Texas Dogs

Please understand that I have no interest in discrediting the standard summer hot dog served up on that doughy white bread bun and weighed down in yellow mustard or store-bought ketchup.  Plant one of those babies in front of me right now and I dare you to predict how long it lasts!

The whole experience of the low-brow, shiny stadium-style dogs clumsily wrapped in cheap wax paper and dripping with salty juices will never get old. Forget that they’re considered traditionally American, family-oriented, and best of all, cheap.  They just taste good!

But a simple, inexpensive hot dog can go so much further.  And right now is the perfect time of the year to take this standard summer staple out for a test drive, and see what it can really do for you.

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Señor Verde’s Chicken Enchiladas

What do you do when you’ve arrived at home with an UNBELIEVABLE amount of affordable vegetables and a brand new Rachael Ray knife?  You get to work putting together a flavor-infused Mexican feast that serves six…  then you make sure you invite only one other person over to enjoy it with you!

Some of you out there know where I get my produce.  In the local area surrounding our production offices, the market I hit is famous not just for its jaw-droppingly low prices on everything from fresh produce, meats, alcohol and fresh breads, but for its war zone of a parking lot with a single entrance, a single exit, and a slew of locals who are either over the age of eighty or simply ignorant to common driver’s courtesy.  Plastic bags and runaway shopping carts dart around freely, as do at least three or four different languages and a healthy amount of honking and cursing.  It’s even worse inside.  It’s never anything but packed to the gills, and a mustering of patience is required along with extra-protective footwear and a heightened sense of self-preservation.

Yes, I very much have to be in a overwhelmingly composed, almost reverent state of mind to venture into the Super King Market at 2716 N. San Fernando Road in the Glassell Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.  I take a deep breath, purse my lips, tuck down my head, and concentrate on the finish line, much as I imagine I might if I were forced to walk across hot coals or experience a colonoscopy.

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Superbowl Sunday Food: Bacon Stuffed Mushrooms

Can a man stand tall and proud when he’s hunching over to pull out baked stuffed mushrooms for him and his boyfriend to enjoy on a Sunday night while waiting to watch the one-hour premiere of Kirstie Alley’s Big Life? (I’ll leave out references to the powder blue oven mitt I got for Christmas). Two days later, I still am unsure of my answer to that question and would like to pass until the next round, Wink. I will say, however that there was not one bit of stuffed shroom left anywhere in my home within twenty minutes of turning down the oven and presenting them to a most-surprised and delighted MG. One might argue that it’s nearly impossible for anything to taste bad when slathered in a mixture of heated cream cheese, bacon, parmesan and Worcestershire sauce, but I would like to think that my ever-mounting kitchen skills had something to do with these coming out as awesome as they did.

I’m still not the biggest fan of the shroom, but the zesty aroma will make them hard to refuse. A definite must-bring to any pot-luck party. Just make sure your host has available oven space to cook them just before putting them out. (Geez, I sound like Martha Stewart! I’m tossing that powder blue oven mitt the minute I get home!)
Recipe for Bacon Stuffed Mushrooms

Superbowl Sunday Food: Prosciutto Pepper Puffs

Here’s a simple twist on the recipe for crab puffs I posted a while back to accomodate those heathens who dislike crab. There were more of them out there then I originally realized – my mother and father being two of them – so out with the crustacea and in with a hot and zesty one-two punch of prosciutto and serrano pepper that’ll keep these babies flying into your mouth faster than you can keep count. And being as light and mouth-watering as they are, you won’t want to keep count.

Recipe for Prosciutto Pepper Puffs

Jalapeno Popper Mac and Cheese

Once you start showing off what you’ve managed to learn to make in the kitchen (say, on a blog for example), you have to take a certain level of responsiblity when friends and family start making certain food assumptions about what you’ll prepare for them when you invite them over. I became accutely aware of that fact earlier this week when my friend Travis asked what I was going to be serving at my weekly LOST viewing party and dinner:

Travis: “What are you making tonight, Gary?”
Me: “I’m making this amazing jalapeno popper mac and cheese.”
Travis:  “Cool… what else?
Me:  “What do you mean what else?
Travis:  “I mean… what else are you making to go with it?  And what, no dessert?”

I guess my days of gliding by with spaghetti and meatballs served on plastic plates I stole from my college dining commons are over, but I’ll happily leave that era in my past. MG often reminds me of my typical day’s food rundown from our first year or so of dating. I don’t recall, but apparently I lived exclusively on Hot Pockets, McDonalds and Tombstone frozen pizzas. I’m guessing MG is happy I’ve left those days behind as well.

On to the mad mac and cheese recipe I found over at Let’s Cook.

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Simple Marinara Sauce Recipe

Homemade spaghetti sauces

Homemade spaghetti sauces

Homemade marinara sauces

Of all sauces for pasta, marinara is the easiest. If your mother forgot to teach you how to make spaghetti sauce, here’s the recipe for you.

Learn from me, dear readers.  DO NOT watch FOOD NETWORK after 10pm!  Last week there was a Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives marathon on, and I was only about 20 minutes into it when I could no longer resist the call of the kitchen.  Unfortunately, raw materials were limited, so instead of replicating the corned beef and cabbage, baked mac and cheese, polenta, and stuffed meatballs Guy Fieri was lucky enough to inhale, I was stuck sucking down three slices of garlic bread and a handful of peanut butter chips.  Not quite up to my usual standards, and also slightly embarrassing.  Yet still most satisfying!

