Friday, December 29, 2006

Luscious currant relish

  A few weeks ago, a friend called. We don't get together as much as we might like, so we just planned on cooking together at her house. I showed up with nothing exactly in mind, with some salad makings, and some fruit. She had beautiful lamb chops. We raided her fridge for the currant preserves. I'm not sure exactly how the following sauce evolved that evening, but here's what I do know: it would be perfect with your holiday dinners. And it's so easy!

I had brought Granny Smith apples, but any tart crisp apple would work equally well. I used the wine we were going to drink later, and thyme from my garden.

The slightly tart flavor of the currants, the tang of the apple, the thyme scented wine base, all made for a sauce that was quick and easy to do, stores well, and was wonderful on the grilled lamb chops. It would be a superb complement to a turkey, ham or roast pork dinner. It would also be tasty with a firm full flavored fish like salmon or swordfish, simply grilled. It's good warm from the pan, or chilled.

Or put into pretty jars, it would be a thoughtful hostess gift. Just make sure it stays refrigerated!


2 tbsp butter or vegetable oil
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large tart cooking apple, peeled and cut into 1/4" dice
3/4 cup (half a 12 ounce jar) black currant preserves
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1/2 tsp dried
Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until just soft and translucent. Add the apples and toss to combine well. Add the preserves, wine and thyme and simmer until the wine has reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 2 cups relish. May be doubled or tripled with no change in measurements. Posted by Picasa

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Weekend Brunch for a Bunch

  I grew up in Louisville, where there are two holiday seasons: the month of December and the couple of weeks leading to Derby Day, the first Saturday in May. Both are a whirl of parties and entertaining. The trick for both was to plan your party so you would have the most people come, and your wouldn’t miss a really good one given by someone else.

As a young bride, I found a solution that worked best for me. I tended to be a bit more moderate in my fun-having than some. So my traditional party was a brunch, the Sunday after Derby Day in May, and on New Year’s Day in January. Everyone came, since I was the only one entertaining on those days, and all appreciated not having to cope with getting breakfast together themselves.

The trick to this is to have dishes that can be mostly prepared in advance. Recently a group of friends got together for a leisurely brunch. We set out a platter of assorted cheeses and crackers to start. The main event was a made-ahead mushroom-cheddar sauce with hard-cooked eggs and Canadian bacon on toasted English muffins and served with a salad. For a sweet, we had an easy lemon coffeecake from a recipe I’ve had for a while. It probably came off the back of a Bisquick box.

The last minute work on this is minimal. The day before, make your sauce, cook your eggs and make your cake. Then for the brunch. all you have to do is reheat the sauce and add the eggs, warm the Canadian bacon and toast the muffins. Toss a bag of spring greens with a small can of Mandarin oranges (drained), sliced strawberries and purchased poppy seed dressing. Make a big pot of coffee. Set out pitchers of orange and tomato juices with bottles of vodka and sparkling wine if that’s your inclination.

We made a sort of Kir Royal with champagne and pomegranate juice (available in the produce section of most supermarkets). It was an experiment and a felicitous one, since it wasn’t too sweet.

Why don’t you start your own New Year’s Day tradition? Invite your friends, feed them and then let them put their feet up to watch the football games, work the crossword puzzle or just nap a bit. They’ll be so grateful!

Mushroom-Cheddar Brunch Muffins

1 lb white mushrooms, divided
8 tbsp unsalted butter (one stick), divided
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup half-and-half
1 tsp each dry mustard and sugar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup dry sherry
12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
1/2 small onion
1 cup sliced black olives
1 jar (12-ounce) roasted red peppers, drained and sliced
24 slices Canadian bacon
12 English muffins
12 eggs, hard cooked, peeled
Sweet paprika, for garnish

Slice about half the mushrooms. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter and sauté the sliced mushrooms over medium heat until lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the remaining butter to the pan. When it starts to foam, whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly for a couple of minutes. Whisk in the stock until smooth, then whisk in the cream. Add the mustard, sugar, Worcestershire sauce and sherry. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened.

Meanwhile in a food processor, combine the remaining mushrooms and the onion and pulse to make fine “crumbs.” When the sauce is smooth and thick, add this mixture and continue to simmer for about five minutes, stirring often. Add the reserved sautéed mushrooms, the olives and the roasted peppers. Stir in the cheese until melted. At this point you can cover, cool and refrigerate until ready to use, up to three days.

When ready to serve, peel and slice the eggs. Warm the sauce and gently stir in the eggs. Split the muffins and place on a baking sheet. Put the slices on Canadian bacon on another sheet. Preheat the broiler. Place the Canadian bacon on a lower shelf with the muffins above. Toast the muffins, watching carefully (they go from toasted to charred very quickly!). On dinner plates, place two muffin halves, top each with a warmed Canadian bacon slice, then the sauce. Sprinkle with paprika and serve immediately.

You can also put the sauce in a chafing dish, set out the muffins and Canadian bacon, and let folks serve themselves as they wander in. Serves 12.

Bisquick Lemon Coffee Cake

2-1/2 cups Bisquick baking mix
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 lemon (peel and all) warmed, seeded and cubed
3 eggs
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 tbsp milk
1 cup powdered sugar
5 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350o. Stir together Bisquick, sugar and poppy seeds. In a blender or food processor blend lemon pieces until finely chopped. Add eggs and butter and blend well. Pour into dry ingredients. Add milk and stir until just moistened. Pour into a greased 9-inch cake pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool about 15 minutes.
In a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar and lemon juice. Drizzle over the cake. To store, let glaze set, then wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature. Makes 12 modest sized servings.
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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Menu for Hope

Once a year, in a tradition started by Chez Pim, the food bloggers of this world unite for a world-wide virtual raffle in which proceeds are donated to a charitable cause. Last year's event raised over $17,000 and with the number of foodblogs and their audience having at least tripled in the last year, we are hoping to raise even more this time round.

And here's how it works: many participating foodbloggers donate a prize which is advertised on various Menu for Hope portals around the world. From there on it's over to you, really!

Readers can buy raffle tickets for just $10 each on a secure website, specifying which prize (or prizes) they'd like to win. The more tickets they buy, the more chances of winning, obviously. Winners will be announced on Chez Pim on the 15th of January and your prize will be shipped at no cost to you. All proceeds will be donated to the United Nations' World Food Programme - no foodblogger will ever touch the money collected, it will go straight to the UN.

Take your pick of prizes: wine and cheese from Sonoma County? Chef's knives? Perhaps you'd rather have gourmet olive oils or European food baskets?

Then go to the donation page and donate to support the fight against world hunger and for a chance to win one of hundreds of prizes!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pastitsio--Greek Baked Pasta

 Finally! We got weather that really said “It’s winter!!!” And there’s almost nothing that I like better when it’s really cold outside, than a good baked pasta dish. The Greeks have a good one, pastitsio, that is among my favorites.

Recently I made this for a group of friends. Earlier in the day I peeled and seeded cucumbers, sliced red onion very thinly and cut up a couple of tomatoes that looked surprisingly appealing for winter tomatoes. I covered them with a vinaigrette made of red wine vinegar, olive oil and dried oregano and left them sitting on the kitchen counter. When I would think about it, I gave them a little toss. By dinnertime they were ready to put on top of a bed of lettuce for a salad that made a perfect complement to the pasta.

I want to encourage you to make the sauce at least a day ahead and refrigerate it, so the fat can be taken off the top once it is cold. If that’s not possible, just skim off as much fat as you can once the sauce is done.

If you are one of those people who think they don’t like lamb, I would like to encourage you to try this. If you are absolutely sure you don’t like lamb, you can use lean ground beef instead. Either way, it will make you feel warm and toasty when the weather outside is not!


