Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Summer Green Bean Soup

Summer Snap Bean Soup Posted by Picasa
I don’t know how many people in the past have told me that their dream is to someday have a restaurant of their very own. Most have no idea of the toil, tension and day-to-day problems involved in owning and operating a restaurant. But there are benefits, not the least being the great people we meet everyday.

Another perk is the free subscriptions to various trade magazines that we receive. In one of these recently, an article mentioned a dish made by Seattle Chef Kevin Davis of the Oceanaire Seafood Room. It was a “smothered green bean bisque” inspired by a dish his Cajun grandmother had made. There was no recipe, but it sounded unusual enough for me to give it a try at home. I mean MY mom never made green bean soup, and I bet yours didn't either. But I thought it was pretty tasty stuff, so I am going to share it with you.

According to the article the chef simmered ham hocks in chicken stock for the soup base, and made his own croutons, but I think we can cut a few corners. This turned out to be quite a tasty soup, and with the garnish, substantial enough for a pleasant and simple one-dish Sunday night supper. With the Labor Day holiday on Monday, you’ll probably be having a big last summer hurrah cookout, so why not try it this Sunday?

The croutons give it plenty of crunch, but you might want to add crusty bread or corn muffins to your menu. For dessert, I mixed jarred pecans or walnuts in syrup (in the ice cream topping aisle) with a generous splash of Frangelico liqueur and spooned it over scoops of Haagen Daz peach sorbet. A crisp cookie with it couldn’t hurt. And then’s a holiday weekend!


2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 poblano pepper, chopped, or 1 or 2 serrano peppers, chopped*
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 Knorr ham bouillon cubes**
4 cups water
2 lb fresh green beans
1 package prepared croutons
4 oz Monterey jack or pepper jack cheese*, shredded
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Put the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir a couple of times. Add the onion and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent. Add the chicken broth, water and ham bouillon cube. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer while you trim the ends off the beans. Add the beans to the pot and simmer covered until very tender, 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the beans. Puree in a blender, food processor or with a hand blender. (Can be prepared to this point and reheated when ready to serve.) Thin, if necessary, with water or chicken broth. Stir in the lemon juice and reheat just to a simmer.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, top with croutons, the tomatoes and the cheese and serve immediately. Serves 6.

*For a milder flavor, use the poblanos and the Monterey jack cheese. If you like a spicier taste, the serrano peppers and pepper jack cheese are the way to go!

**Available in specialty markets and most Latino or Mexican markets.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


One of my customers asked me to bring in Spanish Bonito del Norte Tuna. So I went looking and was a bit surprised at the price...but she wasn't.

Let me warn you: DO NOT BUY THIS TUNA. It has been known to be seriously addictive. It is like no tuna you have ever tasted. I, of course, had to try it (it is, after all, my duty to know about these things...ah, the sacrifices I make for my customers...). The first thing I did was to use it to make the traditional Tuscan tuna/cannellini bean/fresh sage antipasto salad. The friends who were here that night raved.

This past weekend, finding another jar handily in my cupboard, and having all the makings after my farmers' market trip, I made a Salade Niçoise (you know, this is SPANISH tuna and I'm making French and Italian food with it. I think that means I'll have to have it one more time!) With some lightly steamed haricot verts, tomatoes and olives on a bed of baby greens, it was a great lunch for two. I used the last of the Creole remoulade sauce (from last Saturday) for the dressing and boy! Was it ever good!

So be warned, this is the best tuna you will have ever had. Line caught and packed by hand in extra virgin olive oil, it will make you swear off Starkist forever. And there's the problem: it costs $12 for a 10.6 ounce jar, net weight 7.5 ounces. Indulging a bonito habit could lead you down the road to financial ruin. And how sad, if we were to find you, some day, in a gutter, clutching an empty jar, with tuna crumbs on your face...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Interesting but probably useless tidbits of information

I get several restaurant and gourmet market trade magazines. All kinds of statistics are included, and here are a few I have culled...this will probably be a work in progress. I'll update it occasionally. If you have any interesting ones to add, let me know!

From Restaurants and Institutions:

Taco Bell distributes 54 billion sauce packets for tacos and other menu items annually.

The highest grossing McDonalds location is in Moscow's Pushkin Square, with annual sales of $8.4 million.

From The New York Times:

Date of the first published recipe using tomatoes: 1692

Weight of the biggest tomato on record: 7 pounds 12 ounces

Annual per capita comsumption of fresh tomatoes in the US: 19 pounds

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Southern Grapes

Thank goodness, it's raining! It started during the night, and we've had a steady soft rain all morning. This is the first real rain we've had since August 6, so nobody in Memphis will be complaining about ruining a weekend.

