Carrot top pesto

carrot pestoOne of my favorite things to eat is fresh pesto. There’s just something quite wonderful about the sharp, sweet taste of basil matched with the buttery flavor of nuts, deep saltiness of Parmesan cheese, and all held together with just the right twang of good olive oil. It’s good on pasta, makes a fine dressing for sandwiches — and doesn’t do all that bad as a spread for crackers. It’s versatile, and it’s delicious.

Recently, I picked up some lovely carrots from the Bernice Garden Farmers Market grown by the CANAS Victory Garden, and I noticed that they had some really lovely, long, feathery tops to them. Like many cooks, my first inclination with carrot tops is to toss them, but these looked so lush and green that I felt like I should find a use for them. I decided to use them in a pesto, and the result was a fantastic fresh version that was every bit as good as any I’ve ever made.

Carrot Top Pesto

  • 2 cups carrot tops
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup basil
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cups Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

In a food processor, pulse the carrot tops, garlic, basil, and pecans until they are chopped fine and beginning to form a paste. Add the grated Parmesan, salt and pepper (to taste) and olive oil and pulse again until everything is combined. Use your best judgement as to how coarse or fine you want everything chopped — and these ingredient amounts are all approximate, and can be adjusted for taste or amount of carrot tops you have to work with. Toss the pesto with warm pasta, or spread it on a turkey, bacon, and avocado sandwich (which is my personal favorite way to eat it). Happy cooking!

Citrus-soy glazed ham

20140413_175545In many places, the traditional food of Easter is lamb, served rare. And while we love good spring lamb, things work a little differently here in the South — our traditional Eastern meal is pork, ham in particular.

I found a nice Smithfield ham on sale the other day at the store, and figured that since I hadn’t made ham in nearly two years, I’d give it a go. I like a glaze on my ham that is only slightly sweet — no huge slices of pineapple to overwhelm the flavor of the meat here. To that end, I usually use citrus juice as a base for my glaze, along with some savory additions to bring balance. This glaze is incredibly easy and will impart a delightful taste to your Easter ham.

Citrus-soy glaze

  • 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice. Using fresh is important.
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Whisk the ingredients together in a bowl. During the last hour (or so) of baking, baste the ham with 1/2 of the marinade. In 15 minutes, use the rest, basting with the pan juices as well. Cook until glaze sets and the outside of the ham browns. Enjoy!

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New Orleans barbecue shrimp

01f05bede906d419b1ff03ad0b5fc53270a23e2929I came home the other night with a couple of pounds of fresh shrimp from Mr. Chen’s, thinking I’d clean them, grill them, and serve them simply with some rice. I was tired, and not in the mood to cook.

Then I discovered Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans BBQ Shrimp recipe.

The recipe isn’t hard, but there are a lot of steps to it. Trust me, though, going through the steps is completely worth it, because the resulting dish is a flavor explosion of delicious shellfish swimming in a decadent cream sauce that will blow your mind. This one’s a definite keeper.

Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans BBQ Shrimp (with annotations)

  • 0107cbf08695a44947d8acd8adef12ce2d36f3d6f5_000012-3 pounds shrimp. Clean their little poopers out.
  • 2 tablespoons of Creole seasoning
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onions
  • 2 tablespoons minces garlic
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 lemons, peeled and quartered
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives or green onions

Peel the shrimp, leaving only their tails attached (ours had the heads still on, so we peeled the tails and left the heads on. For sucking, naturally). Reserve the shells and set aside. Sprinkle the shrimp with 1 tablespoon Creole seasoning (we used Zatarain’s) and fresh cracked black pepper. Use your hands to coat the shrimp with the seasonings. Refrigerate the shrimp while you make the sauce base.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large pot over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the reserved shrimp shells, the remaining Creole seasoning, the bay leaves, lemons, water, Worcestershire, wine, salt, and black pepper. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Strain into a small saucepan. There should be about 1 1/2 cups. Place over high heat, bring to a boil, and cook until thick, syrupy, and dark brown, for about 15 minutes. Makes about 4 to 5 tablespoons of barbecue sauce base. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the seasoned shrimp and saute them, occasionally shaking the skillet, for 2 minutes. Add the cream and all of the barbecue base. Stir and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove the shrimp to a warm platter with tongs and whisk the butter into the sauce. Remove from the heat. Mound the shrimp in the center of a platter. Spoon the sauce over the shrimp and around the plate.

