Saturday, December 29, 2012

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

After the nightmare that was cooking Christmas dinner at my mother's house last year when my mother was still in the house, I decided to bring a dish to my sister's house this year.  Besides having to keep my wife out of the weeds, my mother is unwilling to even think about food with onions, garlic, spice or heat, let alone look at it or discuss it.  Excuse me, I'll pick up the "mother" issues on my other blog. . .

My sister was kind enough to share her menu plans, allowing me to fill in the gaps.  She already had meats, potatoes, fresh green beans (stolen from me last year), and dessert covered.  I decided that I could come up with a squash casserole that would compliment her offerings nicely.  Here's the recipe I started with:

So, we have to deal with three ingredient issues:  cheddar cheese, Ritz crackers, and onions.  If cheddar is a problem, Velveeta should work pretty well here.  Or if some other melting cheese like mozzarella or monterrey jack works for you, go for it.  Nothing else in this recipe is going to compete with your cheese flavor, so you have some flexibility if you need it.  Issue #1 solved.  Ritz Crackers can be replaced with a variety of things if they are a problem for you:  panko bread crums would be my first choice because it adds a great crunch that many people will not know how to replicate.  Toast or other crackers in the food processor would be in inexpensive solutions.  You could even use chips, pretzels, or cereal.  The only thing you need to keep in mind is that your choice will impact how much salt you will need to add.  Pretzels and chips will replace a lot of salt, while toast will not.  Although completely unnecessary, you could toast your crumbs in a saute pan, adding a touch of butter, salt, garlic seasoning, or some other enhancement to bring it closer to Ritz Crackers.  Issue #2 solved.  Finally, we have to deal with onions.  I chose Granny Smith apples as my substitute - they add moisture and taste like an onion, and they have a sourness that is better suited to the main meal than sweeter apples.  I peeled one (it's approximately the size of a large half onion), sliced it thin, and quickly put it in a water bath to keep it from turning brown.  Although lemon juice is a common thing to add to the bath, I added a teaspoon of white vinegar to stay migraine friendly.  The vinegar also tones down the sweetness just a bit. When the main ingredients go into the sautee pan, you can add a bit of onion powder if that does not affect you, and you are really close to having the effect of onions.

Being me, and this being Christmas, I could not stop here; I had to change things up.  First, I chopped up some fresh parsley and pulled some thyme off the stem.  Since the crumbs go both in the dish and on the dish, I just added it to the crumbs.  Voila - freshness and color.  Then, I wanted a little bit of "Christmas" flavor.  Cinnamon and nutmeg came to mind - the smell adds a dimension to Christmas, the taste goes with squash and apples, and I have actually seen my mother eat food containing them.  I must confess that I got a little cute and used garam masala instead, but the effect is the same.  Just go VERY easy with these tastes.  I really had to fight the urge to add ginger because of my mother, but I'm sure she wouldn't object if you added it to yours.  You could even add some garlic.

Now, a couple of notes about technique.  "Place squash and onion in a large skillet over medium heat. Pour in a small amount of water" did not speak to me.  Boiling and steaming are healthy, but they don't do much for the taste of food, especially comfort food.  I opted to saute instead.  This served a couple of purposes.  First, it allowed me to cook the garam masala a bit ("bloom the spices") instead of adding it raw.  I could then add garlic and ginger (I've been buying both pre-minced lately to save time), and cook for 30-60 seconds so they are not raw.  Finally, the squash and apples go in (maybe with a touch of salt and pepper).  The apples give off so much liquid that no extra water is needed.  Just keep everything covered so that steam stays around to do its job.

Finally, a few comments about ingredients.  I'm not sure that the dabs of butter at the end were necessary.  Ritz Crackers don't need the help, and if you toasted your substitute crumbs with butter, you're just gilding the lily at this point.  I used whole milk.  We use skim for drinking and cereal, but when cooking for friends, family and holidays, (or in my case, cooking in general) the real thing makes a real difference.

My casserole was a big hit.  It looked good with the green flecks of chopped herbs, the buttery crust smelled good, and the squash/apple/cheese/garam masalla had a rich warm flavor, and a light quality due to all the squash and apples.  You can throw it together from start to finish in about an hour, so keep this one handy for the holidays.     