Changing topics now.  Marinara sauce is something you can always put to good use.  And a simple homemade spaghetti sauce recipe is something every cook should have committed to memory.  Of course you can use it to top pasta, but don’t stop there.  Slather up a grilled vegetable sandwich, or just drop in some meatballs and Italian sausages, heat it up, and eat it straight from the pot right there over the sink!

As you can see from the above, I used this batch of sauce for sandwiches (sausage, cheese, bell pepper and onion) and got the big thumbs up from MG.  Wrap these babies in foil and cook at 400 F for about thirty  to forty minutes.  Good hot, good cold the next day, good at 4 am in the morning when your building’s fire alarm goes off and you want to nosh on something while standing in your slippers on the street.

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Slow Cooked Green Tomatillo Chicken

I slow-cooked this meal all day to celebrate my six year anniversary with MG earlier this month.  See how happy it made him!

Dinner was preceded by a bottle of Toad Hollow wine we picked up back in 2007 on our trip to Bodega Bay while visiting locations from Hitchcock’s The Birds.  In the four years since then, MG has suggested from time to time we crack it open, but no… I wanted to wait for that memorable, just-right “special occasion.” 

It turns out I waited too long.

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Mediterranean Shrimp Quesadillas

Last week, I had a bum foot. MG labeled it plantar fasciitis, because MG knows about such things. I like to just call it a bum foot. Sounds more gruff.

MG and I were supposed to host a finger food party/mini stop-motion animation film festival last weekend. I know… doesn’t sound very gruff, does it? But I was excited because it was going to be the first party where the entire evening’s menu was to be catered by Tv Food and Drink. The menu was going to consist of, among other things, sugar and cumin spiced almonds, roasted marinated peppers, sun-dried tomato hummus, onion brie tarts, stuffed mushrooms and Italian meatballs.

I had been imagining the unending songs of praise that were to come my way for days ahead of time. I even went so far as to consult Martha Stewart’s Hors d-Oeuvres for presentation suggestions. Yeah, I think at this point we can just retire the word “gruff” from this entry altogether.

The party was not to be, sadly, as I was unable to put any weight on my left foot (insert your own Daniel Day Lewis joke here) for more than a few minutes without a dagger of pain shooting up my leg.  But me and MG still gotta eat, right?  So I headed to my favorite stop for fast and friendly recipes, HalfHourMeals.com, and zeroed in on contribution from fellow HHM member and Packers fan, Ashley.

So, instead of a night full of friends and a table full of finger foods, we enjoyed these rich, satisfying and quick-to-make quesadillas by ourselves on the couch while we watched 30 Rock and Modern Family off the DVR and I rolled a racqetball back and forth under my aching foot for three hours.  All in all, still a pretty good night, even though I got to be neither gruff nor Martha Stewart.

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Grilled Herb Shrimp with Mango Salsa

I think this is the first time I’ve ever made a dish that involved the use of skewers. I had to locate them at my local grocery store, and you know what? They’re not easy to find. Logic told me to head straight to the utensil and disposable pan aisle, but they weren’t there. Next, I hit the meat section. No dice. “Why not try the picnic and summer bar-b-que section,” you ask? I’ll tell you why… they’re not there!

Nope, the skewers at my local grocery store are located in the fresh seafood section, so if I had started grabbing up my ingredients with the pound of fresh shrimp I needed to make this meal, I could have saved myself approximately fifteen minutes of super-valuable “Gary time.”  Of course, I could have also saved it if I just asked any employee in the store where to find skewers.  But I don’t do that.  It’s true what they say about us.  We don’t like to ask for directions.

Side note – later in the day while playing DVR catch-up, I was watching Sandra’s Money Saving Meals, with cooking’s “bad seed,” Sandra Lee (She’s blond!  She’s sweet!  She’ll cut your throat and have the knife cleaned and back dicing carrots before you hit the floor!).
Sandra, it so happened, was preparing her own little skewer snack and just had to point out that any good chef of course has a bounty of skewers just lying around the kitchen waiting to be employed. Yeah, that made me feel good.  Sandra… she really likes to rub your nose in it.

This is a recipe I found over at Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen, posted by my cyber ally, Penny. She lives with her husband in a beautiful summer cottage on Lake Lure, North Carloina, where she raises vegetables in her own garden, creates awesome dishes, and posts eye-popping pics of her lake and its surroundings that lead me to remember my single trip to the Tar Heel State for a television pilot in 1997.  Some really beautiful scenery there (check out the blog – the pics really do not disappoint).

Penny seems to have it all, but she never shows off, unlike that snooty money-saving Sandra Lee who’s just busting to tell you that her pork tacos were made for ten cents less than yours.

I think I have some issues.

Anyway, my praise for Penny and her food blog are genuine, but if my flattery also garners me an invitation to relax on a dock awash in the laurel-scented Lake Lure breeze with a plate of salmon tarragon cakes or a grilled pizza or two, I’d happily fake a tapeworm to get out of work and sneak on off to N.C. for a week or two.

Check out the fantastic recipe after the jump

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