Spaghetti Squash with Special Sauce!

Squash has been dated as far back as 7,000 B.C. in parts of Mexico and South America. According to The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, explorers from Europe originally thought squash were melons and were delighted to find them everywhere they went in the new world.

Squash is one of many examples of a modern food staple discovered in the Americas. I'm starting to think that the diet of most Europeans before they began exploring consisted of grass, tree bark and the flesh of what ever animal they weren't currently using as transportation.

Today, squash is divided into two primary families, summer squash, most abundant in late summer, and winter squash, which thrives in the fall. Summer squash, such as cucumber and zucchini, have edible skin, soft seeds and require little cooking. Winter squash, like pumpkin and acorn, have tough skin, hard seeds and require an ample amount of cooking time.

Here I used spaghetti squash, a winter variety, as a substitute for — you guessed it — spaghetti. It's so much lighter than pasta and has a delicate flavor. In fact, I prefer spaghetti squash over actual spaghetti.

The sauce is a traditional store bought sauce with some amplifiers. Kind of like a factory car turned into a hot rod. Fresh sausage, onion and green pepper give it a flavor boast that is sure to please.

Eat well, cook often ...

Serves 4, 45 minutes
1  Spaghetti squash (3 to 4 lbs.)
1 Tbsp Olive oil
1 lb Italian sausage
1 C  Red pepper, diced
1 C  Green pepper, diced
1 C Red onion, diced
3 C Traditional  pasta sauce

Cut squash in half length-wise. Scrape seeds from middle. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and cook in apreheated oven at 375° for 40 minutes. Let cool slightly and scrape flesh into a bowl with a fork.

Over medium heat, cook sausage in a large pot until browned and cooked through. Remove to a paper towel-lined bowl. Sauté onion and peppers in sausage drippings until soft, 5 to 6 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Return sausage to pot and add pasta sauce, cover and bring to a simmer

Spoon sauce onto a portion of squash then shower with fresh grated parmesan cheese (otional),
serve immediately.

Taco Rice Beef Burritos

Taco Rice Beef Burritos

I like to have a couple of flavored rice packets in the pantry for a quick bite to eat now and then. If you watch the shelves at the local grocery, you can get these packets on sale for a $1.00 or less. Just a couple weeks ago I purchased 4 packages of the Knorr brand fiesta sides for 89¢ a packet.

I can eat most of one of these packets for a lunch and have the rest as a side with dinner the next day. The rice by itself isn't something I crave or would pay more the a buck for, but it does qualify in the fast-cheap-lunch category in my kitchen.

Recently I decided to make a packet of Taco Rice for burritos. I had ground beef, chipotle salsa, lettuce, onion and cheese leftover from tacos the night before and needed the rice to make a meal out of the leftover taco supplies.

The Taco Rice really helped fill the burrito out and when combined with the other ingredients made for a better-than-average lunch in the taste department. If I had had the time I would have made my own taco flavored rice, but for lunch on a busy work day — and to get ride of the taco dinner leftovers — this packet provided me with a great meal that filled my belly.

That's really all a man can ask for.

Eat well, cook often ...

Makes 2, 25 minutes
2 Burrito sized tortillas
1 5.4 oz pkg Knorr Fiesta Sides Taco Rice
1/2 lb Ground beef cooked through
1/4 Cup shredded cheese
Salsa, shredded lettuce and diced onion

Prepare rice according package directions.

Assemble burritos
In center of tortilla place 1/2 cup of rice, 1/2 of the ground beef, 2 tablespoons of shredded cheese then garnish with lettuce, onion and salsa. Fold in sides, then roll tortilla shut forming burrito, then serve. Repeat.

Culinary Catastrophy: Buffalo Disaster Rolls

Buffalo Disaster Rolls

A couple of weeks ago I attended my cousin's wedding and was treated to the best food I had ever eaten as part of a nuptial celebration. One of the appetizer served was a Crispy Buffalo Chicken Spring Roll with a blue cheese sauce — it was amazing!

All week long I had been planning to recreate it.

I bought spring roll wrappers, roasted and shredded some chicken breast and had everything ready to go. I prepared them with care. Rolled up the filling in the wraps and placed them in the oven to cook away.

The excitement of pulling these delicate treats from the oven and the fantasy of devouring them came crashing to the ground as soon as I opened the oven door.

They hadn't crisped up and browned at all.

They looked like condom-wrapped cheese plugs.

Turns out there was to much moisture with the cream cheese filling I had made. The moisture never let the wrap cook and dry out properly to crisp up. They just turned to rubbery cases for the buffalo chicken filling.

All was not lost.

I peeled away the wrappers, harvested the filling and made a simple buffalo chicken dip with it. These things happen. Especially when you experiment. Usually the mess-ups aren't this bad though, that's why I had to share it — you really have to be going for it to create a monster like this.

Eat well, cook often ...

Chicken Tortellini Soup with Spinach

Chicken Tortellini Soup with Spinach

I bought a 4 lb package of split chicken and decided to have some fun. The breast was 99¢ per pound so I couldn't resist. First thing I did was to roast it off.  A simple salt and pepper was applied and then it was cook at 400° for 45 minutes.

Funny thing happened at the end of cooking though.

I went to pull the chicken from the oven and the heating element was glowing white in a spot - like a welder. I turned it off immediately, but that small, bright-as-the-sun spot kept burning and moving along the orange-glowing element. As it cooled the spot eventually went out. When it was all said and done (3 or 4 minutes) I realized I had just witnessed my oven fry! I didn't panic becuase it was inside the oven so it was contained. And, Im really glad the chicken was finished cooking before it totally blew.

My only real worry was how I was gonna finish the buffalo chicken spring rolls I was making later in the evening. Fer F**ks sake, I had been planning on those all week. (more on that in another post)

It was Friday evening at 4:30, there was no way I could get that fixed for the weekend — or so I thought.

I went to the building management and within an hour a maintenance guy was there with a new element. By 6:30 I was good to go. I was really impressed by how quick it was taken care of. That has been the case with almost everything here at my new place, when I ask for issues to be looked at, they really have been prompt with maintenance.

That said - Later that night I shredded and divided the chicken. Half for the spring rolls, and half for a yummy batch of soup.

I made this soup because of the cool weather that had rolled in, but also because I wanted to clear out some pantry and freezer space. That's why I choose the tortellini and spinach, it was time to get rid of them - and I must say, they did make for a yummy bowl of soup!

Eat well, cook often ...

45 minutes, serves 4
3 C chicken, roasted, shredded
1 C onion, diced
1 C green pepper, diced
1 C celery, diced
2 Tbs garlic, minced
2 tsp Italian seasonings
4 C chicken broth
1 8 oz pkg four cheese tri-color tortellini pasta
1 10 pkg frozen spinach, thawed, drained

In a soup pot over medium heat saute onion, green pepper and celery in a little olive oil until soft, 4 to 6 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add garlic and Italian seasonings, cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes more. Add chicken, tortellini and spinach, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. Portion into bowls and serve.

