Easy Weekday Sausage and Peppers

There are days when I’m in the studio till 8 or 9 o’clock in the evening, and they usually coincide with Ms. A having had an incredibly busy day of her own, so it’s still up to me to come up with something for dinner.  Oh, yeah, we go out a lot on those days….to the Bakehouse, to Casa Maria, to Hyde Park Grill, or we run through First Wok for Chinese takeout or grab a wonderful whole chicken (Pollo Entero) from the charcoal chicken shack on the corner, Pollo Rico.

Cast iron sausage and peppers.

Cast iron sausage and peppers.

But, it’s almost as fast and easy to run into the store for a dish that cooks up in 15 minutes and tastes like heaven.  Sausage and peppers.  You can use any sausage, really, but our favorite is a sweet Italian sausage in link form.  I’ve got a big round cast iron pan that I coat with just a little olive oil, and get the sausage started to brown.  I leave them whole at this point, making sure that they don’t get so hot that they split open and spill all their flavor out onto the pan.  Keep an eye on them, turn them several times to get a nice seared brown exterior, almost cooked through.  Take them out and let them rest on the side.

Meanwhile, I’ve been cutting red, green and yellow bell peppers into large pieces, about 2 or 3 inches.  I cut a whole medium red onion to about the same size bites and get all the peppers into the pan that is still flavorful from the sausage drippings.  At this point the peppers might need a drizzle of olive oil, but definitely some salt and pepper.  After they start to brown and curl I add the onions, which cook a little faster.  If the onions cook a little long and caramelize, no problem, they are still delicious, just not crunchy at all.

Sweet corn goes great with this dish.

Sweet corn goes great with this dish.

When the veggies are al dente I will cut each well rested sausage link into 3 pieces and add back to pan to finish cooking.  The nice thing is, now they are cut and you can see the interior to make sure it is cooked all the way through.  If I use sweet sausage I’ll throw in a few crushed red pepper flakes at this point, or maybe some sliced garlic at the very end of the process.

You’re ready to eat!  You could serve with pasta or rice, but I usually don’t.

The last time I made this I just boiled some ears of sweet corn for 10 minutes, then dropped them into a skillet with butter and doused with Emeril’s Essence, which is a nice mix of spices that you can buy premade or use his recipe and make from scratch.

Savory, delicious, hard to stop eating and so satisfying.  Ciao for now.  Enjoy.  CG

Ali’s Annual Wok Throwdown

Several years ago I had the kids over for a theme dinner…the wok was hot and I had prepped a variety of meats, vegetables, spices and sauces with the idea that everyone could step up to the stove and create something.  It was a huge success, and daughter-in-law Ali decided that it would be a perfect annual birthday dinner for her.  Her dad has an amazing kitchen and offered to start hosting….Ali’s Annual Wok Throwdown!!

My version of General Tso's Chicken

My version of General Tso’s Chicken

We’ve had at least three of these events now, the most recent being a couple weeks ago, and the whole family was free to attend.  We’ve gotten braver over the years…now we’re trying dishes like tempura squid, General Tso’s Chicken, outrageous tofu and veggies etc.  I decided to try a sesame glazed red snapper.

I found some fresh snapper at Central Market, and even though it was fairly clean it took awhile to get the remaining pin bones out and make sure the skin side was free of scales.  My hope was to get the skin crispy enough to eat.  I cut the fish into three inch squares and dropped them into  a big zip lock bag into which I added a little sesame oil and some fresh minced ginger and garlic.  The smell is sublime.

Dwyne is the host with the most.

Dwayne is the host with the most.

Ali’s dad Dwayne and his wife Dalen are perfect party hosts.  The event always kicks off with a shot of something…(Hot Damn!!) and this year’s choice was Fireball whiskey.  Wow.  Keep that tray away from me after the first couple.  Dangerous!

After the welcome shot the call goes out “Two hot woks, no waiting!”.  At some point everyone takes a turn at the stove and a variety of concoctions start filling up pie plates that are strategically placed around the kitchen.  There’s rice, noodles, chopsticks, condiments, lemons, lime, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame seed oil, chile sauce, fermented black beans, chicken, beef, shrimp, squid, tofu, lemon grass, mushrooms, scallions, bean sprouts,

A variety of ingredients waiting to wok!

A variety of ingredients waiting to wok!

cilantro, pickled Serrano peppers, fresh jalapenos, snap peas, green beans, chile pods and more all being transformed into fragrant, steaming delicious mounds of Asian goodness.  Nothing tastes bad, but some things stand out as spectacular.  Sam’s flank steak was a winner, my Tso’s chicken, while time consuming, was a winner.  (The chicken gets dredged in a thick mix of cornstarch, egg and soy sauce before hitting the deep fryer one piece at a time.)  So yummy, though, when it gets hit with a sesame sauce flavored with orange zest.