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas Dish of the Day

This recipe from Scott Conant of Food Network is pretty involved, but it gets a 100% grade for migraine compliance, so I thought it would be good to share: Spaghetti with Seafood.  I'm not one to cook with a lot of squid and sea urchin, even with an awesome international farmer's market that I could walk to from my house, but you can always substitute something you prefer.  However, I urge you to experiment with mussels.  There is some cleaning, de-bearding, and sorting out the dead ones involved, but all you do to cook them is steam them in chicken stock for a few minutes (I haven't tried this, but I'm betting that even plain water works) and eat them when they open up.  There's a bit of work involved in eating them, but if you throw them on pasta, they taste great and you look like a cooking genius when you serve it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Turduckhen without the Turkey and Chicken

I was watching The Best Thing I Ever Made on the DVR today.  Ted Allen came on.  I think of him more as a TV personality and writer than a cook, but he knows some tricks in the kitchen.  This episode was about roasts, which are not really my specialty, but they often have the technical ease of slow-cooking and they make good choices for holiday entertaining.  Ted was talking about Crisp-Tender Roast Duck with Cherry-Rosemary Sauce.  So far good. . . I've been craving duck for a long time, and it sounds on its face like something that could at least be adapted for the migraine diet. 

OK, let's take a look at the ingredients:

  • Duck
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shallot and garlic
  • Cherries
  • Chicken stock
  • Cherry preserves
  • Honey
  • Fresh rosemary
  • Butter
  • Fresh lemon juice (Darn it!!!)
    If you can tolerate citrus you are golden!  OK, so what if you cannot?  The choice is up to you.  The easy approach is to simply leave one ingredient out.  In this dish, the lemon is just a slight change of emphasis in the sauce.  If the cherries are pretty sour to begin with, this will likely turn out fine.  However, you have some other options. 
    When I think sour, I know that citrus is out.  So, what comes close that won't trigger a migraine?  The obvious choices come first - white vinegar or white wine.  A light hand is recommended - this flavor is like adding a subtle tint to a color.  Another flavor that I really like that comes close to sour and often gets used with rosemary is ginger.  Even when I have a full stomach, the thought of ginger and duck overcomes me with waves of desire.  This is the way I will likely go.  One other possibility is to try a sour fruit that is not citrus.  The first idea that comes to my mind is Granny Smith apples, but you could go with sour grapes.  Or you could go a bit sweeter with mangoes and back off of the honey, maybe completely.  Just add a little of each at a time, starting with mango, and taste as you go.  Many fruits can be on the sour side before they are fully ripe, so don't stop with these suggestions.  Take this a make it your own!

    Sunday, November 18, 2012

    Cooking Tip of the Day

    Even the most ambitious multi-tasker can use a break now and then.  One of the more maddening multi-tasking dishes is lasagna.  You chop your scallions/shallots, you saute them, you add the tomatoes (Bonus Hint:  spend a little more and try San Marzano one time.  They're milder and really enjoyable.  I'm guessing that they're also more migraine-friendly), or you make alfredo sauce.  While that's going on, you have to brown the meat - ground beef, chicken, or whatever.  THEN, you have to heat up the water to boil and boil the noodles.  Not only does your range top start to get crowded, but you have two more dishes to wash.  Then you stir your chives/parseley/whatever into your ricotta so it's ready for the layering process. . . It's very doable, but it's also a tremendous amount of work.

    The latest cheat I have found for this undertaking is "no boil" noodles.  So far, I have seen Kroger and Barilla varieties.  The Kroger variety has the nice lasagna edges that you get when boiling your own; the Barilla has flat edges to more resemble homemade noodles.  Even though they are hard like uncooked noodles, fear not.  The only thing you do need to be careful about is to have enough sauce to cover the top layer of noodles.  Otherwise, they can turn out more "al dente" than most people prefer (and that's being kind. . . ).  I've tried the Kroger and (other than the top layer) it turned out exactly like boiled noodles.  Barilla is a bit more high end, so I would expect it to work at least as well. 

    For taking this shortcut, you lose time needed to heat a lot of water, a boiling pot that needs washing, a strainer or inside for a pasta pot that needs washing, a crowded range top. a pasta facial when you strain the noodles, and burnt fingers when you layer the noodles.  The only good thing you lose is the pasta water that most expert cooks like to add to their sauce.  Although I like to do that myself, the loss is a small price to pay to avoid a lot of aggravation.  Give it a try!

