True Confessions of a Mid-Life Cook

There's a definite correlation between my profound love of music and how and what I've taught myself to cook. My favorite music to listen to and to perform is soulful, sensual, sometimes funky and always bluesy in nature . . . and that's exactly how I cook. I like to get my hands in the food. I chop, I knead, I stir with my hands. Sometimes I wear my big rimmed cowboy hat, nightie and Old Gringo boots in kitchen, sometimes a coonskin cap when the mood strikes and sometimes just an apron and a smile. Using the freshest of ingredients, I love to bringing a new spirit to old favorites. I am so to drawn dishes seeping in both Texas and Southern tradition,with a special affinity for those authentic old jewels found in South Louisiana.
Because they, too, are so powerfully soulful?

I've discovered being a good cook is a journey and not a destination. (Yes, I stole an over-used corporate slogan and made it my own--but it's still the truth) Every time we screw up, we learn. And in part, that's what this blog is about. Cooking fearlessly. With heart, with soul -- and with some damn good music to inspire. (If your three layer chocolate cake ends up looking like a Jerry Springer rerun or you cut the tip of your thumb off while making New Year's Day gumbo, WHO CARES?Proclaim Francine Reed's "I'm a Handful" your theme song. She would like that.)
We cook because we find ourselves kinda empty if we don't.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Stuff It - The Versatile Poblano

The poblano is a relatively mild chili pepper originating in the State of Puebla, Mexico. Dried it is called an ancho chile.  I adore poblanos because they're so versatile. From the classic chile rellenos, to the decadent mole poblano sauce, to my personal favorite, stuffed and baked poblanos. 

I stuff these peppers with anything I have on hand in the kitchen, and that's the beauty of it.  Healthy, low in fat and calories and absolutely delicious.

Today I'm stuffing them with shredded chicken and black beans. This example will  give you an idea of what can be done with the poblano.

Plump hen, cooked over night in crock pot.  Fill crock pot half full with water. Rub bird with olive oil and season with sea salt, black pepper, cumin powder and garlic and add a little of each of the seasoning to the water. Turn on low and forget about it.
6-8 poblano peppers
1 onion and one large bulb onion finely chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
1 zucchini diced
1 or 2 jalapenos, chopped fine (seed them if you can't stand the heat)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
About 7 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 can Bushes black beans, drained well
1/2 cup frozen corn, heated in microwave and drained
1 cup of sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup light sour cream
1 Tablespoon minced cilantro
salt, black pepper, chili powder and cumin powder to taste 

Heat oven to 400.
Place the poblanos in 400 degree oven for 15-17 minutes.
Take out and let cool while preparing the stuffing.

De-bone chicken and reserve broth.
Shred chicken with fork, set aside.
In a med skillet on med heat, add about 2 tablespoons butter then add onion, zucchini, jalapenos and garlic and saute 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients to warm and cheese is melted.  Add a little of the reserved chicken stock if the mixture appears dry. (Freeze this delicious stock to use later.)

Chop off the top of each poblano (like a pumpkin) discard the 'lids.' Seed and rib the peppers.  Stuff with mixture, and place on greased cookie sheet or shallow baking pan in 400 degree oven for ten minutes until heated through.

At this point you can add additional cheese to top of the peppers and then broil for another 3 minutes if you want.

Today I think I'm going to make sauce by adding  1 avocado, a little cilantro, lite sour cream a pinch of sea salt. granulated garlic and a little buttermilk  in a food processor, adjusting ingredients to reach the right consistency. Spoon generously over peppers just before serving.  The tang of the buttermilk and sour cream works beautifully with the baked poblanos.

You can see that the stuffing possibilities are endless, can't you!  Shrimp, chorizo, rice, shredded beef, andouille . . .

Today I'm preparing this dish in honor of my absolute favorite Alamo guy Davy Crockett. According to my cousin's post on FB this morning, this is what was going on at the mission in 1836:

February 28: San Antonio de Bexar is tense but calm and quiet. Inside the Alamo, Davy Crockett (violin) challenges John McGregor (bagpipes, of all things) to a musical duel.

AND the man played the  . . .um, fiddle.  How hot is that??

learn more:

Suggested listening:  'Wayfaring Stranger' early Allison Krauss (age 16!)- Legend has it that Davy Crockett played this fiddle tune at the Alamo. (Link below.)

