I love fall in North America! The weather is great and all sorts of seasonal veggies and fruits crowd farm stands across our nation. Butternut squash is abundant now and is getting almost as popular as kale. Butternut squash is versatile as well as delicious. It’s weird looking back on my life as a confirmed squash hater. That is until just about ten years ago. Part of that affliction was from not finding or trying many a tasty recipe for this wonderful food. There are so many recipes available for this funny looking squash variety. With butternut squash you can make a lovely salad with walnuts and kale, mash it like mashed potatoes, or make many great tasting soups with it.
Peeling a butternut squash is not for just anyone. It’s about as easy as giving a cat a bath and just as dangerous. Luckily most grocery stores sell peeled and cubed butternut squash. This no doubt will save many a home cook a visit to the emergency room. When you buy it already peeled and cubed you can make a soup like this one in minutes! You can also tweak it in many ways to suit your taste. You can add carrots, chili powder, garlic, turmeric, or your choice of herbs to make this personalized. You could also make it with the simple healthy ingredients listed here and have a great soup made from scratch.
Give this fall soup a try soon and see if you agree with me that it’s a keeper. To celebrate fall harvest I am giving a way to two lucky readers some of my heirloom Strawberry Popcorn. This yummy little corn was grown organically with no chemicals or sprays of any kind and produced over a hundred cute little red ears. I have already tested a batch on my stove and pronounce it yummy. To enter this giveaway leave a comment on what your favorite way to season popcorn is and good luck to all who enter.
Simply Delicious Butternut Squash Soup
4 cups butternut squash cut into about one inch cubes, about 19 ounces
1 teaspoon better than bouillon chicken base, see note
1 cup milk, either coconut or cows milk
salt and pepper to taste
Cover squash with water in a 2 quart pot and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and add chicken base.
Cook for ten minutes or until soft.
Drain off about one cup of the liquid and reserve it.
Add the milk and blend with either a table top blender or immersion blender until smooth.
Add some of the reserved cooking liquid if needed for a thinner soup.
Season with salt and pepper and serve with a sprinkle of sweet Hungarian paprika.
If you want a vegan style soup use a vegetable bullion cube in place of the chicken base.
Curry powder( one teaspoon) is a nice spice blend to add to this soup for an exotic flavor.
I’ve been a known hater of microwave ovens for years. Why you might ask? It’s because I have seen many a food item destroyed in the microwave, and they are over used in many homes and some restaurants. As for the argument they change the molecular properties of foods and make those foods harmful to our bodies, I’m not a scientist so who really knows? What I do know is I may not be quite as fast in preparing meals without a microwave, but I’m sure the quality and health benefits are better with my conventional way of cooking. If you can’t part with your microwave that’s fine with me, but consider other fast options here on my blog because I believe your food will taste better if spared the micro-zapping torture.
I’m a busy guy at home with many responsibilities like most of you. It’s very important to me that we eat well, and that I spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. It helps that I worked in over thirty restaurants in my chef career where I learned many ways of preparing foods in an environment where time is of the essence. It wasn’t until I walked away from professional cooking that I truly started to develop ways to speed things up in my home kitchen to share with you. My idea of a quick dinner is total prep/cooking time of twenty minutes or less. Almost all of the meals I cook at home are twenty to thirty minutes or less and I use very few convenience items.
Today I want to give an example of a meal you can do in about twenty minutes that tastes great and uses whole natural foods. This chicken recipe cooks quick due to the thickness of the chicken breast and if you time things right the other two items will be done at the same time. Here are the dishes and how it flows:
succotash (lima beans and corn)
chicken breast with shallots
Start the lima beans cooking in enough salted water to cover plus an inch more. If you don’t like lima beans go with steamed green beans and toss them with a few cherry tomatoes cut in half during the last minute of cooking.
Start the sliced mushrooms sautéing on medium heat, if using onions start them first and add mushrooms two minutes later. If these get done way before the rest just turn off the heat until the other dishes catch up, then reheat for a minute or two.
Follow the recipe in this post for the chicken breast starting it after the mushrooms and lima beans are cooking.
