Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Jambalaya Heaven 2/24/10

This weather stuff is crazy! We went from rain and newly formed rivers in the yard to the 70's with shorts and a T-shirt last weekend. Then we get hit with sleet and a small crop dusting of snow. I don't have all of these different types of clothes for three different seasons in one week. I don't know what to expect next, but I just wish it would be consistent. The dogs normally have no problem when you ask them if they want to go outside, but now they have to investigate the situation before they even come close to walking out the door. I am home alone for a while as the rest of the family headed off to their hometowns to do their own things. This gives me time to bond with the dogs and celebrate peanut hour in the evenings! HaHa! Once our house sells I will get to hook up with my wife in Dallas. All kidding aside, we had some good family time as Matt came home from La Tech for a few days during Mardi Gras break along with Janet and Tyler being here as we celebrated their birthdays at Genghis Grill. Where is everyone headed for Spring Break/Summer Vacation this year? If you need some help, I know a cool travel agent. He keeps telling me that cruise vacations and all inclusive resorts are hot right now. I think I need to give him a call. I am getting hungry! Let's go cook something! As a foodaholic and a social networking junkie, I have had the pleasure to meet some really cool people online who love food and are willing to share their recipes. One of those very special people is Toni Patrick Cox from Ruston, LA. Not only is she a great cook she is a very nice person and a football junkie. Football and food, what could be better? During the Super Bowl she made Sausage/Chicken Jambalaya and she was kind enough to share her recipe with me. I have to tell you I was blown away. I have not been very successful with making this Creole/Cajun dish, so I was super excited to have an authentic family recipe to try. I have not personally met Mrs. Cox yet, but I hope to one day soon when I travel to Ruston to watch my son Matt play football at La Tech. You know me by now as I always have to check out the history of what I am going to make. Jambalaya originated in southern Louisiana by the Cajuns around the bayou where food was scarce, as opposed to the richer part of Louisiana. The word is said to be a compound word of Jambon from the French meaning ham, and Aya meaning rice in African, as there were many slaves in the Louisiana at the time. Common belief is that it originated from the Spanish Paella, which has also transformed in the United States to a dish called Spanish rice. Jambalaya is a bit different many times as it incorporates seafood, ham, link sausage rounds and chicken, although it doesn't have to have all those ingredients. It can be made (separately or all together) with ham, chicken, sausage, fresh pork, shrimp, duck and oysters, to which is added shortening, rice, onion, garlic, pepper and other seasonings. There is a Jambalaya Festival and World Champion Jambalaya Cooking contest held annually in Gonzales, LA and it attracts area cooks who have spent years perfecting the art of cooking and seasoning this Creole delicacy. Gonzales, LA is called the Jambalaya Capital of The World. Let's get this cooking adventure rolling! The prep work needs to be done, but grab two beers to drink during the process first. Cut a medium onion to a medium/small dice; chop your celery and green onions into a small dice as well. Then chop your parsley. Don't chop it down to fine as it will cook down some. Then take your smoked sausage of choice and slice it. The chicken breast is next as it need to be cut into cubes. You know the size you like to eat. I think everything is ready to go. I am using a 5 quart ceramic coated cast iron pot. Turn the heat to medium high, add a little oil and fry off your smoked sausage. Remove the smoked sausage and drain on paper towels. Next you take your cubed chicken breast and cook in the sausage drippings like a stir fry. Once your chicken is browned, remove and set aside. Now take the remaining vegetable oil and add to your pan. I know the oil sound like a lot, but it is not. Take your onions, celery, parsley, green onions and sauté for several minutes. Then take your long grain rice and sauté with the veggies for a few more minutes. Now you add one box of chicken stock, chicken, sausage, a 16 ounce can of diced tomatoes, bay leaves, cayenne pepper and creole seasoning. Simmer over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, Then cover and cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until the rice is done. I have