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Texican

It's time for the tavern-keeper to post another liquored-up drink, don't you think?  I'm reaching for this one about right now and then heading with friends out to the Stock Show & Rodeo.

1 1/4 oz of premium tequila - today I'm using Patron Silver
2 oz cranberry juice
1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed lime juice (please never-ever-ever use the bottled lime)
thin slice of lime for garnish

In a cocktail shaker with a little bit of ice, combine all.  Shake hard and fast and pour straight up or over ice. Garnish with the lime and serve.  After you drink it, you are allowed to call yourself a Texican.  After 4, who cares?

Suggested listening: 'Cowboy Man' by Lyle Lovett

Bock Beer 'Smashed' Potatoes

 Singing perfect harmony with the 'Rib-Eye to Die For,' 'Bock Beer Smashed Potatoes' are really the best kept secret on the food planet. With the smoky taste of ancho chiles, the delightful combination of Yukon Gold and sweet potatoes, and the malty flavor of beer, this relatively unknown side-dish will soon be one of your favorites.  My kids love them -- and trust me, they're a very finicky lot.

5 ancho chili peppers, pureed
2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 lb. sweet poatoes
1/2 lb. butter, cubed
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 bottle Shiner Bock or Zeigenbock or any malty beer  (NO LITE!!)
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste

Soak chiles in water to cover until soft. Remove stems, ribs and seeds. Puree with 1/2 cup water in blender or food processor. It should yield about 1/2 cup ancho puree.

Peel, dice and boil potatoes until tender - what, about 20 minutes or so?  Drain.
Warm the beer, the heavy cream and the butter to slightly above room temp.  Cold cream and butter do strange things with the potato starch. Don't ask me what, I am no Alton Brown.

Whip the cooked potatoes together with an electric mixer. Add cream, butter cubes one at a time, ancho puree, beer and salt & pepper.

If I'm feeling a little artsy, and I can get my hands on it quickly,  I'll squeeze the potatoes out onto the plate from my icing tube with a large star lid.  But usually I just slap 'em into a bowl.  Either way, they won't last long.
Suggested listening:  "Beer Bottle Boogie" by Koko Taylor
(see link directly above)

Rib-eye to Die for

With it being the final weekend of San Angelo's big fat rodeo, naturally I decided on beef for dinner.  About a year ago I did a little research on how to cook a good steak inside. (Gasp) Which is unheard of in West Texas.

I combined techniques from a handful of recipes and came up with something that not only worked, but knocked it out of the ball park.

Mind you, I don't believe in eating a good cut of beef cooked anything over med-rare. If you prefer your meat medium well to well done, please eat a chicken. Or a pig. Beef is NOT meant to be eaten that way. (Chili shouldn't have beans in it either, but that's a entirely different topic, now isn't it?)

Having said that . . .

Get you a couple of well marbled rib-eyes or t-bones, about an inch thick. They must be room temperature. Heat a well seasoned cast iron skillet in a 400 degree oven.

Heat a stove burner to high or use a high flame. Rub a little canola or vegetable oil on your steaks and season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper with a little garlic powder. Take the hot skillet out of the oven and place it on hot burner. Throw the steaks on and sear well on both sides.

Immediately place in 400 degree oven for 2 minutes. Turn steaks and put back in oven for another 2 minutes. Take out of oven and let sit for another 3 minutes before serving. Top with herbed butter or horseradish whisked with a little sour cream and lemon . . . or leave naked. Please, no steak sauce.(Pullllleeeeaasse.)

Being the beef eater that he is, my husband was floored with the hugely successful outcome and I earned yet another jewel in my Queen of the Kitchen tiara.

Suggested listening:  'Cow Cow Boogie' recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Dorothy Dandridge, Ella Mae Morse and the Judds (see link directly above)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Butter Beans - MMMMMMmmmmm

My absolute favorite legume next to black eyed peas, butter beans are the only beans I cook without a ham bone or ham hock.  None is required  -- for slow cooked butter beans make their own irresistibly thick gravy.

But like all beans and peas, butter beans do need some type of pork fat to take the taste to soaring heights.  I happen to use bacon.  And ham. And last night a left over pork chop just because. And I have used the wonderfully Cajun andouille sausage before.  I haven't actually written out this recipe in exact measurements, but just loosen up and just go with it a little bit, you're sure to make the best butter beans ever.