Pulled pork for 160

Pulled pork for 160

The last weekend of September has become my family's annual "Shindig" at our private campground. It's the big party that allows all of us to show off our new improvements to our beautiful camp sites, all of which feature custom made porches and landscaping.

Over the years we have turned it into a little village in the woods.

It was started somewhere around 2003 by my Aunt Roxie who had the zany idea of putting a couple of campers in the woods behind her property and starting a camp ground. Most thought it was just a crazy notion, but it stuck. Slowly, a couple of campers turned into a few, a few into a half dozen and so forth.

Once people established a spot for themselves, they constructed covered porches to hang out on. If a camper became leaky (They all do if they set in one spot) the porch would be extended to include a roof over the camper.

Landscaping and flower gardens appeared. A pavilion and central kitchen, along with a giant meat smoker sprouted up. Custom bars and benches made from live-edge wood planks, harvested from ash trees killed by the ash-borer beetle that populated the campground were installed.

It's a constant work in progress.

My aunt Roxie left this world in the Spring of 2012, but I guarantee she would be proud of what her zany little critters have done with her crazy idea and be proud of how we've keep improving on it.

This year I was asked to make pulled pork for the party.

After covering the meat with a homemade spice rub, I used our custom built meat smoker to sear and season the meat with a smoky flavor. I finished the meat in a large roster for more control over the process, and to use citrus to add another layer of flavor as the pork roasted.

It turned out delicious.

The meat featured a hint of smoke from the initial cook in the smoker and lots of moisture and sweetness from pineapple and orange juice that it was finished with.

The pork and the party were a great success.

Can't wait until next year.

Eat well, cook often ...

12 hours, makes 160 to 200 sandwiches

1 C brown sugar
1/2 C chili powder
1/4 C cumin
2 Tbs onion powder
2 Tbs garlic powder

40 lbs bone-in pork shoulder
3 cans pineapple chunks
4 C orange juice
4 large onions, sliced
1 bag wood chips

2 quarts BBQ sauce
160 sandwich buns

Start grill and/or smoker. Soak wood chips.

Mix together sugar, chili powder, cumin, onion powder and garlic powder. Liberally sprinkle and rub spice mixture all over pork, covering completely.

Once grill and/or smoker is ready. Sear meat on all sides. 3 to 4 minutes per side. 15 to 20 minutes total. Remove to indirect heat. Dump wood chips on coals, cover grill or close smoker and let cook for and 2 hours.

Remove meat from grill. In one large or two medium roasters, mix together Pork shoulders, onions, orange juice, pineapple chunks and pineapple juice. Cover and slow roast at 200° for 5 to 8 hours, or until meat shreds with a fork and bones can be pulled out with fingers.

Pour off 1/2 of the juice. Shred with forks. Stir remaining juice, pineapple chunks, onions and shredded pork together.

Serve with BBQ sauce and sandwich buns.

Chili Cheese Fries

Chili Cheese Fries

I made a pot of chili recently and instead of just eating a bowl of it for leftovers, I threw all dietary concerns out the window and smothered a platter of french fries with it, then topped it all with cheddar cheese!

Chili cheese fries!

This batch of chili was really tasty and I had eaten a couple of leftover bowls the previous day. It was time to mix it up a little and add some tasty little french fries to the equation. I always keep a bag of frozen french fries in the freezer as a go-to side if I need.

This might not be the prettiest or healthiest dish around, but man was it tasty!

Eat well, cook often ...

1 Serving, 25 minutes
1/2 C chili (recipe here)
Enough French Fries to cover a dinner plate, fully cooked
1/4 C Cheddar cheese. shredded

Cook french fries according to package directions. Preheat chili in microwave or stove top. Pile fries on a plate, top with chili and cheddar cheese. Heat under broiler or in a microwave until cheese is melted, then serve.

Crispy Buffalo Chicken Wraps

Easy Buffalo Chicken Wraps

I always have a bag of frozen buffalo chicken tenders in the freezer. One bag will make several lunches. They are mandatory in any single man's kitchen.

This isn't a gourmet recipe for all the foodies to marvel over. This is a simple lunch that is easy to make. And — it's really tasty!

I could make the buffalo chicken tenders myself from scratch, but that would take way more time. This is a go-to lunch when I want something tasty relatively quick and without a mess. These could be sprung on anyone for a casual lunch and I bet they would be impressed. It features crispy breaded chicken tenders with the signature buffalo flavoring and blue cheese dressing. The cheddar cheese and lettuce help with extra flavor and really fill out the wrap for a little bit more heft and to give it a sandwich feel.

Sometimes I even throw a handful of frozen french fries on the sheet when I cook the tenders for a side dish! In my world not every meal can be a gourmet culinary adventure, but I do try to get creative with flavors and products whenever possible.

Eat well, cook often ...

Serves 4, 30 minutes
4 Buffalo Chicken breast tenders (From freezer isle)
1/2 C shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 C shredded lettuce
1/4 C blue cheese dressing
4 large wraps or tortillas

Cook chicken according to package direction. Usually 20 minutes at 425°

Let chicken cool slightly then slice. Divide ingredients among 4 wraps. On tortilla layer lettuce, cheese, chicken the blue cheese dressing.

Tuck both side of tortilla then roll into a wrap. Slice diagonally through middle, then serve.

Easy Grilled Baby Back Ribs

I saw that ribs were on sale shopping at Meijer last Saturday, but to my disappointment, they were spare ribs. I prefer baby back. As I was looking at the cooler full of ribs, I noticed a lone rack of baby backs in the pile. I grabbed them for a closer look and sure enough, the rack was priced the same as the spare ribs! It was my lucky day.

I threw it in my cart and off I went.

I had already planned a meal for that evening but I decided that I would cook the ribs that night, then finish them on the grill for lunch the next afternoon. It's a technique I learned while being a prep cook at the Texas Road House.

I did a variation of that technique for these ribs.

First a rub is liberally applied, then the ribs are wrapped in foil. I then bake the ribs for 90 minutes. At this point they can be cooled and refrigerated or taken right to the grill for the finish. I put mine in the fridge for the night and grilled them the next day. The grill not only heats the ribs through and flavors them with a grill flavor, but this is when the barbecue sauce is applied. The heat will help caramelize the sugars in the sauce, which for me is the icing on the cake.

I busted out some of Steve's Oink-n-Squeel barbecue sauce for this rack. It's made in Evansville, Indiana by a work collegue's father. I love its flavor and it has the perfect consistency for basting meat over the flames.

It took 15 minutes to heat the ribs through and get some caramelization of the sauce. The end result was a juicy, tender and well flavored rib — which made a mess of my hands and face — but most importantly filled my belly.

Eat well, cook often ...

Serves 2, 2 hours
1 rack of baby back ribs
rib rub (recipe follows)
1/2 BBQ sauce
Tools: Aluminum foil, baking sheet fitted with backing rack, oven and a grill

Preheat oven to 350°

Thoroughly season ribs with rib rub on all sides.

