RoTel Cheeseburger Pasta

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You know those days when it’s time to make dinner and you got nothin’? You open the fridge… nothing.  You open the pantry… nothing. You even open the freezer hoping that in some moment of brilliance you made extra of something else and… nothing.  This recipe is a result of one of those days.

It’s like a “Chopped” Challenge – how do you take the odds and ends of what is in your kitchen and make a dinner? The initial prep went something along these lines:  the ground beef was already defrosting in the sink.  I see enough pasta in the pantry for a dinner, and that can of RoTel is calling to me.  Cheese, of course, makes everything better so we can work with that.

The first attempt was okay, not stellar, but I wrote it down and we played with the portions and flavors a bit until we had it – RoTel Cheeseburger Pasta.

And wouldn’t you know it?  It’s become a family favorite!


RoTel Cheeseburger Pasta

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • ½ box linguine, spaghetti, or any pasta
  • 1 can RoTel Tomatoes
  • ½ cup diced onion
  • 2 garlic cloves – minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 8 oz. cheddar cheese
  • 2-3 T chopped pickled jalapeno 
  • handful cilantro, chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Bring a pot of salted water up to a boil and cook the pasta until just shy of al dente, about 6-7 minutes.  You want it to have a pretty decent bite to it still, a healthy “chew”, as it will continue to cook in the sauce as it bakes and you don’t want it to become gummy as it bakes.  I like the linguine for this dish, the flat noodles hold the sauce really well.  However, you can use spaghetti, or really any pasta shape you like.  Drain the pasta well and set it aside when it is ready.

Brown the ground beef with the onions and garlic.

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When the veggies begin to soften, add the RoTel tomatoes and continue to cook to thicken and evaporate the extra juices.

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As the meat cooks, melt the butter in a saucepan.  Whisk in the flour to form a paste and then slowly add in the milk, whisking continuously to avoid lumps.

Whisk until the sauce is thickened then add the cheese.  Continue to stir until the cheese is melted into a smooth sauce.

Combine the ground beef, cooked pasta and cheese sauce together – I just remove the beef skillet from the heat and work it all together in the pan.

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Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish.  Add the cilantro, if using, and chopped jalapenos. Cilantro is one of those things, right?  You either love it or hate it? I’m firm in the “love” category and think that it adds a little brightness to the dish.  If you don’t care for it, or just don’t have any on hand tonight, simply skip it.  Chopped green onions or chives would be nice here as well.  If you happen to have a spicy can of RoTel tonight, you may skip the chopped jalapenos – this part is totally to your liking.

Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

This is a great place to stop and either chill or freeze.  You can stick this casserole in the fridge to cook within the next 24 hours or so, or let it cool and freeze the dish for future baking.

Bake the casserole for 20 minutes, or until it starts to bubble and brown.  From chilled, you’ll bake the dish for about 40 minutes.

Let the dish sit a few minutes before serving.

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What’s your throw-together dish that’s become a family favorite?


Full Recipe

RoTel Cheeseburger Pasta

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • ½ box linguine or spaghetti
  • 1 can RoTel Tomatoes
  • ½ cup diced onion
  • 2 garlic cloves – minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 8 oz. cheddar cheese
  • 2-3 T chopped pickled jalapeno
  • handful cilantro, chopped (optional)
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Grease a 9×13 casserole dish.

Cook the pasta until just shy of al dente, about 6 minutes – it will finish cooking when it is baked.

Rinse well in a strainer.

Brown the ground beef with the onions and garlic.

Add the tomatoes.

Melt the butter in a saucepan.

Whisk in the flour.

Slowly add the milk and whisk until thickened.

Add the cheese and stir until melted.

Combine the ground beef, pasta and cheese sauce together.

Add the cilantro and jalapenos.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour mixture into the prepared casserole dish.

**At this point, you can cool down the dish and refrigerate until cooking or freeze for future baking**

Bake for 20 minutes until it starts to bubble and brown.

**From chilled – bake for 40 minutes**

Mexican Butter-Stuffed Chicken

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I’ll start this post with a warning:  this recipe is not a quick one to prep.  It’s not difficult to put together but it does involve a lot of “chill time” before cooking.  You can, however, prep and freeze the chicken ahead of time for a quick mid-week cook!  I’ve noted in the recipe below the best place to pack up and freeze for future cooking.

