Italian Sausage Stuffed Peppers

Most of you know that I’m executive chef for a university in central Alabama. Most people don’t realize that when someone garners years of experience and works for a major contract foodservice organization, as opposed to a private restaurant, the days spent working in the actual kitchen are few and far between. About the only time I get to cook and be creative is for catered functions, or occasional dinners at the university president’s home. I spend 10-12 hours each day putting out fires, like most all of you do, and 90% of my work week involves management instead of cooking.

Lately my creative juices have been non-existent, and I haven’t had a blog post in quite some time. For those of you that follow me, I apologize. I’m working hard to rejuvenate my creativity, and outside of a long trip somewhere the cell phone won’t pick up, I’ve been getting inspirations in many of the same places you do, magazines and blog posts. This recipe is my adaptation of a similar one published recently in Southern Living, the only magazine I’ve maintained a constant subscription to since I was old enough to have a checking account. Like all recipes I try, I use the recipe as a starting point and I add or delete from it based on my likes and knowing my tastes. You too should adopt this practice as long as you understand the basics of cooking, what flavors compliment what items, etc. Not only is this recipe beautiful on a plate, it’s quite tasty and would really impress at a dinner party, but it’s also easy enough to prepare on a week night after work. If you aren’t already a fan of Aldi, I highly recommend them if they are in your area. Aldi has jewel peppers, 3-4 per pack, for what a standard grocery store charges for 1 pepper, so you don’t have to settle for green ones to make this dish (green being the cheapest and least tasty). I’m portioned this recipe for 4 servings with each serving being 1 half of a pepper, so it’s easy to do at 1.5 times or 2 times depending on your crowd size. I hope you give it a shot and enjoy!

  • 2 candy jewel bell peppers (orange, yellow, red) or you may use 2 green if you prefer though they are not as sweet and flavorful
  • 1/2# spicy Italian sausage, removed from casings
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup quick cook grits (not instant)
  • 3 cups boxed chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 1 cup+1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 tsp dried Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 dozen cherry tomatoes, cut in half (I grow a variety of heirloom cherry tomatoes in a variety of colors and if you can find some of those at a Farmer’s Market they really are great, but store bought red or yellow ones work fine)
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (I use the jar but fresh works just fine, not dried or dehydrated though)
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh basil or 1/2 tsp dried basil leaves

Starting at the bottom of the recipe, combine the cherry tomato halves and remaining ingredients in a bowl and set aside to marinate.

Preheat oven to 350F. Place the peppers in your microwave and cook on high for 2-3 minutes depending on your wattage. You want to soften them slightly. Remove from microwave and slice them in half lengthwise, cutting through the stem so that each half has a half stem attached. Remove any seeds and membranes, set aside.

In a medium saute pan over medium heat, brown the Italian sausage until completely cooked (no pink showing). Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon or spatula and turn the heat up to medium-high. Add the onion and celery to the sausage oil and cook until tender, 3-4 minutes, shaking pan so contents don’t burn. If your sausage was especially lean (not often the case), you can add a dash of olive oil to the vegetables to saute properly. Add sauteed ingredients to the cooked sausage (including any oil left in your pan) and hold.

In a medium saucepan, bring the stock and half & half to a slow boil. Whisk the grits into the liquid and continue to whisk for 30 seconds to ensure they don’t stick to your pot. Turn the heat down to medium-low or low and partially cover with a lid (tilt one side so it can vent). Cook the grits for 5 minutes, stirring often. Be careful around the grits. They will bubble like lava and are about as hot if any pops out on to you. The lid keeps your stove from being a total mess (those of you with smooth top electric ones especially don’t want to clean cooked on grits off your stove). When the grits are thickened and smooth, remove from the heat. Stir in the 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese, 2 tsp Italian seasoning and then add the Italian sausage mixture to the grits. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon the grit/sausage mixture into the bell pepper halves and arrange on a baking pan or in a baking dish. Top the peppers with the remaining 1/4 cup of shredded cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes, until peppers are shriveling and tops are golden. Remove from the oven and let stand for 2-3 minutes before serving. After plating each pepper, top each pepper with some of the marinated tomatoes and enjoy!

