GT Express Weekend Quest

It was a rainy weekend and all we had planned was to do some fall cleaning and organizing. My own personal goal was not to leave the house for the entire weekend. With that in mind, on the way home from work Friday night, I bought breakfast supplies – eggs, orange juice, rye bread, etc, while Chris went to our local butcher and got some thickly-sliced bacon. And so on Saturday morning, we were ready to make our decadent hearty breakfast. I decided I wanted an omelette and prepped my kitchen gadget, the GT Express. You've probably seen the informercial on this one. I saw it and started missing my old Foreman Grill, so went ahead and ordered one online. Many negative comments have been posted regarding this appliance, but I like it and have had no problems with it. However, up until this weekend, all I’ve done is make beautiful, fluffy, perfectly shaped omelettes in it; I haven’t tried anything else.

Saturday morning’s omelettes were, as usual, fluffy and delicious. All I did was beat six eggs with ¼ cup of milk, then poured half of the mixture into each well. I put some cheese in mine, Chris did herbs de Provence in his. We let them cook for about 8 minutes and…well…perfection. They popped right out without sticking or breaking. I honestly can’t make a better omelette in a regular pan (and I cooked at a breakfast joint for two years)! After devouring the omelettes (and bacon, and toast, and of course, mimosas, and for Chris – bagels and lox as well), I had an inspiration and a challenge: any food we make this weekend has to be made in the GT Express. And so began our GT Express Weekend Quest.

For dinner Saturday night, we tried pork chops. These were from the same package of chops out of which we made our dinner a few nights ago, so it would be a great way to compare the grill with the GT Express. I stuffed my chop with a little bit of sage and walnut-sage pesto, seasoned it with plenty of salt and pepper, and put it in the left-hand well. Chris stuffed his with an herbed cream cheese and put his in the right-hand well. We let them cook for 10 minutes while I made some homefries on the stovetop. The verdict? Another success from the GT Express. The chops were properly seared on the outside, and on the inside, tender, juicy and cooked to a perfect medium. The wells didn’t stick, and cleanup involved one damp paper towel. So quick and easy! And we didn't even have to stand at the grill in the rain.

The following morning, we decided to make Pillsbury Grands. We did one in each well and shortened the cooking time to 6 minutes. These did stick a little bit and so when we did the next batch, we sprayed a bit of Pam on the wells. That did the trick, and our cinnamon buns were brown on the outside and gooey on the inside, as we like them.

On Sunday night, our final "Express" meal was spaghetti pies. I made a quick batch of meatballs and boiled some spaghetti during the day in preparation. However, when we were ready to eat, we just tossed the pasta in some spaghetti sauce, put a bit in each well, topped it with three meatballs and some cheese (mozzarella and parmesan) each, then a bit more spaghetti on top. We shut the GT and let it do its thing for five minutes. The spaghetti didn’t stick together as well as I thought it would, but it was hot and in some areas, nicely browned. It tasted great, but we both agreed we'd let it cook longer next time. We enjoyed our spaghetti "sort of" pies with Newman's Own Cabernet Sauvignon, and toasted the actor who had died earlier this weekend. Great wine, by the way.

Overall, we had some pretty good meals and great fun using our GT Express, and I can see us using it for more than just eggs in the future.


30-Minute Gourmet - No Rachel Ray Needed

I really don’t like Rachel Ray. I don’t know what it is about her that bugs me. Maybe it’s her perpetual cutesyness - the way she uses words like “stoup” and “sammy” and “yumm-o,” or just the fact that she is everywhere – on t.v., in magazines, in Dunkin’ Donuts ads. But I acknowledge that being able to make a decent meal in 30 minutes is an important thing. So on Tuesday night, Chris and I played “30-minute Gourmet.” Our menu was: grilled center-cut pork chops in a balsamic glaze with smashed potatoes and carrots-and-onions. While Chris chopped the carrots and prepped the grill, I chopped one large shallot and one small onion. I put the onion in a small saucepan with the carrots, and Chris set those going on medium heat with a tablespoon each of butter and sugar and a tight lid. Chris scored the fat on the pork chops while I halved the potatoes and put them in a pot to boil. I put a little bit of olive oil in a small frying pan and added the shallots for the base of my sauce. As the shallots cooked, I seasoned the chops with plenty of salt and pepper. Chris put the chops on a medium/high grill while I added ½ cup of balsamic vinegar and a couple of teaspoons of sugar to the shallots and let it reduce to a syrupy glaze. We let the stovetop and grill do their thing for about five minutes and then flipped the chops. The carrots-and-onions needed a couple of minutes. The potatoes, however, were soft, so I drained them, added some milk, butter, salt and white pepper, and smashed them up. By the time I was done with those, Chris had finished up on the grill, the carrots-and-onions were done, and the glaze was at the perfect consistency. We plated our masterpiece dinner and enjoyed it with a bottle of Syrah. It was a restaurant-worthy meal made in 30 minutes with four hands. It can be done!


