Chicken and Biscuits

When I was growing up, there occasionally would appear in my family’s cupboard a product called Chicken in a Biscuit.

These were crackers that tasted like chicken. I think my dad liked them. Even as a very young child, I knew that something about this just wasn’t right. Crackers aren’t supposed to taste like meat!

Chicken in a Biscuit crackers frighten me in some primal way, even though I now know they simply have a little chicken base mixed into the cracker dough. Still, I do enjoy the flavors of chicken and biscuits. And with yet another hurricane heading for poor, embattled New Orleans, I felt it was a good time to make some comfort food.

I debated whether to make fresh biscuits for this dish, or simply used the kind that comes in a tube. I’m still a little cautious about my own biscuits, scones and other quick breads, seeing as how I thought they nearly killed me once.

In the end, I opted for the store-bought variety due to time constraints. I’m glad I did because these biscuits were more like puff pastry, with layer upon layer of butter dough.

This is a very simple and old-fashioned dish. The innovation I added was to cook the biscuits right on top of the chicken stew, sort of like a chicken pot pie. Given the biscuits’ puff pastry-like qualities, it essentially was chicken pot pie.

Only I forgot to add the frozen peas that I bought. Oh, well. Something to make it better next time.

Chicken and Biscuits

1/2 lb Cooked Chicken, pulled from bone and chopped (I used leftovers from BBQ Chicken I made the night before)

2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 White Onion, medium dice

2 Carrots, peeled and medium dice

2 Celery Stalks, medium dice

14oz can Chicken Broth

4 TBS All-Purpose Flour

1 TBS Chicken Base

1 cup Frozen Peas, thawed (which I bought but forgot to add!)

1 tube Buttery Biscuits (makes 8 biscuits)

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1. Put an oven-safe pot over a medium heat. I used my Dutch Oven. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add onions, celery and carrot. I threw in a diced green bell pepper from our garden because we are up to our ears in them, but they aren’t usually a part of this recipe. Stir around, cover and cook until onions are translucent, about five minutes. Stir in chicken, cover and cook another minute or two to heat the chicken through.

2. Add flour and chicken base to the chicken/vegetable mixture. Stir around until the flour begins to brown a little, about two minutes, then hit it with the chicken stock. Stir, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 30 minutes, stirrring once or twice. The stock will thicken during this time. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Preheat oven to 350F. Place uncooked biscuits directly on top of chicken mixture then put the entire pot, uncovered, in the oven and cook until biscuits are browned on top, about 25 minutes.

To serve, remove or two of the biscuits to get at the chicken stew, ladle some of the chicken mixture into a bowl and then cap with the biscuits.

This chicken and biscuits is so much better than a box of crackers!

Country Style Pork Ribs

Barbeque season is here so it is a good time to review some BBQ basics.

When you cook barbeque, you have three major choices to make:

1. What to barbeque

2. Cooking method

3. Type of BBQ

There are almost an unlimited combination of these three choices. For example, you can barbeque any kind of meat or poultry, even fish or vegetables if you want, although that’s a little more exotic. And within each meat category, there’s different cuts to consider: ribs, briskets, shoulders.

Within the rib category, there are still more decisions to be made: baby back ribs, spare  ribs, country style ribs, rib tips. Baby backs are narrower and have curved bones, for example, while spare ribs — sometimes called St. Louis Ribs or Kansas City ribs, depending on how they are butchered — are longer and flatter. All are delicious and perfect for BBQ.

For this dish, I selected country style ribs. They are cut from the blade end of the pork shoulder and are meatier than other types of ribs. They usually contain just one long flat bone at the bottom, making them slightly less messy to eat.

Cooking methods include grilling, smoking, boiling, braising, baking or any combination of any of these methods. Because it was raining, I opted to go with braising.

Finally, there is the type of barbeque to consider. There are two primary types: Dry rub and wet.

Wet entails generously basting what you are cooking with a liquid barbeque sauce during all or part of the cooking process. The result is a sweet, smokey and tacky sauce that perfectly complements sweeter meat such as pork and chicken.

For this dish, I selected dry rub, which is when you rub the meat with a barbeque seasoning made up of a combination of many different herbs and spices before cooking it. You can buy a pre-made rub or you can make one yourself.

