The year in review…

I believe I have been a poor host for this blog over the past few months but let me just say this in my defense, 2016 has not been very good to me.  I was laid off/ downsized/right sized/ sold/merged/became a redundancy for the 5th time in as many companies and I am getting to the point where it seems I am too old to hire and too young to retire. (any company that tells you they do not practice “age discrimination” is full of it by the way) This has kind of put the “kibosh” on my cooking creativity as I devote most of my days, 7 days a week to finding a new position.  Working with food would be great but the start up costs are a bit prohibitive and I do not have a formal culinary degree so working in a local kitchen is unlikely unless I become the dishwasher extraordinaire.  My promise to any readers I have are that I will do better in 2017 because if nothing else, I am proud of what I do here and hope people enjoy reading the posts even if they do not try the recipes.  Coming up in 2017 will be the last of my cabbage stuffing exploits where chorizo and spanish rice become the mixture and red cabbage the vessel.  (I am kind of looking forward to that one).  Once again, thank you all for reading and for being patient with me.

Enjoy!

The Well Fed Cyclist

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Does its size really matter…

One would have to wonder about the above question as it has been debated for years and I guess it all depends on what “it” is. I know for a fact that I would have a difficult time  using giant size utensils to eat my regular meals or, to use a contra example, very, very small ones for the same purpose. I guess we will have to answer this question with, “it all depends on what and the situation”,of course.

Sorry, I have not posted in a while but job searching, fleeing the homestead and hurricane Matthew clean up and repair took precedence.  Most of that silliness is done except for the finding of a job part.  However, on a positive note, it has given me more time to dream about food and think of different flavor combinations and recipes. This particular recipe was one I thought of while cruising the vegetable aisle at my local food store and noticing that the zucchini from the local farmers were HUGE!  Wow! I thought, one of these could feed a small country. Deciding against the idea of feeding a small country because the zucchini would most likely not still be fresh when it arrived , I wanted to do a stuffed version as a dinner. (saves on vegetable pans and clean up you know) I know what you are thinking, “this has been done a million times” but for me it was less about being original and more about doing a great dinner and maybe coming up with a stuffing that could be used in different ways.  This stuffing mixture has already led me to a new idea of stuffing yet another type of cabbage, red. (the final frontier of cabbages for me) Details on this idea are still in the works but will coming shortly to a computer near you.

Without further adieu, the stuffing did turn out, as Borat says, “Very Nice” and I will most likely use it in home-made ravioli or possibly add it to my marinara sauce to make a sort of bolognese for fresh pasta noodles. For now tough, here is the recipe.

Z-Size Matters

(Sausage stuffed zucchini) (Serves 4-6)

Ingredients:

4 – Zucchini, large, washed and halved on the long axis with the seeds scooped out (kind of zucchini canoes, if you will)

1 lb – Ground Italian sausage, (you would also use the ones with the casing but you would have to take that off before cooking) mild, (to spice it up you could also use hot sausage)

1/3 cup – Sweet onion, chopped

1/3 cup – Mushrooms, fine chopped, I used Baby Bella mushrooms (baby portabellas)

1/3 cup – Green Bell pepper, finely chopped

1/3 cup – Red Bell pepper, finely chopped

3 oz – Chopped black olives

1/2 tsp – Kosher salt

1 tsp – Coarse ground black pepper

1 tsp – Red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp – Dried Oregano

1 tbsp – Dried Basil

2 cloves – Garlic, fine chopped

2 tbs (more or less) – Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4 to 6 ozs – mixed shaved Italian cheeses (this becomes the topping)

Preparation – First, take the sausage and brown in a large skillet over medium heat. When the sausage is done, remove with a slotted spoon and place on the side in a large bowl. Using the rendered fat from the sausage and a little bit of olive oil, bring the skillet back up to low medium temperature and first sauté the garlic (make sure that this does not turn dark brown because it will become bitter), onions, green and red bell peppers. Next, lower the heat and add in the chopped mushrooms, black olives and season the entire mixture with salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, oregano and basil. Keep the mixture on the heat until the mushrooms soften and the onions are translucent. Remove from the heat and add this to the cooked sausage in the bowl and mix until all of the ingredients are evenly distributed.

Construction Instruction – Arrange your zucchini “boats” in a 9 X 12 baking dish (or one that fits the zucchini so they will not fall over during baking) with the scooped side up. Using a large spoon, stuff each of the zucchini with the mixture. Note: It is okay to mound the mixture, as it does not need to be level with the top of the opening. Once all of the stuffing is in the zucchinis, take the mixed cheeses and lightly cover the top of each. Place in a pre-heated, 350 degree oven and bake uncovered for 35 to 45 minutes where the cheese will slightly brown.

