Meat Free Mondays – Vegan Pizza

Veganism is something I think I could do, with one exception: Pizza.

My love for pizza is well-documented. I could eat pizza seven nights per week … and before I was married, I often did!

Vegan Pizza

Vegan Pizza

Living in Chicago, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to great pizza places. There are many world-class pizza places within delivery distance to my house: Palermo’s in Oak Lawn, Louise’s in Crestwood, Papa Joe’s in Oak Lawn, Lou Malnati’s, Vito and Nick’s (featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives), Home Run Inn, and Phil’s, to name a few.

Even the second-tier pizza places — Conte’s, Leonardo’s, Fox’s, Augustano’s, etc. — are far superior to the best pizza offerings in most cities. I’m not saying this to brag: It’s just the truth. Chicago is known for its great neighborhood pizza places.

Turning my back on pizza in Chicago would be like somebody in Indianapolis swearing off auto racing or somebody from Kansas City refusing to eat barbecue: It’s too hard because it’s what defines that city.

So when I found out that soy-based mozzarella “cheese” was an actual thing, my hopes that vegan pizza could be a reality were raised.

I found a place online called Food Fight Grocery where I could buy it — along with a lot of other cool vegan stuff — and placed my order. A few days later it arrived.

I have to admit that this tube of soy-based mozzarella sat in my refrigerator for a couple of weeks before I worked up the nerve to actually try it. I mean, what if it was really good? That would mean the final obstacle to my going completely vegan would be removed.

After all, the package stated that it tastes and melts just like real dairy-based mozzarella and that it even had the same stringy texture.

Finally, I tried it. Using my standard vegetarian pizza recipe — including the homemade whole wheat dough I always use —  I put together my pie.

057The first sign that something wasn’t right with this “cheese” was that you couldn’t grate it like you can fresh mozzarella. It wouldn’t hold together well enough to withstand the grater. It was too watery. So instead I had to cut it into discs.

Then, when I cooked the pizza, the cheese only melted slightly and wouldn’t get brown and bubbly, not even when I turned on the broiler for a couple of minutes. It stubbornly stayed the same white color.

Finally, it came time to taste it. The flavor, while mozzarella-esque, lacked the buttery undertones that real, fresh mozzarella has. In fact, it didn’t have much flavor at all.

The texture was similar to mozzarella, but despite what the packaging claimed, it didn’t have the stringiness and gooey texture we’ve come to associate with high-quality dairy-based mozzarella. While it wasn’t exactly like putting tofu on pizza and calling it cheese, it was close enough that I don’t think I’ll try it again.

In a way, I’m relieved because I don’t think I’m ready to commit 100% to vegan — or even vegetarian — lifestyle. Still, I enjoy cooking vegan much more frequently than ever before and am continually seeking out new recipes — especially on such great blogs as Becky’s at VegHotPot — so that I can cut down drastically on the amount of animal protein I consume.

But nothing will ever take the place of my Chicago pizza.

Thank God!

Meat Free Mondays – Butternut Squash Enchiladas

Enchiladas in our house is almost a weekly tradition, but these Butternut Squash Enchiladas took the whole concept and turned it on its head.

That’s because our enchiladas typically are stuffed with leftover chicken, pork or beef combined with beans, rice, cheese and a zesty red enchilada sauce. They are a great way to get a second day out of any leftover protein.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

But this recipe for Butternut Squash Enchiladas comes from one of my favorite bloggers, Becky, over at Veghotpot, who was one of the first vegetarian writers I discovered after my daughter, Maggie Mae, announced she was becomine a vegetarian last year.

It contains, no meat, no cheese, no beans, no rice and no enchilada sauce. Are you sure that’s even an enchilada, Becky?

While it certainly is different from the enchiladas we are accustomed to, it was delicious and probably a lot healthier as well. Sandi described the flavor the best, noting that it was a nice balance between the sweetness of the butternut squash and the zestiness of the salsa and tomatoes.