Most of the time, I use both methods, starting with a dry rub then brushing barbeque sauce onto the meat during the last portion of the cooking time. Abundanza!

Barbeque has become a rich summertime tradition. Many people ritualize the experience, and there are numerous BBQ competitions and festivals where people share their techniques and serve their secret recipes.

This recipe is no secret, but it is a quick and convenient barbeque dinner you can make to kick off the BBQ season. I served my ribs with a traditional homemade potato salad and some steamed, buttered green beans. If you like, you can serve barbeque sauce on the side, but these ribs were so succulent and flavorful that I didn’t find it necessary.

Country Style Pork Ribs

2 to 3 lb Country style pork ribs

1/2 cup Barbeque rub

1 cup water

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Generously rub the pork ribs on all sides with the barbeque rub. Place in a 9″x13″x2″ baking pan and pour the water into the bottom of the pan, being careful not to wash off the rub from the ribs.

2. Use aluminum foil to seal the pan and cook for 90 minutes.

Super easy, right?! Here’s the potato salad recipe:

Traditional Potato Salad

6 to 8 Medium red potatoes

2 eggs, hard boiled

2 stalks celery, diced

1/2 white onion

1/3 cup Pickle relish

1 cup Reduced-fat mayonnaise

2 TBS Dijon mustard

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

Paprika for garnish

1. Boil whole potatoes for about 25 minutes or until cooked through. You can test doneness by sticking a fork into the potato. If it easily slips off the fork, it is ready. Remove from water and set aside until cool enough to handle.

2. Cut potatoes into large dice peices and place in a mixing bowl with the celery. Grate the onion and egg into the bowl. In a separate bowl, make the dressing by combining the mayonnaise, mustard and pickle relish, tasting it to make sure you have the proper balance. Then dress the salad and mix with a spatula. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This salad tastes better if you let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving it so the flavors meld together. Garnish with the paprika.

Do you have any barbeque traditions that you would be willing to share? Tell us all about them in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

 

 

Wine on Wednesdays — How to Taste Wine, Part 2

Last week, we discussed how to look at wine and how to smell it. Today, we will examine how to assess how a wine “feels” and how it tastes.

We perceive taste in a number of different ways: The olfactory gland in our nose has a huge impact on how our brains assess flavor. The other primary factor is the taste buds on our tongues.

The tongue can distinguish four primary tastes: sweet, sour or acidic, bitter and salty. In addition to these four, there are an infininte number of variations that we can taste on our tongues.

When we taste wine, where it is on our tongue and in relation to our olfactory gland determines how it tastes. That means that the same wine will taste differently depending on where it is in your mouth.

That’s why in order to get all the flavor from a wine, you must work the wine around in your mouth before swallowing it. This is known as “chewing” the wine.

Wine also tastes differently when it is combined with air. On the next sip, chew the wine and then purse your lips and suck a little air through the wine two or three times before swallowing it. This aerates the wine and releases even more aromas.

If you are tasting multiple wines, you probably are going to want to spit out the wine after tasting it, otherwise you can get pretty drunk depending on how many wines you taste. At traditional tastings, it can be up to two dozen wines!

Finally, the feel of the wine on your tongue also affects how we perceive its quality.

The biggest factor to a wine’s feel is its alcohol content. Wines that are higher in alcohol have an airy feel, while low-alcohol wines have a watery mouth feel.

The temperature of the wine impacts how we perceive it. If white wines are too chilled, they will have far less flavor than if they are at the perfect temperature of 48F-52F.

Red wines should be around 59F-63F, which is usually about room temperture. But if it is very hot where you are, the wine will be warmer and the flavor will be flatter and have less of a bouquet.

The tongue also has nerves that can sense the texture of a wine. Some wines taste silky or velvety while other wines can actually feel harsh on the tongue.

Many wines have a little carbon dioxide spritz to them, even when they are not sparkling wines. I find this a lot on pinot grigios and even sauvignon blancs. While they aren’t as bubbly as a champagne, you can definitely feel an effervescence on your tongue.

