“I read your column even though I don’t cook anymore." Email and letters that begin with this sentence are some of my favorites. I appreciate that readers enjoy reading about food, but wonder how anyone survives without cooking a few meals here and there. But, I understand that many cooks, free from the burden of cooking for a large family, enjoy the freedom of utilizing convenience food or dining out. I have a long list of favorite restaurants meals, but it’s not always convenient to pick one up on a random Wednesday night. The solution is simple: recreate as many restaurant meals as possible at home when dining out or picking up dinner is not an option.
Here are just a few of the restaurant meal remakes that I rely on when a craving hits, but dining at my go-to eateries is not an option.
For starters, who doesn’t love to munch on a huge platter of nachos when you’re waiting on your meal? In some cases, the nachos are so filling that a main course isn’t necessary. Perhaps the most delicious and plentiful nachos I’ve ever sampled is the Mexican Garbage appetizer at Tacky Jack’s in Orange Beach, Alabama. Don’t let the name fool you, they’re the antithesis of food you’d want to throw away.
To recreate this memorable app, I heated a little oil in a skillet and sautéed a few slices of green and red peppers and onions, along with slices of boneless chicken breasts. You can substitute sliced flank steak if you prefer. Once they were done, I added two tablespoons of fajita seasoning mix and a little water, stirred, and cooked until the chicken was coated.
Next, I preheated the oven broiler, then added four cups of tortilla chips to an 11x7-inch baking pan. To give the chips extra flavor, I sprayed them with olive oil baking spray, then dusted them with a little of the fajita seasoning. I topped them with the cooked vegetables, the chicken, and a hearty layer of shredded Cheddar and Mexican cheeses, and a few sliced jalapeños for good measure.
After broiling for a few minutes until the cheese was melted, I removed the pan from the oven and topped the mixture with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, salsa, sour cream and guacamole. My version won’t put Tacky Jack’s out of business, but Mississippi Nachos are pretty close.
When it comes to the main event, I try to be adventuresome, but usually order pasta, seafood or a combination. Several of my favorite restaurants serve Cajun-style pasta and try as I might, I can never resist them. If I’m ordering dessert at a restaurant, I usually choose something light. Especially this time of year, Key Lime Pie is a perfect choice. You can make all of these delicious, restaurant-style dishes right in your own kitchen.
Restaurant-Style Key Lime Pie
2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup lime juice
6 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
Graham cracker pie crust
Beat together two 14-ounce cans of sweetened condensed milk, 3/4 cup key lime juice, six egg yolks, and a pinch of salt with a hand mixer until smooth. Pour into a prepared graham cracker and bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until top is firm. Cool in pan, then refrigerate for two hours or overnight.
Homemade Cajun Restaurant-Style Pasta
1 pound of dried pasta, cooked and drained
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into small strips
1-1/2 cups of medium, raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning, plus extra teaspoon, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 each: red and yellow peppers and medium onion, sliced into thin strips
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup chicken broth
Salt and pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for topping
Place chicken strips in a bowl and coat with Cajun seasoning. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and cook chicken about two minutes. Add sliced peppers and onion, stir, and cook about three minutes. Add shrimp, garlic, remaining Cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Stir in tomatoes and chicken broth, then bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook for a few minutes more until shrimp are no longer pink. Add more broth if mixture gets too thick. Serve over hot pasta. Top with grated cheese.