Twelve minutes or so after the lima beans have been cooking add as much corn as lima beans to the pot. At this point it only takes two-three minutes to finish cooking and it can wait up to five minutes for the other two dishes to be done without hurting it a bit.
By now the chicken breast has been flipped and is almost done.
Get your platters if serving family style ready, or get dinner plates ready for dishing up.
Plate up the finished items and garnish with sliced fresh tomatoes.
All this should be easily done in twenty minutes, and you have an attractive healthy meal that tastes great. If you don’t want to use chicken the recipe works well with pork loin too. You could substitute beef, omit the thyme and use Lawrey’s Seasoning Salt instead with good results. The options are many, but I hope you get the picture of a quick healthy meal without taking up too much of your precious time at home. Please feel free to comment on, and share this recipe.
Sautéed Chicken Breast with Shallots
2 skinless, boneless chicken breast
1/3 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Using a meat tenderizing hammer pound out the chicken breast to a thickness of one half inch or less.
Sprinkle thyme, salt and pepper on the chicken then dredge in the flour.
In a sauté pan on medium heat add half the oil and cook the shallots for three minutes, stirring often.
Remove shallots from pan and set aside.
Turn the heat up to medium and add the rest of the olive oil and chicken breast.
Cook for six minutes then flip and cook for five minutes or until chicken reads 165 degrees on a meat thermometer.
Add shallots to the hot sauté pan and cook for a minute or two then top the chicken breast with them.
Serves two but is easily doubled or tripled to serve more.
Not all chicken breast are the same thickness. Modern intensive raised chicken breast are twice the size of traditionally raised chickens and require a bit more pounding with the meat tenderizing hammer. I prefer the smaller traditional chickens.
To speed things up a bit I’ll take a piece of aluminum foil and set it on top of the sauté pan loosely to reflect the heat. Don’t use a tight fitting lid as that would trap in steam and make the chicken breast tough.
This dish goes well with sautéed mushrooms and succotash for side dishes.
The leaves are turning color on the cherry trees across the street from my house and falling rapidly. It’s funny how the cherry trees are one of the first to bloom and stand out in the spring and now again in the fall they are vying for attention again ahead of the other trees. Dog and I walk under them daily and get an occasional decorative leaf or two falling on us while we walk. Soon there will be other trees and bushes joining the rush to fall season.
For now I’m still happily maintaining my garden and picking lots of tomatoes and hot peppers even though fall approaches. Most of my tomato plants are done for the year, but there are a couple of unknown heirlooms producing well. That’s the beauty of planting many types of tomatoes, you get to pick some throughout the season.
With this abundance of great tasting tomatoes I’ve been coming up with new ways to eat them. I have them with breakfast some mornings, especially if I’m eating eggs, and I also slice them up just for a snack at all times of the day. I’ve made, and posted gazpacho soup, gobs of salsa for chips and dip, and canned a bunch of diced tomatoes.
I figure I have two or three more weeks of tomato harvesting before I have to count on the local farms for fresh tomatoes. My herbs however will produce into October and beyond. One year I had fresh herbs right through November! As a chef it’s awesome to have a great little herb garden out back. For most of my life I lived in cold climates and had to resort to grocery stores for almost all my fresh herb needs.
With my tarragon plant starting to look just a bit old I decided to start using more fresh tarragon. I made a fresh tarragon salad dressing this week and for today’s post decided to share with you a tarragon pasta dish that takes less than 20 minutes start to finish. If you don’t like tarragon just substitute fresh basil for this side dish and enjoy just the same.
Fresh Tarragon with Pasta
12 ounces pasta of your choice, I like fettucine for this dish
2 1/2 quarts of water
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons oil
8 ounces sliced white mushrooms
1 bell pepper diced, green, yellow, or red
1/2 yellow onion sliced
1 clove garlic minced
1 heaping tablespoon fresh tarragon minced
Start pasta water, and salt boiling on high heat to get a head start. Cook according to directions on package.
In a sauté pan on medium heat cook onions, peppers and garlic for three to five minutes stirring often.