Finally, the wine’s astringency can be sensed on the tongue. Many red wines — especially bold flavored wines like zinfandels and cabernet sauvignons — have strong tannins, which have the effect of almost seizing up the tongue, gums and palate.

One of the most wonderful things about tasting wines is that for every wine, each of the combinations of these things will be different. Even with the same wine, the way your senses perceive it can change based on how you taste it, its temperature, how long you let it breathe and a host of other factors.

Once you start tasting wines more frequently, it’s a good idea to keep a wine diary. This is simply a record of the wines you tried and what you thought of them. It’s helpful because it allows you to record your impressions on a particular wine and you can refer back to it long afterward.

There are commercial wine diaries you can buy and even websites that will let you record all types of data about your wine tastings. But a simple Excel spreadsheet is the simplest and most inexpensive option and gives you everything you need — date, name of the wine, what you thought of it.

Tasting wine is a great way to use all of your sense to appreciate wine. By paying attention to the minute details of individual wines, you can enhance your wine drinking experience and live a fuller, richer life.

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!

 

Seafood Fridays – Orange Roughy

At some point during Lent, my mother would always make orange roughy. It is a white, firm-fleshed fish that has a slightly sweet flavor to it and tastes not at all fishy. I would look forward to it because it was always a big improvement on fish sticks.

I had never heard of it until the early 1980s, but soon we would have it a several times per year.

Later, as an adult, I would occasionally buy it to make for my family. It’s not super expensive — although not nearly as cheap as farmed fish such as tilapia — but I would always find it frozen, never fresh.

I found out later that it’s because orange roughy is a deep water fish that is harvested in the North Atlantic around Iceland and also in the Pacific around Peru. It has to travel too far to be sold fresh at my neighborhood grocery store.

Interesting fact: The fish was renamed orange roughy in the late 1970s for marketing purposes. Its former name was “slimehead” due to the mucuous membranes that run through it’s head.

Ironically, it was given its more marketable name as part of a US National Marine Fisheries Service program to promote underutilized fish species to make them more marketable. Now the species is on many government and environmental groups’ endangered species list. It used to be one of the most popular fish to harvest around Australia and New Zealand but less than 10 percent of the original population and fishing for orange roughy has been sharply limited.

Also, orange rough can live up to 135 years. And they are not orange, they are brick red when alive. Their flesh only turns a pale orange after they are dead.

Image DetailSome grocery stores refuse to sell orange roughy because it is not a sustainable fish. That means once it’s gone, it’s gone. It can’t be replenished because it’s a deep water fish.

What’s more, orange roughy are caught through a method called “trawling”, in which heavy nets are dragged across the ocean floor. This causes a lot of damage to the ecosystem and is putting other kinds of sea life at risk, such as sea coral. Seafood Watch, an US sea life watchdog group, has recommended that consumers avoid buying orange roughy because of its growing scarcity and because the damage deep sea trawling does to the underwater environment.

I have a suggestion for saving the species: Change their name back to “slimehead”. No one is going to serve up a platter of slimehead on a Lenten Friday.

I’m not going to post a recipe for orange roughy because now I feel bad about having made it. Now that I know about how endangered it is, I doubt I will be making orange roughy again anytime soon.

 

Cupboard Casserole

Last week, I wrote about a blogger, My Vegetarian Kitchen, who was trying not to buy any more food until she used up everything she had in her kitchen.

This wonderful blog post continues to inspire me. So I decided to try to create at least one meal without having to go buy anything new.

This experience is similar to the way restaurant owners sometimes try out potential chef candidates. They are given a “black box” full of ingredients and given the task of creating something original and delicious. They are given no advance knowledge of what the ingredients will be.

I’ve always enjoyed those kind of tryouts, so I was looking forward to this experiment in my own kitchen. The only problem was I didn’t have much lying around: some frozen ground turkey, a half a bag of egg noodles and not much else.

I tore my cupboard apart, dismissing those items that simply wouldn’t work — a can of lentils, half full bags of assorted grains and beans — until I found a couple that would, such as a can of peas and a lone envelope of Mrs. Grass Onion Soup Mix.

The refrigerator was pretty sparse as well, but I did manage to find half an onion and half a green pepper, as well as some partially full containers of fat free cottage cheese and sour cream.

