Pasta Fajioli…an easy way to empty the fridge

Pasta Fajioli AM Northwest

Had great fun being back on AM Northwest last week (watch the clip, below), and got to talk about one of my all-time favorite subjects…comfort food. It’s getting chilly up here in the PNW, and nothing warms you back up like a good pot of soup.

One of my Facebook friends commented that whenever I’m on the show, I always do Italian recipes.

It’s true.

I love French food, and Asian food, and pretty much ANY food, but if I’m going to present the best version of something, something you can taste the love in, it’s probably going to be an old Italian Grandmother’s recipe.

The Home Chef's Guide to Frugal Fine CookingI love this recipe, not just because it’s delicious, and brings back great childhood memories, but because it’s one of those dishes that proves you don’t have to spend a lot, to make an amazing meal.  Pasta is cheap. Beans are cheap. Carrots, onions, celery? Cheap. Add whatever leftover meat and veggies from last night’s dinner, and presto…you have soup!

(For more tips, tricks, and recipes for great eating on a budget, check out my new book, “The Home Chef’s Guide to Frugal Fine Cooking” on Amazon.com!)

Soggiorno caldo!

~Chef Perry

Pasta Fajioli Recipe for AMNW
(pasta va-zool)

1 lb meat, cooked and chopped (roast chicken, sausage, hamburger, etc.)
36 oz “Quick and Easy Chicken Stock
28 ounces fire roasted diced tomatoes, undrained (or 6 Romas, freshly roasted*)
15 oz tomato sauce
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbs olive oil
4 celery ribs, diced
2 medium carrots, sliced
2 cups beans (cannellini, kidney beans, etc,) rinsed and drained
2 tsp minced fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tsp coarse black pepper
8 ounces uncooked pasta (ditalini, macaroni, etc.)
4 teaspoons minced fresh parsley

Additional veggies: Whatcha’got? Pretty much any leftover veggies will compliment this soup. Peas, corn, sauteed mushrooms, green beans, cabbage…empty that fridge!

Mirepoix for soup

Make the mirepoix: In a saute pan, heat oil over medium low, and saute onions, celery, and carrots until just beginning to soften. Add garlic and cook another 2 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat, and transfer to a stock pot.

Pasta Fajioli AM Northwest

Add broth, sauce, beans, oregano, and black pepper.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Add pasta, parsley, and any additional veggies; simmer, covered, 10-14 minutes or until pasta is tender.

Pasta Fajioli AM Northwest

Stir in meat, and serve with crusty, warm bread.

Yield: 10-12 servings

*To roast your own: Place 6 Roma tomatoes on a very hot grill, under a broiler, or directly on above a gas burner. Char, rotating frequently, until blackened on all sides. Place tomatoes in a large zip bag and seal, allowing them to steam 20-30 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the bag, and peel off most of the charred skin (I ike to leave a little, for flavor). Dice the tomatoes, place in a bowl, sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt, and just cover with hot water. Allow to come to room temp before using the tomatoes and water in this recipe.

Here’s the clip from AM Northwest:

Pasta Fajioli Recipe AM Northwest
Click on image to be redirected to AM Northwest’s video page

 

National Taco Day Recipes

The Home Chef's Guide to Frugal Fine Cooking(Excerpt from “The Home Chef’s Guide to Frugal Fine Cooking” Available October 15, 2017. This is the first in a series of guidebooks to delve deeper into specific topics discussed in, “The Home Chef: Transforming the American Kitchen” – available on Amazon.)

It’s #NationalTacoDay, baby!

We actually made these last night (my planning skills being what they are) but I figure that’s close enough…

Here are my favorite recipes for “the real thing”, as well as an awesome “Gringo” taco!

Tacos al Pastor

Tacos Al Pastor

This dish, developed in Central Mexico, is based on shawarma spit-grilled meat brought by the Lebanese immigrants to Mexico.

You’ve never really had Tacos Al Pastor (roast pork and pineapple tacos) until you’ve gotten then hot off the grill from a street hawker in Mexico City, but these are a pretty darn good second, for a quick and delicious dinner.

  • 1 lb pulled pork shoulder
  • 1 cup fresh pineapple chunks, divided
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 cup enchilada sauce
  • 8 corn tortillas (6 inches), warmed
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Warm the pork in the microwave until warm through, and the juices have liquified.

