Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A pretty good salad!


So I don't usually do this...but I went to the supermarket before I'd had lunch the other day--what was I thinking?!?--and saw all kinds of things I hadn't noticed before and everything looked good. Of course. I tried this salad and for what it was, I thought it was very good!

Here is their description:

Our B.L.T. Caesar is the best of all worlds--a great Caesar Salad with Real Bacon Crumbles (and plenty of them) plus moist and tasty Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Tomato French Bread Croutons. Our Restaurant-Style Caesar Dressing is Caesar as it should be--rich, cheesy and mellow, not harsh or too vinegary. And all this on a bed of fresh, crisp 100% Romaine Lettuce.

In the main they were right. The sundried tomatoes and bacon really tasted like what they were. The croutons were tasty and crisp. There was even a little package of grated asiago to sprinkle on top. But I bought this on September 17 and the sell-by date was September 24. And already the cut sides of the lettuce were starting to get some of that rusty look that lettuce gets when it's been cut to far ahead. I trimmed it a bit and the rest was just fine.

The package says it makes three servings. I got five sort of side-salad size servings. It would have been pretty skimpy as a main course salad serving, but if you added some grilled chicken breast it would probably be enough for most. The cost was $3.69, or $0.74 per side salad serving, or $1.23 for a bigger one.

It was good for what it was, as a time-saver, but your own dressing, and toppings would probably be better!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cuban Mojo Pork Chops

Recently I've gotten on bit of a binge of “Nuevo Latino” cooking. It's a blend of the elegant cuisine of Old World Spain, and the bright sunny flavors of the New World Hispanic countries. And it's a hot trend in the culinary world. You can hardly open any of the restaurant trade magazines without finding something about it.

A while back I had a dish resembling this pork dish in a little Latino restaurant in Louisville, KY. Pork is quite affordable, and takes to many different flavors. Most of my friends like it. So why not try it myself, I thought.

I made the marinade from scratch, but you can use bottled Goya Mojo Criollo (found in specialty markets and Latin groceries) with the addition of the juice and zest of one lime.

I did try packaged hollandaise sauce, which I found quite acceptable after tarting it up a bit. If you prefer, and have a recipe you like, feel free to make your own. The one thing I like about the packaged mix is that it won't break or separate if you have to hold it for a while.

I was going to use diced home-grown tomatoes, but I didn’t get to the farmers’ market, so I used a pint of those sweet little grape tomatoes from the supermarket, cut in half. I recommend them.

I accompanied it with a rice pilaf: I sautéed a little onion and simmered the rice in saffron-scented chicken stock. I added a handful of frozen peas, thawed, for color.

And I made the baked black beans that I mentioned a while back. They are, with no competition, the best black beans I've ever tasted. You can find that recipe here.
Give it a try; I'm sure your friends will enjoy it as much as mine did!

CUBAN MOJO PORK CHOPS

Mojo Marinade:
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
The finely grated zest of one lime and one lemon (See note.)
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil

Sauce:
2 cups hollandaise sauce
2 tablespoons canned chopped green chilies
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, cut into half
The zest and juice of one lime

8 pork chops, 1" thick
Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Whisk together all the marinade ingredients. Place the chops in a large plastic Ziploc bag. Add the marinade and squeeze out as much of the air as you can. Put in a baking pan in the fridge for several hours or overnight (or a couple of hours at room temperature). Occasionally turn the bag over and give it a little massage to make sure all sides of the meat are bathed in the marinade.

Make the sauce: Combine all the ingredients and keep warm.

To finish, remove the meat from the marinade. Put the marinade in a small pan and bring to a boil.

Grill or broil the chops until just barely done, brushing frequently with the marinade. Remove to individual plates and drizzle on some of the hollandaise. Sprinkle with the cilantro. Pass the remaining sauce at the table. Serves 8.

NOTE: Grate the zest of the lemon and lime BEFORE squeezing the juice.
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Monday, September 03, 2007

Super scallops!

I am originally from Louisville, KY, and recently have been making frequent trips back on family business. My sister lives in Knoxville, so we try to plan our trips home so that at least one evening we can go out to dinner and catch up with each other.

