Luck & Money Soup

luck_money soup

 

A new year is fast approaching and with every new year I’m reminded of my grandmother requiring us to eat peas (for luck in the new year) and greens (for money). She served her peas and greens as sides to a big country meal. Lately, I’ve been incorporating mine into a one-dish meal so I don’t start the new year off with a dinner loaded with butter, buttermilk, starchy creamed corn, fried pork chops, etc.

So as this day before New Year’s Eve draws to a close, I’m about to drag out my faithful Le Creuset covered dutch oven (mine’s not fancy, I bought it at the thrift store) and soak the peas overnight. If you don’t have time to soak the peas, use the trick I use at work. Bring water to a boil on the stove over high heat. Pour in the peas and boil rapidly for about 10 minutes. Pour through a colander and rinse peas well. Then add back to the pot and proceed with the recipe. This works for any type of dried bean or pea but you may have to cook the dish a little longer than the recipe says to get your peas nice and tender.

  • 2 cups dry black eyed peas, picked and rinsed
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large rib celery minced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 leftover ham bone from Christmas dinner, or 1 smoked ham hock (available in the meat department of any grocery store)
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch collard greens, stems removed and discarded, leaves chopped fine
  • 1/2# ham, diced (I usually use leftover from Christmas if any is still left)
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar

If time allows, put rinsed peas in a stock pot and cover with water (allow about 2″ above the peas). Cover pot and refrigerate overnight. If you don’t have time, look at my hint above, or you can use canned peas.

In a heavy stock pot or dutch oven, heat canola oil to medium high temperature. Add the onions and saute until tender and translucent, about 4-5 minutes, stirring often. Add the celery, garlic and carrot and saute for 2-3 minutes more, until garlic is fragrant but not browned.

To the vegetables, add the peas, chicken broth, ham bone or hock, thyme, bay leaves, collards and the diced ham. Cook over medium heat, partially covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the peas are tender. Once the peas are tender, remove the ham bone or hock and the bay leaves. Get any meat left on the bone or hock and return it to the pot of soup. With a large spoon, mash some of the peas against the side of the pot (I usually mash about 1/3 of them) and this will develop a creamy texture to your soup and thicken it slightly.

Just prior to serving, stir in the cider vinegar. Serve in bowls with a piece of cornbread. If desired, you can serve over cooked white rice for a more filling meal.

Serves about 8, or plenty for dinner with leftovers for lunch!

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White Bean Chili with Swiss Chard

There’s a chill in the air tonight and I wanted a pot of chili. Only problem is, I didn’t have the correct ingredients to make a pot, but I did have an assortment of “other” ingredients on hand so I decided to make a white bean chili. The white beans, known as Cannellini beans, are just white (or rather a creamy beige color) kidney beans, sold in the can by many brands (the ones I bought are Bush’s). Some people make a chili like this with chicken or ground turkey but the chicken I had was frozen and no ground turkey in the house. I did however have some chicken Italian sausage I picked up at Target, so that’s how I’m making it tonight. Here’s the recipe in case you want to give this one a try!

 

  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves removed from stems. Stems chopped like celery and leaves chopped
  • 1/2 yellow onion diced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 cans Cannellini beans (white kidney beans)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp chicken stock base
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin powder
  • 1 package chicken Italian sausage sliced thin

In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and chard stems and saute until tender, add the chopped chard leaves and cook for 3-4 minutes. Pour in the white wine and cook until the liquid is almost evaporated. Add the minced garlic, beans and tomatoes. Add the water and the chicken stock base (or vegetable stock base, both sold in supermarkets on the bouillon cube aisle), then season with the cumin powder. Add the Italian sausage and cook over low heat for 45 minutes. I usually cover the pot but vent the lid so some of the moisture will evaporate and the chili will thicken.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Caramelized Onion & Tomato Tart

With the abundance of delicious tomatoes coming to market these days, I decided to dust off an old recipe from my “Secrets of the Chefs” days when I worked for Bruno’s Supermarkets as an in-store personal chef for customers. This was one of the recipes I created that was featured in weekly store promotions and one of the dishes I prepared on Good Day Alabama. It was my take of the traditional Pissaladiere pastry. It’s really quite simple to make and it can be tweaked to your specifications. Although not in this recipe, I will usually brown and crumble some really good Italian sausage on top of the tart if I’m in the mood for meat, but the recipe is wonderful as written. It really showcases the flavors of fresh summer Alabama tomatoes!

