down the Mexican Tortilla Strata recipe I created for our 4th of July brunch in the mountains last weekend.  So I can make a second batch and actually pay attention. Bev can bring a fruit salad.  Steve can pop the cork on a bottle of champagne for us before he heads out to golf.  Again – who could ask for more?
The final layer of low fat Mexican
Cheese blend from Sargento
The strata is in the oven as I write.  The house smells marvelous. My gal pal is on her way and awesome tennis is ready to start. 

And that’s about as good as it gets.

Wimbledon Brunch (Mexican Tortilla Strata)
Serves 4-6 (can easily be doubled and made in a 13 x 9 to feed a crowd
Piping hot from the oven

Strata base
12 corn tortillas, cut into wide strips (4 per tortilla)
2  large tomatoes, cut into thick slices
¼ cup deiced Vidalia onions (or other sweet onion from your region, such as Maui onion on the West Coast)
2 cans of whole Ortega mild green chili peppers, torn into wide strips
½ pound pork chorizo, browned and drained well (use lots of paper towels and get out as much of the orange grease as you can. 
2 Cups (one package) Sargento low fat shredded Mexican cheese (yes, do your best to get Sargento as it will melt better. You can also grate a cheese of your choice)

Egg Mixture – whisk this REALLY well
7 large eggs
½ cup low fat milk
½ tsp ground cumin (I actually use a bit more, but I LOVE cumin)
½ tsp chili powder
a good pinch of Kosher salt and lots of ground black pepper

The night before:  Assemble the night before and stash in the fridge:

Spray an 8x8 square baking disk with cooking spray, then layer the strata base ingredients in the following order:
  • Tortilla strips
  • Tomatoes (season with salt and pepper here)
  • Onions
  • Ortega chili strips
  • Cheese
  • Tortillas
  • Chorizo
  • Ortega chili strips
  • Cheese
  • Tortillas
  • (save 1/3 of the cheese for the top after you add the egg mixture)
Now pour the egg mixture over the strata layers.  Make sure to cover it evenly.
Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Cover with foil and put in fridge over night

The morning you are going to serve:
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
  • Take the strata out of the fridge for about 30 minutes to come up to temp a bit
  • Bake foil on for 30 minutes
  • Remove foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the cheese is starting to brown and a pick inserted into the middle comes out dry

Remove from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes
Slice into wedges and enjoy.  

Serving Suggestion:  Great with a bit of avocado or guacamole.  A sprinkle of queso fresco cheese is also nice if you happen to have it on hand.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

April Showers (Rainy Day Cauliflower Soup)

If April Showers bring May Flowers, we are in for a bumper crop.

But I’m really not complaining.  This morning perfect for a long walk.  Then the rain started, which gave me a great excuse to do the annual Winter to Spring Clothes Switcheroo, get some laundry done, and make a batch of cauliflower soup.
Silky smooth. And dairy-free.
Love it when a plan comes together.

I’ve been thinking about this recipe for a few weeks, after a friend and I had a silky smooth cup of cauliflower soup at a local restaurant.  Finally I put my ideas to the test, and by golly it worked.  

The secret ingredients?  A russet potato and a dash (or two) of nutmeg.  Oh, and a trusty hand held emersion blender is mandatory.  But get this -- there is no heavy cream, half and half, or even milk.  I really didn't think it was possible, but gave it a shot.

Here’s what I did:

Cauliflower Soup
Serves 6-8

  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 1 leek, white and light only, sliced in half, rinsed well, and then cut into ½ inch slices
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into flowerets and stem removed
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg (you may want to use a tad bit more at the end; but go easy with it.)
  • Kosher Salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 box low sodium chicken stock
  • Chopped chives for garnish

  • Heat the olive oil and melt the butter in a medium sized Dutch Oven.  Then add the onion, celery, leeks and garlic, sauté until softened
  • Next add the cauliflower and potato to the pot, stir and season with a couple pinches of salt and a few grinds of black pepper, plus a shake or two of nutmeg, stir to combine
  • Now add the box of stock, partially cover and bring to a boil
  • Then lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the potato and cauliflower are soft. 
  • Remove from the heat, and allow to cool for about 20 minutes. 
  • Then pulse with an emersion blender until you reach a silky smooth consistency.  I worked across the pot in rows, lifting the unit up and down between pulses.  Then finished it off with a back and forth motion.  Take your time.  The results are worth it.
  • Taste and asjust the seasoning.  A bit more salt, pepper and / or nutmeg as needed.
  • To serve, garnish with chopped chives.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Happy to be Home (Oven Roasted Lemon/Herb Salmon & Asparagus – 5WW PPV)

Roasted Salmon and Asparagus.
Clean eating at its best.

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of airports, convention centers and meetings that were preceded by months of preparation and an intense push to the finish line. First Las Vegas. Then Barcelona. The yin and yang of convention venues. 

While I thrive on this kind of work, nothing feels better than coming home and getting back to normal. After arriving home in the wee hours of the morning, I took a mental (and physical) health day. It was wonderful to sleep in, unpack, check in with the dry cleaners and make a much needed run to Whole Foods for fish, and Harris Teeter for basic pantry and fridge supplies.  Among my purchases: the salmon and asparagus that became the perfect dinner to chase away that yicky feeling that comes from too many restaurant meals.