3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 large cloves garlic
1 lb ground lamb
1 tsp each oregano, cinnamon, and ground cumin
1/2 tsp each ground ginger and ground coriander
2 bay leaves
1 cup dry red wine
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cans Italian herb diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup flour
4 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
1 cup parmesan, freshly grated
1 lb rigatoni
4 eggs

Make the sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and cook the onion and garlic until soft and translucent. Add the lamb and cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is cooked through and crumbly. Stir in the herbs and spices and cook, stirring, another 5 minutes. Dissolve the tomato paste in the wine and add with the tomatoes. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook until thickened, another 30 minutes or so. Cool, cover and refrigerate.

Preheat your oven to 350. Cook the pasta according to package directions until just barely tender. Drain well.

Meanwhile make the topping: In a saucepan, cook the garlic in the butter over very low heat for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. Don’t let it brown. Slowly whisk in the milk, Stir in the salt and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, whisking to avoid lumps, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in one cup of the grated cheese.
Warm the lamb sauce gently. Separate two of the eggs. Whisk the whites until frothy and stir into the lamb sauce. Toss with the cooked pasta. Pour into a four-quart baking dish.

Add the remaining two eggs to the two yolks and whisk to blend well. Stir into the topping. Pour evenly over the pasta and sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese over the top. Bake in the middle of the oven until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Let cool about 15 minutes before serving. Serves 8 very generously. Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 01, 2006

Chicken Tortelloni Soup

  After several days of unusually warm weather, winter has arrived! At least we missed the worst of the winter storm, but it's still pretty nippy out there...a perfect day for soup!

There have been some studies done that indicate that folks who either start their dinners with soup, or make soup the main course, tend to eat fewer calories overall during that meal. With all the holiday parties coming, some of us (including me!) should probably be eating soup at every meal. I, for one, would be quite happy to do that.

I had some friends coming for a casual dinner recently, and running late, as usual, I didn't have time to do a lot of cooking. Fortunately I always keep some good bread in the freezer. When I bring it home, I wrap it first in foil, then put it in a plastic freezer bag. I can take it out of the freezer when I need it. It thaws fairly quickly at room temperature, and then it crisps up nicely in a hot oven. You'd never know it wasn't fresh from the bakery.

I also had all of the makings for this soup. I like using the fresh stuffed pastas--ravioli, borsellini (little purses), tortellini (modeled, by legend, from the navel of Venus)--that you find in the refrigerated section of all the supermarkets now. There is a great variety with all kinds of interesting fillings. They freeze well, too, right in their package. Usually you can cook them from the frozen state but they should be thawed before using in this particular recipe. I think you could use sausage stuffed ones in this recipe very nicely for a little variation of flavor. And I know it would be a great way to use up any holiday turkey leftovers.

With a pre-packaged bag of salad greens topped with a handful of toasted walnuts, some crumbled gorgonzola cheese and red wine vinaigrette, we had a lovely meal, This soup was declared quite tasty by everyone, so of course I must share it with you!


2 tbsp butter
1 cup onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups white mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
8 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp diced roasted red bell pepper or pimento
1 package fresh cheese tortellini
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2" cubes
Fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped, for garnish

In a large saucepan with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to get soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until lightly browned. Add the curry powder and ground cumin and stir well. Add the chicken stock and roasted pepper or pimento. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes. You can do this ahead of time. When ready to serve, bring back to a boil. Add the tortellini and chicken cubes. Bring back to a boil, cover, remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls and top with minced cilantro or parsley for garnish. Serves 6 as a main course. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dinner with friends

I have friends who love to cook. I have friends I love to cook with. One who fits into both categories is Laretha Randolph. She and her husband, Bryson, are like family, so when she called recently on her way into the supermarket and asked me to dinner, of course I accepted. “Come in about half an hour,” she said.

Sure, I thought…she wouldn’t even be home by then. Was I surprised! Not only was she home but also had a good start on dinner. And she put me to work, too. Baby beets were roasting in the oven. When done and cooled a bit, I peeled them and sliced them over a bed of mâche, a slightly bitter baby green. Topped with toasted walnuts and a raspberry-balsamic vinaigrette with a touch of walnut oil, our first course was done.

Duck breasts, dusted with salt and pepper, were searing in a very hot heavy skillet with a touch of olive oil. When nicely browned and crusty, Laretha transferred them to a baking pan to finish in the oven. A little port reduced in the skillet made a simple but very fine sauce.
Meanwhile, I had peeled carrots and sliced them into chicken broth seasoned with ground cardamom. Drained and mashed like potatoes, they were subtly flavored with the spice. It was a new idea for me.

A long grain-wild rice mixture was simmered with dried cranberries added.
And as if this wasn’t enough, she set me to shredding cabbage. The addition of blue cheese to the sautéed cabbage was the final touch on a very impressive dinner. And all done within about 45 minutes.

I was amazed.

You could do this, too, you know. If you’re not a fan of duck breasts, you can substitute a good cut of steak. New York strip would do nicely, I think. Whether you choose to do this whole menu or just a part of it, I know your friends will enjoy it as much as I did!


1/2 of a large head cabbage (you’ll use about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 ounces Stilton or other good quality blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp each salt and fresh ground pepper (or to taste)

Cut the head of cabbage in half from top to stem. Turn it with one cut side down and cut into 1/4” shreds. In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the cabbage and sauté, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Add the crumbled Stilton and stir a couple of times. Add the cream. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for a minute or two, until cheese has melted and sauce begins to thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 6. Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 24, 2006

Winter squash: wonderful!

  I certainly hope everyone had as great a holiday dinner as I did! As always, I spent the day at the home of good friends. I try to get there a little early to help. And I always take this squash casserole. The original recipe came from the New York Times magazine in 1999, and I love it.

The topping has black walnuts and bacon. Black walnuts may be a bit hard to find, but it's worth looking for, since the flavor is very different from English walnuts. I found them this year at Schnucks; Kroger does not carry them. I bought several packages for the freezer as well, since I think they are the only nuts to use in my Aunt Mary Lee's blackberry jam cake.

I've made this a time or two for non-meat eaters, and used melted butter in the topping rather than the bacon and bacon fat. It is equally tasty.

You can assemble it ahead of time and refrigerate the casserole and the topping mixture separately, then sprinkle on the topping and bake when you're ready for it.

Give it a try!


2 small butternut squash, about 2# each (or one large one)
1 red onion; peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 cup heavy cream
1-1/2 cups fontina, grated
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black epper
4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
6 slices bacon, a good smoked kind, diced
1 cup black walnuts, chopped
1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375.

Peel the squash (a vegetable peeler works best) and cut in half. Scoop out the seeds and scrape out the fibrous part. Cut into 1/2" dice. In a large bowl, toss the squashes, onion, cream, cheese, salt, pepper and half the parsley. Scrape into a gratin dish or baking dish. Set aside.

In a skillet set over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring, until browned and crisp. Add the walnuts and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted. Add the breadcrumbs and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining parsley. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the casserole. Bake until the squash is very tender and the topping is browned, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Serves 8. Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 17, 2006

Raclette for a Winter Treat!

  It is time for some winter comfort food. Before the big rush of the holidays, we just want to have a casual dinner with a few friends. One thing that comes to my mind when the cold weather hits is raclette. Raclette is the name of a cheese, and the name of a dish made with it. The name comes from the French verb “racler,” which means “to scrape,” which is what you do to the cheese as it melts.

Although there are a couple of stories about the origins of the dish, the place of the origin is not disputed: first in the Swiss Alps in the canton of Valais, spreading to the French Alps in the Savoie region. Depending on which legend you believe, it was created by shepherds taking their meal of bread, some cold potatoes and cheese that they heated over the fire they had built to keep warm in the fields. Or it was first cooked by grape harvesters taking a break from their tiring work. One of them stabbed his cheese with a knife and held it up to the fire to warm, scraping off the melting cheese.