to tell you that I made this recipe with no one to share it with. My wife is not very happy! I could not wait to eat. It smelled awesome, it looked awesome and it blew me away. This is what I call the ultimate comfort food. I am in heaven and I am on the floor because I ate too much. I cannot even walk to my bottle of wine! I cannot tell you how good this is. I am so awed with how super delicious this is. You will have to make it and shoot me a note after you get back up off of the floor. I bet you will fall in love with it as much as I did. I paired this incredible recipe with a crusty French baguette and nice bottle of 2007 Red Willow Sangiovese from the Columbia Winery in Washington State. Just one quick side note to the recipe as I added more cayenne pepper and one serrano pepper diced to the recipe. It also called for a 13 ounce can of chicken stock, but it was actually one box of chicken stock. Mrs. Cox, I cannot thank you enough for sharing this recipe with me. It will remain in my family forever. I know I was supposed to make dessert as well, but I will save your bread pudding recipe for another day. I hope you to will try this recipe out and I bet you will be satisfied with how awesome it is. Make sure and invite your family and friends over and make it a big party! I truly appreciate all of you who are reading and following. Please leave me a comment sometime so I know who is reading. Send me a recipe and I will make it. I would be honored if you share this blog with a friend. Find something you enjoy and just do it! Life is way too short! Have fun and smile! You never know what tomorrow will bring! Until next time, "Cookin with John" will be playing with some more food ideas to share with you!

PS: I learned a new word the other day! It is called Cruisitude! My travel agent told me about it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lasagna in a Bowl 2/12/10

This has been a very strange week. I am not sure how to explain it. I feel like I need to put a wet suit on and put my floating device on call. If we have any more rain I will have my very own river to float down. It won't be long and I can catch a wave down the street! The dogs are even tired of swimming to their destination to do their business. As I sit here and write about food, it is snowing in Dallas where my wife is and I am getting ready for a polar bear swim here in San Antonio. I think I would rather be making snow angels in Big D than shrinking various body parts in San Antonio! I think I am shrinking just thinking about it! It's going to be good weekend though. Matt is on Mardi Gras break from La Tech, Tyler is coming down from San Marcos and Janet is heading home for a few days from Big D. The Winter Olympics start, NASCAR kicks off and the Ultimate day of Love caps off the weekend. I am looking forward to some family bonding time. It has been a while! I am not even going to start with what happens next week. I will save that for another meal. Did I say Lasagna in a Bowl? I did and I know that is crazy, but is in my head for a minute or two. If you are looking at traveling to Italy this year or next, I know of someone who can answer all of your questions. Whether it is by land or sea, he can bring Italy to a reality for you. You can check him out at FCT! Let the cookin’ begin, enough of this FCT stuff! What the heck is Lasagna and where did it come from? Lasagne, also lasagna, is both a form of pasta in sheets (often rippled in North America, though seldom so in Italy) and also a dish, sometimes named Lasagne al forno (meaning "Lasagne in the oven") made with alternate layers of pasta, cheese, and ragu (a meat sauce). While it is traditionally believed to have originated in Italy, evidence has come to light suggesting that a very similar meal known as "loseyns" (pronounced 'lasan') was eaten in the court of King Richard II in the 14th Century. The recipe was also featured in the first cookbook ever written in England. However, the claim is far from universally accepted and the Italian Embassy in London particularly speaking out against it for Italy. The word "lasagna" is derived from the Greek word "lasanon" meaning chamber pot. Could this really mean a “Crockpot”? The word was later borrowed by the Romans as "lasanum" to mean cooking pot. The Italians then used the word to refer to the dish in which what is now known as lasagna is made. Wow, this is a lot of history. This recipe came to me from my sister in law. I will let you in on a secret. She is a great cook! When we first talked about it, I was anxious to make it, but I was really having a hard time seeing how this was going to work. How is a Crockpot going to be the cooking hero? I