This was served with slices of rosemary/olive oil Italian bread.

Enjoy!

The Well Fed Cyclist

Gary Bechard

 

 

 

 

“Mighty Rad Gumbo”…

Or so sang “Little Feat” in this song about gumbo and his mamma being in the “Seafood Hall of Fame” because of her cooking. It was this song that was my original inspiration to create a gumbo recipe. If you have ever read this blog, you will know that I am no stranger to driving, a LOT, whether it was my epic 4 hour round trip to commute to my last job or the months I had to drive north to western Pennsylvania before we moved there. Along those same lines, I recently completed a move to North Myrtle Beach and, as can be imagined, there was a great deal of driving involved as we shuttled items from western Pennsylvania to the beach. When the weather is nice and people aren’t driving while sitting on their shoulders, I listen to my iPod and when this song came up my mind went into overdrive!  I had never done a gumbo, sure there were stews and soups and such but gumbo?  In my head, it was kind of exotic.  You know the stuff that chefs in New Orleans (Neawleans as pronounced) do with their voodoo spices and tantric cooking practices. So, I did not want to do a “safe” regular gumbo but wanted to do something that brought together a whole host of other flavors (kind of a combination creole-gumbo, a “cre-umbo”, if you will) and since I was cooking for a large group, I wanted it to make a decent quantity so you may have to trim down the amount of the individual ingredients if you are making for fewer than 8. You may notice that there is no added salt or an excess of seasonings as all of the flavor comes from the Andouille sausage with which you start the recipe. This recipe is the result of all that time in the car. I loved it and so did the folks who were eating it (one had it for breakfast the next morning).  As you may, or may not, know the first to taste a new recipe has the honor of creating the name.  My niece Caroline (the southern one), because of the Olympics in Rio gave the recipe its name, “Brazilian Blowout Gumbo”.  (special note: next up is a honey mustard, tarragon glazed chicken but that will be later this week)

Brazilian Blowout Gumbo

(Makes 6 – 8 servings)

Gary Bechard – The Well Fed Cyclist

Ingredients:

3 – Boneless-skinless chicken breasts, cubed

14 ounces – Andouille sausage, sliced crosswise

16 ounces – Cooked tail off shrimp, defrosted, 51 to 70 count

1 cup – Fresh okra sliced

1/3 – Medium sweet onion, rough diced

1/3 – Red bell pepper, diced

1/3 – Yellow bell pepper, diced

1/3 – Green bell pepper, diced

1 ½ stalks – Celery, diced

1 – 28 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes

1 – 28 ounce can of tomato sauce

1 – 28 ounce can of diced fire roasted tomatoes

2 – 15 ounce cans of fire roasted corn

1 handful (about 3/4ths cup) – Fresh Parsley leaves, finely chopped

3 – Cloves garlic, finely chopped

8 ounces – Chicken stock (or vegetable stock if the spirit moves you)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I say this amount but it should only be enough to swirl around the bottom of the pot a couple of times during the cooking process)

1 tbsp – Coarse ground black pepper

2 tsp – Thyme (I used dried ground)

A brief note before the construction instructions: I normally chop my vegetables and meat ingredients ahead of time because it makes for easier cooking and cleaning.

Construction Instructions:

In a big stockpot, pour a nice “figure 8” of olive oil on the bottom. Turn the heat to mid range (5 or 6 on most electric ranges) and bring the oil up to temperature remembering that olive oil has a low smoke point and does not withstand high heat very well without breaking down. When the oil is hot, add Andouille sausage slices and cook them until they are done and they have rendered their fatty goodness on the bottom of the pan. Remove the slices from the pot with a slotted spoon, set aside and add a little bit more olive oil and bring the oil back up to temperature. Next add the chicken cubes and cook them until they are done and repeat the process of removing the cubed chicken and setting aside. Once again, drizzle a little bit of oil in the pot and with a wooden spoon scrape some of the tasty bits off the bottom and add your garlic sautéing this until the garlic softens making sure that you do not allow the garlic to turn brown. Lower the heat to low medium and then, add the onions, peppers and celery sautéing these until they soften. With all of that goodness going on in the pot, add the okra slices and pour in the chicken stock covering the vegetables. Cook the okra until it is tender then add back the chicken and the sausage. Once this is done, add each of the cans of tomatoes, tomato sauce and the fire roasted corn (water and all) and stir all of these together allowing the ingredients to get acquainted. Next add the parsley and the thyme, re-stir, to distribute the herbs evenly. Lower the heat so that the mixture is at a low simmer (the liquid will lightly bubble and not be a rolling boil) and make sure that you are constantly stirring to make sure the heat stays even throughout the mixture and to start breaking down the whole tomatoes. You can aid in breaking down the tomatoes by cutting them through with the edge of the wooden spoon with which you are using to stir. The process will take about 30 to 40 minutes and you should notice that your liquids cooking down a bit. In the last 10 minutes, after the whole tomatoes have broken down, add the shrimp and cook for another 10 minutes until they are heated thoroughly.