Another warning: slightly mushy story about this recipe coming up.

Will and I love to have friends over for dinner.  We love to plan a full dinner from appetizers to dessert, usually having guests contribute parts of the meal, and enjoy some wine and bourbon along the way.

One Friday night mid-June, we had some friends over for dinner.  We had made the butter-stuffed chicken before and thought it was a good dish to prep ahead of time and easily cook for a dinner party. Dinner was delicious and we went outside to enjoy the night and continue conversations.  Everyone was settled and Will brought out a wine bottle to refill glasses as needed.  He looked around, said “Now that everyone has a full glass…”, dropped down to one knee on the deck of our back porch and pulled out what instantly became my most favorite ring ever.

There was nervous laughter on my part, excited exclamations from our friends, that super-cute smile of Will’s and then a very firm “YES!” from me. Champagne was popped and thus began our year of wedding prep and life of marital bliss.

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I’ve said since this day that when we move out of this house, I’m taking with me the board that Will’s knee was touching on June 15, 2012.  We’ll serve Mexican Butter-Stuffed Chicken for dinner the night the board finds its new home 😉


Mexican Butter-Stuffed Chicken

  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 poblano, roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • ½ red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 tablespoons cream cheese, cubed and softened
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ teaspoon minced fresh lime zest
  • four boneless skinless chicken breast, 6 to 7 ounces each
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cups panko

Place the onion, poblano, jalapeno, red bell pepper, garlic, cumin, oregano and coriander in a food processor. Pulse everything together until all the veggies are a fine dice.

I love my food processor as it cuts down chopping and mixing time and effort in many situations.  We have both a 3.5- and a 7-cup size and they both get a workout frequently!  Don’t have a food processor handy?  Chop all the veggies into a fine dice from the start – since this is part of the filling inside the chicken roll-up you just want small, fairly equal sizes so that it stuffs and stays inside the chicken well.

Take one tablespoon of the butter and melt it in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute the veggie mixture in the butter, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.  Cook the mixture until all the moisture from the veggies evaporates – about 15 minutes or so.  Remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool a bit as you move on to the next step.

Mash the cream cheese and remaining 4 tablespoons of butter together. Mix in the cilantro and lime zest.  Stir in the veggie mix then taste to check for seasoning.  Add a little salt and pepper, if needed.  Place the butter in the fridge to chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

While the butter is firming back up, prepare the chicken breasts.  Place one chicken breast inside a resealable plastic bag with just about 1 teaspoon of water inside of it – the water helps the chicken to not stick to the bag as much.  Pound the chicken breast to 1/8 – 1/4 inch thick with the smooth side of a mallet.  You can also use the bottom of a heavy skillet or pan to pound the chicken down.  Repeat this with all four chicken breasts.

Once the butter if firm, divide it into quarters. Place one quarter of the butter in the center of each pounded chicken breast. Fold one end over the filling, tuck the sides of the chicken in, then continue rolling until the filling is covered.  Tightly wrap the stuffed chicken in plastic wrap and repeat the process with the remaining breasts and butter.

Chill the wrapped chicken at least one hour or as long as overnight.  If you are in a little more of a hurry, pop the wrapped chicken into the freezer until just firm.  You want the chicken breasts firm around the filling so that when they cook the chicken stays together without having to secure the meat with toothpicks.  I can never find all those toothpicks after cooking…  😉

Season the flour with salt and pepper.  Unwrap the chicken then dredge the roll-up in the flour.  Dip the roll-up into the egg, then roll in panko, pressing the panko into the chicken to coat it well.  Wrap the breaded chicken in plastic wrap again and chill to set the coating at least one hour, up to three hours.

** This is a great point to freeze any roll-ups that you don’t want to cook the same day **

Heat your oven to 450.

Heat about 1/2-inch of canola or vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  You want the oil to be about 375 degrees.  I don’t like to drag a deep-fry thermometer out so here are a couple ways to check oil temp without one:

  • Stick the handle of a wooden spoon, or use a chopstick, into the oil.  If the oil starts steadily bubbling, the oil is ready for frying.  No bubbles – keep heating.  LOTS of vigorous bubbles – let the oil cool a bit.
  • Drop a 1-inch square of bread in the oil.  If it takes about 60 seconds to brown the oil is at 365.
  • Drop a single kernel of popcorn into the oil. The kernel will pop as the oil reaches 350-360 degrees.

