Sunday, January 31, 2010

Garlic-Cheese Bundt Loaf

My Venture into Cheesy Bread

There are three things that I really hate in life:
1) Feet
2) Any commercials involving slurping or loud smacking of food
3) American football

I've never understood football and that's probably why I don't watch it. I think it is so boring. Now Rugby – THAT'S a sport that's exciting to watch. It's fast paced and the players don't wear helmets or those huge shoulder pads. I mean, what are they thinking? Shoulder pads are soooooo 1987. ..And don't get me started with those skin-tight capris they like to wear.

A couple of weeks ago, I turned on the television and a football game had delayed the start of one of my favorite shows. The announcer said that there was 3 minutes and 26 seconds left on the game clock. I thought, "Oh good. I have just enough time to finish the dishes and get a glass of tea by the time the game is over." I tell you – I could have grown the tea plant from seeds, plucked the leaves, steeped them, and still had plenty of time before that stupid football game was over. Football time flows at a different rate than real time. I swear that two glasses of tea and 45 minutes later, there was still a minute left on the game clock. If God made announcement that the world was ending in 5 minutes, I'd quickly turn on a football game because then I'd have PLENTY of time to clean my apartment before the end came.

Someone told me that the Super Bowl was coming up. I used to get excited about the Super Bowl, not because I wanted to watch it, but because 60 Minutes with Andy Rooney wouldn't be shortened to 42 minutes by a football game that went into overtime. In the past, I've thrown anti-Super Bowl parties. It's a great time for the dozen or so people in the U.S. who don't like football to get together to celebrate the end of football season. Junk food is always on sale right before the Super Bowl, too. Ka-CHING!

Because many of you are probably football lovers, I thought I would post a couple of recipes that you could fix as an appetizer for the big game. One of my blog buddies, Sara H., sent me her WONDERFUL recipe for Garlic-Cheese Bundt Loaf. I fixed it and it was SO good that I instantly thought of ideas on how I'd like to change it. You know me! I love playing around with recipes! Sara has given me permission to publish her recipe so I'll let you decide which one you'd prefer to fix. Oh, what the heck – fix both!

Sara's Garlic-Cheese Bundt Loaf

Vince's Garlic-Cheese Bundt Loaf

Two of my teenage nephews are avid football players. While we don't share a common interest in football, we all agree that this bundt loaf is really good. It's garlicky, it's cheesy, and it is SO good to eat when watching 60 Minutes. Thank you Sara! Enjoy – and happy footballing!

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Vince's Garlic-Cheese Bundt Loaf

** An adaptation of a recipe from Sara H. **
(Printable Version)

20 frozen dinner roll dough balls (I use Rhodes Rolls)
7 TBSP unsalted butter, divided use
1 medium onion, diced
1/8 tsp sugar (optional)
Kosher salt to taste
1 head garlic, minced (Yes, that was 1 HEAD!)
2 tsp Italian seasoning
2 TBSP chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 1/2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese (optional)

Night Before Serving:
Spray a sided sheet pan lightly with cooking spray. Place the balls of frozen dough on the sheet pan and lightly spray the tops of each ball. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to allow the dough to slowly thaw.

The Day of Serving:
In a skillet over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of butter. When melted, add the chopped onions, a couple pinches of kosher salt, and the sugar. If Vidalias or another variety of sweet onion are in season, you may omit the sugar. Cover the onions with a lid and saute for 10 to 12 minutes or until they are very soft – stirring two to three times to keep them from browning too much. The lid will prevent the onions from losing too much moisture during cooking. When the onions are soft, add 4 tablespoons of butter, the garlic, Italian seasoning, and another couple of pinches of kosher salt. Since you're using unsalted butter, it is important to salt the mixture here. Cook for 1 minute and immediately transfer the mixture to a medium-size bowl and allow it to cool.

While the onions are cooking, use the remaining tablespoon of the butter to generously grease the entire interior of the bundt pan. The rolls will fill the entire pan when baked so butter all of the way to the top. Sprinkle a little kosher salt on the interior of the bundt pan (the butter will keep the salt from sliding down the sides).

