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.

Advertisements

Country Gravy Potatoes

One of the biggest drawbacks to running a daily cafe in corporate dining is that you have the same customer base each and every day of the week. That’s great, when it comes to cooking food you know your customers like, but not so great when it comes to keeping ideas fresh and changing regularly. No one wants to eat the same sides more than once or maybe twice a week, so I’m constantly trying to come up with new ways to cook familiar dishes.

In the cafe, I normally offer 2 entrees, 1 or 2 starches, 4 vegetables and a hot dessert on the line each day at lunch. Mashed or creamed potatoes are a customer favorite. They would probably love to eat my mashed potatoes the same way EVERY day, but my creative mind won’t let me put out the same food like that. Because my grocery company missed our scheduled delivery last Thursday, Friday’s menu had to be changed last minute to include food I had in stock. We normally offer fish on Fridays but seeing as I had no fish in stock, we ended up serving country-fried pork chops. Well, pork chops didn’t go with the rice pilaf I was planning to offer with the fish; they called for some good ole country mashed potatoes. Since I’d already served mashed potatoes twice last week (on different days), I had to fire up the creative juices and come up with something a little different. That’s how this recipe came about and this recipe was incredible. My customers bought all the potatoes and I caught my dishwasher scraping the empty pan with his fingers before washing it, so I figured I’d share this “hit” with you. It’s really quite simple so I’m omitting the steps where you boil your potatoes and starting the recipe where I started it. Give this a try sometime and I think you’ll be as impressed as my customers were.

First, I boiled unpeeled russet potatoes (I wanted a smashed effect rather than I mashed effect, so I cleaned them well but left the skins in tact).

Once the potatoes are cooked (until tender) and drained, put them in a large bowl. With the back of a serving spoon, mash the potatoes so that they have some larger “chunks” in them for this country-style recipe. Set the potatoes aside and work on the gravy (which can be made while the potatoes are cooking if you’re multi-talented in the kitchen).

For the gravy:

  • 4 tbsp fat (bacon grease, butter or oil, your choice)
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 4 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk, scalded
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp salt

In a large skillet or a saucepan, heat the fat over medium high heat. Saute the onion until tender, then add the flour and cook into a roux, stirring constantly, until the mixture is a light tan color. Whisk in the scalded milk and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of basic biscuit gravy (which is really all this is). Add the salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Pour as much of the gravy into your smashed potatoes to get a soupy wet, loose mashed potato (it will thicken as it sits). At this point, taste the potatoes and adjust seasonings to your taste. You can add some snipped chives or some Parmesan cheese, or even some roasted garlic if you prefer. If for any reason you over-pour the gravy and get your potatoes too loose, you can thicken them back up by sprinkling some flour over them and stirring well (old kitchen trick that works in the recipe because you have a flour based gravy).

If you’ve got any gravy you didn’t use, it can be refrigerated for another use. It will thicken in the frig, but you can thin it out with a little milk.

Heirloom Tomato & Grilled Corn Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Here’s a great recipe using some of the fresh vegetables available these days! Nothing like the taste of roasted corn and fresh heirloom tomatoes to scream SUMMER!

  • 3 tbsp champagne vinegar or white-wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 4 ears of fresh corn in husks
  • 1 1/4 pounds assorted heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 10oz container of small heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

In a glass mixing boil, whisk together the vinegar and garlic. Add the oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly to incorporate, then add the basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Fill a large bowl with water. Mix in 1 tsp sea salt. Add the corn and soak for 1 hour.

Prepare your barbecue or gas grill (medium-high heat). Drain the corn. Grill the corn in the husks until the outside is very charred and the corn kernels are tender, turning occasionally, about 25 minutes.

Cool the corn. Remove the husks and cut the kernels off the cobs into a large bowl. Add the tomatoes. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

Bacon Stuffed Patty Pan Squash

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but work has been terrible lately and my creativity has been zapped by the time I get home!