Asian Grilled Chicken Thighs

asian thighs

 

Today is a beautiful Sunday! Fall is in the air with high temps in the South running in the upper 60’s and I have stumbled upon newly found energy to do things around the house. Grass has been cut hopefully for the last time, cars washed, clothes are washing, I just finished vacuuming and I’m about to fire up the grill for dinner and make some tasty Asian grilled chicken thighs.

You could use any cut of chicken, but we’ve been buying a lot of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Not only are they reasonably priced, darker meat seems to have more flavor (along with more fat, but then again, fat IS flavor). The recipe for this dinner is all in the marinade and the longer it marinates, the better the flavor. I’m going to skip cooking instructions because the way you cook chicken is entirely up to you. I’ve roasted chicken this way and it’s been delicious, but today I want to take advantage of the weather, so I’m using the grill.

Soak any chicken you prefer in the following, then simply cook and enjoy! It’s also a great way to make “Teriyaki” wings for a tailgate!

Marinade:

  • 1 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • the juice from 2 Navel oranges
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 4 Keffir lime leaves or you can substitute the juice of 2 fresh limes
  • 1/4 cup grated fresh ginger or 1 tbsp ground dried ginger
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Combine all ingredients. Add chicken to big Ziploc bag, cover with marinade and put in the frig. The longer it marinates, the better, but at least 1 hour if you can’t let it go overnight.

Discard the marinade and cook the way you’d like!

Beef Medallions with Cherry Port Reduction

medallions_port

 

One of my favorite duties in my current role at UM is cooking upscale dinners for the board every time graduation roles around. It gives me a chance to dust off some of the higher end recipes that have collected dust over the years. We feed the students some really tasty food, and some of our catered events have some pretty good recipes, but board dinners allow unlimited creativity and they usually expect to see something a step above our daily offerings. Plus I personally handle all the food preparations for meals where we serve our president or members of the board, so it’s one of the few times I get to actually do some cooking anymore.

I’ve been making variations of this recipe for years. The sauce I just dreamed up one night and it’s sinful! It goes great with so many meats, not just beef. It’s great with pork, venison, chicken or turkey, and it’s extremely easy like most everything else I prepare, but if you’ve never tried grilling a beef tenderloin before, splurge one night and pick one up. Piggly Wiggly stores run some really good deals on whole beef tenders (usually $8.99 a pound during one of their sales) and their meat department will trim it, cut in into steaks if you desire and then make some incredible hamburger meat out of the trimmings.

  • 1-1 1/2 pound beef tenderloin, trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 bottle of Port wine (something inexpensive is fine.. I look for Taylor at about $8 a bottle when I’m making this sauce)
  • 1 package dried cherries
  • 2 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, stem and all
  • 1 tsp rich beef base mixed with 1/2 cup water
  • 1 stick unsalted, sweet cream butter, cubed

Heat your grill to medium heat, about 400F if using a gas grill. Rub oil all over the beef tenderloin, then salt and pepper. Grill the tenderloin, turning often but not piercing it (don’t want those juices to run out) to the desired doneness. For medium rare, the way I prefer mine, about 22 minutes total cooking time. Remove the tenderloin from the grill, wrap in aluminum foil and let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing. Slice into 1/3″ thick pieces, arrange 3-4 on a plate and drizzle with the cherry-port reduction (directions below).

To make cherry-port reduction, in a saucepan over medium high heat, add the whole bottle of Port wine, the cherries, garlic, rosemary, and beef base/water mixture. Cook the mixture at a slow boil for 20-30 minutes, until it has reduced down to a velvety syrupy sauce. Remove the pan from the heat. Remove the rosemary stems from the sauce. Drop in a few cubes of butter at a time, swirling the pan around in the air (off the stove) until all butter is incorporated. Spoon over the beef (or other meat).

