Tag Archive: cooking

Mar 06 2014

Red Beans and Rice (with Chicken Andouille Sausage)

Yes, I know, Mardi Gras was 2 days ago. I’m late to the party again. But hear me out… because every day can be Party Gras. No need to save it all for once a year!

I’m not much of a cook, I admit it. I have admitted it, over and over again. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I started being more adventurous with my eating. Rarely have I been disappointed, but it’s still intimidating every time I attempt a new recipe. Will it really taste as good as it smells? What is it supposed to taste like really? What if I spent all this time making something that’s complete garbage? Oh, the anxiety!

red beans and rice with chicken Andouille sausage

Still, I keep on trying. And when we decided the theme for our co-worker’s birthday party would be Mardi Gras this year (albeit 2 days after Mardi Gras), I embraced it as an opportunity to add New Orleans flavors to my repertoire and broaden the horizons once again.

A king cake would have been a safe choice. It’s a glorified yeasted coffee cake, not much different than projects I’ve succeeded at before. But I wanted to go savory this time. Explore the alleyways I would normally avoid, dabble in a little danger and see where it takes me.

red beans and rice with chicken Andouille sausage

Of course, my options were still limited. My husband absolutely does not eat any seafood at all. I will taste it on occasion, but only fried. Because anything fried is awesome. That meant no jambalaya, a dish that automatically comes to mind when NOLA is mentioned. No po’ boys, either. Hmm…. what to make that feeds a crowd? What could be brought in as a leftover and still be glorious?

My mind rested on red beans and rice. From the sources I found–Can You Stay For Dinner, Gluten-Free-Girl and the Chef, and Gumbopages –the idea isn’t much different than making chili, and we’ve been enjoying that for years. So I chopped. And I sauteed. And I seasoned. And I cooked rice. And then I put it all together. And it was even better than I imagined. I’m so glad I’ve developed an appreciation for heat in my eats over the years!

red beans and rice with chicken Andouille sausage

Today I’ll be sharing my experiment with my friends at work. I’m hoping there aren’t any critics in the crowd–anyone who would be quick to point out that this isn’t exactly a traditional approach. I don’t think there will be, but I worry incessantly about sharing my projects with people outside of my immediate family. I’m so hard on myself.

You? I highly recommend trying this. It’ll be great for lunch leftovers throughout the week or to bring to a potluck. Just transfer to a slow cooker to warm up at the party and you’ll be ready to impress. Laissez les bons temps rouler! And roll, and roll, and roll….

red beans and rice with chicken Andouille sausage

Red Beans and Rice (with Andouille Chicken Sausage)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
It’s really important to have your mise en place ready for this one—it’s too easy to burn onions while you’re chopping other veggies (not that I’d know anything about that…)
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 8
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, small chop
  • 5 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 3 ribs celery, small chop
  • 2 orange bell peppers, small chop
  • 2 14.5-ounce cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes with juice
  • 2 16-ounce cans dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 16-ounce can light red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups chicken broth/stock
  • 3 teaspoons Cajun/Creole seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon Maldon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 ounces chicken Andouille sausage, sliced lengthwise and then crosswise so you get half-moon shapes
  • 2 ounces Canadian bacon, diced small
  • 2 cups uncooked white long-grain rice
  1. Drizzle the EVOO in a 3.5-quart dutch oven over medium to medium high heat and add the onions.
  2. Saute until softened and translucent.
  3. Add the garlic, celery, and bell peppers and saute for a 4-5 minutes to soften a bit.
  4. Add the tomatoes, beans, chicken broth, seasonings, sausage, and Canadian bacon. Stir well and simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for 2-2.5 hours, stirring occasionally to ensure the bottom isn’t burning. It will thicken considerably in this time; if it’s too thick, just add more chicken broth.
  5. About a half hour before serving, prepare the rice–in my case, I pour it into my rice cooker with twice as much water (so in this case, that would be 4 cups of water for 2 cups of rice) and let it cook til steamed fully. On the stove, you’ll use the same ratio but you’ll have to be more attentive to ensure the bottom doesn’t burn. The Kitchn has a great tutorial on how to cook rice on the stovetop, if you need some pointers.
  6. Serve the red beans over the cooked rice.


Mar 03 2014

Sugar-Crusted French Toast Casserole

Recently, a co-worker hosted a chili cook-off benefit lunch to raise money for his nephew. His nephew has been diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma and is facing a total of at least 16 rounds of chemotherapy. The money raised would assist the family with paying for deductibles and travel costs, which will accumulate fast. I’m happy to say there was a great outpouring of support and a large sum of money was raised to help this young man and his family with their tough road ahead.

