Blog: Recipes for Living

Inundated by Hurricane Harvey, But Not Naked, Not Afraid

We never fancied ourselves to be the type of people to post a crazy-looking, hand-scrawled sign on our front-door warning looters they could be shot. To avoid any misunderstanding in our disaster zone with law enforcement, a companion sign asks police to call the homeowner. This became critically important, as documented on our front-porch security video (more on that later).

Hurricane Harvey’s devastating aftermath unfurled a new normal that includes such lifestyle changes as having a “slow no wake” navigation sign on the back of your vehicle, using a gasoline-powered generator to keep on the fridge, fans, WIFI and satellite TV, and washing coffee pots and cooking pans in the backyard.

The good thing coming out of our mostly submerged subdivision next to the overflowed Addicks Reservoir in Northwest Harris County is a new fellowship in the neighborhood. We have 144 single-family dwellings that are usually well-kempt. Historically, people here give friendly waves and tend to socialize with their immediate next-door neighbors.

Some of the neighbors had flooded before, with Hurricane Ike in 2008 and with the Tax Day Flood of 2016. This is by far the worst. But something funny happened when evacuees started clomping back in with waders and boats. A friendly spirit buoyed people. A Facebook group started filling up with neighbors who had not yet met, and while their homes were still flooded, they asked when we could have a neighborhood cookout to get to know each other. Our waste treatment plant is damaged, so we don’t have sewer service, but people are ready to party.

Who is Houston

That is Houston. If you’ve never been here before, allow me to explain. When I moved here in 2006 from Washington, D.C., I was amazed how Houston is so friendly. You have the best conversations in office building elevator rides or at the grocery store. Houston is like a funky, sophisticated hybrid of the congeniality of a small Southern town and the cosmopolitan amenities of the multi-cultural megapolis that it is. It does not matter if you are from a small Texas town or the other side of the world, the only constant is friendliness.

In prior months, I saw an article suggesting that while the Houston region is extraordinarily diverse, it is fractured socially among demographics, even geographically. That gave me pause as I wondered what the author is talking about. Our neighborhood looks like the United Nations, just like this region as a whole. Think of a ginormous set of contiguous suburbs that are primarily diverse.

Basically, if you are not friendly or helpful, you won’t fit in here. Texans are also very resourceful; suddenly flooded streets in this region were filled with john boats, kayaks and lifted-up pickup trucks. My boyfriend and I are in one of the only houses in our neighborhood that did not flood (water came up to the caulked doors and into the garage). We watched on TV and Facebook what we called the Redneck Nation coming out to save people. No one is going to make fun of a monster truck again.

A Tale of O. Harvey

We were not able to get out in our own boat for a few key reasons. Just before the storm, Byron had bought a john boat for a gator hunt. The Friday morning before Harvey’s landfall near Rockport/Port A/Corpus, a delivery truck driver brought me the 210-lb. engine in a crate. The outer bands were already bringing rain and I saluted him to drive carefully to get home to deal with his own affairs ahead of Harvey.

We then nosed our vehicles up the sloped driveway to the garage doors with the hope of keeping them dry. When the street became laden with rainwater, we moved a vehicle to angle out the boat. We realized we might have to employ the boat well ahead of the gator hunt. The water began to rise and our immediate neighbors started communicating at each others’ doors. Byron and I realized we needed to get the big engine on the boat. Once secured, we turned our attention to our gasoline supply. We patted ourselves on the shoulders for having filled tanks ahead of time.Navigation sign for Houston neighborhood after Harvey

Then, it hit me. I asked Byron where the motor oil was for the boat motor. We did not have any. We asked a neighbor, but no luck. Soon we were surrounded by shockingly and frighteningly high floodwaters. To borrow from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” water, water everywhere, but no operable boat engine. Forgive another literary allusion, but I realized we were in a modern-day scenario befitting an O. Henry short story.

Think of the O. Henry story, “The Gift of the Magi,” in which the wife wants to buy her husband a fob for his watch for Christmas and he wants to buy her combs for her long hair. She cuts her hair to sell to pay for the fob, and he sells the watch to buy the combs. Well, at least they had each other! We wish to commend the armada of volunteers from Texas and beyond. We owe you one.

