Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Splendid Table Soirée

A few weeks ago, WKNO, our local public radio station, brought Lynn Rosetto Kasper to Memphis for a fun filled weekend. If you listen to her weekly show, the Splendid Table, you will be truly jealous to know that I was blessed to play sous-chef to her cooking class at the Viking Center. here in Memphis on Friday, and then on Saturday evening, we did a private, WKNO members only dinner at Mantia's.

If you have ever met "famous" people, you have learned that sometimes they can be distant and condescending...and others are every bit as warm, charming and knowledgeable as you would have thought. Lynn is truly one of the latter. After a few bites of each course, she was up and mingling from table to table, chatting, answering questions, and socializing. As far as the questions go, I listen regularly to her show (and in fact, am an underwriter for her show...which is Public Radio's term for "sponsor"). At the tail end of each show, she invites folks to call in with questions. I had always envisioned her sitting in front of a computer with all the search engines going full blast, and a staff of several sitting around her with tons of resource books. Not so! She fielded some pretty obscure questions with an enormous amout of knowledge...I was impressed and I don't impress easily!

She's written two books, The Splendid Table, which won a number of awards, and The Italian Country Table. Both are delightful to read for the background stories, as well as to cook from. Our dinner came from her cookbooks, and just to let you know what you missed, here is the menu, with the wines, selected by Elizabeth Mall of Delta Wholesale, a house here with a great list of Italian wines:

Aperitivo e Crostini
Little toasts with amusing toppings
Zardetto Prosecco Brut

Antipasti Misti
A plate of tantalizing bites
Cusumano Insolia Sicilia IGT 2004

Fusilloni con Salsa di Porcini con Pomodori
Spiral pasta with Piancenza's Porcini-Tomato Sauce
Cusumano Nero d'Avola Sicilia IGT 2004

Pollo a Due Tempi Il Vecchio Molinetto
Erminia's Pan Crisped Baby Hens
Fagliolini alla Bolognese
Sauteed green beans bolognese
Palladio Chianti DOC 2002

Budino all'Emiliana
Cinnamon and Clove Custards
Vigna Moscoti d'Asti Piemonte 2003 DOC

Saturday, November 12, 2005

More Catfish

I have gotten several e-mails asking for Sonny's catfish cake recipe referenced in my column of a couple of weeks ago, and posted yesterday. Never one to ignore my adoring public (you DO adore me, don't you?) here it is:


1-1/2 lb catfish filets
4 ounces Sonny Salt
1 each red, yellow and green bell pepper, diced
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
3 green onions, thinly sliced (green and white parts)
1 egg
1 tbsp worchestershire sauce
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp Sonny Salt
1 pinch ground black pepper
2-3 cups bread crumbs, divided
(can be fresh, or packaged plain crumbs)
Vegetable oil for frying

In a large pot, bring about 4 quarts water and 4 ounces Sonny Salt to a boil. Add the whole catfish filets. Cook 10 minutes, remove from the water, drain and chill.

In a mixing bowl, combine the vegetables and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg. Add the worchestshire, mayonnaise, mustard, 1 tbsp Sonny Salt and black pepper. Whisk to combine well.

Break up the catfish to the size of lump crabmeat. Fold gently into the egg mixture until well coated. Add 1/2 cup of the veggies and 1/4 cup bread crumbs and fold gently to combine.

Put the remaining breadcrumbs on a baking sheet. Using an ice cream scoop, pick up about 1/2 cup of the mixture. Form into a pattie and put on top of the bread crumbs. Press gently to coat, then turn over and coat the other side.

Heat enough oil in a heavy skillet to come to 1/4" to 1/2" depth. Carefully pick up the patties, brushing off excess crumbs. Cook in the oil for 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown.

Serve with a green salad and cocktail sauce (catsup, lemon juice, horseradish, tobasco, worchestershire and Sonny Salt, combined to your taste).

NOTE: These can also be made in 1" size, for great appetizers!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Fancy Catfish

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As you all know, I am blessed with a cadre of friends who are great cooks. A few weeks ago I went to a catfish feast at the home of Sonny and Ginger Reese. Sonny, who in his "day job" is a manufacturer's representative selling commercial sound and paging systems, is the cook of the family. He also does occasional wedding photography, strictly by word of mouth, almost as a hobby. But food is one of his passions, and he takes every opportunity to cook and entertain friends.

When a house fire a few years ago did considerable damage to the kitchen, it was redesigned with Sonny in mind. The range, sink and cabinets are several inches taller than usual height. Ginger, who teaches English at Lausanne, and is a much shorter person than Sonny, is happy to sit back and let Sonny do it all! The remodeling includes an island that overlooks the cooking area, with tall chairs so guests can sit, chat, watch and share the treats as they come off the stove.