My sister Cindy, who teaches French in Knoxville, introduced me to raclette. Several years ago, she went to study in Annecy, in the French Alps, about 20 miles from Switzerland. One of her favorite restaurants had all-you-can-eat raclette one night a week during the winter. There would be a big wheel of raclette cheese near the fireplace just melting enough to get soft. The waiter would scrape off the cheese onto small warmed plates, and would bring you as many platefuls as you wanted. Cornichons (French sour pickles) and pickled onions would be in jars on the table. Also on the table would be boiled potatoes wrapped in towels to keep them warm and a platter of sausages and ham. According to her, before you realized it you had eaten WAY too much, but it was SO good!

I had never had it, since I had usually gone to France in warmer weather, and spent most of my time in the south, rather than in the mountains. Then for Christmas a few years ago she got a raclette machine. It has eight little individual pans that slide in under a heating element. The top can be used to heat the sausage, ham or salami. There’s another type that holds a full half wheel under a heating element, so that each person can scrape off what he wants. Both are pretty pricey unless you plan on using them a good bit. I was fortunate enough to find a brand new one for myself at an estate sale, a real bargain. But if you don’t have one of these machines you can still enjoy the raclette experience.

This is definitely a winter dish (think apres-ski), and one to share with a small group. If you would like to give it a try, get your raclette cheese (available at cheese shops and gourmet markets); about 8 ounces per person should do it. The cheese itself is a full flavored cheese, very aromatic but not strong and smelly. If you can’t find raclette, Appenzeller or Gruyere would be almost as good.

Here’s the plan: Boil small unpeeled redskin or Yukon Gold potatoes and keep them warm. On a platter, arrange the sliced meats: ham, prosciutto, salami, smoked and fresh sausages. Put out bowls of cornichons and pickled onions and a loaf of crusty bread. Optional (and definitely not traditional) are slices of tomato, steamed broccoli florets, slices of red bell pepper and sautéed mushrooms. You might want a little pot of Dijon mustard, too.

Slice the cheese about 1/4” thick. In a buttered shallow baking dish that can go to the table, place one slice of cheese (rind removed) per person. Slide into the oven about 4” below a pre-heated broiler. Watch carefully and when it just starts to melt and look a bit crusty, take it out. Meanwhile your friends will have filled their plates, preferably pre-warmed, with the condiments. Scoop a slice of the cheese onto each plate and dig in. Repeat until the cheese is gone and everyone is full and happy.

The only side dish you might want is a green salad with a simple white wine vinaigrette (2 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste, whisked together).

I have a friend who makes this with a pizza stone set on the hearth right in front of the fireplace, with the cheese resting on the side with the rind. I haven’t tried this, but it would be a fun way to do it, with everyone gathered around the fire, and would lend an authentic slightly smoky flavor.

For dessert, a dish of sliced oranges, sprinkled, if you like, with slivered fresh basil and a touch of honey does the trick. If you’re more ambitious, make it a fruit salad with the addition of thinly sliced apples and pears, and sprinkle with toasted walnuts.

So who cares if the weather outside is frightful...raclette is SO delightful! Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 13, 2006

Salmon Shepherd's Pie?

In France, when you see the word parmentier on the menu, it always refers to a dish containing potatoes. It refers back to Antoine-August Parmentier, an apothecary student sent off to fight the Prussians during France’s Seven Year War (1756-1763). He was taken prisoner of war by the Prussians, and while in captivity he was fed a steady diet of potatoes—three times a day.

Returning to France he attempted to establish the potato as a culinary staple, but the French weren’t having any of that. Not, at least, until wheat crops faltered, causing a shortage of the beloved bread. It took a few years to convince the French, not until Louis XVI recognized his efforts and served the potato at court, including, the story goes, a dinner for diplomat Benjamin Franklin that featured an “all potato” menu.

Antoine started potato soup kitchens all over Paris to feed the starving citizenry, and has been rewarded by posterity by having the ubiquitous French potato-leek soup named after him.

Besides the soup, there is another dish also bearing his name: “hachis parmentier.” It resembles to a great extent what we call shepherd’s pie: a bottom layer of seasoned chopped meat, topped with mashed potatoes and baked. Comfort food, for sure!

I read, recently, in a French magazine, about a version using fish instead of meat. I figured this would lighten it considerably, and gave it a try recently with my usual Monday evening neighbor guinea pigs.

I cooked the potatoes with cauliflower and mashed them together. I had a small piece of Spanish chorizo in the fridge. I diced it and whizzed it in the food processor to make crumbs out of it, and mixed it into the potatoes. I used salmon for the base, topping it with sautéed onions and shallots, and used tarragon as the seasoning. Topped with breadcrumbs and baked, it was truly a delicious dish. I served it with just a salad with light vinaigrette and we were all happy!


1 cauliflower
2 large Idaho potatoes
? pound Spanish chorizo (or substitute pepperoni)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, including green tops
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil
5 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, divided
? cup half-and-half, or whole milk
2 pounds boneless salmon filet
? cup butter
4 slices firm bread, crusts removed

Remove the green leaves from the cauliflower and cut into florets. Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Cook the potatoes and cauliflower in plenty of salted water for 20-25 minutes, or until tender.

Meanwhile, cook the garlic, onion and shallots in the olive oil over low heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Dice the chorizo and pulse a couple of times in a food processor, or chop very finely by hand.

Drain the potatoes and cauliflower, place in a large bowl and mash. Add the warm milk and the chorizo.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a shallow 2-quart casserole. Put the salmon, cut into slices, evenly over the bottom. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Top with the onion/garlic/shallot mixture. Sprinkle with half the tarragon. Spread the potato mixture evenly over the top. Put the bread in a food processor with the remaining tarragon and the butter and pulse to make crumbs. Sprinkle over the top of the casserole.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the top is golden and crusty. Let set for about 10 minutes, then scoop out and serve. Serves 6-8.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Warming winter soup!

Every year about this time, I start looking in my closet for cool weather clothes and wonder what I wore last winter. I pull open drawers and peer into my closet looking for sweaters, warm jackets and wooly socks. I check the firewood situation in case I need to build a fire on a wet gray day. And I pull out the soup pot and think about what to cook in it.

A couple of weeks ago, we had that first chilly rainy autumn day. It was the day that my Monday dinner crowd was coming, and all I could think about was soup. I considered chili, but for that, in my mind at least, the weather needs to be really blustery and freezing cold. I headed to the market with nothing precisely in my mind, but I picked up a few items that I thought would combine well.

Well, look at what I had, a whole basket full of cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage! This group has been touted variously as being good for cancer prevention, anti-aging, lowering cholesterol, and making you rich (well, I made that last one up myself, wishful thinking, I’m sure).

A couple of potatoes and I was set for soup. I love potato soup and that’s where we started, then added and adjusted until it was quite tasty. I made cornbread and had a basic green salad and it made the perfect meal for a chilly fall evening.

Yummy Veggie Chowder

2 lbs russet or Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups chicken stock
8 slices good smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4” strips
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 large onion, cut in half from stem to root end and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 small head cabbage, shredded
1 16-ounce bag broccoli-cauliflower combination (from the produce section)
2 cups whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup (about 4 ounces) shredded Jarlsberg or good Gruy?re cheese

In a medium pan, combine the potatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the potato is almost done.

Meanwhile, in a soup pot, cook the bacon, stirring often, until just starting to brown. Remove the bacon strips with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the garlic to the bacon fat and stir a couple of times. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the is soft and translucent.

Pour the potato mixture into the soup pot with the onions. Stir a couple of times and then add the cabbage, and the broccoli and cauliflower (cut into bite-sized pieces). Cover and simmer until the vegetables are done and the potato is very soft, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve a couple of tablespoons of the cheese and blend the rest into the soup. If the soup seems too thick, add a bit more stock.

