Photographers at Sunset

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Photographers catching the sunset on the beach in Santa Monica, CA. The Santa Monica pier is visible on the right.

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In which I make an old favorite

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It’s July, which means it’s too darn hot to put major effort into dinner so I made sausage and peppers. Sausage and peppers are a favorite precisely because it is an easy dish to make, hard to mess up, are tasty and work with just about any type of sausage you like. Saying that last bit, I used a mix of hot Italian sausage and chorizo this last time.

One change I made to how I usually make this is I added 1 cup of beer and zest from one lemon to the dish. I wanted to see how I could add a bit of zing and was pretty happy with the result. I also added a poblano pepper to the mix. So on to the ingredients.

5 links Italian sausage (or your favorite sausage, I used a mix of Italian and chorizo)
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
3-4 tbsp. light olive oil
2 large bell peppers, cut into strips (you can use which ever color bell peppers you like)
1 poblano pepper, cut into strips
1 tsp. of dried oregano
1 tbsp. of minced garlic
1 tsp. of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups marinara sauce
Zest from 1 lemon (optional)
1 cup beer (I used Saint Archer Blonde Ale) (optional, can sub water)

First, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan with a lid. Poke each sausage with a knife and brown the sausage in the hot oil. Brown the sausages on all sides, then remove the sausage from the pan and set aside.

Add the onion slices to the pan and cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Add the peppers, oregano, salt and pepper, red pepper flake, and garlic. Cook for about another 5-10 minutes. If the pan gets too dry, add a bit more oil.

Turn the heat down to medium-low, return the sausages to the pan, being sure to also pour in any accumulated juices from the sausage to the pan. Add the marinara sauce, beer, and lemon zest. Cover and cook for another 15-20 minutes, until the sausage has been fully cooked. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve.

Right there, you have a tasty dish you can have by itself, with pasta or polenta, or even put on a hot dog bun or hoagie roll. We just had ours with some roasted potatoes and a green salad. It’s easy, takes less than an hour to make, and a good deal of that less than an hour is just letting it simmer.

I don’t know if this really qualifies as a lazy cook recipe. I make it so often I can almost do it with my eyes closed, so to me, that’s pretty lazy, it doesn’t feel like real effort. It’s definitely an easy dish to make.

The down side of hot summer weather is I really don’t feel like cooking, let alone trying out new recipes, and this blog is suffering as a result, so it’ll be more photos than food for a little while.

Not your typical L.A. sight

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The common image of the Los Angeles river is of a concrete encased flood control channel that has a trickle of water, lots of graffiti, and the occasional film shoot. It wasn’t always that way, the river flowed wild before being paved in the 1930s. But there are places where nature has been brought back and you can find a beautiful view of the river and the trees. This view is near Lake Balboa Park at sunset. I caught it on a day where the sun was in just the right place and there were a few nice clouds to add some sky interest.

Saturday Dinner: I have a new cookbook!

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I have a new cookbook,, Heart & Soul in the Kitchen by Jacques Pépin, and I’ve been enjoying the read, looking at recipes and thinking to myself, “Oh, that looks easier than I thought,” or “I should make that.” Well, I finally stopped thinking that to myself and actually made something from the book, the recipe for chicken jardiniere. Though, if I’m being honest, what really got me to try out this recipe wasn’t just reading the book, but watching a video of Jacques Pépin making the dish, which showed me that it really wasn’t difficult to make.

I’m going to list the ingredients, them I’ll state how I deviated from it.

  • 2 1/2 ounces lean pancetta, cut into lardons (strips about 1-inch long and 1/2-inch thick)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 4 chicken legs (about 2 3/4 pounds), left whole or cut into 2 pieces each, ends of the drumsticks and skin removed (about 2 1/4 pounds trimmed)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup fruity dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 12 small red potatoes (about 8 ounces), peeled
  • 8 small baby bella or cremini mushrooms (about 5 ounces), washed
  • 12 small pearl onions (about 4 ounces)
  • 1 1/4 cups diced (1-inch) carrots
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • 1 cup frozen baby peas
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

So, did I follow this ingredient list exactly? No, but I didn’t make huge deviations. Instead of pancetta, I used thick-cut bacon. What can I say, it was already in the fridge. The recipe doesn’t call for slicing the mushrooms but I sliced mine. I used cornstarch to thicken the sauce instead of flour and subbed chicken stock for the water. These really aren’t major substitutions, I just point them out as ones that can be made without really changing the recipe. If you use cornstarch to thicken instead of flour, you don’t need as much, I used about half the amount of the cornstarch as the amount of flour called for.