Hello, Men with Guns

I have Byron, who I first met in an outdoors club. We have had hunting and camping trips together, including roughing it for a week in the Arizona desert, which prepared me for camping at home. Byron spent formative years in Lagos, Nigeria, moving in after a civil war there, before his family moved to Beirut, Lebanon, only to see its civil war break out. The man is cool as a cucumber, no matter what is happening. Which brings me to the gunmen at our front door at a time where the only way into the subdivision was by boat (unless you knew we could open a backyard gate into a backroad that had become an ad hoc public boat ramp area).

Upon waking, we saw a security notification on our phones and checked the video: at 4:46 a.m., two men came to our front door with AR-15s, and one of them actually swung his leveled rifle at the front door. If you are not a gun owner, let me tell you some gun safety basics: consider every gun to be loaded (#1) and do not point a gun at someone. In this scenario, don’t ring someone’s door at 4 in the morning and point your semi-automatic weapon at the door.

We then reviewed the footage in a video editing program on my computer and could zoom in for some stills. I called the Harris County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency number (we live in unincorporated Harris County) and the dispatcher sounded shocked. An officer called me right away and within minutes, two deputies were standing on our patio reviewing the video. Two more deputies arrived and then the supervisor in charge of all patrols in this area. Officer Smith was outstanding!

Harris County deputies patrol after Houston
Good guys: Harris County Sheriff’s deputies respond to our call regarding unidentified gunmen.

He looked closely and said they were not his men and did not appear to be any other Harris County law enforcement (we have constables too). He asked me to give him the images so he could circulate it. The officer also related there is a volunteer group of law enforcement officers who had come in from other jurisdictions to provide patrols.

There had been a call to our sheriff’s department around the time of our porch visitors from someone reporting four men with flashlights. We don’t know if these were those men or if they had been looking for those men. Later that day, Byron reconnected by phone with our State Representative, Dwayne Bohac, who came right away prior to this incident when I reached out to him to discuss the neighborhood’s devastation.

Our new friend: Texas State Representative Dwane Bohac, R-District 138, on a fact-finding mission and meeting constituents after Hurricane Harvey.

Byron is HOA president and concerned for the welfare of all the homeowners, especially as the preponderance of them flooded. Representative Bohac came out in waders to see firsthand the scope of the damage. He also has followed up to see how it is going. When you are in a widespread disaster, you need to communicate.

The Facebook group has helped a lot, but visiting face-to-face with neighbors has been the most informative. We met a multi-generational family that lives on the opposite side of the subdivision, closer to the creek that enters Addicks Reservoir. One of the sisters related that as the water rose around them, they had opened some windows and heard people screaming from the house next to our retention pond. The people inside were inundated, could smell natural gas and could not get through to 9-1-1, she related. She got through.

U.S. Coast Guard rescue Hurricane Harvey Harris County
U.S. Coast Guard rescue being performed in our submerged Harris County neighborhood after Hurricane Harvey.

The neighbors were saved and soon enough, strangers in a boat showed up for her family. They loaded her grandparents, both in their 90s, onto the family couch to float them to the rescue boat. Once out on the road behind our house, she said the family collected and then her dad had a funny question: “Is that my couch?” Those rescuers must have had a really big boat!

We have been incredibly lucky to hold down the fort with our dogs, but there rarely seems to be a moment’s peace in a crisis. I was looking forward to Saturday Night Live for much needed comic relief, but instead local newscasters announced they were going to keep on with continuing coverage, which turned out to be footage of people cutting out drywall. There have been deaths and near deaths across dozens of counties, a brand-new mandatory evacuation had been announced earlier and a chemical plant was controlling a fire, so I get the point of breaking news. (I am a former journalist.) Wet drywall isn’t news. Just as I was bemoaning the lack of laughs, someone rang our door.

Our hearts pounded as we scrambled to look at the live video on one phone and answer the phone call on another device (our sign to law enforcement). They called. They were real law enforcement. I saw the guy in charge holding his hands over his waders to show he posed no threat.