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed enough to work with
  • 3 pounds red/purple onions, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 jar Kalamata pitted olives, sliced lengthwise
  • 8 ripe tomatoes, peeled and sliced (or 2 pints grape tomatoes sliced in half lengthwise if making when fresh garden tomatoes aren’t in season)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Sea Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese
  • Sprigs of fresh Thyme

Start by cooking the onions over low heat in the olive oil in a large skillet, until soft (this takes about 30-40 minutes). Be careful to not brown the onions. Add the tomatoes and garlic to the pan and continue cooking until the water from the tomatoes has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a large cookie sheet (with sides) with parchment paper.

Working on a lightly floured surface, form the puff pastry sheet into a rectangle the size of your cookie sheet. Work a little of the dough up the sides of the pan to create an edge once it bakes. Dock the dough (pierce the surface all over with a fork if you don’t have a rolling docker).

Put the onion, tomato mixture in the sheet of pastry, smoothing it out to cover the entire surface (but not the sides of course). Sprinkle top with cheese (and cooked meats if so desired). Finish with sprigs of fresh thyme.

Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F and cook for 20 minutes more. Tart will puff up as the pastry cooks and will turn golden brown.

Enjoy the tart either warm out of the oven, or at room temperature if you prefer. You can also cut the tart into multiple bite-size pieces and use as an hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail party.

Grilled Pizza

When you live in a 1950’s ranch, with 8′ ceilings, you’re always looking for ways to cook without firing up the oven and heating up the kitchen. We’ve had this really nice gas grill for a couple of years and all we ever do is cook steaks, burgers and chicken on it, so lately we’ve been reading up on things we could make on the grill. Tonight we decided to try a grilled pizza!

Not knowing what to expect, we thought this would be a pain in the ^&*!! but it was actually quite easy and very tasty. It reminded me of an artisan pizza from a pricey restaurant, perhaps because of the toppings we used, but the crust turned out thin and slightly crisp, like a pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven.

I can gladly offer a crust recipe to you, but all I did was pick up a powdered pizza crust mix from Walmart (it was even their brand) and followed the directions, which were basically “add water and stir”. Once you’ve got the dough together you will need to shape it. Start by flouring or lightly dusting with corn meal, a cutting board (better yet if you have a cookie sheet without sides, that’s ideal, because you can use it to transfer to and from the grill).

Once you’ve shaped your dough (it doesn’t have to be totally round as mine wasn’t), put it on a lightly floured (or corn meal dusted) sheet pan for grilling.

Make sure the grill is clean and spray it with cooking spray, then turn it on wide open. Once the grill is hot (when you can’t hold your hand over it for more than 2 seconds), slide the dough off the cookie sheet onto the grill and close the lid. Cook for 2 minutes.

 

 

 

 

After 2 minutes, open the grill and check underneath the dough to see if it is getting browned. If it is on one side, but not another, use a spatula or tongs to rotate the dough 90 degrees and cook for another minute. If it is not beginning to brown, cover the grill and continue to cook a minute at a time until the bottom has begun to brown. It should only take a couple minutes if you have a hot grill. The top of the pizza dough will start bubbling up with air pockets.

 

 

 

 

Once the pizza dough has browned lightly on one side, use your cookie sheet or pizza peel to remove it from the grill. Use a spatula to flip the dough over so that the grilled side is now up. Keep the grill covered so it retains its heat for the next step.

 

 

 

 

Transfer your pizza back onto the cookie sheet or cutting board. Now add your toppings. We used pesto sauce from a jar, some diced chicken, sun-dried tomatoes and some fresh, un-stretched Mozzarella cheese (purchased in a ball), but you can use tomato sauce, standard toppings, grilled vegetables, whatever you would like. Just be careful not to use too much sauce (no more than 1 ladle full) or your dough will get soggy.

Slide the topped pizza back onto the grill. If you are using a gas grill, reduce the heat. If working with a charcoal grill, close the vents on the cover almost all the way. Close the lid and cook for 2-3 minutes more, or until the bottom begins to char and the cheese is bubbly. Pull off the grate with a spatula onto a cutting board or other flat surface and let rest for a couple minutes before cutting into slices.

This was our finished pizza!