Add sliced mushrooms and cook for another eight to ten minutes.
If pasta is done it is time to add most of the tarragon to the mushroom mixture and cook for just one minute on medium heat stirring. Save a bit of tarragon for a garnish.
Arrange pasta on serving platter or bowl and top with mushroom mixture.
Sprinkle a bit of the leftover tarragon on top and garnish the sides with fresh tomato wedges.
Serves four as a side and two as a main dish.
I’m home and back in the groove after another great trip to Alaska. It was forty years ago that I first set foot in “The Great Land” on Kodiak Island as a seaman apprentice in the US Coast Guard. Little did I know back then that Alaska is habit forming.
My sister, brother and wife have all heard the siren call too. They are part of almost every trip up north going back many years. What is the draw you might ask? Alaska is bigger than you can imagine with its over two million lakes, more coastline than the rest of the U.S., more than 100,000 glaciers, 17 of the 20 highest peaks in the U.S. and a whole lot of salmon to catch and eat. Alaska casts a spell on all who come. If it wasn’t for the bugs, cold weather, and hours of darkness in the winter the place would be as crowded as California.
There is something for just about anyone’s interest in a place this big. Fishing is one of the most sought after activities, and cruising. You can take a helicopter ride to a glacier and walk in ice if you like. Renting kayaks is another popular option in many parts of Alaska, or four wheel drive ATV’s. Maybe a day cruise on a nature themed trip in the Kenai Fijords National Park is up your alley where you will probably see humpback whales, puffins, Dall Sheep, Dall Porpoises, more seabirds than you can imagine, Steller Sea Lions, glaciers, and maybe even killer whales. Float planes are a lot of fun and a great way of getting around in this water world. Lake Hood in Anchorage is the world’s largest float plane base just a short walk from the main airport where you can watch the float planes take off and land.
What about the food in Alaska? For an Alaskan meal try the famous halibut fish and chips at the Inlet View Restaurant in Ninilchik. If fish isn’t your favorite try reindeer sausage with eggs for breakfast at many Alaskan restaurants. A tourist favorite is Alaskan smoked salmon and Ed’s Kasilof Seafoods in Soldotna is a great place to sample and buy the smoked treats. If you get a chance to try spot shrimp or side stripped shrimp, but don’t miss out on these sweet and tender morsels from the southeast and south central waters. For a meal or happy hour break Lands End in Homer has the best view of any restaurant I know of in Alaska. It looks out on the blue-green waters of Kachemak Bay and three glaciers are visible from the Homer Spit where Lands End sits.
On most of our trips we stay at a cabin and do most of our own cooking. Salmon is on the menu often and one night’s grilled salmon might become salmon salad sandwiches the next day, or salmon and rice. On this latest trip I made up a new dish that was so good I decided to share it with you all. It’s a fast one that is perfect for our busy fishing schedule at the cabin. When the fish are running we would rather be fishing than spending much time in the kitchen. This dish uses leftover rice and what ever fresh salmon you can get, though I’m partial to fresh pink salmon for this dish. It takes just 15-20 start to finish so try it and see if you like it as much as I do.
Cajun Salmon and Rice
8 ounces fresh pink salmon, or what ever is available. See note.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup diced red bell pepper, optional
1/3 cup diced green bell pepper
1/3 cup diced yellow onion
3-4 teaspoons blackening seasoning, see note
3 cups cooked brown or white rice
Skin and trim fat off a salmon filet then cut into one inch cubes.
Sauté onion and peppers in a large sauté pan on medium high heat for five minutes stirring often.
Add salmon and cook for three more minutes stirring often.
Add rice and seasoning being sure to bust up any clumps of rice. Cook three more minutes.
Serves two but is easily doubled.
Fresh pink salmon is best for this dish, but silver salmon or atlantic salmon will do.
Be sure and get the tail half of the filet to insure there are little or no bones.
If you don’t have blackening seasoning on hand here is a simple recipe for it.
