What I Cooked Last Night

Sometimes I make up these crazy meals that turn out to be wonderful. When that happens, i think it is worth sharing. Occasionally something turns out to be a total disaster, then it is the story, rather than the recipe that is worth sharing. My kitchen creativity is best used on leftovers. I can work tasty magic with leftovers. Be sure to read the first post, "About My Cooking Style" which will help in following recipes when given, or to recreate meals from my prose.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Grilled Chicken and Pasta

Last night a dear young friend joined me for supper. Having recently graduated from high school, spent 4 weeks touring Italy, and now preparing to go off to college quite far away, my friend had lots to celebrate and we had lots to talk about. Having traveled to Italy twice myself, I am very fond of Italian cooking, and my cooking is often inspired by Italian techniques and recipes, even when I am not cooking specifically Italian foods.

Tonight's menu: Grilled Chicken alla Modena, Ragu of Grilled Summer vegetables with Tri-Color Rotini Pasta, Crusty Bread with Infused Olive Oil, and Sliced Homegrown Tomatoes. Fancy titles for very simple foods, but sometimes I just like to have fun.

The chicken is embarrassingly easy. Simply marinate boneless chicken breasts (or thighs) in balsamic vinegar for about twenty minutes. Grill. That's it. It doesn't even need salt. The chicken cooks up tender and loaded with flavor from the vinegar.

For the pasta sauce I sauted half a diced onion in olive oil with some diced green bell pepper. While that cooked I took some grilled vegetables left over from the night before and chopped them up. I had zucchini, yellow squash and red bell peppers. You can use whatever vegetables you prefer. Once the onions and peppers were nicely browned, I added the diced vegetables, three cloves of garlic that was minced fine, a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, a bay leaf, two tablespoons of chicken soup base and six large basil leaves from my garden. I gave it a quick stir and let it simmer while I worked on other things.

I put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta.

I picked a sprig of rosemary out of the yard, washed it, pulled the leaves from the stems and crushed them between my fingers. I put them in a bowl with one cup of olive oil. I then added two cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced thin. It is best if you do this the night before and let it steep all night, but you can microwave it for 20 seconds or so to speed up the process.

I added the pasta a some salt to the boiling water. While that bubbled I grated some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese into the sauce and blended it well. When the pasta was tender, I lifted it from the water with a slotted spoon and placed it in a large bowl. The sauce went in on top and I tossed it all together. I added a few spoons of the water from the pasta pot to add a little liquid to the dish.

To serve, I sliced up the chicken and piled it on a platter with the sliced tomatoes, I put the bread on a board with a knife and a bowl of the flavored oil and served the pasta up in a large earthenware bowl with a big spoon.


Tonight, I am making soup from the leftovers. I have diced the chicken up small and added it to the pasta. When it is nearly supper time, I will put it in a pot with a carton of chicken broth, a small can of tomato sauce, a can of kidney beans, drained, a can of diced tomatoes, drained, some Italian seasoning and simmer. Instant chicken minestrone! It will be served up with grated cheese and a basil leaf on top. Garlic bread made from the leftover flavored oil and bread with be hot and toasty on the side. The sliced tomatoes will be added to a salad. A ten minute meal on a Saturday night. What could be better?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Fresh From The Farm

My daddy (I am Southern. Southern women call their fathers "daddy" for their entire lives. ) brought me a pile of produce from the family farm yesterday. Score! I took a quick inventory. There were some gorgeous tomatoes, a handful of okra, a ton of yellow squash, cucumbers, shelled crowder peas and a large bowl of fresh blueberries. I had the makings of a sensational summer supper; Skillet Okra & Tomatoes, Gazpacho Salad, Grilled Squash and Crowder Peas with Brown Rice.

First I washed everything and then set about getting it all ready to cook. The crowder peas went into a medium saucepan with a handful of diced onions, a bay leaf, salt & pepper and a piece of turkey bacon. I brought them to a boil, then let them simmer while I did everything else. Meanwhile, I made the brown rice, using a recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated. I have included it below. While the peas simmered and the rice baked, I prepared everything else.

First I threw some diced onion, a big handful, into a medium skillet with some olive oil. Then I sliced up the squash, lengthwise. I sprinkled it with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper and misted it with olive oil. I let it hang out while I tended to the rest. I diced up the okra and added it to the skillet. I added salt and pepper, a dash of Tabasco and let it brown a bit while I diced up two tomatoes. I laid the squash out on the grill then added the tomatoes to the okra, then seasoned the dish with about a teaspoon or so of Bouquet Garni, a French herb blend. You could use Italian Seasoning or any herbs that you like. After reducing the heat, the vegetables were good to simmer for about ten minutes.

Gazpacho Salad, (in my version anyway) consists of diced tomatoes, cucumber and onions, seasoned with dried parsley, a dash of Tabasco, salt, pepper and granulated garlic. I dressed it with a tablespoon each of balsamic vinegar and olive oil and left it to marinate in the icebox.

After giving the squash a flip, I set the table and when I was finished, so was the meal. I removed the bacon and bay leaf from the peas before serving. They were delicious over the rice, and the two together make a complete protein, the perfect compliment to an all vegetable meal.

Fast, easy, fresh and healthful, simply the perfect meal. I just love the summer. Who needs meat when you have such wonderful produce? I hope that your summer is just as tasty!

