Roasted Brussels sprouts with candied bacon

Brussels sprouts, as they’re named, are of Belgian and Roman origin. They resemble miniature heads of cabbage, and while that may not sound appealing, Brussels sprouts are one of my favorite vegetables of late. They’re nutritious and delicious with their anti-cancer properties and earthy, nutty flavor. Overcook them, and they’ll be gross. But when made right, Brussels sprouts offer just the right balance of texture: tender yet crispy. So forget those soggy, bland, dull gray Brussels sprouts of yesteryear. Roast and/or broil them, and you’ll get some stellar sprouts. My foodie twin, Sherry, fed me Brussels sprouts tossed with candied bacon and a classic homemade vinaigrette, and I’ve been dreaming of them ever since. The candied bacon combine both salty and sweet components and add an oomph of flavor to the Brussels sprouts. Then the vinaigrette pushes it into bliss with the acidity edge. Serve them as a first course salad or as a vegetable side component like I did with the dirty rice stuffed Cornish hens. If the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

 

Recipe: Candied Bacon

Ingredients

  1. 12 slices bacon
  2. Ground black pepper
  3. 1/3 c. Light brown sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Put bacon slices in a bowl. Season with pepper and toss with brown sugar. Cover baking sheets with parchment or foil and arrange in a single layer. Sprinkle any leftover sugar from bowl over the bacon. Top with another layer of parchment or foil, and top it squarely with a second baking sheet. (This will flatten the bacon as it cooks.)
  3. Place tray in center of oven and bake for 12 to 16 min. Halfway through cooking, flip bacon and drag through syrupy liquid. If bacon is not yet golden brown after 16 min., bake for another 5 to 10 min or until dark as mahogany.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 20 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

Recipe: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients

  1. 2 lbs. brussels sprouts, unwashed & halved lengthwise
  2. 3 tbsp. Cooking oil
  3. 2 tbsp. Melted Butter
  4. Salt & pepper
  5. Candied bacon, cut into bite-sized pcs. (see recipe – 2 servings)
  6. 4 tbsp. Vinaigrette dressing (see recipe – add 3 tbsp. reserved bacon fat)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 or 420°F.
  2. Toss brussels sprouts with oil, butter, salt & pepper. Arrange sprouts, cut side down, in one layer on a baking sheet covered with foil. Roast sprouts for 30 to 35 min. Until crispy on top.
  3. Combine sprouts with bacon. Right before serving, toss with vinaigrette dressing.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 35 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6

Recipe: Vinaigrette Dressing

Ingredients

  1. 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil and/or bacon fat
  2. 1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
  3. 1 heaping tbsp. Brown sugar
  4. 1 generous tbsp. honey
  5. Juice from 1/2 lemon
  6. 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  7. Salt & pepper

Instructions

  1. In a sm. Bowl, combine ingredients and whisk until blended.

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Cajun Cornish hens

With the end of crawfish season comes a need to find other ways to fulfill our Cajun cravings. In my last post, I tried my hand at making dirty rice. And now here’s how to up the flavor in that rice. Try stuffing it in a Cornish hen. Juicy goodness will drip into the stuffing during cooking, adding an even more savory dimension to the rice.

Cornish hens, despite their names, could be either male or female. They are a hybrid breed of chicken growing no more than five weeks and weighing no more than two pounds. Their meat is sweeter and more tender than regular chicken, and they cook quicker, too, making them choice for entertaining.

Because I’d gotten rid of my roasting pan, we had to MacGyver one out of a tin pan, aluminum cans, and rolled up balls of foil. By placing these cans and foil balls loosely in the pan and setting the hens on top, the juices will trickle between the gaps and collect at the bottom instead of directly underneath the hens, thereby keeping them from getting soggy. Ghetto-rigged brilliance.

I used ready-made Cajun seasoning instead of making my own just because I already had it in my spice drawer. You can try making your own by mixing to taste kosher salt, ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder.