Tuscan White Bean Soup

Monday was the first day of Autumn, which is also the first day of my cravings for comfort foods, especially soup. I made a Tuscan White Bean Soup and we had it with a Tuscan loaf I purchased from Price Chopper. The soup was thick and hearty, with plenty of flavor that satisfied my craving and Chris’s hunger. Since I hadn’t planned ahead of time to make it, I cheated a bit by using canned beans, but I was very pleased with my results, and hope you will be too!

Amy’s Tuscan White Bean Soup
Total Time: 40 minutes

¼ lb. chunk of fatty pancetta, cut into quarters
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 15.5-ounce cans Goya cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper
3 ½ cups vegetable stock (you can substitute chicken stock or even just water)
Fresh rosemary
Olive oil
Shredded parmesan cheese

Place the pancetta quarters into a pan and render the meat over medium to high heat to produce enough oil in which to sauté the onions and garlic. This should take about 20 minutes, so you can chop your onion and garlic while this is happening.
When pancetta has let out enough oil, discard the meat and add the chopped onion and garlic. Sautee on low heat until onion is translucent and garlic is fragrant.
Add the drained and rinsed beans to the pot, then add plenty of salt to taste. Stir.
Add the liquid (stock or water) and stir well.
Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
Add one large sprig of fresh rosemary (or 1 tablespoon of dried rosemary leaves) to pot and continue to simmer for another 20 minutes.
To make a thicker soup, use an immersion blender two or three times in the pot. If you do not have an immersion blender, take a cup of beans out of the soup, mush them up, and add them back in as a thickener.
When ready to serve, swirl some extra-virgin olive oil over the top, add a sprinkle of shredded parmesan cheese, and enjoy with some good bread on the side.

Leftover Crawfish and Shrimp Pasta

So what does one do with leftover crawfish? The first response would be nothing, because there are usually none leftover. However, if there are some leftover, it’s good practice to peel what’s left when you’re done eating since your hands are already dirty anyway. The bonus is that you can usually find room for a couple more if you do that. When you have a pile of crawfish tails, you can keep them for a day or two in the refrigerator if you plan to use them right away, or you can freeze them and use them later. I tend to use them right away, because once I’ve had a taste, I always want more. I like to use them to make a crawfish-shrimp pasta, which is what I did the day after our crawfish boil this summer. I started with a tablespoon of olive oil mixed with a tablespoon of butter that I heated in a large sauté pan. In the meantime I put on a pot of water to boil my pasta – I chose pappardelle this time but would go with something smaller next time. I then did a simple sauté of one small chopped onion, two cloves of garlic (chopped finely), and some fresh cherry tomatoes that I halved. I tossed that around until the onion and garlic seemed done, then I added a pound of raw (peeled/deveined) shrimp and cooked that until the shrimp started to turn pink. I poured in a half cup of white wine, then I added the leftover (already peeled) crawfish and tossed everything in the pan until the shrimp were cooked through. By the way, a great way to tell if shrimp are done, other than the color of course, is whether or not the tails are curved in on themselves. At the very end, I added some chopped fresh basil from the garden, and that’s what I did with my leftover crawfish! The seasoning that infused the crawdads from the boil gave the dish a little spicy heat, and the fresh tomatoes and basil made it a nice summery dish. You can sometimes find frozen crawfish at a good fish market. These are already cooked, and you can use those for this dish or for any dish for which you would normally use shrimp. Just remember that the crawfish are already cooked, so you just need to heat them through.