Fry the stuffed chicken, a couple at a time to not overcrowd the pan, until browned on all sides, about 5-6 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a rack set over a baking sheet and continue to fry/brown the rest of the chicken.  Place the rack with all the chicken breasts into the oven.  Roast the chicken until cooked through, about 18-20 minutes.  This is where you do want to grab a meat thermometer – when done, the chicken should register at 150-155.

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Let the chicken rest a couple minutes before slicing and serving so that the stuffing has a chance to settle a bit – if it is too hot when you slice the lovely juices will run out and you’ll end up with a messy, drier chicken breast.

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The stuffing can be changed up several different ways to swap out the flavors.  Simply leave the butter/cream cheese base the same and mix up the veggies – maybe a little drained spinach and feta?  Green bell pepper and mushrooms?  Sweet cherry peppers and olives?  How would you change it up?


Full Recipe

Mexican Butter-Stuffed Chicken

  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 poblano, roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • ½ red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 tablespoons cream cheese, cubed and softened
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ teaspoon minced fresh lime zest
  • four boneless skinless chicken breast, 6 to 7 ounces each
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cups panko

Place onion, poblano, jalapeno, red bell pepper, garlic, cumin, oregano, and coriander in a food processor.

Process until everything is a fine dice.

Sauté vegetable mixture in 1 T butter over medium-high heat, season with salt and pepper.

Cook until moisture evaporates, about 15 minutes.

Set aside to cool a little.

Mash cream cheese, 4 tablespoons butter, cilantro and lime zest together.

Stir in veggie mix.

Season with salt and pepper.

Chill until firm, about 30 minutes, then quarter.

Pound chicken breast to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick one at a time inside a resealable plastic bag with 1 teaspoon water using the smooth side of a mallet.

Stuff chicken breast by placing a quarter of the filling in the center of each pounded breast.

Fold the end over the filling tucking the sides then continue rolling until the filling is covered.

Tightly wrap the stuffed breasts in plastic wrap and repeat stuffing and wrapping with remaining breasts.

Chill breasts at least one hour or as long as overnight, or freeze just until firm.

Season the flour with salt and pepper.

Dredge the chicken in seasoned flour, then dip into egg, then roll in panko, pressing to coat.

Wrap the breaded breasts in plastic wrap and chill to set the coating at least one hour or up to three hours

**Freeze any wrapped chicken breasts you do not wish to cook today**

Heat oven to 450.

Fry the stuffed breasts in ½ inch of canola oil heated to 375°, until browned on all sides, about 5-7 minutes.

After browning, transfer breasts to a rack set over a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Roast stuffed breasts until an instant read thermometer inserted into the chicken registers 155°, 18-20 minutes.

Grillades

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Confession: I’m a little obsessed with Tabasco products right now.

Will and I made an escape last week to Lake Charles.  It’s a favorite quick getaway for us, typically involving a little gambling, floating a lazy river and a visit to our favorite restaurant.  This time, we also included a jog over to Avery Island to tour the Tabasco Visitor Center and Factory.  I’d never been and it had been quite some time since Will had visited.  It also just happens to be the 150th anniversary of the brand!

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We started in the museum and then wandered through five different buildings on the self-guided tour, learning all about how Tabasco products are made and distributed.  Did you know that the peppers picked when the match the exact color red of the  ‘le petite baton rouge’ and then aged in white oak barrels for up to three years?

After the tour, we had lunch at Restaurant 1868 and toured the neighboring Jungle Gardens. If you have never visited Avery Island and the opportunity presents itself, check it out!

We most definitely hit up the gift shop after all the touring and I snagged a copy of the Tabasco cookbook (cookbooks, in my humble opinion, often make the best souvenirs). As we flipped through the recipes, knowing something Tabasco was in our foodie future, one recipe really caught our eyes.  Grillades.