When the onions have cooled a bit, add the parsley, parmesan cheese, and mozzarella cheese (if using) to the mixture and stir to combine. The onions should not be too hot or it will start to melt the cheese. I'm still debating if I prefer this recipe with the mozzarella or not. I like it both ways so I'll let you decide.

Remove the thawed rolls from the refrigerator and cut them all in half. Spoon 1/3 of the onion-cheese mixture into the bottom of the bundt pan – allowing some of the mixture to come up the sides of the pan an inch or so. You don't want a thick layer of the onion-cheese mixture sitting on the bottom or the rolls will steam instead of browning. Place several of the halved dinner rolls side-by-side but not quite touching on the bottom of the bundt pan in a single layer. Sprinkle 1/3 (or less) of the cheese mixture on top of the rolls. Add the remaining pieces of roll dough in another single layer – tucking the roll halves as needed around the inside and outside edges of the pan. Try to keep the dough in a single layer. Sprinkle the remaining cheese mixture evenly over the top of the dough. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise until it is about 1 1/2" from the top edge of the pan – about 60 to 75 minutes. If you allow the dough to rise above that mark, the bread will rise too much in the oven and spill over the sides when baking.

When the dough is nearly at the 1 1/2" mark at the top of the pan, place a rack on the LOWEST SHELF in your oven. Preheat the oven to 325F. When the dough has risen to 1 1/2" from the top, remove the plastic wrap and bake the rolls for about 36 to 40 minutes or until the top is dark brown. Immediately invert the rolls onto a serving platter and serve piping hot.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cheesy Tex-Mex Casserole

My Venture into Recipe Development

As many of you know, my joy in cooking comes from creating new recipes or modifying existing ones to better suit my taste and style. Whenever I come up with a new recipe, I type it up the way I plan to make it. After I make it the first time, I then usually make long notes about changes I'd like to make to improve the recipe the next time I attempt it. I note things that didn't work and things I'd like to try. Sometimes, I experiment with a recipe more than 20 times before I post it on my blog – if anything to make sure it comes out consistently every time. Today, however, I am going to give you real insight as to how I develop new recipes. The notes below are for a recipe that I just started developing today. I thought it up, made it, took pictures of it, and tasted it. It was actually pretty good!

Tentative Recipe Name: Cheesy Tex-Mex Casserole
Date of First Attempt: January 24, 2010
I'm in the mood for Mexican food. Mexican 7-layer dip sounds good. Maybe I can do a casserole that is reminiscent of that dip. I'm wanting something with refried beans, taco meat, and lots of cheese. Maybe I could do a casserole that's topped with some cornbread or masa or something. Heck, maybe I could throw some cheese in the cornbread, too. What do I have in my pantry? Let's see. I know I have some canned refried beans and 2% sharp cheddar cheese. I think I have some taco seasoning. I've got some hamburger and some cornbread mix. Do I have sour cream? I think I do but it's probably light sour cream. I need to check the expiration date before I use it. That reminds me. I need to buy some buttermilk. I don't think I have any cilantro though. I know I have scallions and a red bell pepper that I need to get used up. I think I also have a couple jalapeños, too.

Let's see, maybe I could spice up the refried beans and put them in the bottom of a dish. That might not work well. The problem with putting beans on the bottom of the dish is that I won't be able to get them out very easily after everything is baked to take a good picture for my blog. I could put some corn tortillas on the bottom before adding the beans. That would certainly make it easier to spoon out the casserole for a picture but, if I use cornbread, I think it would be too corny. HA! Too corny! I crack myself up. Geez. I'm sitting here typing and cracking myself up like a crazy person. Anyway, what was I thinking? Oh, yeah. Beans on the bottom of the dish. Oh, what the heck. I'll just put the refried beans on the bottom and, if the picture looks crappy, I'll try something else next time. Maybe I could add a layer of sour cream on top of the beans. I'll bet the heat in the oven will make the sour cream curdle. Hmm. Well, the sour cream would be in the center of the casserole so maybe it won't separate as much as I think it will. My clone of Taco Bell's Baja Sauce would be really good in there. Nah. I think that would make the recipe too long so I'll skip that and just try sour cream.