The Cornish game hens came out not as spicy as I’d hoped (I suggest liberally rubbing on the Cajun seasoning), but it was still a good complement to the dirty rice. I served each person half a Cornish hen with extra dirty rice and a side of roasted Brussels sprouts (recipe coming soon to an entry near you). Pretty simple yet really tasty. Come on, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.


Recipe: Cajun Cornish Hens

Ingredients

  1. 4 Cornish hens
  2. 4 tbsp. butter
  3. 6 to 8 tbsp. Cajun seasoning
  4. 3 c. dirty rice

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Rinse Cornish hens and pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Stuff the cavity of each hen with dirty rice. Pack it in real good.
  4. Wedge a tbsp. of butter between the skin and breast meat of each hen. Then liberally rub the hen with Cajun seasoning.
  5. Place in the roasting pan and cover with tented foil. Roast in the oven for 45 to 60 min. Then remove cover and roast for another 10 to 15 min. Let sit for 10 min. before cutting in half lengthwise and serving.

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)

Cooking time: 1 hour(s) 15 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

Dirty rice

I was a wee one when I had my first taste of dirty rice, and it was from Popeye’s. Something about the deep savoriness of this mean little concoction made it one of my favorite Cajun dishes. (For a quick lesson on the difference between Cajun and Creole food, visit my entry on crawfish boils.) And then I found out years later that offal is what makes dirty rice taste so damn good. Who knew? A recent food trend is food that used to be considered less palatable, I.e. Food the lower socioeconomic levels partook in. Think the leftover parts of an animal—offal—such as livers, gizzards, oxtail, feet, snout, ears. For vegetables, think collard greens, mustard greens, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and so on. And so with this trend, we see a rise in these sorts of ingredients becoming gourmet. And with the gourmet status comes the hefty price tag. So what can you do? Learn to make it yourself.

A handful of friends from my Creative Writing Program at UH recently graduated. And while they were becoming Masters of Fine Arts, I was off trying to become a MasterChef. Alas, I am sad to see some of my bestest writer buds move away on to bigger and better things, but I cherish the past four years we’ve had together. There were many discussions about literature, the writing craft, existentialism, and just about any possible subject under the sun and even beyond. (Because, you know, us writers are just so deep.) So as a farewell/graduation/appreciation celebration, I wanted to share myself and cook a meal for them. After all, they spent the last four painful years reading pages and pages of my manuscripts; the least I could do is finally give them something good to ingest.

I know the basic gist of dirty rice involves poultry offal—namely livers and gizzards—the trinity (two parts onion to one part celery and one part bell pepper); and rice. My next door neighbor, who makes a bad-ass dirty rice every year for our day-after-Thanksgiving leftovers potluck, promised to cook it with me one day, but I figured I’d try on my own first before I learn his secrets and then meld all of it together into one superpower dirty rice.

So here you have my first run at dirty rice. Yeah, I was brave to experiment on my friends, but I know they love me enough to still be my friend even if the food tasted bad. Luckily, the dirty rice was pretty darn good. And it tastes even better if you let the flavors melt together overnight. I used this to stuff some slutty chickens (as Chef Ramsay calls them)—more on that next time. Till then, make a vat and share; it’s an easy recipe for a crowd. If the Blind can Cook it, you can too.


Dirty Rice

Ingredients

  1. 1 lb. chicken gizzards, washed & rinsed
  2. 1 lb. chicken livers, washed, rinsed & trimmed
  3. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 1 c. chopped onion
  5. 1/2 c. chopped celery
  6. 1/2 c. chopped green bell pepper
  7. 4 c. chicken broth
  8. 4 c. uncooked Minute rice
  9. 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley leaves
  10. cayenne pepper to taste
  11. salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Cook the minute rice according to package directions using chicken broth instead of water.
  2. Pulse the gizzards in a food processor until crumb-sized. Set aside. Then pulse liver until almost liquified.
  3. In a lg. Skillet, sauté the garlic until fragrant. Cook the meats until browned.
  4. Add the vegetables and salt & pepper, and cook until tender. If the mixture is too wet, let it reduce.
  5. Gently fold in the rice. Season with cayenne, salt, and pepper. Garnish with parsley.

