Monday, February 9, 2009

What's for Dinner?

I love to cook. It is really one of my most favorite things to do, and yet, I still struggle regularly to come up with or plan for something good to have for dinner. Today it was more about not planning because my freezer and cupboards are full of possibilities. As 3:30 approached and I realized I had to take my kids to piano lessons and have something ready for us when we got home, I went into panic mode! I started to rummage through the freezer to see what I could pair with what and have it be done really quickly. I wanted to simply re-heat it when we got home. My first useful find was some ground beef. I could thaw that quickly enough, but then the real treasure appeared...stewed zucchini! My friend, and the best cook I know, HRH the Queen, made that for me. I thought I'd already used it all up, but there it was, one quart bag full of her amazing creation! HRH worked with me for almost all of my 5 years in business. Then she upped and moved to Michigan last spring and now I don't get any of her good cooking anymore. So sad for me. Even my daughter refers to her as THE best cooker! So to discover the stewed zucchini was a great surprise. I had to now think of something to make that would combine these two frozen pucks of food . My first thought was to make a soup using the zucchini as the vegetables and adding seasoned ground beef for a little more heft. I thawed everything using the microwave, which surprisingly worked out well. I usually end up with partially cooked meat when I try this, but today the microwave god was on my side. As the zucchini was thawing I browned the ground beef in my Dutch oven and seasoned it with Emerils' essence to taste. It has cayenne pepper, oregano, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and more in it. It is pretty savory and kind of brought in the flavor of the Queen's zucchini (which we actually refer to as Zippy Zucchini because she has quite the hand when it comes to spicing things up). HRH has been making this as long as I have known her, and I have been trying to get the recipe just as long. She told me most of it, but being the intuitive cook that she is, she never measures and never makes it the same way twice!

Once the beef was browned and the zucchini thawed, I stirred it all together in my pot. At this point I debated going the next step of making it into soup. I tasted it and it was pretty fine, which made me think maybe I should just serve it over noodles or rice as is. I brought in a second opinion, my pre-teen son, and he liked it as is, too. So we decided to serve it over fat egg noodles. The end result was like a latin-inspired Bolognese and it really hit the spot.

In the summer, I would eat the Queen's Zippy Zucchini as a meal in itself. If it didn't turn out too spicy my kids would also gobble it up. It has onions, tomatoes, yellow summer squash and green zucchini in it. Sometimes it has corn, sometimes it has stewed tomatoes, sometimes it has diced tomatoes. It always has fire-roasted chili peppers in it and a little chicken broth. The Queen likes it pretty spicy. Big Jim's work well, but so would any. Sometimes she sprinkles in shredded parm which I love. Armed with that information I tried to duplicate what I had tasted of her's. The results were mediocre. About a year after my effort, I discovered she had some secret ingredients. I only discovered them because she was making a batch at work in my kitchen one day. Her arsenal contained el Pato jalapeno salsa and Tabasco seasoning salt. Well, the tabasco seasoning salt isn't even made anymore, but somehow she has bottles of it in her stash. The El pato salsa might not be readily available everywhere. I don't even know if she can get her hands on it in Michigan anymore! I'd love to give you the recipe, but it just doesn't exist. The best I could tell you is to think ratatouille with a latin twist! Oh, but don't use any eggplant. Forget the bell peppers, too. Use corn or don't.....You just have to wing it, but whatever you do, try to include the el Pato Jalapeno salsa.