The only problem I had was finding butternut squash. Being a hard squash, they usually are available year-round, but I had to visit three stores before I finally found one at Aldi’s. Earlier, I had panic-bought an acorn squash and planned to substitute before Sandi shot that idea down, noting that the flavor pairing would be off. As usual, she was right.

As it turns out, the recipe contains no cheese because Becky is apparently lactose intolerant. (She offers some amazing cheese substitute recipes in her blog today.) But I didn’t miss the cheese at all, especially after I topped my enchiladas with my homemade guacamole and some fat-free sour cream.

Butternut Squash EnchiladasLast week, Becky announced that for the second year in a row she would be participating in the Vegan MoFo Challenge, in which bloggers pledge to write at least 20 blogs featuring vegan recipes, ie. not only no meat, but no cheese, egg or other animal products whatsoever.

For a fleeting moment, I considered the idea, but in the end I love my meat and cheese too much to make that kind of commitment. Still, I will be carefully watching what she posts, especially when they are amazing recipes such as this one for Butternut Squash Enchiladas.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

1 Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded cut into quarter-sized slices

1 White Onion, rough chop

3 Garlic Cloves, rough chop

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 TBS Cumin

1/2 TBS Chili Powder

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1 cup Salsa

10 oz can Diced Tomatoes

4 or 5 Whole Wheat Tortillas

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Combine squash, onion, garlic, oil, cumin and chili powder in a mixing bowl, season with sal and pepper, toss and pour out into a baking pan. Bake until squash is soft and onion is carmelized, stirring once or twice, about 40 minutes. This can be done ahead of time.

2. Combine the salsa and tomato sauce in a mixing bowl.

3. Spray a 8-inch square baking pan with pan spray. One at a time, spread a generous amount of the squash mixture in a tortilla, top with the salsa mixture and roll into an enchilada. Place seam side down in the baking pan. Repeat until all the squash mixture has been used. Top with the remaining salsa mixture, cover with foil and bake at 375F for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking another 10 minutes so the top gets crispy.

Remove from oven and serve immediately with guacamole, extra salsa and fat-free sour cream on the side.

 

Meat Free Mondays — Acorn Squash Ravioli

Father’s Day arrived early for me this year. Check out my new toy:

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I used to own a pasta maker, but through neglect I let it rust out. That inspired me to get a new one, as well as this ravioli maker:

We’re calling it my Father’s Day gift for this year. Much better than a tie!

I couldn’t wait to start playing with it. For my first pasta, I decided to make acorn squash ravioli.

Making fresh pasta is not only fun and economical, but it tastes far better than commercially produced pasta, even those that are sold as “fresh”.

The difference between homemade pasta and storebought is like the difference between the birthday cake your mom made for you as a child and a Hostess cupcake. In other words, there is no comparison.

Pasta is very simple to make and you don’t necessarily need a pasta machine, although it’s way easier if you do. There are all kinds of pasta recipes, but the most basic one is simply eggs and flour formed into a dough and then rolled out thin, either with a rolling pin or with a pasta machine.

For this recipe, I added a little salt for flavor and a few tablespoons of water to get the consistency of the dough right.

You can even make different color pasta by using all-natural coloring agents such as spinach, tomato puree or even squid ink. You can even make striped ravioli if you like.

Ravioli can be filled with anything you like, including ground meat, cheese, finely chopped vegetables, potatoes, you name it. Best of all, you can make up a big batch of ravioli, enjoy half of it for dinner right away, and save the other half for another time in the freezer. They cost literally just pennies to make and they taste amazing.

Acorn Squash Ravioli

For the Filling

1 cup Acorn squash, cooked

1/2 cup Cream Cheese (or Ricotta)

1 clove Garlic, crushed

Sea Salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

1. Combine acorn squash, cheese and garlic in a mixing bowl and mix together until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

For the Ravioli

2 cups Unbleached all-purpose flour

2 eggs

1/2 tsp Sea salt

2-3 TBS Water

1. Combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl, then use your fingers to make a hole in the middle. Crack eggs into the hole, then use a fork to mix together, slowly incorporating the flour a little at a time until a dough is formed, adding a little of the water if necessary. Transfer to a floured work surface and knead until dough is smooth, about five minutes. Cover with clean kitchen towel and set aside.

