Monday, February 12, 2024

Comforting Beef Stew, Elevated: Simple Accoutrements that POP!

Soups, stews, cassoulets and burgoos (Kentucky by way of African American origins) are in perfect harmony with the blistering, biting and blustery weather we're having this winter and is  most welcoming, might I add.    The warming liquids, both thick and thin, speak to our souls, coating our inner bodies and remedies that which ails us, be it physical, emotional or spiritual, all having importance and its place in what makes us who we are.  Comfort foods do just that, comfort, with its ability to transcend time, barriers and space, almost magical, make things better or at least momentarily better.  Sometimes, that's all we need. 
There are as many recipes for Beef Stew as the day is long, so I won't bore you with yet another one.  Besides, the one or ones you probably already have, may meet your needs just fine, but I will share some of the ingredients I use that could potentially elevate the flavor profile, maybe even make Grandma's version a little more....I wouldn't dare try to compete with your mother, Grandmother or even Dad's recipe for bringing you the comfort you need and deserve at times.  

One ingredient for adding levels is fish sauce.  It's essentially like a nice, slow simmered broth, except fermented and made with fish, namely anchovies.   The funk of this condiment is unmistakable, but believe me when I say, It is so damn good.  Fish Sauce adds loads of Umami goodness to just about any dish you can think of sans desserts.  A little goes a long way, so use sparingly and limit other forms of sodium to keep the dish in perspective. 
Another ingredient perfect for enhancing stews, chili beans and soups is pureed pumpkin.  Pumpkin provides a wealth of essential vitamins ,minerals and micronutrients like vitamins A, C,K, E, Potassium, Iron, Copper, Magnesium, B vitamins, Fiber, Proteins and beta carotene, plus much more.  Pumpkin is rich in anthocyanins or antioxidants, which help fight free radicals in the body that can cause certain cancers.  Pureed Butternut Squash works really well too.  Baked Macaroni and Cheese matches its color perfectly.  Both are great thickeners, with a mild flavor and can easily be blended with the other ingredients.  
Gochujang and Miso are also wonderful ways to add depth to your simmering goodnesses.  Gochujang is a fermented hot pepper paste that I simply adore for more reasons than one, but definitely for its brilliant hue of red and its sweethot profile.  
Miso can be commonly Red or White by name, but there are infinitesimal varieties, depending on ratios of ingredients, length of fermentation, types of ingredients, temperatures, etc...which is quite phenomenal.   Miso  is made from fermented soybean paste, but also rice and commonly barley.  I love to use Miso in cooking, especially in soups, stews, chilis and casseroles. 
Other ways to elevate dishes like soups and stews is with both fresh and dried ingredients.  Some dry add ons can be French fried onions, croutons and bread crumbs.  For the above featured Beef Stew, I used a combination of both, fresh and dry.  Chopped Roma tomatoes, diced white onion and cilantro work brilliantly with a comforting dish like this, brightening and lightening it up in the process. 
The fresh vegetables and herb complement the protein and vegetables beautifully.   
One is not limited to the toppings I used of course.  In fact, the tomatoes, onions and cilantro are quite common accoutrements or accompaniments for Latin American cuisine.  The beef stew resonates with tones of delicious slow cooked Birria, of which those toppings are used as a finishing touch, fresh and bright with flavor.  Mango, tri colored peppers and red onion are also a combination I feel would do your stew a service, both delectable and nutritious!  
I also added some Shatta Hot Pepper Sauce for garnish,  for more personalized heat.  Shatta Hot Pepper Sauce by Wildfire Provisions of the Mediterranean Soil and Sun is a condiment made from the ancestral Kashmiri pepper, heirloom in nature, planted by farmers, dating all the way back to the Ottoman Empire!!! (700 years ago).


Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Cajun Creamy Shrimp Asparagus Spinach and Gigli Alfredo with Pan Seared Ahi Tuna