Wrap in aluminum foil. Place on baking sheet fitted with baking rack. When oven is ready place on in center. Let ribs cook for 90 minutes. Remove ribs from oven let cool. Can finish on grill at this point or refrigerate in foil for a day or two and finish later.

Remove ribs from foil, slather with BBQ sauce and sear on grill until sugars in sauce caramelize, turn once or twice, basting with more sauce. 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from grill and serve. 

2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs smoked Paprika
2 Tbs salt
1 Tbs chili powder
1 Tbs cumin
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp oregano

Mix spices together. Store in a container with a tight sealing lid.

Chipotle Beef and Bean Chili

Chipolte beef and bean chili

For the first time in a long time I spent my Saturday doing odd jobs around the house and watching college football. It was an unusually cool day for September. Perfect weather for a yummy pot of chili to cook and grub on while watching the action on the grid iron.

For my seasoning I replaced chili powder with chipolte sauce, which is found in the international isle with the Mexican cuisine at about any major grocery chain. The sauce is basically a stew of chipolte chilis (smoked jalapeno), onions, garlic and tomatoes. It has a nice smoky heat and is already a well developed flavor in and of itself. For extra boost, I also added cumin and oregano.

I prefer chili without beans, but when I grabbed the package of ground beef from the freezer earlier in the day to thaw, I realized it was only a pound and a half. Usually, I make it with 2 pound packages. To help the chili go further I added a can of chili beans that I had had lurking in the cupboard for some time. The beans really did help the dish go further.

Once the chili was ready I served it up and never even grabbed a spoon. I used corn tortilla chips to eat every bite. The salty chips turned out to be a great delivery method for the smoky, spicy and beefy mix. It had to have been something — because by the time the football ended — I had devoured 3 bowls of chili and a half bag chips!

Eat well, cook often ...

 Serves 4 to 6, 2 hours
1.5 lbs ground beef
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 jalapenos, seeded and diced
2 Tbs cumin
1 Tbs oregano
1 can chipotle sauce (7 oz)
1 can chili beans (15.5 oz)
1 can crushed tomatoes (28 oz)
2 C water
Tortilla chips for serving

Season ground beef with salt and pepper, brown in a 4 to 6 quart soup pot over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes, remove to a paper-towel lined plate.

In drippings saute onion and jalapeno until soft, 5 to 6 minutes, season with salt and pepper.

Add garlic, cumin, oregano. Cook until fragrant 1 to 2 minutes more.

Add chipotle sauce, chili beans, crushed tomatoes, water and return beef to pot. Mix well. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer until 3/4 of the liquid evaporate and mixture has thickened, 60 to 90 minutes.

Remove from heat and serve with corn tortilla chips.

Sweet Pepper Jambalaya

This dish was intended to be a soup up until the onions and peppers were literally sauteing. It was at that moment I decided to make it a little more substantial.

I wanted this to go a little further and stick to my ribs more than a soup would. That's when I made the executive decision to turn it into a jambalaya-inspired dish. I went to the pantry and grabbed a can of tomato sauce and a cup of rice to throw in the pot. Then I added just half of the broth I was originally going to add because that's all the liquid I would need for the rice.

I call it jambalaya, but it's not really cajun or creole in the way it's spiced and it doesn't have any seafood. But this is pretty much how I would go about making jambalaya if I wanted to go that route. What I love about a dish like this is how the rice and liquid congeal to create an almost creamy texture that sees to surround all the wonderful flavors that are the real star of the show.

The end result was a hardy and delicious one pot meal. For me, it stored well and was easy to reheat and take to work for dinner. I got 4 servings out of it, so it would be perfect for a family for dinner.

This recipe started out as an attempt to get rid of sweet peppers I had bought on sale and wanted to use up before they started to wilt. I really couldn't decide what to make even as I was dicing things up, I was just going the direction of a soup and it evolved into this dish. It was fun just letting it happen. It's as if I started writing a sentence before I knew what the final words would be. I should experiment like this more in the future.

Eat well, cook often ...

Serves 4, 40 miniutes
1 lb Italian sausage
3 C sweet peppers, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 Tbs garlic, minced
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 can tomato sauce (15.5 oz)
2 C vegetable broth
1 C long grain rice

In a soup pot over medium heat, brown Italian sausage 6 to 8 minutes. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate or bowl. Add sweet pepper and onion to pot and sauté in sausage drippings until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Season to taste. Stir in Italian seasonings and garlic, cook 1 to 2 minutes or until fragrant. Return sausage to pot and add tomato sauce, broth and rice. Mix well. Bring to a boil, cover and let simmer 15 minutes, turn off heat, let rest with cover on for 10 minutes more. Remove lid and fluff. Rice should have absorbed nearly all liquid and be tender. Scoop and serve.

Carnitas and Chipotle Salsa

Carnitas with Chipotle salsa

I had never made carnitas.

Now, I'll make them all the time! Cooking pork in a citrus liquid made for sensational grub.

While the carnitas were cooking I kept sticking my nose over the pot and letting my sense of smell drink in the flavors. It was hard waiting for the pot to finish, but it was totally worth it. The citrus didn't overpower, it added a sweet balance to the savory pork and other seasonings in the dish.

From the batch of carnitas I made four servings — tacos twice and two burritos for myself.

I harvested the pork shoulder chunks from a bone-in shoulder I picked up on special at the grocery store. I didn't realize it was bone-in until I was ready to start cooking. I wasn't quite sure how to attack it so I went to youtube and watched a video on how to de-bone a pork shoulder. It worked like a charm and I didn't waste hardly any meat.

To go along with the carnitas I made a spicy chipotle salsa. I knew I would be eating most of it myself over the next week, so I made it hot, probably way to hot for most people, but I like really bold salsa for my tacos. Removing the seeds and flesh from the jalapeno and chipotle peppers can reduce the heat significantly if a milder sauce is desired.

The carnitas and salsa were an evening project on a day off. At one point, I had both pots on the stove simmering away, releasing magical aromas that turned my kitchen air into a yummy potpourri. As I inhaled the stove-top perfume I felt the zen of culinary bliss take over my mind — which made for a great evening of relaxing and eating at home.

Cooking and creating the food that keeps us alive can be a true pleasure, these dishes were exactly that for me.

Eat, well cook often ...

Serves 4 to 6, 3 hours, 30 minutes
3 lbs pork shoulder, cut into cubes
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs oregano
1 bay leaf
2 oranges, zest and juice
3/4 C pineapple juice
2 C water

In a large pot, over medium-high heat brown pork in a little oil or lard on all sides. Work in batches if necessary, season to taste. Remove pork and add onion, cook until soft 4 to 6 minutes, season to taste. Add garlic, oregano and bay leaf, cook 1 minutes more or until fragrant. Return pork to pan and zest and juice from oranges, pineapple juice and water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Let simmer 2 hours. Remove lid and cook liquid out, 45 minutes to 1 hour more. Monitor closely toward the end. Remove from pot and serve. For Tacos I served carnitas with corn tortillas, onion, cilantro and salsa (recipe follows).