Ladle into soup bowls and top with the reserved bacon and a few shreds of the reserved cheese. Serves 8 as a main course soup.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Volare Ristorante - Again!

You may remember my visit to Volare Ristorante in Louisville, back in August, with my sister. It is an enormous tribute that we went back a second time, considering how many great and unique restaurants in Louisville. But we couldn't resist the promise of an Umbrian dinner a couple of weeks ago.

It started with an antipasto of two kinds of sausages, both apparently made in-house, a couple of wedges of truffled cheese and a melange of olives that had been marinated in orange juice.

The next course was a wonderful dish of asparagus topped with salsa besamiella laced with truffles, sprinkled with grated parmesan and run under the broiler. It was a substantial dish, and I would have been delighted to be able to finish it, wiping up the last dribbles of the sauce with the excellent bread we had.

Then came the primo piatto: a wide pasta--wider than fettuccine, narrower than papardelle--tossed with a very light tomato sauce with bits of eggplant, onion and herbs. In the true Italian manner, it wasn't drenched with the sauce. It was delicious, but now we were starting to get full, and were only half way through the meal!

Our next course was a sort of intermezzo of a pear poached in sangiovese on a bed of arugula, with shavings of pecarino cheese. I would have liked a drizzle of the poaching liquid on the greens, but it was still quite tasty. This is a course I've never had in Italy, and probably, had I been orchestrating the meal, would go better after the secondo piatto, before dessert.

For the secondo piatto, we had our choice of a pork chop marinated in white wine and herbs and grilled, grilled trout, or rabbit simmered in a rich tomato-wine sauce redolent of garlic. My sister had the pork, I had the rabbit. Both were very well done.

The final course, the dolce, was a sampler: ossi dei morti ("bones of the dead," an All Saints Day traditional cookie in Italy), a slightly dry (and therefore very Italian) lemon cake, and the best, chocolate fettuccine in a creme anglaise sauce. In spite of the fact that we were by now thoroughly stuffed, we both somehow managed to put it away!

We are now planning our next trip to visit the parents for the last weekend in January, for the Tuscan meal!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Caribbean Cornish Hens...

A friend of mine bragged about roasting a great chicken. He gently separated the skin from the flesh and rubbed a zesty cilantro pesto underneath and then roasted it, basting with oil mixed with more of the pesto. It sounded really good to me.

I don’t know about you, but although I love roast chicken, it’s a pain to do for guests. First, it’s got to be carved. And since it’s at its most visually appealing before carving, do I bring it to the table uncarved and then make a big mess carving it? Do I bring it to the table to show it off and then take it back to the kitchen and carve? Do I just carve it in the kitchen and be the only one to admire its pre-carved beauty?

And then, there’s the problem of parceling out the white and dark meat. Oh, it’s just too much trouble!

But, aha! There is a solution: Cornish game hens. They are usually just over a pound each. Many recipes call for a whole one per person, but I find that half is enough for nearly everyone. I do a few extra halves in case someone wants more. They come frozen and most supermarket butchers will saw them in half for you. If not, it’s easy enough to cut them through the breastbone and hack through the backbone yourself.

I did this for a group of friends who get together to cook semi-regularly. They all brought the appetizers and dessert and I made the dinner. The first course was a chilled soup; that’s for another time.

I was afraid the hens would need a little sauce, so I made a very spicy salsa to go with it, but as it turned out, the pan juices would have been enough. I accompanied it with steamed kale. I love kale because it doesn’t get limp like other greens, so it looks good on the plate. Just remove the large stems and cut into about 1” ribbons. I sautéed a little onion in olive oil and added about 1/2” of chicken stock in the pan. Bring to a simmer, add the kale, cover and steam for about 5 minutes.

For the starch, I have to confess that I used Zatarain’s Caribbean rice blend, from the supermarket. It has pineapple and coconut, for a touch of sweetness that was perfect with the hens.

I had a couple of hens left, and the next day, put them in a pot with the leftover pan juices and enough chicken stock to just cover. I simmered them a bit, then took them out and stripped the meat from the bones. With the leftover rice and kale added, it made one of the best soups I’ve ever had. Bonus time!

Caribbean Roast Cornish Hens

3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
2 shallots, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and deveined, minced
1/2 cup parsley leaves
1 cup cilantro leaves
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried)
The grated zest and juice of one lime
1 tsp each ground cardamom and coriander
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
3 Cornish hens

In a food processor, blend together everything except the hens. Starting from the breast side, carefully slip your fingers under the skin over the breast and back to the thighs. Using about half the pesto, spread it under the skin. Place on a baking sheet and brush with some of the remaining pesto. Cover and refrigerate a couple of hours. Remove from the refrigerator about a half-hour before roasting.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Place the baking sheet, uncovered, in the top half of the oven. Roast, basting occasionally with pesto, for about 40 minutes, or until the hens are golden brown.

Remove the hens from the baking sheet and keep warm. Place the sheet over the stove burner and add 1/2 cup each water and white wine. Simmer, scraping up all the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Pour into a little pitcher or sauceboat and pass at the table. Serves 6.

Monday, September 18, 2006

French Goat Cheese Lasagne

I am quite amazed at the number of food blogs to be found.
They can be about pretty much any aspect of food and food preparation, and can be as amusing (or, frankly, as boring) as the person writing it.

I got 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 do ahead. I like that in a recipe! So 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. But it isn’t smoked, so our bacon wouldn’t be quite the same. My testing groug 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 don't want to come to Mantia's for 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 Chèvre 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
1/4 cup fresh (soft) goat cheese
1 cup shredded mixed asiago, pecarino romano and parmesan cheeses

Preheat the oven to 400. 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 don’t 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.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Good 'n' Easy Tuna Salad

As hot as it's been lately, it’s hard to get excited about turning on the stove or the oven. A salad hits the spot, and with a little enhancement, a salad of canned tuna can become dinner. I like to use tuna packed in olive oil; I think it has a lot more flavor than the water packed type. You, however, may make your own decision about that.

If you are feeling a little more ambitious, you could replace the canned tuna with 12 ounces of fresh tuna, brushed with a little soy sauce and olive oil and grilled to medium-rare. Sliced thin and fanned out over the top, it makes a lovely plate. You could also toss the tuna, avocado and tomato with the greens and dressing, but I find the good stuff always goes to the bottom of the salad bowl when I do that. And I like the look of a "composed salad" better anyway.

I love the bags of pre-washed salad mixes from the produce section of the supermarket. You may use whatever blend you like best. Or you could wash and crisp your own lettuce…but I almost never do anymore. I like to serve this with packaged lime-flavored tortilla chips but crusty bread or even crisp crackers would be good as well.

I hope your friends and family enjoy this as much as mine did!


2 7-ounce cans tuna
2 large vine-ripened tomatoes
2 avocados
1 bag (8 to 10 ounces) salad mix
4 ounces shredded cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles, well drained
Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

1 cup bottled ranch dressing
2 tbsp minced cilantro leaves
2 green onions, with some of the green top, finely sliced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
The juice and finely grated zest of one lime
1 tsp sugar

Mix all the dressing ingredients and chill at least an hour, or up to overnight, to mellow.
Drain the tuna and flake into large chunks. Core the tomatoes and cut into thin wedges. Peel the avocados and cut into 1/2” dice.
Put the salad greens on a large platter, or divide among four serving plates. Mound the tuna in the center and arrange the avocado and tomato around it. Drizzle with half the dressing. Scatter the cheese, chiles and cilantro sprigs over the top. Pass the additional dressing at the table. Serves 4 generously.

NOTE: If my guests are folks that I know will appreciate it, I might add half of a jalapeno pepper, seeded and deveined, and very finely minced, to the dressing. Or even a whole one.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Mantia's Pickles--The Secret Revealed

We get so many requests for our pickles, and sometimes folks get a little testy when we won't sell them. We make them here, and we just don't have enough room to make more than we do now. This isn't a secret recipe; it is in most of the community cookbooks in the South, as Fire and Ice, Good and Evil, or Sweet and Hot.

