Update: Fusco’s Kitchen Re-Opens or Learning to Love Low-sodium

I’m simply adding this preface to an old post to replace the original introduction. This past blogless year I was diagnosed with early heart disease. Things are okay, but I need to take some steps to stay okay. One of these, much dreaded, was reduce the salt in my diet.  I’m slowly learning to adapt favorite recipes, and have been blessed by the recent introduction of get this — LOW-SODIUM OLIVES!!!!!!manzanilla olives

For me this is the equivalent of winning the Publishers’ Clearinghouse contest. Life is sweet again.  So, I’ve been encouraged to work on a few of my favorites. Simple fixes like tons of dill in tuna salad or green beans, lemon on nearly everything, and more cumin in lentil soup have become the norm, but a few items have eluded me. One is the red beans and yellow rice dishes I developed a few years ago. Tonight I’m using a stray can of red beans that’s moderate in sodium (320mg per serving), but I’ll be making a batch salt-free next time. I’m also stretching the premixed rice by adding a cup of uncooked plain rice in with a cup of the rice mix. More garlic and some sodium-free diced tomatoes with the juice should cover the needed changes.

The savory update will have to wait til this weekend, when I’ll shop and get more olives!


 

The Original Recipes

The emphasis this week has been on convenient, healthy, frugal foods. I’ve been eating variations on yellow rice and beans all week.

simple and good

I cooked a pound of red beans in the slow cooker overnight.  Then cooked a family-sized package of yellow rice (makes about 8 cups).  I took about 4 cups of the beans and packaged them in Ziplock baggies in the freezer, and refrigerated the balance in a covered bowl. The rice was also refrigerated.

Meal 1:  heat medium skillet, add splash of olive oil. While oil heats, quickly dice zucchini and mushrooms. Pulverize 1 clove garlic in press or under knife, add to veggies sauteing along with parsley and a little oregano and thyme.  Stir in 1 cup yellow rice and 1/2-2/3 cup beans. Mix until ingredients are hot. If they are too dry, drizzle broth, tomato or V-8 juice in while stirring to proper texture. Season with grated cheese or a splash of lemon juice.

Meal 2:  Microwave lunch:  Put 1 cup rice and 1/2 cup beans in a microwaveable container. Grate directly into container: 1 small zucchini, 1 small carrot (or half each larger ones).  Again, splash generously with V-8 or other tomato based juice  or soup. Refrigerate until lunch. Heat, add grated cheese and enjoy.

tapenade

Meal 3: Savory version.  Dice Zucchini, saute with minced garlic in olive oil.  Saute yellow rice and beans (same 2:1 proportion as other recipes). with the squash. In food processor, roughly chop a large handful of green stuffed olives, a can of drained artichoke hearts, some capers, a few black olives, a clove of garlic and fresh herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, or rosemary might work well).  Lightly pulse these ingredients along with a handful of red beans. top sautéed beans and rice with a dollop of this tapenade and enjoy.

Whatever combination of savory ingredients (add almonds, diced tomatos, or the classic anchovies, for example) can be handled this same way for a wide array of flavors, all based on simple red beans and yellow rice.

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Accidental Chicken a la Laurie

So, I made this great chicken dish accidentally.

Accidental Chicken

  • 6 boneless chicken breasts, trimmed
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes, including liquid
  • a tablespoon of basil pesto
  • a cup of dry white wine
  • 1/2 jar of roasted sweet red peppers (fire roasted is best), roughly chopped
  • about a dozen large green stuffed olives, sliced
  • a heaping tablespoon of capers
  • a sprinkle of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 350. Serves 6.

In a large baking dish (mine is about 10×17 Pyrex) spread the olive oil by dragging the chicken pieces through it. Add all the other ingredients, breaking the pesto up. Put the pan in the oven …. and forget about it for about 2-1/2 hours, until the faint scent of tomatoes and browning penetrates your consciousness.  Pull pan out of oven moments before ingredients begin to burn. Loosen juices from pan with a little more white wine.  Serve with quinoa or rice and fresh steamed broccoli.

Voila, Accidental Chicken a la Laurie

Delayed, But Successful

Ingredients for Pesto

I found two packages of fresh, organic basil at Earth Fare for way too much money.

On the way home, I got to thinking that perhaps the olive oil was rancid, as well as the pine nuts. The batch of pesto I tossed was really, really bad. So, I tasted the oil when I got in, and sure enough, it was rancid too.  The hot summer certainly took a toll in my kitchen!

Back out I went, this time to the local supermarket, and purchased a very small bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, and larger bottle of Berio classical olive oil (both on sale☺).

Returning once again, I delayed for some dinner — by now it was after 8 pm. Then to work on the pesto. This batch came out very well — not the best I’ve ever made because the basil was a very mild variety, but still very good. 

The finished product

I now have five 4-oz jars, topped with a layer of olive oil, sitting in the freezer, waiting to be given as holiday or thank-you gifts.

Success is just lovely, even when delayed.

F is for Frustration

I’m going out to the expensive whole-foods grocery to get basil.