Makes 2 cups, 1 hour, 30 minutes
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
3/4 C pineapple juice
1 Tbs white vinegar
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 can chipotle in adobo sauce
1 C water
1 handful cilantro
2 limes, juice and zest

In a soup pot over medium heat, saute onion and jalapeno in a little oil until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Season to taste. Add oregano and garlic, cook until fragrant or a another minute or two.  Add pineapple juice, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, chipotles in adobo sauce and water. Bring to a simmer and let cook for an hour or until liquid has reduced by 3/4ths. Let mixture cool for a bit then pour in blender add cilantro, zest and juice of lime. Blend until smooth, 4 to 6 minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary, then serve.

Tangy Banana Pepper Chicken Salad

A wrap with banana pepper chicken salad

This was the third and final dish created from a family pack of chicken thighs I got for under $5, and by far my favorite of all three!

I love chicken salad for easy lunches and usually make it with leftovers. I just mix chicken with mayo, pickle relish, onion and celery and whala! I have a tasty filling for a sandwich. I prefer making it with grilled chicken just for the extra smoky grill flavor that comes through in the salad but any type of cooked chicken works, here the chicken was roasted.

This time I decided to replace the relish with pickled mild banana peppers. I ate a burger recently that featured them as a topping and I have been experimenting with them ever since. Their addition to chicken salad was an absolute home run. The peppers pack so much flavor and really give the spread a nice tang and vinagery heat. This batch made enough for two huge wraps that I ate on consecutive days for lunch.

Finishing up the chicken salad put an end to the 5 lbs of chicken thighs I purchased at the store for $4.84. I got two stir fry meals, 1 roasted chicken meal, and 2 huge burrito-sized wraps with the chicken salad. That puts the price of chicken at less than $1 per meal for myself.  Plus, I have some scraps in the freezer that will make a batch of stock for soup. (The stir fry and chicken salad recipes could have been stretched to 3 or 4 serving easily, depending on how big the appetite)

It's hard to not have food go to waste when cooking for 1. This time I was efficient and made some delicious food from a bargain priced family pack and nothing got thrown away. That's a win for the single cook!

Eat well, cook often ...

5 minutes, 1 hour inactive
Makes 4 servings
2 C Chicken cooked, shredded
1/2 C pickled mild banana peppers chopped
1/4 C onion, finely diced
2 Tbs mayo

1/2 to 1 C chicken salad
2 sliced pepper jack cheese
Shredded lettuce
1 large flour tortilla

In a bowl, mix together all ingredients until thoroughly combined. Cover and store in refrigerator for an hour to let flavors meld. Place Chicken salad, cheese and lettuce in the center of a large toritilla. Fold in sides and roll shut. Slice in half and serve.

Roasted Chicken and Cheddar Potatoes

Roasted chicken thighs and cheddar mashed potatoes with snap peas

This was an "in between" meal for me.

I purchased a 5 lb package of bone-in chicken thighs on sale for 87¢ per pound. Half of it I de-boned and made into green bean chicken stir-fry. The other half I roasted and shredded for chicken salad. Instead of shredding all of it, I grabbed two of the perfectly cooked thighs after they came out of the oven to enjoy for lunch and the end result was this plate of food.

While the chicken roasted, I made the cheddar potatoes. I steamed them in the microwave and mashed with cheese and unsalted butter. I didn't have any milk or cream to fluff them up so I couldn't call them actual "mashed potatoes" but they were tasty and a great compliment to the chicken.

This lunch took about 45 minutes, which was really just the time it took to roast and rest the chicken.

Like I said in the beginning, this is the "in between" meal, nothing fancy. I got creative with the other recipes I made using the thighs. I just couldn't resist eating a couple of them hot out of the oven, the aroma that filled my home was way to much to resist.

Eat well, cook often ...

45 minutes; 1 to 4 servings
2 to 8 chicken thighs

Preheat oven to 400° Season thighs all over with salt and pepper. Place on a foil lined sheet pan fitted with an oven safe baking rack. Put chicken in center of oven and roast for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and roast 15 minutes more or until meat in thickest part of thigh reaches 160° on a meat thermometer. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes, then serve.

Serves 2; 10 minutes
1 large or 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled, cut into chunks
1 cup cheddar cheese
4 Tbs unsalted butter

Place potatoes in a microwave steam bag. Season with salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of water to the bag then seal. Place in microwave and cook on high for 8 minutes or until soft and cooked through. Time can vary depending on microwave. Remove from bag and place in bowl. Add butter and cheddar cheese, mash with a potato masher until cheese and butter are melted and all is combined, then serve.

Ham, Egg and Cheese English Muffins

Ham, Egg and Cheese English Muffin

I love to make fried eggs and serve them on English muffins for breakfast ... and, I like my yolks runny.

To me the yolk of a fried egg is one of the best sauces nature can produce. Biting into a sandwich and piercing a yolk provides a rich and creamy enhancement to everything else included in the bite that ketchup, mustard or mayo could never match.

If I have to choose a breakfast bread for a sandwich there is no competition — English muffins. Toast them up. Add a fried egg, ham and cheese — that's pure breakfast bliss for me.

I made two ham, egg and cheese English muffins for myself yesterday morning and I enjoyed every bite. I wish I was motivated enough to make breakfast like this everyday but unfortunately I'm not. Until then, I will savor the moments when I get to stuff my face with such yummy grub!

Eat well, cook often ...

Makes 2 sandwiches, 20 minutes
4 thin slices of smoked ham
2 eggs
2 slices of cheddar jack cheese
2 English muffins

In a fry pan over medium high heat sear ham slices until little brown bits appear on surface, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Add a little oil to skillet. Cook eggs over easy. Salt and pepper to taste. While eggs cook toast English muffins. Once eggs are done and muffins toasted, stack eggs ham and slice of cheese on muffins. Then serve.

Green Bean Chicken Stir Fry

Green Bean Chicken Stir Fry

While growing up in the rural Midwest I overheard a number of conversations between grown men boasting about the number of quarts of green beans they had harvested and canned from their garden, as if they were talking about the number of women they had bedded at the local bar.

Snapping and canning green beans were just a normal part of summer when you're raised in Churubusco, Indiana.

I like green beans, but I want them dressed up. Plain, steamed beans really don't do much for me because I don't think they have much flavor. In my experience they are best as a canvas to paint flavors on. Green bean casserole is one of my favorite dishes — what makes it, is the creamy mushroom gravy and french onions — the beans are just filler.

With piles of green beans currently at my finger tips, I decided it was time to do something fun and have them co-star in a stir fry. I precooked the beans in a microwave steam bag first because I wanted to get them 90 percent cooked and could finish  them as they heated through with all the other ingredients.

My stir fry flavors start with ginger, garlic and onion and have a yummy sauce made of hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil and teriyaki. These ingredients could make any garden vegetable delicious, and are my go to ingredients for stir fry. For protein I choose chicken.

All of this is served over a bed of rice.

To my surprise it really went a long way, with just a pound and a half of chicken and a pound of green beans I was able to make enough to easily feed four people.