I felt bad for scaring them! While Byron spoke to this officer (from the San Antonio area), I peered out the window by the door. His face was so nice! He looked earnestly at me as he signaled all was cool. I wished I could have thanked him, but they were gone. They were checking on people. God Bless.Post Hurricane Harvey warning sign on a Houston home

Natural Disaster Etiquette

If you have friends or family in the zone of a colossal disaster and you wish to express concern, be aware that calling them at 7 a.m. might not be so considerate, as intended, if they were up all night in a sleeping bag wondering if their house would flood in the manner of a scene from “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?” or recovering from the adrenaline rush of late-night doorbells.

Basically, don’t ask for details about to what extent people are naked and/or afraid, or what they are eating, etc.

No self-respecting Texan goes without breakfast tacos just because of a hurricane.

Similarly, expressing political outrage on Facebook about Melania’s stiletto heels for her hurricane wreckage tour is stating the obvious to people who are using camping toilets with specially designed plastic baggies and showering on their patio with a garden hose. Besides, if she had shown up looking like someone outfitted her by Cabela’s for an early teal duck hunt, people would have mocked her for that. The clothing is irrelevant.

New outdoor shower area

In the same vein, do not tag your hurricane victim friends with articles by national magazines or news organizations written to argue how stupid their region’s existence is. Or, criticizing their elected officials as hypocrites or some such. As Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, we can criticize each other in our community because we are a family. Think about how you would feel if people outside your family said something bad about your mama, during a crisis, no less.

Mayor Turner also had advice for anyone getting ornery around here: “Check Yourself! Check yourself.” We are getting through this together as the amazing, strong and beautiful region, and Texas strong family, we are.

The Sage Leopard, Katharine Fraser

Ham & Biscuits, Timeless Tradition

Biscuit recipes vary their ratios of fat and flour to milk, but they all aspire to fluffy perfection. Too moist and they won’t rise well, let alone sop up gravy. Too dry and they won’t taste good.

My boyfriend contends the best biscuits are made with lard. His grandmother kept her flour in one of those pull-down bins in the kitchen cabinet.

Byron relates her biscuits were really flaky and full of flavor. They were fairly big and nicely browned. She would take them to sell in her son’s drugstore in their small town in North Georgia. The town is still there, his uncle is still a pharmacist on the square, but Byron doesn’t have the recipe.

“She just did it. There’s no written recipe,” Byron said. “We’d open up the cupboard and there’d be tubs of lard.”

Look for biscuit recipes and you may find boastful claims. A lot of this comes down to personal taste. By comparison, I think I’ve heard it said that there are as many recipes for Pad Thai as there are Thai families.Copy of Charleston Receipts.

Despite what I’ve read about the supposedly ultimate Southern biscuits, you gotta allow for some variety. I am going to embark on a biscuit recipe exploration.

To start this journey, I consulted a classic cookbook: Charleston Receipts. My copy was my paternal grandmother’s and she dated it 1964. On that front page, she also marked certain recipes and their page numbers. From this, I deduce she is recommending the Chicken Tetrazzini casserole recipe. So, turns out Italian-inspired food has long been appreciated in the South.

Charleston Receipts has a couple of pages of biscuit recipes and I started with the first one. They baked at 500 degrees for 15 minutes. In the meantime, I started the country ham, which we picked up on our last trip to Georgia. The local supermarket sells $1 vacuum packs of sliced country ham, which means it is easy to bring home and so affordable!Country ham, eggs and biscuits.

To fry the slices, I heated a cast-iron skillet to medium high. Then I mixed equal parts water and Dr Pepper in a glass. Once the skillet is hot, pour the liquid in to just cover the bottom. Place the ham slices in and cook for about two-and-a-half minutes on each side. The liquid will burn off and the sugar from the soda will caramelize.

Finally, I cooked eggs over easy so the yolk was runny enough to be picked up by the biscuits. This was great. Next time, I plan to make a tomato gravy to go with the ham and biscuits. This is lieu of the sausage gravy that usually pairs with biscuits. For a tomato gravy, you cook up tomatoes and onions while you work on a roux. More on that later!

Healthy Eating and Holiday Trips

This is not an advice column for people looking to eat organic legumes, protein shakes and what-not during a vacation with family. This holiday weekend we are seeking some semblance of balance.