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground black or white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper, optional
When I was a child my somewhat eccentric parents invited foreign exchange students staying at Buckly Airforce Base east of Denver for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Why they were staying there I don’t know, but I remember going to the base to pick them up. Through this exchange I met someone from the Phillipines, and Nigeria. There were one or two others but I forget where they were from. The guy from the Phillipines showed my mom how to make adobo which we all liked very much, and instilled a love for the dish that has lasted a lifetime. The meat of choice was doves as dove season was the previous month and we had many of the tasty birds in the freezer.
The guy from Nigeria was interesting because of his family. My mom casually asked at dinner, “what does your father do”, and the answer was, “he is the ruler” which shocked my mother. It’s not every day you have someone for dinner who’s father is the king of a country so that gave my parents something to talk about for years to come. For me the guy was fun because he indulged me with some archery in our backyard as I had just received my first bow and arrow set for Christmas that day. Apparently I thought at that young age, I think I was eleven years old at the time, that men from Africa knew how to shoot an arrow. Pretty funny in retrospect as we were both rather bad at it.
Over the last twenty years my wife and I have had only one foreign house guest and he was a chaperone from Japan assigned to a bunch of middle school aged kids visiting Denver. It was fun and I would have liked to do more hosting. In June of this year I saw a home made sign announcing “20 Spanish students need host families” and called after getting approval from my wife. We ended up with a great kid from Burgos, Spain who at the ripe old age of sixteen speaks very good English and is a great addition to our household.
Turns out he is a natural cook. Even though his mother does almost all the cooking in his home I found out that he has significant talent in the kitchen. His first homework involving food was to prepare an American dish for a competition in class on Tuesday. I helped him select the dish to prepare and he made shepherds pie with virtually no help from me. Then that night he cooked us two traditional Spanish dishes for dinner. He made a Spanish tortilla and a gazpacho soup. For those of you who have never had a Spanish tortilla it’s nothing like what we see in Mexican restaurants. A Spanish tortilla has potatoes, onion and eggs in it and looks like an omelet.
Both dishes Manuel made for us were excellent but I really liked the gazpacho, and since I have a lot of tomatoes getting ripe lately I wanted to make another batch the next day. Manuel didn’t use a recipe but I took notes and tried to copy his gazpacho. The results were good but it took some more testing to come up with the recipe I share with you here. It’s fast and simple as well as healthy. If you have an abundance of garden tomatoes like I do it’s a great way to use them up. With these hot summer day upon us give this a try and see if you agree with me that this is one great Spanish cold soup.
Gazpacho Soup with Heirloom Tomatoes
3 pounds heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into quarters
1/2 yellow onion chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 cup peeled and diced cucumber with seeds removed
1 cup diced green bell pepper
1 medium sized apple peeled and diced
1 clove garlic minced
5 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons good quality apple cider vinegar, I like Bragg’s brand best
1 slice of bread cubed, about 1 cup
1 teaspoon salt
Soak bread in water for five or more minutes to soften. Drain water off before adding to the blender.
If using a blender instead of a food processor put tomatoes in first to facilitate faster blending. Then add rest of the ingredients.
If it won’t all fit blend for thirty to sixty seconds and add rest of ingredients.
Blend thoroughly for two to three minutes, depending on the strength of your blender. There should not be anything larger than a sesame seed for best results.
Best if chilled for and hour or two, but can be eaten right away if needed.
I tested this with both a blender and a food processor. The food processor I have held all the ingredients but was a bit slower to blend thoroughly. The blender did a good job blending but didn’t hold all the ingredients at once and I had to add the rest after a minute of blending reduced the volume.
Here’s another fast and healthy recipe for your summer grilling. I have been experimenting with mushroom blending and swapping for over a year now since hearing about it from the folks at The Woodlands at Phillip’s Mushrooms. I created a chili recipe using mushrooms and beef,http://www.fastandfuriouscook.com/soup-season/, and now have been focusing on grilling. In case you are not familiar with blending mushrooms it’s where you use half the beef and substitute the other half with mushrooms. In theory you cut out some of the calories and saturated fat by cooking this way.
With swapping you cut out the meat all together using mushrooms in place of meat.
