A couple weeks ago, we met a friend for Turkish food and I experienced the most amazing and delicious “Iskander”: flavorful, tender lamb and steak overtop crunchy croutons, topped with a savory red sauce, spiked with garlic, and served alongside aromatic rice and a cooling yogurt sauce.
A week later, I found myself in possession of some leftover steak and sausages from a weekend cookout. And so the experiment began. All I have are my Snapchat photos to immortalize this delicious meal! Will 100% make again. In fact, we had it again 2 days later!
Fun fact: Iskander is Turkish for Alexander, as in “the Great.”
My Turkish Iskander Experiment
Leftover grilled steak and Italian sausage sliced into thin pieces
Olive oil and a bit of butter
Italian bread- a few slices cut into cubes about the size of large croutons
Sundries tomatoes in their oil, from a jar- 2-3 T chopped fine plus a T of their oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced into very thin slices, plus another clove minced
Dash of sriracha
Fresh tomatoes, chopped
Salt, pepper, etc
Optional: cooked rice
Optional: yogurt or sour cream
MAKE TOASTY GARLIC GARNISH
Heat a bit of butter and some olive oil together in a sturdy skillet. (Cast iron for the win!) Add the slices of garlic and toast in the oil until they are at least golden brown. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to cool. When you have some downtime, toss the chopped toasted garlic with the sun dried tomatoes and some of the tomatoes’ oil. Season with salt if needed -taste it first. Set aside as garnish.
MAKE GARLICKY CROUTONS
Add the cubed bread to the flavored oil/butter and sauté until they’re crunchy and golden brown all over. You might need to add more butter and oil to the pan, and season with a little sea salt if you’d like. Remove to plates – we’ll be topping them with the meat in a second.
FLASH SAUTÉ THE MEAT
Throw the minced garlic into the pan with a little olive oil, and sauté it for a minute to release some flavor. Add the thinly sliced meat to the pan to crisp it up and heat it. I added a dollop of sriracha and some Italian seasoning at this point because why not? Once the meat is crisped, divide it among the plates, setting it atop the piles of croutons.
Dice a couple tomatoes and add to the hot pan. Cook for just a minute to release the juices and pick up some of the garlic from the pan. When you’re happy with it, split it among your plates. (You could also use some red spaghetti sauce, but it was nice fresh.)
Finally, top each serving with the sundried tomato and toasted garlic mixture.
At the restaurant, this was served alongside rice and a typical Middle Eastern yogurt/cucumber sauce. I didn’t do that, but it’s a great complement.
I hope you run your own Iskander Experiment next time you’ve got leftover grilled meat. IT’S SO GOOD!
One pan! SRIRACHA MAPLE PORK CHOPS, CRISPY SWEET POTATO ROUNDS, and BRUSSELS SPROUTS
– Lori’s Dinner Experiment #3627
I’m sorry it took me so long to get on the sriracha train. I was dumb. I will happily admit this as I shove another spicy-sweet bite into my mouth. This quick one-pan dinner experiment came together in about 30 minutes, and I couldn’t be happier!
Serves 2, as written here
Preheat oven to 425. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet.
Slice a sweet potato into rounds about half inch thick or so. Arrange on one half of sheet. Sprinkle with brown sugar, salt, pepper, fajita or chipotle seasoning, and a drop or two of sriracha sauce (each). Roast 15 min then flip before adding the pork:
Drizzle pork chops with olive oil, salt, pepper, sriracha (just a little), and maple syrup. (Chops should be lightly covered but not dripping.) Add to the sheet pan and return to oven to roast for about 25min.
Meanwhile, trim ends from Brussels sprouts and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add to baking sheet – if you’re out of room, roast in separate pan or skillet for 20 minutes. During final minutes of cooking, splash with plum vinegar or lemonjuice before returning to oven to finish. If you happen to have chopped, cooked bacon on hand, you could sprinkle the bacon and grated parmesan over the sprouts to take them to the next level.
