Alabama Gazette - The people's voice of reason

Southern Cuisine for April

 


Even I have a “senior moment” when I have no idea why I am standing in the kitchen. Then it finally dawns on me. I came here to rummage through the kitchen cabinets, the freezer, the refrigerator, and the pantry to get some inspiration for what I am going to cook for dinner. Sometimes I can match the items together and make a meal. Sometimes nothing seems to match.

I could eliminate that problem, if had planned a menu. A weekly menu would give me a grocery list. My trips to the grocery store would be quicker and more efficient. I would not have bottles of sauces, bags of odd spices, frozen questionable meat, a can of haggis, a jar of minced meat pie filling, and dried whatever in my pantry. At the time, I knew I would find a recipe for a great meal using these items. I am the only person in the family that will eat haggis and minced meat pie, so the expiration date comes before my menus for the items.

Developing a weekly menu is not that hard of a task. There are many sources to find menus for a family of four or a family of one. You can visit cooking websites, find recipes for single meals and print out the recipe and most will also let you print out the shopping list. There are websites that will use your location to find a store near you and tell you which items on your shopping list are on sale. Scary, is it not? If you use AMAZON, GOOGLE, MICROSOFT, FACEBOOK, and have any cell phone, it is too late to be scared. So let the shopping list make your trip to the store more productive and save you money.

Let us say you want to do a workday weekly dinner menu. Search for five dinner recipes that suit your tastes, search for recipe that also have shopping lists. Some examples are DELISH.COM, EPICURIOUS.COM. A website that has it all in one spot is PINTEREST. An overload with choices will appear if you search for weekly menu plan. Your meal choices will range from themes for meals, weekly menus to monthly choices, on a budget, even menus from stores as WALMART and ALDI, and even gourmet or tasty meals. I would not want a meal that was not tasty.

The weekly menu is finished and your grocery list is complete. You are ready to go forth and shop like a pro. My question to you is did you pay close attention to the individual dishes in the menu? Did you just accept the flavor profile for each dish? Did you accept the seasoning suggested in the recipes. Did you accept the suggested prep for the meal? If you have been reading my column with any regularity the answer should be no! You want the dishes to represent your tastes and your proficiency in the kitchen. You have read about compound butters in past articles that release another layer of flavor to the dish as the butter melts. I have not elaborated much on other ways to introduce flavors into dishes. Lately, I have noticed more recipes for FLAVOR BOMBS. These “bombs” are small frozen, semi-secret ways for you to elevate the umami of a dish. Do you remember the word umami?

Are there flavor bombs in your dishes? There should be! I am calling these flavor bombs, Flavor Enhancers or FE for short for my article. This first recipe is a simple generic FE. Use it with sautéed and roasted vegetables. The amount for each ingredient depends on your taste and the recipe. Increase the amount of red pepper flakes for more heat. Try increasing the lemon zest for fish dishes. Increase the garlic for pasta dishes. You get to experiment.

Here is a simple recipe for a rice pilaf. This recipe is a good test bed for two of your FE.

I read some good news the other day. We already know that there are certain things one can do to extend your life. However, this article gave percentages on how much these activities will extend your life. The good news is that drinking two cups of coffee will reduce your risk of dying young by 10%. Drinking two glasses of wine a day reduces the risk by 18%. It did not mention red or white wine. Participating in a hobby for two hours a day reduces the risk by 21%. Can we consider cooking as a hobby? Of course, the addition of 15 minutes of exercise a day and reducing stress also helps. Getting out of the house and interacting with strangers is better than sitting at home and doing crosswords. All you get from crosswords is a larger vocabulary of two and three letter words. So get out and talk to strangers, drink more coffee and wine, declare cooking a hobby and enjoy life.

SIMPLE FE (Flavor Enhancer)

INGREDIENTS

Combine olive oil, parsley, red pepper flakes, black pepper,

garlic and lemon zest in a blender and blend for about 30 seconds. Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze.

Defrost the cubes and add while preparing the recipe or add them during the cooking process.

I used this FE in the preparation of rice pilaf.

METHOD:

In a blender, puree all the ingredients until smooth, adding more water if necessary.

Pour or spoon into small ice cube trays or candy molds and freeze until solid. Remove from molds and save each type in separate labeled zip plastic bags until ready to use.

Here are three FE recipes and suggestions for their use.

All three recipes have the same instructions for making.

Cilantro Lime FE

One bunch fresh cilantro, stems removed

Five or six green onion tops

One teaspoon lime zest

One tablespoon lime juice

One teaspoon ground cumin

One tablespoon olive oil

One half cup water

(Also good for rice or chili)

Lemon Herb FE

One bunch fresh parsley stems removed

Ten to Twelve chives

One-teaspoon fresh oregano leaves

One-teaspoon lemon zest

One-tablespoon lemon juice

One half cup water

One-tablespoon olive oil

(Good for potatoes, asparagus, and homemade mayonnaise)

Smoky Spicy FE

Two tablespoons tomato paste

Two whole roasted red peppers, jarred

Two teaspoons smoked paprika

One teaspoon chipotle powder

1⁄4 cup water

MUSHROOM PILAF

INGREDIENTS

One medium onion peeled and finely chopped

One stick of butter (four ounces)

One and one-half cups of long grain white rice

Three cups chicken broth

Ten large white (button) mushrooms cleaned and sliced thinly.

For both the onions and the mushrooms, to get the desired

results use a food processor.

How good of knife skills you have will determine the method.

Pick either the Smoky Spicy or the Cilantro Lime FE

METHOD:

1. Melt butter in a two-quart saucepan over medium heat.

2. Add the onion and cook until soft but not browned. Add the rice, broth and either of the recommended FE.

3. Stir to mix and melt the FE. Cook rice as per the included instructions or bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about twenty minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

4. Once the rice has adsorbed the broth, carefully fold the mushrooms into the hot rice. The mushrooms will warm up nicely since they are so thinly sliced.

5. Check seasoning and serve with a garnish.

 

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