Saturday, September 8, 2018

Bacon Wrapped Mushroom Stuffed Zucchini

A few weeks ago, the good wife told me about a recipe one of her friends had been talking about.  That recipe was for a stuffed zucchini with the stuffing being primarily cheese.  It sounded OK but my preference for things stuffed with cheese pretty much ends at ravioli or tortellini.  I'm not even a fan of cheese stuffed jalapenos but that's a story for another day.  It's been quite some time since I'd done a stuffed zucchini, mostly due to the fact that it's hit or miss with finding zucchini at the store that isn't beat up.  I was doing my shopping the other day and found 3 zucchini that were on the small side but looked good and were in good condition.  I actually bought them with the intention of stuffing them with something.
Bacon wrapped stuffed zucchini and pork chops just on the grill
Once I had the zucchini home, the issue became when to fix them for supper.  It then lead to what to have with it.  I wanted something that could be done outside since it's pretty hot right now and I'd rather not heat the kitchen more than necessary. I settled on smoked pork chops and fried okra.
Smoked and ready to take inside
So without further ado, here is the recipe.

Bacon Wrapped Mushroom Stuffed Zucchini

2 large or 3 smaller zucchini
8 oz baby bella mushrooms, chopped approximately 1/4 inch dice
4 oz grated Cotija cheese
1 medium red onion, small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
splash of brandy or Irish whisky (optional)
8 - 12 slices of bacon

Heat a skillet with some oil to medium heat.  Put in the diced onion and garlic and cook until just starting to turn translucent.  Add the chopped mushrooms and season with salt, pepper, and cumin.  Let the mushrooms cook down until most of the moisture they release has cooked away.  If using, add the brandy or whisky so it cooks down as well.  While the mushrooms are cooking, slice the zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out the seed bearing part.  Once the mushrooms are done, transfer into a bowl and add the grated Cotija cheese and stir.  Divide the mushroom mixture between the zucchini halves ensuring the zucchini are well filled.  Once all the zucchini are filled, wrap them in bacon.  Each zucchini should take two slices of bacon to be completely covered.  Place the bacon wrapped zucchini on a grill with indirect heat and add whatever wood you prefer for smoking.  Smoke at 250 - 275F for 20 - 30 minutes until the bacon is done and the desired color is reached.  Once done, serve and enjoy. 
A fine tasty supper, everything cooked outside
Any mushroom you like can be used in this and I think shitake mushrooms would be very good but the baby bellas are what the store had when I picked them up.  If you don't have or can't find Cotija cheese you could use some good Parmesan, Romano, or a nice Grana instead. 
Cross section
If you don't have a grill or don't want to fool with the grill these can be done in the over just as easily.  I'd put them on a baking rack over a cookie pan and bake at 375 for 15 - 20 minutes.  This should leave the bacon browned but chewy and the zucchini with still a little bite to it.  If you want the bacon crisp and the zucchini soft then increase the time.  If you bake them, keep an eye on them because this is just an estimate based on experience with my oven.  Your oven my vary.

This would do well as a side with any protein you choose.  I almost did grilled salmon but changed my mind and pulled pork chops out of the freezer instead. 

Give these a try and let me know what you think.

Uncle T

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Pasta with Butternut Squash Cream Sauce

I was pondering what to do with half of a butternut squash I had left and decided to use it with pasta.  After some consideration and an internet search this is what I came up with.

With this recipe, the flavor of the butternut squash and the cheese blend in a rich creamy bit of goodness.  The cheese you use it up to you though a hard cheese like Parmesan or Asiago will do best.  I used Asiago because it was the first one I saw in the cheese drawer of the refrigerator.

Butternut Squash Cream Sauce

3 cups cubed butternut squash
8 oz bacon, cut in 1/2 inch lardons
1 medium onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
3 - 4 oz Asiago cheese, grated
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 - 3/4 cup heavy cream
6 sage leaves, fresh
1 tsp thyme leave, fresh
6 - 8 oz dry spaghetti

Cook the pasta according to package direction.  Slowly cook the bacon in a deep skillet until the fat has rendered and it's almost crispy.  Remove the bacon to a bowl.  Add the onion and garlic to the bacon grease and sauté 2 - 3 minutes.  Add the butternut squash and stir then cook 4 - 5 minutes.  Add 1 tsp each of salt and pepper.  Add the white wine, sage leaves, and thyme then stir.  Let the wine cook down then add the chicken broth.  Let it simmer until the chicken broth is reduced by half.  Remove from heat and let cool a bit.  After it has cooled some, transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.  You may need to break it down into smaller batches.  Return to heat and bring to simmer.  Add the heavy cream and stir.  Stir in the grated cheese until melted and well incorporated into the sauce.  Stir in the reserved bacon.  Taste and add more salt if desired.  Once the pasta is finished cooking, add it to the sauce and mix well.  This will serve 3 - 4 people.