Remove pork from oven after 25 min and let rest on plate, covered. Remove sprouts before they overbake. Leave sweet potatoes until they’re darkly browned on both sides.
Lessons I learned from this experiment:
A little sriracha goes a long way, but if you’re careful, it’s not going to light you on fire. This is good for my heat-averse husband.
Don’t over-roast the Brussels sprouts. They really don’t need more than 20 minutes.
It’s hard to over-roast a sweet potato. They need a lot of heat over a pretty long time to be done. I could have given them 30 minutes in the oven alone, plus 20 with the pork and brussels sprouts, and probably been happy.
I love making a particular type of pork roast that leaves me with a couple pounds of succulent pork for sandwiches, quesadillas, and eating straight. (Plus I make a batch of beef stew* in the pot once I remove the pork- it’s mind-blowingly good!)
Making skillet nachos takes this way beyond “next level” to “the best couch movie night supper you’ve ever put in your mouth.”
Please try the pork recipe too – you could use any non-smokey shredded meat here (including chicken) but I can’t tell you enough how much we love this pork roast.
Two adjustments to the pork recipe: I sear the roast in a bit of bacon drippings instead of oil, and I deglaze the pot with some cream sherry or bourbon before pouring in the braising mixture. I also think this recipe works best with a non-bitter, non-hoppy medium brown beer. A Belgian double or triple would be quite nice.
Ok, now for the nachos!
Perfect Skillet Nachos
12″ Cast iron skillet— if you don’t have one, use anything heavy that will really hold heat and is both oven and stovetop safe
1 small onion, chopped
1 T butter
1-2 cups pulled pork or other shredded meat
Tortilla chips – maybe half a bag?
2-3 cups shredded cheese (we used a blend of yellow cheddar and a block of cheddar/gruyere from Trader Joe’s)
Jar of corn salsa, preferably Trader Joe’s (it has a nice sweetness)
1 can of Rotel tomatoes
Salt, pepper, and fajita seasoning (to taste)
1 avocado sliced OR guacamole
Optional: salsa, hot sauce, etc
Heat butter in cast iron skillet on stovetop over medium and sauté onion (with a little salt and pepper) till lightly browned. Set onion aside and remove skillet from heat.
Preheat oven to 425
Create two layers in the skillet, each in this order: 1/3 of the chips, 1 Cup cheese, 1 Cup pork (break it up and scatter), ½ cup or so corn salsa, and half of the onions. Sprinkle with a little fajita seasoning or a bit of pepper, if desired.
Make 2 layers like that, then pour the can of Rotel over the top of the second layer.
Top with remaining chips and cheese and sprinkle with fajita seasoning. Make sure there’s a layer of cheese on top to get melty.
Place skillet in oven for 15-20 min. You want it to heat and melt all the way through without burning.
Broil on high for 1-2 min at end to brown the cheese, if needed.
Top each quadrant with avocado (or guacamole) and a dollop of sour cream. Dig in!!
Making the pork recipe? Prep ahead to make beef stew in the same pot as soon as you remove the pork. You can set it aside when done to eat the next day.The pork drippings add a depth and richness to the stew that’s unbeatable.
I do mine this way:
Remove the pork, leave all pan drippings. Return pot to stovetop over medium heat and leave oven on 350.
Toss beef cubes with 1-2T flour, salt, pepper, and favorite steak seasoning (or thyme). When pot is hot, brown beef cubes but don’t cook through. Deglaze pan with a liquid you like- I usually use either wine or sherry, about a quarter cup.
Chop onion, celery, carrots (and optional potato) and add to pot. Stir well to pull up bits on bottom of pan.
Add 4 cups beef stock and stir.
Stir in 1+ cup of pearl barley (optional) or add egg noodles about halfway through cooking (see below).
Season well with thyme, salt, pepper, etc.
Bring pot to simmer on stovetop then cover and return to oven to finish cooking. I usually check after 45 minutes to see if the beef is tender and the vegetables are cooked. If you’re doing egg noodles, wait about 20 minutes before adding them.