Green beans aren't the sexiest vegetables to feature in stir fry, but this is a tasty way to enjoy them — weather you buy them on-sale at the store — or you're shoveling buckets of them from the garden. This is a great way to eat green beans.

Eat well, cook often ...

Serves 4, 45 minutes
1 lb green beans, trimmed and snapped
1.5 lbs chicken thighs, boneless chunks
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1 Tbs garlic, minced
1/2 C onion, sliced
1/4 C hoisin sauce
1 Tbs rice vinegar
1 Tbs teriyaki sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 C uncooked rice

Place green beans in a microwave steam bag, season with salt and 1 tablespoon of water. Seal and microwave on high for 3 1/2 minutes. Let rest 1 minute more. Open and set aside until ready to add to stir fry.

In a large pan or wok over medium-high heat, brown chicken in a little oil until cooked through 6 to 8 minutes, stir occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove chicken and add onion, cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes, season to taste. Add ginger and garlic cook 1 minute more or until fragrant. Add beans and chicken to pan. Stir in hoisin, vinegar, sesame oil and teriyaki. Cook until heated through 5 to 6 minutes more, stirring frequently. Serve over rice.

Over high heat in a pot toss rice in a little oil. Add two cups of water, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer 10 to 12 minutes. Turn off heat, keep lid on tight and let rice steam 10 minutes more. Remove lid and fluff with a fork, then serve.

Taco Seasoned Ground Beef

I purchased a 3-pound family sized package of ground beef and divided it for a couple of different meals. One half became cheesy verde burgers and the other half I turned into taco meat! Cooked ground beef seasoned for tacos can become an element of several meals like nachos, taco salad or even pizza. Its not limited to just tacos.

For a person cooking for themselves or cooking ahead for a family member, seasoned taco meat is absolutely perfect. It stores well and can be frozen. When I was in college my mom would make 5 pound batches of taco meat for me to store in the freezer. I might have ran out of money for beer on a regular basis, but I always had meat for a plate of nachos.

The hardest thing about eating leftovers is having the same meal on consecutive days. With taco meat you can change up all the things surrounding it and give the leftovers a nice variety.

For this batch of taco seasoned beef, I made crunchy tacos the first day and a hearty plate of nachos a couple days later. (I have one serving left that I put away in the freezer)

For the seasoning I use my homemade American Taco Spice. It's versatile and can be used to season any cut of meat for grilling (like Pork Chops) but its main purpose is to be a cheaper, fresh and more flavorful replacement of the store bought taco seasoning packets that are loaded with sodium and preservatives.

Out of a 3 pound package of ground chuck intended for a family, I was able to make 4 burgers and 3 serving of seasoned meat for tacos and nachos. That's making the cheaper bulk packages work for the single cook, which can be difficult, because it seems everything at the grocery stores is packaged and sold to feed a herd.

Eat well, cook often ...

1.5 lbs ground chuck (80/20)
2 Tbs American Taco Spice

In a skillet over medium-high heat crumbled ground beef, mix in taco spice and cook until browned and cook through, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and serve or let cool, place in a freezer bag and store for later use.

3 Tbs chili powder
3 Tbs kosher salt
2 Tbs cumin
2 Tbs pepper
1 Tbs onion powder
1 Tbs garlic powder

Mix together, store in a tightly sealed jar.

Taco seasoned ground beef
8 to 10 crunchy taco shells
1 C shredded cheese
1 tomato diced
1/2 onion, diced
Cilantro or lettuce
Taco sauce

Warm shells in microwave or oven for a crunchier bite. Stuff shells with meat and toppings. Grub!

Taco seasoned ground beef
Tortilla chips, enough to cover dinner plate
1 C shredded cheese
diced tomato and onion
sour cream
salsa or taco sauce

Spread chips on plate. Top with meat and cheese, Heat on high in 45 second intervals with a minute rest between until cheese is melted. Top with tomato, onion, sour cream and salsa.

The Cheesy Verde Burger

The cheesy verde burger

I bought a 3 lb package of ground chuck on sale and decided I would make it into my weekly bargain buy and turn into several meals for myself — but it could just as easily feed a family on one or two occasions.

First thing I wanted to make was burgers. So I divided it in half.

Half would become 4 patties, the other half ... that will be my next post!

I took the half and split it into quarters, then formed each into nice round patties. I seasoned both sides with salt and pepper and preheated the grill. Once I threw them on I let the first side sear for 5 minutes then flipped. The second side I let go two minutes before adding a slice of cheddar jack cheese, which melted all over the patty during the final 3 minute cook. I pulled the burgers and rested 10 minutes before assembling a sandwich.

During the 10 minute rest, I sliced some fresh tomato and tore up some cilantro. Once properly rested, I stacked the burger on a bun, topped with the tomato and cilantro and slathered on some salsa verde I had made the night before with fresh tomatillos.

The burger was juicy and perfectly cooked.

The tomato, cilantro and salsa verde added a level of homemade pizazz that can only be found with fresh ingredients cooked perfectly to ones own personal preference. Nothing on this burger was squeezed from a can or squirted from a bottle —  It did have store-bought bread — but I can assure, the burger, with all these fresh toppings was a culinary experience. A painting of flavors that excites the taste buds rather than the retina.

This burger was the best single thing I had eaten in a while.

I made enough to make four sandwiches. Which means that the other three were stored and will become meals over the next few days. Two lunches and one more dinner most likely. The leftovers won't be as good as the fresh-off-the grill burger, but it will be better than McDonald on any day — and a hole hell of a lot cheaper!

Eat well, cook often ...

Serves 4, 30 minutes
1.5 lbs ground chuck, divided into 4 patties (1/2 inch thick)
4 slices cheddar jack cheese
4 slices fresh tomato
1/2 C of fresh cilantro, chopped
Salsa verde for topping (recipe follows)
4 toasted hamburger buns

Season patties with salt and pepper to taste. Preheat grill to high. Sear patties for 5 minutes on one side, with lid of grill closed. Flip. Sear two minutes more, lid on. Add cheese, close lid, cook three minutes more. Remove from grill. Let rest 10 minutes.

Top each burger with tomato slice, salsa verde and fresh cilantro. Then serve.

Makes 2 cups, 1 hour 30 minutes
1 lb tomatillos, quartered
1 red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, chopped
3/4 pineapple juice
1/2 C cilantro
3 limes, zest and juice

In a little oil over medium heat cook onion and jalapeno until soft, 4 to 6 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add garlic, cook 1 minute more or until fragrant. Add pineapple juice. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Let liquid reduce by 3/4ths. Add tomatillos and cook 4 minutes more stirring occasionally. Add water, reduce heat and simmer until liquid is reduce by 2/3rds, approximately 1 hour. Let mixture cool a little and pour into a bender, add cilantro, zest and juice of limes. Blend into a smooth sauce, 3 to 4 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve on tacos or burgers.