Sugar-Crusted French Toast Casserole

After the lunch, we were left with a gallon-sized bag of sliced French bread that had gone uneaten. Not wanting to waste it, I started brainstorming. And came to French Toast Casserole.

I love the idea of French toast. It’s an elite form of weekend breakfast, served only at special occasions or eaten when dining out. I’m not sure why it’s enjoyed so infrequently–it could be that it’s not exactly health food–but it makes the day seem so much fancier if French toast is on your plate. The down side is that someone has to stand at the griddle frying up slice after slice of that goodness, missing out on ambiance of the occasion. She gets to eat eventually, sure, but she’s usually last, when everyone else has already moved on to something else. It’s a lonely kind of job. Which is where French Toast Casserole comes in.

Sugar-Crusted French Toast Casserole

look at that sugar crust!

French Toast Casserole is really a glorified bread pudding. Soak your bread slices in custard overnight, add a topping, and bake in the morning. It frees you up to enjoy the whole meal with your friends and family and lets you pretend that dessert is breakfast. Works for me!

So the morning after the benefit lunch, I brought in a dish of this Sugar-Crusted French Toast Casserole. Because I’m so proud of my co-workers and how wonderfully supportive they are of each other. You can’t ask for a better bunch! Whip this up and serve it to someone special to you. They’ll love it!

Sugar-Crusted French Toast Casserole


5.0 from 1 reviews

Sugar-Crusted French Toast Casserole
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Breakfast
Serves: 8
  • 1-pound loaf French bread
  • 6 large cage-free eggs
  • ⅔ cup whole milk
  • ⅔ cup heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup pecans, chopped
  • ¾ cup (12 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1⅓ cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup (Grade B preferred, as it’s more flavorful)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Grease a 9″x13″ baking dish and set aside.
  2. Slice French bread into 1-inch thick slices and arrange in prepared dish.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs for 30 seconds or so.
  4. Add the milk, cream, cinnamon, and vanilla extract and whisk for an additional 1-2 minutes, or until frothy.
  5. Pour over the bread slices, coating evenly. There will be a lot extra in the bottom of the dish; this is okay, as it will get absorbed. (I actually took each slice and dipped both sides in the extra before setting them upright again, just to be sure they were well-coated.)
  6. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 6 hours.
  7. In the morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take out the dish, uncover, and sprinkle with chopped pecans. Set aside.
  8. In a 3-quart heavy-bottomed sauce pan, melt the butter over medium to medium-high heat.
  9. Stir in the brown sugar and maple syrup and gently boil until the sugar is (mostly) melted. This will not be a smooth caramel sauce, but that’s okay; you want crystallization when it bakes anyway for that crunchy crust.
  10. Remove from heat and add the vanilla–it will bubble up. Be careful!
  11. Stir in the vanilla, then pour over the prepared bread evenly.
  12. Bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes.
  13. Serve immediately. No additional syrup necessary.

If you would like to help out in the fundraising efforts for this young man, there is a GoFundMe page set up to collect donations. Hodgkin Lymphoma, while a very curable form of cancer, still ravages the body. This family will need all the help they can get.

Mar 01 2014

#FirstOnTheFirst: Individual Beef Wellington

I am not much of a fan of reality TV. There’s very little that’s real about them, to start.I also don’t like how they’re intended to play the audience like a violin. In spite of all of this, I am a junkie for Gordon Ramsay‘s shows. MasterChef. Kitchen Nightmares. And, of course, Hell’s Kitchen. It seems like every week on Hell’s Kitchen someone receives Chef Ramsay’s wrath for screwing up either risotto or Beef Wellington. In my mind, both of these have become epic challenges, so difficult nobody can get them right. Nobody. And yet, I thought it would be a great idea to make Beef Wellington the #FirstOnTheFirst challenge for March 1st. Makes sense, right? Yikes!

Beef Wellington

I originally intended to make little bites of Beef Wellington–it seemed less likely I’d mess that up. But once I bought my meat–which, by the way, I have never approached the butcher in the grocery store before and certainly never spent $19.99/lb for any meat I’ve ever eaten at home–I was too terrified to chop it all up. $35 worth of beef sat on my counter in steak-form–I could not find a roast–and I started to hyperventilate. I don’t cook meat. I love it, but I don’t cook it because the stuff that sells for $7/lb seems too expensive to experiment with. This? This was insane.

Finally, I gave in. Shut the TV off and immersed myself in the challenge. It was time to face my fear and go for it. I had investigated several recipes for inspiration and even watched Chef Ramsay make Beef Wellington himself. I had this.

