Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tuna Surprise

No matter how hard I try, the pantry creep always gets me in the end. I try not to let it. I write up my menus every week before shopping, I inventory regularly, I do all the things those space saver shows say to do, but one day I open up the cupboard and I somehow have 8 cans of pumpkin that I don't remember buying and no room for my groceries. When that happens, I know it's time for a Tuna Surprise night.

Tuna Surprise has been a running joke between my wife and me. It's my generic term for the "whatever I have in the cupboard" casserole. It doesn't necessarily have to include tuna to be called Tuna Surprise. In fact, the lack of tuna is usually the surprise!

After finding the previously mentioned spontaneously generated 8 cans of pumpkin, I decided to whip up a Tuna Surprise to get rid of it all. We invited our friend Jalera over to join in the fun. She chose the "seriously weird" option, much to my wife's dismay, and here's what she got.

Tuna Surprise
1 can of pumpkin puree
1 can of green beans, drained
1 small can of water chestnuts, drained
1 large can of whole black olives, drained
1 can of Rotel, not drained
12 oz. of chorizo
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Fresh herbs to taste (I used spearmint and thyme)
1 tsp. dark brown sugar
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. Sriracha
1 tsp. chili powder

Brown the chorizo, herbs, and olives until chorizo is fully cooked.
Combine the chorizo mixture, pumpkin, brown sugar, Rotel, and soy sauce in a bowl.
Mix the water chestnuts and Sriracha together and layer at the bottom of a greased baking dish.
Pour the pumpkin mixture over the top of the water chestnuts and smooth.
Pour the drained can of green beans over the pumpkin mixture. Sprinkle the chili powder over the beans.
Top with the cheese and bake at 4oo degrees for 45 minutes.

This tastes nothing like you'd expect. The chorizo and the spices actually make the pumpkin taste a lot like refried beans. The water chestnuts give an interesting texture to the dish. The mint is there, but just barely. It actually turned out really good. Kind of like a taco pie but with the much higher nutrition of the pumpkin instead of the beans. Give it a try and let me know what you think. I'd also really like to hear your ideas for a Tuna Surprise.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Beans and Cornbread: Made in Heaven

I love pinto beans and cornbread. Love. Like romantically, passionately, almost feel like I'm cheating on my wife every time I eat it love. I come by this love honestly and doubly.

First, I was born and raised in rural Tennessee. Beans and cornbread are practically the state dish here, and for good reason. It's dirt cheap to make. Dried beans are one of the cheapest things you can buy. Flour, corn meal, milk, eggs, and flour are already staples of any respectable southern cook's pantry. If you were poor, and just about everyone where I grew up was, you had beans and cornbread just about every day.

Second, I was raised in the United Methodist Church. For those who aren't Methodists, particularly southern Methodists, you have to understand something about our particular brand of the Christian faith. We firmly believe that Foodliness is next to Godliness. We have church socials like some churches have Sunday school. We sometimes call it "fellowshipping", sometimes "feed the preacher day" and sometimes "the holy stuffit buffet". Whatever you call it, you can be sure that someone would bring a big pot of pintos and a platter filled with skillet cornbread. Cornbread is practically our communion wafer, pinto bean juice our wine. Beans and cornbread were such an omnipresent part of my weekly Sunday ritual that it's no surprise that they've almost developed a holy mental association for me.

Now, since I'm talking so much about God today, let me talk a little bit about Satan as well. In the case of pinto beans and cornbread, "Satan" disguises himself with the name "Sugar"...

That's right. Putting sugar in cornbread is a sin that will get you immediately ex-communicated from any Southern church fellowship dinner. The 11th commandment, had there been room for it on the tablet, would have been "thou shalt not put no sugar in thy cornbread!" I'm convinced of it. This may surprise my Northern readers. Having married a New Yorker, I understand the abuse you all suffered at the hands of well-meaning Northern cooks who learned from their mothers who learned from their mothers to turn the holy goodness that is cornbread into a sweet corny cake of sorts, unsuitable for putting in beans, dunking in a glass of buttermilk, or eating in any way.

It's ok. You can reform your wicked ways. Consider this a culinary mission trip. Step away from your sugar bowl and follow the instructions below to make a standard southern cornbread, with a slight twist. I've given it a spin by adding Sriracha Chili Sauce. The result is the cornbread southerners know and love, with a little bit of kick.