I used these ingredients to whip up what I told my wife was “Cupboard Casserole”. It actually turned out pretty delicious, especially since I made it out of essentially nothing. It wasn’t good enough that I would put it on a restaurant menu, but we enjoyed it and saved some money at the same time.

Now, if you will excuse me I have to go grocery shopping.

Cupboard Casserole

1/2 lb ground turkey

1/2 white onion, medium dice

1/2 green pepper, ribs and seeds removed, medium dice

1 jalapeno pepper, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

1 TBS extra virgin olive oil

1/2 bag dry egg noodles

1 cup fat free cottage cheese

1/2 cup fat free sour cream

1 can reduced fat cream of chicken soup

1 envelope Mrs. Grass Onion Soup Mix

1 can peas, drained

1 dash Worcestershire sauce

1 dash Tabasco sauce

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1. Cook egg noodles according to package instructions, about 7 minutes. They should be slightly undercooked so that they will absorb some of the liquid while the casserole is cooking. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.

2. Meanwhile, put cast iron pan on fire. When hot, add oil. When smoking, add onions and peppers. Cook until onions translucent, about three minutes, then add turkey, using a spatula to break it apart into small peices. Cook until turkey is browned, about five minutes, then remove from heat and let cool.

3. Preheat oven to 375F. In a mixing bowl, combine egg noodles, turkey mixture, cream of chicken soup, the onion soup mix, the sour cream, cottage cheese, Worcestershire and Tabasco and blend together with a spatula. Season to taste with salt and pepper then transfer to a casserole dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs, cover and bake for 35 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 10 minutes.

What kinds of meals do you make out of whatever you have lying around your kitchen? Share your story in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Wine on Wednesdays – House Wine

Over the years, I have worked at a lot of restaurants. At various times, I have been the general manager, the executive chef, the sommelier, the bartender, the server, and many other positions.

Most restaurants have a house wine, which is the wine you receive if you just ask for a “red” or a “white”. It’s usually — although not always — the cheapest wine option. And it almost invariably tastes just terrible.

As a consumer, I don’t judge a restaurant by how awful its house wine tastes because if guests don’t care enough to look at a wine list or ask for a favorite brand, they deserve what they get.

Even if what they get comes out of a jug. Or even a box. Which it frequently does, even in the best fine dining restaurants.

(A quick aside: Never drink wine out of a box unless you enjoy having horrible headaches the next morning. Box wines are the Chicken McNugget of the winemaking world: You don’t ever want to see how they are made.)

That’s why when I found this brand called “House Wine”, I was intrigued. It turns out this wine is nothing like your typical “house wine” because while it is completely affordable, it tastes amazing.

House Wine is one of a handful of brands made by the Magnificent Wine Company, which is based in Walla Walla, Washington. While many people think of that as onion and potato country, it also is home to the Washington’s famed Columbia Valley wine growing region.

The company is a partnership between Charles Smith, of K Vintners, who is something of a living legend among syrah fans, and Andrew Browne, the wunderkind founder of the Precept Wine brands. It also makes a chardonnay, White House Wine; a sauvignon blanc, Fish House Wine; and a cabernet suavignon, Steak House Wine.

House Wine is mostly cabernet sauvignon, but also has merlot, malbec, syrah and petit verdot, all grown in Columbia Valley. It is a nicely balanced wine that is neither jammy nor meekly bland, but a nice place in between. Even though it is made mostly with cabeneret sauvignon grapes, it has qualities of the laid back merlot.

And it was definitely affordable at $7.99/bottle, which is, of course, my self imposed upper limit for budget wines. Any restaurant would do well by serving House Wine as their house wine.

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On a separate note, I found myself in a Trader Joe’s the other day and I couldn’t help but to pick up a bottle of their house brand, Charles Shaw, perhaps better known as “Two-Buck Chuck.” although it now costs a whopping $3/bottle.

I had this wine many years ago and remembered that I didn’t like it. But given the concept of this budget wine blog, I thought I would try it again to see if I was mistaken. After all, if “Two Buck Chuck” was at all drinkable, I could recommend it to those people seeking affordable wines.

