Saturday, January 18, 2020

January is soup month, but pasta could be your 2020 thing


                             Soup’s not really my thing.
                             Don’t hate.
                             Maybe the word soup conjures leftover vegetables I didn’t like in a too-thin red liquid with little flavor beyond salt.
                             I know. I know. Soup is also potato and cheese, French onion, thick chowder and, in some circles, our beloved Cajun gumbo. Those are all different stories. If the soup is like that, count me in.
                             Bone broth and vegetable broth are trendy again and help develop your flavor. Every culture has a soup. Too often American soup is uninspired vegetable or chicken noodle from a can. If we’re branching out, I’m in.
                             January is National Soup Month. I’m headed to the kitchen for egg drop.
                            
                             Pasta night could be your 2020 thing


                             If you don’t already have a weekly pasta night, start it up  2020. You’ll want to both cook and eat one of everything in this new book. Locally-sourced ingredients help Nikkki Marie “elevate” the way we think of pasta. Nothing at all wrong with red sauce, white sauce and olive oil toppings, but it’s easy to create a low-cost version of some pasta dish that would have people standing in line and spending whole paychecks at a restaurant. Are you ready for this? “Simple, Elegant Pasta Dinners” offers 75 dishes with “inspired” sauces.
                             Toasted pasta with fried egg is easy for real. Lentils absorb flavor of garlic and wine and ending it all with a serving of rigatoni with dark cocoa and red wine short rib ragu is within your reach. Tip: Save that pasta water to finish a sauce or reconstitute pasta that has been left out too long.
                             This might sound like crazy talk to some, but stick with her. Photo spreads with convince you. Recipes are arranged seasonally for freshest ingredients.
                             Your first Pumpkin Update of 2020 I’m getting from this book: Fresh Pumpkin Pappardelle with Browned Rosemary Butter sounds “different” but great (based on my own holiday experiment with a 25 cent post-Thanksgiving pumpkin and some chipotle cream sauce that came into my possession).
                             Some other ingredients you may have overlooked with thinking of a simple and elegant pasta dish? Nikki Marie gives you license to play with:
                  * roasted red grapes
                  * purple cabbage
                  * apples
                  * caramelized blood oranges
                  * parsnips
                  * salami
                  * fave beans
                  * peas and mint
                  * strawberries, blackberries and plums
                             Let’s go pasta with Marie, who is creator of the food blog Chasing the Seasons.

                  Darragh Doiron is a Port Arthur area foodie ready for a bowl of soup, gumbo, pasta, ice cream…. Keep it coming. Reach her at darraghcastillo@icloud.com

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Christmas/Advent/Winter Solstice Omelet celebration


You’ve got to love the mystique of a man skilled at tossing up an omelet to feed/impress all his friends. It’s such a ‘70s thing that entwines company, nutrition, showmanship and the appreciation of a simple egg. I’ll bet James Bond can whisk up a good one.
                Of course, a good pan must be involved, as well as the freshest ingredients. Wine helps.
                All this came together in front of my eyes when musician Paul Thomas brought not his guitar, but a cast iron skillet into my presence and cooked for friends. It was an Advent/Christmas/Solstice affair that made lemonade of lemons.
                I’d originally been invited to a vegetarian gathering that night and had already made “puppy chow” from seed butter (chia, flax, pumpkin, hemp and sunflower from Beyond Equator) for that event, but the host had to cancel. So what to do on that dark December Saturday when I was feeling so festive?
                A man we’ve know for years had been talking about his large-production omelets and how he should make one for us. Then he went vegetarian and I wonder if he still worked with eggs. He’d said he would make one,  but was engaged that night. That’s when Mr. Thomas said that he made a pretty good omelet and agreed to come round and do this thing, with additional guests.
                What an adventure. I asked him to text me the needed ingredients so I’d have them at his disposal and the list began with 2 dozen brown, cage-free eggs. There were tomatoes, black olives, fresh parsley and spinach, shredded cheese, mushrooms, red and green onions, etc. And of course, olive oil.
                Even bigger treat: my husband went shopping for it all. Here I’ll note that my husband, Chris, is a fantastic omelet maker in his own right, though he typically makes small batches. We went for more than a  year’s stretch dining on his omelets every Friday evening.
                So back to Saturday morning. I got a text asking what sort of stove our celebrity chef be using. I wasn’t even sure how to answer. Oh, I thought, the answer is “electric.”
                His next query: Coil or glass top?
                Glass top.
                When the time came, he’d also brought avocado oil to heat in his skillet while we prepped the ingredients.
                His one big tip: Keep it colorful.
                Paul’ giant red and green creation sliced smoothly into tall triangles and impressed as expected.
                I’d like to thank all the men I know who are proud to work with eggs. May many more opportunities for them to crack open their hearts and scramble up some joy be in their 2020.
                And guess what? I just visited with a family I know who loves their house chicken named Nugget. Nugget just learned how to lay eggs…..
                Darragh Doiron is a Port Arthur area foodie who appreciates a good omelet and wishes you “a dozen” great holiday wishes. Reach her at darraghcastillo@icloud.com

Is your cabbage still lucky?