just don't see it, so let the cooking adventure begin as I attempt "Lasagna in a Bowl" To me Lasagna is comfort food! It needs to be made with love and use fresh ingredients. The prep work needs to be done first. Cut a small onion to a medium dice, mince a few cloves of garlic and slice a handful of mushrooms. Next the ricotta mixture needs to be made. It is really simple to make. Take two cups of ricotta cheese, one egg, 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, parsley and mix all of it together. Now we come to the manly part of the recipe. It is time to make a meat sauce. Brown the Italian sausage, ground chuck and your diced onion and drain off the excess fat. Now you add garlic, mushrooms (I did not use due to some of my tasters will not consume mushrooms), hand cranked sea salt, hand cranked crushed black pepper, oregano (my addition to the recipe), red wine that you will drink, marinara sauce of your choice, tomato paste and tomato sauce to the meat mixture. Mix this entire list of ingredients up and set aside. Get your favorite Crockpot out and spray her down so nothing sticks. You said a Crockpot? This cannot be right! Lasagna should be made in a rectangle shaped pan, not an oval or circle shaped pot. I have come this far, so here we go! Take some of your meat sauce and just cover the bottom of your Crockpot. Take your lasagna noodles and start filling in the shape of you Crockpot. I used no cook lasagna noodles, so all I had to do was break them to make them fit right. Then layer your ricotta cheese mixture on top of that. Then add meat sauce on top of that and top with shredded mozzarella cheese. You repeat this same process of layering until you come to about one inch from the top of your Crockpot. Once you reach the top and your last layer of mozzarella is on, top it all with parmesan cheese, parsley and a little more oregano. Cover this masterpiece up and cook her for six to seven hours on low. You will know it is done when your neighbors are knocking at your door. Make sure and keep your vent hood on low so you can perfume the neighborhood. They will love you forever. About ten minutes before you are going to serve it add some more shredded mozzarella cheese, cover it and get your salad and garlic bread ready. Oh, and don't forget your favorite color of wine! I started the wine at hour six! I kid you not; as I scoop me a section of this "Lasagna in a Bowl" I am very impressed with the appearance and aroma. How could this come from a Crockpot? I took my first few bites and I could not believe how moist and how much flavor this lasagna had. Oh my! I am a believer in this Crockpot recipe and I can tell you until I took my first bite I was not sure about how it would turn out. That's Amore! I am in love with my taste buds and this recipe. When I make this recipe again, I will need some marinara sauce on the side so I can top the lasagna with some sopping sauce for my garlic bread. I want to thank my sister in law for sharing this recipe with me. I hope you to will try this recipe out and I bet you will be satisfied with your efforts. Make sure and invite your family and friends over and make it a party! I truly appreciate all of you who are reading and following. Please leave me a comment sometime so I know who is reading. I would be honored if you share this with a friend. Find something you enjoy and just do it! Life is too short! Have fun and smile! You never know what tomorrow will bring! Until next time, “Cookin with John” will be playing with some more food ideas to share with you!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Italian Beef with a Greek Influence 2/6/10

The New Year has started and is well on its way. Why does time fly by when you want to take it slow and easy? I would have thought that as fast as time is going by that I would be losing weight like crazy! Wrong, I postponed my New Year's resolution diet until after the Super Bowl. You have to have time to mentally prepare for a diet. Can you believe the Super Bowl is tomorrow and football is gone until late summer? I hope I can make it that long! Matt and the Bulldogs ended the season stronger than it started. I am looking forward to see what the next season brings to this very young football team. The biz is in full swing with one month into "Wave Season" My waves could be a little higher! HaHa! What is the old saying? Hang loose and catch a wave! I am good with that. Today I am going to put a twist on a Chicago Classic. Italian Beef with a Greek twist John's way! I have been making this version for over six years and it is has been a staple of ours during football season. My brother in law introduced me to this several years