Fresh snapper.

Fresh snapper.

Then, it was time for my red snapper.  I heated a clean wok and got some oil almost to the point of smoking, then placed the fish around the wok.  I let it sit, not stirring, because I wanted the skin to crisp, and it worked, although a few of the skin pieces stuck to the wok.  I didn’t flip the fish, but rather spooned the hot oil over the flesh of the fish until it was cooked from the top down.  There was a sesame chicken sauce lying around, so I thickened it slightly and just poured it over the fish and garnished with scallions.  It was very delicious, I must say, and even though we were all stuffed everyone had a taste.

The fryer gets as much action as the wok.

The fryer gets as much action as the wok.

We all end up with chopsticks in our pockets, and simply cruise around tasting different things.  In fact, I was so busy tasting that there’s not a photo of my finished red snapper dish.  Imagine, if you will, a steaming plate of fluffy, perfectly cooked fish glazed with a light sesame soy drizzle.  Mmmmmm.

Hey, try a wok throwdown of your own.  The whole family gets involved, everyone gets to cook, and you really can’t screw it up!  Ciao for now.  CG

Italian Beef Birthday Surprise

Michelle is the perfect bartender for Monday Night at Donn's Depot.

Michelle is the perfect bartender for Monday Night at Donn’s Depot.

For 18 years I’ve had what musicians call a “residency” gig, a weekly show that happens at the same place and builds up a loyal following over time. Mine is every Monday night from 9 to 1 at the old Yamaha grand piano at a place called Donn’s Depot in Austin, Texas. It’s built out of a real depot and a handful of railroad cars, including a red caboose that serves as the coolest ladies room on the planet with it’s shag carpeting and private stalls.

The Monday bartender is our great friend Michelle, who has childhood ties to Chicago, and a great affinity for the food that comes from there. She knows her deep dish pizza and her Italian Beef sandwiches. Being the generous soul that she is, for my birthday she had a full Italian Beef sandwich kit sent from Portillo’s in Chicago via a website called “Tastes of Chicago” that was created by our favorite pizza place, Lou Malnati’s.

Portillo's Italian Beef Kit

Portillo’s Italian Beef Kit

A big box arrived on the front porch…I’m glad I noticed it as I was pulling out of the driveway. It said on the side “Somebody must really like you!” and “Refrigerate as soon as possible”. Wow. Inside the box I found 2 pounds of thinly sliced beef, 8 bake at home rolls, 2 quarts of gravy, a bag of sweet roasted peppers and a jar of spicy Hot Giardiniera, the pickly peppers and carrots that “tie the room together”.

Of course we had to invite Michelle and her family (new baby Revé and our grandson Brody had a fine time on their first meeting) over to share the Chicago bounty. We baked the rolls, heated the gravy, soaked the beef in the gravy and built our incredible sandwiches with the beef, a strip of sweet pepper and a pile of spicy Giardiniera. Michelle’s generosity had turned into one of the finest lunches we’ve ever had at the MoonHouse. She’s figured out a way to replicate these using local items, but we all agreed that the kit from Portillo’s was the real deal.

My sandwich in Chicago.  Mmmmmmm good.

My sandwich in Chicago. Mmmmmmm good.

Oddly enough, I had a Jerry Jeff concert scheduled in St. Paul the next weekend, and ended up flying through Chicago’s Midway Airport and discovered the Gold Coast Hot Dog and Italian Beef Stand down the hall from our gate. I sampled the Italian Beef, loved it, but preferred the ones we made at home. More soul, I think.

Ciao for now. Check out Tastes of Chicago! CG

Chile Verde Pork in the Black Hills of South Dakota

The author at a friend's stove.

The author at a friend’s stove.

Being a professional musician has kept me on the road a good deal of my 59 years (yesterday was my birthday), and I have to say…I’m a “Hotel Guy”.  Not a “Bed and Breakfast” guy, not usually a “Stay With Friends” guy, not a “Pitch a Tent” guy, a “Hotel Guy”.  So it’s rare that I’m in staying in someone’s home with several friends.  This last week, however, we accepted an invitation to stay at an old pal’s beautiful home nestled in the pine trees of the Black Hills of South Dakota, just outside of Rapid City.  It was a very special time spent with great friends.  We’ve all played music together since the 70’s, were members of South Dakota’s Red Willow Band, and Kenny and I were on Hee Haw together over 100 times in the 80’s as members of Roy Clark’s Band. (Got an extra 3 minutes? Here’s us in 1987 with me singing “Rocky Top“.) The Sturgis motorcycle rally was in full swing 30 miles from us and there were Harley riders everywhere.