    Sunday, October 21, 2012

    Another Rice Idea

    It's always a simple choice to throw rice in the microwave, with your favorite embellishment, but what can you do to change it up?  Rice pilaf might be a good choice.  It's not much more difficult than the microwave.  Take a saucepan, heat it to medium heat, and coat the bottom with olive oil.  Cook some diced shallots for a few minutes until translucent, or used minced garlic and cook for only 1-2 minutes (so it doesn't burn).  Throw in spices if you like (turmeric or paprika are good for color).  Pour 1 cup in the rice and cook until rice turns a light golden brown.  Pour in two cups of stock, bring to boil, reduce to simmer, and let cook for about 25 minutes until soft.  Season to taste.

    The garlic adds a nice edge to the rice, and with paprika, it goes nicely on a plate with Mexican food. Turmeric goes nicely with Indian food or can be used to create a cheap alternative to saffron rice.  I've even used it for paella.

    For a final idea, if you're really ambitious, you can toast the rice (use arborio), and stir the liquid in about 1/2 cup at a time, adding more as it absorbs.  Stir almost constantly.  You may need to add more liquid that rice normally requires.  Once the rice is edibly soft and creamy from the starch, you have risotto.  Season, serve immediately and take your bow.

    Monday, October 8, 2012

    Chicken Lasagna

    I went to a wedding over the weekend where the bride and some family were vegetarians.  One of the highlights was a vegetarian white lasagna.  I decided that I wanted to do something similar with chicken and found this recipe for lasagna alfredo.

    There are over a dozen recipes for alfredo sauce, including light versions, that are available on and  Or, you can use the jarred version if you are in a hurry.  Then again, why are you making lasagna if you are in a hurry????  If you are sensitive to parmesan cheese, you can use the versions made with reduced heavy cream.  Neufchetal is also used in some versions.  Ricotta is allowed on the diet.  And you can replace the mozzarella with something else that melts.    You can throw in carrot bits or matchsticks if you want a little sweetness.  Lasagna is your canvas and chicken versions are easily adapted to the migraine diet, even to the point of making them 100% compliant.  Best of all, it tastes great.

    Saturday, September 15, 2012

    Fried Rice

    Fried rice is familiar to most people, but it obviously presents a couple of challenges.  Those would be onions and soy sauce, both of which are a problem at my house.  However, neither is a problem to replace.  With onions, roughly cut shallots create the same appearance.  Scallions actually improve the appearance - you can cut them into small horizontal rings, or you can cut the green part diagonally to create a very nice look.  If it's allowed at your house, a bit of onion powder works.  Soy sauce adds two things to the dish:  saltiness and color.  Saltiness is easy enough to manage.  I won't insult you by telling you how.  Color is a bit more tricky, but the solution is a favorite - oyster sauce without added MSG.  Oyster sauce adds brown color similar to soy sauce, and the taste is pretty subtle:  it adds just a bit of depth to proteins.  I'm no expert, but I'm guessing that the taste is heavy on "umami", the fifth taste that Asians love.  You find this stuff at farmer's markets and Asian markets.  The regular version is often red, while the "No MSG Added" kind is green.