Coarsely shred the pork (if not already shredded) mixing with the juices.

Crush half of the pineapple with a fork.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the un-crushed pineapple chunks; sauté in oil 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned, turning occasionally.

Remove the pineapple from the pan.

Add the enchilada sauce and crushed pineapple to same skillet, and bring to a simmer; stir in pork and reserved juices. Cook over medium-high heat 4-6 minutes or until liquid has reduced to a thick glaze on the meat, stirring occasionally.

Serve in warmed tortillas with pineapple chunks, onion and cilantro, and serve with lime wedges.

Now, while you should definitely try the Tacos Al Pastor, sometimes you just want a good old fashioned “American” Taco (the kind we grew up with).

Here’s how Mom did it…

Gringo taco recipe

Best “Gringo” Taco Meat Ever!

This is my favorite “gringo” taco meat recipe…

Now, in all fairness these aren’t “real” Mexican-style tacos (which I love with all of my chubby little heart) but a “next level” upgrade to the weekly suburbanite special that I grew up on. Pretty darn tasty, too!

The big deal about this recipe is that it doesn’t include “taco seasoning” which, in my opinion, just makes everything taste like…well…taco seasoning. If I wanted that, I’d “make a run for the border.”

If I go to the trouble of buying good, fresh meat, I want to taste meat!

I like these best the old-fashioned way: crispy taco shell, sour cream, shredded mexi-cheese, chopped cilantro, diced tomatoes and avocado.

My wife and daughter prefer flour “soft” tacos, and once in a while I get a hankerin’ for some fresh corn tortillas from the local Hispanic market.

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  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 lb. 80/20 ground beef (none of that “lean” nonsense!)
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 Tbs. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbs. Chili powder
  • 2 Tsp. seasoned salt (to taste)
  • 2 tsp. ground black pepper

Mise en Place:

Dice onions, heat water, combine all spices.

Gringo taco recipe

Prepare the Dish:

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and cook onions until just starting to brown, add hot water and simmer until all the water had cooked away (about 10 minutes).

Add the ground beef and ground pork, in chunks, cooking until it begins to brown. Using a spatula, or flat-edge wooden spoon, begin chopping the meat. Add the spices, and continue chopping until the meat is evenly browned and broken in to pieces no larger than 1/2 inch round. Stir, cover skillet, and remove from heat. Allow to rest 5 minutes, stir, and rest another 5 minutes.

Great for soft tacos, crispy tacos, burrito or enchilada filling, nachos, and taco salad!

 

5 More Terrific Taco Tips:

  • Always warm crispy taco shells (or tortilla chips) in a 250F oven for 5-10 minutes. Warming them releases the natural oils, making them crispier and tastier.
  • To jack the flavor up even more, skip the lettuce and cilantro, and buy a bag of “Fiesta” or “Southwestern” salad blend. Mix it up according to directions, and use it as you would plain lettuce in your tacos.
  • If you haven’t tried “Crema” (Mexican sour cream) you should, it’s bolder and more tangy than the regular stuff.
  • Like the taco shells, four or corn tortillas are MUCH better when warmed. Heat them in the dry pan, over medium heat until they just start to brown on the bottom. Flip and repeat. When the tortilla starts to puff up, remove and place inside a  folded towel. If cooking in advance, or in large numbers, wrap 10-12 of the warmed tortillas in foil, and place in a 150F oven to stay warm.
  • Lastly (and this is my favorite) I always mix beef and pork 50/50. Pork has tons of flavor, but is very dry on it’s own. Beef adds a richness, and the necessary fat. Together…amazing! This goes for meatballs, and meatloaf, as well!

Thai Red Fish Curry

Frugal Red Fish Curry recipe

The Home Chef's Guide to Frugal Fine Cooking(Excerpt from “The Home Chef’s Guide to Frugal Fine Cooking” Available October 15, 2017. This is the first in a series of guidebooks to delve deeper into specific topics discussed in, “The Home Chef: Transforming the American Kitchen” – available on Amazon.)

Regarding Curry…

“Curry” can be a confusing term. It’s the name of an entire family of Indian, and Indian-influenced, dishes, but it’s also the name of spice blends within those dishes, and those blend of spices are different from region to region, and, typically, house to house.

