Finalist in City Barbecue Sauce Contest, April 12, 2014 1-4 pm

If anyone living in the Cary, North Carolina area sees this and would be able to attend the opening of City Barbecue on Kildaire Farm Rd. between 1 and 4 pm, please vote for my sauce: Matt Miller’s Knobby Sauce! I am one of six finalists and I really need to “get out the vote”!!! Thanks!

Matt Miller's Knobby Sauce ...mmm MMM!!!

Matt Miller’s Knobby Sauce …mmm MMM!!!

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Easy Vegetarian Pazole in the Crock Pot

Easy Vegetarian Pazole

Easy Vegetarian Pazole…I went back and removed the big pieces of chili and chopped them. Next time, I’ll break-up into small pieces first!

Always looking for something vegetarian that is still satisfying. This one fits the bill! Traditionally made with pork, pazole is a Mexican stew made with hominy. Hominy can be purchased canned or dried. I find the canned to be easy and good. Plus, the liquid in the can adds both liquid and flavor to the stew. Pazole is a corn product that has been dried and treated in an alkali solution using lye or lime (not the citrus). Grits are nothing more than ground hominy. It can usually be found in white or yellow. The canned version is a bit chewy and looks large and puffy, compared to a regular corn kernel. Combined with some other common ingredients, it makes a great stew. It is also versatile! Some people might like to add chopped green chilies, crushed red pepper, hot sauce, regular corn, etc. In the summer, you could add some of that abundant squash and/or zucchini and use fresh tomatoes. I find my version here to be on the spicy side, but not killer. You can serve as is, or you could serve with some rice or macaroni. If you want to garnish it, I would recommend sour cream/crema, fresh cilantro and some crispy tortilla strips. Enjoy!

Ingredients

Ingredients

Ingredients

1 can Black Beans, not drained (or 1 pint, home canned)

1 large can Diced Tomatoes, not drained (fire roasted  is okay, or 1 quart home canned)

1 large can Mexican Style Hominy, not drained

2 large dried Guajillo Chilies

2  or 3 dried Pasillo Chilies

1 Tablespoon Ground Cumin

1 Tablespoon Ground Oregano

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Directions

Preheat a large crock pot on high temperature. Add all the canned ingredients and the oregano and cumin. Cover and let start warming. Break up the dried chilies and remove the seeds and stems. In a microwave safe bowl, microwave the chilies for 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on the power of your microwave. DSC04285

Cool enough to handle…do NOT breath the fumes as you remove the chilies from the microwave! When cool, break into very small pieces and add to the crock pot and stir to combine. (I missed that to bebin with and had to go back and fish the big pieces out and chop them.) Cook on high for 4 to 6 hours or overnight on low. Refrigerate any unused stew. It will be even better the next day! Serve hot. Enjoy!

Ready to serve...but I'm refrigerating and serving tomorrow. It'll be even better!

Ready to serve…but I’m refrigerating and serving tomorrow. It’ll be even better!

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Lobster Spaghetti

Lobster Spaghetti

Lobster Spaghetti

For Valentine’s Day recently, Whole Foods had a promotion to give a free lobster tail with certain steak purchases. Well, since my wife is allergic to all types of shellfish, the lobster tail was NOT part of the Valentine’s Day Dinner. So I had a REALLY nice lunch, a couple of days later!

Start by boiling spaghetti according to package directions. In a small skillet, bring enough water to a simmer to halfway cover the lobster tail. You can use a skewer or a chopstick and run it lengthwise through the lobster tail. This is an optional step, but it keeps the tail from curling and aids in even cooking. Simmer the tail for 3 to 5 minutes per side, depending on the size of the tail, until just barely cooked through. Remove and allow to cool enough to handle. Continue to boil the water (which is now a nice lobster flavored stock) Reduce the water by half.

Lobster for lunch...well it seems to be relatively inexpensive and abundant right now!

Lobster for lunch…well it seems to be relatively inexpensive and abundant right now!

In a large saute pan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Remove the skewer or chopstick from the tail, if using. With a large chef’s knife, split the tail lengthwise and remove the meat. Cut the tail meat into bite sized pieces. Add the lobster to the saute pan and saute briefly. Add 1 finely sliced or pressed garlic clove and continue to saute for another minute. Using the reserved lobster stock, add enough to make a light sauce. As an option, you could also add a 1/4 c. half’n’half or cream, if you like. Simmer to reduce a bit. Season with a little salt and pepper and toss in about 8 ounces of cooked spaghetti noodles (more or less, depending on your appetite). Toss to coat with the sauce and serve with some good Parmesan cheese…if you really want to tick off an Italian. They supposedly do not eat cheese with seafood…whatever. I loved it. You could serve this as a side dish or appetizer at dinner and divide into two smaller portions.