    The technique:
    1.  Cook rice in advance.  I use cheap long grain rice in the microwave.  The longer you allow it to cool, the better it will firy.  Otherwise, the extra moisture will not have evaporated, it will steam up, and the texture will be "mushier".
    2.  Prep your fresh veggies and protein.  For veggies, you can use carrots, peas, shallots, scallions, and celery.  Some people like to throw in bok choy, peppers, bamboo shoots (bought in cans) and water chesnuts (also canned, in various shapes).  This is where you go wild - you can pick and choose veggies, you can dice, julienne (long thin strips), or cut the carrots and celery on the bias into long, thin, diagonal slices.  As for proteins, this could involve dicing boneless chicken breasts, cleaning shrimp, slicing flat iron steak or (if you're nostalgic for the Rice-a-Roni/Hamburger Helper days) simply popping open the ground beef.  If you're not yet versed in food safety, finish the veggies and seasonings before cutting meat.  You don't want a cutting board used for raw meat to touch any other food (including cooked meat).  I keep two plastic cutting boards handy, plus a little one for emergencies and small jobs.
    3.  Prep your seasonings (see preceding warning).  Seasonings include garlic and ginger.  I've gotten tired of wrestling with ginger peels and fingers that smell like garlic, so I've resorted to garlic in a jar and ginger in a tube.  However, fresh is definitely better.  You can slice, dice or pulverise your garlic and ginger.  I usually divide it into two or three portions.  No need to separate the garlic and ginger, as they both cook quickly.  I'm not a fan of relying on powdered ginger or garlic, so don't blame me if you do that and you are not happy with the results.  Speaking of powder, onion powder is ok if it is tolerated.
    4.  I usually start with the fresh veggies so the flavor gets in everything else.  Canola oil allows hot temperatures, it does not add inauthentic taste (although you might like olive oil if you're not going for 100% authentic), and it is not a trigger like peanut oil.  I coat the bottom of the saute pan and saute the veggies with a touch of salt and oyster sauce.  Before adding the veggies, this is a good time for the powdered seasonings that I told you not to use and cook them for a minute or so.  If small quantities of soy sauce are tolerated, a few drops could be added.  Finally, I sometimes throw in some Better than Bullion (no water).  Since the veggies are cooked separately from the meat, this gives them a bit of meaty taste.  Cook until almost done - my wife likes her veggies still crispy.  When they are almost done, I add some fresh garlic and ginger.  You can add the bok choy tops at this point too if you don't want them completely wilted.  I throw the finished product into a large mixing bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.
    5.  Recoat the bottom of the saute pan with oil.  Throw in your meat and add your seasonings.  This can include garlic, ginger, onion powder, a touch of salt, a few drops of soy sauce, oyster sauce, and another dab of Better than Bullion.  While this is cooking, put any frozen veggies you are planning to use  (I always use peas, and you can some work by using frozen peas and carrots) in a microwave-safe container with some water on the bottom.  Get the microwave ready to start.  When the meat is finished, throw it in the mixing bowl on top of the cooked veggies (this will keep them hot) and replace foil. 
    6.  Start the microwave
    7.  Now it's time to cook the rice.  I keep the pan pretty hot.  If you made two cups of rice, you might want to do this in two batches, especially if your saute pan is not very big.  This reduces the mess.  Recoat the pan.  If you like scrambled egg in your rice, this a good time to fry it so it will not sit or get cold.  Then add in the remaining ginger and garlic.  Cook for 30-60 seconds.  Now, add the rice.  Add a few more drops of soy sauce if tolerated, but only for color.  Then add in some oyster sauce.  Oyster sauce is not as efficient as soy sauce for adding color, so don't be surprised about how much you will need to use.  The idea is to keep the rice moving (so it doesn't scorch) and add a bit of sauce to the white spots as they turn up, until all the rice has some color.  A little bit of sear on the rice is good and helps with the color, but that gets difficult if you use a non-stick pan.  Add salt gradually and taste as you go.  Once you get the rice to a good color, salt level, and sear/crust, add it to the bowl.
    8.  Drain the microwave veggies and add to the bowl.  At this point, you can add a small bit of sesame oil.  A little bit goes a long way, but it adds a bit more authenticity to the taste, if that's what you're going for.  Stir and serve.  Non-patients can add soy sauce.

    There's not anything advanced here - just a lot of steps, but no multi-tasking.  You get complete control, which can be intimidating.  Here are some quantities that you can use for starters:

    Meat - two pounds
    Rice - two cups rice, four cups water
    Shallots (medium), Rice and Celery - two each
    Baby Boy Choy and Scallions - one bunch
    Peas - 1/4 cup
    Peas and Carrots - 1/2 cup
    Bamboo Shoots and Water Chesnuts - 1 can, drained
    Ginger - one "thumb"
    Garlic - two cloves
    Sesame Oil - 10 drops
    Salt - pinch for veggies and meat, to taste for rice

    Once you are comfortable with this process, you can adapt it to other styles, like using Cajun seasoning and vegetables instead of Asian.  You can add sauces too.  Or leftovers, or whatever. . . fried rice is just a canvas and you get to choose the paints.