I was able to blend in one go since we have the Vitamix.  With the Vitamix running I was able to add the heavy cream followed by the Asiago in small chunks.  I used 4 oz of Asiago and 1/2 cup heavy cream initially.  After tasting, both the good wife and I liked it but I thought it could be a little better.  I added a heavy pinch of salt and another 1/4 cup heavy cream.  That slight change greatly boosted the flavor.
A rich tasty supper
I'd also made fresh bread from a No-knead recipe I've adapted to my own needs.  It is simple and you can make just about any crusty bread with this recipe.

Crusty Bread

3 1/2 cups break flour
13 oz warm water, 110 - 115F
1 1/2 tsp yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt

Put the yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl and pour in the warm water.  Stir and let sit for 5 - 10 minutes.  Add the flour and stir until is makes a soft dough.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the oven with the light on.  Let rise for 90 minutes.  Sprinkle a little flour around the edge of the bowl then use your spoon to push the dough away from the edge of the bowl then roll the dough ball around the bowl.  Dump out on a floured surface and cut into 2 - 3 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a long rope and place on a parchment paper covered sheet tray.  Repeat for the rest of the dough.  Cover with a towel and let rise for 30 minutes.  After the 2nd rise, make 3 diagonal cuts in the top of each loaf.  Put into 400F oven and bake for 25 - 30 minutes.

This bread is great for soaking up the leftover butternut squash cream sauce.  These two are perfect together.  Give these a try and let me know what you think.

Uncle T

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Pan Fried Salmon

Salmon is touted as a fish containing healthy fats in quantities not found in most other sources of protein.  I just see it as a tasty fish that you can use in many ways.  This is about my preferred way of preparing it.

I don't remember where I found the idea for this as it was over 10 years ago.  I've not been able to find it since then so I can't give credit where's it due.  Oh well.  One of the problems I have with most pan fried salmon recipes is the fact that they use marinades and lots of ingredients that mask the flavor of the salmon.  I know that's what most chefs do but I'm not a chef and I believe that many times treating a primary ingredient simply is the best way to go.  All it takes to make this salmon and have crispy skin is 4 ingredients, a skillet, and just a little bit of time.

The first step is to let the salmon warm up to close to room temperature and dry all sides.  I know most videos and TV chefs use paper towels but a regular towel will work and it what I usually use.
Salmon fillets dried and ready to go.
Step two is to smear some of the softened butter on the skin side and then sprinkle salt on that side.
Coated with butter and ready for the skillet.
Step three is put your skillet on an eye set at medium to medium-high and let it get hot.  When it is hot, put the salmon in the skillet skin side down.  Don't touch it until the cook line is about halfway up the side of the fillet.

Step four, season the flesh side with salt and pepper.
Seasoned on the flesh side and almost ready to flip.
Step five is flip the salmon once the cook line is about halfway up the side of the fillet.  Leave it until the cook lines meet or almost meet depending on how done you like your salmon.

Note the nicely done crispy skin.  Fillets almost done.
Step six is serve and enjoy.

An excellent supper
The supper we had this evening was the pan fried salmon fillet, carrots sautéed in butter, and a broccoli and rice dish made with a homemade cream of mushroom soup.  Basically it is a broccoli and rice casserole just using homemade ingredients so use your favorite recipe.

An alternative way of serving is to make a pan sauce to pour over the salmon.  Using the butter and juices left in the skillet, add 1/4 - 1/3 cup of whiskey and let it cook down and slightly thicken.  Spoon the sauce over the salmon and enjoy.

Give this method of cooking salmon a try and see how you like it.  Let me know what you think.

Uncle T

Sous Vide Pork Belly, Tri-color Quinoa with Tomatoes, and Boiled Okra

It's been some time since I've used and written about my Joule.  I'd been wanting to try their recipe for pork belly but every time I'd get one I'd cure the whole thing for bacon.  Last week I had stopped at the Commissary to get some cokes (generic Southern word for carbonated beverages) and saw they had a nice 3lb piece of pork belly in the meat case.  I decided that would be a half for sous vide and the other half for smoking.