           
Take That Chicken and Throw it on Top of a Beer. It’s a recipe title that says it all.
                             All About that Bisque, Dutch Oven Bread and Deep Fried Bread Pudding are more temptations from “Low & Slow Cooking: 60 Hands-Off Recipes That are Worth the Wait.” Robyn Almodovar, winner of  “Chopped” and “Cutthroat Kitchen,” used to help Grandma with meatballs and Sunday Gravy, which I’m happy to report is a tomato-based richness included in the book.
                             This author has a sense of humor and a sense of what tastes amazing. Pork Belly is a big thing in this book. It’s like bacon at its core and it is actually versatile.
                             Slow down and appreciate these “early” evenings as a time to reflect before the season changes.
                 
                             Cabbage still lucky?
                             Did you buy up a bunch of  lucky New Year’s cabbage that’s still green in the fridge? If you are all “slawed” out with your regular recipe, give it a twist with ingredients like these:
                  * Soy sauce for an Asian flavor
                  * Cranberry sauce mixed with a little mayonnaise for zing
                  * Pecans, toasted. If you’ve purchased a bunch of pecans, or any nuts, to support a local fundraiser, crunch up you slaw.
                             And once you have your new slaw, consider trying it like you have always been meaning to. People put that on sandwiches or tacos. A big bowl can make an attractive main dish with some protein adorning the top.

                             Darragh Doiron is a Port Arthur area foodie willing to tone down from holiday indulgences without sacrificing flavor. Reach her at darraghcastillo@icloud.com

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Squash is the new spaghetti


                  I’ve dealt with spaghetti squash 4 times in my life, and I’m so glad the first time it was presented to me ready-to-dine, or else I might have given up.
                             The take-away is that this is that the texture and adaptability of this big, yellow thing is quite good and somewhat of a conversation piece. Perhaps I’ll never convince you it would sub for grandmother’s homemade fettuccini, and it should not. But on a typical weekend, I can enjoy a much larger serving of this delicious squash than I can of a pure pasta.
                             This fall I got one on special and the clerk was curious about it. I quickly told her my experience: The skin is tough so you must decide if you want to struggle to cut it first and easily scoop out the seeds or bake first for an easy cut then work harder to get the seeds untangled from glorious strands of golden squash.
                             It’s remarkable what that vegetable is hiding in there.
                             I just learned to cut it into circles to get longer threads. Just shred them out with a fork. Now you have this plate of strands and you can do anything with it.
                  I tend toward white cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, but my husband requested a red sauce and I was easily sold. Because you can get several servings from one of these giants. I enjoyed spaghetti squash in several flavors over the holidays.
                             Don’t fear the squash. Just dress it up with Italian flair, or even make it cinnamon sweet.

                             So you forgot to thaw?

                            Lobster rolls on sweet potatoes and a recipe called Barbacoa for Days drew me to “No-Thaw Paleo Cooking in Your Instant Pot.”  I’m not on that diet and I don’t have a pot like that. But I couldn’t resist chapters with titles like Fins and Shells and Slurping Noodles.
                             The “modern” part of this appliance-based book is that it features many cultures with photos of finger-licking Cajun shrimp and adult sloppy Joes with a kick. Many Asian dishes look restaurant-quality. If you compare these offerings with a “vintage” cookbook, I’m tickled by the promise of simplicity in the names, such as “Dump and Forget Chicken Cacciatore” and Easy Peasy Coq au Vin.”
                            Dr. Karen S. Lee, a retired holistic practitioner, is the author who was a busy mom who still wanted to create healthy menus for her family. “Forgetting” to thaw the meat is still an issue for home cooks. Time is precious and we now are more willing to be culinary thrill seekers at home. Doesn’t chicken potpie soup sound fun?
                             I love this book and can still create these flavors with out that famous pot, but that’s not to say a pot isn’t in my future. Read this book to find out how she makes her turkey curry chili “nightshade free.”