    Sunday, September 9, 2012

    Beans, Beans, Good for Your Head

    We've already gone over the classic French sauces and using cornstarch as a thickener.  Another method to make thick sauce that my family has enjoyed is to use beans as a thickening agent.  Beans add a different texture to the sauce that can convert familiar flavors into something brand new.  The following recipe is a good example:

    Roasted Chicken Breast with Cheddar-Jalapeno Quesadilla and Spicy Black Bean Sauce

    As usual, the recipe has to be adjusted to the patient.  If cheddar cheese doesn't work, substitute some other cheese that melts well.  The alternatives might include Monterray Jack, mozzarella or cheese food product.  We have found store brand mozzarella to be great in Mexican food, and it has the stamp of approval from no less than Marcela Valladolid as a substitute for Oaxaca cheese.  As a side note, Marcela comes across as kind of a lightweight on her TV show, but I have seen her on Chopped and she is actually a seriously talented cook.

    You can leave out the jalapenos if heat is a problem for you.  We've found that canned green chilis are considerably milder.  If tomatoes are a problem, you can add some combination of shallots, scallions and peppers.  Since you're already an expert with black beans, thanks to this blog, you might want to try simply using your personal black bean recipe adding water or chicken stock as needed to make the puree thin enough to use as sauce.  Some extra ingredients might include oregano, cilantro, red pepper flakes, chicken base (one of my personal faves), hot sauce, a pinch of chili powder, thyme, toasted cumin seeds, or coriander.

    And that's just for Latin cooking.  You can apply any ethnic pallet to a bean sauce:  Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, or whatever fits the style you are going for at the moment.  Just two hints - 1) rinse the beans in a collander or seive before cooking (or one at a time by hand if you have nothing better to do); and 2) cook them low and slow for as long as practical to minimize the canned taste and maximize the opportunity for the ingredients to become friends with eachother. 

    Saturday, August 25, 2012

    Bonus Tip of the Day

    Fresh broccoli and I have worked out an uneasy truce.  I cut off as much of the stems as possible, put it in a collander, cover with a towel, and put the package over a pot of boiling water until the florets are a vibrant green.   Then it's over and we don't have to look at eachother again until next time.

    The problem is that you are left with a ton of stems.  If you steam them, they cook at a different speed and the broccoli is cooked unevenly.  And they're not nearly as appealing as the florets - people will just leave them on their plate, or they'll politely force themselves to eat them.  You could opt for the frozen "florets only", but I've found a better way.  All you have to do is take your peeler, remove the outer layer of skin, and cut the stems into bite-sized pieces.  The pieces steam up about as quickly as the florets and to me, they taste better. 

    Serve up with some garlic-infused olive oil, cheese food product or butter, salt and pepper.  Non-patients can put lemon or other forbidden toppings on their portions.  Life is pretty good.

    Tip of the Day

    If you're like me, the migraine diet can thrust you into a meat-starch-sauce pattern.  For me, the starches tend to be rice, pasta and potatoes.  I can do rice a dozen ways with different spices, stocks and add-ins, but it's still rice.  I rotate pasta between spaghetti, angel hair, penne, linguine, fettucini, orzo and lasagna noodles, but it's always pasta.  I serve potatoes mashed, baked, hash-browned and latke'ed, but. . . you know. 

    Here's the latest thing I've discovered that's quick, simple and really different:  gnocchi.  Gnocchi is a potato dumpling used in Italian cooking.  Although there are many migraine-friendly recipes on the web, and many more that cheat just a little, the lightbulb really came on when I stumbled upon pre-made gnocchi ("gnocchi's?") at Trader Joe's.  I'm not a big fan of Trader Joe's because of the preponderance of products with added soy, but when I picked up this bag, I found nothing bad in the ingredients list.  All you do is drop the things in boiling water and when they float, wait for 2-3 minutes and remove.  Throw on virtually any sauce and/or cheese that you can tolerate and enjoy.

    The only tricky thing is, I have no good point of reference.  Although my wife is Italian, and her grandmother made gnocchi from scratch, she remembers it as being pasta, not dumplings.  So, the only way we do is to taste samples immediately when the boiling hits that two minute mark, and remove when the texture is most appealing.  The family was pleased, so I call it a success.  Hopefully yours will be too.

    Sunday, August 12, 2012

    Break Time!

    I apologize in advance if this sounds like gloating.  It's time for a break from all these dietary restrictions and be bad as we want to be.  Jean's going out of town for a rare five day stint.  We can stuff the refrigerator with everything bad and hunt for recipes that we have missed for these last four years.