Louisville is a fabulous restaurant town, and we’ve had our favorite restaurants that we sort of rotate among.

It took Memphis friends Kelly Robinson and Michael Hughes to turn me on to L & N Wine Bar and Bistro. A few weeks ago, my sister and I tracked it down and went for dinner.

We had a wonderful meal, composed of several “small plates.” We accompanied it with wines well chosen by our server from their list of over 100 wines by the glass.

My favorite dish was the scallops. The menu description was “seared diver scallops, basil gnocchi, tomato butter sauce, balsamic reduction.” I liked it so much that I went back alone a few days later to have it again.

You probably know the next part of the story: I had to try to do it myself. My first effort was quite felicitous. I made a sort of beurre rouge sauce with red wine, shallots and diced fresh tomatoes, made the gnocchi myself, and put it all together. It was delicious. But it was a whole lot of cooking time.

I knew that if I wanted to share it with you, I was going to have to make some revisions. So I gave it another shot, and this time it was still quite tasty, with a lot less work. And most of it can be done ahead.

I used purchased plain gnocchi and added a drizzle of basil oil to compensate. I used canned tomatoes, but there is no reason you couldn’t use really good, red ripe tomatoes from the farmers’ market this time of year. Peeled, seeded and diced, they would only take a few minutes of extra cooking for the sauce.

If you remember from earlier scallop recipes I’ve shared, “dry” (unprocessed) scallops are essential to any recipe that calls for browning them. I used U-10 sized (under 10 to a pound).
With a green salad, this has everything you need for a wonderful, but quick and easy, dinner for friends.

ALMOST L & N SCALLOPS

Sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 can (16 ounces) diced tomatoes

Basil Oil:
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves

Balsamic reduction:
1 cup balsamic vinegar, simmered to reduce by half

To finish:
1 1/2 lbs U-10 dry scallops
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 package (16 ounces) potato gnocchi
Fresh basil or parsley, for garnish

Make the sauce: In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic, stir a couple of times, then add the onion. Cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally. Dissolve the tomato paste in the red wine and add to the onion. Add the tomatoes and their juices, bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring a few times. Salt to taste. Set aside.

For the oil: In a blender or food processor, puree the basil in the oil. Set aside.

When ready to serve, bring a big pot of well-salted water to a brisk boil. Drop in the gnocchi. Cook for about 1 minute after they rise to the top of the water, usually about 3 to 4 minutes in all.

Pat the scallops dry. In a heavy skillet heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the scallops and brown well, 2 to 3 minutes per side, turning once.

Divide the gnocchi among 6 plates. Ladle on most of the sauce (reheated if made ahead). Place the scallops on top and add the rest of the sauce. Drizzle the balsamic reduction over the top. Drizzle the basil oil around the edges and serve immediately. Serves 6.

NOTE: The picture is from the L&N Wine Bar and Bistro website. They topped theirs with crispy threads of deep-fried leek. Pretty , isn't it?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

French Summer Picnic Sandwich






















In my much younger days, I spent several summers at the University of Montpellier in the south of France. After morning classes, we would all grab a towel and a bathing suit and take a tiny quaint little train out to the beach at Palavas-les-Flots.

Our first stop would be one of the little stands along the beach selling “real” French fries. Piled up and already par-cooked, they would be thrown into a tub of boiling oil and emerge perfectly crispy. A sprinkle of salt and a twist in piece of waxed paper and we’d be on our way to the next little stand, selling drinks and “pan bagnat.”

This sandwich was a staple of ours. The name means “bathed bread,” or “wet bread.” Crusty French bread rounds would be cut in half, a little of the bread pulled out to make room for the filling and wrapped. Then trays would be set on top and weighted, to allow the juices from the tomato, the oil from the tuna, and a bit of vinaigrette to seep into the bread and the rest of the filling.

So when we planned a cooking class titled “Picnic in Provence,” this was the first thing that popped into my mind. We accompanied it with a salad of haricots verts, the tiny French green beans, tossed in a zesty vinaigrette and sprinkled with shaved red onion and fresh basil. Fresh beans from the farmer’s market would be lovely. Just be sure not to overcook them. They should be just barely crisp-tender.