2. Assemble pasta machine or flour a work surface. Separate the dough into four peices. If using the pasta machine, set the rollers to their widest setting, then flatten one of the dough balls with your hands and feed it into the roller using the crank handle. Fold the sheet in half and feed it through the rollers again. Adjust the rollers to the next narrowest setting and repeat the process. Then adjust the rollers again and continue rolling out the dough until it is paper thin. Lay the pasta sheet flat on a floured work surface, sprinkle with flour and cover with clean kitchen towel. Repeat the process for the three remaining dough balls.

3. To assemble ravioli, lay one pasta sheet over the metal ravioli frame, then use the plastic insert to create dimples in the pasta. Carefully use a spoon to fill each dimple with about one teaspoon of the filling, then lay a second pasta sheet over the top. Use a rolling pin to press the two sheets together firmly, then pull away the excess pasta on the sides and discard. Use your fingers to carefully pick up each ravioli and set on a floured baking sheet to dry for 30 minutes, then turn each ravioli over and let dry another 15 minutes. Repeat with the remaining two pasta sheets. At this point the ravioli can be frozen for later use, if you would like.

4. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add ravioli and cook eight minutes. Drain and serve.

I served mine with my simple, all-purpose tomato sauce and some freshly shaved parmesan. I served it with this simple herbed bread recipe I’ve been making a lot lately, as well as sauteed zucchini, having been inspired by this post by The Ranting Chef.

Can I just say: Best. Father’s. Day. Ever!

Buttered Scones

True story: My very first day in culinary school, I was in my first baking class and we were learning how to make scones, which is one of the simplest and most basic of all baked products.

My fellow classmates and I were required to make several batches, tasting the finished products as we went along.

Sometime around the middle of the class, I began to feel unwell. I mean, really unwell. Like somebody had stabbed me in the gut with a chef’s knife unwell.

I thought, “Great, I just left my career as a writer to become a chef, only to poison myself on the very first day of culinary school!”

It was only after I got home and had to be rushed to the hospital that I learned that it wasn’t my scones that had poisoned me, it was my appendix, which was on the brink of rupturing and had to be removed during emergency surgery.

I must admit that ever since then, scones have made me a little queasy. But they are one of the easiest and fastest baked products you can make.

Scones fall under the category of “quick breads”, which are breads that don’t need to be leavened prior to cooking. Rather than waiting hours for slower-growing yeast cultures to form air pockets in the dough — like traditional breads — quick breads are leavened instantly by chemical reactions caused by baking powder, baking soda or both.

Other examples of quick breads would include muffins, biscuits and even pancakes, all of which can be made in just a few minutes.

I flavored these scones with raisins, but you also could add frozen or fresh fruit, seeds, nuts or just about anything. Toasted and buttered scones with a little jam on the side make a lovely breakfast and they also go perfectly with mid-afternoon tea.

Scones

1/3 cup Unsalted butter

1-3/4 cup All-purpose flour

3 TBS Granulated sugar

2-1/2 tsp Baking powder

1/4 tsp Sea salt

1 Egg, beaten

1/2 cup Raisins

6 TBS Fat-free half and half

1 Egg, beaten

1 TBS Coarse sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Combine butter, flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Use a biscuit cutter to cut the butter into the dry ingredients, or just use your hands, squeezing the butter and dry ingredients together between your thumbs and index fingers until it all has the consistency of small pebbles.

2. Add the egg, raisins and the half and half and stir just until the dough starts to pull away from the side of the bowl. Then turn out onto a floured work surface and knead lightly a few times adding additional flour if necessary, just until the dough forms. Be careful not to overknead, otherwise the scones will become tough. You want the dough to just hold together.

3. Flatten the dough into a 1/2-inch thick sheet using either your hands or a rolling pin, then cut the dough into triangle shapes about 4″ long, placing each on an ungreased sheet pan. Brush each peice with egg wash, sprinkle with a little coarse sugar, then bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from sheet pan and cool.