One package bacon, all fried and chopped into small pieces and grease retained.
One package of butter beans.
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 large bell pepper, I used red last night, chopped fine
About 4 to 5  oz. of ham if you have it, chopped
About 5 generous shakes of Zatarain's Cajun Spice
Big pinch of marjaram
A little celery salt and/or a tablespoon of chopped celery leaves
Bigger pinch or two of poultry seasoning
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
Cayenne pepper, three or four shakes
3 bay leaves
About two generous teaspoons Lowry's Seasoned Salt
2 tsp black pepper

In crock pot cover beans with water (should be an inch or little more water over beans) Add a beer. Add about a tablespoon of bacon drippings.  Add all other ingredients except for last two, set crock pot to high and cover. Check on periodically to make sure there is enough liquid.  If not, add a little more water or beer.
Cook about three hours. Uncover and stir in Lowry's and black pepper. Cover and turn to low for a couple of more hours until beans are very tender and liquid has cooked down a bit. DON'T overdo it. You don't want to cook them to mush, they need to retain some texture.

Take out the bay leaves and let cool a little to thicken.
Now have at it.

OMG - It's like eating dessert, isn't it???
Suggested listening: Kevin Fowler's 'Butterbean'

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The 'Perfect' Crepe

Once upon a time, crepes looked -- and sounded -- too intimidating to me to prepare. Elegant, insanely thin, I thought that there was no way I could create a flawless crepe when my pancakes were 'iffy' at best. But one rainy day, not too long ago, I came across a version of this recipe, put on my little French maid apron and just went for it. I discovered 1)I CAN make crepes 2)They don't require perfection 3)They are indeed one of the most versatile little culinary concoctions on the planet.

Here is my perfect crepe recipe. We'll discuss varieties in a second.

2 eggs, room temp
2 tablespoons butter melted, not hot
1 1/2 cup milk
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tablespoons sugar

Place all ingredients in blender in order given. Blend on high for 30 seconds. Scrape sides of blender with small spatula and blend again for about 20 more seconds.
Put two to three tablespoons batter into a med warm, slightly greased 7" - 12" skillet. I like using a larger skillet because I can use my spatula more effectively when turning the crepe.
As you pour, tilt the pan in a slow circular motion to make a thin round crepe. THIS may take a little bit of practice, but within a crepe or two or three, you'll nail it. When the crepe is light brown (it won't take long) turn it. I've read that you can freeze them between pieces of wax paper but I haven't tried it.

Sometimes I add just a little bit of OJ, lemon juice, raspberry liquor or whatever sounds fun (the possibilities are endless)to the batter and use a little less milk. You can stuff the crepes with lemon curd, any sugared fresh fruit or preserves. A cream filling of blended cream cheese, plain Greek yogurt, sugar and almond extract is excellent combined with a little fresh fruit. Top rolled crepes with powdered sugar or sugared fruit a garnish with a sprig of mint.

For savory crepes, just put about about a teaspoon of sugar in the mixture instead of a tablespoon and use your imagination. I've used endless combinations of garlic powder, black pepper, rosemary, poultry seasoning, tarragon, cayenne pepper . . .the list goes on and on -- depending what I'm planning on stuffing them with. I used a wonderful combo of chopped fresh cilantro, black pepper, garlic powder and cayenne pepper for my south of the border crepes stuffed with shredded chicken or shrimp and topped with an avocado verde creme.

I end up making some type of crepes about once a week now. Why? Because they're SOOOO easy. And good. And versatile. And because I CAN! And if I can, darling, you can, too.
Suggested listening: "Yes, We Can Can" by Allen Toussaint, the Pointer Sisters, Harry Connick, Jr.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pain Perdu - The Queen of French Toast

Eating Pain Perdu (lost bread) on a lazy Sunday morning in South Louisiana is as close to a religious experience as this girl can get. No need for morning Mass when you're relishing bite after exquisite bite of this breakfast favorite, what we who dwell outside the border of LA call 'French toast.'

Pain Perdu takes French toast to the next level -- and I assure you after one taste, you'll never go back to what us West Texans have known French toast to be.

You begin with dried out, day (or two) old French bread. Cut an inch or an inch 1/2 thick. I use about 12 slices and let them dry out in my oven overnight.

5 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup FRESH SQUEEZED OJ (come on, it's worth the little effort)
2 pinches of nutmeg
2 pinches of ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (optional -- but I use it every time)
2 tablespoons canola oil

Beat eggs and sugar well in large mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients EXCEPT for oil, and mix well.