In both swapping and blending my first choice of mushrooms are the mighty portabella. They taste great, are easy to prepare and last long in the fridge compared with most other mushrooms in the grocery store. They are very similar to meat in their ability to fill you up especially if you try the following recipe with it’s burger bun, cheese, avocado, tomato, lettuce and salsa. It provides all the major food groups, and does it in a healthy way.
This is also a very fast meal if you are using a gas grill it should take no more than 20 minutes from start to yummy finish. You can use just about any cheese on it like cheddar, provolone, swiss, gruyere, or even gouda. If you are gluten intolerant this is still a great entree without a bun. Try serving corn on the cob, and cole slaw with it for a new summer combo meal to share with family and friends. I think you will agree with me that it’s easy to cut out the meat once in a while when you eat hearty mushroom based meals.
Grilled Portabella Mushrooms with Avocado and Salsa
4 large portabella mushrooms with caps removed
4 teaspoons garlic infused olive oil, or plain olive oil
6 tablespoons salsa
1 avocado, sliced
1 large tomato,sliced
4 hamburger buns
If using a charcoal grill, or gas grill get it fired up first.
Wash the portabella caps if needed and remove stems. Wipe caps to dry.
Brush caps with some of the olive oil, and save the rest for brushing and toasting the buns.
Brush buns with oil and toast buns then set aside.
Cook portabellas cap side down for 5-7 minutes covered. Flip and cook two minutes with gill side down.
Turn caps gill side up and top with 1 1/2 tablespoon of salsa. Cover grill and cook for two minutes.
Top with cheese and cover the grill to melt it.
Top the bottom part of burger bun with lettuce and tomato, add grilled portabella cheese side up then top the portabella with the avocado slices.
For an Italian version use goat cheese, or provolone and bruschetta topping.
Remove gills with a spoon if you like.
It’s been a hot and humid week here in the Baltimore area and I have been concentrating on summer recipes. Even though my tomato plants seem to like this heat and humidity I don’t! When the weather is like this I don’t want to be in the kitchen for very long.
One of the things most people forget about in summer is the crockpot. In summer I love to use my crockpot so I’m not in the kitchen come dinner time except to serve it up. Think about it. You spend may five to ten minutes in the kitchen in the morning putting together a crockpot dinner and eight hours later there it is ready to serve. The ultimate in easy healthy home cooking.
I have also been grilling three to four times per week to get out of the kitchen. This keep the cooking heat outside instead of inside. I’ve mostly been cooking up Alaskan salmon, and lots of grilled veggies too. Since it is about the end of asparagus season I have eaten it a bit more than usual. I’ve grilled it, stir fried it and eaten it on salads delighting in that special taste unique to the green spear from the garden.
Today I decided to create something different with asparagus using fresh herbs from my garden. I bought asparagus and bell peppers from the grocery store for a new salad recipe. Oregano is not just for pasta and Italian cooking. This year I have a lot of oregano. Fresh oregano is high in vitamin A and also contains calcium, but most importantly it tastes great.
Oregano is a member of the mint family and has that fresh mint taste like spearmint when fresh. I found a new kind of spicy oregano at my favorite farm back in May and decided to mix it with my Greek Oregano for this new salad. I thought that the blended oregano would pair well with asparagus and bell peppers with an oil and apple cider vinegar dressing. It’s a fairly quick and easy recipe that anyone can make. Check it out and stay cool.
As always I welcome your comments and suggestions.
Asparagus and Bell Pepper Salad with Fresh Oregano
1 pound fresh trimmed asparagus , see note
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 orange bell pepper
1 1/2 quarts water
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup fresh oregano, or 3 tablespoons of dried oregano
2 tablespoons fresh chopped chives
1/4 cup Bragg’s apple cider vinegar, or Spectrum brand
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
In a 2 1/2 to 3 quart pot bring water, and salt to a boil. While water is heating up trim asparagus.
After trimming the tough parts of the asparagus rinse and set aside.
When water is boiling add asparagus and cook thin asparagus for thirty seconds, thick asparagus for one minute. Drain and rinse well in cold water. You may need ice water if your tap water is not very cold as you want to stop the cooking process quickly. See note.
