Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tex-Mex Rice Made Easy

While some people, like my sister-in-law, are planning all things Kentucky Derby, I've got Cinco de Mayo on my mind. Which brings about my failure to post my favorite recipe for Tex-Mex rice. I have no idea where I found this recipe, but I love it and have had many requests to post it on my site. This is not a recipe for Mexican rice (Mexican Achiote Rice, Mexican Red Rice, Mexican White Rice), rather a more convenient Texas version that pairs well with barbecue, Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Southwestern cuisine. 

The beauty of this recipe is it's simplicity. No rinsing of the rice, no dicing carrots perfectly, no bashing of achiote paste in a mortar, just straightforward pantry staples of long-grain rice, half of a chopped onion, one tomato diced, chicken stock, and typical dried spices (or typical in my pantry). Once you've thrown your ingredients together, it takes no more than 30 minutes to hit the table! That's convenient enough to make everyday, and I often do! Don't forget to check back for a new recipe that will be perfect for your Cinco de Mayo!

Robin's Tex-Mex Rice

Serves 4, with NO leftovers!


1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 small white onion, diced (small, large, irregular, it doesn't matter!)
2/3 cup long-grain rice (I prefer Rice Select, Texmati brand. Hey, I have to, it's Texan!)
1 tomato, chopped (fine, medium, large, seeds and all, it doesn't matter!)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (I prefer Gebhardt.)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup chicken stock (I always have Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base in my fridge.)


In a medium (2-quart) pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and stir until the rice turns white and is slightly toasted, but not browned, approximately 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally until the rice is tender, approximately 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand covered at least 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

*Lime wedges to squeeze over the rice makes a nice garnish.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Literary Meal with William Faulkner

One of my kids is reading As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner. With thoughts of the Bundrens, the Tulls, and Mississippi, I was reminded of Faulkner's favorite dish: salmon croquettes (aka. salmon cakes). While I know he preferred canned pink salmon, as well as the recipe on the can, I find canned salmon absolutely nauseating. Instead, when I find myself with two cups of leftover salmon, I make these fantastic "Salmon Cakes with Chipotle Cream and Arugula." 

You may be surprised that a measly two cups of flaked salmon can feed four; however, these salmon cakes are loaded with fresh veggies and yummy, buttery Ritz crackers. The spicy chipotle cream adds an appealing contrast, while the peppery arugula dressed lightly with a squirt of lemon and drizzle of olive oil reincarnates leftovers into a welcoming new meal. I like to serve them with asparagus and a warm baguette. And if you really want to channel Faulkner, a mint julep would be the perfect addition.

Salmon Cakes with Chipotle Cream and Arugula

Serves 4

For the Salmon Cakes
2 cups flaked, cooked salmon
1/2 cup fine Ritz cracker crumbs
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons capers, drained and chopped
2 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Dash of hot sauce
3/4 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil, for frying

For the Chipotle Cream
1/2 cup sour cream or Mexican crema
1 tablespoon milk
1 chipotle chile in adobo
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Arugula
4 handfuls baby arugula
Squirt of lemon and drizzle of olive oil

For the Chipotle Cream
Mix the sour cream or crema, milk, and the chipotle chile with an immersion blender or in a food processor until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the Salmon Cakes
Mix all the ingredients together, except for the butter and olive oil for frying, and shape into 8 equal portions. 

Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a non-stick frying pan. When the butter is melted and the oil is hot, cook four of the salmon cakes until each side is browned, approximately 5 minutes per side. Set aside to a paper towel lined plate. Add the remaining butter and oil to the pan and cook the remaining four salmon cakes.

While the last salmon cakes are cooking, dress the arugula with the lemon and olive oil.

To plate, place a handful of arugula on each plate, then top with 2 salmon cakes and a dollop of chipotle cream on each cake.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Got Ham?

Sometimes it can be hard to get rid of that leftover Easter ham. Short of casserole-type dishes, which my family hates, pasta dishes, which my husband hates, sandwiches are the last option. However, I have come up with a superb recipe for "Toasted Ham and Smoked Gouda Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions and Arugula." Imagine warm ham and melty Gouda, sweet caramelized onions, tangy Dijon mustard, and peppery arugula. Yum! It's so good that I've made them twice this week! All that's needed is a comforting bowl of soup, or your favorite chips, to complete this simple yet satisfying meal. I promise you will love it!