Here is what you do: Got to Sam's or Costco and pick up a gallon jar of whole dill pickles. Dump them in a colander and drain them, discarding the liquid. Cut them as you prefer. We do chunks here, but at home I like to do some of them in slices, because I like them so well on sandwiches.

Anyway, besides the pickles you need two pounds of white sugar, 1/4 cup of garlic, peeled and very finely minced (we do ours in the Cuisinart) and a small bottle of Tobasco sauce. Some recipes call for also adding pickling spices, but we don't.

Now, in the original jar, layer some of the pickles, some of the sugar, some of the garlic and a few sprinkles of Tobasco. Repeat until everything is used up (we only use the equivalent of about half the small bottle of Tobasco for this quantity).

Put the top on tightly and keep in a cool dark spot (no need to refrigerate) for at least two weeks, turning upside down every couple of days. They keep just fine at room temperature, but chill before eating for the best texture.

That's it!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Moroccan Crabcakes...Yummy stuff!

Several people have asked about a good recipe for crab cakes, something a little out of the usual Old Bay Seasoning East Coast crab cakes. And heaven knows I aim to please! I’ve been into the seasonings of North Africa lately, and I thought those spices would work marvelously with crab.

You can make these as a dinner entrée, serving two cakes per person. They would also work well on a first course salad, with one cake per person. Use the sauce as the dressing; just thin it a bit with a little more orange juice and a couple of tablespoons of good white wine vinegar. Another option would be to make tablespoon sized ones as a party appetizer. Yummy! Cook them ahead and reheat briefly in the oven at party time.

I served these with a lemon-scented rice pilaf. Couscous would have been more authentic, but I’m not a huge fan of couscous. As a side dish, I tossed thickly sliced carrots with olive oil and sprinkled them with equal parts of ground cardamom, ground coriander and kosher salt. I roasted them for about 15 minutes at 400F. They made the perfect accompaniment.

If at all possible, use fresh or pasteurized crabmeat. It isn’t necessary to use the hugely expensive jumbo lump. Backfin or “special” comprises the smaller pieces that result when lump meat is being picked from the crab body, and makes a great crab cake that won’t break the bank. I avoid canned crab if possible but then, I have a friend who maintains that “canned crab is better than no crab at all!”

However you serve them, I am sure your friends will love them as much as mine did!

Moroccan Inspired Crab Cakes

For the crab cakes:
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, including any green leaves, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp each ground cumin, coriander and cardamom
1 tbsp ground turmeric
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1 lb crab meat,
? cup mayonnaise
1 lemon, finely grated zest and juice
1 cup panko crumbs, or more fresh breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil for frying

For the sauce:

1 orange, juice and finely grated zest
2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
1 cup cilantro leaves, minced
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tiny pinch ground cloves

Cook the bell pepper and celery in the olive oil over medium heat until softened. Add the ginger, garlic and green onion. Cook and stir a couple more minutes. Add the spices and stir constantly for one minute. Remove from heat and let cool. Add the crab meat and two cups fresh breadcrumbs, the mayonnaise and lemon juice and zest. Measure out in level ? cups. You should have 12 crab cakes.

In a flat dish roll each in panko (for a crisper outside) or additional fresh crumbs. Place on a wax paper-lined baking sheet and pat into cakes about 1/2” thick. Cover and chill until ready to cook, at least an hour and up to 8 hours.
Meanwhile, mix all sauce ingredients, cover and chill.

Add enough vegetable oil to a heavy skillet to just film the bottom. Heat over medium high heat until very hot. Add the crab cakes, in batches to avoid crowding, and cook until dark golden brown, turning once. Serve at once with the sauce. Serves 6 as a main course.

NOTE 1: If you are among those who hate cilantro, substitute fresh mint in the sauce. It will be equally tasty.

NOTE 2: One of the invited guests cancelled at the last minute, so I had a couple of the uncooked ones left. In the interest of culinary curiosity, I froze them, completely made but not cooked, on a baking sheet. When they were solid, I put them in plastic freezer bags. A few days later I pulled one out to see how it had fared. I let it thaw at room temperature for about half an hour, then proceeded to cook it as directed. Perfect! So you could make these well ahead. I love things you can make ahead!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Olive Garden Restaurant: Recipes: Cooking Demonstrations

You might want to take a look at the online Olive Garden Restaurant Cooking Demonstrations. They demonstrate, in video format, several of their latest recipes. You might not think that the Olive Garden is your favorite Italian restaurant, but all three of these dishes look pretty good to me!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Chilled Melon Soup

  By now you know that I am blessed with friends who cook. A while back I got a call from my friends Mike and Darlene Whitfield. Mike had been to the farmer’s market at the Agri-Center. He had found, among other treasures, perfectly ripe cantaloupes and was making soup. I was on my way!

Mike, known to his friends as “Big Mike,” is a culinary academy graduate and has worked in the kitchen of several fine Memphis restaurants. Currently he is Manager of Product Development and Education for a local wine distributor.

Originally from Arkansas (another of his self-designated sobriquets is “Chef Bubba”) he frequently combines the foods of his youth in ways that are surprisingly sophisticated. He tells me that he first came up with this soup at Chez Philippe, that wonderful restaurant at the Peabody Hotel, when faced with a basket of melons just about to go over the hill. It has become one my favorites. As hot as it has been lately, the prospect of something cool that doesn't have to be cooked is hugely appealing.

As the guests gathered, Darlene was making a fresh salsa with diced tomatoes (perfectly ripe, also from the farmer’s market), chopped onion, a bit of garlic, a generous handful of minced cilantro, finely minced jalapeno pepper and lime juice. Mike was starting on the soup. Fresh lady peas simmered with fragrant seasonings.

The soup went into the refrigerator to chill. Filets of tilapia, a mild white fish, went onto an oiled baking sheet to be topped with the salsa, then slices of Monterey jack cheese.

When dinnertime came, Mike finished the soup and as we enjoyed it, slipped the fish into a preheated 350F oven to bake for about 15 minutes. Dessert was a beautiful bowl of cut up watermelon, blueberries, strawberries and the first of this season’s blackberries. What a perfect meal for a hot summer night!

The melons for this soup must be ripe, sweet and juicy. When shopping for yours, pick ones that give a little when you press them with your thumb near the stem end. Give ‘em a sniff; they should smell like cantaloupes on the outside.

You can make your own salsa for the fish, or pick up a fresh salsa at most supermarkets. This doesn’t work nearly as well with a jarred salsa. A hint if you make your own: a good salsa needs a bit of jalapeno. If your tolerance for hot food is low, remove the seeds and you will get a much more temperate salsa.

Although both the soup and the salsa can be made ahead and refrigerated, this meal take so little time that it’s perfect for last-minute entertaining as well. Call a few friends and give it a try!


3 medium very ripe cantaloupes
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup champagne or other sparkling white wine
Salt to taste
Fresh basil or mint springs for garnish

Peel and seed the cantaloupes and cut into chunks. Puree in a blender or food processor. Cover and refrigerate until quite cold, up to 24 hour. At serving time, whisk in the cream. Take a little sip and add salt to taste. At the last minute gently stir in the champagne. Serves 6 to 8. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Simple Summer Pasta

In years past, I traveled quite a bit. I had several weeks of vacation each year, and usually spent a couple of weeks of it in Europe, generally alternating between Italy and France. Alas, now my schedule doesn’t often allow for that sort of travel.

I do get lots of pleasure, however, from trips that friends make, and love seeing their photos and hearing about the sites they visited. But as you may imagine, mostly I like to see the menus they bring back, and hear about the great meals they had.