And that evening the treats were flying off the stove! Our first bites were excellent little hush puppies, crisp and brown on the outside, moist and fluffy on the inside. Next we had catfish cakes with a spicy cocktail sauce and grated parmesan cheese for dipping.

Then came a massive platter of fried catfish, with cole slaw and fries. And finally, when we all thought we couldn't possible eat more, a wonderful catfish meuniere, Creole style, with a zesty pecan butter sauce. Every dish was seasoned with "Sonny Salt." This is a unique blend of seasonings, which he created and has recently started having packaged to sell commercially. He uses it pretty much anytime a recipe calls for salt.

And we still weren't finished: for dessert we had a great lemon pie with just the right sharp citrus taste to top off such an abundance of food!

I had such a hard time trying to decide which dish to share with you...but the final dish of the evening was so tasty that I thought that this is the one you would most like to recreate. It looks like a long recipe, but some of it can be done ahead. And all it needs is a crisp green salad on the side. Give it a try!


Pecan butter:
3 tbsp soft butter
2 tbsp roasted pecans
3 tbsp lemon juice

Meuniere sauce:
2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 tbsp water
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup seafood or chicken stock
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup butter

6 catfish filets, about 6 ounces each
3 tbsp Sonny Salt*
2 cups all purpose flour
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup butter
8 ounces roasted pecans

Make the pecan butter: place all ingredients into a food processor and process to a smooth puree. Set aside.

Make the meuniere sauce: Combine flour and water to a smooth paste. Set aside. In a saucepan, bring stock, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice to a boil. With a wire whisk, beat some of the hot stock mixture into the flour paste. Then gradually pour the flour mixture back into the stock, whisking constantly. Simmer briefly, then whisk the butter in a tablespoon at a time.

For the fish, sprinkle the filets with two tablespoons of Sonny Salt. Set aside. In a pie plate, beat eggs with milk. In another, mix the flour with the remaining Sonny Salt. Dip filets first in flour, then in the egg mixture, then in the flour mixture again and set aside on a baking sheet.

In a large skillet, heat half the butter over medium heat. Add half the catfish and cook 3-4 minutes, or until golden brown, turning once. Transfer to warmed serving platter and cook remaining filets.

To serve, spread the pecan butter evenly over the filets and sprinkle with the pecans. Warm the meuni?re sauce and pour over the top. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

NOTE: Sonny Salt is available locally in several specialty markets, including Mantia's. If you aren't in the Memphis area, use a good brand of seasoning salt, or e-mail us and we'll send it to you!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Entertaining meme...

Without a doubt this is my most indispensable entertaining item. I have lots of plate, platters, bowls, silver and pewter serving pieces, and sets of dishes to serve a cast of millions (well, perhaps I exagerate there...).

But what I love the most is a flower pot, made not of clay but of some sort of sort of foamy plastic, so it doesn't weigh a ton. I can fill it up with wine and ice--it will hold four or five bottles of wine--and first, IT DOESN'T SWEAT! So I can put it on almost any surface without worrying about water spots or white rings. Secondly, it makes for good insulation, and if I fill it up with wine and ice, the ice will be there long after the wine is gone, so I don't have to worry about keeping the wine cold.

I got three of these at Sam's Wholesale Club a couple of years ago and if memory serves, I paid around $8 each. One of my best investments!

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Warming lamb soup...

If you're a regular reader you know that since my accident, I've been peering into my freezer frequently to see what's hidden in there. And I've found some great forgotten goodies. This week I found a solitary lone lamb shank. Why would I do that, do you think? I mean, if I were cooking for guests and had one extra, wouldn't I have cooked that one to be sure of leftovers? Surely I didn't buy just one... It's a mystery.

Anyway, even though the weather here in Memphis is unseasonably warm for November--we set a record on Tuesday with a high of 86 F--I made soup. I've had Scotch Broth a few times but had never made it. I will certainly do it again! And if the weather had been chilly and damp it would have been even better. It may not look "pretty" but it sure was tasty. And as is true for many great soups, it is equally good the next day!


1 leek
2 tbsp butter
1 large lamb shank, or 1 lb lamb breast, shoulder or stew meat
1/2 cup medium grain barley
Water, as needed
2 medium turnips
2 carrots
4 stalks celery
1 medium onion
Salt and pepper to taste

Trim off the tough green tops and the root end of the leek. Cut the remaining white and pale green part in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/2" slices. Melt the butter in a large heavy pot and cook the leek over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Put the lamb into the pot, just cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover partially and simmer, skimming as needed, for 30 minutes. Add barley and cook for 45 minutes more, or until the lamb is very tender, adding water just as needed to keep lamb barely covered. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove the lamb, let cool slightly and remove from the bones in chunks. Discard bones and return the lamb to the pot.

