Friday, December 29, 2006

Brown Sugared Fried Plantains

The first time I had fried plantains was at Starliner Diner about 15 years ago as a side dish with the Media Noche sandwich.

(the funky inside of the Starliner Diner)
(Starliner's Fried Plantains)
(The above photo is by another Columbus food blogger, ColumbusFoodie. She has a great blog!)

I had never even heard of plantains before and was surprised at the flavor. A few years later, I found them at the grocery store and decided to try to make something similar to Starliner's. Since I don't have a deep fryer, this proved to be quite a challenge, and one that I was just not up to. Nope, time to take a different tack. I search on-line and talked to some friends at work that were familiar with plantains. A coworker of Puerto Rican descent told me how to cook green plantains like a baked potato - I wasn't happy with the results, though - way too starchy for me. I was looking for the sweet flavor I'd had at Starliner, so I tried just pan frying some ripe yellow ones, then tried again with some that were much more ripe, almost all black. I've decided that somewhere in between is where I like them -yellow, at least with some black spots, heading towards black, and they shouldn't feel hard when squeezed. has a very nice graphic showing these stages, along with a good description of each stage and plantains in general (and some recipes, too).

If I can only find green plantains, I put them in a paper bag for a few days (or more) to ripen them up.

Making the fried plantains is pretty simple - peel, slice and pan fry in butter and oil, sprinkling some brown sugar at the end. I also like to serve the them with a sour cream and hot sauce dip.

2 very ripe plantains (almost black , but not too squishy)
1 Tablespoon of butter
1 Tablespoon of oil (vegetable, corn, even olive works o.k.)
1 teaspoon of brown sugar
4 Tablespoons of sour cream
1 Tablespoon of finely minced onion
1 teaspoon of Mexican hot sauce, such as La Victoria Salsa Brava or Bufalo Picante Clasica

Peel and slice the plantains to about 3/8" thickness

ripe plantains ready for slicing & frying

Sliced and ready to fry
Heat a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add the butter and oil.

Add the sliced plantains to the hot grease, and lower the heat to medium low.

Cook until golden on the bottom, then flip them over and sprinkle them with the brown sugar.

Serve the plantains with the dipping sauce.

To make the dipping sauce:
Put the hot sauce and onion in a small bowl and add the sour cream. Blend well


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Thanks, Lucy...


I suppose I wasn't really looking forward to Saturday, but the day passed uneventfully and I don't feel any different. At least not yet.

You see, I turned 45 on Saturday.

The day began well, as I opened up the morning paper and went to the part that I like best... The comics page. Yes, yes, I know we've got a mess in this world, what with the quagmire in Iraq and our leader in denial, not to mention the myriad of social injustices occurring on a daily basis in this country and around the world. I know that there is plenty of important stuff to read about. But My Saturday morning dose of semi-reality comes by way of the Columbus Dispatch, and, given the source, I head for the most real part first - the comics.

To my great surprise and intense pleasure, the Peanuts strip was actually VERY good on this personal milestone Saturday. First of all it was completely non-preachy. Second, it didn't involve a football, a baseball, or anyone insulting anyone else. And, for a third reason, the strip actually made me feel good for a change (Peanuts seldom does that for me. Sometimes I don't even read it).

Here it is - Click on it to for a larger version and see if you can figure out why I like this strip...

So he spelled my name wrong. It was close enough for a major smile from me.
Thanks, Lucy!

I did.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sausage Pasta with Goat Cheese

One of our favorite restaurant's here in Columbus is Figlio (actually, there are two of them in town and another in Dayton). They create the best pizzas (those great gourmet wood fired pizzas!), pastas that will spoil you for any other, and simple yet elegant salads. Their desserts (oh, the Chocolate Mousse...) and particularly their coffee are absolute standouts. I believe they use a custom blend created for them by Columus' own Stauf's Coffee Roasters and I've never had smoother coffee anywhere. It almost feels like I'm sipping liquid silk when I have cup there. Friends that know far more about wine than I do tell me their wine list, while not large or fancy, is a perfect match to the dishes coming out of the kitchen. The Owners of Figlio are no wine slackers, though, having recently opened Vino Vino - A Wine Bistro adjacent to the Grandview Figlio location. My wife has been there a few times and loves their crab cakes, too.

The decor at Figlio stresses their simple elegance, the only real wall decorations being some sort of seasonal fruit or vegetable hanging from what looks like thin metal wire, & always with one piece hanging higher than all the rest. the tables are covered with a bright white table cloth, then topped with butcher paper stamped sparingly with the Figlio logo. The superb waitstaff are all dressed in bright white shirts and black skirts or pants - the whole place just smacks of stylistic minimalism without being pretentious.

