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!