Some weeks ago, ChefSteps came out with a combination offer of the big mouth clamp for Joule, a silicon pot cover, and a silicon mat to protect your counter from the heat.  This put those to the test and they did what they were supposed to do.  For long cooks I like to use a small cooler to help retain heat and that is exactly why the big mouth clamp was developed.  It worked like a charm with enough room left to have fit an even thicker cooler.  The silicon pot cover kept the water from evaporating and kept the heat in very well.  I'm quite pleased with them both.  I didn't bother with the mat since I was using the cooler.
Fresh from under the broiler
One thing I will change the next time I make this is the amount of the "cure" I will use.  In the ingredient list they say 5 heaping spoonfuls of salt and 2 heaping spoonfuls of sugar.  When they get into the process, they say 5 parts salt and 2 parts sugar.  I went with what was in the ingredient list and used it all for my 1.5lb piece of pork belly.  There was lots of extra "cure" that fell off and gathered in the corners of the vacuum bag.  While the belly had good flavor it was a bit saltier than I thought proper.
Succulent pork belly slices
I did do one variation to their instructions.  I ground 2 tablespoons of Szechuan peppercorns and added them to the "cure" mix before applying it to the belly.  Another thing I did, though not really a variation since they didn't address it was to put some roasted sesame oil in the bottom of my cast iron skillet.  The cast iron skillet is used to put the sous vide pork belly under the broiler to crisp the skin before serving.
A tasty supper
The tri-color quinoa with tomatoes was done in the pressure cooker.  I used chicken broth instead of water then stirred in some diced tomatoes along with some salt and pepper when it was done.  Adding some fresh sage, oregano, and thyme along with the tomato would be good as well.

Preparing the boiled okra can be found in this post.

We really like pork belly and this method of preparation will definitely find its way into the rotation.  If you have a Joule, give this pork belly recipe a go.  Pair it with the quinoa and okra and I think you'll be pleased with the results.

Let me know what you think.

Uncle T

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli with Shrimp in a White Wine Butter Sauce

I know I've done pasta posts but this is a bit different.  Some time back, I gave away my hand cranked pasta roller because we came across a good deal on the pasta roller attachment to the KitchenAid stand mixer.  This was the first time I've made pasta since buying that roller.  I must say, having two hands to work the pasta dough and being able to adjust the thickness knob on the fly make a huge difference.  As an extra, the grandbaby liked watching me run the dough through the roller.

I used my usual pasta recipe for the ravioli since I've found no need to try another.  To form the ravioli I used my Fantes Grandpa Dante's Ravioli Maker to make the ravioli.  I can recommend this ravioli maker without reservation. 
Ravioli filled and ready to cover
Besides the pasta, you'll need some roasted butternut squash.  In case you've never roasted butternut squash I'll include how I do it.  Cut the squash into 1/2 - 3/4 inch rounds.  Cut the rounds in half.  The skin can now be easily cut from the half round.  Cut the half round in half again cutting parallel to the initial cut.  Cut those pieces into cubes that are approximately the same size on all sides.  Put in a bowl until the whole squash is cubed.  Drizzle with olive oil and toss.  Add salt and pepper and toss.  Dump onto a baking sheet and spread out then place in a pre-heated 425F oven.  Cook for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and turn the squash cubes.  Return pan of squash to the oven and cook another 10 minutes or until the desired degree of caramelization is achieved.  Remove from oven and  serve.

Boil in salted water
I used left over roasted butternut squash to make the ravioli.  I only had about a cup or so left over.  I warmed them up and mashed with a fork and called it good.  I used a slightly under filled #70 portion dipper to fill the ravioli.  I've since bought a #100 to be able to fill the ravioli without having to estimate the fill with the #70.
All sauced up and ready to serve
I rolled the pasta dough out to the #5 thickness with the KitchenAid pasta roller.  I didn't want to get too thin and risk the ravioli breaking.  Next time I think I'll go to #6 on the thickness to make the ravioli a bit lighter.  What seemed to work best was to roll out the two sheets for the top and bottom of the ravioli before starting to make it.  The first batch I rolled out the bottom sheet and put it on the form then rolled out the top.  Once the bottom sheet is on the ravioli form, use the mold to push down and form the pocket.  Put in the filling, making sure to not get it on the edges of the ravioli.  Place the top sheet of pasta over the form and press down.  Then roll over the form with a rolling pin to seal the ravioli and cut through the pasta.  Turn the form upside down over a lightly floured sheet pan and gently push the ravioli out of the form.  Add the ravioli to boiling water and cook about 5 minutes.
Plated up ready to eat
The shrimp and white wine butter sauce is fairly simple.  I used 36-41 size shrimp because that is what I had in the freezer.  Once thawed, I removed the tails and did a dry brine with a mix of salt and sugar for about 10 minutes.  Melt 4 Tbs of butter is a large skillet and add the shrimp.  Once the shrimp are half done, turn then add the white wine.  I eye balled it but used about 1/2 cup of white wine.  Once the wine has cooked down and the shrimp are done add another 2 - 3 Tbs of butter and add the ravioli.  Stir/toss the ravioli into the shrimp and the sauce and cook until the sauce thickens a bit.  The flour in the pasta water should help this.  If it doesn't thicken to your satisfaction you can use a little corn starch mixed in water to thicken the sauce.  Plate the ravioli with some shrimp and the white wine butter sauce and grate or shave some Parmesan cheese over the top.  Some crusty bread or a light salad is all you need to accompany this for a good meal.
A nicely filled ravioli
Give this a try and let me know what you think.