I didn’t use fresh thyme, I used dried thyme, and you usually don’t need as much dried herbs as you do fresh since dried herbs generally have a more concentrated flavor, so I used about 1-1/2 teaspoons of dried thyme.

I didn’t bother to peel my potatoes. That’s just my preference, I like potato skins and I really didn’t want to do the extra prep work. There goes that lazy cook habit again. I also didn’t bother to chop off the ends of the drumsticks.

If you watched the linked video, he’s not kidding when he says peeling pearl onions is tedious. Could I have used a regular white onion chopped into chunks? Probably, but I decided not to make that particular change.

I also didn’t mince fresh garlic. They have these super convenient jars of minced garlic in the store, I love them, they make things so much easier and I don’t get garlic hands. Generally, one clove of garlic equals 1/2 a teaspoon, though it depends on how finely the garlic is minced, it can range from 1/4 to 1 teaspoon.

Just one more thing. I’m sure that if you want to do this with both light and dark meat, or even just white meat, for those who aren’t fans of dark meat, that wouldn’t be a problem. Also, if you don’t want to get chicken quarters but prefer to use all drumsticks or all thighs, nothing says you have to use quarters.

You’ll also need a very large pot or Dutch oven, one wide enough to place the chicken pieces on a single layer when you’re browning them.

The cooking: In your large pot or dutch oven, cook the bacon pieces over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the pieces are crispy. Remove the bacon pieces and set them aside.

Increasing the heat to medium-high add, the chicken to the pot. Cook the chicken in a single layer, turning occasionally until browned on all sides. If there isn’t enough bacon fat, add the oil. I had plenty of rendered bacon fat and didn’t need to add any more oil.

Sprinkle on the flour (or cornstarch), salt and pepper and stir to distribute the flour (or cornstarch). Add the wine and water (or chicken stock) and stir. Add potatoes, pearl onions, carrots, garlic, mushrooms (if using whole mushrooms) thyme and reserved bacon and mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring throughout. Reduce heat to low, cover and let cook for about 20-25 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and the liquid is reduced by about half. If you’re using sliced mushrooms, add them at this point and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Then add the peas and cook for about another 2 minutes.

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Once it’s all cooked, you can dish this out onto a large serving platter or onto individual plates. Once plated, sprinkle with the chopped parsley. I also highly recommend serving with crusty bread, because there will be sauce and that sauce is delicious.

Was this a good dinner? It was an extremely good dinner. Did we enjoy it? We sure did. Was this a difficult dish to prepare? No, it really wasn’t, but there is a bit of prep and all together it can take an hour to an hour and a half from start to finish. Did I save the chicken skin to make cracklins? No, I didn’t, and I should have. Next time I will, cracklins would have made a delicious garnish.

Saturday Dinner: The Further Adventures of a Lazy Cook

SoIMG_3895metimes, when you have a craving for particular something to make for dinner, it can be tricky to fulfill that craving while also trying to keep things quick and simple.

Well, last Saturday, I really wanted fish. And sausage. And mushrooms. I had no idea how I was going to put all those things together in a coherent meal while minimizing my time in from of a hot stove on a warm day. So, I consulted the Internet and the Internet told me to try a quick stew. Now, is stew an ideal warm weather dinner? Perhaps not, but it only took about 30 minutes and turned out to be a tasty dinner that satisfied those cravings.

So, first the fish. I used salmon. While I could have used other fish, like halibut or cod, the salmon just happened to be on special and, in addition to sometimes being a lazy cook, I’m also a frugal one. Now the sausage. The Internet suggested I use Italian sausage because the Internet seems to be in love with Italian sausage, but I just didn’t want to. I’d been using Italian sausage a lot lately and wanted something different, so I picked up some chicken and sun-dried tomato sausage. For mushrooms, I used the old reliable baby bella mushrooms.

On to the recipe. This made up enough for four, or enough for seconds if it’s just two of you and you’re both particularly hungry.