To be sure, that’s hard when family brings along a chef. Todd, a.k.a. Chef T., took a break from cooking at his restaurant to cook for us on his vacation. The first evening was Wild Game Night, the first dish being fried alligator bites with Buffalo sauce. When I say fried, I don’t mean excessively battered, crunchy food. These were lightly floured for a fluffy, dare I saw ethereal, sensation to the bite. The flavors danced in perfect syncopation.

Next, we enjoyed grill quail over a salad of greens and red pepper with a light olive oil-based dressing. There was some vinegar, but not too much.

Rib-Eye Steaks
Rib-Eye Steaks awaiting the grill.

But, wait, there’s more: Todd made rabbit sausage that was quite delicate and flavorful. (The next night it was served like a pate on a cheese plate.) The sausage did not have a casing. Instead, Todd poached the sausage wrapped in Saran wrap.

Oh, were we finished yet? Not at all! The final course was elk chops, grilled to perfection. OK, folks, we held off on dessert.

Thank goodness I did not eat too much because, after dinner, Mr. Higgins, a.k.a. The Sage Leopard, escaped and took off across the countryside on his own personal steeplechase, with me racing after him. Higgins is a cross between a Foxhound and Catahoula Leopard Dog and can run like the wind.

Remember that scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when the main character is running through backyards while the soundtrack plays a frenetic ska track from the English Beat? It was like that, except with a crazy hound zigzagging, followed by a crazed woman calling his name. We went from yard to yard in this small North Georgia town for what seemed like nearly a mile until he was stymied by a chain link fence.

I grabbed him and cradled his 40-pound frame against my torso with his paws over my shoulder. We made it to the highway (a two-lane road) and started back to the house. Did I mention it was hot and humid, and I that had consumed a lot of meat with red wine earlier in the night? This is not a good time for a jog.

A pickup truck was coming along and I heard it let up on the gas. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Byron behind the wheel coming to our rescue. Higgins was delighted to get in the truck. I sat down in relief and Byron remarked, had we been home in Texas, I might have gotten shot running into someone’s backyard. Let’s just say that was a sobering thought! Anyhoo.Moscow Mule

The next morning Leroy prepared his classic breakfast: grits, scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and cantaloupe. We met up with Byron’s sister, brother-in-law and Chef T for lunch. Three people at the table opted for a salmon special and I ate a perfect Greek salad, bearing in mind so other major dinner was in the offing.

We browsed the shops around the square in Dahlonega. Then we opted to have a drink. I ordered a Moscow Mule, figuring this is healthiest version of a drink: ginger beer, vodka and lime over ice. Very refreshing.

The ride back to Cleveland was scenic and we took the dogs out for a long walk. Then, I fell asleep in a chair, no doubt a side effect of the vodka. Next thing I knew, it was time for another meal by Todd and Craig. They grilled beautifully marbled ribs eyes, served with lobster tail. The plated were filled out with twice-baked potatoes and green beans.

The lobster was dressed with Champagne butter. That certainly was perfect and were beyond sated. But, dessert was served: a Bourbon milkshake and Oreo bread pudding. The key is to share these desserts.

Dog on hotel bed.
The Sage Leopard lounges after a long day.

For breakfast on day three, we enjoyed oatmeal with fresh fruit: banana, pineapple, strawberries and blueberries. Back on track? Not quite. It’s the Fourth of July! It’s time for hot dogs and hamburgers! The key is to make sure you do eat fiber and fruit when you can and to get some exercise.

If you really want a good workout, The Sage Leopard would love to take you on a run!

When Counter Surfing Goes Wrong, the Sandwich Disaster

My boyfriend endured a stressful work week so I wanted to make a perfect sandwich for him on Friday. The bakery-fresh English toasting bread held ham, turkey and cheese with sliced lettuce and tomato.

I placed the mayo and mustard on just right. I evenly layered the meats and cheese. I adorned each quarter with a half a jalapeno olive, affixed with toothpicks. The plate also had green grapes and pretzel sticks. I placed this work of art up on the bar-height counter.

Byron walked in and I went to present this masterpiece, only to realize Buster the Catahoula Leopard Dog ate one of the quarters, toothpick and all. The vet said to keep an eye on him. We prayed it would pass without injuring him.

