Stewed Okra and Tomatoes

Stewed okra and tomatoes
Stewed okra and tomatoes

     The other day I was walking through my local Sprouts and I spotted some beautiful okra sitting in a large barrel. For those that don’t have one in their area, Sprouts touts themselves as:

“Sprouts is a neighborhood grocery store with the feel of an old-fashioned farmers market. Our bright, friendly stores are filled with everyday staples and specialty items at a great value. You’ll find mountains of fresh fruits and vegetables, barrels of wholesome grains, nuts and sweets, full-service deli, meat and seafood counters—complete with homemade burgers and sausages. Roam around our spacious aisles and you’ll find fresh baked goods, eclectic beer and wine, gourmet cheese, sensibly-priced vitamins and supplements, and thousands of natural, organic and gluten-free groceries.”

It’s a great place to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables, grass fed beef and exotic meats such as bison, elk and others. And if you are into it, they have all kinds of health nut things. Vitamins and organic this and that and gluten free everything. Great stuff if you are into it, but I mainly go to get fresh fruits and veggies.

     Like I was saying, I spotted some beautiful okra and I grabbed it thinking only of making fried okra. Then I got to thinking that fried was probably not the healthiest choice I could make and instead decided stewed okra and tomatoes would be much healthier and I’m glad I did. I knew that Mrs. G liked it. What I didn’t know was that it is one of her favorite dishes. Score some extra bonus points for me. 🙂

Ingredients

  • 1 lb fresh okra, stems and tips removed and sliced (frozen is ok if that is all you can find)
  • 2 slices of thick bacon
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced (I used red as Sprouts did not have green and I don’t like green anyway)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1 14.5 can diced tomatoes with juices (basil, garlic and oregano preferably)
  • 8 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp creole seasoning, such as Tony Chachere’s
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional 1 tsp of sugar (to cut the acidity if desired)
After simmering for awhile
After simmering for a while

Directions

  1. In a large saute pan, cook the two slices of bacon. When done, remove bacon and set aside. Coarsely chop when cool.
  2. Sautee the onion and bell pepper over medium heat in the reserved bacon grease until tender (add extra oil if needed). Once tender, add the garlic and sautee for an additional minute of two, making sure not to brown the garlic.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients including the chopped bacon, turn the stove down to a low simmer and cover the pan. Cook for about 30 minutes or until okra has reached your preferred texture.

*Note – this dish is even better if made the day before or if allowed to set for a few hours after cooking to allow the flavors to develop and marry.

Plated up with a nice piece of fish and home made tartar sauce.
Plated up with a nice piece of fish and home made tartar sauce.

     Even though I was craving fried okra when I was at the store, I’m glad I went the healthier route. This dish is chock-full of flavors. A little tart, a little sweet, a little heat and just the right amount of acidity. It doesn’t look very pretty on a plate, but don’t let its looks fool you. Mrs. G declared the dish a winner, although she said I overcooked the bacon. She thinks I shouldn’t have gotten it as crispy as I did.

     As for the fish, we’ll get to that tomorrow. Or the next day. In the meantime, you can find the recipe for our home made Horseradish and Tarragon Tartar Sauce HERE. The only changes we’ve made is to use yellow onion instead of the red onion. The red onion tends to turn the sauce pink if allowed to sit to long.

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Farfalle with Italian Sausage, Tomatoes and Cream

Farfalle Pasta with Italian Sausage, Tomatoes and Cream
Farfalle Pasta with Italian Sausage, Tomatoes and Cream

     We’re gonna take a step back from BBQ today and go down a little different path…Pasta! This dish holds a very special place in our hearts. It was actually the very first thing I ever cooked for Mrs. G when we were dating. It was also my first attempt at cooking it. I don’t know what I was thinking…cooking a dish for her that I had never cooked before? Luckily, it was a big hit and has graced our table on countless occasions since. She considers it one of her favorites to this day (I know because I overheard her telling her Mom about it when I was cooking it the other night). So much so that she requested it for her birthday this week. How can you deny a Birthday Girl her request? And yes, if you are following along, Mrs. G and I have birthdays in the same week, 3 days apart. Well, actually 368 days apart if you want to be technical.

Homemade Hot Italian Sausage
Homemade Hot Italian Sausage

     This is a very simple dish to execute and only takes about 30 minutes to prepare. Super easy, yet packed full of flavors. You can take it up a level by including  homemade Hot Italian Sausage, but it’s not necessary. Store bought will work just as well. If you can’t find bulk sausage, buy the links, slit open the casings and pull out the meat.

Fresh basil and oregano
Fresh basil and oregano

     Adding fresh herbs to your dishes really enhances the flavor, especially if they are picked from your garden moments before.

Adding fresh herbs like basil and oregano isn't necessary, but really adds a wonderful flavor
Fresh herbs added to the meat mixture

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces farfalle  (bow tie pasta)
  • 1 lb hot Italian Sausage (or 1 lb  Sweet Italian Sausage + 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano, drained
  • 1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • about 4 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 or 2 sprigs of fresh oregano, finely chopped
  • fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Adding the cream to the mixture
Adding the cream to the mixture

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente; drain.
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat a tbsp or so of oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Cook sausage (and pepper flakes if using sweet Italian sausage) until sausage is evenly brown. Stir in onion and garlic, and cook until onion is tender. Stir in fresh basil and oregano, tomatoes, cream, and salt. Simmer until mixture thickens, 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Stir cooked pasta into sauce, and heat through. Sprinkle with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese before serving.
This is what your sauce should look like before you bring it to a simmer
This is what your sauce should look like before you bring it to a simmer

     By this time, your house should have the enticing aromas of an Italian kitchen from cooking the sausage, onions, garlic and basil. Taste the sauce now while it is simmering and make any adjustments you feel are necessary.