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)

Cooking time: 25 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 12

Find my MasterChef alter ego on Facebook and Twitter

It’s all happening so fast, I can barely breathe. Many told me it would be crazy, a roller coaster, that my life would get turned upside down; but my small nugget of a head couldn’t wrap itself around the magnitude of this show. And it’s supposedly only the beginning. I’ve been getting some awesome fan mail that makes it all worthwhile: “You are the most amazing person I’ve ever heard of in life or TV…if I ever met you, I’d embrace you and weep” to “I’d like to write a children’s book with you as a character.” Wow wow wee wow.

The social media has gone through the roof too. After the first night’s premiere (which I believe you can watch on Hulu the day after they’ve aired), my Twitter more than doubled in followers and my Facebook crashed due to high-volume traffic. It’s all a little bizarre—okay, a lot of bizarre—but I’m enjoying the whole bizarreness of it and trying to make sure I stay grounded and humble through it all. Mostly, I hope to use this entire experience to have a positive impact on this world.

Sorry that I haven’t been posting recipes. But, seriously, I barely have time to cook, let alone write or blog. In the meantime, please “like” my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter for all things “MasterChef.”

You can post all things food or MasterChef related and keep up with the latest goings-on in the MasterChef kitchen through these avenues. Thanks for the support, keep watching to see how far I make it, and spread the word.

“MasterChef” airs on Monday and Tuesday nights at 9/8 PM CDT on FOX.

To kick off the season three premiere of “MasterChef,” I’ll be on the Houston FOX morning news at 9 AM CDT doing a short cooking demo of the very same dish I make for Gordon, Joe, and Graham during the audition.  Tune in if you want to see a very nervous gal looking awkward while trying to put together a plate and talking about her experience at the same time in less than five minutes.

A MasterChef season 3 promo clip with yours truly–season premiere less than a week away

*Update – Video has been taken down. :(

My bro-in-law posted this on my Facebook today. You would think I’m completely used to hearing myself on the small screen by now, but no, I am still horrified at the sound of my voice. This clip is funny, though, since it’s got all these dramatic camera angles and music. So crazy how editing can affect the consumer experience; it reinforces the importance of editing my own creative writing. (Ah, you like how I tied together the two passions of my life, food and literature?)

The third and most epic season yet of “MasterChef” premieres Monday and Tuesday, June 4 and 5, at 9/8 PM CDT on FOX. A witch, a pissing horse, a lollipop-sucking monkey–hot stuff…how can you resist?

Watch me on MasterChef season 3, premiering June 4 & 5

http://youtu.be/0C1ZOYtYmRI
I’ve been MIA for a while. But not to fear–I had good reason. I promise. During my hiatus, I was cooking my ass off to impress Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and Joe Bastianich. That’s right, I was cooking for my life to get on season three of the summer hit show “MasterChef” on FOX. After open casting calls in several cities across the U.S., I made it past tens of thousands of contestant hopefuls to land a slot in the top 100 to cook for the three notable judges. Did I impress them enough to get a white apron? Tune in to find out: “MasterChef” season 3 premieres June 4 and 5 on FOX at 9/8 Central. See what craziness ensues! In the meantime, here’s a promo commercial. And yes, that’s yours truly smack dab in the middle of it already crying like a buffoon. Hah!

Prosciutto arugula pizza with homemade bread machine dough

To be extra cheesy, either shape your pizza into a heart shape. Or just add more mozzarella and parmesan. Hyuk hyuk.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. I can’t even remember the last time I was excited about V-Day. Maybe in middle school when carnations and candy-grams were sold, and the more you collected, the more popular you looked. How lame and superficial now that I think back on it. But those were the woeful days of adolescence, I guess.