Checking the aftermath of the puppy’s counter surfing reminded us of this scene from Jaws.

The dog seemed unfazed and he enthusiastically ate a big bowl of kibble for dinner, per usual.

We settled in to watch Dateline and the puppy became uncharacteristically quiet. We praise him for calmly laying down. But, it was an upset stomach that brought him down. Suddenly, he stood to the barf position. I guided him to his crate and gave him a bowl of fresh water. Within minutes, the poor doggie barfed up dinner along with other things.

Mercifully, Buster rejected the toothpick and there was no apparent blood. I felt like the Richard Dreyfuss character in the autopsy scene in Jaws when he pulled a license plate and other random items from a shark’s belly; when the puppy coughed up his dinner, we found the toothpick, the olive, tomato, turkey, a rubber band and a dryer sheet.

He felt good enough for a little second dinner. We encouraged him to drink extra water. He went to bed at his normal time and woke us up for his breakfast.

We updated the vet’s office with his condition. I am very relieved he did not eat the green grapes, which are harmful to dogs.

For breakfast this morning, I opted to prepare a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. Buster watched and sniffed as I cooked the bacon, which at no time was left unattended. While I fried the egg, the bacon dish was secured in the microwave for storage. Buster himself was secured. It is a good idea in this house to place a wayward or begging dog in a crate or the bedroom to prevent counter surfing.

The next time you make a sandwich that won’t be immediately eaten by a human, be sure to lock it a way. The microwave is a great spot to stash food to keep it away from the doggies!

Grocery Shopping is Still a Worthy Excursion

It’s hard to imagine life without a smart phone. Now, thanks to Amazon’s plan to take over Whole Foods, we can imagine a world in which arugula is delivered to our doorstep by drone.

The question is do I want to be a part of that grocery world? Grocery delivery has taken off and the demand is attributed to millennials who want to stay home for dinner but hate to go to the supermarket. Grocers are competing with farm-to-table dinner in box services.

Funny thing is I actually like grocery shopping. Actually, I absolutely love going to supermarkets. I always have, all the way back to the days of S&H green stamps you’d get at checkout. My mom shopped at King’s, which was a family owned grocery chain in North Jersey. I loved our outings to the store as Mommy and Daughter bonding time.

I associate finding wonderful things in the grocery aisle with making a lovely home. Creature comforts, including tea, chocolate, cookies, crackers, etc., are the hallmarks of a great home. We cannot control what goes on in the world outside, but if we want hibiscus ice tea in our fridge, by jove, we got it.

But the market is telling me I should abandon one of my favorite leisures, grocery shopping, in favor of ordering online. I just ran into CVS to buy a particular hair conditioner and a sign on the door welcomed me to have ordered online for curbside pickup. Once home, I emptied the bag of hair products and found a flyer with my things, a flyer for Blue Apron.

For crying out loud – I like supermarkets, produce markets and farmers markets. Here in Houston, we have amazing and really old farmers markets on Airline, including Canino’s. Walking the aisles and checking off my list is therapeutic. I delight in finding new items and snagging great deals on close-outs.

Picking out my own produce, I don’t need to worry about paying for bruised or rotten things. And, you can always buy a lot of almost over-ripe or bruised produce for 99 cents at Kroger!

Another fun thing to do when traveling abroad is to visit a market and see what the locals eat. You will see a lot of familiar items and truly foreign ones.

You can also find a surprise or two at your local supermarket. Check it out and enjoy the experience.

How to Plan for the Future by Living Now

The only way to get something done is by starting it. Last week, I ordered 50 periwinkle plants. They arrived and I left the box on the counter a few hours, thinking it was full of seeds. This was no time to procrastinate! The box was full of juvenile plants with their roots all neatly tucked together and rolled into a giant bouquet of vines.

Honestly, I did procrastinate for a day or two, buying myself some time by leaving the plants in a container on the front porch and watering the roots. When it came down to it, most of the work had already been done by my boyfriend when he had transferred some quality top soil to the area under a magnolia tree where I envision a tiny field of periwinkles.