Once my Individual Beef Wellingtons were in the oven, I watched closely. I was terrified of overcooking them, or ending up with a totally raw center. Chilling the meat in between and throwing the puff pastry-wrapped meat parcels in the freezer for a bit helps keep the beef inside from getting too well done while the puff pastry finishes. 12:30 AM and I was done. Because everyone makes Beef Wellington in the middle of the night, right? I held my breath, plated it, and adored it. Snapped some photos and then dug in. Because you can’t waste a project like this by turning it immediately into leftovers.

Beef Wellington

It was uh-mazing. No exaggeration here. So tender, so rich, so salty and yet not. Wonderful. The next night (the same night?) I served the rest as leftovers to my family. Which was also nerve-wracking–reheating without overcooking. I highly recommend heating on a rack in the pan so the crust doesn’t get soggy, and in a toaster oven or oven, NOT the microwave. The kids LOVED it. They couldn’t get enough, begging for more and more. My leftover Beef Wellington was just as awesome as my midnight snack, albeit a little less glorious. YUM.

So yeah, consider that challenge killed with great success. Will I ever make it again? Probably not–the anxiety level was too high and the investment was too great for a family meal. But I’m glad I tried it. And all of us enjoyed the end result. Take that, Hell’s Kitchen!

Beef Wellington #FirstOnTheFirst collage

Now I know you’re dying to see how everyone else did on this challenge….

Beef Wellington

slightly overcooked but still extremely delicious

Next month for First on the First…

…we’ll be making naan. A much more economical culinary adventure, and one I am really looking forward to. Check out the First on the First tab for more details on how to participate.

#FirstOnTheFirst: Individual Beef Wellington
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 4
  • 4 beef tenderloin steaks (about 1.75-2 pounds total)
  • ¾ teaspoon flaky sea salt (like Maldon)
  • ¼-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 ounces baby Bella mushrooms
  • 1 medium shallot
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Kerrygold garlic and herb butter
  • 3 Tablespoons cooking sherry
  • 8 ounces Prosciutto di Parma (8 slices)
  • 1 package Dufour puff pastry (14 ounces), thawed
  • 1 large cage-free egg
  1. Take the steaks out 30 minutes before cooking and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Set aside.
  2. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet heat 2 teaspoons EVOO over medium high to high heat.
  3. Add the steaks, spacing at least an inch apart from each other. Sear each side for 1-1.5 minutes, then remove to a plate to chill in the refrigerator while preparing the next part.
  4. Clean mushrooms and slice, then chop shallot. Add both the bowl of a food processor and chop until almost pureed.
  5. In the same skillet used to sear the meat heat the Tablespoon EVOO and herbed butter over medium heat. Add the mushroom paste and sautee until the moisture has cooked out, about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the sherry and cook until the moisture has, once again, cooked out, about ten minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat.
  7. Lay out 4 pieces of plastic wrap and lay out 2 slices of prosciutto in the center of each piece of plastic wrap, overlapping them slightly.
  8. Divide the duxelles (mushrooms/shallots) evenly and spread over the prosciutto.
  9. Remove the steaks from the refrigerator, place one in the center of each prepared prosciutto and, using the plastic wrap to assist, wrap with the prosciutto. Wrap tightly with the plastic wrap and stash in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
  10. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  11. Divide the thawed puff pastry into 4 portions and roll them out, if necessary, to accommodate each steak. Cut squares off the corners so you’re left with + signs. Set aside scraps to be cut into small shapes for accents, or saved for another project.
  12. Remove the plastic wrap from the steaks and place one in the center of each piece of puff pastry. Gather the ends so the steaks are wrapped entirely in puff pastry. Place on the prepared baking sheet.
  13. In a small bowl, whisk the egg for 1 minute. Seal the edges of the meat parcels using a little egg wash, then brush over the steak packages. Adhere any cut-out accents and brush those with egg, as well.
  14. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes. Save the remaining egg in the fridge.
  15. Remove dough packages from the freezer and apply egg wash to the dough packages again.
  16. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until pastry is golden in color.
  17. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
While I have noted this serves 4, you can (and probably should) split each one into 2 servings, resulting in a total of 8 servings that are enough with side dishes. No one will feel skimped on.


Feb 01 2014

#FirstOnTheFirst: Steamed Bacon Buns

I have a confession to make: the first time I ate a steamed (pork) bun was last year. March, to be exact, when I attended the Tourism Australia luncheon. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first–it looked…anemic. Where was my golden crust? Why did it look under-baked? Why would I want to consume that? There was something wrong with it, for sure. But as everyone else dug in, I knew I’d look like a fool if I begged off. I had to try it.