Uncle T

Tomato Pasta Ravioli with Italian Sausage Meatballs

I've made tomato pasta before to use as noodles but this time I saved some leftover pasta to make ravioli on the second night.  Here is the recipe for tomato pasta

I made the ravioli using Fantes Grandpa Dante's Ravioli Maker that is available here on Amazon.   The pasta was rolled out to the 5 thickness on the KitchenAid pasta roller.  A #100 portion scoop is a good size to use to fill the ravioli.

The filling for the ravioli is one I came up with some time back when I ran short of another filling and had a couple of empty ravioli shells left.  This filling is a mix of Greek yogurt and grated Parmesan cheese.  I use a 50/50 mix for my filling.  My base recipe is 1/2 cup each which should fill two dozen ravioli at least.  To make more it's easy enough to make as little or as much as you need using this ratio.

The meatballs that went with this dish are made from hot Italian sausage made it Uncle T's kitchen.  If you don't want to make sausage you can use any Italian sausage you choose.  I prefer hot Italian sausage for this dish but I imagine a sweet Italian sausage would be good if that is your preference.  I make the meatballs by using my #100 portion scoop.  Melt a some butter in a large skillet and add the meatballs.  Cook them until they are browned on all sides.
A skillet full of ready to serve goodness
To make the white wine butter sauce add three or four more tablespoons of butter to the skillet with the meatballs and when melted and bubbling add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of white wine.  It's always best to use a wine you enjoy drinking.  This time I used a sauvignon blanc.  By the time the wine has cooked down a bit the ravioli should be done and can be added to the skillet.  Don't bother draining the ravioli as you take it out of the pot.  The starches in the pasta water should help the sauce to thicken.  If it doesn't get as thick as you want mix a little corn starch and water then add it to the sauce and stir until it thickens.  Give the ravioli and the meatballs a good mix to get them well coated with the sauce and serve.
Plated up and ready to eat
Once you plate the ravioli and meatballs spoon a little sauce over them.  You can add a bit of grated Parmesan cheese over the top but it isn't really needed.

Give this this one a try and let me know what you think.  Remember, have fun in the kitchen.

Uncle T

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Shrimp and Eggplant

Some months back I was watching a chef prepare a dish on one of the morning shows.  The silly sort of thing you do when everything is closed down due to snow.  All I can remember of the segment was him using chunks of eggplant, tomatoes, and shrimp.  Based on that I decided to make a supper based on my memory of that dish.

I used a couple of things from one of our favorite stores, Leila's Mediterranean Market.  The family that owns is originally from Lebanon and they have olive oil from family olive groves in the store.  One of the things I used was a 7 spice blend and the other was some harissa that I'd gotten to use in making some merguez sausage.  Harissa is a chili paste used as seasoning throughout the middle east.

This is a quick easy meal to make and if you have to count carbs for dietary reasons this variation is for you.

Shrimp and Eggplant

1 lb shrimp, I used 31-40 size and pulled the tails off
1 eggplant
1 can tomatoes, diced or whole
3 Tbs harissa
2 Tbs Arabic 7 spice blend
pepper (optional)
sesame oil

Peel the eggplant and cut it into 3/4 inch chunks.  Put in a bowl and toss with the Arabic 7 spice to coat.  Add sesame oil to a skillet and get it hot.  Add the eggplant chunks and let fry until the side that's down is browned.  Turn the eggplant to fry the top side.  When the top is browned add the tomatoes and their juice to the skillet.  If using whole tomatoes roughly break them up.  Add the harissa and mix into the tomato and eggplant mixture.  Add salt to taste and pepper if using.  Bring to a simmer and add the shrimp.  Keep simmering until the shrimp are done which should only take a few minutes.  Spoon over couscous or cauliflower substitute and serve.  Depending on the size of the eggplant this will serve 3 - 4 people.

To make the cauliflower couscous run the cauliflower over a grater.  Put the grated cauliflower into a hot skillet with melted butter.  Stir or toss the cauliflower until it is heated through.  Plate it and add the shrimp and eggplant.

Shrimp and eggplant served over cauliflower
Based on rough estimates, the pictured plate came to  25 grams of carbs.  If you have having to watch your carbs due to diabetes then this is a good meal that is fairly low in carbs.

If you give this a try let me know what you think.  Get in the kitchen and have fun.

Uncle T