Grillades (get your Cajun on and pronounce it “gree-yahds”) is a traditional Creole breakfast specialty of thin-sliced veal or beef braised in a tomato-based gravy until fork-tender and served with grits or spoonbread. Historically,  the dish is made, refrigerated overnight, then reheated and served the next day.  However, there’s no definitive history of the dish, no distinct origin or starting point.  The word sounds French, but there is not really a literal translation of the dish.  Regardless, grillades and grits continue to be a tradition at many a Sunday brunch in Louisiana.

So we tweak the recipe just a little by using cubes of chuck roast, swapping the typical green bell pepper for Hatch peppers and upping the amount of Tabasco just a bit.

Because, you know, Tabasco is my life right now 🙂


Grillades

  • 2 pounds boneless chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 T vegetable oil
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 ½ cups chopped poblano/hatch peppers (about 4 Hatch, 2-3 poblanos)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ¾ cup beef broth
  • ½ cup red wine
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ½ tsp Tabasco
  • 3 T fresh chopped parsley

Season the chuck roast cubes with salt and pepper.  Because this was a post-trip cook for us, we used Avery Island salt, freshly ground black pepper and the Tabasco pepper pulp to season the beef.  The pulp is really interesting – it’s what is left behind after the peppers and salt come out of the aging barrel, is mixed with vinegar and pressed.  It has the spice of the pepper and a hit of the vinegar that makes it Tabasco sauce.

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In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, heat about 2 tablespoons of the veggie oil.  Work in batches so that you don’t crowd the pot and sear the meat on all sides.  As it is browned, remove the beef from the pot and set aside.

When the beef is browned, add the remaining veggie oil and the flour to the pot.  Stir the flour over medium heat for about 30 minutes to make a dark brown roux.  The last roux we made was for the Etouffee and we stopped that one at a “peanut butter color”.  This one goes further – to a nice, dark, chocolate brown.

Add the onion, the peppers and garlic. Cook for about five minutes, stirring often, until the veggies are soft.

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So, I know that in Creole cooking “the trinity” involves green peppers.  But… it’s Hatch pepper season and we had some at home, so why not use them? Just a heads up, they do provide a little extra heat to the grillades.

Add the tomatoes and thyme.  Cook for another three minutes or so, stirring often.

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Add the beef broth and red wine (you know the cooking-with-wine rule by now, yes?).  Stir well for several minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

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Return the meat to the pot and stir in the salt, bay leaf, Worcestershire and Tabasco.

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Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for an hour and a half.  Stir occasionally, until the meat is very tender.  Trust me, the time spent on this dish is worth it!

Remove the bay leaf and stir in the parsley, reserving some for garnish.

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So this is where you would typically let the dish cool, then store it in the fridge overnight.  We completely ignored that and served the grillades up with cheese grits.

Remember the Grits and Greens Casserole from a while back?  This would also be amazing here!

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Will and I plated a little differently… but both completely enjoyed this food souvenir. What’s one of yours?


Full Recipe

Grillades

  • 2 pounds boneless chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 T vegetable oil
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 ½ cups chopped poblano/hatch peppers (about 4 Hatch, 2-3 poblanos)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ¾ cup beef broth
  • ½ cup red wine
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ½ tsp Tabasco
  • 3 T fresh chopped parsley

Season the beef with salt and pepper.

In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat 2 T of the oil.

Working in batches, add the meat and brown well, removing each batch to a warm plate.

Add the remaining 2 T oil and the flour to the pot.

Stir over medium heat for about 30 minutes to make a dark brown roux.

Add the onion, Hatch/poblano peppers and garlic.

Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, or until soft.

Add the tomatoes and thyme and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.

Add the broth and the wine.

Stir well for several minutes, scraping up any bits form the bottom of the pot.

Return the meat to the pot and stir in the salt, bay leaf, Worcestershire and Tabasco.

Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1 ½ hours, or until the meat is very tender, stirring occasionally.

Remove the bay leaf.

Stir in the parsley, reserving some for garnish.

Serve with grits right away -or- let cool, refrigerate overnight and reheat to serve with grits the next day.

Shortbread Carmelitas

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Have you ever had a Carmelita?  Typically, a Carmelita is a soft oatmeal cookie stuffed with caramel and chocolate.  While that is pretty darn tasty… shortbread takes the cake, oops – I mean the cookie bar, here. It’s a brown sugar pecan shortbread, giving the Carmelita a nutty little update.  I also can’t resist adding a little salt to the caramel sauce in the middle of the bar.  I tend to think salted caramel is the stuff dreams are made of, though.