You can make the sandwich on large crusty rounds, as we did, and cut it into wedges, or on smaller individual crusty rolls if you can find them. A regular sandwich bun or roll would get too soggy to work here.

This is a sandwich that definitely needs to be made ahead for the best flavor, making it perfect for a picnic. If you make the salad, don’t put the dressing on until shortly before serving. It wouldn’t affect the flavor, but the vinaigrette makes the bright green beans a sort of olive drab color after a bit.

So gather a few friends and head out to the park with a perfect French picnic!

PAN PAGNAT

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup good fruity olive oil
1 large crusty bread round
1 can (6 to 7 ounces) tuna packed in olive oil
1 green pepper, cut into very thin strips
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
2 eggs, hard-cooked and sliced
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1/4 cup sliced black olives
1 large red ripe tomato, thickly sliced
4 anchovy filets (optional, if you hate them)
1 large handful arugula or baby greens

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Set aside.

Cut the bread in half horizontally and scoop out some of the insides. Brush the bottom with a bit of the dressing. Layer ingredients as listed, drizzling the remaining dressing on top of it all. Place the top on the bread and wrap tightly in foil or plastic wrap.

Traditionally, this is weighted—a cookie sheet with a couple of cans on it will work well—f or a couple of hours, and not refrigerated. If keeping longer than a couple of hours, refrigerate, then let come back to room temperature before serving if possible.

To serve, cut the bread round into quarters or sixths, as desired.

DRESSING FOR GREEN BEAN SALAD

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 generous tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon each ground cumin, ground coriander and ground ginger
1/2 cup good fruity extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk the vinegar, mustard and seasonings together. Add the oil a little at a time, whisking until well emulsified.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sicilian Summer Pasta

It’s summer and the tomatoes are great right now! I love them just eaten out of hand, with a sprinkling of salt. Or sliced, sprinkled with fresh basil and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and a good green fruity olive oil. Or sprinkled with herbs and olive oil and run under the broiler for a moment or two.

And I love them in a fresh tomato sauce, which I had every intention of making for the "Presto Pasta Night Roundup." That’s the one with diced red ripe tomatoes, slivered fresh basil or oregano, diced red onion, a bit of minced garlic, capers, olive oil and a drizzle of either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. Let it set at room temperature, loosely covered, for the better part of the day, and at dinner time, cook pasta (angel hair is the traditional one to use), toss it, still hot, with the room temperature sauce and some shredded Fontina cheese and enjoy.

I was going to make that, until I came across this in an old edition of Gourmet Magazine, speaking of the multi-starred French chef, Michel Troigros: "…(he) does cold spaghetti with poutargue (pressed tuna roe) in a sweet tomato vinaigrette…" It reminded me of a dish I had in a Sicilian restaurant in Rome several years back, and now is the perfect time to make it.

The cuisine of Sicily uses more "exotic" spices than most Italian food because of the various Mediterranean cultures that have passed through this island at the tip of the mainland "boot." And citrus fruit practically grows wild there. Anyway, I loved the dish and came home and played with it until I got close. Poutargue (or botarga, as it is known in Italy) is not readily available here—and besides it’s expensive and definitely an acquired taste--but seared shrimp make a perfect substitute.

Here’s the menu: A big salad of crisp mixed greens with chunks of peeled seeded cucumber, slivered red onion, black olives, shavings of pecarino romano cheese and a red wine vinaigrette dressing, Sicilian marinated tomato pasta, a loaf of crusty bread and for dessert, store-bought pastry shells topped with jarred lemon curd and berries. Almost everything can be done well in advance, giving you time to enjoy a nice glass of mint iced tea with your friends. How easy could it be?