Instead of a specific recipe, with set ingredients, think of it as a term like “sauce”, for which there can be uncountable varieties (and my mom’s is always better than your mom’s…)

Curries in Thailand (usually a mix of curry spice paste, coconut milk or water, meat, seafood, vegetables or fruit, and herbs) mainly differ from the curries in Indian cuisine in their use of fresh ingredients such as herbs and aromatic leaves, instead of a mix of dried, and then toasted and ground, spices.

The dry, powdery stuff we buy in the jars is a lot like kissing your sister…similar…but not quite the same thing.

My personal favorite Indian blend (when not toasting and grinding it fresh) is the “Bombay Curry” from my beloved Market Spice, in Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

Curries (the dishes) are a great way to add a touch of the exotic to a frugal dinner, while using up leftover meats and veggies, at the same time.

Think about it…both India and Thailand are home to some of the poorest people (and the best food) on the planet.

Once again, it’s less about what you’ve got, than what you can do with it.

Thai Red Fish Curry

1lb tilapia
1 knob of ginger, peeled
2 cloves of garlic
1 stalk lemongrass, minced
Juice of half a lime
2-3 fresh red chilies
1 Tbs tomato puree
1 onion, very finely chopped
Oil
2 Tbs fish sauce
2 cups coconut milk
1 cup water
A generous pinch of salt
Cilantro to garnish

To make the curry paste blend together the ginger, garlic, lemongrass, lime juice, chilies, tomato puree and a little oil.

Heat a little more oil in a large saucepan and begin to fry the onions. After 5 minutes add the paste and cook for a further 10 minutes.

Tip in the coconut milk and water and continue to cook to allow the flavors to infuse, and the sauce to reduce a bit.

Season the sauce to taste before adding the fish in large, skinless chunks. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the fish is completely done.

At this point one can serve the dish, though if the sauce is a little thin one may opt to remove the fish from the sauce and turn the heat up for a little while.

Ensure it is served piping hot, sticky rice, mango slices, and fresh cilantro are optional.

Rabbit Mushroom Stroganoff

I love rabbit, and have been raising my own, for my own table, for years.

Rabbits are one of the most productive livestock animals there is, producing up to 6 times as much meat, on the same amount of feed and water, as a cow.

The meat has more (and more easily digestible) protein than chicken, contains the least amount of fat among all commonly eaten meats, is nearly cholesterol free, and the ratio of meat to bone is high…meaning there is more edible meat on a rabbit.

Rabbit has a mild flavor, comparable (but NOT the same as) chicken.

Plus, they’re quiet, and easy to raise (unlike goats…but let’s not open THAT can of worms…)

Here’s one of my favorite bunny recipes, that will make you turn your back on that tasteless store-bought yard-bird forever!

Rabbit Mushroom Stroganoff

1 whole rabbit (3-5lbs), dressed
3/4 cup flour, seasoned with garlic-salt and coarse black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Tbs. butter
4 cups of chicken stock
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup sour cream
1 lb white mushrooms, button or sliced
16 oz (uncooked) egg noodles.

Preheat oven to 350F

Cut rabbit into pieces, salt lightly on both sides (I do forequarters, hindquarters, and saddle) and toss in seasoned flour.

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large, deep casserole pan or dutch oven (something with a heavy lid). Add rabbit and fry until browned on both sides. Remove rabbit from pot.


Saute your mushrooms over medium heat with a pinch of salt until well browned. Remove the mushrooms and set them aside.

Add another tablespoon of butter, and saute onions until soft and just starting to brown.

De-glaze the pot (leave the onions in) with 1 cup of the chicken stock, scraping up all the browned bits. Then add the rest of the stock, and the rabbit pieces.

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Bring to a simmer, cover, and roast in the oven, covered, for 4 hours.

Cook pasta according to package directions, until just al dente. Drain and set aside, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

Remove the rabbit pieces to a platter and let it cool to touch, then strip all the skin and meat from the bones, in bite size pieces.

Add the sour cream, pasta water, and mushrooms to the cooking liquid in the casserole, and bring to a simmer.

Stir the noodles into the sauce, remove from heat, and let stand 10 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Notes: You can substitute the pasta for white rice, wild rice, faro, and it’s great over hot buttermilk biscuits, as well.