Scones are transcendent when served immediately while still warm. Another option is to cool them completely, cut in half horizontally and toast in the toaster. Scones are traditionally served with softened butter and a selection of jams.

 

 

Seafood Fridays – Steamed Mussels

Most of the time, budget cooking and seafood don’t belong in the same sentence, especially here in the Midwest where our fresh seafood options are limited.

But mussels are the exception to this rule. They are an affordable, delicious and easy to prepare fresh seafood that can fit into any budget.

Mussels are cheap, usually around $3 per pound or less, depending on where you live and the time of year. Although I have seen them sold frozen, usually you buy them while they are still alive for the best flavor.

You can tell if a mussel is alive because it will shut its shell tight. Sometimes, though, if  the mussel is refrigerated or goes from one temperature extreme to another, it will open its shell slightly. In this case, you simply pinch it shut slightly. If the mussel shuts all the way itself, it is still alive.

If a mussel’s shell is gaping open, it is dead and should be thrown away.

Some fish mongers will de-beard the mussels for you, but in some cases you will need to remove the mussel’s beard yourself. It’s super easy: You just grab the little furry seaweed-looking doo-hickey hanging out of the shell and pull it off.

Once all the mussels have been de-bearded, you should rinse them under cold water in a colander to remove any debris. If they still have mud or the occasional barnacle stuck to their shell, you can scrub them with a wire brush or steel wool.

Mussels grow just about anywhere there is water. There are even mussels in Lake Michigan here in Chicago! But most eating mussels in the US come from gigantic mussel farms in the Gulf of Mexico and on the West Coast. They are grown on thick ropes that are lowered into the water.

Mussels are also very versatile. They can be served hot or cold, and can accompany almost any dish. I have used them in the half shell as garnish for salads. I often featured a steaming bowl of fresh mussels as an appetizer on my restaurant menus.

In this recipe, I simply served them with some leftover pasta and marinara, garnished with a little chopped parsely for a delicious springtime lunch.

Steamed Mussels

1 lb live mussels

1/2 cup white wine

1/4 cup leeks, julienned

1/4 cup white onion, julienned

1 clove garlic, crushed

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

1/4 cup parsley chopped

1. There is nothing easier than cooking steamed mussels. Start by putting a pot with a lid on the fire and add your wine, leeks and white onions. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the leeks and onions are softened, about two minutes.

2. Next, add the mussels and garlic, cover tightly with a lid, turn heat back up to high and cook until all the mussels are opened, about three or four minutes. Occasionally shake the pot to stir up the mussels.

3. As the mussels cook, they release a flavorful liquid called the “pot liquor” which combines with the wine and juices from the vegetables to make an incredible natural broth. To me, that broth is the best part of steaming mussels.

4. Transfer mussels to a serving bowl and pour pot liquor over the top. Garnish with chopped parsely. Or plate the mussels as the garnish for another dish if you like, such as pasta or salad.

Are you mad about mussels? If so, what is your favorite way to prepare them? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Mexicali Taco & Co.

I’m a fan of Mexican food and in the area of Chicago where I live there are a lot of places where I can indulge my craving for a good taco or burrito.

But on a recent trip to visit my brother and his new bride in Los Angeles, he took me to a place that blows away any Mexican restaurant I’ve ever eaten at in Chicago.

Carne Asado Taco and Chicken Vampiro

Carne Asado Taco and Chicken Vampiro

Mexicali Taco & Co., located at 702 N. Figueroa St., in downtown Los Angeles, started out as a taco truck in a vacant lot, but this past February it expanded into an attractive, if spartan, storefront restaurant across the street from an adult high school.

The food was incredible. The menu is small — offering less than a dozen items — but each was prepared lovingly and tasted incredibly fresh and delicious.

My brother is a passionate fan of the place and even had them cater his recent backyard wedding reception from their taco truck, so I asked him to order for me. I wasn’t disappointed because he ordered everything on the menu.