SICILIAN MARINATED TOMATO PASTA

For the sauce:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 piece fresh ginger, peeled, about 1" square, minced
1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1 whole clove, lightly crushed
1 orange
1 lemon
1 pint baby plum tomatoes or grape tomatoes, halved, or 1-1/4 lb tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks
To serve:
12 oz spaghetti, preferably imported
1/2 cup good extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 large clove garlic, very finely minced
12 large leaves basil
The juice of the lemon
The juice of 1/2 the orange

Early in the morning, or even the night before, make the sauce: Dissolve the sugar in the water. Add the ginger, spices and the zest of the orange and lemon, taken off in strips with a vegetable peeler. Add the juice of half the orange. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat and reserve. Put the tomatoes in a glass or ceramic bowl and pour the syrup over the top. Let marinate, covered, up to 8 hours at room temperature, or chill up to overnight. Remove from the fridge to come to room temperature before serving.

When ready to serve, cook the spaghetti in plenty of well-salted boiling water until just barely al dente. Drain, mix with two tablespoons of the olive oil and reserve. Meanwhile, heat half the olive oil in a skillet with the garlic. Cook the shrimp until just barely pink, 2-3 minutes. Lift the tomatoes from the syrup and place in a large warmed serving bowl. Add the rest of the olive oil, a spoonful or two of the syrup (leaving the spices behind) and the lemon and orange juices. Salt and pepper generously. Add the spaghetti and shrimp and toss to combine. Sprinkle with the basil leaves, torn into bits and serve at once, or let cool to room temperature. Serves four as a main course.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Cooling summer soups

 Lordie, isn’t it hot? And there’s nothing better on a hot summer evening than dinner with a cool salad main course. But it can be tough, if you’re entertaining, to come up with an appropriate first course when salad is the dinner. Personally, I love a cold soup in the summer. For some it takes a bit of getting used to; I have friends who think the only good soup is a hot soup! But I think if you try it, you’ll agree that it’s a refreshing and delicious first course.

I’ve chosen two soups with the nuevo latino influence I've been sort of stuck on lately. Neither takes any cooking and either can be prepared in a jiffy with the aid of a food processor or blender. Whip them up in the morning, or even the night before, so they can chill well. Or just keep them in the fridge for a quick refreshing pick-me-up when you come in from the heat!

WATERMELON GAZPACHO

8 cups diced, seeded watermelon (from half a large melon)
½ cup almond meal*
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 slices firm white bread, torn into chunks
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp kosher or coarse sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup cilantro, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish

Reserve one cup of the diced watermelon. Purée remaining melon with almond flour, garlic and bread. Blend until smooth. Add vinegar, lime juice, salt and a couple of grindings of pepper. With the processor on, add the olive oil in a thin stream, blending until smooth. You may have to do this in two batches. Pour into a glass or ceramic bowl and stir in reserved melon dice. Chill well. Serve in wine or martini glasses rimmed with salt (add a little chili powder to the salt if you like). Sprinkle with the cilantro and garnish each serving with a lime wedge. Serves 6-8 as a first course soup.

*Available at gourmet markets and most natural food stores

CANTALOUPE GAZPACHO

1 large cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and diced
½ to 1 jalapeño, with seeds and veins removed, diced
1 cup water
1/3 cup light rum (optional)
Juice and zest of two large limes
1 tbsp minced cilantro, plus more for garnish

Place all ingredients except lime zest and cilantro garnish in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a glass or ceramic bowl. Stir in lime zest and refrigerate covered until very cold. Serve in wine glasses, or flat soup plates, sprinkled with additional finely minced cilantro. Serves 6-8 as a first course soup.
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Spain Hosts Giant Tomato Fight!

Each year in the small Spanish town of Bunyol, on the last Wednesday in August, the world's largest tomato fight takes place.

Begun in 1945, some 250,000 pounds of tomatoes are smashed, trashed and tossed about. You can read more about it here.

So, I'm just thinking, do you think we could up the tourism in Ripley this way? But wouldn't it be a shame to waste all those tomatoes, which I find better than usual this year, by the way.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Video Tour of Chocolate Heaven


I've been roundly chastised for not sharing things I find online that I really like. I know I used to "blog" a lot more, but then I used to have more time to do it!

Chocolate is the new hot health item. We sell an incredible amount of dark chocolate at Mantias. Everyone thinks they're being so virtuous...it IS good for you, you know!