We served our shrimp with rice, although Emeril recommends serving it with biscuits. I think it would be pretty fantastic over egg noodles as well. This is a fantastic recipe from one of America’s great chefs, and it’s a little taste of Southern Louisiana you can do right at home. Happy cooking!

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Beer-braised pork shoulder

010d1a6ff0aae3d8680ae5f1ba5be9f3d8c33c4efcAfter a long, gloomy week that saw the people of Arkansas wondering if we’d ever see the sun again, we finally got a clear day — and even better, it was a Saturday. It had been some time since I trekked up to the Hillcrest Farmers Market, mostly because cold, cloudy weather brings me down to the point where I just want to stay inside under a blanket, preferably with a cat curled up next to me.

But this past Saturday was a perfect day for getting out and about. Sure, it was still a pretty cold morning, but with the sun out, I felt rather invigorated, and so I made my way up to the market at Pulaski Heights Baptist Church to see what I could see. As luck would have it, Freckle Face Farm was set up and ready to go with some bone-in pork shoulder cuts that I just couldn’t pass up. I’ve sung the praises of Freckle Face’s pork before, and since it had been awhile since I cooked up some really high quality local meat, I grabbed a two pound package to make for Sunday dinner. Now, a lot of folks use shoulder for pulled pork, and that’s certainly a wonderful thing to do; however, I lack a smoker, and pulled pork that hasn’t been smoked would have just been a crime against this particular cut of pork — so I decided to braise it in some beer, pot roast style.

Beer-braised pork shoulder

  • 01d53a8ffaf6746d210cd0137e577186d73bbe27812-4 pounds of pork shoulder. The particular cut I used was right at 2 pounds, and still had the bone in. In this day and age, most of our meat comes to us completely boneless, but I prefer to cook my meat bone-in whenever possible. The bone provides some nice collagen to your pan juices, giving them a more velvety texture — not to mention the marrow adds flavor like you wouldn’t believe.
  • 3 tablespoons oil, shortening, or lard for searing
  • 1-2 bottles of beer. Use a malty, low-hop beer. Abita Amber is fantastic for this purpose, as is Diamond Bear’s Irish Red. In a pinch, using a cheap mass-produced lager like Pabst Blue Ribbon is just fine, too. Save the IPAs for drinking, though — they’ll make your braising liquid too bitter.
  • 4 cups chicken stock. Store bought is fine, homemade is better.
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 2-3 large carrots, peeled and sliced into chunks
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Take your pork and pat it dry with a paper towel. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet until almost smoking, then sear the shoulder on both sides until you get a nice, dark crust (going heavy on the pepper makes this crust even better). Transfer the seared pork to a dutch oven and pour in one bottle of the beer and 3 cups of the chicken stock. Add the onions, garlic, carrots, thyme, and bay leaves. Cover with a lid and cook in a 350 degree oven for 2-3 hours, or until the meat is fork tender. Check the pot periodically to make sure there’s still enough liquid to keep the meat almost covered; add the reserved chicken stock and a splash of the extra beer if needed (go ahead and drink that other beer if not needed).

Once the meat is pretty tender, I like to remove it to a platter and strain all the vegetables and herbs from the braising liquid, reserving the liquid and tossing the veggies. Place the meat back into the dutch oven, then pour the braising liquid back in, and add potatoes and fresh carrots for a one-pot meal. You can eat those old vegetables, but most of their flavor has already been transferred to the liquid; adding fresh vegetables and cooking until they are tender will give you much brighter flavors.