Wash and dice bell peppers into 1/2 inch size.
Wash oregano if needed, and dry. Take about 1/4 of the oregano and slice in thin shreds. This will help distribute its flavor better.
Wash, dry and mince fresh chives and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl combine all ingredients. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste and serve right away or chill for one or more hours.
One pound of asparagus will not yield one pound trimmed. It takes about a pound and a half, but asparagus is usually sold by the pound. No worries, just buy two pounds and use the extra for steamed asparagus at dinner or cook in an omelet for breakfast.
I use a bowl of ice water to submerge the hot asparagus in. First I drain off the hot water then dump the asparagus in the big bowl of ice water, but remove any unmelted ice cubes before submerging the asparagus. Otherwise they tend to melt and dilute the dressing later.
What is the best Salmon in the world? The first Alaskan wild salmon to hit the market in significant amounts is the famed Copper River Salmon. Both Copper River king salmon and sockeye salmon show up in restaurants, grocery stores, and various other outlets to the delight of those who know. Even if you don’t know much about salmon quality I believe if you were served Cook Inlet sockeye salmon alongside Copper River sockeye you would be able to tell the difference. The Copper River variety is more flavorful and the texture is very soft and tender without being mushy.
Don’t get me wrong. I do love all Alaskan sockeye whether it comes from Ketchikan, Dillingham, Kenai, or Cordova, but this first salmon of the year is worth a celebration. Other than its superior flavor profile Copper River salmon hits the market first adding to its popularity. It is so popular some of it is airlifted by helicopter to speed up its travel from fishing boat to high end restaurant serving it in Seattle, Chicago and other US cities.
I was so fortunate to live in Cordova, Alaska and Kenai, Alaska to see the difference from the perspective of a local. Both areas rejoice when the salmon return and the economies as well as spirits are lifted with the arrival of this gift from nature. Much has been said about the sustainability of the salmon in Alaska, but I’ll add my two cents worth. I have seen lean and fat years in my four plus decades of living in and visiting the Great Land, and even though my favorite salmon, the Kenai King salmon is in danger, most of Alaska’s salmon are doing just fine.
So don’t fret about the wild salmon in the stores and restaurants being in danger. Instead choose wild salmon over farmed whenever you can as farmed salmon endanger wild salmon when they escape and interbreed with wild stocks. They are also more susceptible to disease than the wild ones. How do I know so much about salmon you might ask? I cooked for the salmon processing family and crew of Keener Packing in Kenai, Alaska before it went bankrupt. And in my first marriage I married into a fishing family in Cordova, Alaska where most of the Copper River commercial fishermen and women live. I also return to Alaska almost every summer to visit friends and catch enough salmon to last the year.
My first purchase of fresh Copper River sockeye this season was yesterday at Costco. The price was a reasonable $14.99 per pound. The taste was incredible. I grilled it two ways on my Smokey Joe Weber. I seasoned half with just salt, pepper, and a bit of olive oil. The other half I seasoned with Urban Accents Kodiak Salmon Rub seasoning. Both came out great but my favorite was the Kodiak rub seasoned salmon. It has several ingredients that match the salmon well, especially cumin. Never in all my years did I use cumin in salmon cookery unless I was using a blackening spice that had a bit of it in the mix. It was in the Galapagos Islands last year where I had tuna grilled with cumin, olive oil and lemon that knocked my socks off and got me started using cumin with grilled and baked fish.
So get some of this awesome tasting salmon and cook it up however you like. As long as you don’t overcook it it’s hard to goof it up. If you need a recipe I’ve included my simple preparation from last night. Please leave comments and share this with friends and family.
I have a giveaway box of OXO kitchen tools and other goodies for one lucky winner that will be drawn next week. Just leave a comment on my Facebook page mentioning salmon, or here on my blog to be entered.
Grilled Copper River Sockeye Salmon
1 filet of salmon, (about 2 pounds)
2 teaspoons Urban Accents Kodiak Rub and seasoning blend
2 teaspoon olive oil
Rinse salmon and pat dry with paper towels.
