So over the last three weeks I had a long trip for work to Paris and then right away, a shorter trip for relaxation to Colorado (I know, I know, you’re not crying for me). After arriving home in Southeast Texas in the wee hours last night and working all day today, I found myself home alone for dinner tonight with no “on purpose” food in the refrigerator. That is, no food that was purchased with a menu or recipe in mind; all the Grill-Meister and I have in the icebox is a plethora of condiments and some too-old leftovers, and he’s not here tonight to justify my ordering Chinese.
What to do? What to do?
Comfort food to the rescue: a Scrambled Egg Sandwich.
I give thanks to my Dad for teaching me the joys of this humble little culinary bundle of joy. I made it a little differently than he did when I was growing up: his version with “Sandwich Spread” and cheddar on white bread evolved into mine with jalapeño jack and fresh baby spinach on wheat, but it’s still a wonderful go-to comfort food item.
There’s really no recipe for this: simply scramble a couple of eggs the way you like them (don’t forget the salt and pepper), toast a couple of pieces of bread, and assemble by resting the eggs atop a bed of baby spinach or perhaps some thinly sliced tomatoes on the bottom piece of toast, adding a slice of your favorite cheese and topping with the second piece of toast. Voila, a lovely dinner for one, reminiscent of your childhood. Or mine, at least.
I’m curious – what is YOUR easy comfort food when you’re home alone?
If you’re like me and have never tried ribs before, and, also like me, perhaps a bit intimidated by the vague feeling that you have to smoke them for hours and they still might come out tough, this is the recipe for you!
I rolled up my sleeves one rainy Saturday afternoon and pulled together this ribs recipe when the Grill-Meister was out playing dominos with his friends. Then I surprised him with them when he got home. Score!
Succulent and fall-off-the-bone-tender with just the right balance of spicy-sweet and piquant, these ribs take their ‘cue (pun intended!) from the spicy rub they get before baking and a last-minute swab of homemade sauce before a quick char on the grill.
Ingredients (Serves 4-6)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp cup coarse salt
2 tbsp cup ancho or chipotle chilé powder (use paprika if you don’t like it spicy)
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tbsp black pepper
1/2 tbsp white pepper
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 racks St. Louis style pork spareribs, 2 1/2 – 3 lbs each
Honey-Chipotle Barbecue Sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup chopped chipotle peppers and sauce
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup catsup
2 tbsp of the spice rub
Preheat oven to 300. In a small mixing bowl, combine the spice rub ingredients. Set aside 2 tbsp of the spice rub to use in the sauce, and then rub the ribs generously with the mixture.
Wrap each rack of ribs in heavy duty foil, sealing completely. Place seam side up on a pan or cookie sheet with a decent-sized lip. Bake for 2 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, make the barbecue sauce by putting all ingredients in a small, heavy saucepan, heating to a boil and then reducing to a simmer. Cook at a simmer until reduced and thickened.
When the ribs have 20 minutes left to bake, preheat a gas or charcoal grill to high heat. When 2 1/2 hours have elapsed, remove the ribs from the oven and carefully undo the foil around the ribs, being cautious about steam and very hot pan juice. Place the ribs on a different cookie sheet or platter and reserve the pan juice for another use (I like to use it to make stock with the rib bones).
Take the ribs outside to your barbecue, slather the sauce on one side and place on the grill, sauce side down. You may have to be very gentle with the ribs, because they will be very tender and may want to fall apart. Slather the sauce again on the top side just after you place the ribs on the grill. Sear on each side for 4-5 minutes until there’s a nice char, then remove them. Place on a cutting board and cut between the bones. Serve with extra sauce on the side.
These ribs are so good with just a quick slaw. I created a complementary Chipotle-Fennel Slaw when I made the ribs a couple of weeks ago and will publish that recipe soon. And until then, here’s a Pepper Jelly Slaw.
The Grill-Meister owned a German deli here in our little suburb of Houston for a while, years before we met. The relics of that adventure are “I would never want to own a restaurant again” and this marvelous sandwich, the U-Boat. It’s a German-ish variation of an Italian sub sandwich.
The U-Boat is party food. Big bites for people with big appetites. Perfect for big games or big parties or just a bunch of hungry teenagers.
I convinced the Grill-Meister to revisit the U-Boat recently for a Super Bowl party we were attending, and documented his every move as he made it. Here is the recipe, just for you.