Cooking the stew in the oven keeps the beef really tender, and makes use of the oven heat you just spent making the pork. 😉
This is how I cook: I open up the refrigerator or pantry and say, “What’s here?” If there are enough building blocks to create a meal along the lines of something I’ve cooked before and enjoyed, problem solved.
This approach leads to occasional accidental delights (but mostly just decent supper food). Here are two that happened in my kitchen in the past month. See if you’re similarly inspired to experiment. 😉
I’ve been making chicken cacciatore since I started cooking (a few days after I got married), but I learned the recipe by watching my dad make it countless times for supper. It was easy, relatively quick, and cheap – all qualities that my dad prized in his culinary endeavors
But the other day, as I eyed a small bag of orzo pasta I’d picked up at Trader Joe’s, I had an epiphany: What If I swapped out the rice I usually serve alongside cacciatore, and used the orzo instead?
The verdict: Delicious! I cooked the orzo pasta on the side and then throw the cooked orzo into the pot of cacciatore once it came out of the oven. However, I’m wondering if I should have cooked the orzo straight into the cacciatore so it would pick up more of those flavors. Dunno. May try that next time.
Post Pork-Roast Beef Stew
So last month, I made the most incredible pork roast thanks to this recipe from an Upstate cook:
It’s an amazing recipe. So easy; so incredibly flavorful.
I make two changes from her recipe. The first, I use rendered bacon fat (cook a couple pieces, pull out the bacon, use it for something else) to sear the pork roast in the first step. The additional smokiness of a high quality bacon adds incomparable depth of flavor. Goes without saying that you need to be using a good bacon here; I keep Trader Joe’s applewood smoked bacon in the frig at all times.
Second, once the pork roast had been seared but before adding the cooking liquid (beer et al), I deglaze the pan with some bourbon or sherry. Sometimes a little of both, in succession. Scrape up the brown bits and let the meat soak up some of the alcohol before continuing. Again, it’s a layer of flavor that makes a difference in the end.
When you’re done (follow the recipe), you have pork that just falls apart and shreds with no effort at all. It’s incredible as pulled pork sandwiches; you need no additional BBQ sauce.
But then…. there’s more magic to be had in the pot! You’ll need your favorite beef stew recipe – look it up on the Internet and pick up some cheap “stew beef” at the store on your next grocery run, along with carrots, potatoes, onion, celery, a box of beef broth, and either rice or big noodles or barley or whatever.
Let the drippings cool until the fat congeals on top. Stop being squeamish; this is part of life when cooking with meat. Scrape off and discard as much of the solid fat as you can, leaving behind the beer-broth and bits of pork from the earlier recipe.
Heat what’s left on medium in your Dutch oven till it’s going pretty hard and throw in all your chopped vegetables. If you did too good a job of removing fat, you might need to add a wee bit of olive oil or butter here. Meanwhile, brown your beef chunks in a skillet on the side and throw them in with the vegetables once they get brown on all sides. (The extra work is worth it – I promise.) Add your broth and seasonings, and throw the whole pot into the oven for an hour or more, till the potatoes are completely done and the beef is tender.
If you’re going to add rice or noodles it might be easier to cook those on the stovetop and then add them at the end.
The result: Your beef stew will have this magical depth of flavor, a savory-ness that I can’t ever get when I just “make beef stew,” no matter what seasonings I add. The leftovers from the pork bring so many good flavors to the party, but nothing clashes with the traditional beef stew vibe.
I’m committed now to always making the pork recipe before I make a regular beef stew. I’m not sure I can go back to the old way…. 😉
Yes, you want to make this recipe. (No Jedi mind tricks needed. You should be persuaded simply by the title.) The recipe may look long, but it’s actually pretty simple.
Pecan pie is a Southern specialty, but I find most recipes sickeningly sweet. This one has always been my favorite because it somehow cuts through the sweetness. This year, I decided to adapt it with chocolate and bourbon at my husband’s request, and I don’t think I can ever go back. The dark chocolate, bourbon, and salt really pull back the sweetness of the Karo, and replacing some of the Karo with a high-quality honey with a mild flavor added a nice depth.