Everything we tasted was wonderful, but the standout was the chicken vampiro, which is a perfectly crisp quesadilla made with a soft, lush Mexican cheese and garlic sauce. I also enjoyed the carne asada cachetada, which is a tostada topped with beef, Mexican cheese and an aoli chipotle sauce.

But it doesn’t end there because diners are invited to customize their selections with a wide variety of homemade salsas and crisp fresh toppings. It’s like I died and went to Mexican food heaven!

Even though we went during the lunchtime rush and there was a long line of people waiting to order, the counterworkers were efficient in moving the line quickly and the kitchen had our food ready in just a few moments. There’s even a walk-up window where people walking past the restaurant on the sidewalk can order food to eat on the street.

The prices were extremely reasonable — $2.25 for the finest taco you will ever eat and $3.75 for the vampiro. The most expensive thing on the menu was the nachos, and it was only $6.

Despite its humble beginnings as a food truck, Mexicali Taco & Co. is no roach coach turned Mexican restaurant. The people who created this menu and prepare this food really know what they are doing and the entire experience — from the brightly colored dining room to the “old school” bottles of Coca Cola made with real cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup to the cheerfulness of the employees — made it simply an unexpected treat.

My brother, Kevin, in front of his favorite Mexican restaurant

My brother, Kevin, in front of his favorite Mexican restaurant

Apparently, a group called LA Taco runs an annual “Best of” contest, and Mexicali Taco & Co. has won the top prize in the past. I’m not surprised because the food was great and the quality of the experience was superb.

So if you find yourself in Los Angeles at lunchtime — or even late night, the kitchen’s open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays — check out this treasure of a taco joint. I can’t wait to go back there!

 

Meat Free Mondays — Grilled Vegetable Salad

Now that the weather is warming up, it’s time to clean up the grill, get some fresh propane or charcoal, and start thinking about the best menus for cooking out.

Cooking on the grill can be more limiting for vegetarians than it is for carnivores, but for those looking to avoid meat the backyard barbeque need not be avoided altogether.

For example, I recently wrote about a party I catered that featured a California vegetarian menu — with meat options — that focused on grilled vegan burgers and tofu dogs.

Today we will consider the grilled vegetable salad, one of my personal favorite summertime vegetarian meals.

The grilled vegetable salad offers a lot of different options for the home chef: various kinds of vegetables to include, fun plating opportunities, and a variety of salads that can anchor the plate — including those made with greens, grains or even beans.

Any kind of vegetable can be grilled: If you can cook it, you can grill it. Some, however, benefit from being blanched — the process of steaming or boiling until softened, then immersing in ice water to halt the cooking process — before being “marked” on the grill. Among these would be asparagus, potatoes, carrots and other harder textured vegetables.

Others grill perfectly from the raw state. These include any kind of peppers, onions, eggplant, mushrooms and other softer textured vegetables.

When grilling vegetables, there’s a couple of key concepts to remember:

  • You are grilling vegetables, not charring or burning them. Usually, veggies work best if you simply mark them for a few moments over the hottest part of the grill, then move them to a cooler spot where there is indirect heat for them to complete their cooking without becoming overcooked.
  • While you can grill any kind of vegetable, try to include a variety of colors, shapes and flavors to liven up your final plate. If all your vegetables are green, for example, the final product will look boring.
  • Grilled vegetables give you a lot of freedom for creative plating. Think of your plate as a frame and arrange your vegetables artfully for the most appealing visual effect. Don’t forget about the 3-D opportunities your plating can include: Consider stacking your vegetables into “towers” so that they come up out of the plate.
  • Don’t forget to use pan spray and seasoning for all your vegetables. A tiny bit of salt and pepper will bring out the natural flavors of your grilled vegetables.

For this salad, I used zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper, asparagus and eggplant (it’s under the salad where I used it as a pedestal), then topped it with a chopped salad of red leaf lettuce, sliced cabbage for a crunchy texture, and julienned tomatoes and radish, all topped with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese.