Sadly, this is not the case. I now remember why I didn’t like this wine. It tastes like barrel dregs. It’s bitter and has a persistent unpleasant aftertaste. It is a waste of $3.

Trader Joe’s has plenty of other good, affordable wines, so do yourself a favor and walk past the enormous display of “Two Buck Chuck” and pick yourself up something drinkable. The only positive thing I can say about this wine is that at $36/case, you can afford to pick up a dozen bottles to fill the holes in your wine rack until you can replace them with better wines.

Just don’t get tempted to drink a bottle.

Meat Free Mondays — Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas

We love enchiladas. It’s one of our favorite meals to make and we have it at least twice per month.

The great thing about enchiladas is that you can fill them with anything you want. They are particularly great for using up leftovers or if you want to make a vegetarian dish.

So when I found this enchilada recipe — which I found on this blog by the2beths, one of my favorite blogs — I just knew I had to try it. It had some funky ingredients and even the way it was assembled was way different from my enchilada recipe.

The good news: It was delicious. The sweet potato did not overwhelm the complex flavors of the enchilada as I suspected it would. Instead, it kind of complemented the mushroom-pepper-onion-jalapeno-spinach filling. I also thought the sweet potato would make it too dense, but it didn’t at all. It was light and moist.

The bad news: With the enchilada sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish, instead of mixed in with the filling like I normally make it, the enchiladas stuck to the bottom and fell apart as I tried to plate them.

This may have been because I made them a few hours ahead of time and held them in the refrigerator until we were ready to have dinner. Or it may have been because I used generic store-brand whole wheat tortillas. But next time, I will assemble them the way I normally do.

But despite the plating disaster, I loved the flavor of these enchiladas. Plus, it gave me an excuse to make our guacamole, which I think is why we have enchiladas (and quesadillas, for that matter) so frequently: We can’t get enough of our guacamole.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas

1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped

1 TBS EVOO

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

8-10 button mushrooms, chopped fine

1 green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, medium dice

1/2 red onion, medium dice

2 cups fresh spinach, stems removed and cleaned

1 tsp chili powder

2 tsp cumin

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

1 12-oz can enchilada sauce

6 8″ whole wheat tortillas

1 cup salsa, plus more on the side for service

1/3 cup shredded Mexican cheese

1/4 cup fresh cilantro chopped (full disclosure: I bought this but forgot to put it in)

1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil then add the sweet potato and boil until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain and mash.

2. Preheat oven to 375F. Put cast iron pan on the fire. When hot, add oil. When smoking, add onion, green pepper and jalapeno and cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms browned, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and spinach and cook until spinach is wilted, about 3 more minutes. Add black beans, cilantro, cumin and chili powder and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes, and remove from heat.

3. In a casserole dish, spread 1/2 of the can of enchilada sauce around the bottom. One by one, fill the tortillas a schmeer of mashed sweet potato topped with a dollop of the filling, then a TBS of salsa. Roll up like a burrito and place seam side down in the casserole dish. When all tortillas are filled, pour remaining enchilada sauce over them and sprinkle with the cheese. Cover with foil, bake 35 minutes then remove foil and bake another 10 minutes to brown up the top.

I serve my enchiladas with homemade guacamole, salsa, fat free sour cream and baked tortilla chips. This is one of our favorite meals.

What dishes do you love so much you make them at least a couple of times per month? Tell us about them in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Tex-Mex Tuna Casserole

Wow, it’s already February! Where has this year gone?!

Both my wife and I have been extremely busy since pretty much Thanksgiving, so I have been looking for meals that are fast and delicious, but will also hold well to accomodate our ever-changing schedules.

Tuna casserole is always a good fall back option, but it feels like we’ve done it to death. So I decided to spice it up a little with this recipe I adapted from one I found on The Cooking Blog. It takes only a few minutes to prepare, it can be held in the refrigerator until we were ready to eat, and it cooks fast. Plus, it was pretty rich and creamy — despite being low-fat — so I was able to hold it in a 200F oven until we were both ready to eat.

This spiced-up version of tuna casserole was delicious and — like traditional tuna casserole — it tastes even better the next day heated up.