All I needed was a dowel, my garden gloves and a half hour to dig holes and place in the plants. In about a year, I should have a blanket of ground cover. It would not come to pass if I had not gotten off my duff and done the basic work.

Newly planted periwinkle plants
Baby periwinkle plants

Standing back to admire the rows of plants, I looked over at my slightly larger lily patch. Growing up, a neighbor had an amazing patch of tiger lilies that had to be at least 30 feet in diameter. Everytime I came down our stairs, I would see these burning orange flowers across the street through frame of the front door.

Eventually, I became committed to the dream of my own lily garden. I bought and planted day lilies in the area where the periwinkle is now. They didn’t seem happy, so I moved them to a sunnier spot. Last fall, I dug them all up and divided them to cover a little more ground. Hence, the patch is a little bit bigger. We’ll see what next year brings after I divide them in the fall again.

Pink day lily blossom
Resurgent day lily

Sometimes, after you lay the groundwork, literally and figuratively, amazing growth can occur. When we went to the animal shelter to see about rescuing Buster (then known as Mr. Trembles), he was tiny and sickly. He weighed five pounds and was estimated to be about six weeks old. A volunteer handed me this poor little Catahoula Leopard Dog puppy and I could see how terrible distended his belly was from worms. He was weak and undernourished. He could barely look up. I held his precious body and worried he might not make it.

Buster the babyI said I was nervous about taking him home, but I committed. You can’t worry when you need to act. We took him in, fed him, got him medicine, cuddled him and nurtured him. And now, just shy of his first birthday, he is a big boy. He’s about 60 pounds and appears to be growing. He is incredibly sweet and apparently will be by my side for years to come.

 

Catahoula leopard dog napping on human's bed
Buster the big boy

Don’t wait for a future that won’t come just from wishing. Plant your future now.

Cheers, The Sage Leopard

Bargain Bin Cooking & Baking: From Peppers to Bananas

Byron stumbled upon the 99 cents bin at Kroger and this discovery is opening up a new direction in my cooking and baking.

The bargain bin is a transfer station of sorts for produce that isn’t quite good enough anymore for top billing in the main displays but isn’t yet relegated to be tossed. Byron picked up the bag o’ jalapenos in wonderment and an idea sprang to mind: grilled jalapeno poppers.

We even have a grill rack specially designed for jalapenos that came with a jalapeno corer. This way, you can bore into a jalapeno after slicing of the top and neatly draw out the seeds and core. No fuss, no muss. The jalapenos are ready to be stuffed.

For a ham and cheese take on the poppers, we bought a thick slab of baked ham in the deli. Rather than dice it, I opted to slice it into spears to be vertically inserted in the middle of the peppers. First, though, I combined room temperature cream cheese (a brick) and 1/3 cup crumbled feta in a bowl. I added freshly chopped parsley as well as garlic salt and a little Cajun seasoning. Using a teaspoon, I charged up the peppers with the cheese mixture. Then, I inserted the ham spears. That’s it. They hit the grill for about 20-30 minutes on medium heat.

Driving Me Bananas

Next thing I know, Byron brought home a huge bag of bananas. There is only one solution. Banana bread and muffins. I used a banana oatmeal muffin recipe I love and quadrupled it. I opted to use agave instead of brown sugar and added chocolate chips and peanut butter chips.

Here’s the crazy part: after perfectly measuring all the dry ingredients, including the baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg and cinnamon, I actually omitted eggs. The recipe X four would have called for 8 eggs. Ooops, they taste great anyway. Let’s call them low-cholesterol egg-less muffins. I sprinkled shredded coconut on top. A dozen went into the fridge, a Bundt cake is being given to friends and the rest of the muffin are in the freezer.

Bag O’ Mixed Peppers

The bargain bin is quickly becoming a way of life around here. Byron pointed to a big bag of peppers. Perfect! After all, we were grilling steaks so grilled veggies always pair well with grilled meat. I simply seeded the peppers, which appeared to be orange bell pepper, poblanos and wax peppers, and quartered them. I drizzled them with a generous amount of olive oil and tossed with salt and pepper. They went into a grilling basket.