1 C. Flour
1 C. Cornmeal
1.5 C. Buttermilk
.5 C. Canola Oil
1.5 tsp. Baking Powder
2 large eggs
1 tbsp. Sriracha Chili Sauce

Pre-heat oven to 425.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
Add the eggs, then the canola oil, the buttermilk, and the Sriracha
Stir all ingredients together until thoroughly mixed.
Spray a cast iron skillet with cooking spray. **
Pour the mixture into the skillet and place in oven
Cook for 25 minutes. Take out and test for doneness by poking a knife into the center. If the knife comes out clean, the cornbread is done. If not, add for another 10 minutes and repeat.
Cut and serve with pinto beans.

**If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, this can be made in a pyrex dish but you won’t get the crusty ends that are the heart of true southern cornbread.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Slow Cooker BBQ

I love the flavor of a good smoked BBQ but don't have the supplies or the time to spend properly smoking meat. I came up with this recipe after much experimentation. It doesn't exactly replicate the flavor of a well-done smoked BBQ as it lacks the acrid bite of true smoke, but it's close enough that I've fooled people at dinner parties in the past. This has rapidly become the most requested item at any potluck I go too.


1 Boston Butt Pork Roast (7-8 lbs)
2 bottles of liquid smoke
1 12 oz. bottle of hot sauce (I use Frank's Red Hot Original but any sauce will work)
1 tbsp. Sriracha Chili Sauce
1 small can of tomato paste
2 tbsp. worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp coarse ground black pepper


Combine 1/2 bottle of liquid smoke and 1 tbsp. of worcestershire sauce in a bowl.
Place into a meat injection syringe and inject the mixture into various places on the roast.
Coat the outside of the roast with salt and pepper.
Wrap the roast tightly in aluminum foil and place into a crock pot.
Cook on low temperature for 10 hours.
Remove the roast from the crock pot and drain any juice in the bottom of the crock into a bowl. Reserve this juice for later.
Unwrap the roast and allow to cool for 1 hour.

Shred the roast with fingers or a fork, removing the bone. This can be thrown away or saved for soup stock.
In a large bowl, combine the remainder of the liquid smoke, hot sauce, can of tomato paste, 1 tbsp. worcestershire sauce, and the dark brown sugar.
Stir together and gradually add reserved juices from the roast until the mixture takes on the thickness of a light gravy.
Taste the mixture. If it is too spicy or too vinegary for your taste, add another tbsp of brown sugar.
Combine the shredded meat and the sauce mixture, stirring well to coat all meat with the sauce.
Place the mixture back into the crock pot and cook on low for another 10 hours. Stir the mixture every couple of hours. If it gets to thin, pull out some of the excess liquid. If it starts to dry out, add a couple of tbsp. of the reserved liquid and stir.
Serve on hamburger buns.

Banana Fried Rice

This weekend, some friends and I did an Asian themed potluck dinner. Since I'm always the one in our group who has to be difficult, I decided to do it just a little differently. I made an Asian staple, fried rice, but gave it an island twist by adding bananas.

The secret to this recipe is in the Chinese Five Spice Powder. This can usually be found in the ethnic foods section of your local supermarket. If not, most major cities have an Asian grocery and it's easily accessible there.

This recipe is up on my Associated Content page so click over there to give it a look if you're so inclined.

Recipe is here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Remains of the (St. Patrick's) Day

One of the unintended consequences of my group of friends' potluck dinners like the one described in the previous post is that we usually have a lot of leftovers. Most of the leftovers go home with people or to work with Ash and me for lunch. Sometimes, however, my leftovers aren't dishes but ingredients. At those times, for the sake of my poor stuffed refrigerator, I have to channel my inner Iron Chef and use what's before me to make something good.

This week, I had the following items to work with:

Boston Butt pork that I didn't cube up for the Irish Stew
Some whole mushrooms
Some of the blue cheese stuffing mixture from the Stuffed Mushrooms recipe (you can find that recipe over at Jal's Kitchen, link to the right).