I think I'll make some basic taco meat using one of those taco seasoning packets. I think I'll add some onions and garlic to it. I need some veggies in here though. Maybe I'll add the red bell pepper and jalapeño in with the meat. If I remember correctly, you have to add water when you use one of those taco seasoning packets. Hmm. That might make it too soupy. Well, I do plan to add cheese to the meat so that'll help tighten it up some. OK. I'll add the water in small amounts and notate if it is too loose after it's baked. I can add less water next time, if needed. GEEZ LOUISE, I need to take out my trash! That seafood I made last night is really stinking up the place! Hey, now that's an idea. Instead of beef, I could use seafood. Maybe some imitation crab or some cod. Maybe add some shrimp, too. I could still use the taco seasoning but just use seafood instead. Hmmmm. I'll need to think about this some more and maybe try the seafood in Attempt #2.

I'll use a box of corn muffin mix for the topping and throw in some cheese. I wonder how much cheese I should add to it? Oh, heck, I'll just add some little by little until it looks right and then write down how much I added.

I wonder if I should bake this a 400F like the box of Jiffy says to do? I think that'll be too high because the center will never get hot before cornbread is done. Yeah, you're right. I better stick with 350F.

Garnish…garnish…garnish. How should I garnish this when I'm done? I'm sure it's going to need some color on the top to help with the picture. Hmm. I don't have any cilantro. I have a tomato but the other one I bought tasted like the place where flavor goes to die so I'm not thrilled about eating it. Ugh. I hate tomatoes in January. That reminds me – I need to buy couple of pomegranates before they go out of season. Oooh. Now that's an idea for another recipe. I could make a pomegranate vinaigrette and pour it over some mixed greens and decorate it with some fresh pomegranates on top. Oh, that sounds really good. Where was I? Geez! You're never going to get this done if you keep interrupting yourself! Let's see. Oh yeah yeah. Garnish. Maybe I could reserve a little of the red bell pepper to sprinkle on top for color. I'll sprinkle on some scallions for some green. If I added a dollop of sour cream, I'd be using some red, green, and white on top – the colors of the Mexican flag. Or is that the Italian flag? Hmmm. I need to look that up before I cause a major international incident.

That's pretty much the thought process I went through when I was developing the recipe. I then typed up a tentative recipe and made it. At the bottom of the recipe below, you'll see the notes I would normally make to myself after I make a new dish. You are welcome to try the recipe as is or make your own changes. I think it was very tasty and worthy of continued experimentation. Enjoy – and happy creating!

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Cheesy Tex-Mex Casserole

** Recipe Testing is still in progress as of January 24, 2010 **
(Printable Version)

Taco Meat
1 TBSP oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb hamburger
Salt (if your brand of taco seasoning does not contain salt)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño with seeds and ribs removed, minced (optional)
1 1.25 oz packet taco seasoning
1 c water
5 oz sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated

Refried Beans
1-16 oz can of refried beans
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt (1/4 tsp table salt) or to taste
3 oz sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
4 oz sour cream

1 egg
1/3 cup milk
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
1 8.5 oz box cornbread muffin mix (such as Jiffy)

Preheat oven to 350F.

For the Layer of Taco Meat:
In a skillet over medium heat, add the oil. When hot, add the onion and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the hamburger and salt (if needed). Brown then drain the meat. Add the garlic, red bell pepper, jalapeño (if using), and taco seasoning packet to the meat and stir to combine. Heat the meat over medium heat for about 2 to 3 minutes to bloom the spices. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Cover and lightly simmer the meat for 7 to 10 minutes – stirring periodically. Take the skillet off of the heat, uncover, and allow the mixture to cool for ten minutes. Stir every couple of minutes to help the mixture cool. Add the cheese and stir to combine.

For the Layer of Refried Beans:
While the meat is cooking, mix all of the ingredients in a medium bowl. Transfer the bean mixture to an 8x8" baking dish. Spread the sour cream evenly over the refried beans. When the taco meat has finished cooking and has cooled slightly, transfer it to the top of the refried beans.