Cut into two or three pieces leaving skin on.
Season flesh side of salmon with rub and oil, and let sit for ten minutes. Save a little of the oil to rub the skin with.
Grill skin side down for about five minutes with grill lid closed.
Flip salmon and cook on other side for three or four minutes. Sprinkle a bit of salt if desired, or do it at the table after tasting it first.
At this point the skin comes off very easy by sliding a spatula between the skin and flesh. You can discard it or do what I do and cook it for a minute or two longer and serve alongside the salmon. It’s a tad fishy but crunchy and yummy with a bit of salt and pepper added.
Your grill might be hotter or cooler than mine so the cooking time is just an estimate.
Enjoy with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or a good Pinot Gris from Oregon.
It was like walking in a dream with fairies and magic all around me the first time I laid eyes on fireflies. I was about ten years old and we were visiting relatives in Missouri for a camping trip in the Ozark Mountains. Since I lived in Colorado I had only heard tales of such magical creatures so it was quite a treat to see and catch them. When I moved to Maryland in 2008 I didn’t know I’d be treated to the same spectacle each spring.
For several nights over the last week when I’m outside walking my dog Tucker we are on alert for the first fireflies. Last night around 10pm we finally spied the first of what will soon be many. They were high up in the trees and it took some patience to spot them. Last spring when Tucker was just a frisky four month old puppy he delighted in trying to catch the fireflies on our last-of-the-night walks. It was pretty funny until he finally caught one and I put an end to that game. I don’t know if eating fireflies is unhealthy for dogs, but I know it’s unhealthy for the fireflies! I can’t wait to see what he thinks of them this year now that he is all grown up and almost fifteen months old. Soon they will come down from up high in the trees and be flying about us on our night time walks.
It’s this sort of thing that instills an awareness of nature and the coming and going of seasons. So many kids these days are removed from this awareness of the natural world and how it is all intertwined. We could lay part of the blame on grocery stores that stock fresh cherries in the Fall and Winter, as well as asparagus. Just forty years ago these foods only came available to most of us “in season”. I applaud the little firefly for being a remnant of times gone by where most people were aware of what seasons meant to our culture especially as it pertains to our eating habits. The firefly does not show up in winter! How preposterous it would be if it did. The firefly can remind us of what the natural world is about, and the important cycles of plants, animals, and insects.
Almost as crazy as buying fresh cherries and asparagus in winter is eating half the crap sold in grocery stores these days. For a healthy food that is always in season I share with you one of the most amazing foods that’s available year round in fresh, frozen or dried form. Yes beans of many types are good tasting and good for us. Beans can be found in just about every grocery store in North America in one form or another. Beans are high in fiber and protein and come in many shapes and sizes. They are great as a side dish or as a main dish and are very affordable. You can flavor them with so many herbs, and spices that the choices are almost endless.
Thanks to Urban Accents gifting me a selection of five of their products I’ve been playing around in the kitchen and want to share this easy crock pot recipe with you. I have known for several years that commercial steak seasonings are usually good for bean cooking. I had used Urban Accents Argentina Steak Rub seasoning on beans before but I have a new favorite. I tested their Chicago Steak and Chop Seasoning in a couple of bean recipes and share one with you that takes under five minutes to prepare before walking away from your crock pot for hours. This great tasting bean dish will go well with grilled chicken, pork or beef as well as stand on its own as an entree when served over rice with a dollop of hot sauce. So give it a try and see if you agree that this is one easy and tasty dish. And by all means give the Chicago Steak and Chop a try on steak if that floats your boat!
Red Beans with Chicago Steak and Chop Seasoning
1 and 1/2 cups red beans, see note
7 cups of water
1 cup chopped yellow or white onion
1 clove fresh garlic minced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Urban Accents Chicago Steak and Chop seasoning
Crock pot method:
Put all ingredients in at once and cook on low for 9-10 hours. You can also cook on high for about 7-8 hours. I like to load the crock pot at night before going to bed and have the beans ready to pack in a thermos for lunch.