I served this over whole grain brown rice with jalapeno-cheese bread slices.

Enjoy!

The Well Fed Cyclist

You always remember your first…

There are all kinds of firsts; first car, first girlfriend, first kiss, etc., etc. but there is a first for a food blogger (I think that is what I am, at least part time anyway) and that is the restaurant review. I will preface this review with the fact that I have been a dishwasher, bus boy, waiter and wine steward for various restaurants where I have had the good fortune to be able to learn from folks that made restaurants their life’s business. What I witnessed and experienced at this restaurant pushes the boundaries of what these folks told me regarding making sure that the diner has a great experience. Please keep in mind that this is only one night and that it may not be representative of the restaurant’s overall performance. Now on with the review.

I am here in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and we, as a group, decided to go to a place called Nacho Hippo. It has a very “beachy” vibe with a relaxed , laid back atmoshpere and lots of outdoor seating.  The volume of the music was a tad too loud for me because it made casual conversation with folks at the table a bit difficult but it could be overlooked since there were a large number of people (You might want to add that I am “old” too). The sign out front stated that they normally had live music which started around 7:00pm. The wait was typical for the beach during “in season”, about 40 minutes (we arrived at around 5:00pm so if you are going later be prepared).  Please note that the restaurant staff states that after 7:00pm the place gets “nuts”. The Hippo has a decent menu with some interesting items like their Fritter appetizer. The food offerings seem to be a fusion of Southern California, local South Carolina and American twists on nachos, burritos and tacos.  Service was decent but it appeared that they were a bit short staffed on knowledgeable servers since in some cases chaos and mixed up orders reigned supreme.  Plus, it is a long walk from the kitchen to the dining area so there may be one of the causes. The food tasted good with a nice mixture of flavors but the tacos arrived cool and the black beans and rice were one step above being removed from the refrigerator.

Based on the experience, I cannot wholeheartedly reccommend this restaturant but I will most likely give it another try and see how they do. You should too.

The Well Fed Cyclist

Unexpected Pairings?

A funny thing happened on the way to the refrigerator.  I was looking for something that I could kind of have for dessert but did not want anything that was too terribly sweet. A current resident of the fridge was a sixpack of Strongbow Hard Apple cider and I was kind of wanting one of those after cleaning the house from the top to bottom but there were also those hyper thin, triple ginger cookies I got from Trader Joe’s.  I was almost ready to have either one or the other but, not being terrribly thoughtful about the process, I decided to have a stack of these nifty thin cookies AND a Long Bow over ice.  I was not quite sure that this was going to work or if I was way off the mark with regard to the flavors but the result was unexpected and amazing!  What a great dessert! The cool crisp of the hard cider combining with the sweet and spicy of the ginger was excellent!  A substitute for the Trader Joe’s cookies would be the Moravian ginger cookies from Old Salem (near Winston Salem, North Carolina). I highly recommend this pairing.

Enjoy!

There were the 300…

And there were with Leonidas the 300 who fought to the death for Greece and Sparta.  Ah but there will not be that kind of carnage here in this space, unless of course the vegetables rise up against the proteins in mortal combat, but, I am really not expecting that to happen. This is more the story of a man cruising the aisles of Trader Joe’s stalking a jar of fire roasted artichokes.  For weeks, I saw them, pining to see what they had to offer in the way of taste but, I did not have a recipe in which to use them and to get them just to get them might be a waste.  What to do, what to do? As with most stories, the saga does not end there. This past week, tired of chicken and fish, I found some turkey tenderloins which looked pretty good and thought that I could treat them like a pork tenderloin and stuff them in a Mediterranean way but without the cheese. Having picked up a container of spinach and artichoke dip, I thought that if I were to combine at least the two major ingredients from the dip, everything would turn out okay and it did.  The result is this recipe.  I had great success with this and hope you get to try it too.