I hope you enjoy my take on Carmelitas!  What’s your favorite cookie bar?


Shortbread Carmelitas

  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup toasted pecans
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 sticks/1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 40 caramel squares unwrapped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt (for salted caramel sauce)
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Extra chocolate chips for topping

Preheat the oven to 350.

Line an 8×8 pan with foil, coming up the sides of the pan so you can grab and lift the bars out of the pan after cooling.  Spray the foil with nonstick spray.

In a food processor, grind together the toasted pecans and flour. Add the sugar, salt and cold cubes of butter and pulse to fine crumbs.

Keep pulsing until the dough starts to come together.  Don’t process so long that the butter starts to warm up too much and the dough is overworked – you want a soft, crumbly dough.  If you don’t have a food processor handy, or just enjoy the workout, you can also mix the dough in a bowl using two knives or a pastry cutter.

Press about two-thirds of the dough in an even layer in prepared pan and use a fork to prick little holes all over the top of the dough.

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Bake until lightly golden brown and not completely set, about 12-15 minutes.

While the dough bakes, starting mixing up the carmel sauce. In a microwavable bowl, combine the unwrapped caramels and cream. Microwave for 4 minutes, stirring every 60 seconds, until the sauce is smooth and easy to stir.  Add 1/2 tsp salt and stir.

Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle 1 cup chocolate chips over the shortbread. Carefully pour the caramel sauce over the chocolate.

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Crumble the remaining shortbread mixture over the top.

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Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned and center is set. After taking the bars out of the oven, sprinkle the reserved chocolate chips over the top and let it sit for a couple minutes. Once the chocolate chips are softened a bit, gently take a knife and streak the chocolate across the top of the bars.  

I’m not so fancy with the chocolate on top of my Carmelitas.  Fancier people might melt down the reserved chocolate chips and then drizzle the melted chocolate across the top in a nice design.  You do you 😉

Let bars cool completely in the pan before slicing so the caramel and chocolate will set.

Pro tip:  these Shortbread Carmelitas can also be placed in the fridge to cool quickly.  They are also delicious cold!

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Full Recipe

Shortbread Carmelitas

  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup toasted pecans
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 sticks/1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 40 caramel squares unwrapped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt (for salted caramel sauce)
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Extra chocolate chips for topping

Preheat oven to 350.

Line an 8×8″ pan with nonstick aluminum foil and spray lightly with cooking spray.

In a food processor, grind together the toasted pecans and flour.

Add the sugar, salt and butter and pulse to fine crumbs.

Pulse a few more times until some of the crumbs start to come together, but don’t overprocess; the dough should be somewhat crumbly.

Press about two-thirds of the dough in an even layer in prepared pan.

Prick dough all over with a fork.

Bake until lightly golden brown and not completely set, about 12-15 minutes.

While it bakes, make the caramel sauce.

In a microwavable bowl, combine the unwrapped caramels and cream.

Microwave for 4 minutes, stirring every 60 seconds, until the sauce is smooth and easy to stir.

Add 1/2 tsp salt and stir.

Remove pan from the oven and sprinkle 1 cup chocolate chips over the shortbread.

Carefully pour the caramel sauce over the chocolate.

Crumble remaining shortbread mixture over the top.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned and center is set.

Sprinkle reserved chocolate chips over the top and let sit for a couple minutes.

Gently take a knife and streak the melted chocolate across the top of the bars.

Let bars cool completely in the pan before slicing so the hot caramel and chocolate will set.

Mexican Pesto Pasta with Shrimp

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I love a good pesto.  They are packed with bold flavor, easy to pull together and completely customizable to any recipe theme.

A basic pesto is basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan and olive oil.  You can’t go wrong with the classic, but why stay there? You could swap the basil for parsley, kale, spinach, collard greens or cilantro as we have here. Pine nuts can be pricey and a little more difficult to locate than their more common counterpart – walnuts, always a good substitute in a pesto. I’ve played around with a few different versions, I’m sure  you’ll see more recipes sneak in on this blog, but this one has quickly held it’s place at the top of my list.  The pepitas and cilantro play together nicely for a light summer dinner when paired with the angel hair pasta and shrimp tossed in cumin and lime.