Grilled vegetables can be served warm or cold and can easily be marked off hours before you serve them. In restaurants, we would arrange our intricate vegetable platters long before service then simply warm them up for a few moments under the broiler, in the oven or even in the microwave to speed up service.

Finally, leftover grilled vegetables can be chopped up and served again later as a ratatouille if you like.

Grilled vegetables are a welcome addition to any plate at any time of the year, but take on a more prominent role on summer dinner menus. As this year’s grilling season begins, it’s time to start thinking about the best ways to feature our vegetables by grilling them.

What grilled vegetable dishes do you love to make? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Seafood Fridays – Shark Kabobs

One of my most treasured memories is snorkeling inside the cone of an underwater volcano off the coast of Maui on my honeymoon.

The crystal clear water was about 50 feet deep and as I swam around I could look down on a dazzling display of sea life, including thousands of colorful fish and swaying sea plants. Then I saw the sharks.

There were three of them and they were about the same length as me. I watched as they swam along the bottom minding their own business. I wasn’t afraid of being attacked. Instead, I was fascinated by how menacing they looked and how incredible it was to be actually swimming among sharks.

Then it struck me: On some days the shark eats you. On other days, you eat the shark.

I was reminded of that experience when I saw shark meat on sale at the one of the local produce marts I visit regularly. It was extremely affordable — $3.99/lb — so I snapped it up.

I have cooked shark before and I remembered that it was a firm-fleshed fish, sort of like tuna but not as flavorful. When I brought it home, I decided to use it in shark kabobs.

Shark meat should not be eaten too frequently because it can have high levels of mercury. The US Food and Drug Administration recommends not eating shark meat more than twice per month, and pregnant women should avoid it altogether.

The meat is quite tasteless and dry, so you probably will want to marinate shark meat before cooking it. You can use a commercial salad dressing or make your own marinade, but you definitely will want to add flavor and moisture to shark.

Shark Kabobs

1 lb shark meat

1 bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, cut into large peices

4 button mushrooms

Fresh pineapple, cut into large chunks

Red onion, peeled and cut into large chunks

2 tomatoes, cored and halved

1/2 leek, cleaned and cut into large chunks

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

For the marinade

1/2 cup pineapple juice (or orange juice)

2 TBS Extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1. Combine pineapple juice, EVOO and garlic in a glass or ceramic mixing bowl. Don’t use a metal mixing bowl or acid could react with the metal and affect the way the meat tastes. Cut shark into large chunks and mix around in the mariade. Cover with plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes. Remove from marinade.

2. Submerge wooden shish kabob spears in water about 10 minutes prior to assembling your shish kabobs. This will help prevent them from burning up on the grill.

3. Assemble your shark kabobs in any order that you like. I always make sure each kabob is exactly the same because when I worked in restaurants customers would complain if somebody else’s kabob had more of one particular item than their kabob. As you assemble the kabobs, lay them out in a baking pan and brush them with the marinade.

4. Preheat grill. When hot, scrape down the grill with a metal brush to remove any debris, then lubricate the grill using a clean rag dipped in oil. Spray the kabobs with pan spray then season them with salt and pepper. Place the kabobs on the grill for about a minute just to mark them, then careful flip over to mark the other side. Remove kabobs to a cooler part of the grill not directly over the heat, brush them again with marinade and let them cook through, about 7 minutes.

I served my shark kabobs on a bed of brown rice and garnished them with fresh cilantro.

Have you ever tried shark meat? What did you think? Share your story in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Seafood Fridays – Shrimp Fried Rice

Fish on Fridays is a new feature I’m starting this week. Throughout the season of Lent — and possibly beyond if it is popular — I will be featuring one of my favorite seafood dishes each Friday.

For the very first week, I have one of my favorites: Shrimp Fried Rice.

Any kind of fried rice is fine by me, but for this one I was inspired by this blog written by one of my favorite bloggers, My Vegetarian Kitchen. In it, she stated that she was going to see how long she could make meals for her family using only the food she already had in her home. With a few exceptions, she is going to try and not to buy anything else until she runs out of food.

