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Spaghetti Nero with Pesto, Sausage, Shrimp

spaghetti nero

I’ve actually waited a long time to find a recipe I wanted to make with this spaghetti nero. It’s not that it’s ALL that hard to find, but you generally have to make a little effort to locate it, and even once you can get some at one store or another, it typically seems to disappear rather quickly (and often because it really doesn’t sell all that well, I’m guessing). That said, in the right recipe, it can be amazing. And that’s how this dish came to be.

FYI, if you’ve never had spaghetti nero, it’s made with squid ink in the pasta and basically, looks black as you might imagine. The squid ink adds a very subtle flavor, but not so much you’d really notice it, unless you were paying close attention.

The typical spaghetti nero recipe generally comes with a red (or possibly a white) sauce with shrimp, calamari and maybe some clams or mussels — essentially a seafood sauce. But I had some very good sausage I wanted to try, along with some good pesto, so this sauce kept the shrimp but otherwise, I decided to up the garlic and onions, add some mushrooms and used the sausage and pesto. The result was better than good and I can promise we’d have eaten twice what was on the plate, no kidding. It has just the perfect mix of flavors.

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Harissa Chicken and Chickpeas

harissa chicken

Harissa Chicken and Chickpeas is a fairly simple recipe, and yet that incredible harissa sauce makes it something special despite the simple design.  In fact, apart from the pan-roasting, which takes about 25 minutes, the whole thing can be done in well under an hour, from start to finish.

I’ve probably mentioned harissa one or more times here, but it’s something that every kitchen should make sure is on hand, any time something just needs a little spice to it. It’s a red pepper sauce, I guess, but it is made with plenty of heat — almost a lot like a good chili but with it’s own kind of flavor profile. And the good news is, you can start with a small amount and increase it until you hit the right level of flavor, with almost anything you’re cooking. It’s perfect, in fact with almost any kind of saucy kind of vegetable preparation, especially.

I believe this recipe came from a Bon Appetite, originally, but it’s been modified a bit, especially with the garlic and onions.

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Low Country Shrimp and Grits

shrimp and grits

My first exposure to grits, a staple in the American south, was less than pleasant. A teenager ona Florida vacation, I didn’t have the most adventurous palate to begin with, so when a puddle of porridge-like stuff appeared on the breakfast plate along with my bacon and eggs at an inexpensive roadside diner, I was none too happy.

I dutifully tried these grits and immediately understood where the name came from. Flavorless and gooey beach sand would have been a perfectly good description. No more grits for me.

And I stuck to that pledge for four decades (or so I thought), through many more trips to New Orleans, Atlanta, various places in Florida and South Carolina. I deftly skipped anything on a menu that mentioned grits.

Along the way, however, I regularly enjoyed Italian dishes that included polenta, blissfully unaware that grits and polenta were one and the same, though prepared differently. When I finally figured that out, I knew it was time to revisit grits.

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Classic Beef Bourguignon

beef bourguignon

Beef Bourguignon is one of those dishes that everyone who aspires to be a great cook should have to master. One the surface, its beef stew. And yet, calling beef Bourguignon a beef stew is like calling Beethoven’s Fifth a song. Technically accurate, to be sure, but nowhere near to conveying the subtle beauty of the dish. The great thing is that this dish is easy to make, but still requires the kind of attention and care that defines good cooking.

There are many versions of this dish around, and there is a great deal of variation from one version of beef Bourguignon to the next. The classic preparation uses whole small white onions, carrots and mushrooms in addition to the beef, some thyme and a red burgundy wine, which is 100% pinot noir. (I have this on the authority of no less than Julia Child, and that’s enough for me.)

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Brussels Sprouts with Leeks, Lemon and Pasta

brussels sprouts with leeks, lemon and pasta

One of the great troubles I find in cooking is getting good side dishes to go with whatever else I’m serving. With few fresh vegetables available from local sources, you really don’t have a lot to choose from. But this one, you can serve either as a light main serving or as a side, depending on the situation, and the Brussels sprouts with leeks and pasta are very good in both cases.

I saw the first such recipe on a Bon Appetite site and after researching it, found several others that were similar, and decided to make my own version, with a little bit more pasta and a lot more lemon and garlic. You can play with this recipe a good bit without ruining it, and come up with your own version, if you like. It’s really that easy. And I love the nice brownness that really makes the Brussels sprouts come alive.

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Pineapple-Chile Glazed Chicken

pineapple-chile glazed chicken

We do a lot of chicken around Discovery Cooking, in part because there are just a lot of things you can do with  it and typically, they also tend to be easy and quick, if you’re in a hurry. This pineapple-chile glazed chicken is one of those quick and easy recipes, but the end result is something that really comes off as more than what it takes to make it.

The start of this recipe came from something I saw in a Bon Appetite magazine, probably more than a year ago, and with a bit of tweaking, became something amazing. A little cooked pineapple, some amazing serrano chile, some smoked paprika, a little bit of care and you’re there. And apart from waiting around for the chicken to bake for nearly an hour,  the actual preparation is about as easy as you can get.

I didn’t mess around much with the ingredients, so I can’t take much credit for this — other than I made it myself. But then, sometimes there really isn’t much you want to do with a really good recipe except maybe just enjoy it.

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Red-Eye Shoulder Stew

red-eye shoulder stew

Red-eye is one of those things that the folks in the South, particularly, can’t (or don’t) do without for very long. Me? I can usually get by ok without that good ol’ red-eye gravy, but I can tell you this: if you’ve ever had really good red-eye gravy, then eventually you’ll  be back for more. It has that magnetic pull to it that you just can’t stay away from it forever.  All that’s to say that it was that bacon/coffee mixture that prompted me to start looking for a great stew that could use those same flavors. 

So first of all, if you’re not from the South, you probably have no idea what red-eye gravy is. In a nutshell, it’s a pork fat gravy (usually from ham, bacon or sausage) that’s made with very strong coffee. I’ve seen it used a lot of ways, but mostly it’s just served with the ham itself, and it’s great that way. But this time around, I had some beef shoulder, some veggies and I wanted to see if I could make a shoulder stew with coffee that would have some of the great red-eye taste. 

That’s pretty much how it came to be, and while it may not be necessary, I made this in a slow cooker, so in the end, it really took very little effort and the taste was extremely good (though I may mess with the spices a bit more next time around). And yes, the coffee definitely comes through.

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