Add the farfalle directly to the skillet
Add the farfalle directly to the skillet

     Once the farfalle is al dente and the sauce has thickened up, add the drained pasta directly to the sauce. This isn’t one of those pasta dishes you want to ladle on top of the pasta. You want the sauce to cover all the surface area and nooks and crannies of the pasta. Don’t forget to grate some fresh Parmesan cheese on top and sprinkle on some basil for garnish.

How can you resist a bowl of pasta that looks like that?
How can you resist a bowl of pasta that looks like that?

     I can’t say whether cooking this dish for Mrs. G caused her to fall in love with me or not, but I like to think it helped increase my appeal in her eyes. Like I mentioned before, we’ve cooked it on numerous occasions and every time, we think back fondly to that first night I cooked for her. It might not be the most fancy or most complex of dishes, but it will always hold a place in our hearts. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have.

Things I Would Do Differently

Nothing. Not a thing. Not saying that you can’t add things to tailor it to your tastes or to use up things in your pantry. We’ve altered it before by adding mushrooms, black olives and/or even artichokes, each adding a unique twist to the dish. But it doesn’t need it. It works fine just the way it is. Take it, experiment with it and make it your own.

Chicken Rosemary

Chicken Rosemary

     I’ve kinda been on a slump with my cooking lately (I know you can’t tell by all the recent posts). I just haven’t had much of an appetite lately and nothing sounds good. So when I asked Mrs. G what she wanted for dinner, she suggested chicken rosemary, a dish that has always been a favorite of mine (and hers ever since I introduced it to her).

Hand copied recipe from my Mom’s files. Don’t I have bad handwriting?

      When I was younger, my Mom used to make this for us. It reminds me of cold fronts blowing in, coming home from soccer practice or playing with my friends, my fingers freezing cold and nose red from the blustery winds. Suddenly being assaulted by the warmth of the house, the inside windows of the kitchen fogged up and the enticing aroma of this dish as it simmered in my Mom’s electric skillet. Comfort food for me for sure.

The cookbook this recipe comes from.

     I remember coming home from college one year (must have been sophomore year since I lived in a dorm my freshman year and couldn’t cook) either at Thanksgiving or Christmas and copying down some of  my favorite recipes from my Mom. For nights when I was feeling homesick, or had a rough day or just wanted some comfort food from my childhood. This was one of them and it came from a cookbook called Delicioso! Cooking South Texas Style. Now, I don’t know how popular this book is across the country, or Texas, or even in my home town of Corpus Christi, but many years later I would discover that my wife has a copy of this cookbook, my Mother In Law has two copies (one at the ranch) and I believe Mrs. G’s best friend has a copy as well. Maybe it’s required if you live in Corpus, or maybe its just one big coincidence.

Ingredients

(serves 6)

  • 1 3lb chicken, cut up, or chicken breasts, or thighs (we prefer thighs)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • oil
  • 1 16 oz can tomatoes (I prefer to use the kind flavored with basil, garlic and oregano)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tsp crushed dried rosemary or a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped
  •  garlic powder
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Season flour with salt and pepper.
  2. Coat chicken with flour mixture.

    Lightly flour the chicken
  3. Heat a large skillet to medium, medium high.

    Brown the chicken on all sides
  4. Add butter and a tbsp or two of oil to skillet. When melted, brown chicken on all sides.

    Deglaze the skillet with wine
  5. Remove chicken from the skillet and deglaze with wine.
  6. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.

    Add remaining ingredients
  7. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and allow cook for 30 minutes.
Dinner is served

     When the chicken is done, we like to serve it up on a bed of rice. That’s how my Mom used to do it. Other times, we’ll take a sleeve of the ready to eat polenta, slice it up and briefly pan fry it and serve the chicken on that. The crispy outer layer of the polenta and the warm, creamy interior pair up well with this dish. If you want, add a sprig or two of rosemary for presentation. Comfort on a plate as far as I’m concerned.

     Now why this is called chicken rosemary, I’ll never know. Sure it has chicken. And it has rosemary. But nothing in the name would even suggest to you that there would be tomatoes in it. Or that it might resemble an Italian dish a little bit. Admit it….this isn’t what you pictured when you checked out this post, was it? Well, for whatever reason it’s called what it is, we’ll just keep calling it that since it’s a dish from my childhood and one we’ll continue making for years to come. We hope it becomes a favorite in your household, too.

A few notes before I leave you:

  1. If your dish does not look exactly like mine, don’t panic. We used 8 chicken thighs. While putting it all together, we realized this was way too many and there would not be enough sauce, so we quickly added another can of tomatoes, doubled the wine and all other ingredients. So actually, what is pictured is a double recipe.
  2. Feel free to add other herbs and spices to this dish after you have tried it once. I will sometimes include fresh thyme, oregano, Italian seasonings and/or some red pepper flakes.
  3. After finishing this post, Mrs. G brought it to my attention that the mentioned cookbook was from the Junior League of Corpus Christi. That answers why I know so many people who have it and will probably be the reason you won’t be able to get your hands on it.