Chicken and Red Pepper Soup

Chicken and red pepper soup

This is the second dish I made from a 4 lb package of chicken thighs I had gotten for 88¢ per pound, the first was grilled thighs with potatoes and broccoli. I was planning on making three but just before adding the portion of roasted chicken I had set aside for the soup, I said to heck with it and threw all of it in. I'm glad I did because it made the soup extra chunky with lots of chicken.

This soup makes 4 big servings, add that with the two servings from the grilled thighs and that's 6 meals, making the chicken expense for all roughly 65¢ per serving. That is a great price point to start with and a good way to save a little extra money. Soup freezes well so if eating the left overs the next day doesn't appeal it can be made into a tasty ice cube and thawed for later.

This soup features the chicken but I also added two red peppers to the mirpiox. They were on sale at the grocery and I love their sweetness — hands down they are one of my favorite items to add to soup. If I would have had time I would have roasted the peppers before tossing them in but I needed my time for this soup dedicated to a long cook. Chicken thighs provided a buttery-rich flavor to the broth when given at least 45 minutes to simmer over low heat. As far as I'm concerned that long simmer makes this soup — or any chicken soup featuring the dark meat.

East well, cook often ...

Chicken and Red Pepper Soup
Chicken and red pepper soup
1 hour and 15 minutes
Serves 4
3 C chicken, thighs, roasted and shredded
2 red peppers, diced, seeded
3 stalks celery, diced
1 medium sized red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs Italian seasoning
3/4 C white wine
1 Tbs rice vinegar
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
4 C chicken broth

In a little olive oil saute the onion, celery and red pepper over medium heat until soft, 4 to 6 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add garlic and Italian seasonings cook until garlic becomes fragrant, 1 or 2 minutes. Add white wine, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce, increase heat, bring to a boil and let liquid reduce by 3/4ths, 5 to 7 minutes. Add broth and chicken, lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Remove from heat and serve.

Cumin Dusted Chicken Thighs

Cumin dusted chicken thighs

I have become much more efficient with my grocery shopping and eating.

Saturday, I bought a family pack of chicken thighs on sale for 88¢ a pound for a total price of $3.85. I will get at least 4 meals but more than likely 6 or 7 out of this package. That brings my cost per meal way down. And at the end of the week, I will have more money for beer! (Or actually the electric bill, but that's boring)

I opened the package and immediately set two aside to grill for lunch. The others were prepped and roasted for other uses.

I decided to keep it simple and hit the soon-to-be-grilled thighs with my favorite spice of all-time — cumin! I love its flavor

I like to cook bone-in thighs for at least 25 minutes on the high heat of the grill, or until the bone starts to recede from the meat, whichever comes first. To start it though, I like to sear it skin-side down for 8 to 10 minutes, so there is a nice and charred crust on the skin, I'll turn it a couple more times after that, but I make sure that the initial sear is long and hot. There is nothing better than crunchy chicken skin, its my favorite part of the bird!

Once the meat was cooked through I pulled it from the heat and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. It was during this time that I prepared the sides for this meal, which were steamed broccoli and Italian seasoned potatoes. Fresh ingredients steamed in the microwave – supper simple.

As I began to devour this feast, I was completely smitten by the crunchy well-seasoned skin, which I ate first. Then returned to the perfectly cooked dark meat. The potatoes and broccoli were just there for filler and dietary reasons and paled in comparison to the yummy thighs, but they made a nice compliment to the star of the meal.

Once the other thighs in the package were roasted and cooled I removed the bones and shredded the meat so it could be used in two more multiple-serving recipes later this week. The first of which will be, well ...

More on that later.

Eat well cook often ...

40 minutes, serves 2
2 large chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 large russet potato, peeled, cut into chunks
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
2 cups of fresh broccoli
1 microwave steam bag

Prehaeat grill to high heat. Season the thighs with salt and pepper then dust with the cumin. Once grill is ready sear chicken skin-side down for 8 to 10 minutes, turn and cook 12 to 15 minutes more turning a couple time until meat is cooked through or to an internal temperature of 160° remove from grill and let rest at least 10 minutes.

Place potato chunks in a microwave steaming bag, season potato with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. add a tablespoon of water. Seal and microwave for 7 minutes on high or until cooked through. Remove from bag. Rinse bag add broccoli and a tablespoon of water. Season to taste, seal and microwave on high for 3 minuets. Remove from bag. Serve potatoes and broccoli with chicken thighs.

Nacho Cheese and Pickled Jalapeños

Homemade nacho cheese and pickled jalapeños

Last weekend my Dad gave me a gallon-size freezer bag full of jalapenos harvested from his garden. The wet spring and summer in Northern Indiana did wonders for his plants and the bounty this year was much larger than in years past.

I used 18 right right off the bat by making poppers at the family campground, but I still had half a bag leftover and I ended up bringing them home.

I was cleaning in the kitchen Friday night and that mess of peppers was just sitting on my counter screaming "what are you gonna do with me!" After some thought, I decided to pickle them. They would never go bad if I did that.

I have pickled jalapenos before. This time, I did it a little different. Instead of just pouring the simmering liquid over the jalapenos in a bowl and then letting them cool — I added the peppers to the simmering liquid and let them cook for a few minutes. This changed their appearance to that olive-green color, similar to pickled jalapenos found on grocery store shelves. I let them cool, jarred them and put them away.

With the peppers in the fridge, Saturday night rolled around and I couldn't wait the recommended two weeks to let them fully pickle before trying them. I decided to make the occasion special and create a homemade nacho cheese for some gourmet ball-park-style nachos!

My favorite nachos feature runny cheese sauce. This type of sauce requires a little work. It starts with sweating down aromatics in butter, making a roux, adding milk and thickening it into a gravy and then the crucial part - gradually melting the cheese and making a gooey delicious sauce to scarf on. It takes some patients to make, but totally worth it.

Once I had my sauce, I broke out the peppers and a late night nacho feast ensued. The fresh-pickled jalapenos were rife with flavor — spicy and tangy. The cheese sauce — creamy with lots of depth. Making it extra yummy were the fresh-made tortilla chips from the deli of a local grocery I had purchased earlier in the day.

All together, it made for a legendary plate of nachos.

The best part: I still have enough nacho cheese for another batch or two waiting in the fridge!

Eat well, cook often ...

Makes 2 cups
30 minutes cooking, 2 weeks pickling
10 to 15 jalapenos, sliced thin
3/4 white vinegar
3/4 cup water
3 TBS sugar
3 Tbs salt
2 Tbs peppercorns
1 Tbs Old Bay seasoning

Mix together vinegar, water, sugar, salt, peppercorns and Old Bay seasoning in a pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer. Add sliced jalapenos, return to simmer and let cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer mixture to a resealable jar and refrigerate. Best if left to pickle for two weeks but can be eaten before.