Grillades & Grits

 

Earlier this week, we caught beef tenderloins on sale for $10.99 a pound, so we snatched one up. When you butcher a whole beef tenderloin into filet mignon steaks, there are parts of the tenderloin left (the trimmings) that aren’t big enough to serve as steaks, but you don’t dare waste that wonderfully tender meat. I froze some of the trimmings for a future pot of Beef Bourguignon and with four of the smallest “steaks” I decided to make Grillades and Grits.

Grillades and grits is a southern (New Orleans mostly) tradition served usually at brunch but it can make an excellent dinner. The meat “grillades” can be anything and many times you see them made from round steak, chuck roast, pork tenderloin medallions and at times, beef tenderloin. I knew the basics for making this dish, so I drew on my Southern roots and Creole heritage (no, I’m not Creole, but my father’s family came to Birmingham from New Orleans and picked up all the cooking techniques) and created a really good version of this classic dish. It was so good, I had to run write it down, so I thought I’d share it with you.

First, I made the grits. I used 5 minute “quick cook grits” (Jim Dandy). The amount you use will depend on how many servings you want to yield. Follow the instructions on the box or bag except where it says to start with boiling water, replace the water with chicken or vegetable stock (I used vegetable stock made from “better than bouillon” stock base). To the stock, add 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1 tbsp garlic powder and 1 tbsp Italian seasoning. Once the grits are cooked, fold in 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.

For the “grillades” you will need:

  • 2 large chunks of meat per person (I used 4 extremely small filet mignons, approximately 3 oz each)
  • 1/2 of a white onion, chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2# Crimini mushrooms, sliced (a.k.a. Baby Bell)
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup liquor or wine (I was planning to use white wine but we were out and all we had on hand was Wild Turkey American Honey Liqueur, which actually worked wonderfully)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp Grey Poupon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil, then add the meat and sear on all sides to get a nice caramelization and cook to medium or medium rare (about 3 minutes per side). Remove the meat and hold in a bowl. To the pan drippings, add the onion, bell pepper and mushroom and cook until the onions and bell pepper are tender. Deglaze the pan with the liquor/wine, scraping up all the burnt bits on the bottom of the pan (that’s your sauce flavor). Add the cream, mustard, salt, pepper and garlic powder and boil until the sauce begins to thicken. Add the meat back to the pan.

To serve, mound some of your cheese grits on a plate. Top with 2 pieces of meat and then a spoonful of the sauce over the meat.

The Perfect Meatloaf

Whenever I have meatloaf on the menu during lunch, I never seem to make enough. Everyone lines up and we sell out long before lunch service is over. Doesn’t matter which meatloaf I make (beef or turkey) or which glaze/gravy I use (traditional, caramelized onion, creamy mushroom, etc). In the south, meatloaf is as common as fried chicken. Everybody has their own meatloaf recipe.. Some are really good.. some aren’t so good. Most everyone knows how to make a meatloaf but not everyone can make a really good meatloaf. In my opinion, meatloaf should be tasty and moist. I like mine to “almost” fall apart on their own. No knife should be involved in eating a slice of meatloaf!

These days, meatloaf is a generic term for a dish that can be made with a variety of meats (beef, turkey, pork) or even vegetarian style. One thing I’ve learned, the leaner the meat, the less flavor and the “firmer” the meatloaf with be, so if you want a really tasty meatloaf, you’ve got to deal with some fat. Buying 93/7 lean ground beef won’t produce a really good meatloaf, although it will be a lot healthier. If you want to “lean up” a meatloaf but still retain the flavor and moisture, try using 1/2 ground turkey and 1/2 ground beef. You won’t taste the turkey.. in fact, because of seasonings, when I make a true 100% turkey meatloaf at work, most of my customers have no idea they aren’t eating ground beef.

This recipe is written for a standard, delicious meatloaf but has variations as noted. They all work and they are all wonderful, so if you’ve had problems making a perfect meatloaf in the past, give this recipe a try!

  • 1 pound ground chuck mixed with 1 pound ground round (or mix beef with ground turkey, or do all ground turkey if you prefer)
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup PANKO (Japanese Breadcrumbs) or 1 cup crushed saltine crackers (do not use finely ground bread crumbs from a can)
  • 2 tbsp Montreal Steak seasoning (a blend found in the spice isle)

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Grease a bread loaf pan with cooking spray and add meat to the pan. If you prefer one of the glazes below (traditional or creamy mushroom) add it before baking the meatloaf, or you can bake the meatloaf and then top with caramelized onions and brown gravy if you prefer.