Spartichoke

(Mediterranean stuffed turkey tenderloin)

(makes 2 – 3 servings)

The Well Fed Cyclist – Gary Bechard

Ingredients:

1 – Turkey tenderloin, boneless, skinless

1 ½ – Grilled, marinated artichoke, chopped fine

1 ½ cups – Frozen chopped spinach, cooked

½ – Medium sweet onion, fine diced

1 ½ tsps – Lemon juice

1 ½ tsps – Coarse ground Kosher salt

1 tsp – Dried mint leaves

Coarse ground black pepper (to taste)

Greek seasoning (for the outside the roll)

Filling:

In a medium skillet, do a couple of turns around the pan with olive oil and over low/med heat sauté the onions until softened and become translucent being careful not to fully caramelize them. When these are done set them aside. Next cook the spinach. I used the frozen to cut down on preparation time and so that I could put them in a microwave for the requisite 4 minutes but you could wilt fresh in chicken stock, cool and then finely chop. In a large bowl put the grilled artichokes, spinach, roasted red bell pepper and sweet onion and fold together so that all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Next, add seasonings, lemon juice, salt, pepper and mint and mix until seasonings are evenly coating the mixture. When this is complete, place mixture in the refrigerator for a few minutes to try to get it to the same temperature as the turkey tenderloin.

Tenderloin Preparation:

Take the turkey tenderloin and place on some plastic sheeting, cover with plastic sheeting and gently pound with a meat hammer moving from the center (where the tenderloin is thickest) to the edges working the meat until it is about ¼ inch thick. Make sure not to break through the meat because then the stuffing would fall out. The tenderloin should end up being the size of a regular dinner plate. Note: you can always do a second tenderloin if you are making this for more than 2 or 3.

Construction Instruction:

Take the tenderloin and place on a large, flat area covered with plastic sheeting or a large dinner plate. Next take the stuffing that was created and spread this evenly over the tenderloin. Then, starting from one side, roll the tenderloin up to create a roll. When you have your roll take some 100 percent cotton string (the kind that can be used for cooking) and truss the roll to keep it together.

In a large skillet, do a couple of good turns around the pan with olive oil and put to medium heat. Next gently take the tenderloin roll and place in the pan and sprinkle Greek seasoning on the top. Brown all sides of the tenderloin and when complete take the roll and place in a baking dish in which there is 1/8 inch of water. (keeps this moist). Bake at 340 degrees for 40 minutes.

-Meal served with tomato and cucumber salad and baked rice.

Enjoy!

Back in the Saddle Again…

It has been a long while since I posted last but I am hoping to change that with a slight change of direction for the blog. I will try to include musings, if you will, on some of the local food scenes I tend to visit, commentary on cooking and preparation or possibly some of the quirky ideas I have regarding food combinations. Don’t worry, I will still do recipes as I convert them from the scribblings of a “madman” (that’s me by the way) to electronic format.  How about that, I do have a recipe prepared for today. By way of an explanation regarding my absence from the blogosphere, I guess one might say that stress and being preoccupied with other aspects of my life took over and I am now deciding to take my life and what I enjoy back.  I hope you enjoy the new direction.  For me, this seems to be a comfortable way to proceed and get back on track with my food love affair.

“Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible you know.”, as some of you older folks may know, Euell Gibbons used to ask this in his commercial for Grape Nuts (a fine cereal, in my opinion). He went on to explain that pine nuts were a part of the tree which could be eaten and then he began to expound on the virtues of the cereal. As you may or may not know, pine nuts are an integral part of pesto sauce but I have always found that the flavour was not as pleasing as some other types of nuts. The taste of traditional pesto, yes even the homemade, had a slight “varnish” quality that I could not get past.  I struggled with that for a long time but decided to substitute pistachio nuts and some other ingredients to change the taste.  The result was the my version of basil pesto. If you try this I hope you enjoy it and please let me know!

Pesto Chango!

(Basil pesto sauce)

Ingredients:

2 – Cups, packed basil leaves

2 – Cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 to 6 – Fresh mint leaves

1/4 – Cup roasted and salted pistachios

2/3 – Cup of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 – Cup finely grated pecorino Romano cheese or (if you have a lactose intolerant person in the house you can substitute 1 to 2 tablespoons of coarse ground kosher salt)

1 – Teaspoon lemon juice

Coarse ground black pepper to taste

1/2 – Tablespoon Lemon peel (grated)

Construction Instructions:

In a food processor, put the pistachios and pulse them several times to reduce them. Repeat the process with the basil, garlic, and mint. When this is complete, add the olive oil, lemon juice Romano cheese, pepper and lemon peel to the food processor and puree the ingredients together.

I use this sauce on chicken and salmon but it also works well with light pasta.

Enjoy!

The Well Fed Cyclist