So, other than the obvious (Go to Figlio when you're in Columbus!), why am I telling you all of this? Well, in addition to the well deserved praise I've just heaped upon this place, Figlio is one of those artsy creative places that occasionally changes their menu items, adding new ones, taking some away...always with care to maintain a nice balance for their patrons. One dish they had many years back was a pasta (penne, I think) in a red sauce with sliced sauteed italian sausage and topped with goat cheese. My wife an I both enjoyed this dish (until she discovered their Chicken Diablo, her ever steady, one and only now), and I really wanted to be able to make something like it at home. My version of their pasta is the recipe below. It's nowhere near as good as Figlio's was, but we enjoy the flavors and have it often, especially since it's simple and quick.

Sausage Pasta with Goat Cheese
(Serves 4)
The Ingredients:
4 hot italian sausage links, sliced about 1/2 inch thick
3 cans (6 ounces) of tomato sauce (yep, just plain old small cans of sauce - we usually use the cheap stuff...)
1 pound of pasta, whatever kind you like. We use either thin spaghetti or penne
1/2 teaspoon dry oregano
1/2 teaspoon dry basil
Chevre Goat cheese, at least a tablespoon per serving, more if you really like the stuff. And you will really like the stuff..

The Directions:
Pour the tomato sauce into a medium sauce pan over low heat.
Add the sliced sausage, oregano & basil and cook on low for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The flavor of the sausage will infuse into the sauce during this time.
After about 20 minutes, prepare the pasta per package label directions (If you are using fresh pasta, let the sauce cook a few more minutes since the pasta will be ready faster).
When the pasta is done, drain it well and portion it out into pasta bowls. Top the hot pasta with the sausage sauce and a generous dollop of goat cheese, then serve it while still steaming.

That's it. Like I said, it's nice and simple and quick, yet it will taste like you actually worked hard to make it.


Chicken Breasts with Tomato Butter

I knew I was going to have to make something quick last night since we were heading to my son's school Christmas show, so I dug this recipe out a couple of nights ago for the small bit of night-before prep it requires. That prep is simply making a sweetly pungent tomato butter that tops a simple sauteed chicken breast. The dish itself was a fast cook, since all that's done is just pan sauteeing the chicken until done. The seasoned flour on the chicken makes for a nice thin yet crispy crust. The R.O.I. on that little prep was huge!

Chicken Breasts with Tomato Butter
The Ingredients::
4 Table spoons of butter at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon of finely minced garlic
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
1 teaspoon of chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup of flour
Salt and pepper
4 boneless, skinless thicken breasts
(try not to get the monstrously large., hormone laden type - they're too thick to be pan sautéed).
2 Tablespoons of olive oil

The Directions:
Combine 3 Tablespoons of the butter with the garlic, tomato paste and parsley.
Scrape the mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap and use the wrap to help form the butter into a cylinder. Wrap the cylinder tightly and chill.
Combine flour, ½ tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.
Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture.
In a large frying pan, melt remaining 1 Tablespoon of butter in the olive oil over medium-high heat.
Add the chicken and reduce the heat to medium.
Cook, turning once, until chicken is just done, about 10 minutes.
Serve immediately, topping the hot chicken with slices of the butter.

some variations to explore:
For the butter:
=Use Shallots instead of garlic
=Use sun-dried tomoato instead of tomato paste
=Add chopped black olives to the butter
=Substitute fresh basil for the parsley

For the chicken: (don't do too much here...the chicken should be kept simple)
=Add some cayenne tot he dredging flour for a bit of extra kick
=Try Penzey's Shallot Salt inthe dredging flour instead of your usual salt

This recipe came from "First for Women" magazine, sometime in the early-mid1990's. I have several recipes from this magazine but I can't find a single one online. I'll post a few more as I make them.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Skillet Stuffed Cabbage

I found this recipe in the September issue of Good Housekeeping Magazine in a section on "5 Ingredient Dinners". I made it a few weeks ago, and true to the magazine's word, it was extraordinarily simple, made completely on the stove top, and turned out far better than I expected. The twist in this dish is the addition of mint leaves to the meat mixture. I'm not big on mint but I really like stuffed cabbage, so this dish sounded intriguing to me, especially since the prep is far quicker and easier than the traditional stuffing of the cabbage, with the boiling and the rolling and the baking and all of dat... ok, ok, enough of my Schwarzenegger impression... On to the recipe.