Note: you could use this same method with shrimp or other shellfish. Enjoy!

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Putting together Valentine’s Dinner…Steak, 2 Salads, cauliflower, etc.

We have had a bunch of snow lately, which isn’t a common occurrence for my area. I was able to get out this morning for some dinner supplies, but I didn’t do a big production for Valentine’s Day this year. We did, however, have a great meal!

Valentine's Dinner 2014

Valentine’s Dinner 2014

The menu was steak, green beans, cauliflower, salad and bread. (And a heart shaped cookie for dessert.) The steak was pan seared with butter and olive oil and the finished in the oven. The green beans were, honestly, canned. I drained them, rinsed them with fresh water three times and flavored with a few dashes of Maggi Seasoning. (If you don’t have to feed them to a vegetarian, you could use a beef bouillon cube. If you have no health concerns and want the traditional Southern flavor, render a little salt pork or fatback and then add the beans and simmer for awhile.) The cauliflower was roasted with olive oil and fresh garlic. I made two salads. One was a traditional Caesar and the other was mixed greens with Granny Smith apples, walnuts, feta cheese and a homemade balsamic vinaigrette, which also doubled as a dip for the warmed French baguette.

I went ahead and washed, prepped and spun dry the salad greens. I grated about 1/4 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano chesse for the Caesar salad. I used a store-bought Caesar dressing.

Spun romaine

Spun romaine

Preparing for Caesar.

Preparing for Caesar.

I made a balsamic vinaigrette with 1 garlic clove, pressed, salt pepper, a teaspoon dijon mustard and 3 parts extra virgin olive oil to 1 part good quality aceto di balsamico. Put in a sealed container and shake! I prepared acidulated water for the apples with half a lemon juiced into a couple of cups of water and then toss in the squeezed lemon. This keeps the apple sliced from browning. Assemble the other ingredients and have the standing by.

Fancy Salad Ingredients

Fancy Salad Ingredients

Apple slices in acidulated water

Apple slices in acidulated water

The steaks were seasoned on both sides with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and garlic powder. I melted a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a heavy, flat bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.

Pan searing the steaks

Pan searing the steaks

When the pan was ready, I added the steaks and seared for a few minutes on either side, basting them in the butter and olive oil, and then put them in the oven that was preheated to 375F.

The cauliflower (one head) was separated into florets, tossed with extra virgin olive oil and 2 cloves of freshly pressed garlic. These were placed, in a single layer, on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet.

Cauliflower with Olive Oil and Garlic...ready to roast

Cauliflower with Olive Oil and Garlic…ready to roast

This went into the same 375F oven as the steaks. Timer was set for 15 minutes to remind me to check on the cauliflower. (I was also doing two vegan “crabless” cakes that went in on the same tray as the cauliflower, turned over when I checked on the cauliflower and roasted another 10 minutes.)

Flip the steaks after a few minutes and finished to desired degree of doneness. Removed from the oven to rest for at least 5 minutes. Turned the oven off and placed the baguette inside the oven.

Steaks, resting.

Steaks, resting.

Removed the cauliflower from the oven after a total of about 25 minutes in the oven.

Roasted cauliflower with a couple of vegan "crabless" cakes

Roasted cauliflower with a couple of vegan “crabless” cakes

Assemble the salads. Added a handful of walnuts (maybe 1/3 cup) to the the mixed greens. Also added the sliced Granny Smith apples, spun dry.  For the Caesar, I added the croutons and shredded parmigiano. I seasoned both salads with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Just before serving, I tossed the salads with dressing…not too much! You can add more, but you don’t want it soggy.

Get dressed!

Get dressed!

Everybody in the pool!

Everybody in the pool!

Looking back, I should have made some cocktail or tartar sauce for the vegan “crabless” cakes. Just a note on these: I got these for two reasons. 1) My wife has been mostly vegetarian for a couple of years now and 2) she is deathly allergic to shellfish. Whole Foods makes the product that I used. It has NO shellfish in it at all…not even an extract or fake crab. And they are quite good! My wife had one for the first time a couple of weeks ago and she said it was the first time she had something that actually tasted like a crab cake in the last 30 years…and she used to really like crab cakes. She said she couldn’t help but have reservations and a little anxiety because it tasted so real! Thanks, Whole Foods! (And you’re welcome for the plug!)

I was serving ribeye to my kids, so I went ahead and cut it up and separated out the fat for them. They didn’t take all the meat, so I used the rest on my plate. So, I practiced a little portion control AND I have a whole other ribeye for tomorrow, which I will enjoy!