Now that I’m thirty-something and have a permanent Valentine, Valentine’s Day has turned into a consumer-driven joke of a holiday. It’s not even really a holiday. We all still have to go to work on Tuesday. Double-lame.

I realize this post is sounding cynical. But in reality, I feel like every day should celebrate those we love. Not just spouses and significant others but parents, cousins, friends, and pets. Why should it be just one day a year that we do something nice for those we love? Indeed, Valentine’s Day exists only to make Americans waste their money on bouquets and stuffed bears and to make the singles feel worse. Bah humbug.

People ask me what my husband and I are doing for V-Day. A few years ago, I enjoyed going out to a nice restaurant. Then it would be just going out to any restaurant and engaging in the act of conversation and communion together. This year, I just want to cook a meal at home with my hubby.

Last time, I gave you lamb chops. But if you’re not that fancy food kind of person, here’s a less expensive yet just as tasty alternative. What is more romantic than Italian food? Ever since we bought a bread machine, we’ve enjoyed making our own pizza dough at home. The possibilities are endless for pizza—you can virtually top it with anything you see lying around in your fridge. That’s the beauty of it. Lately, my favorite toppings for homemade pizza are prosciutto, arugula, and fresh mozzarella. After our pie at San Francisco’s Pizzeria Delfina, I became a fan of arugula. I used to dislike this leafy green because of its bitterness, but now I find the dry taste a good balance to richer, fattier foods (like prosciutto). Maybe I’m all growns up now. **Tear**

If you get the right fresh ingredients, this simple pizza will blow you away. So go ahead, score some points with your Valentine by way of the stomach. Or if you’re single, indulge yourself. If the Blind can Cook it, so can you. Buon appetito!

 

: Prosciutto Arugula Pizza

: Uses pizza dough made from a bread machine

 

  1. 1 c. flat beer
  2. 2 tbsp. butter
  3. 2 tbsp. sugar
  4. 1 tsp. salt
  5. 2.5 c. all-purpose flour
  6. 2.25 tsp. yeast
  7. dried herbs to taste (oregano, rosemary, thyme)
  8. olive oil
  9. pizza sauce
  10. prosciutto, cut into strips
  11. arugula, roughly chopped
  12. fresh buffalo mozzarella, thinly sliced
  13. parmesan cheese

 

  1. Add beer, butter, sugar, salt, flour, yeast, and any herbs if using into bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select DOUGH setting, and press START.
  2. Remove dough from machine when cycle is complete. Roll or press dough to cover pizza pans or stones, using dusted flour to prevent dough from sticking. Brush lightly with olive oil. Cover and let stand 15 min.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  4. Bake empty pizza crusts for approx. 10 min.
  5. Remove from oven and add sauce and mozzarella. Bake another 10 to 15 min. or until crust is lightly browned and crispy.
  6. Remove from oven, top with prosciutto and arugula. Grate parmesan cheese to taste. Serve hot.

 

or a much quicker method, use premade pizza crust like Boboli.

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)

Cooking time: 25 minute(s)

Roasted lamb chops

Juicy lovely lamb

I don’t understand people who claim they don’t eat lamb because it’s “too gamey.” Duck and lamb, when it’s a good cut of meat and when it’s fresh, have got to be some of the least gamey meat around. But to each his own, I guess.

For me, I adore lamb. And not just because it used to be a cute cuddly hand puppet (I say “used to” because it’s now a juicy pink piece of meat on my plate) but because it tastes pretty darn good. But because it’s expensive, I’d always been intimidated to try it at home. But during a recent trip to Costco, I couldn’t resist. Into our cart went a half rack of lamb (which yields about 7 bones) for $22. After tinkering around online, I found a surefire recipe online. The only thing I changed was to omit the bread crumbs since John was eating low carbs.