I served my roast tonight with some honey-ginger glazed carrots and a fresh spinach and herb salad — I was lucky to come across some early spring carrots and spinach from Willow Springs Market Garden after I got the pork, and man were those fresh veggies good. The result was a meal that was almost entirely local, and quite entirely delicious. Happy cooking!

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Linguine with pink sauce

photo 1(8)It’s a cold night tonight, and even the cat is hungry for some comfort food. In her case, it was a bite of triple cream brie (she’s fond of dairy); in our case, it was a big bowl of pasta. I wasn’t in the mood for marinara or Alfredo, and instead opted to go for a kind of hybrid: tomato cream sauce. This is a rich, decadent sauce that clings well to noodles and imparts a tangy, buttery flavor to every bite. It’s also a lovely shade of orange-pink, something that makes it just as attractive to look at as it is delicious to eat. This is one of those dishes that tastes like it’s much harder to make than it is, perfect for impressing that someone special in your life. Unless that someone is my cat: she just wants brie.

Pink sauce

  • photo 2(10)One large can whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes with juice. In a pinch, you can use crushed tomatoes or tomato puree, but don’t use canned tomato sauce.
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut in half along the equator
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and red pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Place your onion halves face down in the butter and let them hang out for a bit, just until they start getting really fragrant. Add the minced garlic and cook for two minutes. Add your crushed tomatoes to the pot, and gently stir so that the onion halves are surrounded; add a pinch of salt and the wine. Allow this mixture to simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you like a chunky sauce, remove the onion halves and discard — your tomatoes are done.

For this version, we wanted a smooth sauce, so we removed the onions and let our sauce cool for a few minutes, then ran it through the blender. This does something else nice in addition to breaking up the chunks: it emulsifies the butter into the sauce, something your taste buds will thank you for. Once the sauce is smooth (or if you kept it chunky, pick up here) stir in the heavy cream and bring the pot back to a boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes until thickened, stirring regularly. Stir in a dash of red pepper and some more salt (if needed) and serve. This ain’t diet food by any means, but my goodness is it good. Enjoy!

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Making a hash out of everything

chuckIt pains me to admit this, but Jess and I are terrible when it comes to leftovers. Oh, sure, we always start off with the best intentions, swearing that we’ll eat those leftover peas, cold spaghetti, and other ephemera that wind up tucked into plastic dishes and stowed in the fridge. All too often, though, that’s where it ends — or rather, it ends with those same dishes being emptied into the garbage disposal after days of marinating in neglect behind the milk and the eggs.

It’s just me and Jess for the majority of our meals, and while I’ve become pretty adept at cooking for two over the years, there are still times when I make too much. Case in point: I found a good deal on a huge chuck roast at the market yesterday and decided to make one of our favorite dishes, beef bourguignon. It turned out great, and we ate our fill of the red wine-braised beef, but there was still quite a bit remaining. I put it in the fridge and swore that I’d do something with it — you know, for real this time.

So today, the conundrum: what to do with the beef. Jess recalled that her mom used to make roast beef hash out of their leftovers when she was a kid, and a couple of text messages confirmed that it wasn’t hard to make. A quick trip to Target for some pre-shredded hashbrowns (and some Twizzlers, but I digress) had us ready to make dinner. The result…was delicious. It’s not an attractive dish, but the taste is excellent.

Roast Beef Hash

  • photo 1(7)Two cups shredded or diced potatoes
  • One onion, diced
  • ~2 cups cubed roast beef
  • Pan sauce gravy. If you made gravy the day before with the first round of beef, use the leftovers — just thin with some water and re-heat. I used the beef stock/wine mixture I had left for a classic gravy: make a butter and flour roux, stir in the stock, stir until thickened.
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a non-stick skillet, saute your onions until they become opaque. Add the potatoes, and some salt and pepper, and stir to mix. Allow your potato and onion mixture to hang out for awhile — you’ll need to do some minimal stirring, but you want to give everything time to get a little browned and crispy.