Steamed Bacon Buns

I am so glad I did, because what a world that was opened up to me that day! Wow! Since then, I’ve had pork buns when I’ve come across them, but the opportunities have been few and far between. I don’t know of anywhere I go locally that I can get them. And my trips to NYC aren’t as frequent as I’d like.

So, when it was proposed that we make steamed buns for #FirstOnTheFirst, I was cautiously elated. Thrilled that I’d have a chance to make my own at home. Terrified that I’d be making my own at home. What business did I have embarking upon a culinary journey like this? I knew nothing about steamed buns. But I had to try.

Steamed Bacon Buns

Steamed buns are also known as bao. My favorite fillings I’ve found have been on the porky side–including these bacon buns–but they can also contain sweet bean paste, chicken, etc. Typically they are steamed in bamboo baskets, but I already have enough specialized kitchen equipment; I wasn’t buying more. I can tell you this–the steamer basket on your rice cooker is not the best option. Go with a steamer basket in a regular pot with a little water and cover–this works remarkably well and is quick, too. Leftover bao can be refrigerated for 3-4 days or frozen for longer. You can re-steam them to freshen them up, or pop them in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, making them a fantastic option for work lunches. Or breakfast. Whichever.

Steamed Bacon Buns

They do take some time, though. The dough needs to rise for 2 hours. And you can only steam so many at a time (in my case, 4). All told, it was about 3 hours from start to finish, and that was on a work night. I was tired at the end, but extremely proud of myself. And a bit addicted. It probably wasn’t a great idea to eat 1.5 steamed bacon buns and then start my exercise for the night. Oops. Next time I’ll stash them for the week following and spread the love out a bit.

Want to check out some more steamed buns? You know you do!

#FirstOnTheFirst Steamed Buns

Now… for my version. I discovered the cutest tutorial ever on my name is yeh and I couldn’t resist! Truly–you must check it out! The bacon caught my attention, that’s true, but those adorable little buns smiling and snoozing won my heart. I had to try her recipe–or, at least, a riff off of it. I’m so glad I was enticed by her cute little buns, for this is now a keeper! Some sweet heat balanced by soft pillows of dough and bacon, of course. This might be the best food ever. You owe it to yourself to try them!

Steamed Bacon Buns

Next month, we’ll be making Beef Wellington. I really need my head examined. If you’d like to participate in the insanity, check out the First on the First tab for details. We’d love to have you!

Steamed Bacon Buns
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 12
  • 2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • ¾ cup warm water
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup warm whole milk
  • ¼ cup Spectrum organic shortening
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 12 ounces nitrate-free bacon, chopped, cooked, and drained
  • ¾ cup water
  • 3 Tablespoons honey
  • 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1½ teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1½ teaspoons sesame oil
  • ¾ teaspoon sriracha sauce
  • ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  1. Combine the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.
  2. Mix on low (speed 2 on a KitchenAid) until combined and watch that the dough becomes smooth and slightly sticky–it should adhere to the bottom of the bowl while kneading. If it’s too sticky, you can add flour 1 Tablespoon at a time, waiting until it’s incorporated before adding any more. If the dough is too dry, you can add warm water 1 Tablespoon at a time.
  3. Knead for 5 minutes, then transfer to a clean bowl.
  4. Cover and keep in a warm, draft-free place to allow the dough to rise til doubled in size, about 2 hours. (I turn my oven on the lowest temperature for a few minutes, turn it off, leave the light on and put the bowl there.)
  5. During the last hour of the dough rising, combine the bacon, water, honey, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sriracha, and red pepper flakes in a medium sauce pan.
  6. Cook over medium heat until it starts to boil.
  7. Remove 3 Tablespoons of the fluid, add to it the cornstarch, and whisk til combined.
  8. Pour back into the bacon mixture, stir, and continue cooking until thickened. Set aside to cool.
  9. Cut out 12 parchment squares for the next stage…
  10. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  11. Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into 12 equal pieces.
  12. Flatten 1 piece of dough into a disc, put 2-3 teaspoons bacon filling in the center, and gather the edges up in the middle, pinching to seal, so you have a little packet of meat.
  13. Place on a prepared baking sheet and pop in the warm oven to wait until ready to steam.
  14. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling.
  15. Fill a large sauce pan with 2-3 inches of water, place in it the steamer basket, and place 4 parchment squares in the basket. Put buns on top of the parchment squares, cover, and cook on medium-high temperature, steaming for 10 minutes.
  16. Check that the exterior of the buns has hardened a bit and isn’t sticky. Cook for a couple more minutes, if necessary, then transfer to wire racks.
  17. Repeat with remaining buns.
  18. Eat warm; if cooled, re-steam or microwave for 30 seconds before consuming.


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