Toasted Ham and Smoked Gouda Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions and Arugula

Makes 4 Sandwiches.


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon brown sugar
8 slices good quality sandwich bread (I use an Italian style bread.)
Dijon mustard
Thinly sliced ham, enough for 4 sandwiches
4 slices smoked Gouda
Softened butter
4 handfuls arugula

For the Caramelized Onions
In a large saute pan, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. When the butter stops foaming, add the onions, salt, and pepper. Stir well and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the pan and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove the cover from the pan. Stir in the brown sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are a deep golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Place the onions into a bowl; set aside. (Don't bother washing out the pan.)

For the Sandwiches
Take 2 pieces of bread and spread a little Dijon mustard on each. Lay as much ham on one bread slice as you prefer. Top with a slice of smoked Gouda. Top the other bread slice with a quarter of the caramelized onions. Close the sandwich and butter one side. Repeat with the remaining sandwiches.

Heat the saute pan that you used for the onions over medium-low heat. Lay the sandwiches, butter-side down, in the pan. (You may have to do them in batches depending on the size of your pan.) Butter the other side of the sandwiches. Cover and let heat gently until just beginning to brown. Flip the sandwiches over, cover, and continue heating until just beginning to brown. Flip the sandwiches over again, raise the heat to medium, and let toast to golden brown. Turn the sandwiches over and toast the other side until golden brown. Remove the sandwiches to a cutting board. Just before serving, open each sandwich and place a handful of arugula inside. Close the sandwiches and cut on the diagonal, serve. 


Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Best Arista!

Arista is a Tuscan roast pork loin with the ribs attached. It refers to the dish and the cut of pork. The story goes that in 1439, Greek and Roman bishops and cardinals met in Florence to discuss differences between the churches. Of course they were served the classic roast pork loin seasoned with rosemary, salt, and pepper. The Greeks were so amazed by the flavor, that they began to exclaim, "Aristos, aristos!" Arista means "the best" in Greek, and the name stuck. Although, many believe the dish dates further back to the Renaissance. 

If you've never made this cut of pork, you're in for a revelation! It is superior to boneless pork loin. It's more juicy, flavorful, and makes an impressive presentation, perfect for Easter! My favorite recipe for Arista is from Williams-Sonoma. It starts by marinating the pork overnight with thyme, rosemary, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. The next day, dried figs are soaked in sweet vermouth, which are added to the pan juices after roasting to become an incredible sauce further enhanced with stock, demi-glace, fig balsamic vinegar, and butter. My husband said it was the best pork dish he's ever tasted, and I agree! I serve it with roasted potatoes, asparagus, baguette, and a nice bottle of Syrah. It's a perfect holiday feast, guaranteed to make everyone happy! (If you are looking for lamb this Easter, check out my recipes for Grilled Leg of Lamb with Rosemary, Garlic, and Mustard or Pistachio-Crusted Lamb Chops on Rutabaga Rosti and Gingered Carrot Sauce!)

Arista (Tuscan Roast Pork Loin)

Serves 6-8


2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
4 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt, plus more, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 bone-in pork loin roast, about 5 pounds (I buy a "frenched pork rack.")
12 ounces dried figs, halved (I use 9 ounces dried mission figs, and it is plenty!)
1 cup sweet vermouth or water, warmed (Don't use water!)
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock (I like "Better than Bouillon" brand.)
2 tablespoons veal demi-glace, homemade or store-bought (I prefer "Demi-Glace Gold" brand.)
2 teaspoons fig balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature


In a small bowl, combine the thyme, rosemary, garlic, and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, pepper, and olive oil. Rub the herb mixture on all sides of the pork loin. Cover with plastic wrap or seal in a freezer bag and refrigerate overnight.

Put the figs in a bowl, add the vermouth and soak for 1 hour. Strain the figs, reserving the soaking liquid.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Put the pork in a roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400 degrees and continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat, away from the bone, registers 135-140 degrees, 45-50 minutes more. Transfer the pork to a carving board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, set the roasting pan over medium-high heat. Add the reserved soaking liquid and bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom. Reduce the heat to medium and add the figs, stock, demi-glace, and fig balsamic vinegar. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Whisk in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, and season with salt and pepper.

Carve the pork roast between the bones and arrange on a warmed platter. Pour the sauce over the meat and serve immediately. Be prepared for cheers!