I ran across a series on Epicurious.com of videos from Jacques Torres, Chocolatier Extraordinaire, giving lots of information (maybe more than you want) about chocolate. And he's pretty cute, too!

Fine Diner to Riffraff: Tipsy Tales of 4-Star Benders

Somehow this seems more suitable for the National Inquirer than the New York Times! Stories of tipsy customers at some of the very finest New York City restaurants! !

Monday, July 30, 2007

Curried Turkey Meatballs

 
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I have a friend who is obliged for medical reasons to cut way down on fat intake. Trying to come up with something that would be very flavorful, but still low-fat, I happened across a curry recipe in the Sunday New York Times Magazine on April 15. The recipe as printed was for curried oysters, which didn’t ring my chimes, but the sauce sounded good and, even better, easy. I did make a few changes to suit my taste and what I had on hand.

I thought I might do it with chicken breasts, which I still think would be good, but at the meat department, right beside the chicken, was ground turkey. It comes in both white meat and mixed white and dark. I figured the white meat would be much lower in fat, so that’s what I used. I echoed some of the seasonings I used in the sauce to make turkey meatballs. To keep the fat low, I used only the white of the egg, and baked the meatballs instead of frying them.

We had it over steamed jasmine rice, with a green salad, and everyone went home happy!

Meatballs:

1 egg white, lightly beaten
1/2 cup green onion, with 2” of the tops, minced
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1/2 cup soft breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lb ground turkey breast

Sauce:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup onion, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced (See note)
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1 can (14 oz) light coconut milk
1/2 to 1 cup chicken stock
Juice and zest of one lime
1/4 cup cilantro, minced

Make the meatballs: Preheat oven to 350 o. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Form into 12 meatballs. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and arrange the meatballs in it. Bake until done through, about 1/2 hour.

Make the sauce: In a Dutch oven, over medium heat, melt the butter. Sauté the onion, garlic and serrano pepper until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the apple cubes, curry powder, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaf and stir a few times. Add the coconut milk and 1/2 cup stock.

Bring to a simmer and add the meatballs. Simmer for about 10 minutes, adding more stock to bring the sauce to your desired thickness. Add the lime zest and juice and simmer briefly. Serve over rice, sprinkled with cilantro. Serves 4.

NOTE: Leaving the pepper seeds in makes for a hotter curry. If you like, you may omit the pepper completely; it will still be quite tasty.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Summer in the South of France

 
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A while back, I was once again the guest of my friends Reed Malkin and Diane Benson for a small dinner party. Well, actually small refers only to the guest list, because when you’ve been to their house for dinner, you never go home hungry.

The dinner was inspired by the cuisine of Provence, in the South of France. Our apéritif was served outside, and was a perfect way to start a Southern French dinner: vin d’orange and gougères, a sort of savory cheese puff filled with black olives, anchovies and sundried tomatoes.

They had brought the wine back from a trip to Provence, but I remembered that the mother of one of my French friends used to make her own and had given me her recipe. And it occurs to me that if you start now, you can have a wonderful beverage to bestow upon special friends during the holiday season!

Recipes for the wine vary widely but most call for “bitter oranges,” which, to my knowledge, are not available locally. You can remedy this by adding the peel of one lime. Use the thin-skinned oranges, not the thick-skinned navel oranges. Wash them well before proceeding.

Some recipes call for a dry rose instead of the white. Some call for a stick of cinnamon to be added to the mixture. It’s your call on both.

The cheese puffs can be made a bit ahead and reheated, so they are a perfect way to start a meal that might require a lot of your attention.

VIN D’ORANGE

Peels from 10 oranges, left overnight to dry slightly
Peels from one lime, left overnight to dry slightly
8 cups dry fruity white wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon works nicely)
2 cups sugar
2 cups vodka
1 vanilla bean

Mix everything in a large glass or ceramic container. Cover and store in a dark cool place for about a month, stirring every day for the first week, then occasionally thereafter. At the end of the month, strain the wine through several thicknesses of cheesecloth. Fill small bottles and cork or cap them. Let set in a cool spot for at least another month before opening. Serve well chilled. Makes about six 375 ml. (about 8 ounce) bottles.