    Some ingredients we are looking forward to having:
    • Onions
    • Mushrooms
    • Lemons
    • Limes
    • Sour Cream
    • Guacamole
    • Worcester sauce
    • Soy sauce
    • Chorizo
    • Andouille
    • Smoked sausage
    • Cayenne Pepper
    • Bananas
    • Remoulade
    Strangely, we have become so fond of our usual migraine recipes that we aren't looking at too many new recipes - maybe pasta carbonara, but that's about it.  If you have any good ideas for our reprieve (we like Italian, Mexican and Cajun a lot, as you can tell), please do tell.  Hopefully, you can get some vicarious enjoyment from helping us out.!

    Saturday, July 14, 2012

    Recipe Alert

    I saw this recipe and had to share it even before I tried it because it's so different and 100% migraine compliant if you use safe chicken stock:  Baked Clams Oregonata from Food Network's Anne Burrell.  I'm not sure why this was designated "intermediate", other than the fact that you have to deal with clams.  Even that's not bad - since the outer shells never touch the stuff you eat, no scrubbing is required.  Let us know if you like it!

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    Guilty Pleasure of the Day

    Looking for a timesaver, I started reading the labels in the pasta sauce aisle.  This one does not earn a 100% migraine-safe rating, but if you can tolerate cheeses, it's otherwise pretty close:  Kroger Private Selection Creamy Alfredo Sauce.  I threw it on some sauteed chicken with some peas and bowtie pasta cooked al dente.  I added some fancy olive oil and we had a really delicious meal in no time flat.  "But alfredo sauce is so full of calories!" you say.  Au contraire - I did the math and if you divide a jar into four servings (instead of the recommended 7), you get 140 calories.  Yes, there's some fat in there, but no one ever said that the migraine diet was designed for weight loss.  Check it out and maybe you'll have a new favorite shortcut. 

    Sunday, July 8, 2012

    Start with Two Sticks of Butter. . .

    Of course, we're talking about Paula Deen.  Paula's not really known for "healthy" food.  In fact she was lambasted by another celebrity chef that I refuse to name.  I was so indignant that I sent a message to Paula telling her one of my all-time favorite Paula Deen recipes that lends itself well to adaptation for migraine patients.  I received several free magazines and a couple of autographed photos for my trouble, so hopefully the message actually reached her and made her feel like her honor had been appropriately defended.

    So what's the recipe?  Shrimp etouffee.  If your migraine patient can tolerate tomatoes, it's a real winner.  The recipe is here, so I won't waste time and space repeating it.  This is a time-consuming dish to make, but there is nothing to it that a beginning cook cannot handle.  A few thoughts:

    1.  Organization is key - Especially if you are working alone, it will save some stress to get the prep work done before the heat gets turned on.  That would include chopping the veggies, cleaning the shrimp, and even measuring out the dry spices into a dish.  I was able to enlist the aid of two kids in a very small kitchen by assigning them specific areas as their stations - worked like a charm. 
    2.  Substitutions - shallots work nicely in this dish in lieu of onions.  Also, you can throw in some extra peppers or scallions.  Don't skimp on the veggies, as they really lighten up what could otherwise be a very heavy dish.  Becoming a little too fond of throwing clam juice into various dishes, I had none when I was too far into the recipe to stop.  I replaced the clam juice with chicken stock and some Better than Bullion lobster base.  Kitchen Basics makes seafood stock, so that could be used as well. 
    3.  Rice - I love rice.  I rarely if ever cook it on the stovetop.  Two cups of long grain rice, four cups of water, 5 minutes in the microwave on high, 25 minutes on 50%.  Uncle Ben's is noticeably better, but store brand is good enough and a great bargain on sale.  Try not to start too soon, and cover it if you do, to keep in warm.
    4.  Roux - this is not a time to rush.  In this dish, there's a greater roux-to-liquid ratio than usual, so that the sauce comes out extra thick.  That means that the  roux taste will be more prominent than usual.  Take your time and get it as dark and nutty as your patience will allow, using low to medium heat.   
    5.  Cleaning shrimp - I start with headless shrimp.  If it is frozen, I thaw it in a collander in the sink.  I sprinkle on some plain table salt, run cool water on it, and move it around.  Hot water is a bad idea - it cooks the shrimp.  The salt speeds the thawing and seems to help the texture of the shrimp.  Be sure to rinse it all off.  I usually go in this order:  Pinch off the legs, peel off the shell, squeeze the shrimp out of the tail like toothpaste, devein.  Use "before" and "after" bowls, both with some ice to keep the shrimp fresh.  A trash bowl for shells is also helpful (or a clean bowl if you're saving shells for stock).  I use a paring knife or utility knife to clean the shrimp (chef's knife is too big).  Slice down the middle of the back, top-to-bottom, and pull/rinse/scrape out the black stuff.  Be gentle, so you don't mangle the shrimp.
    6.  Timing - throw in the garlic when the rest of the veggies are almost cooked.  It burns easily.  Throw the shrimp in when the sauce is finished cooking.  It only takes a few minutes to cook and gets rubbery when cooked too long.
    7.  Cajun seasoning - I use Louisiana Fish Fry Products brand, available at any store.  It's pretty migraine-friendly, but you can also make your own with Heidi Gunderson's recipe.  Store-bought seasoning has salt in it, so don't add much if any until all the other seasons have been added.
    8.  Dealing with a thick sauce - In dealing with a thick sauce like this, you will likely want to switch from whisk to spoon when the solids start going in.  Thick sauces don't move around in the saucepan, so they are easily burned.  Watch the heat level, keep the sauce stirred, and add some extra stock or water if it has a while left to sit on the heat. 
    9.  Temperature - if the shrimp has been sitting on ice, bring it to room temperature with tepid water before adding it to the mix.  Otherwise, it can drop the temperature so much that it does not cook quickly and the texture will suffer.  Warming the butter slightly in the microwave before adding is a good idea for similar reasons - you don't want to have to reheat the dish.