ago and we were sold at the very first whiff of this twisted classic. Not only is he one heck of a cook, he is one of the best Pit Master's around! Let's start with a little history of Italian Beef! An Italian beef is a sandwich of thin slices of seasoned roast beef, dripping with meat juices, on a dense, long Italian-style roll, believed to have originated in Chicago, where its history dates back at least to the 1930s. The bread itself is often dipped (or double-dipped) into the juices the meat is cooked in, and the sandwich is typically topped off with Chicago-style Giardiniera (called "hot") or sautéed, green Italian sweet peppers (called "sweet"). Pasquale Scala and the Scala Packing Company, Al’s #1 Beef, Pat Bruno or Italian immigrants who worked for the old Union Stock Yards in Chicago all claim to be the creator of this masterpiece. I do not claim to know who invented “The Italian Beef Sandwich”, but instead I will say Thanks to the contenders for giving me the base for my twisted version. One thing is for certain: the Italian beef sandwich will not be found anywhere in Italy. I will save the Philly Cheesesteak for another day as this is Chicago's day to shine. Enough of the history! This is one of those recipes that has very few ingredients, but will have the neighborhood knocking at your door. You must have a Crockpot. This is a very low and slow recipe. From the store you will need a four to five pound rump roast, two jars of Greek Peperoncini sliced peppers, Italian dry dressing packet, garlic, au jus and the bread of your choice. I told you this twisted version is simple! I typically start this the evening before I want to eat this. Are you ready? Get the old crock pot out and rub the inside with some olive oil. Take three or four cloves of peeled garlic and massage the inside of your crock pot. You know, just like giving a good back rub to your wife. I leave the garlic in the crock pot. Next your trim most of the fat, but not all from your rump roast. Gently place the rump roast in the crock pot and sprinkle the entire Italian dry dressing packet on the rump roast. Open both jars of Greek Peperoncini peppers and pour the entire contents over the rump roast. Yes that is correct, all of the liquid. Turn your crock pot on high and cook for three or four hours. Now is time for the low and slow part. Turn down to low and cook another eight hours at a minimum. I try to get twelve hours out of her before I even lift the lid. One thing I can tell you is that if you make this the night before you are going to have a hard time sleeping. This terrific aroma is so electrifying that even the dogs start howling. I kid you not when you wake up the entire house will smell like an Italian bistro. After twelve hours or so, slowly take the meat out and put it on a sheet pan. The meat will be incredibly tender at this point. Take a couple of forks and shred the meat apart. I would compare it to shredding a Boston butt for pulled pork. Once the entire roast is shredded take your two packets of Au Jus and stir them into the broth that is still in the crock pot. Sometimes I will add beef soup base and Oregano as well, but in this version I did not. Take the shredded roast on put it all back in the crock pot. I normally cook this for a couple of hours more on low to let everything join back together. At this point it is very hard to keep the lid on. I have tormented the family with this aroma for the last fourteen hours and they are very hungry at this point. Now all you have to do is take your favorite hard roll, slice her in half and place her in the broiler until she is toasty brown. In this particular version we were making what we call I-Beef Sliders so we used a small Hawaiian style roll. My preference is a crusty baguette or a hard Italian roll. Now comes the easy part. Take your toasted roll and pile the beef on and add some juice. Put a little press on it and go to town. Serve with your chip and condiments of choice. I promise you will fall in love with this recipe. Take this recipe tweak it to your liking, but most of all have fun. Playing with food is such an inspiration to me. I have to give thanks to my I-Beef followers for making sure that we have very few leftovers. Matt, Tyler, Jake, Arnell, Anthony and Mike H are my I-Beef groupies and whenever you are in town let me know and it will be my pleasure to crank the old crock pot up. I hope you too will one day get to share this Italian Beef recipe with your family and friends! Find something you enjoy and just do it! Have fun and smile! You never know what tomorrow will bring! Until next time, “Cookin with John” will be playing with some more food ideas to share with you!