For the Cornbread:
In a medium bowl, beat together the egg and milk. Add the cheese and cornbread mix and stir until just combined. Carefully dollop the cornbread on top of the taco meat. Use a fork to carefully spread the batter into an even layer.

Bake for 26 to 29 minutes or until the cornbread is deep brown. Let the casserole rest about 10 minutes before cutting into it.

Notes to myself for future attempts:
1) First attempt looked and tasted great! No obvious problems or big corrections to make.
2) As expected, the sour cream did curdle some. I think it's OK to leave in the recipe. One alternative would be to leave it out and allow eaters to put a dollop on at the table.
3) You have to use 1 lb of meat. Any more and you won't be able to fit it in the dish without moving up to a larger size.
4) I used 2% sharp cheddar and it worked well. I suspect that if I had used full-fat cheddar, it would have left an oil slick.
5) For me, the taco seasoning needs some oomph. This recipe is probably fine for public consumption but, for myself, I'd prefer some extra kick or, perhaps, the addition of a tablespoon of chili powder. One jalapeño was not spicy at all. In fact, you couldn't even taste it in there. For myself, add 2 to 3.
6) Ideas to include next time: Salsa (perhaps in the meat), cilantro, chopped olives, corn, Monterrey jack instead of cheddar. It might be interesting to add some spicy ranch dressing instead of sour cream sometime. It might be nice to try with light cheddar, light sour cream, and ground turkey instead of beef.
7) I still think it would be a nice idea to use prepared Mexican rice (you know, the kind that Old El Paso makes in those nukeable pouches). I could offer this as substitution for the meat for vegetarians. I certainly could not use it in addition to the meat in an 8x8" dish. I could, however, reformulate the recipe for a 9x13" dish. I could use the same amount of meat but use the rice in addition and try to make it more budget-friendly for larger families.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Beefy Mushroom Soup with Tots and Cheese

My Venture into Beefy Mushroom Soup

When I was a vegetarian, I made a variation of this soup all of the time. My inspiration for the soup came from three sources: French Onion Soup, traditional Mushroom Soup, and Tater Tot Casserole – all of which I could eat everyday. I love the cheese that melts into French Onion Soup. Mushroom Soup has such a beefy and earthy warmth to it, I just can't get enough. I love the simplicity and down home goodness of Tater Tot Casserole. The soup I'm posting today has fingers from each of those dishes. Well, not actual fingers. A recipe with fingers will come in a future post.

The only complaint I have about a traditional Tater Tot Casserole is that the tots turn to mush when baked on top of the stew. I hate that. I like my tots crispy. You'll notice I don't bake this concoction like a traditional casserole so as to avoid the mushy tots. French Onion Soup also suffers a similar problem. The crispy bread mushifies when you're melting the cheese under the broiler. Mushroom Soup, especially Mushroom Soup from a can, can often be one note. When you eat it, it's not "TA-DAH"! It's more of a whimpering "blah". This recipe tries to remedy all of that.

The only place you can go wrong in this recipe is not cooking the onions and mushrooms until they're deep brown. Those caramelized goodies add such a rich flavor to the final soup, everybody will know if you took a shortcut and didn't brown the onions and mushrooms long enough. I was going to throw in a little red wine in the soup as an experiment when I made it but I seem to have run out of wine. I normally keep some in the fridge, in the pantry, or in the nightstand next to my bed, but alas, I was out. OUT I SAY! Crud. If you're feeling adventurous, throw in some red wine immediately after the onions and mushrooms have caramelized, let the wine reduce until it has nearly evaporated, and then add the rest of the ingredients. If the wine tastes good in the soup, let me know.

As you will see, I'm using hamburger in this particular version. To be honest, this is a recipe I make when I want to use up some leftover roast so I don't often make it with hamburger. I just cut some roast into bite-size pieces and throw it in during the last 5 minutes of cooking. I also prefer to use the jus from the roast (or, even better, some roast gravy) instead of the beef broth. It's SO good this way. Unfortunately, I didn't have any leftover roast but I was hungry for this soup so, today, I made it with some ground beef. It's not bad but I prefer it with roast.