At the local street market this past week, we picked up some cute little patty pan squash, so for dinner tonight, I decided to stuff and bake them. There are several ways you can stuff squash.. with vegetables, rice, meats, you name it, but since I was cooking these as a side dish, I went easy on the filling. Many people see these squash but have no idea what to do with them, so give this recipe a try if you’ve got some patty pan laying around.

  • 4 small patty pan squash
  • 3 strips bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup PANKO breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbsp red wine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup grated Asiago cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh spinach leaves, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

In a small glass baking dish, add 2 tbsp olive oil and set aside. Prep the squash by cutting the top 1/4 off (reserving tops), then using a melon baller, scoop out the flesh, leaving 1/4″ all around. Finely chop the squash centers.

In a saute pan, cook the chopped bacon until brown and slightly crisp. To the bacon, add the onion and squash and cook 4-5 minutes, until onion and squash are tender. Add the wine, garlic powder, salt and pepper and cook 1 minute more, deglazing the pan.

Pour vegetable mixture into a bowl and add the PANKO, chopped spinach and Asiago cheese. Toss well to combine. Spoon breadcrumb/vegetable mixture evenly into the patty pan squash “cups”. Place the saved tops back on the squash (to keep the stuffing from getting too brown while it bakes). Bake at 375F for 30-40 minutes.

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.

Sauteed Swiss Chard

Yesterday, we hit the farmer’s market at Pepper Place, which specializes in locally grown, organic vegetables, eggs and meats along with a variety of baked goods and offerings from local artisans. For those of you unfamiliar with Birmingham, Pepper Place is the old Dr. Pepper bottling plant that was saved from the wrecking ball and turned into an assortment of artisan shops, antique stores, architectural stores, design firms, etc. Needless to say, we stocked up on all sorts of wonderful organic vegetables. Included in our haul were heirloom tomatoes (which I have a great salad recipe for that I’ll share in a future post), rattlesnake beans, yellow wax beans, lady peas, fresh okra, silver queen corn, heirloom potatoes and some beautiful Swiss chard.

I’ve never eaten, or cooked, Swiss chard before. Hard to believe as a chef but it’s not something I grew up eating, and a lot of my cooking revolves around memories of time spent in my grandmother’s kitchen. She grew up on a farm and fresh vegetables were a staple, but chard was never one of them. Since I’m an expert at cooking greens, I figured I could come up with a tasty way to cook this chard. For those of you that don’t know (I didn’t until I started cooking it), chard is in the beet family. The roots are inedible, but the tops are one of the best sources of vitamins and minerals of all the vegetables grown today. As I was chopping up the chard, I smelled that earthy fresh beet smell, so I knew I’d like it. Here’s what I did, and it turned out wonderfully:

  • 1 bunch of fresh Swiss chard, stems separated from the leaves
  • 1/2 of a Vidalia onion, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp bacon grease or olive oil (bacon grease would have added to the flavor but since I didn’t have any bacon on hand, I used olive oil, which is healthier)
  • 1 cup semi dry white wine (I used a Pinot Grigio I had on hand)

In a sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Chop the stems of the chard into small slices, like you’re chopping celery to make chicken salad. Once the olive oil is hot, add the chard stems and the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes or until chard stems and onion are tender. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more, then add the chopped chard leaves and cook one more minute to wilt the leaves. Sprinkle with salt, then pour in the white wine (which will flash off the alcohol) and cook 1 minute uncovered, then loosely cover the pan (a fitted top tilted to let out steam works just fine) and continue cooking for 10 minutes.

That’s all I did and it was delicious. The taste profile was more like fresh spinach than other cooked greens, which is why you don’t have to boil this on the stove for hours on end like you do with turnip greens, collards, kale or Poke Salad. Yes, here in the south, we cook that wild weed called poke salad. The only thing I’ve never seen anyone cook (although I’ve heard some people do) is kudzu!