The U-Boat Sub
Ingredients (serves 4 as a main course, 8-12 as an appetizer)
Large loaf of soft Italian or French bread (not a baguette), sliced in half longways
7 oz. thinly sliced Black Forest ham
5 oz. thinly sliced garlic (German) bologna
2 oz. thinly sliced hard salami
6-8 slices each of provolone, American and Swiss cheese
2 large, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 head of iceberg lettuce, shredded or sliced in ribbons
Your favorite Italian dressing, about 1/4 cup or enough to spread across the top of the French bread
Freshly ground pepper
Large wooden picks (optional)
Gather all ingredients and place the bread on a cutting board. Starting with the ham, add a layer of meat, then alternate with a layer of cheese, overlapping the slices in each layer. Then scatter a layer of red onions, followed by the tomatoes. Add a liberal amount of freshly ground pepper, then the lettuce. Sprinkle a generous amount of the Italian dressing on the second half of the bread, then position it atop the sandwich. If you’re serving the U-Boat as an appetizer, use the picks to secure it in sections, about 1 1/2 inches apart. If it is a main course, cut the U-Boat in quarters.
Where did the name U-Boat come from? The Original Italian U-Boat was a successful submarine sandwich restaurant in Chicago that swelled from a single location in 1975 to 32 stores in its heyday, only to file for bankruptcy and close during the recession in 1983. Chicagoans remember it fondly, according to this article. There isn’t a recipe for their U-Boat Sub online, although it may exist in someone’s attic. The Grill-Meister’s U-Boat is similar to recipes for an Italian Sub, although it has a German spin with the Black Forest ham and garlic bologna.
We love to make paninis when we visit Little House in the Rockies in Central Colorado. There’s something about eating a hearty sandwich by the fire while looking out the window at a snowy forest – it’s comforting food in an even more comforting setting.
The latest is a throw-together panini that turned out great! Canadian bacon, provolone, mushrooms and fresh basil on ciabatta buns rocks! Here are some loose instructions; this is a recipe that is wonderful in its inexactness. If you don’t have a panini press (or two), just make this sandwich like a grilled cheese, turning it to cook each side.
Canadian Bacon, Provolone and Mushroom Panini (Makes 6)
6 ciabatta buns
12 Canadian bacon slices
6 slices provolone cheese
2/3 cup of sliced mushrooms
approximately 1/4 cup Italian dressing
1/2 bunch of fresh basil, roughly chopped or torn
freshly ground pepper
small amount of olive oil in a bowl (to brush on the buns)
Dijon mustard and dill pickles (optional, for serving)
Toss the mushrooms in a small bowl with just enough Italian dressing to coat them. Open the ciabatta buns and lay them out on a cutting board, then arrange mushrooms on the bottom half of each bun. Top with a generous amount of the torn basil, then with freshly ground pepper. Next, add the provolone, one slice for each sandwich, folding the slices so that they don’t hang over the sides of the buns. Follow with two slices of Canadian bacon for each sandwich, then add the bun tops. Turn the paninis over and brush lightly with olive oil on the bottom.
Heat the panini press to medium and add the sandwiches, olive oil side down, then brush the tops with more olive oil. Close the press carefully, press down, and cook until the inside of the paninis are done and the ciabatta buns are nicely toasted. Serve with Dijon mustard or other condiments, as desired.
Note: these panini presses are Sunbeam, and while they’re fine for a little cabin in the Rockies, we prefer the one we have at home. It gets a workout every Wednesday when the Grill-Meister makes dinner, AKA Sandwich Wednesday. Read all about it in the posts below, which also provide a couple of recipes and panini cookbook recommendations.
The fourth post in a series about the New Orleans Jazz Festival covering food (restaurants and recipes), fun, music and travel tips.
In the run-up to our Jazz Fest trip in early May, we are building anticipation by looking back at past good times in New Orleans. So many wonderful experiences! Magical and memorable performances by musicians: famous, less famous and not-famous-but-fabulous. Festival food so good that it inspires poetry. World-class restaurants run by award-winning chefs that serve dishes so beautiful and tasty you think you might be dreaming (like Dorothy in the Emerald City). I can’t wait to get back!
On the topic of great restaurant meals, I’d like to start this post with a confession: I have a “food crush” on New Orleans chef Susan Spicer.
Spicer’s career journey is the one I would have chosen if I’d known earlier I’d be in love with food all my life, and if I had more talent, and if I was from New Orleans, and if I wasn’t truly in love with my own career in knowledge management…well, you get the idea. Who is Susan Spicer, you ask? Said Chris Waddington of the New Orleans Times-Picayune in a 2015 profile:
Susan Spicer’s Bayona qualifies as a New Orleans culinary landmark. That happens when a restaurant lasts 25 years in the same French Quarter location, when the chef piles up critical kudos, launches new talents, expands on local traditions and pens a well-regarded cookbook.