Peel the turnips, carrots and onion and dice. Cut the celery into 1/4" slices. Add the veggies to the pot and simmer until tender, another 20-30 minutes. The lamb shank wasn't very fatty, but if you have too much fat, you can skim off the excess. Serves 6-8. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Apple-Cardamom Sabayon Gratin

I needed something sweet to go after a soup supper with friends last night. I didn't want to have to go to the market, so I looked at what I had. Apples! I caramelized them in a bit of butter and brown sugar, put them in gratin dishes and covered them with a brandy-cardamom sabayon (or zabaglione, if you prefer) and ran them under the broiler. The picture doesn't do them justice, I thought they were yummy. We had some tasty little cookies to go with them, but I wish I had put a little scoop of rich vanilla ice cream on top. Coffee ice cream would have been good, too.


6 good-sized firm apples (I used Fiji)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp brown sugar
6 egg yolks
5 tbsp white sugar
5 tbsp brandy
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 pinch salt

Peel and cored the apples and cut into thick wedges. In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the apples and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Cook about 5 minutes, turning gently, until the apples are lightly browned. Lower the heat, cover the pan and cook until almost tender. Remove the cover and cook until the juices are reduced and the apples are caramelized. Divide among six individual gratin dishes.

In a small heavy sauce pan, whisk together the egg yolks, white sugar, brandy, cardamom and salt. Over low heat, whisk until just starting to thickened. Don't overcook or you'll have scrambled eggs! Spoon over the apples.

Preheat your broiler. Place the dishes on a baking sheet and slide under the broiler for a couple of minutes, until the sabayon is lightly golden and just barely set.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Fall Ravioli!

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"What can I do with pumpkin besides pie?" "What can I do with chestnuts besides stuffing?" Those are two questions I've been asked recently. I think I've found an answer to both!

A while back one of my cooking buddies and I decided to make ravioli from scratch. It was made a bit easier by the fact that I have a pasta rolling machine with a little motor on it. Still, it took both of us quite a while to get it done, with the pasta dough making, the resting, the rolling several times until the pasta sheet was thin enough and the forming of the raviolis. And at the end the kitchen and both of us looked as if a flour bag had exploded!

You're probably not going to do that, are you? And the next time we did it, we didn't go through all that, either. It is very easy to make ravioli using wonton wrappers. They are, after all, just pasta.

Here's the technique: Pick your filling and get it ready. You don't have to dust your work surface with flour, as you do with fresh pasta, but do make sure it is completely dry. Lay out one wonton wrapper and put a heaping teaspoonful of filling in the center. Brush the edges with water and top with another wrapper. Mold the center of the top wrapper around the filling to eliminate any air pockets, then press the edges together to seal. If you like, you may use a pastry cutter to "pink" the edges, or a cookie cutter to make rounds.

Put the ravioli on a cookie sheet and cover with a towel for about 1/2 hour before cooking, or cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook. To cook, slip one by one into a pot of barely boiling salted water. They are done about 30 seconds after they rise to the top, or 3-4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a colander to drain.

The sauce is the same for both: just before serving, melt a stick of butter, add a splash of white wine and simmer a minute or two. Add two tablespoons of fresh sage, cut into thin strips. Save a few sage leaves to garnish the plate.

For your dinner, simply add a big green salad with a drizzle each of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and some crusty bread.


1 cup roasted chestnuts
2 tbsp pancetta or bacon, finely chopped
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup water
1 tart cooking apple, peeled and cut into 1/4" dice

Coarsely chop the chestnuts. In a large skillet, cook the pancetta or bacon in the butter until almost crisp. Add the shallot and garlic and cook, stirring, until the shallot is tender, but not browned. Add the chestnuts and the water and simmer about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and mash the chestnuts with a fork. Stir in the diced apple. Add salt and pepper to taste, and use to fill ravioli. After cooking, drizzle with the sage butter, grate a good imported parmesan over the top, garnish with sage leaves and serve at once.


1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can pure pumpkin (NOT pie filling)
or two cups cooked and purée fresh pumpkin
2 tbsp mango chutney, minced
A light grating of fresh nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the onion in the butter until just barely tender. Add the garlic and cook until tender and lightly golden brown. Add the pumpkin, chutney, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Heat gently for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Make and sauce your ravioli according to the instructions above.