GOUGERES DU MIDI

Pastry:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup water
5 tablespoons butter, cut into small chunks
1 generous pinch of salt
4 eggs

1/4 cup Gruyère cheese, shredded
4 anchovy filets, drained and finely minced
1 tbsp finely minced black olives
3 oil-packed sundried tomatoes, drained and finely minced
1 clove garlic, very finely minced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift the flour and set aside. In a deep saucepan, place the water, butter and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour all at once, stirring quickly to avoid lumps. Continue stirring until the mixture forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the pan, scraping into the corners of the pan. Transfer to a bowl and let cool for 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time, stirring briskly to blend completely before adding the next. Fold in the remaining ingredients. Using a spoon to help form them, make balls about 1” in diameter and space them 2” apart on the baking sheets.

Bake in the center of the oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Turn off the oven, open the oven door and let the puffs remain in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

If preparing a bit ahead, cool on racks, then place back on parchment covered baking sheet to reheat. Makes about 30 puffs.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Summer white wines!

I was brousing in Fredric Koeppel's wine blog and found his list of favorite white wines for summer. I can't wait to go to my corner wine shop to see which ones are available in Memphis!

Vegetable Shepherd's Pie?

 I was at a business networking luncheon not long ago. In the post-meeting mingling, a friend mentioned that her daughter had recently become a vegetarian and she just didn’t know how to cook for her.

That seems to be pretty popular among young folks nowadays, who don’t always consider the necessity of planning healthy balanced meals. A vegetarian diet can be a healthy one, but I had one young employee who thought a lot of salads and the occasional cheese pizza would sustain her. She wound up one sick little lady.

If you are a regular reader of my columns, you know I’m definitely not a vegetarian, but I thought it was an interesting challenge.

There’s a dish in France called “hachis parmentier.” It’s sort of the equivalent of shepherd’s pie: seasoned chopped meat topped with mashed potatoes and baked. In France anything “parmentier” involves potatoes. You may remember the salmon parmentier we did a few months back (and wasn’t that a yummy dish!).

That seemed to be a good starting place. I sautéed some vegetables, and added quinoa. It’s an ancient grain that is very nourishing and adapts to a lot of different cuisines. As a bonus it has a nice little mouth crunch.

So I tossed the vegetable-quinoa mixture into a casserole and topped it with seasoned mashed potatoes. It looks like a long recipe, but it goes very quickly. It was totally an experiment, and with a tossed salad with some feta cheese and toasted pine nuts included, made a lovely meal.

Not one of the Monday night tasting group asked “Where’s the meat?!?!”

PARMENTIER AUX LEGUMES

For the bottom layer:
1/2 cup quinoa
2 medium carrots, peeled and very thinly sliced
1/4 cup good fruity olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cups cabbage, finely shredded
2 small zucchini, thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh kale or spinach, stalks removed, shredded
1 can diced tomatoes, with Italian seasoning

For the top layer:
2 lbs russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded or finely chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream, crème fraîche or sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fine dried bread crumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, asiago or gruyère cheese
2 tablespoons minced parsley

In a medium saucepan, simmer the quinoa in 1 cup lightly salted water until tender. This will take 15-20 minutes. It should absorb pretty much all the liquid. Add the sliced carrot after about 10 minutes. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic, stir a couple of times, then add the onion, celery, bell pepper and cabbage. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until just barely tender, about 10 minutes. Add the zucchini and kale and continue to cook, stirring frequently, another five minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the quinoa-carrot mixture and turn into a casserole greased with olive oil. Scatter the tomatoes and their liquid over the top.

Meanwhile, in a large pan of well-salted boiling water, cook the potatoes and carrot until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well and mash together. Add the cream, and season to taste.

Spread on top of the vegetable mixture, making sure to completely cover all the way to the edges. Mix together the crumbs, cheese and parsley and sprinkle evenly over the top.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until heated through and the top is golden, about 30 minutes. If you want a crispier top crust, you could run it under the broiler for a few minutes. Serves 6 to 8.