Bake at 400F for approximately 45 minutes. Meatloaf is done when internal temperature (read with a kitchen thermometer) reads 165F, so check it periodically. One it reaches that temp, remove from the oven. If you cook it longer, it will dry out.

Glazes:

For a traditional glaze, mix 1 cup dark brown sugar and 1/2 cup ketchup and pour over the top before baking meatloaf.

For creamy mushroom meatloaf, simply open a can of Cream of Mushroom soup and pour over the top before baking meatloaf.

 

Seafood Lasagna

 

I made this a few weeks ago for lunch and had rave reviews. Many of you emailed wanting the recipe. I’m sorry it took me this long to sit down and type it up, but a lot of my recipes are in my head and I have to sit down and put them to paper before I can share them. Once you make this recipe one time, you’ll see how easy it actually is and it can be whipped up on the fly in the future. It’s an excellent dish to impress friends at a dinner party and it reheats well so take the leftovers to work and make everyone jealous.

  •  1 box lasagna noodles
  • 1 package of pre-cooked, peeled shrimp, thawed, tails removed
  • 1 package or can of lump or claw crab meat, picked for shells *see my trick below*
  • 1 cup Panko (Japanese bread crumbs) or any larger piece bread crumbs (not bread crumb dust)
  • 1 tbsp Old Bay seafood seasoning
  • 1 cup button or baby bell mushrooms, sliced & sauteed in a little butter or olive oil
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 package Italian shredded cheese blend (parmesan, mozzarella, asiago, etc)

Sauce:

  • 5 tbsp butter, melted
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 4 cups milk (or use half & half for richer sauce)
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg

First make the sauce as follows:

In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Cook, stirring often, until roux turns sandy brown, 4-5 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk/cream and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens (consistency of biscuit gravy). Remove from heat and stir in the salt, garlic powder and nutmeg. Set aside.

Prepare lasagna:

In a large, deep baking dish, pour enough sauce to lightly coat the bottom of the dish. Arrange a layer of lasagna pasta on top of the sauce (uncooked pasta). Top lasagna layer with shrimp, crab, bread crumbs and Old Bay seasoning. Top seafood with 1 cup of cream sauce. Add second layer of pasta, then add the sauteed mushrooms and leaf spinach. Top with 3rd layer of lasagna pasta. Pour remaining sauce over the top of the dish. Seal tightly with plastic wrap, then cover plastic wrap with aluminum foil.

Bake at 350F for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until sauce is bubbly and pasta has cooked. Remove foil and plastic wrap. Sprinkle top with cheese and allow to melt. Let stand 5 minutes before cutting.

** Trick to pick crab meat for shells**

Crab meat is cooked as part of the canning or packaging process. Therefore it’s ok to “heat it up”. Spread crab meat in a thin layer on a baking sheet and put in a 300F oven for 5-10 minutes. Any shells in the crab meat will turn bright pink/orange and can be easily removed. If you’re in a hurry, just work the crab meat in your hands and pick out any shells. These days, unless you buy really cheap crab meat, most of the shells have already been removed.

Chicken Supreme over Low Country Cheese Grits

Several years back when I represented Bruno’s Supermarkets, I participated in the “Taste of the Summit” food exhibition at The Summit shopping center in Birmingham. This elegant take on a southern favorite, creamed chicken and grits, was my featured recipe for the event. I also cooked this one on Good Day Alabama’s morning cooking segment in 2002. In this recipe, I take a few fresh ingredients that are everywhere in the south come summer time and incorporate them into the dish. The “grits recipe” is the same recipe I use with I make “shrimp and grits”.

For Chicken Supreme:

  • 6 slices thick cut bacon, cut into pieces
  • 1 # boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenders, diced (or you can skip this step and pick up 1 rotisserie chicken at the grocery store and remove the meat from the bones)
  • 2 cups fresh corn (removed from the cob)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tbsp fresh Thyme leaves

In a small sauce pan, combine the corn and milk and cook over medium high heat for 5 minutes or until corn is tender. Drain corn, reserving the milk.

Cook the bacon in a skillet until brown and crispy. Remove bacon and reserve. In bacon grease, cook the chicken until done (5-6 minutes) and remove from the pan. To the bacon grease, add the butter and flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes, then add the warm milk you cooked the corn in and the heavy cream. Cook, stirring quite often, until mixture thickens and will coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper and toss in the chicken and cooked corn.

Serve chicken over a bowl of cheese grits. Top the creamed chicken with crumbled bacon, cherry tomatoes and fresh thyme leaves.