My friend David asked me if I would like to go to the Agricenter Farmers Market with him this morning and I jumped at the chance. The good part was that I was able to get around fairly easily in the wheelchair (by the way, probably only about four more weeks of that!) since it wasn't at all crowded. The bad part was that some of the outdoor folks--Patsy the herb lady, Lindsey the flower man, Tinker the heirloom tomato man--weren't there due to the rain.

There was abundant produce, though, and I bought way too much...I'll have to get cracking in the kitchen. I'll tell you about some of what I do later.

But I thought those not in the South might find this interesting. Muscadine grapes are at the market right now. These are big, tough-skinned grapes, grown throughout most of the south. In fact they look more like small plums. Sorry for the blurry shot, but you can see how big they are. The bronze ones are called either white muscadines, or scuppernongs. They have an unusual flavor, very sweet and almost musky. In the South a lot of families will make wine from it...nothing you would serve with a fine French meal, but perfect for chilling and sipping on the veranda on a warm Southern summer afternoon. But I think the best thing to do is to make jelly.
Start with about 3 quarts of grapes. With a potato masher or the bottom of a glass, mash them, skins, seeds and all. Put in a pan and add water to not quite cover, probably around 2 cups. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the skins are tender. Strain through a fine-holed colander, pressing gently on the solids. Discard the solids, put the juice into a glass container, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Now you have two choices. If you want a very clear jelly, you must strain it again through a jelly bag (or through several layers of dampened cheesecloth), letting it drip for several hours. Or you can use the juice as is. Into a large pot, measure out 5 cups of juice . Add the juice of a lemon, a box of powdered pectin and 7 cups of sugar. Let it set for a few minutes, stirring a couple of times. Then over high heat, bring to a rolling boil. Boil for 90 seconds, remove from heat and skim off any foam. Pour into sterilized jelly jars, and seal.

This also makes a good hot pepper jelly. Just add a couple of chopped jalapeno or habanero peppers to the grapes for the first cooking.

Besides the obvious--spreading on a well buttered biscuit with your breakfast of eggs, country ham and grits--you can add a bit to the pan juices of roast pork, lamb or game. You can also melt it and brush on meats or chicken toward the end of grilling.

Too much trouble, or you can't get muscadines where you live? The jelly is available from several online sources, such as Calhoun Produce.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Speedy tasty shrimp

A vendor gave me a sample, two pounds of some very lovely big shrimp, with the hopes that we would stock it in our retail freezer. Of course, I had to try it. I rounded up a couple of neighbors and friends to help with the prep that I still find difficult (i.e. anything that requires standing for more than a couple of minutes).

Since my supermarket visits have been less frequent than they would be if I could drive, I had to dig around for some amusing way to do them. I seem to be doing a lot of that lately, and the good news is that it is thinning out my pantry of things I have bought or brought home from the shop, not because I needed them at the time, but because they sounded good. I betcha I'm not the only one who does that.

I found a package of Colorado Spice Company "Sicilian Pork Rub." Hmmm...but the ingredients sounded like they would be good with shrimp: mustard seed, coriander seed, garlic, fennel... I chopped a small onion and a couple of cloves of garlic and sautéed them in olive oil. I added a couple of tablespoons of the seasoning mix (available, of course, at Mantia's), a small jar of spicy marinated artichoke hearts (marinade and all) cut into chunks, and a good splash of white wine. Simmered a couple of minutes and tossed in the shrimp. Turned them over a few times until they were just pink and put them on a bed of rice cooked with the zest and juice of a lemon.

How much easier could it be? And extremely tasty...I would do it again!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Bring your own party!

Since I fell and did enormous damage to my leg, many of my friends have tendered invitations to come to their houses for dinner/drinks/brunch/whatever.

Of course I am still stuck in the wheelchair, and it's a total pain to haul me around, since where I go, the chair goes too! But oh glory! The doctor told me last week that I can take that brace, you know, the big heavy one that goes from my ankle all the way up to..anyway, that I can go without it at home. Only at home.

So it seemed to me that the best bet was to have the party come to me. And my friend Jennifer Biggs arranged it for last night. Everyone she called brought some sort of great munchie and a bottle or two of VERY good wine. Some even brought flowers. Well, that's the kind of friends I have.

I fully intended to take pictures for you and give you recipes for the treats, but somehow that just didn't happen.