I had basil — I lovingly tended a second crop — for pesto. Picked, cleaned it, made the pesto. Yuck! I used the wrong jar of pignoli nuts. They were slated to be checked and perhaps thrown out. They should have been.  They were way too old. They imparted a bitter, rancid flavor to all my lovely basil. I threw it all out (pause here for rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth). 

Now I’m heading out to spend my change jar on more basil. I still have plenty of pignoli nuts (in the other jar) as well as garlic, olive oil, and grated cheese.

Not going to stay thwarted for long!

Fusco’s Kitchen Opens: Red Beans & Yellow Rice

For years now I’ve had friends, acquaintances, colleagues, students, clients and, well, pretty much anyone who’s eaten my cooking, tell me I should a) teach a class, b) write a book, c) do a cooking show, d) open a restaurant, e) or do catering. 

My reaction has always been, “eh, not so much.”  I love to cook, teach, write, perform, and sometimes even serve, but not full-time, not as a real job. So I’ve confined myself to casual barter and a few random posts on cooking. 

That may be changing. I’m spending a considerable part of my down time contemplating the ideas that persistently rise up, teaching cooking, having a specialty line, writing a cook book, all have their charms. My emphasis this week has been on convenient, healthy, frugal foods. I’ve been eating variations on yellow rice and beans all week. 

simple and good

I cooked a pound of red beans in the slow cooker overnight.  Then cooked a family-sized package of yellow rice (makes about 8 cups).  I took about 4 cups of the beans and packaged them in Ziplock baggies in the freezer, and refrigerated the balance in a covered bowl. The rice was also refrigerated. 

Meal 1:  heat medium skillet, add splash of olive oil. While oil heats, quickly dice zucchini and mushrooms. Pulverize 1 clove garlic in press or under knife, add to veggies sauteing along with parsley and a little oregano and thyme.  Stir in 1 cup yellow rice and 1/2-2/3 cup beans. Mix until ingredients are hot. If they are too dry, drizzle broth, tomato or V-8 juice in while stirring to proper texture. Season with grated cheese or a splash of lemon juice. 

Meal 2:  Microwave lunch:  Put 1 cup rice and 1/2 cup beans in a microwaveable container. Grate directly into container: 1 small zucchini, 1 small carrot (or half each larger ones).  Again, splash generously with V-8 or other tomato based juice  or soup. Refrigerate until lunch. Heat, add grated cheese and enjoy. 

tapenade

Meal 3: Savory version.  Dice Zucchini, saute with minced garlic in olive oil.  Saute yellow rice and beans (same 2:1 proportion as other recipes). with the squash. In food processor, roughly chop a large handful of green stuffed olives, a can of drained artichoke hearts, some capers, a few black olives, a clove of garlic and fresh herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, or rosemary might work well).  Lightly pulse these ingredients along with a handful of red beans. top sautéed beans and rice with a dollop of this tapenade and enjoy. 

Whatever combination of savory ingredients (add almonds, diced tomatos, or the classic anchovies, for example) can be handled this same way for a wide array of flavors, all based on simple red beans and yellow rice.

Delizioso!

I finally ate my Fusco’s gourmet penne rigati. My friend Carolyn and I had it for supper with a tomato sauce – rich with fresh basil from my garden – and a little grated cheese.

It was scrumptious. The pasta tubes were huge – much bigger than I expected, and had just the right resistence to the tooth, truly al dente!

This evening is a cultural melting pot for me. Carolyn is dealing with her brother’s death and all the mess and upheaval a family death brings. We talked a lot about funeral customs and other very culturally determined concepts. Then I made us true Italian comfort food…

Next we’re going to watch some old West Wing episodes. These are our friendship’s cultural comfort food. I’m “petting her” this evening, which is southern Appalachian for fussing over her and giving comfort.

Gotta go… President Bartlett, Josh Lyman and treasured friendship rituals await.

Mid-April Madness

Just a few days ago I took the picture of the magnolia tree in flower that I posted. Now the flowers are all spent, the tree has greened up, and the next stage of Spring is here.

Mid-April madness is a mind-set that always comes upon me at this lovely pause in Spring’s sweet progress.

Spring in the Blue Ridge

Things are green, but still slightly golden around the edges. Flowers are still tender — not yet having achieved the profusion and brilliance of a southern summer.

The Blue Ridge Mountains are not yet deep green (they are still pale along the high ridges, where Spring is running a week or so behind).

Misty mornings still hold a touch of frost behind my house, though the birds wake me earlier each day.

I’m still filled with the enthusiasm of Spring. Once Summer arrives in earnest, I wilt way too easily to enjoy the gardens I plan at this time of year. I will soon seek the cool dimness of air-conditioned rooms, instead of baking in the garden’s heat.

For now, though, grandiose plans are the order of the day.

last summer's garden

I visualize spilling containers of herbs, brilliant pots of petunias and zinnias, hot pink roses, and climbing trumpet vines with dancing hummingbirds.

I imagine cool, deep green shadows under arbors heavy with grapes… my magical garden that needs more sweat and muscle than I can provide.

But, I’ve got a plan!

I cook.  In fact, I cook really really well. 

So, I’ve lined up garden and yard work on the barter system for this year. 