My friends Reed and Diane recently returned from a trip that truly had me turning green with envy. A few days after their return, they invited me for dinner, and to hear all about it. One week was spent staying with friends in the south of France, enjoying the local atmosphere, weather and food. Another week was spent motoring around Corsica, an island off the coast of France. I had never been there, and was fascinated by the shots of the rugged coast lines, the ancients citadels, and scenery.

Travelers after my own heart, many of their meals in both places were well documented with pictures of the exterior and interior of the various restaurants they found, and with great shots of the food.

After sharing their photos with me, Reed prepared our dinner. A simple pasta dish, it was so colorful and delicious that I whipped out my camera so I could share it with you. It was perfect for a warm summer evening, since it was quickly made and had such fresh ingredients. And it reminded me of the sort of dish one might get in a small Provençal restaurant…I could use my imagination, if not my frequent flyer miles!


1 lb fettuccine
1lb shrimp, peeled and deveined, dusted with salt and pepper
1/2 cup very good extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, very finely minced
1/2 tsp crushed hot red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
2 small zucchini, in 1/2” dice
1 each red and yellow bell pepper, in 1/2” dice
1 carton grape tomatoes
1 bag mesclun greens (See note)
Zest of one lemon, finely grated
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until just al dente.

In a large skillet or wok over medium high heat, sauté the shrimp in 1/4 cup olive oil until just barely pink through. Remove and set aside. Add a bit more olive oil, the garlic and the crushed red pepper to the pan and stir a couple of times. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring, until lightly browned. Add the red and yellow bell peppers and continue to sauté, stirring frequently, 3-4 minutes. Add the grape tomatoes and the greens, and stir about 2 minutes. Put the shrimp in, add the lemon zest and toss. Drain the pasta and add the remaining olive oil. Toss the shrimp mixture with the pasta, top with the pine nuts. Serve immediately.

If you have all your ingredients minced, diced and ready, the shrimp mixture can be made in just about the time it takes the fettuccine to cook.

NOTE: Reed used a mixture of radicchio, arugula and frisée, available in bags in most supermarkets. Most any baby green mixture could be used, as long as there is no iceberg or romaine lettuce in it.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Volare Ristorante-Louisville, KY

Just a quick take on my dinner with my sister, Cindy, in Louisville, Sunday evening. Louisville is a fabulous restaurant town. When the Louisville magazine does its survey, the top restaurants are always local. The only chain that shows up is usually Ruth’s Chris for steaks—and it comes in as #3!

We always try to go out to eat when we are there. It gives us a chance to visit, and gives our parents a little break from us—in other words, they have time to take a little nap!

The only time we could make it was Sunday, when many of the good places are closed. Not having done any research this time, we got into the car and cruised the “restaurant row” closest to home, Frankfort Avenue. If nothing turned up, we could always go further afield to Bardstown Road, where we knew we would find something interesting.

We cruised past one with a great looking outdoor seating area, Volare, but Cindy said she thought it was closed. Not so, I said, since the outside tables had tablecloths on them. We went in to have a glass of wine at the bar and check out the menu.

Our bartender, Deborah, was cute and charming. The bar wasn’t crowded, so after looking over the menu, we decided to eat there, sharing two appetizers and a main course.

Antipasto de Capesante

Our first appetizer was grilled scallops, on a bed of sweet pea puree, with crispy prosciutto and little sprouts on top, drizzled with truffle oil. The scallops were huge and perfectly cooked. The flavor combination could not have been better.

By the time we had had our second appetizer, gnocchi with a creamy tomato-mascarpone vodka sauce, we knew a full main course was out of the question.

Italian cheese flight

Deborah suggested the cheese flight of the day, paired with wines chosen to match each one. Afraid we would fight over the good stuff, instead of sharing a flight we each had one. What a treat! Pecarino toscano paired with Chianti jelly, a soft creamy sheep’s milk cheese from Abruzzo, blended with a little espresso and lemon zest, and a soft cow’s milk cheese from Norcia with sliced pears drizzled with truffle oil. The wines were a perfect match.

The last week of every month they do a regional Italian dinner. We’re already planning on going back in October for the Umbrian one!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mark's Feed Store, Louisville, KY

On her blog, Whining and Dining (see the link on the right), Leslie Kelley alerted us to the fact that had listed their top destinations for barbecue over the Fourth of July weekend--and Memphis was not among them!

One of the places listed was Mark's Feed Store in Louisville, KY, my home town. Today I am there, visiting my parents, so I convinced them they should join my sister, our niece and me there for lunch.

I hadn't been before, since my mom cooks so well that we don't usually eat out when I'm there. And when my sister is also in town, and we go out for dinner together, we are NOT looking for barbecue! There are too many great restaurants in Louisville to do that.

We got there just ahead of the crowd, which was a good thing, since by the time we left, there were no parking places in the lot, and the only empty tables were a few two-tops.

Pork Sandwich with Burgoo

It isn't far from my niece's home, so she had been there several times before. She didn't even look at the menu, and ordered the pork sandwich with burgoo. My mom always eats chicken and asked for no sauce on her chicken. My dad, as always ordered the ribs, my sister got the pork plate, substituting potato salad for the spicy fries, and I got the pork sandwich, substituting the deep-fried corn for the fries. The waitress was very obliging as we each made our own variations to the menu combos.

Pork Sandwich with Deep-Fried Corn

It came out promptly and the waitress did not have to ask "Who got the chicken?" but quite professionally delivered the right plates to the right people.

The chicken, served on the bone, came without sauce, as requested, but seemed to me to be a bit dry and overcooked. I didn't taste the ribs, but my dad said they were good, but without a deep-smoked flavor. The pulled pork was very tender and juicy, but again, lacked the definite smoky flavor that we get here in Memphis at the local joints. The interesting thing was the house sauce, which was a definite mustardy yellow. I had tasted it alone (bottles were on the table) and hadn't particularly liked it, but it also came on the sandwiches, and was much better on the pork.

Burgoo is a soup with its roots in Western Kentucky. Long cooked, with a variety of meats and vegetables, it should be dark and rich and only mildly spicy. This was sort of "gluey," as if it had been thickened with flour, and the dominant flavor was hot pepper. If you'd never had it at the source (Owensboro, KY, where I was born), you wouldn't go out of your way for it after tasting this version.

SO: How did it measure up to our Memphis BBQ? Not even close, if you like the good smoky flavor you get from most of our locally owned spots. The pork itself was tasty, as were the ribs. I loved the deep-fried corn on the cob. Two thumbs down for both the chicken and the burgoo. Thumbs up on the cheerful and efficient service. The mustardy house sauce is a matter of taste; everyone else liked it better than I did.

Will I go back there again? With all the great restaurants in Louisville? No way!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Easy but Good Tuna Salad

In the heat of summer, it’s hard to get excited about turning on the stove or the oven. A salad hits the spot, and with a little enhancement, a salad of canned tuna can become dinner. I like to use tuna packed in olive oil; I think it has a lot more flavor than the water packed type. You, however, must make your own decision about that.

If you are feeling a little more ambitious, you could replace the canned tuna with 12 ounces of fresh tuna, brushed with a little soy sauce and olive oil and grilled to medium-rare. Sliced thin and fanned out over the top, it makes a lovely plate. You could also toss the tuna, avocado and tomato with the greens and dressing, but I find the good stuff always goes to the bottom of the salad bowl when I do that.

I love the bags of pre-washed salad mixes from the produce section of the supermarket. You may use whatever blend you like best. Or you could wash and crisp your own lettuce…but I almost never do anymore. I like to serve this with packaged lime-flavored tortilla chips but crusty bread or even crisp crackers would be good as well.

I hope your friends and family enjoy this as much as mine did!