This dish was super easy to execute and may soon replace your regular go-to Alfredo dish.  
With the help of an amazing spice blend called Cajun Street by Urban Accents, my delicious and creamy seafood pasta went from ordinary to extraordinary with just a few shakes, Actually it was about a palmful, I love a good kick and spice forward dishes.  I added blanched spinach and asparagus to the recipe because they are vibrant, nutritious and tasty, not to mention on sale at the time lol.  I sprinkled the Ahi Tuna filets liberally with this spice and a scant amount of Himalayan Pink Salt and  cracked Tri Color Peppercorns to round it out, before pan searing to medium to medium well and letting it rest.  
I also used a pasta shape that was totally new to me, thanks to the Gourmet/Artisan Goods section of Beals, formerly known as Burkes.  Gigli pasta translates to "lilies", because of it's bell or corkscrew shape, with the ruffled edges. It is pronounced 'GEE-LEE'.  I found that this pasta cooked super quickly, in about 6 minutes, such that I had to keep a close eye on when to run cold water over it, to stop the cooking process.  Be sure to be mindful of  when you are cooking with Gigli and other pastas with delicate shapes.   
The shrimp are of the medium sized Argentine variety, toothsome and visually appealing to the dish as a whole.  I like to keep the tail on for ease of handling and aesthetic.  My girls prefer the tails removed so they can just dig in, so I end up removing their shrimp tails before serving them.  My mom refuses to eat shrimp at all.  She says they look like 'grub worms', hard pass haha.  Mom is hilarious, I told her 'Gee, Thanks for that visual Mom, now I get to think about that every other time I use shrimp in  a recipe'.  No matter which way I serve them, Mom is not having it, I actually stopped trying to get her to come around, and prepare separate dishes alongside the main dishes featuring shrimp.  Oddly enough, she will eat Oysters, or should I say the fried, crispy, breaded outer portions, as tiny as that is, with everything at or near the center removed to sit in a small mound that will have accumulated on her plate or hidden away in her dinner napkins.  My Mom... I wouldn't trade her for two worlds.....

The Cajun sauce is a real gem and brings all of the other ingredients together most harmoniously.  There's plenty of valuable veggies too.  The tuna is an added plus and was prepared alongside this dish and I just chunked a portion and added it to the top, adding more layers of flavor and seafood fantastic-ness, but of course that is a decision you can make specific to your likes and dislikes.  I think you will enjoy it both ways. 
1 lb. Gigli pasta, cooked in salted water, to al dente and shocked, about 6 minutes
1 lb. large raw shrimp, peeled, cleaned and rinsed, tails on
1 lb. Ahi tuna, uncooked and portioned
1 lb. fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into diagonals by thirds
1 pkg. or 5 oz. fresh Spinach, stems trimmed if needed
2 c. half and half
1 c. 2% milk
1 c. chicken, veggie or seafood stock
1 1/2 c. shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. onion powder 
1 1/2 tsp. fish sauce, optional
4 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
1/4 c. yellow onion, small dice
1/2 stick or 4 oz. unsalted butter
Olive Oil (EV) for drizzling
1/4 c. AP flour
2 tbsp. Cajun spice or to taste, plus more for seasoning Tuna 
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste) (I use Himalayan Pink Salt, Fine Grain)

You may blanch the asparagus and spinach in your pasta water for 2 minutes (asparagus) and 30 seconds(spinach) then shock in cold water to save on cleanup and be more efficient.  This occurs after the pasta is removed. In the meantime, toss the peeled shrimp in the fish sauce and set aside.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat,  melt butter and drizzle in about two turns of the pan of Olive. 
Once melted and small bubbles are forming, add fresh onion and garlic.  Simmer for about 6 minutes until onions are translucent and fragrant, then sprinkle in flour.  
Cook out the flour for about 2 minutes, stirring often, then add the stock. 
Stir vigorously to combine, then add half and half and milk.
Stir continuously and add shrimp, cooking in sauce until pink and curled, about 3 minutes, remove from sauce base to add later with pasta.
Add cheeses, onion powder and Cajun seasoning and blend until smooth.
Check seasonings and SPST.
Add Pasta, asparagus, spinach and shrimp and fold until well coated and balanced. 
Simmer for a couple of minutes to marry flavors.  
Top with seared Ahi Tuna portions or chunks as desired, optional
Finish with a drizzle of Olive Oil and additional Cajun seasoning, optional.
Serve Immediately. 
Makes 8 to 10 main dish servings.


Sunday, June 18, 2023

Takeout In; "Black Chicken"

I turned this homemade meal into takeout fare simply by placing it in a reusable vessel I already had at home.  I originally had some boneless chicken bites from Food Lion in it and washed the container, as I felt it was reckless to toss it away after just one use.  I prepared a three course meal and plated the dish, from scratch.  This is my daughter Bronwyn's pregame meal for Soccer.  I like to plate extra in case her friends would like to partake with her.  I used this amazing bagged spice blend from Italy featuring Garlic and Chilies, plus many other layering flavors. 
 I allowed the protein, hand cut chicken cutlets, to marinate in the spice rub before pan searing for several minutes on each side, then resting.  I tossed the fresh asparagus with standard SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste) then finished with a scant amount of Dale's and finished with lots of fresh lemon and zest.  I sauteed them over medium high heat for several minutes, tossing frequently and removing from the heat before they became limp. 
 The rice was my shortcut, Yellow Rice by Zatarain's, pretty much by the box, with a large pinch of the same seasoning I used for the chicken and drizzled with some EVOO.  The dish was big hit with my daughter and her friends.  One of her friends even said "I've never had 'Black Chicken' before, I've only had Boiled Chicken, "Black Chicken' is Good"! Let's be clear, "Black Chicken" as used here is Chicken made by a Black Person or Person of Color.  I found those comments hysterically funny and certainly took them as compliments.  Bronwyn and her friends even thought I was delivering takeout when I handed her the container.  
She was happy to know, it was from Mom's kitchen, teeming with my style of preparation and love of spice.  We can't win them all, but I felt like a winner that day, saving the Planet, saving money and satisfying a growing, active teen ( and two of her friends).  It's the little things....