Pairs nicely with horseradish mashed potatoes, which are made like regular mashed potatoes but with a few tbsp of prepared horseradish added!

Orange-Fig Glazed Chicken

honeyorange

 

For the past few months, my blog has taken a back seat with catered events rolling in one after another at work, so I apologize to my loyal followers and will do a better job over the coming months of posting a weekly blog entry. About a month ago we ran across a sweet deal at Costco when we found boneless, skinless chicken thighs at a really good price. It had 6 packs containing 5 boneless thighs bundled into one pack (so you can freeze the whole pack and tear off and thaw meals as needed). I believe Costco does most all their chicken this way, but lately I’ve been buying a lot of dark meat chicken. I grew up eating white meat chicken so I’m a late follower to the moistness and deliciousness of dark meat.

Since we’ve had this big pack of thighs in the freezer, I’m constantly trying new things to cook them. Normally I make a glaze of cranberry sauce and wine cooked down to a syrup, with some garlic added, but being out of cranberry sauce forced me to try something new and that’s how this recipe came about. This is what I could make with what I had in the pantry (and bar), but the point here is to play around with what you’ve got on hand. To make a good glaze you need some sort of fruit item (preserves, cranberry sauce, jam, etc) and some sort of acid (in this case some wine). Boiling contents down to a syrup will marry all the flavors and make an incredible glaze for meat. Boiling it down also releases the alcohol and leaves only the rich flavors.

  • 5-6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (or use breasts if you prefer)
  • 1 tbsp Cajun seasoning blend (I look for Badia brand which is cheap and tasty)
  • 1 tbsp fig preserves
  • zest from 1 orange and juice from same orange
  • 1 tbsp Drambuie liqueur (made from scotch whiskey and honey)
  • 1 tbsp Cabinet Sauvignon wine
  • 1 tbsp mined garlic

Arrange thighs on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the Cajun seasoning. Roast in a 400F oven for 15 minutes.

While the chicken is in the oven, in a small saucepan, combine remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until the glaze is thick and will cover the back of a spoon.

Remove chicken from the oven and spoon the glaze over the chicken. Return to the oven and cook for 5 more minutes then check the temperature. Chicken needs to be 165F to be done and kill all salmonella or other harmful bacteria. If yours if 165F, it’s done. If not, continue cooking until internal temperature is reached.

Crawfish Corn Chowder

crawfish

 

The weather here in Alabama has been unusually cold lately, with temps in the low teens and snow and ice. You may have experienced it, or seen on the national news, how the people in the south can’t deal with the winter weather, because we usually have temps in the 60’s on Christmas day. I’ve also been working a lot lately, especially with catered events, so it was extremely welcoming to come home after a long weekend of catering, on a cold night and find a pot of this delicious chowder cooking on the stove. If you love crawfish you should give this a try. Crawfish tails can be purchased at most supermarkets in the South. Around here, Publix carries them in the freezer section of their seafood department for about $12 a pound. It’s also a little spicy with the poblano pepper, so if you prefer your food a little less “warm” you may want to substitute a jalapeno for the poblano. The recipe has a list of ingredients, but it’s extremely easy to put together.

  • 4 tbsp oil
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 cups diced onion, preferably a sweet onion like a Vidalia
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped poblano pepper, seeded and ribs removed
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or sherry
  • 1 quart seafood stock (can be bought at your grocery store)
  • 1-16oz bag of frozen corn, thawed
  • 2 small potatoes, diced into small cubes
  • 1-15oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1-8oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1 pound crawfish tails, thawed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp Kosher salt or sea salt
  • 2 tsp Cajun seasoning (a blend sold on the spice aisle)
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the oil and the butter, letting the butter melt. Add the onion, celery, pepper and garlic and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onions and celery are tender. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Add the wine and stock, whisking to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and let simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the corn, potatoes, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, crawfish, bay leaves, thyme, salt, Cajun seasoning and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Stir in the cream and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the heat; discard the bay leaves and add the fresh chopped parsley.