Our hosts had to work the first day we were there, and a couple other friends were driving across the state to meet us for dinner, so I offered to cook the first night.  They’d just remodeled their huge kitchen, and the soapstone counter tops were begging to get messed up, and I’m just the guy to do it.  I asked Kenny if he had any requests and his only suggestion was fresh salsa.  Okay, I’ve got a theme and I’m gonna run with it.  I remembered an amazing Chile Verde pork dish I had learned to make by watching Guy Fieri on the Food Network.  We had watched Guy win his own show “Guy’s Big Bite” on TV and I was taping a few of his early shows.  I’m glad I did.

So….will a grocery store in South Dakota have the same ingredients I can find at a dozen stores in my Austin, Texas neighborhood?  I was going to need Hispanic items like Queso Fresco, Masa Harina, cilantro and fresh chiles.  I was pleasantly surprised to find everything I needed at one Safeway store, including tequila for margaritas!

Roasted tomatillos and peppers

Roasted tomatillos and peppers

A quick stop at a meat market had me loaded up with a five pound hunk of pork shoulder.  This gets cut into one inch cubes and browned in a big pan.  Meanwhile I covered a cookie sheet with foil and spread out 8 tomatillos with their husks removed (I can’t believe I found tomatillos in SoDak), 4 jalapenos and 4 Anaheim peppers.  Let the skin on the peppers turn partly black and blistered, peel what you can and chop the whole works up.  Take the pork out of the big pan and add a couple chopped onions and some garlic to the pork drippings and sauté till translucent.  Deglaze the pan with a little white vinegar, then add the meat and veggies back to the pan.  Add a healthy dose of cumin and oregano, salt and pepper, and the magic begins.  In 60-90 minutes this pot is filled with tender and delicious Chile Verde.

Mexican food comes with all kinds of corn and flour delivery systems, tortillas, taco shells, gorditas, tamales and one of our new favorites, sopes.  These have to be cooked twice, but it’s worth the effort.  Mix 1 ½ cups of Masa Harina with about a cup of water and a pinch of salt until you can roll a ball about the size of a pool table cue ball.  I used a couple sheets of wax paper and a heavy pot to smash these down till about a half inch thick.  Cook these corn patties for about a minute on each side on a hot cast iron skillet just to harden and slightly brown both sides. Remove and let cool a bit.  While still warm, with a spoon or your (clean) fingers scoop out the center of one side of each sope till you have a little cup with a half inch rim around the edge.  To me, as a piano player, they’re almost exactly the shape of the little saucers that sit under the legs of a grand piano.  The next step is to fry these little saucers in canola oil till they’re golden brown and crispy.  Remove to dry on a paper towel.

Home pickled carrots and jalapenos

Home pickled carrots and jalapenos

The perfect garnish for this dish is pickled carrots and jalapenos.  This is so easy to make, and our dinner guests were amazed at what it added.  Take about a cup of white vinegar and a quarter cup of sugar and dissolve in a pan over low heat.  Add about 3 thinly sliced carrots and half dozen thinly sliced jalapenos along with some sliced red onion and simmer over the low heat for about an hour.  Remove and cool in the fridge for later.

In the end the Chile Verde gets ladled into the sopes, naturally cascading over the sides onto the plate and topped with cilantro, Queso Fresco (wonderful Mexican cheese that crumbles and is slightly salty), a little sour cream and our homemade pickled carrots and jalapenos. I served a side salad with a fresh lime vinaigrette to round out the plate.

Chile Verde Pork over homemade sope.

Chile Verde Pork over homemade sope.

Someone at the table remarked “I’ve never tasted anything like this!”.  It’s so very delicious.  This is the third time I’ve made it.  Once was for a theme dinner while Ms. A was out of town…a Gentleman’s Dinner with all my guy buddies.  We chowed down on Chile Verde and margaritas and then passed a guitar around the table as an impromptu song circle.

Try it you’ll like it!  Guy Fieri’s original recipe is HERE, but feel free to mangle it to your taste.  I do.  (He only used two jalapenos…not enough for heat).  Ciao for now.  CG

Seafood Sunday!

Finished seafood feast, lobster, mussels, chorizo, and fresh corn.

Finished seafood feast, lobster, mussels, chorizo, and fresh corn.

Christine was out of town, it was time to cook instead of playing music, and I sent out a Seafood Sunday suggestion to all the kids, receiving a couple “too busy” and “already have plans” texts. Sam, however was free and excited.

While he ran for wine, I went to Central Market (an incredible Austin institution, we’re so lucky) for 2 live lobsters, a pile of mussels, 8 jumbo shrimp and some local sweet corn. I knew I had white wine, chorizo, shallots, chicken broth and fresh herbs at the house. I started a little olive oil and shallots in a pan, browned some chorizo and added white wine and chicken broth. I’d never heard of chorizo till I moved to Texas in 1991. A couple hispanic musician friends were reminiscing about the smell of chorizo wafting into their bedrooms as small children. It’s a spicy sausage that crumbles into the pan. The smell is amazing. If I do it again, though, I think I’ll cook the chorizo in its own pan and add later like a garnish. Ah (he argues with himself) but the spices from the sausage REALLY flavored the broth nicely.