                 
                             “Hunt” down some Hi Mountain
                             Sporting people who enjoy the bounty of Southeast Texas in regards to catching their own dinner are in tune to Hi Mountain Seasonings, bringing “Authentic Wyoming” to the table.
                             Jerky kit? They’re on it.
                             Need brine? What flavors?
                             So far, my most favorite quickie transformer is the blue cheese dressing and dip mix. The directions are easy enough, but I just like keeping the powder handy to sprinkle into salads, eggs, etc. It dissolves into whatever you’re working with to create a great tang.
                             But hey, some people like following directions. Easy enough. Creamy Chipotle Dip mix requires you blend the product with sour cream, water  and cream cheese and refrigerate for an hour. Can you do that? Thought so. Let the party begin. Oil and vinegar with a bag of Sweet Honey Marinade is all you need to make beef, wild game, fish, chicken or vegetables the talk of Sunday dinner. 
                             Get outdoors (or to the market) and bring home your base. Go to www.himtnjerky.com to make your find your meal. Hunters gotta love that you can shop by categories such as beef and venison and poultry and game birds. Don’t worry Port Arthur, seafood is a category, too.
                 
                  Darragh Doiron is a Port Arthur area foodie ready for a 2020 full of Culinary Thrill Seeking. Tell her what’s new at darraghcastillo@Icloud.com

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Create with kids for the holidays


               
              Holidays have hit Port Arthur
                      Foodies are festive this season, making the round and finding what’s trending at fabulous spreads. Remember bread bowls full of spinach dip? That’s still good. Boudain dip? I’ll still take some.
                      It’s also fun to return to time-honored events where you expect certain bites to always be there, and they are. Port Arthur Historical Society hosts holiday fellowship at Pompeiian Villa with silver service, mixed nuts, tiny sandwiches and fancy fare. It’s lovely to mingle with people who support Port Arthur’s history now, and also imagine how many holiday guests this home has hosted in decades past.


              Pumpkin Update: Pairs well with peanuts
                      Some would say the humble peanut needs nothing more than to be stirred with its oils and scooped out of its  jar. Then there’s that “vintage” commercial where an innocent bump gets peanut butter mixed into chocolate. So, let’s play.
                      PBfit, billed as peanut butter without the love handles, now comes in pumpkin spice. Peanut flour, coconut sugar, spices and salt mix into smoothies and pancakes. Mix it with water to make a fruit or pretzel dip. Your imagination is the limit here. Thank you, versatile peanuts.
                      On the more indulgent side, bNUTTY rich gourmet peanut butter ready for that swirl and scoop from the jar, but with suprises: the 100 percent creamy pumpkin & holiday spice jar is a standout, blueberries and milk chocolate is a totally different twist, cinnamon sugar cookie is a “why didn’t I think of that” and peppermint brownie with white chocolate is just right for the holidays. They’ve got more where that came from. But it’s the totally toffee with milk chocolate and almonds that is just a nut beyond. I’ve met some peanut butter nuts before. They need to bNutty.



              Baking season:
                      Remember dirt cups made with chocolate wafer cookies? Years ago we served them in flower pots with plastic flowers and it sure looked like a patio plant. Today’s kids get an environmentally conscious update by creating Earth Day Dirt Cups with unsweetened cocoa powder, serving in glass jars and “planting” a sprig of fresh mint. “The Ultimate Kids Baking Book” takes young folks through the seasons, birthdays and milestones with presentations that “cook up” fun learning projects. Splashy photos bring Grasshopper Torte and Maple Spiced Pumpkin Pie into focus. Tiffany Dahle makes us believe in sugar… in a good way. Reindeer Munch is a great one for Christmas. Make sure you save some for yourself. Santa’s guys get plenty of  goodies along their route.