2 7-ounce cans tuna
2 large vine-ripened tomatoes
2 avocados
1 bag (8 to 10 ounces) salad mix
4 ounces shredded cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles, well drained
Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

1 cup bottled ranch dressing
2 tbsp minced cilantro leaves
2 green onions, with some of the green top, finely sliced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
The juice and finely grated zest of one lime
1 tsp sugar

Mix all the dressing ingredients and chill at least an hour, or, better, overnight, to mellow.

Drain the tuna and flake into large chunks. Core the tomatoes and cut into thin wedges. Peel the avocados and cut into 1/2” dice.

Put the salad greens on a large platter, or divide among four serving plates. Mound the tuna in the center and arrange the avocado and tomato around it. Drizzle with half the dressing. Scatter the cheese, chiles and cilantro sprigs over the top. Pass the additional dressing at the table. Serves 4 generously.

NOTE: If my guests are folks that I know will appreciate it, I might add half of a jalapeno pepper, seeded and deveined, and very finely minced, to the dressing. Or even a whole one.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Ice cream memories

Both my mother and father were from a rural part of Western Kentucky. They, as did some of their brothers and sisters, went off to the big city to make their fortunes, but some of my fondest memories are the times we would load up our car and head "down in the country" for the weekends. With wax-paper wrapped fried egg sandwiches for when we got hungry, we would make the three hour trip, singing all the songs we knew and asking "when are we going to get there?"

One thing we knew would happen at some point any summer weekend: one of the daddies would get in the car and go the few miles down the road to the ice-house, and pick up a couple of big blocks of ice (one grandmother still had a true "ice box"). While one of the aunts would whip up the ice cream mixture, the men would take an ice pick and chip those blocks into a big washtub. The ice cream would go into the tank of a big crank-type freezer. Ice and rock salt would get packed around it. Then we would all take turns cranking, the youngest of us first, while it was still easy to turn. As it started to freeze, it took a bit more muscle, until the last few minutes had to be done by one of the daddies.

A towel would be draped across it while we consumed vast quantities of fried chicken, home-cured ham, homegrown veggies and salads.

Finally we would dip into the ice cream, and I’ll tell you, to this day I can’t think of anything better! Usually it would be vanilla, with berries, fruit, or homemade syrups to pour on top. If there were lots of us, there might be two freezers, and the second would be for the more adventurous: banana, peach, or pineapple.

I still have a freezer of the same size, although mine is electrically cranked. It makes a couple of gallons of ice cream, quite a lot for a dinner party at the house. And it’s still a lot of trouble. But if you love homemade ice cream, and haven’t discovered those you can find now with a cartridge that lives in your freezer until you need it, you have a treat in store! Available at most cookware and discount stores, it makes a quart, perfect for six to eight guests. I even ordered an extra cartridge, so I can offer two different flavors, if I want, since the freezing process takes only about a half-hour.

So pick up some fried chicken, make your favorite potato salad, and then treat your family and friends to homemade ice cream…and not just your normal vanilla! The black pepper ice cream will surprise you. A favorite dessert in Italy is strawberries with freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Here’s the ice cream ready for just the berries. And the brown sugar-ginger flavor will be good with any fresh fruit, or on its own with just a crisp cookie. Both need to be made in plenty of time to chill well before freezing, so take that into consideration. Both are just the right size for the cartridge type freezer. Your friends will feel so pampered—we won’t tell them how easy it was!

2 cups heavy cream
8 whole allspice berries, coarsely crushed
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 egg yolks
1 tbsp black peppercorns, crushed
2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
In a heavy saucepan, combine cream, allspice berries and 1/4 cup sugar and bring just to a simmer. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and remaining 1/4 cup sugar until the mixture is thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Pour in the cream mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it lightly coats the back of a spoon. DO NOT LET BOIL! Remove from the heat and let stand for about 20 minutes, then strain though a fine sieve into another bowl. Chill thoroughly. Stir in the black peppercorns and the balsamic vinegar and freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

4 egg yolks
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups half-and-half, warmed
1 tbsp ground ginger
Combine egg yolks, sugars and vanilla in a large bowl. Whisk or beat until fluffy and light. Add the warm cream, whisking constantly. Whisk in the ground ginger. Transfer to a heavy pan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, and coats the back of a spoon. DO NOT LET BOIL! Pour into a bowl and chill thoroughly. Freeze in an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Super Southwest Shortribs

Posted by Picasa As I promised, I am attempting to address some of the e-mails sent to me with suggestions and requests for recipes.

One Loyal Reader asked about beef short ribs. They are quite the thing now, and you can get them in the very finest restaurants at a price that might belie their reasonable cost. What makes them more costly in a restaurant situation is the loving care that they need. The Loyal Reader had been to a small place in the southwest and gave me only a few hints about the dish he had enjoyed so much.

One of the things he said was that it had "mild heat" and a "sort of smoky flavor." That said "chipotle pepper" to me--that’s a jalapeño pepper, dried, then smoked. It is available either in bags, dried, or in cans with adobo, a sort of spicy tomato sauce. It gives food a nice zing, but is not tongue-burning, head-sweating hot.

And now to a confession: I had never cooked short ribs. So I took myself off to Charlie’s Meat Market and chatted with my butcher friend Chuck. He suggested that I use ribs cut across the bone, in 1" to 1-1/2" width. I took them home and proceeded to put together a spice mixture that I thought might go with the chipotle flavor. I rubbed it all over the ribs and put them in the fridge. At the grocery store, what did I find but Chipotle Tobasco Sauce. Well, I needed to try that, didn’t I?

I wasn’t happy with the first try. To begin with, I thought I wanted longer bones in the ribs, so they didn’t fall apart in the cooking process. And then, I thought the spice mixture was not as lively as I might have liked.

So back to Chuck I went, and had the ribs cut crosswise into wider 2" strips. I added layers of flavor to the spice rub, and picked up the taste a lot with lime juice and zest.

To go with the ribs and their savory juices, I cooked up some Delta Grind stoneground grits, adding shredded cheddar cheese and a small can of chopped green chiles. Then I poured them into a loaf pan and let them chill. Sliced, brushed with some of the fat from the ribs and run under a hot broiler, they made an excellent complement. For a green veggie, I sautéed a handful of minced onion in a film of the fat from the ribs, added a bit of chicken stock and steamed kale in it. I love kale.

I don’t know if this is exactly what my Loyal Reader had in mind, but I sure did like it! The one thing I would counsel: if you have time, rub down the ribs a day ahead of cooking, and cook a day ahead of eating. The ribs must be slow-braised for the best flavor and texture, but they give off a lot of fat. If you can chill them overnight after fully cooking them, you can scrape off almost all the fat.

Otherwise, before serving, pour off the cooking juices into a measuring cup and skim off as much fat as you can with a ladle. You can do what you want with the fat, but I can tell you that it makes a mean fried egg for breakfast the next morning as you are cleaning up the last of the dishes!

Any leftover beef can be taken off the ribs, mixed with the cooking juices and used as a pasta or rice sauce. I had some left, but not enough for another meal. I put them in the freezer and used them later to stuff wonton wrappers, ravioli style. Cooked and tossed with olive oil and grated Pecarino Romano cheese, they were quite tasty.

Because I thought they were so good, I made another batch for a different batch of friends. I had about one generous serving left over. I simmered it in more stock, added another can of tomatoes and made a good soup. I served it with a yellow rice pilaf timbale in the center of the bowl. Also YUMMY!

The rub:
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper, preferably freshly ground
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seed
1 tsp ground cardamom
? tsp ground ginger
The beef:
6 lbs beef short ribs
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
6 large cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken stock
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
Juice and zest of two large limes
2 tbsp (or more to taste) Chipotle Tobasco Sauce
1 lime, cut into thin wedges, for garnish
1 bunch cilantro, leaves only, coarsely chopped, for garnish

Mix the rub ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle generously on all sides of the short ribs and massage it in gently. Set aside at room temperature for a couple of hours, or refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cut the rib strips into two long pieces. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ribs in batches, without crowding, and brown well on all sides. As they brown, transfer them, meaty side down, to a baking dish with a lid that will hold all the ribs in one layer.