I had mistaken the light yellow peppers for banana peppers, but after handling them, I realized, whoa, these are yellow wax peppers, which are hot! The spiciest came down a bit after they were grilled. And, yes, they were very nice with the steak, potatoes and grilled corn. Good news: leftovers!

Citrus Dreaming

A bag of more than a dozen limes with a ruby red grapefruit for 99 cents? Amazing. The limes were still ripe and in their juiciest prime. I happened to be getting chicken breasts to grill and the limes would be perfect for a marinade. I bought a pack of chicken breasts with rib meat with for $1.99 a pound.

First things first: I juiced 10 limes and the grapefruit into a one gallon bag held up in a large mixing bowl. Then I trimmed the meat and placed the chicken pieces in the citrus juice. Once all the trimmed chicken breasts were in the bag, I added about a quarter of a cup of olive oil and generous shakes of chicken seasoning, plus a little cayenne. I made sure the bag’s zip top was locked and placed the chicken in the meat drawer of the fridge for about an hour before it was grilled.

So, we obtained a lot of bananas, peppers and limes in big bags that only cost 99 cents each. That’s very cool and a great way to cook with basic ingredients

This bargain-bin approach is the essence of The Sage Leopard’s philosophy: enjoy everything you can and make do really well!

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

 

 

Italian Sausage with Meatballs and Pasta on the Side

Spaghetti and meatballs might need a trial separation. Traditionally, pasta is served as a first course and meat as a second course.

Our Sunday dinners with Grandma always observed this practice: cook the meat in the tomato “gravy” (sauce) and ladle the meat-flavored tomato sauce over the pasta. Then, serve the meat on a platter accompanied by a salad, as I’ve recalled before.Meatballs, sausage and salad on a plate.

My father and I recreated this last night. In a saucepan, he started the tomato sauce with garlic in oil and diced tomatoes (imported from Italy). While he browned the sausages in a large saute pan, I prepared the meatballs, according to Grandma’s instructions:

  • 1 egg per pound of meat, in this case lean ground beef
  • handful of parsley (clench hand on a bunch, grabbing leaves within fist, then twist to rip off bottom part of stems. Then remove leaves from stems and finely dice with French chef nice)
  • Italian breadcrumbs (around 1/3 of a cup per pound of meat, this is really to preference)

Meatballs browning in oil in a saute pan.Rinse your hands in cold water before kneading the meatball ingredients together in a large bowl. Re-rinse hands occasionally in cold water to keep the meat from getting warm from friction as you evenly combine and then shape the meatballs. To shape, pinch together a golf-ball sized amount and roll in one palm with pressed fingers of opposite hands. The meatballs should be smoothed by the wet hands.

While I shaped the meatballs, Dad moved the browned sausages to tomato sauce. I then used the same saute pan to brown the meatballs in canola oil. No need to cook them through – just brown them mostly all the way around and pick them up one by one with tongs to place in the tomato gravy. Add a little water to the gravy to smooth it out. Simmer on very low for at least 45 minutes.

Select the pasta of your choice, either short tubular or long, such as spaghetti or even bucatini, which is rather thick.Short pasta in bowl with tomato sauce.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, move the meat out of the gravy and onto a platter. Drain the pasta in a colander in the sink. Place pasta in a large bowl and ladle on the gravy. Serve in pasta bowls. Enjoy.

Now, for the second course, toss a salad of greens with sliced tomatoes and sweet onion. Dress with olive oil and a little vinegar. Serve the meat and salad together. Again, enjoy!

Spring Fettuccini with Ham, Asparagus and Peas

Asparagus always heralds spring and a wonderful way to eat your veggies is to pile them into a big bowl of pasta. This dish is similar to the Italian recipe for “straw and hay,” which combines spinach and semolina pasta in a creamy sauce with pancetta and peas.

Straw and Hay is a favorite of mine and one of the best renditions I had of it was in Murano, the island in Venice where all the beautiful glass is made. This dish I made lacks spinach pasta and instead of heavy cream, it gains creaminess from feta cheese stirred into the sauce.Bowl of fettucini with ham and vegetables.