    If you take the time and effort to prepare this dish correctly, people are going to be very impressed and will think that you are a real expert in the kitchen.  You might even impress yourself.

    Saturday, July 7, 2012

    Stupid Easy, Stupid Good

    I'm almost ashamed to share this recipe from Tyler Florence, it's so effortless.  But it's so good.  Simply throw ears of corn in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Now, there's no excuse not to whip up a delicious side to go with your chili or red beans and rice. 

    Sunday, June 3, 2012

    Ingredient of the Day

    Today's ingredient find is a great one:  Aidell's All Natural Cajun Style Andouille


    No MSG, no nitrites, and onion is the very last ingredient.  Even my wife, who can't handle cooked onions, can tolerate onion powder or dehydrated onion.  This has really opened up my ability to make jambalaya and red beans and rice.  My tip for cooks is to brown up the andouille in olive oil before adding to recipes, even though it comes pre-cooked.  I cut it lengthwise, brown the inside and out, and then slice it and brown both sides of the half-moon pieces. 

    I'm checking into whether the vinegar in their chorizo is safe for migraine patients.  If so, this would be a great addition to a lot of Mexican dishes.  There are many other sausages on their website, including some organic  versions, that might be just what you need for one of your recipes.  Enjoy!

    Tuesday, February 21, 2012

    Love Child of the Day

    Some of the most fun cooking ideas involve combing old techniques in new ways.  This next idea came from answering the question, "What if macaroni and cheese and shepherd's pie went on a date, they got drunk, things got out of hand, and an unwanted child resulted?"  The strange and wonderful result was as follows:

    I browned up some ground meat with salt, pepper, garlic and maybe a touch of beef-flavored Better than Bouillon.  While that was going on, I boiled some diced potatoes for about 15 minutes ("fork tender" is what you're looking for).  And I made some bechamel.  And I thawed some frozen veggies in the microwave.  Yes, it was dangerous for anyone to step in the kitchen with that much going on.

    When the meat was done, I drained it on paper towels.  I drained the potatoes and mashed them with some butter, salt (or garlic salt), pepper, and a bit of milk.  When the bechamel was nice and thick (I used about 3-4 tablespoons of both butter and flour, and about 3 cups of milk - skim is fine), I threw in 12-16 oz (depending on your tastes and desires - start small and add more until perfect) of grated cheddar.  Velveeta should be fine if cheddar is a trigger for you. 

    I mixed the meat and veggies, put them in a casserole, poured in the cheese sauce, spooned the potatoes on top, and topped the potatoes with a sprinkle of paprika for color.  I threw it in a 400 degree oven for about 25 minutes.  While it cooked, I cleaned up.

    The result was perhaps not the most healthy thing I have ever cooked, but DANG it was good.  And it was very affordable.  Everyone loved it.  And best of all, no triggers.