The ingredients:

4 (6 oz.) fish fillets, such as salmon or halibut
Salt and pepper to taste
4 sausage links cut into 1/2 slices
8 ounces of sliced mushrooms
2 cloves minced garlic
1 thinly sliced yellow onion
1 cup low sodium chicken stock
1 tsp. toasted fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. red chili flakes
1 (28 oz.) can plum or whole tomatoes, crushed with hands
1 (14 oz.) can whole artichoke hearts, drained and, if needed, cut in half
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
Olive oil

To toast the fennel seeds, heat them in a small saucepan until they begin to smell fragrant. Remove from heat.

Heat the oven to 400°. Lightly brush fish fillets with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 10 minutes on a foil lined baking sheet.

While the fish is baking, in a large pot or saute pan over medium heat, heat two tablespoons of olive oil, then add sausage, onion and garlic. Cook for about ten minutes, at which point the fish should be finished cooking, so check it for doneness. Add remaining ingredients, except the butter and parsley, to the pan and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Ladle the stew into bowls and top each bowl with one of the fish fillets. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with nice, crusty bread for dipping.

This dish took about 30-40 minutes to prepare, including prep time. There wasn’t a lot of time-consuming prep work, and it was extremely easy to make and lends itself to changing up, such as using different kinds of fish and sausage, leaving out the mushrooms or even adding some other vegetables, like olives (which I had meant to use but forgot to pick up). Or, you could even completely forgo fish and just use even more sausage. For me, this really was about satisfying some particular wants, and it more than did that.

With hot weather coming on the way, being a lazy cook is going to become a practical matter, not just a habit, so I’ll be looking for more quick dishes like this and might end up making a lot more fish, pasta, and maybe adding dinner salads to the mix. And I’ll likely make this again.

Saturday Dinner, or The Chronicles of a Lazy Cook

So, I wanted to make something simple, something that wouldn’t take much effort but would still be tasty. I settled on chicken, but most things I like to do with chicken smacked of effort. If I really didn’t want to do a lot of work in the kitchen, I had to up my lazy game.

So, I turned to the Internet for help, and the Internet did help. With just a bit of googling, I was reminded that I could simply toss some meat and veggies into a roasting pan, cook it for an hour or so, then take it out of the oven and have something easy and delicious that didn’t take much in the way of effort.

First things first. In addition to chicken thighs, I also got some turkey hot Italian sausage (I was avoiding pork for this dinner, but good ol’ pork hot Italian sausage is also an option. For that matter, other types of sausage could also work), a couple of bell peppers, a couple of onions, a couple of carrots, and a few small potatoes. I browned the sausage in a skillet, then cut the links into smaller pieces. Then I cut the veggies and potatoes into small pieces. I tossed the veggies, potatoes and sausage pieces into a bowl (including the sausage juices), seasoned it with salt, pepper, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and garlic powder and mixed it all together. I seasoned the chicken pieces separately with salt and pepper. I dumped the veggie/sausage mix into a roasting pan, placed the chicken on top, and put the pan into the oven, which was preheated to 450° F. I left it there, uncovered, for about an hour (more like an hour & 15 minutes, I was watching basketball and forgot the time) and, just like that, I had dinner.

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The first thing I realized while eating this, other than that it was very flavorful thanks to the sausage, was I wanted more sausage, so next time I make this, I might get the big package of sausage. But, otherwise, this was very good. And did I say I wanted to be lazy? Less than 30 minutes of prep time! How’s that for lazy? And since you’ll likely have leftovers, the lazy extends to the next day. Hello, lunch!

If I wasn’t determined to make as little effort as possible, I could have taken those juices that accumulated in the roasting pan and made some sauce. Perhaps taking the juices, adding Dijon mustard and a pat of butter and reducing it in a skillet, but maybe next time. That also gives me the idea that I could have added Dijon mustard to this when I was seasoning it, either to the veggie mix or just brushing some onto the chicken. Well, that’s an idea for next time, and I can be a real lazy cook sometimes so there will be a next time.

So, can this be done with boneless and skinless chicken? I guess so, but I wouldn’t put the chicken on top like I did here, I’d bury it in the veggies, maybe add a bit of water or chicken broth to help the chicken stay moist and tender. An idea if I want to cut a bit of fat and calories.

And, of course, you can do this with a whole chicken, but, just a reminder, carving a whole chicken goes against the goal of being lazy. 😄

Saturday Dinner Post: Catching Up, Part 2, Stuffed Chicken Edition

I’ve been listening to the Internet a lot lately, and the Internet told me that asparagus stuffed chicken breasts are awesome, so I did what the Internet told me and made asparagus stuffed chicken breasts.