Ingredients:

  • Asparagus (1 bundle, trim by gently snapping off the weak part by gently pushing down in the middle with an index finger , then chop)
  • Peas (I bag frozen)
  • ¾ lb. ham (sliced at the deli at 1 and diced at home)
  • yellow bell pepper (3)
  • feta (1 package low-fat feta)
  • carrot (1 large)
  • artichoke (1 can quarters)
  • sweet onion (half cup diced)
  • garlic cloves (3 peeled, smashed and sliced)
  • dried fettuccini (1 lb.)

Directions: Prep veggies and ham ahead of time and set aside. To get it started, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven on low heat.

Dice carrot and toss in. Add chopped garlic and onion. Once the onion turns golden, fold in the chopped ham. Saute at medium heat until ham edges start to curl and brown, stirring from time to time.

Meanwhile, start a big pasta pot of water on the stove’s biggest burner on high heat. Then to the saucepan, add chopped asparagus and yellow pepper. Cover the pot. Take bag of frozen peas out and cook in microwave, according to bag directions.

Bell pepper and asparagus in a saute pan with ham and onion.

Once these two veggies soften, add can of artichoke, including the juice. Heat through at medium-high heat. Pour in peas. Then stir in feta crumbles. Cover and heat through on low heat while you wait on the pasta water to boil. Once it reaches a roaring boil, throw in a dash of salt. Add a couple of drops of oil to the water. Then, place fettuccini in the water. Cook according to box directions. Drain cooked pasta and place in a huge pasta bowl and pour veggies and ham sauce over the top. Gently toss until mixed. Place servings in bowls and add to taste the following: salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.

The most important part: enjoy. And enjoy the leftovers too!

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

Grilled Chicken with Chimichurri Sauce

I love supermarkets. They are my inspiration, at least for regular food shopping. I just don’t think I’ll ever be a digital food shopper who logs in the order, or lets the fridge do so, and sends a driver-less car to pick them up. Tonight’s inspiration was chimichurri.

It sat gracefully poised in a beautiful jar on a shelf in the middle of the condiment aisle, gleaming with its bright green color. I paused and wondered, why would anyone buy this in a packaged, processed state when you just need to mix up fresh parsley and cilantro with some oil? The metaphorical dinner bell clanged and I had dinner plans: grilled chicken with chimichurri sauce.Chimichurri sauce in serving dish

Ingredients:

  • Chicken breasts
  • 1 cup Meyer lemon juice
  • Avocado oil
  • Cajun seasoning
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Salt
  • Parsley
  • Cilanto
  • More avocado oil
  • Kosher salt
  • One vine tomato
  • Two cloves of garlic

Trim chicken and place in large plastic, zippered storage bag with lemon juice, about a quarter-cup of avocado oil and a liberal amount of seasoning. I actually spilled Cajun seasoning into the marinade bag and that worked out fine. Tightly close bag seal and place in fridge. Marinade at least a half-hour.

For the chimichurri sauce, place the following in a food processor or hand-crank salsa maker:

Making chimichurri sauce in a food processor.Rip off a handful or two of parsley and cilantro (each)

  • Drizzle in a lot of oil
  • Shake on some salt
  • Add tomato quarters
  • Thinly slice garlic and place in the mixing bowl

Let it spin! If you live in Texas, you might just have a hand-crank salsa maker like mine. I got mine at either a home & garden or a hunting show at the Reliant Center in Houston. I always get the coolest gadgets at these events.

Place your chimichurri in a bowl or keep in the processing bowl and put in fridge while the chicken cooks. Light your outdoor grill; use a propane gas grill to maintain an even temperature. Grill chicken for approximately 20 minutes to a half-hour at about 350 degrees. Because of the oil, it will take a bit for the meat to brown, but rest assured it is cooking on the inside. My boyfriend also had to take pains not to accidentally cook a lizard that normally lives in the grill but was temporarily evicted during the dinner preparation. Once done, bring to table on platter and serve sauce in separate dish with serving spoon.Grilled chicken on platter

You can serve this with a variety of sides. We had leftover risotto and I freshly made sautéed vegetables: mushrooms with chopped red pepper and asparagus (all cooked together in a covered non-stick pot).

The moral of the story: do not buy anything in a jar you can easily make yourself.

Cheers!

The Sage Leopard