Have you ever played with pesto? What’s your go-to combination or favorite flavor find?


Mexican Pesto Pasta with Shrimp

  • 1 cup raw pepitas
  • ½ cup raw pecans
  • 2 bunches cilantro
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • EVOO
  • ¼ – ½ cup half and half
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1-2 tsp cumin
  • 1 lime, zest reserved
  • Angel hair pasta
  • 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup white wine

Start by making the pesto.

*First a note about the nuts used in this pesto: Pepitas are just pumpkin seeds. I was able to locate them, both raw and roasted & salted, in the bulk section of my local grocery store.  If you can’t locate pepitas, this pesto is just as tasty with all pecans or a mix of pecans and walnuts.

You want to toast the pepitas and pecans to develop their nuttiness a little and make for a more flavorful pesto.  Starting with raw nuts that haven’t been toasted or salted yet helps you to control those elements as you cook. To toast the nuts, simply place them in a dry skillet over medium heat.  Stir the nuts every few minutes, keeping close by – you’ll know the nuts are ready to pull when you can smell them!  Don’t leave them too long after you catch their aroma, they can quickly go too far and taste burnt.

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Place the toasted nuts in a food processor and add the cilantro, garlic and parmesan.

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Stream in the olive oil (EVOO) with the food processor on low until the pesto is a paste to the consistency of your liking.  I prefer the pesto to be well-chopped and more on the thick side than a normal thinner pesto before adding the half-and-half.  Taste the pesto and add salt, freshly ground pepper and parmesan, as needed.  If you want to kick it up a bit, this would be a good time to add in red pepper flakes.  With or without the red pepper flakes, a touch of granulated sugar, up to about a teaspoon,  will help balance flavors and bring your pesto together.  Play with the flavors a bit until you get what you are looking for!

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Place the pesto in a bowl.  Stir in the half-and-half and check the seasoning again,  adjusting if necessary.  Set the pesto aside as you prep the shrimp and cook the pasta.

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Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add a healthy amount of salt to the water – this is your chance to flavor the pasta itself.  Cook the angel hair pasta to al dente.

Season the prepared shrimp with the cumin, salt, pepper and lime zest.  If you are not quite ready to cook the shrimp, hold off on adding the lime juice until right before they are ready to hit the pan.  Citrus juice will ‘cook’ seafood as it sits together (think: ceviche) and this is not quite what we are going for here.  We want the lime juice to flavor the shrimp as it sears instead.

Saute the shrimp in the butter, a couple minutes per side. When cooked, remove the shrimp to plate and set aside.

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Deglaze your pan with the white wine.  You can use any white wine here… just remember this one rule:  cook with wine you would drink.  Reducing the wine intensifies the flavor, so if you wouldn’t drink it, you shouldn’t eat it 😉  Tonight, I’m drinking/eating Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc – I tend to enjoy any varietal from the Joel Gott family and they are reasonably priced and easy to find in my grocery store.

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Once the wine has reduced a bit and you have stirred up all those tasty brown bits from the bottom of the pan, add the cooked and drained pasta to the skillet.  Toss it around to coat the pasta with the pan sauce.

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Turn off the heat source and stir in the creamy pesto, a little at a time, until the pasta is coated and to your desired consistency.  I typically work in 1 1/2 – 2 cups of the pesto.

*Storage tip for leftover pesto: To store any remaining pesto in the fridge, place the pesto in a sealable container and smooth over the top.  Cover the entire top of the pesto with EVOO, place the lid on the container and store in the fridge for 3-4 days.  You can also freeze the pesto at this point.  The EVOO protects the pesto from browning, leaving it that vibrant green for your next cooking adventure.

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Top the pesto pasta with the cooked shrimp.  Sprinkle on extra parmesan and chopped cilantro, if desired, and enjoy!

*To change it up and enjoy your grill in the summer:  a nice update to this recipe would be to grill the shrimp for an added char to the shrimp.  Cut back a little on the garlic in making the pesto and then saute some fresh, chopped garlic in the 1-2 tablespoons of  butter in a skillet.  When toasted, add the wine to deglaze and follow the original recipe from there!