So, I looked over the ingredients and discussed it with Brett. The recipe called for provolone cheese and Brett doesn’t care much for the idea of melted cheese with chicken and asparagus, so right there, I had to make adjustments.

The original recipe’s ingredients are:

Boneless and skinless chicken breasts
lemon zest
salt and pepper
asparagus stalks, trimmed
provolone cheese
garlic powder
paprika
olive oil

But, with cheese being a no-no for Brett, I improvised. The revised recipe:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half, leaving one side intact.
Lemon zest
Asparagus stalks, trimmed, 2-4 spears for each breast, depending on size
One slice of thick cut bacon, cut in half, cooked limp, not crispy.
Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper, to taste
paprika, to taste
garlic powder, to taste
(Optional) 1 slice of provolone cheese per chicken breast

Putting it together, I put half a slice of provolone cheese into my stuffed chicken breast and left it out of Brett’s.

First things first, preheat the oven to 425°. Cut the chicken breasts in half, leaving one side intact. Spread Dijon mustard on the inside, add the provolone cheese (or not, if you’re not one for melted cheese), add bacon piece, lemon zest, and asparagus spears. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Fold over, enclosing the filling.

Season the outside of the chicken with salt, pepper, and paprika. If needed, you can secure the breasts closed with either toothpicks or kitchen string.

Heat a large, oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat, add enough oil (I used light olive oil) to coat the bottom of the skillet. Cook the chicken for 3-5 minutes on each side, enough to brown the outside. Cover the skillet with foil, place it into the oven and cook the chicken for another 15 minutes, until the chicken is fully cooked.

Remove the chicken from the pan and let them sit for a few minutes. At this point, if you like, you can make a sauce from the accumulated chicken juices. I put the skillet back over medium-high heat, added the juices, Dijon mustard and a tablespoon of butter, and stirred until the sauce was smooth. If you don’t have enough juices, just use chicken broth. I tried the sauce, decided it didn’t need further seasoning and spooned it over the chicken.

IMG_3714Served with even more asparagus and some Yukon gold potatoes with bacon, and we had ourselves a very nice Saturday dinner.

This is another pretty easy recipe that’s not hard to tweak to your preferences. It’s fun, it’s tasty, it can be prepared ahead of time for a week night dinner. And, if I had left out the cheese and the bacon, I probably could have passed this off as a healthy recipe. 😉

 

Saturday Dinner Post: In Which I Attempt to Play Catch Up, Part 1

I haven’t posted in a while, but, then again, I’ve been cooking mostly repeats and the good old tried-and-true stuff that doesn’t usually make for very interesting reading.

However, there was one tried-and-true recipe I made that I think is shareable, it’s just the perfect thing for spring, and also has the extra added benefit of being easy, versatile, and suitable for anytime, not just weekends, but also as a quick weeknight dinner. And that recipe is salmon with veggies baked in parchment.

The basic ingredients for two servings are:

2 5-6 ounce salmon fillets, about 1″ thick
8-10 plump asparagus spears, trimmed (thin spears will overcook)
One zucchini, cut into small pieces
Cherry tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Dried dill weed
Olive oil
One lemon, sliced thin
Parchment paper

Preheat your oven to 450°. Tear off two pieces of parchment that are each large enough to hold one piece of fish, a serving of veggies plus a serving of asparagus and to fold over into packets. In a bowl, toss the zucchini and tomatoes with enough olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper. Do the same with the asparagus spears.

Lightly brush the parchment paper with a bit of olive oil, place one piece of salmon in the center of each parchment piece and season with the salt, pepper, and dill, place about 4-5 asparagus spears on one side of the fish and a serving of the zucchini/tomato mix on the other. Place 2-3 lemon slices on the salmon, then fold the parchment into packets. Place the packets onto a baking sheet, and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the fish is cooked through.

Once you remove them from the oven, be careful opening the packets, as a bunch of steam is likely to burst forth once you open them. If the salmon isn’t cooked to your satisfaction, you can just wrap it up again and pop it back into the oven for a few more minutes. And when you open up your packets, you get this lovely site.