Bring water and onions to a boil.
Add beans, garlic, Chicago Steak and Chop seasoning and simmer covered on low heat until beans are tender(about 3-4 hours). Add more water if needed.
Note: I like Christmas Pole Lima beans for this dish but red beans are good too and easier to find.
Even though Urban Accents gifted me the package of five of their products my opinions are my own and not influenced by them or anyone else. I write about what taste good to me!
Shitake mushrooms, and most others are a powerhouse of health! Shitake mushrooms are a great source of vitamins B2, B3, B6 and vitamin D. With more and more studies being done on the health effects of mushrooms it seems clear that we should eat them often. Some studies have shown that just one white button mushroom per day can reduce a women’s risk of getting breast cancer by 50%. Check out this video I found on the Phillip’s Mushrooms website explaining this and more of the many health attributes of mushrooms: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkf0AGxblAA That’s great that mushrooms are good for us since they are not expensive and are widely available. You can incorporate them into your meal plan easily as they blend with many recipes for breakfast lunch or dinner.
I used to only eat mushrooms when they were sautéed with onions meant for topping a steak, or in cream of mushroom soup. After I became a professional chef I was more open to eating mushrooms in other ways, but still I was mostly in the dark. It wasn’t until I moved to Baltimore and discovered Kennett Square, Pennsylvania the World’s Mushroom Capital that I really started to understand mushrooms. In the five years that I have been making the one hour and twenty minute drive to the holy grail of all things mushroom I’ve learned many more ways to cook mushrooms. I’ve also learned to cook with several types of mushrooms that I had not used before like: Maitake(my favorite), Shitake, Royal Trumpet, Pompom, and Portabella mushrooms. All these new types of mushrooms opened up a whole new world of shroomy good cooking possibilities. I developed a chowder recipe from the Maitake that rocks the soup world, and with portabella’s I made up a grilled portabella recipe that needs no marinating to produce a flavorful burger substitute.
It’s hard to beat the flavor of a grilled or baked Royal Trumpet Mushroom basted in garlic infused olive oil then seasoned with fresh ground five pepper blend and a bit of salt. For a quick and easy cold appetizer I wrote up a recipe for roasted corn, guacamole stuffed mushrooms using white button mushrooms as the vehicle for the green goodness I love so much. Just another excuse to eat avocados and mushrooms often! I have been working on some new breakfast recipes to fill the need for more morning mushroom munchies. Mushrooms are mainly thought of as lunch and dinner provender, but sautéed kale and white mushrooms go great in an omelet with a bit of cheddar cheese for breakfast. Last week I came home from Kennett Square with the usual suspects. A one pound bag of Maitake, Shitake, and Portabella mushrooms and set to work in the Fast and Furious Test Kitchen madly making mushroom meals. The first item was to try baking small sprigs of Maitake in garlic infused olive oil on high heat until crispy. The result was an addictive snack of earthy garlicky fragrance that had just the right amount of crispiness. I pronounce it the next best thing to potato chips it’s that good! Next up was a breakfast experiment to see what would happen when fresh asparagus meets fresh Shitake and eggs? The result was sure to be a Fast and Furious classic, and I share with you this week the oh-so-yummy Shitake, Asparagus Scramble. Please give it a try and let me know what you think of it in the comments section.
Shitake Mushroom and Asparagus Scramble
6-8 shitake mushrooms with stems removed
4-6 asparagus spears
1 tablespoon garlic infused olive oil
3 large or 4 medium sized eggs beaten
1/4 cup shredded cheese(cheddar, swiss, or cotija)
1 tablespoon minced jalapeño pepper, optional
salt and pepper to taste
Clean and slice shitake about 1/4 inch.
Clean, trim, and cut asparagus into one inch lengths.
In a sauté pan on medium heat cook slice shitake mushrooms in the oil for 5 minutes stirring every minute.
Add asparagus and jalapeño if using, and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes stirring occasionally.
Add eggs and and turn up heat a bit stirring often for two minutes.
Add cheese and cook for just one more minute while stirring in the cheese.
Serves two, but is easily doubled.