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Full Recipe

Mexican Pesto Pasta with Shrimp

  • 1 cup pepitas
  • ½ cup pecans
  • 2 bunches cilantro
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • EVOO
  • ¼ – ½ cup half and half
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1-2 tsp cumin
  • 1 lime, zest reserved
  • Angel hair pasta
  • 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup white wine

Make the pesto:

Toast the nuts in a dry skillet.

Place the toasted nuts in a food processor and add the cilantro, garlic cloves and parmesan.

Stream in EVOO as you pulse until the pesto forms a paste to the consistency of your liking.

Season with salt, pepper and more parmesan, if desired. (adding a little sugar will balance out the blend)

Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the half and half to desired texture and check for seasoning again.

Make the pasta:

Boil pasta in salted water to al dente.

Prepare the shrimp:

Season the prepared shrimp with cumin, salt, pepper, lime and lime zest.

Saute in butter, a couple minutes each side.

Remove shrimp from pan, set aside.

Deglaze the pan with white wine.

Toss the pasta in the pan to coat with sauce.

Remove the skillet from the heat.

Add the creamy pesto, slowly to desired thickness, and toss.

Top with cooked shrimp and serve.

Mango Jalapeño Pork Tenderloin

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Summertime = grill time. Just about every night we can step out into our backyard and if our grill isn’t fired up, we can smell another one somewhere in the neighborhood. The smells of summer!

We like to keep our grilling recipes pretty simple.  Case in point, this tenderloin is an easy,  but extremely flavorful option for summer nights.  Will sous vides the tenderloin as it marinates in a Mango Jalapeño jelly and then bastes again before grilling.  Simple, yet delicious!

What’s your favorite thing to grill during the summer?


Mango Jalapeño Pork Tenderloin

  • 1 1/2 – 2 lb pork tenderloin
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Mango Jalapeño jelly

Take a few paper towels and blot the tenderloin to remove any excess moisture.  Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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Cover the tenderloin with the Mango Jalapeño jelly.  Place in a vacuum-seal or air-tight storage back to sous vide.

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A couple notes here:

First, pork (as well as chicken) is great with any “sweet heat” baste – a fruit base with anywhere from mild to spicy pepper kick.  Here, we are using Turtlefly Fields’s Mango Jalapeño jelly as the baste.  Turtlefly Fields* also makes a Pineapple Habanero, Raspberry Jalapeño and plain Jalapeño that would also be very nice on the pork.

Secondly, in this recipe we are using the sous vide method to cook the tenderloin before grilling.  Alternately, you could grill the tenderloin with just the salt and pepper seasoning, then baste the jelly on the tenderloin as it reaches an internal temperature of 150°.  Adding the jelly earlier will cause the sugar to burn, leaving a not-as-nice bitter taste to the baste.

*(Disclaimer:  Turtlefly Fields is owned and operated by myself and my sister, Laura)

We set the temperature on our sous vide to 150 and let it do it’s thing for a couple hours. If you haven’t tried sous vide… look in to it!  Sous vide is French for “under vacuum” and is the process of cooking food to a precise temperature in a water bath.  This method allows you to cook food to the exact level of doneness you select and keeps meats extremely juicy and moist.  We have the Anova Precision Cooker and have fallen in love with this method!

Remove the tenderloin from the sous vide bag and glaze again with the jelly.

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Grill on the hot side of the grill with direct heat to sear all sides of the tenderloin.

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Remove the tenderloin and let it rest a couple minutes. Slice the tenderloin on a bias.  If desired, thin a small about of the jelly with a touch of water and brush over the tenderloin slices for one last hit of flavor.  The glaze also makes for a nice presentation 🙂

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Serve it up!

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Full Recipe

Mango Jalapeño Pork Tenderloin

  • 1 1/2 – 2 lb pork tenderloin
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Mango Jalapeño jelly

Blot the tenderloin with paper towels to remove any excess moisture.

Season with salt and pepper.

Cover the tenderloin with the Mango Jalapeño jelly and seal in a plastic bag.

Sous vide to 150°.

Remove tenderloin from the bag and cover again with jelly.

Grill over direct heat to sear all sides.

Remove tenderloin from the grill and let it rest a couple of minutes.

Cut on a bias and baste with a thinned mix of jelly, if desired.