Before cooking this, you MUST have a meat or food thermometer. It is vital to cooking all meats—you cannot cook a perfect steak, pot roast, turkey, prime rib, or rack of lamb without one. I just got my digital thermometer at Target, and it’s served me fine. For convenience, buy one with a timer and a alarm option for when it reaches a certain temperature. That way, you can set it to ___°F and go watch “Jersey Shore” until it beeps and announces your rump roast is ready. (Just kidding—don’t watch “Jersey Shore.”)

So here is an easy way to cook a rack of lamb. Try it next time for a special occasion. It makes for a beautiful presentation, especially when served with some colorful vegetables like asparagus and purple potatoes. Remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

 

: Roasted Lamb Chops

 

  1. 1 single (7-bone) rack of lamb, trimmed & frenched
  2. 1/2 c. bread crumbs
  3. 2 tbsp. minced garlic
  4. 2 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  5. 2 tsp. salt
  6. 1.25 tsp. ground black pepper
  7. 4 tbsp. olive oil
  8. 1 tbsp. dijon mustard

 

  1. Roasted Lamb ChopsMove oven rack to center position. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a lg. bowl, combine bread crumbs, garlic, rosemary, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Toss in 2 tbsp. olive oil to moisten mixture.
  3. Season rack of lamb with remaining salt & pepper. Heat remaining olive oil in a lg. heavy oven-proof skillet over high heat. Sear rack of lamb for 1 to 2 min. on all sides. Set aside for a few min.
  4. Brush rack of lamb with mustard. Roll in bread crumb mixture until evenly coated. Cover the bone ends with foil to prevent charring.
  5. Arrange rack boneside down in skillet. Insert thermometer into rack. Roast for 12 to 18 min. depending on desired doneness. Let it rest for 5 to 7 min., loosely covered, before carving between ribs.

 

To “french” a rack of lamb means to clean the meat, cartilage, and fat between tips of the bones to make for a neater presentation.

Allow for the internal temperature to be 5 to 10 degrees lower than desired since meat will continue cooking once removed from the oven.

Bloody rare – 115-125 degrees
Rare – 125-130 degrees
Med.rare – 130-140 degrees
**Med. – 140-150 degrees

**I like my lamb medium.

Preparation time: 20 minute(s)

Cooking time: 15 minute(s)

Smashed purple potatoes

Smashed purple potatoes

Smashingly delicious.

Back in October, I had taken a trip to the Bay area and upon a dinner at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc Restaurant, I came across these wonderful purple potatoes that were the highlight of my evening meal. They stole the show even next to the Wagyu beef skewers. After returning to home sweet home in Houston, I had to find and cook these purple potatoes myself.

Indeed I found them in the potato section of H-E-B, and John kindly reminded me that he’d suggested I try these purple potatoes long ago but that I was initially repulsed by the idea of my spuds looking like Barney. Alas, I’ve changed my mind.

I was so enamored with purple potatoes that I wrote a Ingredient of the Week post for Eating Our Words, and now I present to you a simple yet delicious method for preparing these smashingly good smashed purple potatoes. Remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

 

: Smashed Purple Potatoes

 

  1. 1 lb. purple potatoes, scrubbed
  2. 1/3 c. whole milk
  3. 2 tbsp. butter
  4. 1 tsp. salt
  5. 1/2 tsp. pepper

 

  1. In a med. saucepan, boil potatoes in salted water for approx. 15 min. or until tender but not mushy.
  2. Meanwhile, combine milk and butter in a sm. saucepan. Heat to a simmer and set aside.
  3. Drain potatoes and return to low heat to dry.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  5. Line potatoes in a single layer in a baking dish. Using a fork, lightly smash each potato, making sure each potato remains whole. Then in a med. bowl, toss potatoes with buttermilk mixture, salt, and pepper. Re-line potatoes in the baking dish. Roast for 10 to 15 min. or until slightly crispy.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 30 minute(s)

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