So, now we have a couple Tito’s under our belt and it’s time to quickly toss some peeled and deveined shrimp into the wine and chorizo broth. It only take about 2 minutes, really, it’s fast….when they turn white and pillowy, take ’em out fast and slip them into an ice water bath. Of course, while this is happening we’ve been squirting our favorite condiments into a small bowl; ketchup, dijon, horseradish, siracha, Marie Sharp’s that we discovered in Belize, tabasco, worcestershire….you get where I’m going. Seafood Sunday is on, and we’ve got chorizo infused shrimp cocktail to dip in our spicy sauce. ‘Scuse me while I remember…….

Regular and sweet potato waffle fries.

Regular and sweet potato waffle fries.

We weren’t frying any seafood (this time), but Sam and I love a little bite of crispy, so we supplemented our cooking time with some waffle fries (sweet potato and regular). We weren’t ambitious enough to try this from scratch, but the frozen variety, when cooked correctly, are quite tasty. I’ve learned to cook sweet corn by starting with a cold pot of water. I find that by the time I remember to check on it it’s been cooking quite nicely and I can just turn the burner off and let them wait. Sam wisely rolled them in butter, salt and pepper. I’m not sure if we remembered that night, but cajun pepper powder is always a nice touch.

A dozen or more black mussels were inserted into the spicy broth and covered. A big pot of salted water was boiling and it was time to wake up the lobsters for their final jacuzzi. I’ve been at picnics in Bar Harbor where lobsters were plunged and served like hot dogs, but I’ve only been hands on a couple of times. The lovely creatures had been on ice for a couple hours, so they simply endured their fate. I was proud. We steamed them, although the claws were at the bottom of the pot and probably boiling more than steaming.

Lobster-ice-BathOkay. When something goes under the fire here at the MoonHouse we holler “shit in the broiler” and this was just a little steamier. The mussels popped open and we turned off the heat. We let the lobsters go 10 minutes and then started peeking. A dependable magazine suggests that the lobster tail should reach a temperature of 175 degrees, and ours was approaching 180. Move, Gage men, get those bugs into an ice water bath. After some pounding and cutting of lobster shell it was time to eat.

With a garnish of fresh chives we had beautiful plates in front of us, a nice glass of red wine, and enjoyed it all with a rental of the latest Die Hard movie. Vive la seafood! Ciao for now. CG

Back Story – Why I Cook

Pear Butter after 12 hours in the crockpot.

Pear Butter after 12 hours in the crockpot.

My first wife, Gwen, is an awesome home cook.  Her parents were a mixture of German and Romanian, and always had a pot of something on the stove, be it pasta sauce with paprika and green peppers, sausage and sauerkraut or pork roast sitting on sliced potatoes with fluffy dumplings simmering on the top.  I begged for the pork recipe for years and was finally rewarded (long after the divorce) with a framed calligraphy copy.

I bring this up because she instilled in me and our two boys a love of the kitchen and an inquiring nose and palette, attributes I was not exposed to as a child (my mom would cover a meatloaf with Campbell’s tomato soup from a can).  As I write this I have homegrown homemade pear butter simmering in a crockpot with pungent whiffs of cinnamon, ginger, raw sugar and pear.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if either of our sons have something half finished in the fridge that will hit the stove tomorrow.

My wife Christine, while a fantastic cook with a recipe in front of her, is not drawn to it, and happens to be the current Chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Recording Academy.  She runs the GRAMMYs, for crying out loud.  She’s out of town a lot, and it’s not always fun to cook for one.  I do enjoy cooking large meals and freezing individual portions for later (with the use of my beloved Food Saver system, a topic for a separate post), but it’s much more enjoyable to get one or all of my kids into the kitchen for  a spontaneous cooking and drinking extravaganza.  Which happens often…stay tuned.  Ciao for now. CG

An Austin musician who cooks starts a blog…it could happen!

The author with his trusty Yoda

The author with his trusty Yoda

I’m proud to launch my musicianfoodie blog from beautiful south Austin, Texas, where the rain has cooled the yard from 100 degrees down to about 85, the cats are inside sleeping and the lovely Ms. A has gone off to play her weekly show at El Mercado. As she’s finishing up I’ll jump in the shower and head over to my weekly show at Donn’s Depot, where I’ve sat at an old Yamaha grand piano for the last 18 years singing my heart out. I hope to be interesting at the very least, and share photos and videos from Donn’s Depot, MoonHouse Studio, Albert and Gage shows, backstage with Jerry Jeff Walker….oh, and I’m a darn good cook and a hobby photographer. Recipes and photos will be be a part of the experience. Ciao for now. CG