These pies are way better the second day, if you like a stronger taste of bourbon. If not, reduce the bourbon a little and/or eat the pies on the day you make them.
I never make my own pie crusts, but I make an exception here. You should too. The tutorial I cite below will give you the confidence to try, and this crust recipe is the perfect texture for a pie with this much sugar. I don’t think the thinner frozen pre-made crusts would compete.
Full disclosure: Base recipe can be found here, and my friend Mel suggested replacing half of the water in the crust with vodka. I don’t know why that works, but I suspect it allows the water to chill below its usual temperature – always a good thing for crust construction.
Crust tutorial: I found this post very helpful at “Eating from the Ground Up” for making a perfect crust via KitchenAid mixer. Chilling the bowl & ingredients and freezing the crusts during and after rolling & placing into the pie plates worked perfectly. My crusts were not at all soggy. I do recommend leaving the crust out for a bit before rolling, because the huge amount of butter is solid and hard as a rock otherwise. (Though I persevered via marble rolling pin, a lot of determination, and the pressure of already being behind schedule.)
BOURBON CHOCOLATE PECAN PIE Adapted from Robert Del Grande
Yield: 3 nine-inch pies. You might squeeze this into 2 if you have huge pie plates. Crust definitely makes 3.
Pie Dough About 4 cups all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons sugar 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon 1 pound cold butter, cut into small cubes 1/2 cup chilled water + vodka (equal portions of each)
Pecan Pie Filling 8 whole eggs 4 egg yolks 2 Tablespoons vanilla 1/3cup bourbon (a good one) 2 cups brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt (regular) + large granule sea salt for garnish 4 Tablespoons melted butter 2 1/2 cups light corn syrup 1/2cup honey (a quality one, not too heavy in flavor) 3 cups pecan pieces
2-3 cups chopped, very dark, very good quality chocolate
For the pie crust:
In a mixing bowl (or on a work surface), combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and butter. With your fingers or the beater, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the chilled water/vodka to the flour mixture and work until a rough dough is formed. Do not over work the dough: bits of butter should still be visible. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface. Flatten and fold the dough several times to create layers in the dough (if working by hand). Divide the dough into 3 sections, form disks, and wrap in Saran-Wrap if not immediately rolling crusts. (I let mine chill a while.)
(Follow the tutorial I noted above throughout this process.)
Roll each chunk into a circle with a diameter well in excess of that of the pie plate and approximately 1/4-inch thick. Fit the dough circles into the pie plates and form an edge. Chill very well in freezer until pies are ready to fill and bake.
For the Pecan Pie Filling,
Pre-heat an oven to 375°F.
in a mixing bowl, combine the eggs and egg yolks and whisk until smooth. Add the vanilla, bourbon, brown sugar, salt and melted butter and whisk until well blended. Slowly blend in the corn syrup and honey and mix well.
Divide the pecan pieces and chocolate pieces between the three chilled pie shells. Divide the filling between the three pies. Sprinkle lightly with large-grain sea salt, if desired.
Place the pies on baking sheets and bake at 375°F for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 300°F and bake until the pies have set and the center puff up a little, approximately 45 to 60 minutes.
People. Stop everything and make this for supper tonight or tomorrow or whenever you need a fast and tasty meal. The household invented this on Sunday when we realized we had 1) excellent pimiento cheese (handmade by GiGi’s Gourmet); 2) leftover roasted chicken; 3) half of an onion that I found on the kitchen table; and 4) a bottle of Trader Joe’s enchiladas sauce.
Sent the husband to the store to pick up a) 8″ round tortillas; b) a container of ricotta cheese; c) some shredded cheese.