NOTES: 1) You can make this ahead and leave out, covered, for an hour or two. Or do it up to a day ahead and chill, but bring out of the fridge at least an hour before baking.

2) If you would rather not buy a whole cabbage and shred it, you could use bagged cole slaw mix from the produce section. That’s what I did.

3) I think I would love this with diced roasted butternut squash in place of the zucchini. Or beets.
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Friday, July 06, 2007

Spain in Louisville

I just returned from a week in Louisville, as many of you know. Although the reason for the trip, my father´s illness, wasn´t the most felicitous, my sister and I were able to visit a couple of new restaurants that we really enjoyed.

The first, was Mojito, a restaurant near my parents´home. We went with our nephew and a couple of his friends. After a fairly brief wait at the bar, where I enjoyed a very good red wine sangria (and my sister didn't particularly enjoy her white wine sangria) we were escorted to a table outside.

The menu is nicely geared toward authentic Spanish, with only a little of the Mexican influence often seen in purportedly Spanish restaurants. There was an extensive selection of tapas, both "caliente" (hot) and "frias" (cold). Our waiter, Ivan (pronounced ee-von) guided us toward some of his favorites. We started with the guacamole (there's that Mexican influence showing up!). It was beautifully presented, with fresh, hot, crisp plaintain chips instead of the more usual tortilla chips. And it was gussied up with finely diced tomato and red onion, roasted poblano chiles and plenty of lime juice. Generously sprinkled with minced cilantro, it could not have been better.

 

I'm a sucker for mussels and pretty much order them any time they're available. Mojito's version was an excellent if fairly standard presentation: diced tomato, white wine, sofrito (sauteed onion and bell pepper), and garlic, again sprinkled with minced cilantro. With plenty of crisp baguette toasts, and a banana leaf scoop, we had no complaints.

 

A platter of perfectly done calamari, crisp with a cornflour crust, with a tangy lime-avocado aioli, and the albondigas, spicy little meatballs in a red wine-tomato sauce, somehow got consumed before I could whip out my camera, but we did enjoy the grilled vegetable "tabla." Served on a cutting board, it was colorful with red and yellow baby tomatoes, caper berries, grilled eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, red onion, green and red bell pepper and whole garlic cloves. Topped with a saffron garlic butter drizzle, I could have eaten the whole thing by myself.

 

We finished the meal with two desserts to share. One, strawberry shortcake, was a slice of rich pound cake, drizzled with rum and topped with caramelized strawberries, and what I think was a drizzle of reduced sherry wine vinegar, and a scoop of super rich vanilla ice cream.

Possibly the most interesting dish of the evening, however, was their flan, normally a custard with a caramelized sugar topping. This one had the additional tang of goat cheese. Sounds odd? Truly delicious!

Mojito has a well-chosen wine list, reasonably priced, and a good selection of beer, both domestic and imported. The menu is quite reasonably priced, too: the total cost of all the food was under $50. (The wine and beer tab was something else again!)

In in addition to the tapas menu, there is a list of main courses, salads and sandwiches. And what looked to be an excellent paella is available for two or four persons, Valencia style with chicken, Spanish chorizo, grouper, shrimp, mussels and the requisite vegetables, saffron and wine. A bargain, at $15.99 per person (with a 30-45 minutes preparation time, giving plenty of time to enjoy a couple of tapas and a glass of sangria!). Can't wait to try it next time!
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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Speaking of cheese....

Is this someone with WAY too much time on his hands or what? The Cheez-It Snack Cracker people commissioned this monumental cheese carving which will now make a major national tour before becoming snacks!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Faux Food: Is It Still Cheese?

I've often had folks ask for "American cheese", and I always hesitate to sound too pompous by saying "It's not exactly real cheese, you know." I usually wind up recommending a domestic cheddar that has a similar color and melts fairly well. Here's an article that explains about processed cheese!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Another tasty peach pie!

 As you probably have noticed by now, desserts are not my strong point. Part of it is that I'm just not that crazy about sweets, and part of it is that if you're still hungry by the time we get to dessert, I sort of get my feelings hurt.