With those ingredients, I decided that a roast was the way to go. Here's the recipe:

2 lb. of Boston Butt Pork
16 oz. whole raw mushrooms, washed and patted dry
2 tbsp. of Blue Cheese Stuffing
1/2 C. light rum
Kosher Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
1 tbsp. lemon juice

Start out by pre-heating your oven to 400 degrees.
Place a cast iron skillet on medium-high heat on your stove top.
While the skillet is heating up, liberally sprinkle kosher salt and freshly ground pepper onto both sides of the meat.
When the skillet is very hot, add the meat fat-side down and cook for 2 minutes to give it a good sear. Flip the meat over and sear the other side as well.
Once you've finished your sear, spread the blue cheese mixture on top of the pork.
Add the mushrooms to the skillet and sprinkle the lemon juice over the whole thing.
Place into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. Take the skillet out of the oven and place back onto medium-high heat on the stove top.
Take the roast out of the skillet and place on a cutting board. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting.
Leaving the mushrooms in the skillet, pour in the rum and use a wooden spoon to deglaze the skillet.
Continue to cook, stirring often, until the liquid thickens enough to coat the mushrooms.

That's it. A great leftover dinner that no one would know was leftovers unless they were told.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

St. Patty's Day Potluck

If you couldn't tell from the picture in my profile, I am of Irish heritage and really enjoy exploring the culinary styles of my ancestral home. Over the weekend, my friends and I did an Irish potluck to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. My friend Jalera contributed White Chocolate Hazelnut Cakes (not terribly Irish, but good) and Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms. If you'd like the recipe for those, the link to her blog is on the right. She promises she'll have them up this week.

My contribution to the dinner was Irish Stew. It turned out really well. I wish I had pictures for you but Jal has my camera and hasn't given it back yet.

Irish Stew
Guinness Stout has long been one of my favorite cooking ingredients. It provides a depth and richness to broths and sauces, does a pretty good job of pulling the gamy taste out of venison, and you can drink the leftover ingredients. Try that with corn starch! This stew varies quite a bit from tradition by necessity. Traditional Irish Stew is cooked on the stove top and finished in the oven. I had too many people to feed and not enough time to babysit so I did mine partially on stovetop and partially in the crock pot. Also, traditional Irish Stew is typically made with lamb or mutton. Mutton is nearly impossible to find in Tennessee and lamb is considerably more expensive than my budget allows so I went with a Boston Pork Butt which was on sale at Piggly Wiggly for $.99 a pound.

Boston Butt Pork Roast (mine was about 8 lbs. but I only used about 4)
6 Red Potatoes
3 Cups of Baby Carrots
2 Bottles of Guinness Extra Stout
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. of Paprika
1 Tsp. Peppercorns
2 Tbsp. Canola Oil
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Garlic Powder to taste

First order of business is to break down your Boston Butt. I use a Chinese Cleaver for this but any good knife will do. Start by cutting the blade bone out of the center of the roast. It's ok to leave a little meat on the bone. We're not professional chefs here and we're going to get some use out of it anyway. Once you've extracted the bone, put it, a Tbsp. of salt, a Tsp. of peppercorns, and two bottles of Guinness Extra Stout into a pressure cooker. Put this on the stove and pressure cook for one hour.

While you're doing that, heat 1 Tbsp. of Canola oil in a large skillet (I used a wok for this), and begin to break down your meat. I cut mine into 1/2 inch or so cubes. Gives them enough size to provide some chew, but not enough to choke your guests. If you want your stew to be extra thick, give the pork a toss in some corn starch before putting it in the skillet. I like a little juice so I skipped this step. Add the paprika and garlic powder and give your cubed pork a quick fry in the oil until you get a decent crust on the outside. This usually takes 3-4 minutes at high heat. When you're done, add your pork to the crock pot.

Add the second Tbsp. of oil to your skillet and toss in the baby carrots. Let those cook while you cut the red potatoes. I just quartered mine but how small you cut them depends on how big your potatoes are and how big your mouth is. Once the potatoes are cut, add them to the carrots and stir to cook. Again, you don't have to cook them soft, just so they have a little browning on the outside. This took 5 minutes or so of cooking. When done, add this to the crock pot.

Add 1 cup of water to the empty skillet and stir with a wooden spoon to get all of the crusty bits left in the bottom up. This should only take a minute or two. Add this liquid to the crock pot and start cooking.

By the time you finish this, your broth should be nearly done in the pressure cooker. Once it's finished, fish out the bone and dump the broth into the crock pot. Stir everything to mix well and cook on low heat for 10 hours.

The resulting stew has a bold body provided by the pork and the stout.