This soup is easy-to-make and the leftovers are GREAT! I know there's a few of you out there who hate mushrooms. How could you not like the tasty goodness of a fungus grown in darkness in moist, smelly dirt? Hmm? Craziness. For those of you who like to partake in the occasional fungus, enjoy – and happy souping!

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Beefy Mushroom Soup with Tots and Cheese

(Printable Version)

1 1/2 TBSP butter
1 onion, chopped
1/2 lb fresh mushrooms, chopped into 1/4" pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP soy sauce
1 cup water
1 tsp beef bouillon or 1 beef bouillon cube
1/2 cup milk or cream
1 10-3/4 oz can Golden Mushroom Soup
1 10-1/2 oz can French Onion Soup
1 cup peas and carrots
1 lb or so ground beef
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb Tater Tots
8 oz Monterrey Jack, Fontina cheese, or Gruyere shredded
Chopped Scallions for garnish

Preheat oven to the temperature specified on your package of tater tots.

Chop the onion. Put the mushrooms into a food processor and pulse them maybe 5 to 7 times to get them quickly cut up into small pieces. In a dutch oven over medium-high heat, add 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter. Add the onions and mushrooms. Stir to coat (do not salt). Cook the mushroom mixture for about 15 minutes or until they are starting to brown nicely – stirring every 5 minutes or so. During cooking, you may need to turn down the heat to medium to keep the mixture from burning.

While the onions and mushrooms are cooking, brown the hamburger in a skillet over medium heat. Drain. Set aside until the mushroom mixture is done.

After the onions and mushrooms have nicely browned, add the garlic and cook one minute longer. Add the soy sauce, water, beef bouillon, the soups, the peas and carrots, and some pepper to the mixture and stir – making sure to get any brown bits off of the bottom of the pan. Add the milk and stir to combine (if using cream, do not add it until the soup is almost ready. Otherwise, the cream may separate as it simmers). Add the browned and drained hamburger to the soup mixture and stir to combine. Cover and bring to simmer.

When the soup has begun to simmer, put the tater tots in the oven.

While the tater tots are heating, continue to lightly simmer the mushroom mixture over medium-low heat, stirring every few minutes to keep the contents from burning on the bottom. If using cream, add it just before the tots are ready to take out of the oven. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

When the tots are done, pull them out of the oven. Ladle some of the soup into a bowl and top with a few tater tots and a little cheese. If desired, sprinkle with some chopped scallions for garnish.

1) Ground turkey works great in this.
2) Instead of ground beef, I prefer to throw in some leftover roast (cut into bite-size pieces) during the last 5 minutes of cooking. I also prefer to use the jus from the roast (or some of the roast gravy) instead of beef broth.
3) As mentioned above, I like to chop my mushrooms in a food processor. Feel free to slice them instead if you want larger chunks of mushrooms in your soup.
4) Serve this soup with a crusty bread and your family will think you're a rock star

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Easy Red Beans and Rice

My Venture into Cajun/Creole Cuisine

Sorry Blog Buddies for the long delay in posting a recipe! With the holidays and work, I've not had a lot of time to work on my blog. To make it worse, I have jury duty this week. UGH! It's not that I hate jury duty. I do feel a sense of obligation to do my civic duty. However, it always seems to come at the most inopportune times. For my international readers who may not know what jury duty is, check out Wikipedia.

When I started my blog, I originally planned to post only one recipe per week. Since I started my blog in August, 2009, I have posted two or three recipes per week and I can't keep up with that pace. So, from now on, I plan to post only one recipe per week with the option to post more often as time permits. For all of you working moms out there who have to juggle work, family obligations, cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, and more, you have my utmost respect. I don't know how you do it!

I am always getting requests for budget-friendly meals and this is one of them. These rice and beans are nutritious, wholesome, and inexpensive to make. Well, with all of the bacon and sausage, "nutritious" may be stretching it some. I got nearly EVERY major ingredient on sale. I made this entire pot of rice and beans for under $8 – and it makes a lot. If your budget is particular tight this week, leave out the sausage, add extra beans and/or rice, or skip the parsley. I don't recommend leaving out the bacon because it adds so much flavor. This dish is so good, it will also appeal to those of you who can easily afford more expensive meals. It's delicious!

