Archive for comfort food

The Birthday Edition

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 14, 2011 by otfp

Let the pedestrians walk clumsily through the puddles
And let the water run over the asphalt in a river.
It’s unclear to the passersby,
On this rainy day,
Why I’m so happy.

But I’m playing the concertina
For all the passersby to see.
Unfortunately,
Birthdays
Only come once a year.

-Krokodil Gena, “Birthday Song”

We do a thing in my family where, on your birthday, you get to choose the spread for dinner – and no one can complain about it.  My birthday rolled around this year and I was faced with a dilemma.  See, what I want for dinner is a bloody chunk of ribeye, a 22 ounce bottle of Rogue Dead Guy Ale and some cheesy mashed potatoes.  Preferably, someone else will prepare it for me, and someone else will foot the bill for it, too.

Herein lies the dilemma.  If I want that, I have to do all the work, which diminishes my enjoyment of the meal by a fair margin.  Second, it’s hardly a present if you have to pay for it yourself, and considering the popularity of slave wages at my current place of employment, dropping 100 bucks on steaks for my family is pretty much not going to happen without me selling a kidney or skipping the mortgage for a month.  And let’s face it, with the abuse my body takes from coffee and beer, I need both of my kidneys, and I think the wife and kids would take a pretty dim view of being homeless.

So I didn’t get that birthday dinner.  I had to improvise.  Enter a lazy man standby from Stouffers: Family Size Macaroni and Cheese.  At 8 or 9 bucks per tray, the price is about as high as I can go.  The kids like it, and I think it is OK.  The problem is, over the last few years, they seem to have cost-reduced the cheese right out of the stuff and it’s been getting soupier and soupier, which I don’t like so much.  And, there comes a time when I’m so damn depressed that the idea of same old same old food just doesn’t taste good.  So I decided to try something new.

Anyone familiar with the product knows that you can microwave it or bake it and you get almost the same product either way.  I can’t settle for that though, so I fired up the grill and added some mesquite chips to the fire.

I then proceeded to bake this Mac and Cheese for about 90 minutes on med-low heat on the old Weber Genesis, rotating every 15 minutes.  I pulled it off the grill when the sauce in the middle of the tray was bubbling and the edges were slightly browned.

This doesn’t photo that well, but here ya go:

The end result is a startlingly delicious version of an old favorite.  The subtle smoke enhances the cheddar cheese and increases the complexity of an otherwise fairly bland, straightforward dish.

Further experimentation with the concept indicates that if you wet the mesquite chips, the smoke flavor becomes overpowering and the dish becomes pretty gross, so don’t do that.  When smoking cheesy food, less is more.  You can add a salsa garnish, sauteed jalapenos and onions, or chopped bacon if you want to further expand on the idea, as well.  All have been well received by my entire family.

Meals That Stick Around

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 5, 2011 by otfp

There are a few dishes that my mother made that stood out to me as a child. One of them was some sort of asian shrimp with gravy, served over rice. I think she might’ve made that twice. The first time, I remember my dad coming home from work and us sitting down to eat, and the dish wasn’t exceptionally well received. I don’t know why, but as a child, any seafood except crab legs was a hard sell at our table.

Not too terribly long after that, she made that dish another time. This time, I remember my parents arguing over it, and my dad actually got up from the table, took the recipe card from my mom’s file box, and cut it up using a small kitchen knife. The shredded index card ended up in the trash. My mom was upset, and I think as a child, I was probably a little scared.

I remember that dinner very clearly. When you’re five or seven and your parents act oddly, these things tend to stand out in your mind. Thankfully, my mom also made a lot of good food; dishes that stand out as equally strong, but for different reasons. One of them came from a large cookbook that I can visualize, but not remember the title. It may have been a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook.

Anyway, this is the dish I want to talk about today. I don’t know what it’s called but I remember that it was delicious, and every time we had it, everyone left the table feeling happy and full. Basically here’s what you do:

Take 1lb of italian sausage links, sweet or hot, and slice them into 1/2” thick segments. Take about 1.5lb of new red potatoes and cut them so they’re roughly the same size as the sausage slices. Take 2-3 bell peppers, any color, and cut into wide slices. Slice 1 large red onion into wide slices. Put all these things into a casserole dish and bake them until the sausage is cooked through and the potatoes are soft.

Now, I know those instructions leave out a lot of information. So, the first time I made this dish after living on my own, I had to improvise because I didn’t remember the baking step. Instead, I fried the mix in a large frying pan. The peppers and onions burned and pretty much disappeared into a caramelized tar that coated the sausage and potatoes. It was good, but not like mom fixed it. I later learned that you should probably add the onions and peppers a little after the sausage is browned if you want them to retain their piece identity.

I’ve been playing around with this recipe since then, at times adding extra spices, olive oil, different potatoes, and different onions. It never seemed to me that it was ever bad. This is one of those dinners that’s comfort food. It’s good, filling, and has a nice ratio of meat to veggies. In fact, if you stopped reading right here and added this concoction to your repertoire of recipes, you’d probably thank me, and if you did, I’d say, “you’re welcome!”

But if you keep reading, you’ll discover what I did to take this simple meal up and over the top. You’ll need your grill, some mesquite chips, and a skillet that you’re not afraid to use on your grill. I used my cast iron frying pan. It’s non-stick by nature and is known to be fire-safe.

1lb sweet italian sausage, cut into 1/2” slices
1.5lb new red potatoes, cut into ~1/2” cubes
2 bell peppers, sliced 1/2” wide
1 large red onion, thin sliced

1 medium yellow onion, sliced 1/2″ wide
1/2c Bella Sun Luci sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and sliced in 1/4” slices

First get your grill lit to a ‘medium’ fire and start heating up the wood chips. Then add the sausage and on top of the sausage, add the potatoes. Order of addition is important here because we want the oils from the sausage to help keep the veggies from sticking to the pan.

Put the pan on the grill and cover for about 3 minutes or until the oils start to sizzle, then stir. You may need to increase the heat to get the wood chips smoking well at this point. Remember to keep stirring, especially if the heat is cranked up on your fire. Once the sausage is about half cooked, add the peppers and onions.

Stir, cover, and stir again, repeating every few minutes until the potatoes are browned and onions begin to caramelize. Next add the sun dried tomatoes and keep alternating between stirring and covering. The more you keep it covered, the more smoke flavor will be absorbed, so if you really like that flavor, keep the grill closed as much as possible without burning the veggies.

Again, the sausage will be cooked through and the potatoes will be soft when the meal is cooked. A little caramelization on the onions and peppers is a good thing. Serve with something sweet or tangy, like applesauce, to offset the savory notes in this dish.  Serves 6-8.