To make this:
You do this:
8 oz high quality, preferably homemade pimiento cheese
8 oz ricotta cheese
1-2 cups shredded cooked (leftover) chicken
½ of an onion, sliced into half-rounds
fajita seasoning or your fav Tex-Mex seasoning
8 large tortillas
1 bottle of enchilada sauce
1 cup shredded cheese – whatever you have
Preheat oven to 375. Spray a 9×13 or 10×14 glass dish with cooking spray for your own sanity afterward.
Pour just a little enchilada sauce in the bottom of the pan and swirl around. For flavor.
In a bowl, mix the pimiento cheese and the ricotta cheese together so it’s light and fluffy.
In a small skillet, sautee the sliced onion in a little butter until it’s golden brown. Throw in the chicken and some fajita seasoning and heat through while you’re doing steps 1-3.
Prepare your enchilada making station: A flat surface for rolling, plus a stack of tortillas, the chicken & onion mixture, and the cheese mixture.
Spread each tortilla with a couple tablespoons of the pimiento cheese mixture then add a couple tablespoons of chicken and onion. Roll and place seam-side-down in baking dish.
Top the enchiladas with the rest of the enchilada sauce. Then top that with the cup of shredded cheese.
Bake at 375 for about 20min or until the cheese on top is bubbly and golden brown and everything is really hot. If the cheese browns too fast, cover with foil (I accidentally added the cheese halfway through so maybe you should do that.)
This has been a much-requested recipe, so I’ll share a version of it here. No apologies for the rustic nature of these directions – the only measuring utensils you need are for the opening steps of the grits. The rest you can eyeball. 😉
I will say that, made well, this recipe beats nearly every bowl of shrimp & grits you will ever find. So invest in high-quality meat and spices, and break out the cream and butter. And true stone-ground grits. Do not EVEN think of making this with some crappy store-bought instant grit crap.
Also, don’t tell me “I hate grits. They’re gross and I refuse to eat them” until you’ve made them THIS WAY. Then, if you still hate them, you are still wrong but we can remain friends. 🙂
RameyLady’s Shrimp and Grits Recipe
Serves 4. Scale up or down as needed.
THE GRITS – start these first.
1 cup stone ground, local grits (I use local Timms Mill grits) – follow package directions re: sifting or rinsing
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 stick of butter
1 tsp salt
1-2 cups of cream, half & half, or whole milk (or a mix of those)
1/2 cup of shredded cheese (your choice, I like sharp cheddar or maybe smoked Gouda)
more salt, pepper, dried thyme (to taste)
To make the grits:
In a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan or pot, combine the broth and butter over medium heat to bring to a simmer. Stir in 1 cup of stone ground uncooked grits and reduce heat to medium-low. You want the grits to bubble and cook, but they turn into a nuclear meltdown of bubbling 3rd degree burn material if you let them get too hot, so don’t go more than a minute without stirring. Stir & cook carefully for 15 minutes, then pour in 1/2 cup of cream (or milk or half & half or whatever combo of those you’d like) and stir well. Add a pinch of salt — not too much because the cheese you add at the end will also be a bit salty– and fresh-ground pepper, plus any additional seasonings you’d prefer, like dried thyme. Reduce heat to medium-low: you want the grits to bubble slowly but not so fast that they splutter. (Recall the nuclear warning, above.) Start making the Shrimp part, below…. As the grits continue to cook over the next 25-40 minutes, add cream a couple more times, about 1/2 cup at a time, until the grits are cooked through, not “gritty,” and thickened to your preference. Just before serving, add the cheese, stir through until melted, and check to see if you need any additional salt. Store leftover grits in the frig for several days or freeze for later.
THE SHRIMP PART – start this once you start adding cream to the grits
Start this once the grits are in their first cooking phase.