When the potatoes have reached your desired crispiness, add in the roast beef and one cup of the gravy. Stir until mixed, then cook on medium heat until everything is nice and hot. The result is a wonderfully gooey dish that will satisfy with its hearty flavor. We served ours up with some steamed broccoli, and it was a nice meat-and-potatoes meal that served our leftovers nicely. Enjoy!

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Turmeric tea

Turmeric1Turmeric is a bright yellow spice from the root of the curcuma plant. It’s usually used in curries, although most people come into contact with it when it’s used as food coloring — bright yellow American mustards almost always use the spice.

But it’s the spice’s reputation as an anti-inflammatory agent that really got me interested in the stuff. Some years back, I had an extremely invasive procedure done to remove a tumor from the center of my spinal cord, and this has left me with some pretty annoying chronic pain. In addition to that, as I reach my mid-30s, I realize that I’m not as spry as I used to be, and that means more aches and pains when I push things too hard. Since I try not to rely on pain relievers, I’m always willing to try methods of pain relief that aren’t addictive — and in the case of this turmeric tea, the medicine goes down pretty easy.

Turmeric Tea (adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

  • photo 51/3 cup honey. I asked my followers on Twitter yesterday what the best kind of honey is available here locally, and many of them recommended K-Bee honey, and after trying it, I agree.
  • 3 teaspoons turmeric powder. I get mine from a local Chinese grocery store.
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Lemon (optional)
  • Black pepper (optional)

Combine your honey, turmeric, and cinnamon together in a mortar, working the mixture until it forms a smooth paste. Once you’ve made your paste, immediately transfer it to another container and wash your mortar and pestle thoroughly. Turmeric stains, so you don’t want to let it sit for too long or everything will be yellow.

To make the tea, take a heaping teaspoon of paste and dissolve it in 8 ounces of hot water. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon and a healthy amount of black pepper (trust me on the pepper) and enjoy a drink that is sweet, earthy, and nicely spiced. It’s a warming tea, and one that can help with digestive problems and general inflammation.

As a final note: the Japanese swear by turmeric-based drinks to prevent and recover from hangovers. I quit drinking awhile back, so I haven’t had the opportunity to put this idea to the test. One of our local herb and natural products sellers, Maison Terre, sells a hangover tea that has turmeric as an ingredient, so any of you interested in trying it should get some and let me know if it helps. For more health benefit claims about the spice, check out the turmeric page over on World’s Healthiest Foods. Happy cooking!

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White trash enchiladas

pbeerI’ve been known to cook fancy, and I’ve been known to cook trashy. This “recipe” is decidedly in the “trashy” column, but it’s so tasty that you might want to try it for yourself. Enchiladas aren’t exactly considered high-brow fare in even the best of times — and these little bundles of joy really take the cake for white-trash glory. They’re quick, they’re cheap, and they hit the sort of guilty spot that I just love.

White Trash Enchiladas

  • 2 cans chicken. Yes, cans. Canned chicken is found in the supermarket with all those other great white trash items — tuna fish, Vienna sausages, potted meat, and Spam.
  • 8 (or so) flour tortillas. Because you aren’t going to use traditional corn tortillas in a dish like this.
  • 1 block cream cheese.
  • 1 can green enchilada sauce. Old El Paso makes a fine version for this dish.
  • Shredded cheese
  • 1 lime, juiced (optional)
  • Chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, red pepper

photo 2(9)Open your cans of chicken, drain one of them. Glop them into a skillet and heat until the juice starts to boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the lime juice and as much seasoning as you want, going heaviest on the chili powder. Simmer this concoction until the liquid is almost gone, stirring frequently — you’ll want to kind of mush the chicken around with a spatula to get it nice and chopped.

Once the liquid has almost all boiled off, add the block of cream cheese and stir the dickens out of everything until you’re left with a mass of goo that doesn’t look all that great but tastes pretty good. Divide the goo onto the tortillas and roll them up. Place rolled tortillas into a baking dish, splash on the green sauce, then top with shredded cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and the edges of the tortillas begin to crisp. Serve on a paper plate. Enjoy!