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the garlic and stir a couple of times. Add the onion, cover and cook until the onion is soft and golden, stirring occasionally. Add the broth and bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes with their juice, the lime juice and zest and the Chipotle Tobasco Sauce. Bring to a boil and pour over the ribs. Cover and bake until the ribs are tender, about two hours.

Remove the lid of the baking dish and with tongs, turn the meaty side up. Continue to bake until the ribs are fork-tender, another half-hour or so. Remove the ribs to a serving platter and drizzle with some of the cooking juices. Arrange the lime wedges around the edge of the platter and sprinkle generously with chopped cilantro. Pass the remaining gravy at the table. Serves 6 to 8.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Football Feast

Posted by Picasa June was in the shower when the tree cut the house in half, and George was just getting ready to leave for work. The result of “Hurricane Elvis” that struck in the summer of 2003 turned out, for the Owens’, to be almost a blessing.
The kitchen, pre-storm, had been a galley type kitchen, with barely room for two people to pass, much less cook together. Now when you walk into their renovated home, there is no doubt what goes on in that area: cooking, eating, and plenty of it!

George, having taken the early-retirement offer from Fedex, had the time to do a lot of the finish work himself, allowing for wonderful results with the money they received from their insurance. They pushed the back wall out to include the former patio, and knocked out the wall between the kitchen and former dining room. The result is something they call a “keeping room.” The first thing that strikes your eye is the 16-foot long granite topped island, with five-burner cook-top, dishwasher, big double sink and trash compactor. Plenty of drawers and cabinets underneath hold almost everything needed to cook close at hand.

Another counter, which held the cooktop in its former life, now boasts a marble top for June to use when making the breads and pastries for which her friends are very appreciative.

At the far end is a large homey, inviting seating area, with a big-screen TV, and overstuffed chairs and a sofa that seem to just envelope you when you sit. You might never want to get up.
But you will, because on the far side of the island from the cooking area are a row of comfy stools that encourage you to watch as June works her magic on the evening’s dinner.

This weekend George and June Owens invited a group of friends to watch the Super Bowl. As we were gathering, June served a variation on the chip-dip theme: toasted pita wedges with store-bought hummus. The platter was strewn with an assortment of olives, peperoncini and cherry tomatoes.

When it came time for dinner, June brought out a rustic casserole of pasta, sausage, potatoes, cabbage and cheese. I loved it! Her recipe was written in general terms on a tattered recipe card, but I convinced her to give me measurements so you can make it, too. She got the recipe from an Italian friend who lives in Rome, but the combination of ingredients bring to mind the cooking of northeast Italy.

A green salad with dried cherries, goat cheese crumbles and a vinaigrette made of 1/4 cup tequila-lime vinegar (available at gourmet markets), a couple of tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and 3/4 cup olive oil made a wonderful accompaniment. A loaf of her excellent bread went well, too.

Dessert was a purchased rum-cake topped with dollops of clotted cream. Whipped cream would be an excellent alternate. Invite a few friends and try it all. You’ll all be so happy you might not even care if your team loses!

June’s Baked Pasta Casserole

1 lb smoked sausage, sliced 1/4” thick
2 lb red skin potatoes, peeled, in 3/4” cubes, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
1 small cabbage, shredded
1 lb penne pasta, preferably imported
8 oz butter
3 cloves garlic
20 fresh sage leaves, chopped
12 oz gruy?re, cubed
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350. Sauté sausage in heavy skillet over medium heat until lightly browned and set aside. Toss the potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and the rosemary on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

Cook the cabbage for 10 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain well.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat, add the garlic and sage and cook 2-3 minutes, stirring a couple of times. Pour over the hot, cooked and drained pasta and toss well.

Now, in a large buttered casserole, layer the ingredients in this order: pasta, potatoes, cabbage, cheeses and sausages. Make at least two layers of each, three if you casserole is deep enough. Salt and pepper each layer to taste. Cover with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes, until heated through. Remove foil and bake another 5 minutes or so, until cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serves 8-10.

NOTE: This looks like a lot of work, but it’s not, and can be done ahead and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator about an hour before baking.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Yummy Chestnut-Scallop Soup

Along about this time every year I get this question: "What can I do with chestnuts besides stuffing?" Chestnuts are widely available this time of year, precooked, in jars or in vacuum packs. They are a versatile food, nutritionally similar to brown rice. In Europe they are used in a variety of breads, vegetable dishes or in rich seasonal desserts. I love them in soups.

Recently I had a pound of dry scallops that needed to be cooked. Scallops as we usually find them in the US are the muscles that hold the shell halves together. Harvested from the Eastern US coast up through the Canadian coast, they come two ways: "wet" or processed, and "dry."

Processed scallops are soaked in a phosphate solution, which has two results: first, it prolongs the shelf life of the scallops; and secondly it causes the scallops to absorb the liquid, plumping them up. When heated, the scallops give up this liquid, making it almost impossible to get them browned before they are disagreeably tough. If you buy frozen scallops, check the bag carefully. You could be paying for water content of up to 30-35%.

Dry scallops, on the other hand, have a shorter shelf life, but, patted dry before cooking, will turn a lovely golden brown well before they are overcooked. Dry scallops must have a moisture content of 20% or less. They are more expensive than wet scallops, but you’re not paying for a lot of water. You can order them from specialty markets, or ask your supermarket seafood counter to order them for you.

So, as I was saying before I started that little lecture, I had a pound of large scallops (U-10, meaning 10 or fewer per pound) that needed to be used. I have made chestnut soups before, but was inspired to try it with the scallops, and was I glad I did! It was very quickly done, and everyone declared it fabulous. I had a loaf of crusty bread and a green salad, and that was all we needed for a great meal for a chilly evening.

You can make the basic soup earlier in the day, or even the day before, and chill. Then at serving time, reheat the soup and the bacon garnish, sear the scallops and bring out the bread and salad. Wouldn’t this be a wonderful way to end a cold winter day?

Creamy Chestnut Soup with Scallops

3 slices good smoked bacon (I used applewood-smoked)
Olive oil, if needed
3 large shallots, peeled and minced
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
7 to 8 oz cooked chestnuts
1 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 lb sea scallops (see note)
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, plus sprigs for garnish (see note)

Cut the bacon crosswise into 1/4" strips. In a heavy saucepan, cook over medium heat until lightly browned, but not crisp. Remove with a wooden spoon and reserve. Add the shallots. Good bacon doesn’t usually leave a lot of fat in the pan. You may want to add a splash of olive oil. Cook the shallots, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.

Chop half the chestnuts coarsely and add to the soup. Continue to simmer another 5-10 minutes. Puree with a hand blender, or in a food processor. Add the cream and the remaining chestnuts, cut into quarters. Bring to a simmer and keep warm.

In a large heavy skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter. When it is foaming, add the scallops (which have been patted dry) without crowding. Cook until well browned on each side, turning once, 5 to 6 minutes total. They should just barely be done in the center. Remove and keep warm. Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour to the skillet. Stir and cook a couple of minutes, being careful not to brown the flour, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon.

Whisk the flour mixture into the soup, add the thyme leaves, bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, whisking constantly.

Divide the scallops among six flat soup bowls. Ladle the hot soup over the scallops and sprinkle with the bacon strips. Garnish with a sprig of thyme. Serves six as a full meal, or eight as a first course.

NOTE: If you prefer, a pound of boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1" chunks, can be substituted for the scallops.
NOTE: If fresh thyme isn’t available, use 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, and garnish the finished soup with minced parsley. I think this would also be excellent with tarragon, too, although I haven’t tried it. I will, though!