Thanks Again!

Beautiful Sage Blossoms in my Zen Space
Common Sage in my Herb Garden

Common Sage 

Common Sage, A Protector

Cookout Plate; Multi Seasoned Double Burger with the works, Barbecue Chicken and Potato Salad*

 I am incredibly blessed to have you all in my blog life, sharing in my cooking adventures and escapades.  You have become an extended part of my family, truly a joy to have around.  Thanks to you, I've had my recipes shared all over the world, not just here in the Americas, since its inception in 2012.   My space has blossomed into its own entity, that has stood the test of time, even through my post droughts, with the most recent hiatus being on the heels of the loss of two of my sisters, Terry and Cherie, within the last year. My whole life changed drastically, twice, so painfully so, so fast, God only knows how much sadness has been poured onto our family, and how the Most High has helped us to carry on...I appeciate the Love people have shown me, Us.
 Thank you for standing by my blog and maintaining traffic to my site,, home of Food's Fan Club, and reading my recipes and stories.  I love that my readers share and leave comments, which I try to respond to in a prompt manner.  I've gotten much better at it! Lest I fail to mention how much of an impact you have had on my role as one of the Google Local Guides, I'm in the top 10% of Contributors and Restaurant Reviewers in the World (per Google) !! You all Rock! 
Since the last time I wrote about how grateful I am for you all, I've gone from 7 million views, to over 15 MILLION VIEWS, in less than 2 years, and that's just on my photography as far as being a  Local Guide goes. Plus, I've got other platforms where my work is available, bringing in more love from social media families!   Man, that's quite AWESOME.  
I plan to keep learning, growing, cooking, writing and sharing for the duration or at least as long as the Lord sees fits.  The featured photo is one of an aromatic 'Common' Sage plant.  
Sage, a perennial from the evergreen family, is most prominent in my garden on purpose.  It is versatile and delicous to cook with, plus frys to an amazing light crisp, quite unique.  Sage has a very 'Musk forward' 'basementy' smell, akin to that of basketball player running drills for 6 hours straight, in the heat of Summer, in a sweater! Even so, I find the actual flavor it imparts to be of a fantastic variety, like a warming spice, bright but subtle, twangy and loud, but with a comforting earthiness.  
Sage is also used around the world to cleanse the space and air around us, both physically and spiritually.  Double duty Herb indeed.  Sage is also an herb of protection.  In an ever changing society, we can use all the protections we can get and for that I am grateful still.  I am  most appreciative of the journey that you all have chosen to take with me.  A celebration is in order.  Today's plate is from one such celebration, with a classic grilled lineup. We'll fellowship together. 
Also,  Happy Father's Day to all whom it applies, this plate's for you!  
                                      Thanks Again for the Love You've shown.                                    

*Although I plated the above photo, I did not prepare the food, the burgers were seasoned by my friend La'kesha A. and the Potato Salad is courtesy of Ms. Debra. The chicken was grilled by James T. 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

'Who Want Smoke': A Tri-Tip Tale

My Tri Tip with a visible, prominent smoke ring.