Homemade nacho cheese and pickled jalapeños
Makes 2 1/2 C, 30 minutes
4 Tbs unsalted butter
4 Tbs flour
1/4 C red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno, finely diced
2 tsp garlic, minced
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
2 C milk
2 C pepper jack cheese, shredded
Salt to taste
Tortilla chips for serving

Melt butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Saute onion and jalapeno until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Add Chili powder, cumin and garlic cook 1 minute more. Stir in flour, mix well and let cook two minutes. Add milk and whisk until well incorporated, bring to a simmer and let thicken, 3 to 4 minutes. Add cheese 2 tablespoons at a time, whisking and stirring until completely melt. Repeat until all cheese is mixed in. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with tortilla chips and pickled jalapenos.

Easy Grilled Corn on the Cob

Perfectly cooked corn on the cob

Sometimes nature provides the most delicious flavors. All you have to do is cook it right.

To me, the greatest sauce on a burger is an egg yolk. There is nothing more delicious than biting into a perfectly cooked burger and piercing the yolk of a fried egg that adorns the sandwich. The natural flavor and richness of the beef and yolk together just can't be beat.

Another gift from mother nature: Sweet Corn!

Pick it from the garden, buy it from the store or just steal it from the neighbors. All you have to do is place it on a hot grill, husks and all, for half an hour and you have a festival of pleasure ready for your taste buds. Add a little salt and butter - It might convince you that grilled corn on the cob could be considered an option for your final meal if given the choice.

The natural casing of the husks provide the perfect steaming packet to cook the corn in. All you have to do is peel it back and clean off the silk and its ready to go.

In the last two weeks I have made grilled corn on the cob at least 5 times. Last weekend, I was out at the family campground and I made it on two different nights. My niece and nephews would grab a cob and walk around with it to snack on just as they would an ice cream cone. They would even come back for seconds with corn covering their faces and lodged in their teeth, but they didnt care, they just couldn't get enough. Same goes for myself.

It's that time of year in the Midwest when sweet corn is plentiful - get some!

Eat well, cook often ...

Sweet corn hot off the grill!
40 minutes, serves 2 to 4
4 ears of sweet corn, husks on
salt for seasoning

On a hot grill pre-heated to medium high place corn, and cook 30 minutes, turning once half way through cooking. Remove from grill and let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Peel off husks and wipe away any silk. Coat with butter and sprinkle with salt. Eat off the cob.

Old El Paso Pork Chops

Old El Paso Pork Chops seasoned with American Taco Spice.

I always have a homemade Mexican seasoning in my pantry that I like to call American Taco Spice.

If you sprinkle two tablespoons of it on a pound of ground beef, it will taste just like meat seasoned with the spice packet found in an Old El Paso taco kit. This type of taco seasoning and the popularity of tacos from Taco Bell have become the standard "taco" flavor in the U.S., although real Mexican tacos are vastly different.

My American Taco Spice seasoning doesn't require any water and it has no preservatives. It has a fresh taste with bolder flavors than the spice packet and makes for a mighty fine American taco. The star of the show is chili powder and cumin followed by salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder.

I use the seasoning on any cut of meat, not just for tacos and it's especially tasty on burgers. For this recipe, I sprinkled it on bone-in pork loin chops that I grilled for lunch. (Hence the name Old El Paso Pork Chops!) Joining the chops on the plate are microwave-steamed veggies and plain white rice. It was a healthy meal for two and the seasoning was key to making it extra delicious. The whole plate takes around a half hour to make.

Makes 1/2 cup
Store in jar with tight lid
3 Tbs Chili Powder
3 Tbs Kosher Salt
2 Tbs Cumin
2 Tbs Fresh Cracked Black pepper
1 Tbs Onion Powder
1 Tbs Garlic Powder

Mix together well. Use to season individual cuts of meat or 2 tablespoons per pound of ground meat for tacos.

Old El Paso Pork Chops with Veggies and Rice
Serves 2; 35 minutes
3  Bone-in Center Cut Pork Chops
2 Tbs American Taco Spice
1 Cup White Rice
12 oz (1 bag) Vegetable medley (Broccili, cauliflower and carrot)

Preheat grill to high. Season pork on both sides with American Taco Spice. (Approximately 1 teaspoon per side)

In a pot or sauce pan, stir rice in a little oil over high heat until well coated. Add 2 cups of water, boil and cover. Reduce heat to medium-low let simmer 10 minutes. Turn off heat, do not remove cover. Let steam until chops and veggies are finished. Remove lid and fluff.

Place chops over direct heat on grill. Let cook 3 1/2 minutes. Flip and cook 3 1/2 minutes more or until internal temperature reaches 130° for medium. Remove from grill, let rest 10 minutes.

In a microwave steam bag, Cook vegetables on high for five minutes. Let steam an extra minute or two more once microwave shuts off. Remove from bag. Start microwave as soon as chops are removed from grill and are resting.

Place a scope of rice, some veggies and a chop on plate and serve.

The chops were on sale: 3 weighing 1.30 lbs @ $2.99 per pound cost $3.89. The veggies were 40% off and cost $1.49 for 1 12 oz bag. The rice and seasoning were in my pantry. So the total cost of the fresh ingredients per serving was $2.68.  That's a steal for this yummolicious meal!

Eat well, cook often ...

Caribbean Style Chicken Wings

Printable version
This is a past post, but I decided to share it again. It's one of my favorite preparations for wings and I can't wait to make a batch of these to devour now that the warm weather is starting to roll in. These are a must try ...

When I first moved to New York in the fall of 1997 my new neighbors from the apartment above invited me over for dinner with their family and friends. They were from the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, a small republic off the northern coast of South America.

They made a spicy curried chicken with a number of sides inspired by their native country for the meal. At one point, I was asked to sample a peppery paste that went with the chicken. I took a small taste which made me cough and my eyes water. The entire group let out a big chuckle, because right before I sampled it I was bragging about how I could handle spicy food.

For this recipe, I make a dry rub for chicken wings with Caribbean flavors. It features ginger, coriander, allspice. It’s nothing like the pepper paste I tried at that dinner in New York, but it has many of the tropical island flavors I tasted for the first time as my new neighbors welcomed the “white boy from Indiana” into their community.

I lived in my first apartment in New York for five years. The couple who invited me to dinner moved out after the third year and I ended up getting to take-over the backyard, which I landscaped and turned into a small paradise in the middle of Queens. As soon as I moved in they let me put a charcoal grill back there, so getting to take it over for myself was the icing on the cake. It was a real luxury to have a backyard and it was there that I discovered my passion for cooking.

I would make entire meals over charcoal and way more food than I could possible eat in one sitting. It was nothing for me to buy three or four cuts of meat on a warm Saturday night and grill all of it for later in the week. I loved hanging out in my backyard with the grill blazing and the beer chilling.

That's where my culinary journey really took off - on a little patio in the middle of Long Island City, Queens.

Eat well, cook often ...

Serves 4; 1 hour
3 Tbs Salt
2 Tbs Brown sugar
2 Tbs Ground ginger
2 Tbs Ground coriander
2 Tbs Black pepper
1 Tbs Onion powder
1 Tbs Garlic powder
1 tsp Allspice
1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper
4 to 5 lbs Chicken wings

Make rub
In a bowl mix together salt, brown sugar, ginger, coriander, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, allspice and cayenne pepper.