Southern Chicken & Dumplin’s

Southern Chicken & Dumplings

Having just moved from the farm to the suburbs, we’re only allowed a half-dozen chickens, which means…we have a few in the freezer now.

Circle of life, baby.

This is my favorite recipe for using a yard-bird that is a bit past her prime, and one that was handed down from my grandmother, who kept her own small flock for the family’s eggs and an occasional pot of soup.

This is classic Southern comfort food at it’s best. If you’re not wild about dumplings, you can leave them out, and ladle this soup over fresh-baked buttermilk biscuits, as well.

Grandma’s Chicken & Dumplin’s

  • 1 large broiler-fryer chicken, cut up
  • 2 celery ribs, sliced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp powdered sage
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1 Tbs grapeseed oil
  • 2 teaspoons chicken base
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • hot water
  • Southern style dumplings (recipe below)

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In a heavy-bottom pot, melt the butter with oil over medium heat, and brown the chicken pieces (including back) with salt & pepper. Remove chicken and set aside.

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Add celery, carrots, onion (Mire Poix), parsley, sage, and garlic to the pot, and saute until just softened, scraping up any browned bits left from the chicken.

Southern Style Chicken and Dumplings Recipe

Add chicken back into the pot, along with chicken broth and base; add enough hot water to cover chicken.

Home Chef Note: Unless specified, you always want to add heated liquid to a hot dish, otherwise the drop in temperature and adversely effect the cooking time and texture of the recipe.

Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours or until chicken is done.

Remove chicken and let stand until cool enough to handle, then remove skin from chicken and tear meat away from bones. Return meat to soup; discard skin and bones.

Taste for seasonings, and add more salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

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Southern Style Dumplings Recipe

Drop dumplings into simmering soup. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

Serve immediately.

 

Serves 6

Southern Style Dumplings Recipe

Southern Style Dumplings

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk milk
  • 3/4 cup homemade chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons oil

Combine all; mix well to form a stiff batter.

Drop by tablespoonfuls into simmering soup.

Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

Home Chef Note: Traditionally, the dumplings start out as round, ping-pong size balls. If you prefer something a little less dense, try making them about half that size, and flattening into 1/2 inch thick coins, before adding to the soup. This will result in more dumplings, that are less of a mouthful each.

 

Easiest way to Grill a Mess of Shrimp

Easy Grilled Shrimp

So, I needed to grill up a whole mess of shrimp appetizers (recipe below) for a cook-out yesterday. While shopping, I found these kabob baskets on a clearance shelf for $3 each (normally about $10 for a set of two on Amazon), and had an epiphany.

What I don’t like about grilling shrimp kabobs:

  • It takes up a lot of grill space.
  • You’re constantly turning and keeping an eye on a lot of individual pieces of shrimp.
  • I always forget to soak my skewers long enough.
  • Served on the skewer (the way I like) can leave for sooty fingers, which my clients aren’t wild about.

What I like about shrimp kabobs:

  • They’re awesome.
  • They’re easy to eat.
  • They help with portion control (ie: everyone gets some, without breaking the bank on shrimp gluttons!)

So, I had a thought…what if I grilled up a bunch of these beauties at a time, and THEN added them to the skewers for serving. Problem: now instead of a dozen or two skewers to keep track ff, I have a couple of hundred individual shrimp to keep turning and moving…and quickly!

Shrimp will overcook or burn quicker than it takes to say, “Oh, S***!” Especially when marinated with an oil or alcohol base.

The solution? The kabob basket!

Kabob basket for grilling shrimpI loaded 40 large shrimp per basket, set them on the grill, and cooked about 3 minutes per side, flipping baskets (40 servings at a time) just three time each.

The best way to grill a lot of shrimp
Photo by Kristen Renner

Open the baskets, a quick flip of the wrist, and all the shrimp were in the bowl ready to skewer!

Grilling shrimp with a kabob basket
Photo by Kristen Renner

The result? Enough appetizers to keep the whole crowd happy, in less than 20 minutes, AND I was able to work on other dishes at the same time!

Then, just pop a couple of the en of each clean skewer, spritz with some lemon juice, and sprinkle the whole platter with chopped parsley.

I will NEVER grill shrimp any other way again!