I recently received a new toy to add to my culinary arsenal and I'm in Love.  An Austin XL by Pit Boss is quite a treat!  My first conquest was a Black Angus Tri Tip Roast, which I'd read is a good safe protein to begin with on your Smoker. 
A Tri Tip Roast, named for its shape with a tapered tip, is a triangular cut of meat from the bottom of the sirloin, a subprime portion.  The scientific name for this is the tensor fasciae latae muscle, a part of the thigh.   This cut is sometimes confused with the brisket or "picanha, a Brazilian term (a cut that comes from the top of the cow's butt) boasting an amazing fat cap, which helps the protein retain its succulence and unctuousness.
Tri-tip started gaining its notoriety in Southern California as early as 1915,  thusly calling it the California Cut. Other nomenclature includes Bottom Sirloin Butt, Newport Steak, Poor Man's Brisket and the Santa Maria.  At first, the tri-tip was used to make ground beef.  As the story goes, a man by the name of Bob Shutz had a hand in bringing this little known cut to the forefront.   Instead of grinding it, he prepared this meat in a low oven until Medium Rare( about 45 minutes) and found it to be a quite tender and full of flavor.  From then on, he served this cut and other proximal restaurants followed. 
 It was especially favored among Military soldiers, who facilitated its popularity, thanks to a fellow named Ron (Rondo) Brough.  Brough was a butcher in the US Army during WWII, whose goal was to establish more portions for the troops, by re-orienting cuts and eliminating scraps.  Around the same time, an Oakland, California man by the name of Otto Shaefer Sr. named it "tri-tip" and it stuck.  
An important note about the Tri-tip is that there are two grain patterns on this cut, so it is optimal to cut the protein in half where the grains intersect, then slice individually.  This allows for premium servings of the tender and delicious roast to be enjoyed most fully.  
The tri-tip is known in other countries by a host of labels; In France, it is called Auguillette boronne, Northern Germany call it Burgermeisterstuck or Pastorenstuck.  Austria refers to the tri-tip as Huferchwanz, while Southern Germany uses the same name as Bavaria,  Tafelspitz, where its boiled with horseradish.  Spain grills it whole and it goes by Rabillo de Cadera, while Argentina has Asado Colita de Cuadril and Brazil Maminha.  Any way you slice it, Tri Tip has truly earned its place in our culinary stories.  
With a little history of the Tri-Tip roast behind us, we can get back to cooking and talking about the one I picked up to Christen my Pit Boss Austin XL.  
After marinating my protein for several hours,  I placed it on the grill, preheated to 375* for the first 10 minutes.  After that, I reduced the heat to 325* for another 35 minutes or so, basting with a combination of soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar and a scant amount of water.  After the temperature reached 145*F on the probe reader, I wrapped it in some butcher paper and set it off the heat to rest, with a couple pats of cultured butter on top.  
I initially planned to use "Boss Hogg" (yeah, I named my grill) for smoking our turkey this past year.  This did not come to fruition, but I did get to smoke some amazing chicken parts, that marinated for a couple of hours, to a creation of a blissful, smoky entree.  I've also added whole chickens, burgers, 'dogs, smoked sausages and ribs.   All these items were memorable and distinct in flavor.  I used a combination competition  pellet, composed of both Charcoal and Hickory, for a deliciously complex flavor profile.  

Friday, April 28, 2023

Super Sides: Herbed Spinach Bake

Right about now, gardens are brimming with green of all sorts.   If you're anything like me, you love some good lettuces and micro-greens on a sandwich or tossed in with your salad or sauteed in with other veggies and garnishes for various proteins.  Sometimes, we run out of garden pickings for a spell, but fresh frozen veggies are a fantastic and suitable choice too.  Frozen veggies are ideally frozen at peak freshness, within hours of coming from the fields, going straight into their processes.  This in fact, makes them as fresh as or even fresher than some of our 'fresh' produce that we purchase.  It is great for a filling vegetarian meal, without having to change the menu, serving as a double duty dish. 
 I was incredibly down when I initially created this, reeling from the loss of one of my sisters, Seargent Terry Lee Holland, who contracted and subsequently passed away from complications with CoVid, while in the hospital having a routine procedure.  I am in fact still heavily plauged by the loss of my fellow 'left handed soul sister'.  We had an amazingly close kinship and I struggle with the reality of our mortality,  completely bummed out. 
 I needed to calm my mind on that fateful day, January 28, so I went to the kitchen to try to keep my mind occupied enough to not bawl uncontrollably, as I had all day.  I autopiloted my way through the motions of on hand ingredients and staples, arriving at the featured recipe.  When I think of this dish, I feel a mix of torrid emotions, mostly sad A.F.  With that being said, I have come along as well as expected and I am blessed to have readers to share this news with. 
 I acknowledge that we as familes and survivors must go on and it's okay not to forget and to take the time necessary to heal. The day after my sister's Home Going service, my mother's youngest sister passed away.  As broken as I was, I know that my mother lost her child, the first loss among her daughters AND her last born sister, so I knew that quantiified the anguish she felt.  We were all in the doldrums and needed to try to appear strong for Mom, even though we are but mere scrubs in comparison to her resilience and inner strength.  
At 5'5, 138lbs, our Mom is a behemouth, rooted and grounded by Faith, favored by the Almighty.  Her sadness intensified mine and as hard as I try, I cannot hide my tears yet.  Yesterday, I called my big sister's phone number, knowing she wouldn't answer, yet hoping she would.  The line was devoid of any sound at all, no automated message, no series of beeps, not a thing.  I then sent a message, expressing my disbelief in what has happened and how much I love and miss her. Grief.  Therapy is advisable, but one must endure.  The process is different for each individual, but I'm willing to bet that every person that reads this, can relate on some level. Just last week, my girls' lost their paternal grandfather.  It just keeps coming...
 Cooking happens to be one of the ways I would deal with stressors, starting when I was in my early 20's.  Since then, my hobby has grown into my profession and passion, I express myself through sharing that passion in my writing and recipe development.   Cooking is Therapy, Cooking from the heart is Love,  Cooking and sharing is comforting.  I find solace in this space we share together.  
The original name for this dish was A Comforting Casserole, but I found that name a little flat, albeit true, at least for my case.  I changed the name to be a little more uplifting and inclusive, but it will always be associated with my emotions on the day I created it.  I'll just leave this here and I hope it brings you comfort in your time of need, even if the need is simply for a side with lots of green, flavorful and economical, as it did for me.  