He’s right, and then some! She has a James Beard award! She has been a guest actor on the HBO Show Treme, and is the basis for one of the characters! I first learned of Spicer’s restaurant, Bayona, while scanning travel guide books during the one-hour flight from the Bayou City (Houston) to the Crescent City. (This was before TripAdvisor was a thing.) My friend Nancy and I were on a girls’ trek to Jazz Fest, our first time to make this particular trip together. We dog-eared restaurants that piqued our interest and vowed to hit as many as we could in our 3 big days in the Big Easy. Bayona was high on the list – it “had me” at Cream of Garlic soup (see recipe at the end of this post). The Frommer’s review included this single-word sentence (about lamb topped with goat cheese): “Heaven.”
Bayona was beyond perfection when we visited for lunch. Nestled in a 200-year old Creole cottage in the French Quarter, it is a quiet retreat from the throbbing pulse of New Orleans. Seated on the patio amidst huge tropical plants protected by surrounding 18th-century brick walls, you are aware from the first moment that you are in for something special.
Wine glasses are crystal, as it should be
Just as lovely in my amateur photos
And then, there’s the food. I could try to describe it, but…words fail me. Truly. The dish below was so good that I had it again the next year when the Grill-Meister and I made the Jazz Fest trek, our first time in the Crescent City together.
When I dragged the (very willing) Grill-Meister to Bayona in 2012, we asked about Susan Spicer’s cookbook, Crescent City Cooking. They sell copies at the restaurant. I made my “food crush” confession to our (excellent) waiter and we enthusiastically told him to add a cookbook to our bill. A few minutes later, out came Susan with the cookbook! She was incredibly gracious and autographed my copy. The cookbook is wonderful, and my food-love and admiration for her continues.
Like the rest of New Orleans, Bayona doesn’t take itself too seriously (except for the food). The staff is warm, welcoming, fun, and perhaps a bit quirky. The interior decor is bright and colorful.
After Nancy and I did the first recon, and then went back the next year, the Grill-Meister was my Bayona date. He had the Cream of Garlic Soup during his first Bayona experience. Oh. My. Gosh! The recipe was published on the internet, so I have repeated it here, courtesy of the Times-Picayune:
Makes 8 servings
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups peeled and sliced onions
2 cups peeled but not chopped garlic cloves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
7 cups chicken stock
1 bouquet garni (parsley stems, thyme sprigs and bay leaf)
3 cups stale bread, torn into 1⁄2-inch pieces
1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
Salt and pepper
Heat the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until they turn a deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Add the thyme, 6 cups of the chicken stock, and the bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Stir in the bread cubes and let simmer for 10 minutes, until the bread is soft. Remove the soup from the heat and cool for 10 minutes.
I first tasted Chipotle Chicken Salad on a multi-family road trip to the Rio Frio area of West Texas. It was a marvelous concoction by my friend Theresa on her day to make lunch for the crowd. I never got her recipe, and she is cooking with the angels now. I miss her every day. But I devised my own recipe based on that taste memory, and it’s pretty darn good. It’s also very easy, and quick. I made it recently as an appetizer for a football-watching party and aw, shucks, there was abundant praise. This recipe is as foodie-worthy as it is appropriate for a tailgate party. Hmmm, there’s a big game coming up…
Chipotle Chicken Salad
3 cups cooked chicken, white and dark meat, skin off, roughly chopped (one regular-sized rotisserie chicken should yield about 3 cups when deboned)
1/2 cup diced onion (red, white or yellow based on your preference or mood)
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1 cup jalapeño jack or jalapeño cheddar cheese
1 minced chipotle chile and 1 1/2 tbsp. of the adobo sauce (from a small can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce)
1/3 cup plain greek yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 can of mild green chiles (4 oz.)
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ancho chile pepper (ground)
bread, rolls or crackers for serving, or you can put it on a bed of mixed greens
pepper jelly spread (optional), if you make little slider sandwiches
chopped cilantro for garnishing
Combine the chicken, onion, cilantro and cheese in a medium bowl and toss. In a small bowl, mix the chipotle and adobo sauce, yogurt, mayonnaise, green chiles, salt and ancho chile powder, then pour over the chicken combination. Stir well to mix, taste, and adjust seasonings if necessary. You can also add more mayo or yogurt if the mixture is too dry.
Garnish with cilantro and serve with crackers, slider rolls or on a bed of mixed greens. Pepper jelly is a great condiment; I like the Inferno Sauce from Just Pure Flavors, a regular at our local farmers’ market.