 

Crawfish Etouffee… but really, Swamp Fries

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Will and I love a good road trip.  It’s one of the best things ever to get in the car and go exploring for the day or pack up for a quick weekend getaway to a more familiar location.  We will make a run to the Hill Country for a boot fitting, aim a little more South to find a new Texas winery, find restaurants or farmer’s markets in Houston, load up Silver Sadie Wonderdog for an overnight beach trip, or head to dozens of other places just a drive away.

One of our favorite roadtrip getaways is in Lake Charles.  Say what you like, but I am a sucker for a good penny slot machine or some video roulette.  Craps and Blackjack tend to call Will’s name. Depending on the weather, our favorite place to stay offers a lazy river to float during the day and a lovely wine and tapas bar with live piano music to wind down in at night.  All that said… it’s never a trip to Lake Charles without a visit into town to Steamboat Bill’s.  The pistolettes are perfect.  The gumbo is amazing.  The winner though?  The Swamp Fries. Cheese fries smothered in shrimp etouffee.

Will may have been just a touch hesitant the first time we ordered them.  Etouffee goes on rice, right?!?  Y’all.  We get these every stinkin’ time now.  The etouffee is so tasty and pairs so well with a crispy, hot cheese fry.  We’ve since made them at home with our own version of a crawfish etouffee and every time they take me right back to Lake Charles.

Did you just hear that slot machine ding???


Crawfish Etouffee – Swamp Fries

  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • ½ cup bell pepper, diced
  • ½ cup celery, diced
  • Salt, pepper
  • Cajun seasoning – such as Salt-free Tony Chachere’s
  • ½ stick butter
  • 2-3 drops Tabasco (more, to taste)
  • 1-2 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 tsp garlic
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 4-6 cups seafood/chicken stock
  • 1 lb crawfish tails, peeled and deveined
  • 2 bay leaves
  • french fries, shredded cheese, sour cream and green onion for serving

Etouffee is a fairly simple recipe that takes just a little bit of time to bring on big flavors. It’s great post-crawfish boil to use up some leftover tails but you can easily sub in small shrimp instead.

To start, season the diced veggies with salt, pepper and cajun seasoning.  In cajun cooking, these three veggies are known as “the Cajun trinity”.   This combo of veggies is essentially the base for most cajun dishes and more often than not, added to roux as the beginnings of gumbos, soups, stews and jambalayas.  Typically, the bell pepper is the traditional green bell pepper – we often use red, yellow and orange peppers though for their variety in sweetness and color.

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Melt the butter in a skillet until it browns and begins to smell nutty.  You’ll see the fats in the butter starting to foam around the edges as well.  Add the seasoned veggies and saute until they begin to soften.  Add Tabasco, worcestershire and garlic to the skillet and saute another couple of minutes.

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Add the flour to the veggies and cook until it is light brown in color.  Whisk in the stock slowly and carefully to avoid creating lumps in your roux.  Add the crawfish tails and bay leaves.

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Simmer 20-30 minutes, until the etouffee has reached your desired thickness.  Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves when you are done simmering!

You can go traditional and serve with rice…

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…or you can go SWAMP FRIES!  Plate your french fries and top with shredded cheese.  Pour the etouffee over the fries and top with sour cream and diced green onions.

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There you have it – one ticket to Steamboat Bill’s Lake Charles.  Enjoy the ride and let me know how your penny slots pay off 😉


Full Recipe

Crawfish Etouffee

  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • ½ cup bell pepper, diced
  • ½ cup celery, diced
  • Salt, pepper
  • Cajun seasoning – such as Salt-free Tony Chachere’s
  • ½ stick butter
  • 2-3 drops Tabasco (more, to taste)
  • 1-2 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 tsp garlic
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 4-6 cups seafood/chicken stock
  • 1 lb crawfish tails, peeled and deveined
  • 2 bay leaves

Season chopped veggies with salt, pepper and cajun seasoning.

Melt butter in skillet and brown until it smells nutty.

Add chopped veggies, saute until beginning to soften.

Add tabasco, Worcestershire and garlic to veggies, saute another couple of minutes.

Add flour to the veggies and cook until it is light brown in color.

Whisk in stock carefully to avoid lumps.

Add crawfish tails and bay leaves.

Simmer 20-30 minutes, until it has reached your desired thickness.

      *Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves.

Serve over rice or french fries.