Marinate wings

Sprinkle seasoning over both sides of wings and rub in with hands. Let marinate for 30 minutes in refrigerator. While wings marinate, prepare charcoal for grill.

Cook wings
Over medium high heat cook wings on grill until cooked through and juices run clear, 20 to 25 minutes, turning every 5 to 7 minutes. Remove and let rest at least 5 minutes, then serve

Southwestern Braised Chicken Thighs

When it comes to chicken, I've always grilled, fried or roasted it. Braising was something I hadn't done that often. With bone-in thighs on sale recently, I decided that it was time to get my braise-on and throw together a platter of Southwestern-style chicken.

The main reason I don't opt for cooking chicken in braises or steam, is the skin. I love it crispy! There is so much flavor there. I've been guilty of picking the skin off entire pieces of chicken and leaving what's rest for someone else to finish. A habit that would give me a great shot at employee of the month if I worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken!

What I found after preparing this dish was searing the chicken in a hot pan to start with was the secret. The brown crust provided texture on the skin and the fond on the bottom of the pan added yummy-goodness to the tomato-poblano sauce the chicken was braised in.

The braising liquid featured poblano pepper, tomatoes and cumin. This complimented the chicken, gave the rice plenty of flavor to absorb and was the real binder to the recipe's overall flavor.

In the end, I was really surprised by the absolute decadence of this dish. I would make it again for just about any occasion. And here is the best part: The cost of the entire dish – less than $7! (That's with the thighs on sale for 98¢ a pound.)

I haven't been posting as much since I moved last fall, but I have been cooking more than any other time in my life. Now that I'm starting to settle into my new location, I'm finding more time not only to cook but also prepare posts. In an effort to share more, I'm going to be doing a lot more posts that feature just a nice artsy picture or two of the dish. I'm still going to be doing my signature-style recipe graphics, but I want to share more of what I'm doing in the kitchen and I can do a post like this in less than an hour, a recipe graphic takes between 6 and 10!

Eat well, cook often ...

Serves 4, 1 hour
3 lbs Chicken Thighs
2 Poblano peppers, diced
1 Red Onion, diced
4 Garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs Cumin
2 tsp Oregano
1 tsp Red Pepper flakes
1 Can Diced Tomatoes (14.5 oz)
1 C Chicken broth
1 1/2 Rice
3 C water

Brown Chicken
Season chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Heat a little oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, brown chicken on both sides. 4 to 6 minutes per side. Remove to paper-towel lined plate.

Make sauce
In hot drippings, saute onion and poblano pepper until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add cumin, oregano, red pepper flakes and garlic. Stir and cook until fragrant. 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and chicken broth, scrape browned bits from bottom of pan and bring to a simmer.

Braise chicken, cook rice
Add chicken to pan, once mixture returns to simmer, cover, reduce heat to medium and let cook 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Stir occasionally. Add rice and water to sauce pan or pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Turn off heat, keep covered for 10 minutes more. Remove lid and fluff

Make a bed of rice on a large platter, spoon half of sauce on rice. Arrange chicken thighs on top. Spoon other half of sauce onto chicken, then serve.

Guilty Pleasures: Chili Dogs!

Chili dogs!

I love them.

Every greasy, salty unhealthy crumb.

They used to be my hangover cure. Now they're just my dirty little culinary secret.

I was at Meijer searching for the ingredients of a braised chicken dish when it hit – A craving from deep in my belly. It felt like a need greater than that of oxygen in my very lungs.

I had to have a chili dog - or four.

Not some fancy frank with a special homemade blend of sauce and fresh-made bun. I wanted a regular hot dog smothered in canned chili and delivered on wonder-bread. The kind of chili dog that will increase the chance of a heart attack by 37,000 times if eaten to often.

This dog isn't what you want to make if trying to impress a date or ingest for energy to run a 5K. A vegetarian would have an instant nervous breakdown at the sight of one of these dogs being devoured.

Yes indeed. A cheap package of hot dogs and a 10.5 oz can of no-bean, Hormel chili are essential to this sensational feast. I prefer diced red onion and shredded cheese as a garnish, and I always toast the buns.

Together these sinful treasures culminate in pure culinary bliss.

I probably eat chili dogs like this once every three or four months, I don't know if it's some pychological disorder or what, but I really do have a craving for these things, and I think they taste amazing!

Eat well, cook often ...

1 10.5 oz can of Hormel chili
8 hot dogs
8 hot dog buns
1/4 C diced onion
1/2 C shredded cheese (cheddar or jack)

Heat chili in a sauce pan on the stove or microwave in a micrwoave safe bowl. Cook dogs on a grill or on the stove. Toast buns. Place dog on bun, slather with chili, sprinkle with onion and cheese. Devour! 

Homemade Chicken Stock

Printable version
To take soup or other broth based dishes to a different level on the flavor scale, it should should feature a homemade broth or stock, like the recipe featured in this post. The end results can be restaurant quality recipes sure to warm the soul.

I recently found leg quarters on sale for 99 cents a pound. At first I thought of roasting them but by the time they hit the bottom of the shopping cart, I knew a batch of my own chicken stock was in order.

I spent my next day off cooking the quarters down into a yummy liquid then dividing and storing the results. I was left with a gallon of goodness that I portioned into four 1-quart containers. Three of which I froze for use later and the other I used to make a batch classic Mexican red chili sauce.

Mounting the TV

This broth was a great project for a cool winter day and a nice break from the customizing and renovating I have been doing in my new place over the last few months. As much as I have talked about the home improvements in my last few posts, I thought I should share more of them here.

Immediately upon entering my apartment, a focal point jumps out in the living room - a black slate fire place.  Once I started putting the room together I was trying to find the best place for my flat screen TV. After hours of contemplation, one logical place seemed to jump out - right over the fireplace. Otherwise, I would have competing focal points.

I started by building a hollow shelf that would hold my TV components and hide all the wiring inside. Before mounting the shelf, I taped off the area above the slate and painted it flat black to carry the slate color up the wall. I placed the TV over the shelf, then hid all the wiring.

This was my first big project and the end result is an eye catching focal point for my living room.

More on the renovation later, until then, make some yummy broth!

Eat well, cook often ...

Makes 4 quarts; 4 to 5 hours
5 lbs Chicken leg, quarters
1 large Onion, quartered
3 stalks Celery, chopped
3 Carrots, chopped
1 turnip, quartered
6 cloves Garlic
4 sprigs Thyme
2 Bay leaves
2 Tbs Salt
1 Tbs Peppercorns

Make stock
In a 12 quart pot, place leg quarters, onion, celery, carrot, turnip, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, salt and peppercorns. Fill pot with water covering ingredients by an inch or two. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours. Stir occasionally.

Strain liquid and discard solids. Return liquid to pot and simmer for another hour reducing liquid even further. Skim fat off top with a spoon.

Divide and use or store

Remove pot from heat and let liquid cool for a few minutes. Portion into quart containers, let cool a little more. Skim fat off top with a spoon. Use in a recipe or cover and freeze for up to six months.