And that is it. This is so easy. Altogether, this usually takes about 30-45 minutes to put together and cook. You can serve it hot in the parchment packet, or you can remove it from the packet and plate it up. I also made some roasted new potatoes with bacon to serve with it, for no other reason than the sudden desire for potatoes and bacon. Sans potatoes, this meal has the extra added benefit of falling into the healthy eating category. 👍

So, this is pretty basic, which means it’s pretty easy to change up. For one thing, you don’t need to use salmon. I originally wanted to make this with halibut, but the store was out of halibut. Previously, I’ve used tilapia fillets. You can use other seasonings, such as garlic, thyme, tarragon, or cayenne pepper. You can use other veggies like green beans, red onion, carrots, broccoli, and so on. You can squeeze a bit of lemon juice or add lemon zest or sprinkle in a tablespoon or two of white wine or chicken broth before wrapping up the packet. If I had gotten halibut instead of salmon, I planned to spread a thin layer of Dijon mustard onto the fillets. I suppose I could have done that with the salmon but decided against it.

What was the judgment? All attending (really, just me and my boyfriend) though it was very tasty. There is a reason, after all, why this is in the tried-and-true category. As the weather warms up and the appeal of standing over a hot stove goes down as the mercury rises, this is something that doesn’t keep you in the kitchen for a long stretch.

Well, this little blog has been positively neglected by me, and that’s not good, so I’ll try to do better. I think my next post will be for a recipe I tried that didn’t quite work. It wasn’t terrible, and I didn’t manage to completely mess it up, but it didn’t come out quite as well as I would have liked.

More work on the ol’ sauce game

I have a new philosophy of sauce: there is no such thing as too much sauce, but there is such a thing as not enough sauce delivery systems. I made sure to hold to that philosophy when making dinner last Saturday. Dinner was chicken with a mushroom sauce, and I didn’t just rely on the chicken to deliver saucy goodness, I also made some noodles to go with it.

Ooh, this sauce was so good. It was a reminder of why I love mushrooms so much. This sauce was good enough that the chicken wasn’t really needed, it would have stood up well on its own with just the noodles.

So, the carriers for the sauce were chicken breasts and egg noodles. Chicken breasts were simple, I just cut 2 boneless, skinless breasts in half, then cut the halves in half (since they were pretty gigantic chicken breasts), seasoned with salt and pepper, then browned them in the skillet with a bit of olive oil about 2-3 minutes a side until the chicken was cooked through, and set them aside when all sides were browned. The noodles were cooked in water with a cup of chicken broth added.

Boring parts over, now to the sauce.

I started with too many mushrooms, I got a 1 pound package of sliced mushrooms (the lazy option, since sliced and whole were the same price at the market). Over medium heat, I melted a couple of tablespoons of butter into the pan I cooked the chicken in, added the sliced mushrooms and one diced onion, and sauteed those until they turned that yummy brown. I then added a spoonful of minced garlic, thought about it for a second and added another spoonful and cooked that for another minute or two, then stirred in a tablespoon of corn starch. I seasoned with salt, black pepper, and dried thyme, then I added about 2 cups of chicken broth and a couple of big splashes of balsamic vinegar. Stir, stir, stir, then added maybe 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. I brought the sauce to a simmer, then added the chicken back to the pan and let it all simmer together for a couple of minutes.

This is one of those sauces where I never really bothered to measure how much I was using as far as seasoning goes, it’s all to taste. You want it creamier, add more cream. Love balsamic vinegar, add a bit more. Don’t like balsamic vinegar, don’t need to add it. Two tablespoons of butter not your idea of buttery, sneak in another tablespoon or two. Not a fan of chicken broth, well, I suppose vegetable broth will work just as well. And, of course, if you have fresh thyme, then that dried stuff can go spin. I love this sauce because you really don’t need to be exact and you can easily customize it to your preferences. Plus, well, it is mushrooms.

img_3384Anyway, I plated the noodles first, added some sauce, topped with a couple of the chicken breast strips, added more sauce, sprinkled some chopped parsley on top, and the mushroom sauce delivery system was all set. I added a side of asparagus sauteed in bacon fat and we had ourselves a pretty good dinner. And, as I mentioned earlier, this mushroom sauce is just plain tasty, everything else, pasta, chicken, steak, potatoes, bread, gigantic spoon, is just a servant to the mushroomy goodness.

Of course, this made enough for second helpings.

I’m behind on posts. There’s a jambalaya recipe I want to write about, yet another dish where the idea of measuring has never occurred to me.