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Pork belly steamed buns

IMG_0820 (587x640)The steamed bun with pork belly is the signature dish of David Chang, owner of the Momofuku restaurant group, Beard award winner, and all-around culinary badass. Chang didn’t invent the steamed bun, of course, but his take on the dish has certainly become one of the more famous dishes around the country in recent years.

Here in Little Rock, we’ve got our own steamed bun master, Justin Patterson of Southern Gourmasian. Justin’s steamed buns come with shredded pork shoulder, Balinese chicken, or braised beef short rib, and while I’ve never eaten the Momofuku buns, I’ve packed away enough of Justin’s to know that they’re something pretty incredible. So it takes chutzpah on my part to come along with a steamed bun post, doesn’t it?

Well, I didn’t do my pork belly exactly like David Chang, and I used store-bought buns, so I won’t try to say that what we did here is superior to anything. But they were pretty good, so I figured I’d share them with you.

Braised Pork Belly

  • IMG_08101-2 pounds pork belly. I’ve been getting mine from Mr. Chen’s on South University, but Hillcrest Artisan Meats also sells it. Belly is just a big slab of uncured bacon, and if you get yours with the rind still on, be sure to remove it.
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup white sugar

Mix your cup of salt with your cup of white sugar. Score your pork belly in a crosshatch pattern on the meaty side, then rub the salt/sugar mixture all over it. Discard the excess rub, and let the belly cure overnight in the fridge.

After the belly has cured, discard any juice that has accumulated, rinse the belly, and pat it dry. Brown the belly on all sides in a skillet until it has a nice golden color. Place the belly in a baking pan. Mix the red wine, soy sauce, and vinegar with the brown sugar and pepper flakes, then pour the mixture over the belly. Add enough water to the mix to just cover the belly (or if you have stock handy, use that). Heat your oven to around 400 degrees, cover the belly, and let it cook. Check the belly every half hour or so to make sure that there’s enough braising liquid to keep the belly almost covered. After a couple of hours, you can decrease your heat to around 350 and let the belly rock on until it’s fork tender.

Remove the belly from the pan, saving the braising liquid for another use (it makes a great addition to beans or soup). Slice the pork belly thin, and serve on steamed buns with hoisin sauce and simple pickles — just slice some cucumbers thin, sprinkle them with salt and sugar, and let them sit for an hour or so in the fridge. Enjoy!

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Mulled wine

IMG_0491The cold weather holidays are our favorite time of the year — mostly because of all the fun ways there are to keep warm. Perhaps the greatest of all these methods is a large pot of mulled wine, a spicy, fragrant beverage that’s great for sipping on those days when heavy clothes and a hot fire just aren’t cutting it. Spiced wine takes all those great aromatic ingredients we love about the holidays like cinnamon, anise, and clove and combines them into a something that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

We’ve made mulled wine in a number of ways, but our favorite recipe is adapted from the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten. This recipe is full of great flavor, and it isn’t so strong that you need worry about indulging yourself in a cup or two — because after the first taste, I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

Mulled wine

  • photo 2(8)1 bottle of red wine. Use something like a Cabernet Sauvignon here, and don’t break the bank buying it. Because of all the tasty stuff you’re going to add to the pot, the drink won’t suffer due to cheaper wine.
  • 4 cups apple cider
  • 1/4 honey or simple syrup
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 4 star anise
  • 1 orange, zested and juiced

Mix all ingredients in a large stock pot. Bring the pot to a light boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour into a mug through a tea strainer and garnish with a twist of orange or a cinnamon stick. This recipe is more like a list of suggestions, so adjust your spices to include whatever it is you like — a little allspice, nutmeg, or cardamom can all be good additions to the pot. Enjoy responsibly — which means making sure not a drop is wasted. Happy cooking!

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