Barcelona was beautiful
and our meetings were successful
but there is no place like home.
Steve and a buddy escaped the cold weather for a little Florida Baseball Spring Training and golf, so I’m a solo act and hence the single dinner portion.  However, you can easily multiply the quantities to feed as many folks as you need to feed.  

As always, I encourage playing around with the herbs and other flavors – in fact, I think I’m going to do a riff on this with sea bass, cilantro, jalapeño, orange and lime tomorrow. 

Oven Roasted Lemon/Herb Salmon & Asparagus (5 WW PPV)
(Serves 1, double, triple or quadruple as needed)

  • 1 salmon filet, skin on if possible (4 oz = 5 WW PPV if that matters to you)  (I’ve said it a million times – if you are buying fish, buy the very best and freshest fish you can.  For me, that means Whole Foods or a local fish monger. Yes, you will pay a bit more.  If you are watching your pennies, enjoy a smaller portion, but make it the best.  Sermon over.)
  • 1 TBS Lemon Juice
  • 1 TBS Lemon Zest
  • 2 or 3 shakes garlic powder
  • 1 tsp or so of dried oregano
  • 1 ½ tsp or so of dried thyme
  • 1 TBS of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • Kosher Salt and Fresh Cracked Pepper
  • 6 to 8 stalks of Asparagus, woody end trimmed off
  • Cooking Spray

  • Heat the oven to 400 degrees
  • Line a cooking sheet with aluminum foil and spray it with cooking spray
  • Place the fish (skin side down) and the asparagus on the tray – season liberally with salt and pepper and spray lightly with the cooking spray
  • Place the tray in the oven and cook for 13 minutes
  • While the fish is cooking, mix the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well to soften the dried herbs
  • When the timer dings @ 13 minutes, remove the fish and asparagus from the oven and top the fish with the herb lemon mixture
  • Return the fish and asparagus to the oven and continue cooking another 3 to 5 minutes, depending upon the thickness of the fish – touch it to test for doneness, you want it to just give to a light pressure and not be too soft – but equally important, you don’t want it to be hard.  (Nothing is worse than over cooked fish!)
  • When the fish is done,  place the asparagus on a plate and then gently slide a spatula between the skin and the flesh, laying the fish atop the asparagus to serve. 


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Brunch for a Blustery Blustery Day (Low Fat Southern Eggs Florentine) 6 to 8 WW Points Plus Value

Dang, it’s cold outside.  And rainy.  And a tad windy.  That won’t stop me from getting out there and running all those lovely Saturday errands.  But what better way to start the day than a cozy comfort food brunch? None, I say.

Sadly, words like “cozy,” “comfort” and “brunch” are red flags when you are trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and maybe even drop a pound or two.  

Until you try my Low Fat Southern Eggs Florentine, that is.  It’s Southern, cuz it features the ubiquitous below the Mason Dixon Line staple, cheese grits.  And Florentine, as a tribute to the spinach and Swiss cheese combo.  Read on to see how it stays figure friendly without losing a flavor punch.

Low Fat Southern Eggs Florentine (6 - 8 WW PPV)
(Serves One)

  • 1/4 cup quick grits (If you are increasing the recipe, standard grits would be great.  But for one, the quick variety is just fine)
  • 1 cup water (lower PPV) or half water and half nonfat or low fat milk
  • 1 Laughing Cow low fat cheese wedge, Swiss cheese flavor
  • Kosher salt and Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning, or regular old black pepper
  • 1 tsp olive oil, or cooking spray (again, you can save a WW Point here)
  • 1 TBS-ish  onion, rough chopped (cut off a chunk and chop it up – you want it rustic, so don’t be fussy about uniform sized pieces)
  • 1 big handful of baby spinach leaves, torn (see above about the rustic bit…. Leave in a couple of whole leaves for interest)
  • 1 large egg – Farm fresh if you have access.  (If not, pop the extra buck and get the best darned eggs you can.  Seriously, you buy eggs by the dozen.  Do the math.) 

  • Make the cheese grits
  • Bring the liquid, salt, and pepper or TJ Seasoning to a boil in a small sauce pan.  (Watch it carefully if you include the milk; it may boil over if you don’t)
  • Sprinkle the grits into the briskly boiling liquid, stir and lower the heat.  Cook by the instructions on the package until creamy and tender.
  • When the grits are done, add the wedge of cheese.  Stir until melted and combined.
  • Cover and keep warm on the lowest possible flame

 Cook the eggs
  • Coat a non-stick pan with the oil or spray with the cooking spray
  • Sauté the onion until soft; add the spinach and a little salt and cook until just getting soft.  Make a “well” (or a divot, for the golfers in the crowd) in the mixture. 
  • Crack the egg and place it into the indentation in the spinach.
  • Lower the heat, cover the pan and be patient until it cooks to the doneness of your liking.
  • When the eggs are done, put the grits in the center of a small plate, top with the egg and spinach, sprinkle with pepper, and….