                      Chai Spiced Monkey Bread does sound approachable, but newbies could shy away from Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Pinwheel Rolls and Barbecue Bacon Cheeseburger Stuffed Rolls could intimidate. Trust Rebecca Lindamood and her book “Ready, Set, Dough! Beginner Breads for All Occasions.” You can do it, and won’t everyone be thanking you for it? Bread making is not a lost art for the everyday cook when you have a photo-friendly guide like this one. Don’t worry. They don’t all call out for rich and creamy butter. Others are topped with icing, cheese and seeds.
                      Darragh Doiron is a Port Arthur area foodie who is not technically counting calories this season. Share you ideas at darraghcastillo@icloud.com

Holiday road trippin' may end with keto future


                      Mules escorted me to a holiday spread featured two hallway tables of  just desserts. This made for a festive day in Warren. I’d just been wondering if I’d run into anyone I know when a stroll around the wrap-around porch revealed a passel of Port Arthur notables.
                      You can mix and mingle as much as you want during the season. If one of your regular events conflicts with another or has been on hiatus, there’s always one or two more that pop up. That holiday spirit is great for hospitality.
                      My mom died in November, and we’ve been blessed with several offers to make up for her Christmas Eve gumbo that we’ll miss. Family and ingredients are expected to meet in League City, then road trip to Sour Lake and then to Port Neches for midnight Mass.
                      I can’t imagine Christmas without gumbo and I was tickled to stop at a Brookshire Brothers grocery store in East Texas to find a big display of what we need to make our gumbos. There was roux and rice and seasoning and boxes of saltines all at one spot.
                      I’ll dot the map of Southeast Texas and I hope that translates into walking steps to work off those hospitality calories.

                      This will all wrap up
                      Why would I be bringing up a “health” cookbook at this time of year? Don’t worry. “Weeknight Keto” by Kristy Bernardo offers 75 quick and easy low-carb meals that I’m all about now. A platter of what looks like decadent fried chicken fooled her husband. That crunch comes from pork skins. What? And Buffalo Roasted Cauliflower turns into “nachos” just right for football game snacking.
                      The Port Arthur area’s flavor profiles of Mexican, Cajun and Seafood are all covered in this book with creamy, seasoned creations. I’ll be trying a Mexican Cauliflower Casserole, Cajun Jumbo Shrimp & Sausage Skillet and Cajun Chicken Alfredo.
                      This is the book that will make believers out of those who haven’t linked healthier versions of foods with great taste and presentation.

              Darragh Doiron is a Port Arthur area foodie who wants to hear about your holiday indulgences as well as your plans for eating healthy in 2020. Reach her at darraghcastillo@icloud.com

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Give me onions for Christmas


                     
 I’m getting onions for Christmas, because I got the Radical Pan.
                      It’s the high-rise lip on this non-stick pan that’s built to gift you “lift” as you sauté and toss those onions like a pro. Put on some background music and enjoy some wine (see below) and you’ll feel like those cooks in the magazine spreads.
                      I’m all about keeping your gear in pristine shape, but I’m impatient in the kitchen. I’ve set off alarms from cooking on high heat. But I pledge to keep this Radical Pan on the low side to keep it looking fine. I’ve been all about the onions and peppers, ingredients I desire daily. I’ll soon branch out into recommended uses such as crisping bacon, roasting squash and reducing jus from gravy. Bake a cornbread in there, they suggest to appeal to us southerners. Just wipe it out with a towel for clean up, though it is dishwasher and oven safe and has a Cool Stealth Handle so it feels good and cool in your hand. I love this pan.
                 
                      To your door
                      A gift you can eat is my kind of gift. There are so many people to thank this time of year and there’s a company here to help. A coffee break GourmetGiftBaskets.com gift box will perk up the recipient with a fancy blend and muffins. These guys were ranked No. 1 in a food category in a recent Newsweek list of top online shops. Check out what’s in the Charcuterie Lovers Picnic Basket. A few clicks will deliver different combos to whatever recipients crave. I tried and enjoyed smaller basket options with sea salt and cracked pepper kettle corn, pretzel twists, stoned wheat crackers, almond cashew with pumpkin seeds, blueberry pomegranate clusters and (a personal fave) J&R Gourmet roasted and salted peanuts that were crunchy enough to deserve the label “Virginia’s Finest.” Here’s a challenge. Do you know what soppressata is? Read up here and you’ll want to try it yourself.

                      The wine referenced above
                      If you like a long and spicy finish, Légende Médoc is your holiday find. Maybe you just like the poetry associated with reading wine labels. The land and grapes of Bordeaux do their thing to create the wines flowing from Légende bottles. These are the holidays of splurging, yet this line is in a reasonably-priced category for hostess gifts that pair with anything you’re likely to find on a Southeast Texas seasonal table, including barbecue: Légende Bordeaux Rouge 2016 is suggested for that, with “structured, round and easy, nicely oaked with firm, silky tannins, and a long, fresh and fruity finish.
                      Darragh Doiron is a Port Arthur area foodie with an eye-out for what’s new out there. Reach her at darraghcastillo@icloud.com