3-4 slices high quality bacon, diced and divided (I use Trader Joe’s applewood smoked)
1-2 lb fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined
1/2 lb high-quality andouille sausage (kielbasa works too)
splash of lemon juice or half a lemon
couple tablespoons of butter
salt, pepper, seasonings*, thyme
garlic cloves – diced or use a press
cream sherry — about 1 cup total (I use Fairbanks cream sherry – see photo below)
1 onion, diced large
1-2 bell peppers, diced large
several fresh summer tomatoes, diced large
dried thyme & basil
about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cream or half n half (or whole milk)
about 1 T cornstarch
*I rely on two seasoning blends for my shrimp and grits; both come from The Spice & Tea Exchange, and you can order them online if you don’t have a store in your area: Cinnabar Smoke Blend adds a slightly warm, Eastern flavor to the dish; Sweet Heat packs a little more punch but the sweetness offsets the heat in everything else. If you don’t have these, that’s fine – if you’re using high quality sausage and bacon, their flavors will infuse the dish.
To prepare: Stage 1: Prepare shrimp (peel, etc) and season to taste. I use a little salt & pepper plus a splash of lemon juice and some favorite spice blends – see note above. Set aside to marinade for 15 minutes to 4 hours. Dice the bacon and if you’re using sausage, prep that as well (if the sausage is raw, I usually cook andouille as links first, then chop into pieces and return to the pan later as listed below; kielbasa can be chopped into slices without any pre-cooking).
Add 1 strip’s worth of bacon and about a quarter of the sausage to a large wide pan OR tall cooking pot (large enough to hold 4 quarts of liquid – that way you won’t get spattered) over medium heat to render fat and flavor. After the bacon is 80% cooked through, add one chopped clove of fresh garlic to the pan and star. Arrange the shrimp over the bottom of the pan in an even layer. If you have too much shrimp to cook all in one batch, split into two batches (and split the bacon and garlic as well, since you’ll want to cook each batch fresh.) Flip the shrimp after about 60 seconds and cook on the other side till the shrimp are BARELY done – firmer to the touch and pink . Pour a couple tablespoons of sherry into the pan and stir. Cook for about 30 seconds, then remove everything from the pan into a dish and keep warm to add back later– pour everything in the pan out and reserve all juices. Set aside. (If making two batches of shrimp, reduce pan heat a little and start with some fresh bacon.)
You can wipe the pan if you want. I usually don’t.
Stage 2: Add the rest of the chopped bacon (about 3 slices worth). If you’re using sausage, add the rest of it to the pan here. Let the bacon render some fat, then add either 1 tsp of butter or a couple tsp of oliveoil to the pan. Add 1-2 T fresh chopped garlic. Stir. Add the diced onion and chopped bell pepper and cook for just a minute or two until the vegetables soften slightly. You should also season the vegetables – at least throw in some dried basil and thyme, about 1 T of each. Turn heat up to medium and pour a good half cup of sherry (up to 1 cup) into the pan. Stir well and then allow the sherry to reduce by half, which will take several minutes of boiling.
Stage 3: After the sherry has reduced by half (or so), add the diced fresh summer tomatoes. Whether you include the seeds is up to you; I don’t get too fussy here. Just chop the tomatoes & throw them in. Add another round of seasoning, like basil. Add about 1.5 cups of cream (or milk or half & half or all three) and slowly pour the cream into the pot, stirring as it hits the warm vegetable-sherry mixture. Simmer on medium for 5 minutes, until cream begins to reduce. Mix 1 T of cream with 1 T cornstarch in a separate bowl; stir vigorously with a fork until every bit of cornstarch is dissolved. Turn up heat a little past high and add this to the pot; allow to boil until the cream begins to thicken (because of the corn starch).
Stage 4: Return the shrimp and their juices (and bacon/sausage used in step 1) to the pan and check your grits; you’re probably ready to add the cheese. You can safely “hold” either part of the dish on low heat until the other is done, but don’t add the shrimp into its pan until you know you’re within 5 min of eating. (Overcooked shrimp is gummy and gross.)
Serve by ladling 1/2 cup or more of grits into the bottom of a wide flat bowl, then top with about a cup of the shrimp mixture.
You really don’t need anything else with this dish – it covers all the bases. 🙂 It pairs very well with beer or wine. I prefer a warm red, but white wine drinkers can find something crisp and lemony.