Serve with a good crusty bread and a nice glass of wine. Makes about 10 servings.

 

Chicken Pad Thai

padthai

It’s a new year, and I’ve decided to try and cut back on my beef and pork intake. I’m trying to be a flexitarian and eat mostly vegetables with limited fish and chicken, but it’s not always easy to be strict, especially when I’m in charge of feeding 1500 college students every day at work. Because so many kids that age are more health conscience than their parents were, I get to experiment with new recipes from time to time and this one was a major hit with the students and the staff, AND it falls into my new dietary plans. If you’re not brave enough to try tofu, use some shrimp with the chicken. It’s really quite easy and extremely tasty, and some have asked that I share the recipe, so here it is.

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/2 pound firm Tofu, cut into 1/4″ dice, or 1/2 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 5 tbsp Asian fish sauce, or 2 1/2 tbsp each of low sodium soy sauce and Asian Oyster sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 3 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp red curry paste
  • 3/4# cooked linguine pasta
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped rough
  • 2/3 cup salted peanuts, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup bean sprouts (optional), can be added at the final stage in the pan

In a small bowl, toss 1 tsp fish sauce with the chicken. In another small bowl, toss 1 tsp fish sauce with the tofu. Set aside.

In a medium sized glass bowl, combine the remaining fish sauce, water, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, cilantro and curry paste and mix well using a whisk.

Using a wok or large frying pan, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium high heat. Add the chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes per side until chicken is done. Remove chicken from the pan. Next add another tbsp oil and cook the tofu (or shrimp) for 2-3 minutes per side, until heated through and starting to take on color. Remove the tofu from the pan. Add the remaining tbsp of oil and the chopped garlic and cook for 1 minute until garlic is fragrant and beginning to brown. Add back to the pan the cooked chicken and tofu (shrimp). Toss in the cooked linguine pasta, then pour in the liquid sauce and cook until mixture starts to boil. Pour pan contents back into your glass bowl and mix well, then serve immediately.

Serves 6

Beef Medallions Marsala

Today was the first day of the next chapter of my career. After several years in corporate dining, I’m making a move to campus dining and will be starting my new position as executive chef for a local university next week. This week I’m going to relax and clear my head. So what did I do on my first day of this head-clearing vacation? I vacuumed the house, cut the grass and vacuumed and washed the RV for a little camping trip with my Mom I’m heading out on tomorrow.

I haven’t done any weekly shopping in two weeks, except for trips to the local farmer’s market the past two weekends, so dinner tonight is a real “chopped” mystery basket of ingredients on hand in the frig, pantry or freezer and since I’m overdo for a blog post I decided to share tonight’s dinner recipe with you. Although I’m using up ingredients already on hand, you could easily pick these items up at Publix. The medallions can be served over a number of starches, or with a potato on the side. I’ve got some leftover white rice from seafood gumbo I made last weekend, so that’s what we are having with ours.

beefmarsala

  • 2 pounds beef tenderloin, cut into cubes about 1-1/2″ square
  • 2 tbsp flour seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp oil (canola or vegetable)
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch of heirloom mixed color baby carrots (or you can just get a bunch of carrots at Publix with the tops attached, although you trim off the tops)
  • 1 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup Marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup beef stock (I made mine from “better than bouillion” beef base)
  • 3 bay leaves

In a large dutch oven (one that has a lid), heat the oil. Dredge the beef medallions in flour and brown in dutch oven over medium high heat. Turn to brown all sides, then add the onion, carrots and mushrooms and saute for a few minutes. Add the garlic. Deglaze the pan with the Marsala wine, then add the tomato paste, beef stock and bay leaves. Cover with the lid and pop into a 400F oven for 30-40 minutes. Serve over pasta, rice, mashed potatoes, etc or serve with starch on the side.

