Tina’s Mexican Peanuts

Tina's Peanuts with BeerI’ve cooked some sumptuous meals in the last 2 weeks, but they have been for other publications and/or they were the recipes of other people. Sadly, therefore, I have left you guys out in the cold. And, in my real life, I have been eating garbage and repeats. By garbage, I mean wonderful fast food indulgences like Smashburger. It has been so long since I could be bothered to eat a “fast food” burger, but this one (86 the special sauce and tomatoes) is pretty great. I like tomatoes, mind you. I just don’t eat them on sandwiches. I know. Silly. But still…

We packed in one more trip for the summer, this time to CO to visit my dad and his wife, Melody. And we were so spoiled that I didn’t cook one thing, save to pass along the easiest appetizer in the world, Tomatoes with Sea Salt and Herbes de Provence. Repeat. You’ve seen that one. Shucks.

My computer hard drive is about 99% full. No more room at the inn. I am on the cusp of hooking up a new computer which might mean I never ever get email again starting tomorrow and I might just have a nervous breakdown. I’m pretty sure the nice folks at Dell, or Pitts, will save the day just in time. I just totally moved one kid room into the room which was our office…which means I have also moved an office. This turned into a re-carpeting project. And if you are going to put new carpet in a room, you HAVE to repaint before the new carpet comes in. Did I mention that my car went kaput on the top of a mountain in New Mexico? And, I just figured out that I need to recode and record every single one of my recipes to whip them into shape for the Google Search Bots. It is called “rich snippets”…don’t ask. Ford starts school TODAY. In other words, I have been a completely bad blogger, and a slightly bonkers mother. And I’ve been eating nothing but peanuts and drinking nothing but coffee. Can you tell I need to cut down on the coffee?

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Three Cheese Chicken Stuffed Jalapeños

Chicken Stuffed JalapenoWith a straight face, I will call this a heavy appetizer. I laugh because that means that I consider the version which is merely stuffed with cheese to be “light.” Wouldn’t you agree? A few of these and a beer will put off the hungriest guest for a little longer while you wait for the brisket to get out of the smoker. It could be a while.

These are ideally suited for outdoor cooking, but I cooked them indoors while I had steaks on the grill. But feel free to modify this recipe for the grill.

This recipe is great with leftover chicken. However you come by it, you will need a cup of chopped chicken for a dozen of these (half) peppers. But if you are a planner, and find tenders on sale for instance, you could poach several pounds of chicken, chop it and store it in the freezer to make chicken spaghetti, chicken tetrazzini (the other chicken spaghetti), or hoisin chicken wraps. You could use this spicy bite as an excuse to make a whole week of chicken dishes, for which you have already done all the dirty work. Not a bad plan. For a recipe where I give a method of poaching for tenders, see this Individual Chicken Pot Pie post. An alternative method is to heat the poaching liquid with the chicken tenders in it to 180 degrees, place a lid on the pot, turn off the heat and simply let it cool on the stove top. Just check to make sure the chicken has cooked through before using it. This is a Cook’s Illustrated method that I have been toying with lately.

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Texas Cheese Board

Texas Cheese Board 2

This is a nudge in the general direction of cheese. Most folks don’t need much of a nudge. But still, do you know who produces cheese in your neck of the woods. I promise that with a little investigation…very tasty investigation…you might find that there are small-batch, high quality, interesting cheeses being made very near you. But you might have to find it at a farmers market or a specialty cheese shop, or right on the farm. You do need to seek them out, because you typically will not find them at your big-ol-grocery-store. I spend a lot of time in the big-ol-grocery-store. I keep a lot of balls in the air and that means I try to make good choices in my big-ol-grocery-store and then seek out specialty items where and when I need to (and can) do so. It is a lucky day when I get to run over to Central Market and peruse each and every aisle (and visit my friend Carla). It is like going to the library or book store…a mission of joy.

One of the best reasons to go “specialty” instead of “big-ol” is when you want interesting cheeses. And Texas cheese makers are doing some great work. We have good farmers, raising great cows and sheep, and great artisans who are either making fabulous cheeses on the farm, or who are sourcing good milk to make cheeses.

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American Caviar

bowfin 2 Caviar is the ultimate badge of conspicuous consumption. And, for most of us, the lovely presentation of this food is so far removed  from the fish from which it comes that I was utterly captivated when I began to look into its history and the current state of the caviar economy.

In my adult life, I have had the occasion to consume caviar a dozen or so times. It is something I would enjoy once a year at best, when I join my friends and family in South Carolina to quail hunt. It was just a treat of the week, an anachronistic moment where we all dressed up beautifully for dinner and we ate caviar on toast points for hors d’oeuvres, along with southern fried shrimp, crab dip, and other wonderful Southern style dishes. I thought then, as I have up until recently, that it was something wonderful from some foreign spot…a treat, a luxury and a rarefied moment of glamour. I had no clue about its origin and no clue about the fish from which it came or the fishermen who brought it to market.

But, much like sparkling diamonds that tell you nothing about their place in the world, but only dazzle you with their implied value, based on a sort of collective fiction, the little eggs on my toast point has a story to tell. All food does. And when I started learning, it was, simultaneously, an awakening and the greatest story I’d ever read about food. No one really likes to look under the skirt of their favorite luxuries because too often it seems there are unpleasantries like blood diamonds, force fed geese, and in this case a very homely and goofy dinosaur of a fish family named sturgeon, which we have enjoyed, feted and toasted, to the edge of extinction over and over throughout the years.  But, the upside is that there is always a better way of doing things and when the disinfecting rays of sunlight have their way with something, we often end up with a better system…to wit:

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Salmon on Toast with Honey Tarragon Cream Sauce

Salmon on ToastA few days ago, I needed to go to Rex’s Seafood to ask a few questions about their hot smoked salmon. I wondered how I could also turn a chunk of their delicious salmon into dinner. The short answer is, “Unwrap it and eat it, dummy.” It is that good. You don’t need to do anything to it or with it. Yet, I found another way to use it that suited my family quite well.

That is what I do when the world is spinning quickly; I rely on help from really wonderful prepared foods. I love cold smoked salmon. And, I love hot smoked salmon. The difference, in a tiny nutshell, is that one is smoked at cold temperatures (or without heat…just smoke) and one is smoked at hot temperatures. The result is that one type looks raw (cold smoked) and one looks cooked (hot smoked). Both are smoked, and both are great. I’ve eaten a lot of cold smoked salmon lately and I wanted to jump over to hot smoked. I need to learn how to hot smoke salmon myself. It appears to be a simple matter. However, in the meantime, if you have a shop that makes great hot smoked salmon, you can rely on them for a quick meal or a stunning appetizer spread.

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