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English Sticky Toffee Pudding

English Sticky Toffee Pudding

English Sticky Toffee Pudding

I recently had a snow day. After getting the kids squared away with going out to play, I decided to make some English Sticky Toffee Pudding. I had been put in the mood for ESTP when I had some nice English Strong Ale from a local, new brewery that specializes in “English inspired Ales”. I had ESTP several times while in England for a vacation several years ago…it quickly became a favorite and “must have”. Well, I found a two-pack commercially available product in the grocery store…in the Britsh Stuff section. It was okay, to satisfy an immediate craving, but it wasn’t as good as I knew it could be. So, I jumped on Pinterest and read several recipes and found one I liked…one that used American measurements and ingredients. My only edits were adding a little more molasses, because I only had light brown sugar and substituting Half’n’Half for heavy cream, in the sauce.

English Sticky Toffee Pudding

(found at http://www.lafujimama.com/2012/08/sticky-toffee-pudding/ . Further credits referenced there.)

Ingredients:

Sticky Toffee Pudding ingredients

Sticky Toffee Pudding ingredients

For the cake:

6 ounces chopped and pitted dates
1 cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons softened butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed (or light brown and add 1 T. Molasses)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Sauce:

2 cups heavy cream (or Half’n’Half)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed (or light brown and increase molasses by 1 T.)
2 1/2 tablespoons molasses
1 pinch sea salt

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and then grease an 8×8 square baking pan and line it with parchment paper.

Line your pan with parchment paper, about 10-1/2" square for an 8"x8"x2" pan

Line your pan with parchment paper, about 10-1/2″ square for an 8″x8″x2″ pan

2. Make the cake: Combine the dates and water in a sauce pan.  Bring the water to a boil, then remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the baking soda, (It will foam up…don’t let it surprise you!) then set the saucepan aside.

Dates, brought to boil, baking soda added, stirred, set aside.

Dates, brought to boil, baking soda added, stirred, set aside.

3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a bowl.

4. In a separate mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula a few times.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined. Next add the vanilla and mix until incorporated.

5. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low.  Then add all of the date mixture and mix to combine. Then finish by adding the remaining half of the flour mixture and mix until incorporated.

Mixing

Mixing

6. Scrape the mixture into the prepared baking pan and bake in the oven for about 35 minutes, or until the cake is springy in the middle. (Test with cake tester or skewer…should come out clean…or almost clean. Better to be slightly underdone than over.)

Into the oven!

Into the oven!

Let the cake cool for 20 minutes and then poke holes in it with a skewer.  While the cake is cooling prepare the toffee sauce.

Poke the cake and top with sauce.

Poke the cake and top with sauce.

Toffee Sauce

Toffee Sauce

7. Make the toffee sauce: Combine all the sauce ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Let the sauce boil until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon.

8. Pour 1 cup of the sauce over the cake and let it soak in until ready to serve.  Turn out cake onto a service plate and remove the parchment paper.

After the cake cools a bit, turn out onto service plate and remove parchment.

After the cake cools a bit, turn out onto service plate and remove parchment.

Serve in square pieces about the size of a cupcake.

Cut view

Cut view

Nap the cake with sauce on what has now become the top side. Use the rest of the sauce for serving along with some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. This cake is best served warm!

English Sticky Toffee Pudding

English Sticky Toffee Pudding

I was very pleased with the results and I’m sure you will be too! Don’t be put off by the dates. if you just haven’t had experience with them before. They practically melt into the batter and just add a rich, sweet, caramel flavor. The little bits in the cake are pretty much indistinguishable…not like raisins or chips at all!  The only thing I may do differently in the future is look for a sauce that doesn’t use milk or cream. Technically, that would make it caramel. I know. But I seem to remember sauces more like dark caramel in England and I preferred them. I used Half’n’Half in this recipe, because I didn’t have heavy cream, but it turned out fine. I hope you’ll give it a try. Sticky toffee pudding is equally good with a nice English stout or strong ale, coffee or milk. A warm piece of Sticky Toffee Pudding on a cold day…mmm. Talk about comfort food! Drop a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on top and really indulge yourself! Enjoy!!

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Trader Joe’s Punjab Choley Pizza

Trader Joe's Punjab Choley Pizza

Trader Joe’s Punjab Choley Pizza

An unabashed appeal to Trader Joe’s to try my recipe and publish it on their website. Maybe get a plug for my blog…maybe a sponsor? I don’t mind hawking a few Trader Joe’s recipes…I regularly visit my local Trader Joe’s and enjoy their products. This recipe uses their very convenient pre-made pizza dough, a spicy Indian chick pea dish that comes in a shelf-stable package (and is really good over rice!), and their Authentic Greek Feta packaged in a little plastic tub of brine that lasts well in the refrigerator. This recipe is versatile and easy. Add more or less cheese, to your taste. Add garnishes to your liking…if I had some on hand when I made this, I would have used some finely diced cucumber and some cilantro leaves after the sour cream drizzle. A very light dusting of cumin would be nice. In the summer, some roasted or grilled veggies. Maybe add a sprinkle of corn kernels before baking…hey, it’s pizza…do whatever you like! So far, it’s vegetarian, but it doesn’t have to be. Add some diced ham or tandoori chicken, maybe? Enjoy!