One friend to mow, one to trim hedges, one to weed and mulch, and so forth. I’ll make gallons of red sauce, quarts of chicken in wine sauce, pots of vegetable soup, pounds of artichoke salads, baked ziti, casseroles, stews, stir-fries — you name it, I’ll cook it. 

My garden elves will be well-fed, and I’ll finally have the garden my mid-April madness and imagination dictate.

Buon Appetito, garden crew!

Artichokes? Really?

LOTS of artichokes

My lasting contribution to blogging seems to be artichokes. No. Really.

As many of my fellow-bloggers do, I track the number of visits to my site, and the search terms most frequently used to find my entries.

Hands down, the winner is some variant of “artichoke” — pictures of, photos of, recipes about, артишоки, globe, heart, artyčoky, Italian….

So on the theory that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em…. I herewith give a short version of the history of my favorite vegetable (if you don’t count olives as vegetables).

Wild Artichokes are still found in north Africa, where they are said to have originated. According to Wikipedia, the “Arabic term Ardi-Shoki (ارضي شوكي)…means ‘ground thorny.'” While lot of other cultures ate them, naturally, it was the Italians who perfected their use [from the history of the universe, according to ME].

Globe artichokes are like the gorgeous guy pictured at right. They are a real pain to prepare, but are worth every pricked finger. Select heavy, compact heads, without a lot of discoloration. 

Wiki also points out that “When harvesting, [artichokes] are cut from the plant so as to leave an inch or two of stem. Artichokes possess good keeping qualities, frequently remaining quite fresh for two weeks or longer under average retail conditions.” 

Artichokes have been on the expensive side for the last few years, and thus fresh ones are something of a luxury around here. Maybe more home gardeners will begin to grow them — it would be lovely to pick them up at the local farmers’ market this summer!

Two real beauties

“Apart from food use, the Globe Artichoke is also an attractive plant for its bright floral display, sometimes grown in herbaceous borders for its bold foliage and large purple flowerheads (Wiki).”

And, as you can see, they are also attractive with cats.

One of Nonna’s ways of making artichoke frozen hearts (when fresh were out of season) was to batter and fry them.

I never made these, but I remember them well from my childhood. 

these look like Nonna's

Cook a package of frozen artichoke heart according to directions.

Pat them dry, then dip in an egg batter (I believe this was nothing more than an egg beaten with a little flour, grated cheese & breadcrumbs).

Fry in medium-hot olive oil, drain, and serve with lemon.

Happy eating!

Playing Around with Artichokes

Even though I’m in pre-surgery mental mode, food still can grab my creative attention.

I’ve been playing around in my head with artichokes — not the gorgeous and expensive whole globe guys, but the more mundane and accessible canned artichoke hearts. I’ve written up two simple recipes that I really enjoy.

The first needs a food processor to make satisfactorily, but it is so delicious on bread, or as a quick pasta sauce:

Artichoke-Olive Tapenade a la Laurie

1 can artichoke hearts
1 cup green stuffed olives
1/2 cup black pitted olives (can be kalamatas for a stronger flavor)
1 clove garlic (or more to taste)
a handful of basil leaves (fresh is best, but I have some frozen in vacuum bags that works)
1/2 can diced tomatoes or 1 medium fresh tomato
enough extra-virgin olive oil to mix
salt & pepper to taste
 
Start with the olives and pulse a little in the food processor. Add the remaining ingredients, pulsing briefly to achieve a semi-smooth texture. Use just enough oil to help bind the ingredients.  Keeps in the fridge for a few days,  but it never lasts long at my house.
 
You can vary this with other ingredients, like grated cheese, capers, or red peppers. 
 

You can tell I have a thing for both olives and artichokes.  Here’s number two. Equally quick to make.

Olive-Artichoke Macaroni Salad

4 cups freshly cooked elbow macaroni (still hot)
1 can artichoke hearts, quartered
3/4 cup green stuffed olives, halved  (quartered if large)
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup chopped marinated red peppers
1 tablespoon capers
1 glove minced garlic
Italian seasoning mix to taste
olive oil and lemon juice to taste for dressing
 
Mix all the ingredients into a large bowl, then stir in hot pasta and add any additional oil and lemon juice needed to make moist enough.  Serve warm or chilled.  Serves 4.
 
To make this a main dish salad, add a can of “tonno” which is italian-style light tuna packed in olive oil. 
 
To quote my Nonna, “mange, mange, tutti fa benne!” (Excuse the mangled Italian. It means, roughly, “eat, eat, everything’s good!”)

Arancini Redux

I made them. They sort of held together. I used too much egg for the amount of rice, and they were too soft to hold their shape in the oil — gravity 1, Laurie 0.  However, lopsided nor not, they were delicious — though not perfect. I have enough egg & rice mixture left to fry up a couple more before bed.  There’s something missing in the seasoning. I’m not sure what is missing, since my taste memory of Nonna’s “orangini” is 30+ years old. I think perhaps a sharper grated cheese and perhaps a little touch of garlic, some paprika in the breading…. but I was close.

After I get the right flavor, I’ll worry about pretty.