Low Country Cheese Grits:

  • 4 slices thick cut bacon, chopped
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup grits (quick cook are best, but NOT INSTANT)
  • 1 cup Mexican or Taco Blend shredded cheese

In a stock pot, cook the bacon until brown and remove bacon from the pot. To the bacon grease add the chicken stock and cream and heat until just boiling. With liquid starting to boil, whisk in the grits and cook, whisking constantly, for 4-5 minutes. Be careful not to let the grits “bubble” on your hand as the boiling grits have the consistency and temperature of LAVA.

Remove grits from the heat and whisk in the cheese. Add the crumbled bacon to the cooked grits.

Creamy Tomato-Basil Pasta with Chicken

I’ve been asked to offer more pasta dishes at the Chef’s Table in the cafe at work, so this week I’m making a rich and creamy tomato basil pasta with a small side salad dressed with my great grandmother’s simple Italian dressing. This is a one-dish dinner for those of you looking for something quick and easy to prepare after work.

  • 3 cups uncooked Penne pasta
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomato vinaigrette (in bottle on dressing aisle of grocery store, Kraft makes one, I prefer the Publix brand)
  • 4-6 boneless skinless chicken tenders
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth (from can)
  • 1 tsp each black pepper and garlic powder
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, chopped or 2 tsp dried basil leaves
  • 4oz Neufchatel cheese, cubed (Philadelphia makes one that’s available near the cream cheese on the dairy aisle of the grocery store, comes in an 8oz block so you can make this recipe twice from one)
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside in a large bowl (or I personally just put it back in the pot I cooked it in and use that in place of a bowl for easy cleanup).

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the chicken tenders and cook 4-6 minutes or until thoroughly cooked through. Remove the tenders and dice them into bite-size chunks. Add the wine to the pan to “deglaze”, swirling around and scraping up any burnt bits that are on the bottom of the pan. Add the vinaigrette, spinach, grape tomatoes, basil leaves, chicken broth and the Neufchatel cheese in that order, then add the garlic powder and black pepper. Turn heat down to medium low and cook, stirring constantly, until a creamy thick sauce is produced (3-4 minutes). Add the diced chicken to the sauce and combine.

Pour the sauce/chicken mixture over the pasta and toss well to combine. Sprinkle each plate with the shredded Parmesan just prior to serving.

Serves 4

Simple Italian Vinaigrette:

This is how my great grandmother made a simple Italian vinaigrette to dress salads on a daily basis.

Put 1 clove of garlic in a coffee cup. Add 1/2 tsp salt and crush the garlic and salt together with the end of any kitchen tool that’s blunt enough to do so. Add the juice of 1 lemon and enough olive oil to incorporate.

Mediterranean Chicken

A few years back, I was the chef at an establishment where half of my customers would be on Weight Watchers about this time of the year, so I would offer a low-fat, healthy lunch option daily in the cafe. I created this recipe and it has been one of my “most requested” by customers at every place I’ve worked. In fact, most are surprised to learn this is actually a healthy, low fat recipe!

When you first read the ingredients, you may question this one, but everyone does. Once they try it, they are hooked. I made it this past week at work (first time at newest cafe) and everyone has been asking for the recipe. As you read the recipe, several things are “optional” ingredients. They add to the dish, but they are not required, as I’ve made the recipe with those items and without, depending on what I’ve got in my pantry. Give this one a try and you’ll agree it’s really quite tasty, and for those of you “counting points”, this one is 7 points!

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or you can use boneless tenders)
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic clove
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup raisins (any color)
  • 1 cup green or black olives, sliced (don’t use ripe black olives.. you want tart, brine soaked olives so it’s best to stick with regular old pimiento stuffed spanish or queen olives unless you want to drop a few bucks on some kalamatas)
  • 1 can quartered artichoke hearts, drained (optional)
  • 1 4oz container Feta cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease the bottom of a glass casserole dish with olive oil and arrange chicken in one layer in the dish. Size of the dish depends on size of your chicken. A 9×9 will normally hold 4 breasts, a 13×9 might be needed if you use boneless tenders. Top the chicken with the minced garlic.

In a small bowl, combine the curry powder, cinnamon and salt, then sprinkle mixture on top of chicken. Top chicken with the raisins and olives and pour the wine over the top. If using the artichoke hearts and Feta, add it last in that order.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165F.

Serve with rice, couscous, fresh spinach, sauteed broccoli, etc for a light complimentary dinner.