Idiot Proof Brown Rice

1 1/2 cups brown rice
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
2 1/3 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place rice in an 2 quart baking dish that has a lid. Add all seasonings and give a good stir. Add boiling water straight from the kettle. Cover tightly with foil and put the lid on the top. Bake for one hour. Let sit for 5 minutes before removing lid and foil.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Last night, we gathered friends and their children over for supper. Although Monday night is not usually a good night for parties, being independence Eve, we thought we could fill the house. Indeed. Seventeen adults and ten children joined us for a casual night at home. The featured entree was one of my own invention, that I had never made before. In an act of bravery (stupidity?) I made a dish that had heretofore only existed in my imagination. I invented it on Wednesday morning as I read the weekly grocery store ads to determine what I could afford to serve at the party. Boston Butt (pork shoulder) was on sale for $1.00 a pound so that was the winner. I didn't want to serve barbecued pork though, it was just too ordinary. Besides, it really tastes better cooked in a smoky pit rather than in a Crock-Pot. It could only be mediocre at best, so why bother?

So I started thinking about what I could do with a couple of great big chunks of pork to make them rich and flavorful without barbecue sauce. Garlic, or course, was the solution.

I picked up two large Boston Butts and trimmed as much fat off as possible. Then I hauled out two of my larger Crock-Pots and dropped a piece of pork in each one. Then each Pot got the following: one whole, peeled, head of garlic, bay leaves, tablespoon of Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and Tabasco. After filling each one with water, I was done for the night and went to bed. At 3:00 am my husband and I were awakened by the tantalizing smelled of garlic and pork cooking together. We looked at each other with bleary eyes and said as one : "Mmmm. Pork." and went back to sleep.

At the dawn's early light, I removed the roasts, reserving some of the cooking liquid. I discarded the bay leaves and removed whatever fat I could find as I pulled and chopped the pork into smallish pieces. I wanted it to burst with flavor, without a sweet and sticky or hot and spicy sauce. I thought about what would go well with the seasonings already in place and had an idea. I mixed together some balsamic vinegar, some of the cooking liquid, Tabasco, Italian seasoning and granulated garlic and then added it to the pork, stirring all the while. I also mashed in the garlic that had cooked with the meat and added salt & pepper.

The meat was tender, flavorful and juicy. The vinegar did not make it taste like barbecue-- in NC and upper SC barbecue is made with an intense, spicy vinegar sauce -- it just gave it a burst of bright flavor with only the slightest, barely perceptible tang. The garlic was prominent, but was deep and rich after cooking slowly all night. The Tabasco and Italian seasoning added a tasty kick to the whole concoction.

The Garlicue was served on toasted buns with sliced red onions and provelone cheese, which proved to be the perfect accompaniments, as they played up the Italian leanings of the final product. . Some people added a thin spread of mayonnaise, others just a touch of spicy mustard. Most just had it plain. To go with it we had crudites with fresh basil dip, deviled eggs, spinach salad, grilled summer squashes and chips & salsa. Our guests brought some amazing desserts and the evening was a memorable one. I suppose that I could change the name to something such as "Italian Roasted Pork" or "Tuscan Barbecue" but they just don't have the uniqueness of "Garlicue". It just rolls off of the tongue.

Here is my best reconstruction of the recipe:


1 5-7 lb. Boston Butt (pork shoulder), trimmed of fat
1 head garlic, separated and peeled
2 bay leaves
2 tbs. Italian seasoning, divided
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tsp. Granulated garlic
Salt, pepper, Tabasco

Sear pork roast on all sides, then place in Crock-Pot. Add garlic, bay leaves, 1 tbs. Italian seasoning, one tablespoon each of salt, pepper and Tabasco. Add water to cover. Cook on low 8-10 hours or until meat is tender and falling off of the bone. Remove from cooker and set aside to cool.( Pull the bone out and give to the dog.)* Reserve one cup cooking liquid. Chop and shred the meat into bite sized pieces, removing any fat you come across. Find and discard both bay leaves. (Feed the fat to the dog.) Mash up garlic cloves into meat. Mix together remaining Italian seasoning, reserved cooking liquid and granulated garlic. Blend into meat. Add in Tabasco, salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on toasted buns with thinly sliced red onions and Provelone cheese.

Play with the seasonings. Want it tangier? Add more vinegar. More of a kick? Run some raw garlic through a press and mix it in. Hotter? Add Tabasco and pepper to your heart's content, and even some diced hot peppers if you like. Make it different by serving it with roasted red peppers and fresh mozzarella instead.

There were plenty of leftovers. So what are we having tonight? I am chopping up the grilled squash and red onions. I am throwing them in a mixing bowl with the pork, some diced tomatoes, roasted red peppers, some cheese and brown rice. After adding seasonings to taste and a beaten egg or two, I am stuffing the whole mess into bell peppers and baking at 350 for an hour. Another play on the leftovers is to chop up the onions (squash too, what the heck!) and add to diced cooked potatoes. Throw everything into a hot skillet with a little olive oil and make a lovely hash. I bet there could be a really tasty soup too, with kidney beans, diced tomatoes, pasta, sauted peppers & onions...

For sometime in the not to distant future, I am plotting out my recipe for Mexicue. I am already imagining the leftovers... Mmmm. Pork.

*If you don't have a dog, go to your local pet shelter and get one, for goodness sake. They are very handy in the kitchen. Ours learned the command "Lucy, clean up!" in about a day and I never have to pick up or wipe up spilled food anymore.

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