Corn & Zucchini Salad

Summer is finally here and for us, that means a lot of time spent at the lake where we dine al fresco on the pier with friends. My normal contribution to the meal is a composed salad of some sort, be it pasta salad, potato salad (check out Bacon Parmesan Potato Salad in the blog archives, redneck caviar (Hoppin’ John Salad in the archives) or homemade salsa. I haven’t made corn and zucchini salad in a couple of summers but now that fresh corn is cheap and plentiful, it will be on a future menu at the lake.

This recipe can be made with raw corn, like many corn salad recipes are, but I like the corn a little more tender and a little less starchy. That’s why I blanch the corn. Canned corn is over-cooked, and while it will work if you need a quick salad for a last minute party, it won’t be as fresh tasting. You can also used grilled corn for a smokier flavored salad (perfect with BBQ), and you can change the whole flavor profile from southwestern to Italian simply by using fresh chopped basil instead of fresh chopped cilantro!

  • 5 ears of fresh corn, shucked
  • 2 cups zucchini chopped into a small dice or quartered lengthwise and then sliced thin
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt or Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (for southwestern style) or chopped basil leaves (for Italian style)
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 tsp minced garlic (or 1 clove)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil on the stovetop and cook the corn for 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat, drain and then immerse the corn into ice cold water to stop the cooking process. Once the corn has cooled enough to handle, cut the kernels from the cob into a large bowl.

Add to the corn, the remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. The longer it marinates in the refrigerator, the better it will taste, so you can make it an hour before eating, or make it the day before.

 

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.

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.

Vietnamese Chicken

When you work in the foodservice industry, food cost is a big factor in determining weekly menus. Fine dining restaurants worry about food cost, but not nearly as much as corporate cafes like mine, where I’m serving food for a set price each day that I normally can’t change. So I’m always looking for ways to cook “lower cost” items… that’s how I came up with this recipe. At work, I make this recipe using chicken thighs, which are about the cheapest part of the chicken you can buy (not including organ meat, which I don’t do.. I’m no Hannibal Lector!!), but this marinade is excellent on any piece of chicken. Breasts, strips and for game day tailgating, buffalo wings!! You can get away with a short time marinade for a few hours, but the longer you marinate the meat the better the flavor and the more tender and juicy the meat becomes. The sodium in the soy sauce “brines” the meat and anyone that’s cooked a big Thanksgiving turkey can tell you that brining is the way to ensure a juicy bird each and every time! So give this one a try sometime.. either for your next game day party, or simply for a low cost dinner at home with the family.

  • 4-6 chicken thighs, 4 breasts or 3 boneless chicken breasts cut into strips, or a bag of fresh/frozen buffalo wings (raw)
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • Zest from 1 orange, minced
  • Juice from 1 orange
  • 1 large ginger root, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup low-sodium soy sauce**
  • 1 tbsp dark sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp black or white sesame seeds

** I only buy low-sodium soy sauce and for this recipe I recommend you pick up a bottle. Because soy sauce is loaded with sodium, marinating overnight in regular soy sauce makes the finished chicken too salty. It’s like soaking a steak in Dale’s!

Chop lower stem from cilantro and discard. Place cilantro tops, garlic cloves and fresh ginger in the bowl of a food processor and process to a fine blend. In a large storage container or large ziplock storage bag, add the processed ingredients, orange zest, orange juice, soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds. Add the chicken to the marinade. Cover or seal and marinate for at least 2 hours, or overnight, in the refrigerator, turning every so often to ensure a good coating of marinade on the chicken. The longer it marinates, the more tender the chicken will become.

Remove the chicken from the marinade (discard the marinade) and arrange the thighs on a roasting pan or cookie sheet. Bake at 400F for an hour. If using bone-in breasts, cook on a hot grill until internal temperature reaches 165F, or if using boneless strips, stir-fry with Oriental vegetables and serve over hot steamed rice. Your cooking time with vary depending on the cut of chicken you are using, so it’s best to spend a few bucks at Walmart on a digital food probe thermometer. Chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165F and the longer you let it cook past that temp, the drier it becomes. (Think about an over-cooked turkey at Thanksgiving)

Garnish with sliced scallions, fresh orange slices or minced parsley.