Personally, it always seems like I have way too much food lying around for just the two of us. Despite this, I go to the grocery store almost every day to get more things.

So, inspired by Sarpeet’s blog, I decided to try to go at least one day without buying more food. Fortunately, I happened to have a pound of shrimp on hand that somehow failed to make it into the jambalaya casserole the day before.

Anything fried rice is fine by me, but shrimp is one of my favorites. This meal is easy to make, cooks fast, is inexpensive and turned out especially delicious. Plus, because my wife, Sandi, is not a fan of shrimp I got it all to myself! Bonus!

Shrimp Fried Rice

1 lb medium raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed

1 TBS Extra virgin olive oil

1/2 green bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, julienned

1/2 yellow bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, julienned

1/2 white onion, julienned

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 TBS  fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1 TBS sesame oil

1 tsp Sriracha sauce

1 cup rice, cooked

1. Combine shrimp, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl, toss well, cover with plastic and place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to marinate.

2. Put cast iron pan on fire. When hot, add oil. When smoking, add onions and peppers. Cook until onions soft and slightly browned, about 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Add shrimp and all of the marinade and cook another 2 minutes then add the rice and cook for another minute, stirring frequently.

3. Dissolve corn starch in water and pour into pan. Stir until liquid begins to thicken, about two minutes. Stir in Sriracha sauce then remove from heat.

4. To plate, pile in center of pasta bowl and garnish with either a sprig of parsley or chopped parsley for color.

With some fried rice recipes, I will throw an egg in right at the end, but I left it out of this one because there already was enough protein with all the shrimp, but feel free to add one if you like.

What are some of your favorite seafood dishes that we can feature in Seafood Fridays? Let me know and I’ll try to do as many as I can. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Wisconsin Cheddar Broccoli Soup

What makes this Wisconsin Cheddar Broccoli Soup? Is it because the sharp cheddar cheese came from Wisconsin? Is it because it was invented in the Badger State?

Nope. It’s because you make it with beer.

I love cooking with beer almost as much as I love cooking with wine, which is quite a lot. Oddly, I don’t drink a lot of beer, but I just love the chewy, yeasty flavor it always gives to food.

Wisconsin, of course, is Our Nation’s Capitol of beer. Milwaukee is world headquarters of the Miller Brewing Company, one of the biggest breweries in the world, and that city also has a long and proud beer drinking tradition, making it one of my favorite cities. You will find me there almost every August for Milwaukee’s excellent Irish Fest at the city’s beautiful lakefront festival park.

You will never hear me say an unkind thing about Milwaukee, other than perhaps most of its residents are Green Bay Packers fans.

Besides the fact that it is made with beer, this soup is also wonderful in the winter time because it is the very definition of hearty. This is as thick as soup gets before passing over into the casserole category. It is thickened with both a roux and from the melted cheese.

It. Will. Fill. You. Up.

Wisconsin Cheddar Broccoli Soup

4 slices bacon, medium dice

1 onion, medium dice

12 oz beer

3 cups skim milk

1 cup chicken stock

2 TBS whole butter

3 TBS unbleached all-purpose flour

8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1/2 TBS dry mustard

1/2 tsp nutmeg

2 baked potatoes, rough chop

2 broccoli crowns

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

Dash Tabasco sauce

Dash Worcestershire sauce

1. Put pot on fire. When hot, add bacon and cook until just starting to crisp, about three minutes. Add onion and cook until translucent, about five minutes. Add beer and cook until nearly all the liquid is evaporated. Then add milk and chicken stock and cover and let come to a boil.

2. In a separate small pot, build a roux by melting butter then whisking flour into the butter. Let cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture turns a light tan. Remove from heat.

3. When milk/chicken stock comes to a boil, whisk in roux and continue cooking until soup begins to thicken, about five minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce to a simmer and stir in grated cheese. When cheese is melted, add the potato and brocolli and cook another 3 minutes. Broccoli will continue to soften at sits in the hot soup.

I served this with a homemade multi-grain bread and it certainly warmed up our late winter’s night.

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