Fourth of July Crawfish Boil

In the Fall of 2005, the season of Katrina as I’ve come to know it, we had friends from New Orleans come to stay with us for awhile, and we came up with the idea of throwing a “Mardi Gras in October” benefit party. We do our usual Mardi Gras party every year, and I thought, why not have an extra one, but ask for donations for our New Orleans friends and their families. So we planned it, and it was a huge success, but that’s not the point of this post, so let me get to that. About two weeks before the party, we received a phone call from a family (PJ, C and their kids) who had permanently relocated to our area from New Orleans. It seems they had met the mother of a friend of ours and she told them about us and our party, and in a nutshell, they were wondering if they could come. And thus, a new friendship began.

Now, back in Louisiana for the Fourth of July, this family’s tradition was to have a crawfish boil. Well, I’m always up for a crawfish boil – it’s one of the things I truly miss about living in NOLA. When C called in the beginning of summer and proposed the idea, it was a no-brainer! So we had a good old-fashioned New Orleans-style crawfish boil for our Fourth of July. Here’s what we did.

There are several companies that ship crawfish from LA and you can find them online. I like to shop around to see who has the best price by the pound for the “mudbugs,” and the best shipping costs. They come shipped live, and with the seasoning and directions* you need to do your own crawfish boil. C had 20 pounds of crawfish delivered to her house, purged them, and brought them over on the Fourth. In the meantime, I had several ears of corn, a bag of red potatoes, a few lemon halves, and a couple of pounds of andouille sausage all set to go into the pot. As we went to throw in the seasoning, we realized that in the rush of getting the kids ready and getting to our house, C left the seasoning behind in Cheshire. I had some, but it was pretty old, so we ended up having to spruce it up a bit by adding some Tony Chachere’s and lots of salt. We brought the water and seasoning to a boil using our outdoor burner. Then we added the corn, potatoes, sausage and lemons to the pot and allowed them to boil for about 15 minutes. Next we threw in 10 pounds of crawfish, boiled them for 10 minutes, and then took the pot off the heat to allow everything to soak up the seasoning. We had already covered our patio table with newspaper, so we only had to drain the water and spill the contents of the basket onto the table. Our first batch was a bit bland, so we added more Cajun seasoning and salt as well as some straight cayenne pepper to the remainder. We then spent a glorious afternoon “sucking the heads and pinching the tails” as the saying goes. What a great way to spend a summer holiday with good friends!

*If you are unfamiliar with the whole crawfish boiling and/or eating process, this website is both humorous and informative.


Back from Hiatus

Hello again. The summer was busy, but not with cooking. Instead, I traveled to Rome for three weeks and to Maine for another week, while Chris was in Rhode Island for a week. The next thing we knew, it was back to school time, which is our busiest time of year. Needless to say, takeout containers have taken over our fridge for the past few weeks. But if you go to the Amy's Summers in Italy blog, you can read about my Roman culinary adventures, and I promise to get around to writing about the few meals we have made lately. In the meantime, enjoy my runner-up recipe for New Orleans-Style BBQ Shrimp. My favorite recipe is forthcoming.
Warning: This dish is definitely not for the health-conscious (full of butter), or heat-wary (full of pepper). Although I love it as a main dish served with crusty French bread, it can also be a good appetizer, or served over pasta.

1 lb. raw shrimp, shells on
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
2 teaspoon Creole Seasoning (I like Tony Chachere’s)
2 teaspoons fresh chopped rosemary
5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 cloves minced garlic
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 450°. Separate 6 tablespoons of the butter into pats and place in baking dish large enough to hold the shrimp in one layer. Add pepper, peppercorns, Creole seasoning, rosemary, Worcestershire and garlic. Place in oven until butter is melted, stirring to combine ingredients. Place shrimp in one layer over sauce and return to oven. Cook approximately 3 minutes. When shrimp start to turn pink, turn shrimp over and cook another 3 minutes. Add in remaining butter and lemon juice. Serve with crusty French bread to sop up the sauce, and lots of napkins because this is peel-your-own!

To serve over pasta, peel and devein the shrimp first, then cook as above, adding chicken broth and white wine to make a suitable sauce.