Heat oil in large skillet over med heat. Work with 3-4 slices of bread at a time, dip bread in egg mixture and submerge for a couple of seconds. Remove and put into hot skillet. Fry, turning once, until deep golden brown on each side.

Top with powdered sugar and zest of one orange and serve with warm maple syrup. Or fresh fruit in season, or your favorite preserves.

Ohhhhhh, and prepare yourself ---- you WILL be moved to say your Hail Mary's . . .Catholic or not.
Suggested listening: 'Church' by Lyle Lovett.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mardi Gras at My House - YAY for Beignets!

Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday always means crawfish beignets (ben-YAYS) wherever I may be. This is my savory take on the traditionally sweet beignets (deep fried pastry similar to donuts doused with powdered sugar) that have made places like Cafe Du Monde legendary.

Try these, damn it! Even if you haven't worked with yeast before, you've gotta start sometime? and this recipe is a good one to start with as any. I assure you, EVERYbody (kids LOVE 'em, too) will be asking for more.

Okay . . here we go:

1/4 c water
1 tsp sugar
1/2 evaporated milk
1 1/4 oz package of INSTANT RISE yeast (about 1 tablespoon)
3 to 3 1/2 cups southern wheat flour OR all purpose flour
1 egg
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 med cloves garlic
1/2 small green bell pepper, chopped (I sometimes use a combo of green, gold and red)
5 green onions, chopped
1 tsp salt, celery salt or a good Cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp Creole mustard or any stone ground mustard
1/2 lb cooked crawfish tails (or peeled boiled shrimp)

In a med saucepan over LOW heat, combine water, sugar and evaporated milk and heat to 100-110 degrees. (NO HIGHER - will kill the yeast. NO LOWER, will not activate the yeast. If you don't have a thermometer, trust your wrist. The mixture should be nice and warm, not in the least bit hot.) Stir in yeast well and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes until foamy. (Not foamy? Either the mixture was too hot, too cold, or you are using out-of-date yeast. Throw out and start over, no big deal.)

Lightly oil a 6 qt bowl -- or something close to 6 qts. At this point you can either go to a food processor, or use your hands, but combine 3 cups of flour and all other ingredients and mix well. If you're using a food processor, it will chop your vegetables fine, and if you're not, chop them fine by hand before combining.
Dough should be smooth and non sticky. Add flour if still sticky, 1 tablespoon at a time. Process about 15 seconds to knead, or knead yourself turning about 4 times. Place the ball of dough in the oiled bowl, turning over once so it's lighted coated overall with oil.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in warm, draft free place. I usually heat my oven just a LITTLE, turn off and place bowl inside. Let rise until doubled in size, about an 1 1/2 hours. Punch down dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface.

Roll out into rectangle until about 1/2 inch thick. Working at a diagonal to the rectangle, with a sharp knife cut dough into 2-inch-wide-strips working from left to right. Then make a second series of cuts going the opposite angle to make diamond shapes. Carefully place on baking sheets. Roll out leftover dough and repeat the process until all dough is used. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise about 45 min but do not allow to double in size again.

Heat 3 inches of oil in a saucepan to 350 degrees or until 1" bread cube browns in 65 seconds. Carefully slide beignets into oil, 3 or 4 at a time, DO NOT over crowd.
Fry until golden on both sides and drain on paper towels.

You, friends, family, people on the street will LOVE these little Mardi Gras jewels. If you have any questions about this recipe be sure to e-mail me @!

OPTIONAL: Easy Remoulade Sauce for beignet dipping
* 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
* 3/4 cup vegetable oil
* 1/2 cup chopped onion
* 1/2 cup chopped green onions
* 1/4 cup chopped celery
* 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
* 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
* 3 tablespoons Creole whole-grain mustard
* 3 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
* 3 tablespoons ketchup
* 3 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process for 30 seconds. Use immediately or store. Will keep for several days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Suggested listening? "Iko Iko" by James 'Sugar Boy' Crawford and Dr. John


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Who Dat?? Brunch

To kick off a glorious Super Bowl Sunday . . .

Green Onion, Sausage and Shrimp Gravy w/Biscuits
Slow Cooked Grillades over Stone Ground Garlic Grits
Shrimp Remoulade
My Crawfish Pie
Crepes Suzette
Pain Perdu (French Toast)with Cane Syrup
Bread Pudding with Bourbon Creme
Grilled Sausage
Creole Cream Cheese with Fresh Fruit
Cafe au lait
Creole Bloody Mary