About the Ingredients
I use a rotisserie chicken for this recipe, both the white and dark meat, which provides a broader range of taste and texture than just using chicken breast.
I go back and forth between using red, white or yellow onions – they are all good for their own reasons. Red onions are apropos in Southwest dishes, and pretty. Yellow onions are sweet and mellow. White onions are crunchy, sharper and more pungent. It’s all dependent upon your onion mood.
The Greek yogurt really gives the chicken salad a tart and tangy taste, while the mayo provides a sweet creaminess. I like using them together for the balance. You can use nonfat yogurt and light mayonnaise without impacting the taste, in my humble opinion.
If you have never used chipotle chies, it’s easy. Just pop open the can and use the amount you need, saving the rest for later. For this recipe, fish out a whole chipotle pepper, then mush your measuring spoon in the adobo sauce to get the 1 1/2 tbsp. you need.
I like McCormick’s Ancho Chile Pepper for the dried spice-it-up kick. If you can’t find it, cayenne will do, but it won’t be as multidimensional, taste-wise.
As the “delivery device” for serving the Chipotle Chicken Salad, I used King’s Hawaiian Rolls this time, both jalapeño and regular-flavored, and of course the jalapeño ones went first – bring on the spice! The slider-sized sandwiches are just right for a hearty party like the football-watching event we attended.
Wheat Thins or water crackers are also a great delivery device, more appropriate for snacking or an appetizer for a cocktail party.
Some of the most alluring recipes I’ve come across in my years of cooking have been published in Wine Spectator. They are always perfectly paired with wine, described delectably and photographed beautifully, and I’ve been known to keep back issues for years, planning to make that picture-perfect meal a reality in my kitchen. Someday.
The December 23, 2002 issue had just such a meal: A Holiday Menu from Wine Country. Oh my, it looked good: White Bean Soup with Fried Sage, Pan-Roasted Duck with Root Vegetable Hash and Sweet Potato Puree…whee! I held onto that issue of Wine Spectator for a couple of years, revisiting the recipe and ingredients a bit wistfully from time to time while realizing that my everyday life with a small child didn’t really support making this super-sophisticated meal. But as they say, good things come to those who wait. I finally broke out that recipe for a very small girls’ night at my house during the holidays a few years later. It was just two of my closest friends and me, ready to cook, laugh, tell stories and maybe even cry a little (if necessary) in the little kitchen of my 1920s wood-frame cottage. Two of us were single moms at the time, and the third a “restaurant widow”: her husband was the managing partner at a very popular restaurant, and was never home in the evenings. All three of us were without children that night, for various reasons. “Like sailors on leave,” one of them said.
The menu from the magazine, billed as an easy holiday meal to make at home, was provided by the executive chef of Napa Valley’s Auberge du Soleil, Richard Reddington, who was described as wine country’s “hottest young chef”.
The last thing I want to do on a holiday is kill myself in the kitchen,” Reddington says. “I want to be done and I want the kitchen to be clean and I want to sit down with my guests for an hour and drink a glass of sparkling wine.”
Gentle readers, you should know that there are definitely different definitions of “easy”. Easy, it was not. Tasty, it was. Might as well drink that sparkling wine while you’re making the dinner, because it will be a while before you get to the finish line.
In my little kitchen with my two girl-buddies, there was a frenzy of chopping and chatter, and it took us a couple of hours to get the meal made. We had a marvelous time, uncovering the meaning of life and praising the fiber of root vegetables as we sautéed each of them individually before mixing them (they don’t cook at the same rate and might get mushy if crammed together in a pan). We also praised ourselves for being smart and sophisticated enough to appreciate root vegetables – no bourgeoisie, we! We exclaimed over the richness of the pureed sweet potatoes as we laid crispy-skinned pan-fried duck on them and began the devouring.
We drank our wine and told our stories with the desperate urgency of moms who only have a night off a couple of times per year – and of course the kids took center stage in all of those stories.
We knew were were the luckiest gals in the world that December evening, with our wine, our stories, and our fiber-laden root vegetables. I cherish the memories of that night, with that meal, and those ladies. One of them has left us and is now cooking with the angels, and I imagine her in heaven savoring the super-crispy duck skin with the rich, smooth pureed sweet potato and crunchy, root vegetable hash without worrying about the calories. If you’re interested, you can read more about her here, but grab a cup of coffee first, ’cause it’s a long one.
Gather some friends and try these recipes one day when you have time. They won’t be quick and easy, but you won’t be sorry. Here it is again: A Holiday Menu from Wine Country.