Saturday, July 30, 2022

Cheddar and Sour Cream Chicken Pasta

 Looking for a way to spruce up your pasta bakes and solve the issue of having lots of crushed chips, especially after the kids help with carrying the groceries? Voila, enter the dish featured above with an unlikely suspect, Cheddar and Sour Cream Potato Chips.  This was a last minute addition to this dish after wanting another element of texture and surprise to liven up an unfancy, but delicious meal on the fly of a weekday in summer.  Oftentimes, a surplus of crushed chips can be a hassle and tossing out too many can truly be a substantial waste, depending on how 'crummy' the bag is. 
 All my tasters gave their approval and after tasting, had to wipe their smug little smiles off their faces, because they thought I was just grasping at straws, hoping for a hit.  The flavors brought on by the Cheddar and Sour Cream Potato Chips are complimentary to the cream cheese and sharp cheddar base of the homemade cheese sauce, that comes together in a flash. 
 You don't have to spend a ton of money to elevate a dish, even if it's just a little and with chips.   Other than maybe consuing too many on occasion, chips or some sort of crumb topping are a perfect way to jazz up a baked dish and handy to have around; For  one, toppings add a nice dimension of texture variance there's so many varieties and two, many homes have some on tap, if your household is anything like mine, especially with this seemingly ravenous behavior brought on by Summer Break, the 'crumbs' will last much longer than the chips themselves!  
Paired with other staples like different types of pasta, chicken stock, chicken, block cheese, cream cheese, evaporated milk and of course some boneless/skinless chicken breasts, this meal is quick, easy and CRAZY delicious.  Perhaps one of the best parts of this recipe is it's a less meat version, using only about 1 pound of chicken, You never miss a beat because the other ingredients hold their own.  Budget friendly, time savvy and delicious make this one pot meal a chicken dinner winner!             

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into medium cubes
1 lb. penne pasta, cooked according to box, until al dente, about 9 minutes, in salted water, drain and run under cold water until cooking stops
1- 12 oz. can evaporated milk, regular or fat free
1 1/2 pkg. cream cheese, full fat or reduced
1 8 oz. block sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups less sodium chicken stock
2 tbsp. butter, salted or unsalted
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
2 tsp. onion powder
                                                            Fresh or Dried Parsley, rough chopped if fresh                                                            1/2 to 1 c. crushed Cheddar and Sour Cream Potato Chips
Olive oil for drizzling
SPST ( Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)

Preheat oven to 375*F.
In a large oven safe saucepan over medium high heat, drizzle olive oil 2 turns of the pan and add butter. 
Once butter is melted and making small bubbles, add cubed chicken.
Cook, moving often after signs of browning evident , then SPST.  Turn pieces often until no longer pink, about 7 minutes.  Add garlic towards end of browning process.  
Remove chicken from pan as not to overcook, until sauce is made.  Set aside and tint with foil, if desired.
Add chicken stock to pan and bring up to a boil. 
Reduce heat to medium and add evaporated milk and bring back up to a rolling simmer.
Add cream cheese.
Stir often and melt cheese,  then stir in grated sharp cheddar, onion powder and parsley.
Stir in pasta and chicken, coating everything well and let simmer for  a couple of minutes to heat through again.    
Once heated through, sprinkle with crushed potato chips and place in oven until top shows signs of browning, about 10 minutes. * .      
Makes 8 to 10 servings.                                                             
*If contents of pan are hot enough, you may just turn on the broiler to high. 
It will brown rather quickly, so  be sure to keep a close eye on it.