You'll notice the title of this recipe is "EASY Red Beans and Rice." I also make a variation of this recipe by cooking the beans from scratch with a couple smoked ham hocks. Delish! It does take more time and planning. It's smokier and has more depth of flavor but, sometimes, I don't have time to spend forever in the kitchen. That's when I opt for this quicker version.

I had Red Beans and Rice in New Orleans several years ago and fell in love with the dish. I had it at the recommendation of the owner of a small mom and pop restaurant that I found myself in. It was SO good! The dish was smoky and had incredible flavor. I love spicy food but the Red Beans and Rice at that restaurant almost set my hair on fire. It was SPICY. I wish I could remember the name of that restaurant because I'd love to go back. Anyway, according to the owners, Red Beans and Rice is a Creole dish – not Cajun. Go figure! I guess you learn something new every day!

You're going to laugh but I really like the Red Beans and Rice at Popeye's Fried Chicken. It's really good! In fact, I find myself going to Popeye's, not for the chicken, but for the Red Beans and Rice. If you're fortunate to live near a Popeye's, be sure to try their Red Beans and Rice sometime.

I'm sure I'm going to get hate mail from people criticizing the fact I'm using canned beans or that this recipe is not authentic. I don't claim to be an expert on Cajun or Creole cuisine. Any advice or historical perspective on this dish would be greatly appreciated. Enjoy – and happy eating!

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Easy Red Beans and Rice
(Printable Version)

1/4 lb bacon, cut into small pieces
8 oz andouille sausage or kielbasa sausage, casings removed and cut into 1/2" pieces
1 large onion, diced
1/4 tsp sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 1/2 tsp Cajun seasoning (less if you prefer things less spicy)
1 1/2 tsp cumin
4 15.5 oz cans red beans
1/8 tsp cayenne (optional)
1 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups cooked rice
Italian Parsley, chopped (for garnish)

In a skillet over medium heat, add the bacon. When the bacon is about half done, add the sausage and fry until the bacon and sausage are deep brown – stirring every few minutes to keep the meats from burning.

While the bacon is cooking, add 1 can of the beans (including the juice) to a dutch oven. Mash the beans thoroughly with a potato masher (or puree them in a food processor). Add the remaining cans of beans and their juice (but do not mash) to the dutch oven, stir well, and turn the heat on to medium-low. Cover and allow the beans to gently warm as you prepare the remaining ingredients.

When the bacon and sausage are brown, add the meat to the beans – leaving the drippings in the skillet. Stir the beans and re-cover. Add the onion and sugar to the bacon drippings and cook until the onion is very soft – about 8 to 10 minutes. While the onions are sautéing, I normally start cooking my rice in a sauce pan. If you use Minute Rice, you can start it later.

When the onions are soft, add the garlic, Cajun seasoning, cumin, and cayenne (if using) to the skillet with the onions and cook another 1 to 2 minutes. Add the liquid smoke and onion mixture to the beans and stir everything to combine. Cover, increase the heat to medium, and simmer lightly for about 15 to 20 minutes – stirring every few minutes. The goal is for your rice to be done at about the same time as the beans so plan accordingly. If the beans gets too thick, add a little water. I prefer thick rice and beans so this recipe is not very brothy. Before serving, taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed. It's likely you'll need some salt but the amount will vary depending on the brand of bacon, sausage, and canned beans you purchase.

To serve, ladle some of the beans into a bowl and top with some cooked rice. Sprinkle the rice and beans with a little parsley for garnish.

1) The brand of Cajun seasoning that I buy has a pretty good kick to it. With the addition of the cayenne, these beans are definitely spicy. Of course, rice and beans are supposed to be a bit spicy. If you are worried about the spiciness level, leave out the cayenne completely and reduce the Cajun seasoning by 1 tsp. Near the end of cooking, taste it for spiciness. If you think you can handle a little more spice, go ahead and add a little more Cajun seasoning and/or cayenne.
2) For those of you who really enjoy spicy foods, feel free to add a little hot sauce (such as Frank's Hot Sauce or Tabasco).
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