We had a marvelous crab-artichoke-cheese-roasted pepper thing. Just warm enough for the cheese to be gooey...yum. There was a savory cheesecake thing. Chicken saltimbocca, thinly sliced with a great dipping sauce. Crudites with a sort of olive tapenade. I had a bottle of Rao's great roasted peppers that are fab,and make wonderful crostini; go looking for them in your town (You know, obviously, where to get them in Memphis). Joanna and Roy brought the Earth and Vine Spicy Apple Jam drizzled over quite a nice goat cheese that had been mixed with a bit of fresh rosemary. A VERY felicitous combination. Of course, I can't do much from 10" below counter/stove level, but I got some lovely big cocktail shrimp. Two dipping sauces, one from Stonewall Kitchens, Tequila Lime cocktail sauce, yummy right out of the jar, and the other I made, a Creole remoulade sauce inspired by my Cajun next-door neighbor when I lived in New Orleans.

Here's was was in it: the finely grated zest and juice of a pretty big lemon. Most of a jar of Zatarain's creole mustard. One bunch of green onions, roots trimmed and the (usually) sort of slimey outside layer discarded, roughly chopped including any of the green tops that looked good. A couple of tablespoons of good red wine vinegar. A scant teaspoon of horseradish. A splash of really fruity olive oil. I whizzed all that in the cuisinart and scraped it into a bowl. I added probably a cup and a half of REAL mayonnaise. Not that wimpy reduced fat kind. Tasted and did maybe 6 dashes of Tobasco, some would want more, some none at all.

I did it shortly before the guests were due to arrive (I seem to have recently picked up the tendency to be a bit of a procrastinator...if I hadn't been so well prepared for that dinner party I would NOT have been lolling around on the patio, deciding to raise that *&@# table umbrella...but hindsight being 20-20 and all...) and it was pretty good. However, today my across-the-street neighbors invited me to dinner and I made a little app tray of leftovers and BOY! That sauce was so much better today. I'm thinking that I might use the last of it to make tuna salad. I'll get back to you on that.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Birds do it, bees do it...

...and now cookies do it Cookie Sutra, according to the publisher, the Kama Sutra meets the Joy of Cooking. Talk about food porn....

Friday, August 19, 2005

No more soggy scallops!

On the forum discussion at Chocolate & Zucchini (see the link on the side bar) there is a discussion about how hard it is to get scallops browned.

Here is the secret to nicely browned scallops: there are two ways to buy them. "Dry" refers to scallops that are fresh and not "processed." Processed scallops, which is what you ALWAYS get in big bags frozen at Costco, Sams, etc., have had a solution of salt and preservatives injected to keep them "fresh."

"Dry" doesn't mean how much you blot them 'cause you can blot the processed ones until the cows come home and they will still weep in the pan and keep from browning until they are too tough to be appetizing.

Dry scallops cost more, often as much as half again what the processed ones cost, but you don't lose all that water in the pan, and they brown beautifully and are still perfectly tender in the middle. The best are U-10, which means in a pound, there will be 10 or fewer. We order them regularly for our customers. Outside Memphis, you may have to seek out a good seafood shop to find them but once you've had the good ones, you'll never go back!

Here is a recipe I rather like. I did this for a cooking demonstration on Live@Nine at the Peabody Place a couple of months ago. Usually we are out in the atrium but that day we were filming under an overhang. I was about halfway through my spiel with hosts Mary Beth and Alex when the vapors from the pan set off the smoke alarms throughout the whole complex. So in the background, you could hear the horns going off: "Honka-honka-honka, please evacuate the building in an orderly fashion," and so forth. Mary Beth said "just keep going," so I did. Fire Department came...what a bunch of handsome young devils! I said "I confess, I did it! Wanna frisk me?" They decided to settle for a sample of the scallops instead. Oh well....

Yield: 6 Servings

2 tb Olive oil
2 tb Unsalted butter
1 1/2 lb Sea scallops; patted dry
6 tb Lime juice
8 tb Lime ginger butter
1/2 cup Walnuts; lightly toasted
Parsley; minced for garnish

8 tb Unsalted butter; room temp
4 ts Grated lime zest
2 ts Ground ginger
1 ts Salt
1 ts Pepper

Stir all ingredients for the ginger butter together in a small bowl. Shape into a log on plastic wrap, wrap and refrigerate until firm.

Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over high heat. Add the scallops and cook, turning once, until golden, about 2 minutes. Pour off the fat. Stir in the lime juice and cook 1 minute. Turn the heat to very low, and stir in the lime-ginger butter (cut into slices) 1 tablespoon at a time. Cook just until the butter melts enough to make a thick sauce. Remove from heat and stir in the walnuts. Serve at once, sprinkled with parsley.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

This girl can EAT!

Thanks to Leslie Kelly, Food Writer for the Commercial Appeal, for drawing our attention to the Black Widow, second rated competitive eater in the USA, and her bratwurst eating record. A little bit of a thing, she ate 35 in ten minutes, almost doubling the previous record. Back in his college days, though, I bet my son and any of his buddies, could out-eat her...or at least it seemed like that then!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Luscious Lasagne

As you know, my mobility has been seriously curtailed due to an unfortunate tumble while attempting to raise a patio umbrella. I am several weeks into the healing process, and have a few more to go.

I would not want you to think, however, that I have wasted my time lolling around feeling sorry for myself. No indeed! Much of the time not spent in doing the small tortures devised by the rehab therapist has been spent most profitably: in web-surfing.

I am quite amazed at the number of food blogs to be found. I've had one for a while, mostly as a link from our web page...but I've found so many, each a sort of on-line journal, which can be about pretty much any topic, and can be as amusing (or, frankly, as boring) as the person writing it.

I've gotten into some of the French and Italian language food blogs and have become quite addicted to several, checking in daily and being a bit disappointed if there is no new entry.

One of the ones I check regularly is C'est moi qui l'ai fait or "I made it myself." This is written by a young French woman, wife and mother, who has quite a flair for interesting food combinations. And one of the recipes I found not only sounded quite tasty, but also sounded like one I could handle myself, with most of the work done either sitting or briefly balanced on my one good leg.

So with a little help from my friends, I gave it a shot. And what a delight it was, even better than I had thought it might be. So of course I must share it with you.

The recipe calls for pancetta. This is a sort of Italian bacon, spiced, cured and rolled and available in specialty food markets (and of course, at Mantia's). But it isn't smoked, so our bacon wouldn't be quite the same. We all thought prosciutto or other ham would be a little too lean. We finally decided that a good quality Italian salami might do the trick if you can't find pancetta.

The original recipe also called for all goat cheese but I thought that might be a little strongly flavored for the other ingredients, so I mixed it with ricotta. And although the original recipe didn't call for it, I roasted some asparagus and topped each serving with it, a felicitous addition. All in all, we loved it, and I bet your friends will too!

Mini Lasagnes au Pesto de Pistaches, Fromage de Chévre et Pancetta
(Individual Lasagne with Pistacho Pesto, Goat Cheese and Pancetta)

12 lasagne noodles
24 slices of pancetta (cut about bacon thickness)
1/2 to 3/4 cup pistachio pesto
2 cups ricotta cheese
3/4 cup fresh (soft) goat cheese
1 cup shredded mixed asiago, pecarino romano and parmesan cheeses

Preheat the oven to 400F. Cook the noodles according to package directions in plenty of boiling well salted water. Drain and arrange on paper towels.

Place the pancetta slices in one layer on baking sheets and bake until done but not quite crisp, 10-15 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Mix the goat cheese with the ricotta cheese.

Cut the noodles in half crosswise. In each of six individual oiled baking dishes place a noodle square. Top with a good tablespoon of the ricotta-goat cheese combination, a teaspoon of the pesto and a slice of pancetta. Repeat to make four layers altogether, ending with pancetta. Sprinkle with the cheeses. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until hot rhrough, and the cheese topping is melted and lightly browned. Serves 6.

Pistacho Pesto

1/2 lb unsalted shelled pistachio nuts
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
A big handful, closely packed, fresh basil leaves (about 3/4 cup)
1/4 cup, closely packed, flat leave parsley leaves
Salt and pepper
1 cup good extra virgin olive oil

In the best of all worlds, this would be made by hand, in an old-fashioned mortar and pestle. I just dontt think we're going to do that, are we? So in a food processor, place the pistachios and garlic and pulse several times to chop coarsely. Add the basil and parsley and pulse several more times. Add a good sprinkle of salt and several grindings of black pepper. With the machine running, add the oil in a thin stream, just until combined.

This makes more than you will need for this recipe. Store the remaining pesto in a container in the fridge, covered with a thin layer of olive oil, and use as a pasta sauce, or mixed into a vinaigrette for a salad dressing, or as a crostini topping, or drizzled over almost any grilled meat, poultry or seafood.