Chef Perry

If you like what I’m posting, please share! If you love what I’m posting, and want to help me feed the hungry, and teach at-risk and special needs kids to cook for themselves, please consider becoming a patron at my Patreon page!

Shrimp Salmoriglio
Serves 40 (2 skewers each)

  • 1/2 cup salted capers
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 6 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 lemons, zested and juiced
  • Coarse ground black pepper
  • 150 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • Salt to taste
  • Lemon juice for spritzing
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, minced

On a cutting board, finely chop the drained capers with the basil leaves and garlic.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, along with the lemon zest and lemon juice. Season the sauce with pepper.

Place shrimp in a large zip bag, pour in the marinade, seals and toss to coat. Let rest in the fridge 2-8 hours.

1 hour before grilling, remove from fridge and let sit on counter.

Light a grill, coals, etc

Drain the shrimp, and load as many as will fit into each kabob box, without packing them too tightly. Close the box.

Grill over high heat, turning once per side, until the shrimp are lightly charred and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side.

Remove the shrimp from the box and transfer them to a platter (or a bowl, if you’re going to skewer them, 2-3 per skewer). Sprinkle more pepper on on top (optional), a healthy handful of minced parsley, and serve.

Home Chef Note: You could easily change this up to a great “South of the Border” version, by swapping the capers an basil for chili powder and minced jalapenos, limes for the lemons, and cilantro instead of parsley!

Mexican grilled shrimp

 

How to tell when Artichokes are done

How to know when artichokes are done

My Facebook friend Anna asks:

How long should you boil artichokes? Mine always seen to come out either under-done or mushy. How can you tell when they’re just right? Thanks Chef!

My response:

Hey Anna, thank YOU for the questions! Everyone at my house are total artichoke fiends, lol, so I cook tons of ’em. While there are a lot of ways to prepare these beauties, boiling fresh artichokes is one of the original and classic methods, and how most restaurants still do it today.

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Make sure to pick ripe ones. California artichokes (buy American!) are available all year, but peak season is March through May and again in October. You want them to feel more like a softball than a baseball when you give ’em a squeeze.  You can also hold the artichoke next to your ear, and squeeze its leaves with your fingers. If you hear a squeak, the artichoke is extremely fresh, and a good one to buy.

Artichokes should feel disproportionately heavy for their size. This indicates that they still have plenty of natural moisture and will be packed with flavor.

Avoid any that have a lot of dark spots, dried/cracked leaves, or if the stem feels mushy or isn’t nice and green. Never store your artichokes in the fridge, or in a plastic bag, both will hasten spoilage. Some will disagree on the fridge thing, but my rule of thumb, after many years of professional cooking, is, if it ain’t refrigerated in the store, I don’t refrigerate it at home.

And I have to say it…my Dad, regardless of what restaurant he was working in, or how far in the weeds, always shouted, “You might’a choked Artie, but you ain’t gonna choke me!” whenever he dropped them in the pot. I do the same. Call it good mojo.

Anyway…

Here’s how I do it

  • Trim a quarter-inch off the end of the stem. You can chop off the top, or trim the individual leaves, as well, but I usually don’t go to the trouble.
  • Wash the artichoke just before cooking. Any earlier, and the excess moisture can increase spoilage.
  • In a pot large enough to hold all of the artichokes you’re planning to cook (you want them to have a little room, so don’t over-stuff the pot) bring salted water to a boil. You want enough water in there for the ‘chokes to float freely.
  • Cook on a high simmer, covered, for 30 minutes (medium-size) or 45 minutes for the really big ones.

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How to tell when artichokes are done

How to know when they’re done: The “Artichoke Poke Test”

You can tell that they’re done when the point a sharp knife goes into the artichoke base with very little resistance.

If it feels like you’re poking a hot baked potato, you’re good to go.

I let mine cool for 15 to 20 minutes (out of the water). When they’re still hot, but you can hold them in your palm for five seconds, you’re ready to eat!

Serve with lemon-butter, garlic-butter, or (like we do) with a big dollop of good old-fashioned Best Foods Mayo and black pepper. Dad liked them in the classic French style with hollandaise.

Artichokes with pepper mayo

Whatever you choose to dip them in…mmmmm….

Keep Cookin’,

Chef Perry
chefperryperkins.com