Skillet Stuffed Cabbage
1 28 ounces can of diced tomatoes
1 1/4 pounds of lean (90%) ground beef
1 8.8 ounce bag of heat and serve precooked rice pilaf (don't heat it!)
1 cup of loosely packed, coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 small head of green cabbage (about 2 pounds), cored

For the rice,I used the Long Grain & Wild Rice package, but I'm sure the some of the others would work well, too, like the Original Long Grain, the Rice Pilaf, or the Whole Grain Brown.

1. Transfer 1 cup of the canned tomatoes with some of the juice to a medium bowl. Pour the remaining tomatoes and juice into a nonstick 12-inch skillet.
2. To the tomatoes in the bowl, add the beef, rice, mint, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Mix to blend.
3. Remove 8 large cabbage leaves from the head. Spoon 1/2 cup of the meat mixture into the center of each leaf. Arrange the filled leaves, open side up, in a skillet over the tomatoes. Cover skillet and cook the mixture over medium-high heat for 20 minutes or until the beef loses its pink color.
4. To serve, place 2 of the stuffed cabbage leaves on each of the dinner plates. Spoon the tomato sauce over the cabbage.

The photo at the top is the pot-full just before the cooking began. I was so eager to eat this up when it was done, that I forgot to shoot the finished product. There is a good photo from the magazine here,though (there's nutritional info on the dish there, too). The mint infused into the beef mixture nicely and wasn't overpowering at all. I will definitely be making this again, but I'll have to fix something extra to feed my son, since, unlike most things we cook, he didn't care for it very much.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Dreaming of warm Sea Air and Seafood...

Today was FREEZING here in Columbus and all I wanted to do was stay warm. That got me thinking about our vacation to Ocean City, NJ, and, of course, the food. One of the first places we went on our first day there was for pizza. Good pizza. The pizza here in Columbus generally sucks (I do like Sporano's, though); it's almost impossible to find even a halfway good pie with a halfway decent crust. Most of it is on a wimpy thin crust with no edge to it, far too overloaded with toppings, and they keep trying to come up with "new" pizzas - who the heck wants a "Mariachi Chicken" or "Philly Cheesesteak"pizza? And the stuff isn't even cut properly. They chop the poor pie into little 2" squares instead of a decent slice.

Ok, calm down, Lorence...It's only pizza....What the hell am I saying! It's pizza! I need Real Pizza!!!

And, oh, to have real pizza! And to be able to introduce my son to the real thing was foremost on my list of things to do when we got to Jersey. That led us straight to Mack & Manco's

the best pizza I'd had in 30 years. We each got a slice and a birch beer, too. Birch beer quickly became a #1 favorite and I'm still trying to find it somewhere in town...

Mine was Tomato & spinach, Karen's was Mushroom and Olives:
While boogie was having a bit of trouble handling his Pep & olive slice. The trouble was only temporary as he made quick work of it and wanted more...
Later inthe week , we also tried one of the other boardwalk pizza places with similar results,
but it just didn't quite measure up to Mack & Manco's. So you know where to go when you get to Ocean City. You won't be disapointed.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Etouffe Redux

I made a shrimp etouffe this past week and this time, I added a new twist I wish I'd thought of a long time ago. Instead of adding 2 cups Chicken Broth as called for in the recipe I posted back in July 2005, I used the shells from the shrimp and made a simple shrimp stock. Be careful, though! Shrimp stock can be powerful stuff and a little goes a long way!

I had the shell from 1 pound of shrimp, which I put in a medium stock pot and covered with water. I added some of the darker outer peel of the yellow onion I was about to use for the etouffe to give it a richer color (I think I saw that on an old "Frugal Gourmet" show), then got the mixture to a boil. After a minute or so of boiling, I lowered the heat to simmer for about a half hour (longer, perhaps an hour, would have been nice, but I was hungry!). I then let the stock sit for a few minutes and poured off the top clear portion into a measuring cup. Running it through a piece of cheesecloth would work well, too.

When I made the etoufe, instead of 2 cups of broth (16 ounces), I added 14 ounces of broth and 2 ounces of the fresh shrimp stock.

WOW! This gave the etoufe a much more complex and rich flavor with than before.

I froze the remaining half cup of stock for future use.

I also found this link on the Tabasco site outlining the process, and is pretty close to how I did it. Other recipes for shrimp stock get much fancier, and probably will have an even richer flavor, but for now, I'm stickin' to simple.