Bloody Mary Tomato Salad with Pickled Shrimp

bloody-mary-tomato-salad-pickled-shrimp-sl-x

 

The heirloom tomatoes are coming in at Pepper Place and I’m a huge fan. We buy them every chance we can get. Personally, I can eat them like an apple, but this recipe is the perfect marriage of those tomatoes with some fresh Gulf shrimp!

  • 3# assorted tomatoes, sliced (heirlooms are best, such as Cherokee Purple, Beefsteak, Brandywine, etc but any good southern ripe tomato will do)
  • 1/3 cup celery sliced thin on the bias (diagonal)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed celery leaves (celery leaves are great for seasoning dishes and for garnishes, so don’t automatically toss them like many people do

Using a chilled serving platter, arrange the sliced tomatoes and celery. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste. Drizzle with the Bloody Mary Vinaigrette (recipe below) and spoon the pickled shrimp over the top (also below). Top with the celery leaves and garnish with pickled okra or pickled green beans. You can even add some crumbled Feta if you’d like!

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup spicy Bloody Mary mix (like Zing Zang)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp prepared horseradish
  • 1 tsp finely ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 3/4 tsp celery salt
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Combine ingredients in a bottle with a lid, shake and chill.

To make pickled shrimp:

In a zip top freezer bag (gallon size), add 1 pound of medium-sized peeled fresh shrimp. To the bag, add the following ingredients, then place the bag in your refrigerator for at least 2 hours but the longer you leave it in, the better. After 6 hours the shrimp will get rubbery, so 2-6 hours is the processing time.

  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp each chopped fresh dill and flat leaf parsley
  • 1 1/4 tsp Creole seasoning (I use Old Bay)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced

Chicken & Dumplings Casserole

chicken-dumpling-casseroleChicken and dumplings is a southern staple, and always a great seller at work. Lately I’ve had a problem though with some customers complaining that they didn’t get enough dumplings (no one ever complains about getting too many). It’s hard to satisfy everyone’s love for the dumplings with spreading them around so everyone gets some, so I started looking for an alternative. That’s when I ran across this recipe on the internet and thought I’d give it a try. Everyone loved it! Now they want the recipe.

This has the be one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever tried and it worked flawlessly. It was delicious! The trick to this recipe is not to stir any of the layers together.

  • 4 cups cooked, shredded chicken (you could use the chicken from a store-bought rotisserie roasted chicken and skip the step of cooking chicken for a shortcut)
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 2 cups baking mix (like Bisquik… I used the Pioneer version in the one at work)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth or water

In a 13″x9″ glass baking dish, pour the melted butter. Top with the chicken, then the seasonings.

Combine the milk and baking mix and pour over the chicken. DO NOT STIR!

Combine the soup and broth/water, pour over the baking mix and again, DO NOT STIR!

Bake at 350F for 45 minutes, until bubbly and browned. Let rest on the counter for 10 minutes before serving (this will ensure it’s not runny).

 

Cranberry Glazed Chicken Thighs

cranberrythighs

 

Here’s an easy way to dress up chicken for your next dinner party or everyday meal. This glaze can be used on any type of poultry (chicken, duck, turkey) and it makes more glaze than you will need, so just keep the extra in a sealed container in your fridge for a later use. I have been buying skinless, boneless chicken thighs which cook relatively quick in the oven and have a lot of flavor without all the fat, but you can use any cut of chicken. Just adjust your cooking time accordingly.

  • 5-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tsp Cajun seasoning
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 can cranberry sauce, the jellied kind
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth (from box or can)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

In a sealable container, put the chicken thighs seasoned with the Cajun seasoning and garlic powder. Add the olive oil. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour but overnight for best flavors.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Put the thighs on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes and check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. They are done at 165F.

While the thighs are baking, in a saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring often. Boil for 5 minutes until the sauce thickens into a nice glaze.

Once the thighs are done, brush the glaze over the thighs and put under the broiler for 2-3 minutes to caramelize the glaze and brown the tops of the thighs.