So if you’re looking for a new take on an old favorite, you should give this recipe a try. Most of the ingredients are probably already lying around your kitchen, plus it’s super fast, super easy, and super tasty! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to work!

Tex-Mex Tuna Casserole

1 large can chunk tuna in water, drained

2 cups fat-free cottage cheese

3/4 cup fat-free sour cream

1/2 red onion, small dice

1 small can diced green chiles

2 TBS chipotle salsa (or just regular salsa)

1/2 bag egg noodles, cooked

Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup cashews, chopped fine

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Boil egg noodles according to package instructions, usually about 7 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.

2. In mixing bowl, combine the tuna, cottage cheese, sour cream, onion, chiles, salsa and noodles. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to casserole dish.

3. Combine bread crumbs and cashews in small bowl then sprinkle over casserole. Dish can be stored in refrigerator up to a day, or in freezer for up to a week, until you are read to serve it.

4. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes or until casserole is brown and bubbly. Allow more time if cooking from frozen, or better yet allow to defrost first.

I served mine with spicy Sriracha sauce. My wife normally puts ketchup on her tuna casserole (I know, right?) but she said this one was so good it didn’t need any! Yay!

What quick and easy meals do you like to prepare for those days when you’re too busy to spend a lot of time in the kitchen? Share your story in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Wine on Wednesdays – The Lost Grape of Bordeaux

Once upon a time, in the lush green wine growing regions of Bordeaux, there lived a grape named Carmenere. Many people said it was the grandfather of the mighty Cabernet Sauvignon grape, from which many future celebrated wines from Bordeaux would be made.

For centuries, the grape grew happily in the Medoc region of Bordeaux, and in Graves, another famous French wine region, and a few other places. In fact, Carmenere was growing in these famous wine growing regions of France even before there was a France, as evidenced by the praise it received from Pliny the Elder, chronicler of the Roman gladiators who conquered Gaul, now modern day France.

Carmenere was enjoyed and celebrated by wine lovers for hundreds and hundreds of years, and was considered on par with the cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc grapes as one of the finest wine making grapes in the world.

Then, in 1867, something terrible happened.

A plague of phylloxera, also known as the antarctic lotus fly, swarmed the Bordeaux region, as well of much of France itself, leaving a swath of destruction in every vineyard it touched. Nearly all of France’s successful wine industry was destroyed, but the carmenere grape was completely wiped out.

In the wake of the plague, carmenere was declared extinct, and never again would anyone be able to enjoy its distinctive flavor, which had been described as a milder, smoky, spicy, and berry-like cabernet sauvignon.

But flash forward to 1994, where Professor Jean-Michel Boursiquot, of the University of Montpelier’s department of oneology was conducting a study of Merlot Peumal, a grape grown in Chile’s Peumal valley that was believed to be a clone of the merlot grape.

Except it wasn’t.

Professor Borsiquot determined that Merlot Peumal was actually the long-lost carmenere grape. Apparently, in the 1850s — long before the phylloxera plague decimated her vineyards — French winemakers exported carmenere plants to Chile’s fledgling wine industry, believing them to be merlot vines. For more than 140 years, Chilean winemakers cultivated carmenere under the mistaken impression that it was merlot.

Four years after its re-discovery, in 1998 the Chilean Department of Agriculture officially declared carmenere to be its own distrinct varietal and the wine is now produced and exported worldwide by hundreds of Chilean vineyards. It is also being cultivated, on a much smaller scale, in wineries in California and Australia.

Meanwhile, back in France, Bordeaux has moved on and produces some of the most famous and expensive wines in the world. But in recent years, a few vineyards have begun plantng a few acres of camenere vines among their famed cabernet sauvignon vines, and there is talk of expanding these plantings and re-weaving the ancient grape into the region’s rich wine tapestry.

This carmenere — Found Object, from Chile — is one of dozens of delicious, affordable Chilean carmeneres widely available in the US. It cost $7.99/bottle, which is the exact limit of my self-imposed maximum cost per bottle.

This story of the lost grape of Bordeaux concludes with a happy ending, with this lush and fragrant carmenere swirling around in my glass, once again having been discovered and celebrated as one of the world’s finest varietals.