Trader Joe’s Punjab Choley Pizza      created by Matt Miller

Ingredients:

1 Trader Joe’s Pizza Dough

1 pkg. Trader Joe’s Punjab Choley

2 to 3 ounces Trader Joe’s Authentic Greek Feta, crumbled (to taste)

2 to 3 ounces Trader Joe’s Shredded Mozzarella (to taste)

3 T. Trader Joe’s Sour Cream

1 t. Trader Joe’s Half’n’Half or Heavy Cream

All –Purpose Flour, for dusting

Olive Oil or Non-Stick Spray

Directions:

Coat a mixing bowl with olive oil or spray with non-stick spray. Place dough in the bowl and turn to coat in oil/spray. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size.

Dough and Punjab Choley

Dough and Punjab Choley

Preheat oven to 475F and place pizza stone in the center of the oven, if you have one, and prepare pizza on a flour dusted pizza peel  or cutting board. Otherwise, prepare the pizza and use a flour dusted pizza pan or pizza screen. First, squeeze bubbles out of dough and roll out in a circular shape to about 14”. Use a fork to poke holes in the dough all over. This is called “docking” and reduces large bubbles forming in the oven. Empty the contents of the Trader Joe’s Punjab Choley onto the center of the dough. Spread the Punjab Choley evenly across the pizza.

Assembled and just put in the oven.

Assembled and just put in the oven.

Distribute the mozzarella and feta cheeses evenly across the pizza as well. I recommend not covering with mozzarella as heavily as you would an Italian pizza.

Transfer the pizza onto the pizza stone or place the pizza pan in the oven. Bake until bottom is golden brown and the cheeses are bubbly and lightly browned.

Cooked and cut.

Cooked and cut.

While the pizza is baking, mix the sour cream and half’n’half or cream together to make a thick sauce. I like to put the mixture into a zip lock bag, seal and squeeze into one corner.  IMAG2454When the pizza comes out of the oven, cut into pieces and serve hot. Just before service, cut a tiny corner off of the zip lock bag and squeeze a drizzle of the sauce onto each piece. Enjoy!

Drizzled with sour cream and served.

Drizzled with sour cream and served.

Optional: You can garnish with finely diced cucumber and/or cilantro leaves, if you like.

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Pickled Hard Boiled Eggs…No, Wait! Where are You Going!?

Pickled Eggs. Oh, C'mon. Don't be afraid!

Pickled Eggs. Oh, C’mon. Don’t be afraid!

I started doing this awhile back, mainly because I was told that my father in-law liked pickled eggs.  The thing is, I realized that they are actually pretty good! I’m kind of picky though…I don’t just munch into one. I slice them in half and put a little salt and fresh pepper on them. Amazingly, months after you pickle them, the yolks are still like they are from a freshly boiled egg. The texture of the whites gets denser and takes on the pickle flavor, but not a very strong one.

I like having pickled eggs on hand for making a quick tuna or chicken salad, too! Easy. Throw in some mayo, finely chopped celery and/or pickles (sweet or dill), a squirt of mustard, capers, onions, whatever you like…boom!

Tuna Salad

Tuna Salad

Some possible tuna (or chicken) salad ingredients

Some possible tuna (or chicken) salad ingredients

Now, I have gotten into canning over the last couple of years and I have some of my own pickles that run low and I refill those jars…I can even combine jars, if I need more brine in one. I have used pickled beet brine as well. It adds a distinct color and earthy sweetness. If you add a little beet brine to regular dill brine, you’ll get a lighter color and sweetness. If you aren’t canning, though, don’t worry. You can use commercial pickle juices, just as well.

This egg came from a batch with a small amount of beet brine. Look at how fresh the yolk looks!

This egg came from a batch with a small amount of beet brine. Look at how fresh the yolk looks!

This is a great way to salvage eggs that are approaching or just past their freshness dates. (Boiling works better with older eggs, rather than fresh!) Cover with cold water, add a tablespoon white vinegar and a teaspoon baking soda and bring to a slow boil. Remove from heat, cover and set a timer for 13 minutes. When time is up, drain and transfer to an ice bath to halt the cooking. Peel under some warm running water and drop peeled eggs into the pickling brine. Refrigerate practically indefinitely.

By the way, remember my blog awhile back about buying eggs already boiled and peeled, for deviled eggs, at the grocery store? Don’t want to boil and peel eggs, but want to try pickling some eggs? Did I say “Boom!” already?

No, really! They're good!

No, really! They’re good!

So, I may be picky about how I eat my pickled eggs, but don’t let me stop you if you want to just bite into a whole one…enjoy!!!

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