But once in a while, if I find something that's easy to fix and tastes really good, I'll go for it.

A couple of years ago, when peaches were at their best, I wrote about my grand-mother's "Best Peach Pie." I have been very pleased that recently I've had a number of folks tell me that they've saved the recipe and made it again this year. And several have e-mailed or called asking for the recipe again, since they'd lost it.

Recently, I was home again in Louisville and my mom had another peach pie recipe she wanted to try. We made it, and it was easy and very good. It called for a graham cracker crust, and marshmallows.

I changed the graham cracker crust to a ginger snap crumb crust, and made a couple of changes in the original recipe, and it was pronounced quite tasty by the Monday night regular testing committee.

For the baked pie recipe, you needed to find peaches that were ripe and fragrant, but still a little firm. For this recipe, since the peaches aren't cooked, you want peaches that are extremely ripe, and fairly soft. You aren't likely to find the right ripeness in the supermarket, since they need them to last a while. Peaches ripen very nicely, however, in a brown paper bag on your kitchen counter. Of course you will have to plan a couple of days ahead for that, something I'm not very good at.

I find the best peaches for using immediately at the Agri-Center Farmer's Market. Don't worry if there are spots you think are a little too soft. Really ripe peaches may have a few bruised or brown spots; if so just cut them out.

I garnished it with a handful of blueberries. Raspberries would be wonderful, or strawberries, but this is pretty darn good just all by itself!

THIS YEAR'S REALLY GOOD PEACH PIE

1 envelope unflavored gelatin
2 tbsp water
20 large-size marshmallows
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
6 really ripe peaches, peeled and diced
1 cup heavy cream
1 ginger snap crust (or a store-bought graham cracker crust)

Place the 2 tbsp water in a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. In a large pan, over low heat, stir the marshmallows and milk together until melted. Stir in the vanilla. Remove from the heat and place the pan with the gelatin on the burner. When the gelatin has melted, stir it into the marshmallow mixture. With a mixer, beat it about 5 minutes on medium speed.

Working quickly, beat the heavy cream in a chilled bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold the peaches into the marshmallow mixture, then the heavy cream. Pour into the prepared crust and chill at least three hours.

GINGER SNAP CRUST

1-1/2 cups ginger snap crumbs (about 6 ounces ginger snaps)
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350o. In a 9- or 10-inch glass pie pan, mix the crumbs, sugar and butter. Press firmly onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool completely before proceeding.
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Things that make you go "Huh?"

 
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Mile Marker 78 on I-65 in Kentucky

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Asparagus for brunch!

 Asparagus is still pretty much a bargain at the markets, and I couldn't be happier! I love it just about anyway you make it. My favorite way of cooking it as a vegetable is sprinkled with sea salt and olive oil and roasted at 400o F for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness. And it's a perfect match for ham.

I was blessed recently to have friends bring me a smoked ham from Coursey's in Arkansas. It was one of the best hams I have ever tasted, just smoky enough, lean and tender.

I found a sandwich recipe on the website of the American Egg Board (www.aeb.org) and adapted it a bit to suit my tastes, using roasted asparagus and that wonderful ham.

It's easy and quick to make, but you could make it ahead of time, refrigerate it, and reheat it gently at serving time.

If brunch is on your mind, I think this would be marvelous over toasted English muffins as well. However you enjoy it, I know you'll love it!

HOT ASPARAGUS EGG SALAD

4 crusty sandwich rolls
2 tbsp butter
8 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 package Hollandaise sauce mix (I used Knorr)
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Juice and grated zest of one lemon
1/2 pound asparagus, roasted or steamed until just crisp, cut into 1" pieces
1/2 cup baked ham, chopped
4 hard-cooked eggs, sliced

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Open the rolls and place cut side up on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven until lightly browned and crisp, 6-8 minutes. Set aside.

In a saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. Sauté the mushrooms until tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.

In the same pan, combine the Hollandaise sauce mix and the cornstarch. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth. Bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest. Remove from the heat and stir in the asparagus, ham and reserved mushrooms. Gently fold in the eggs.

Place the roll bottoms on serving plates and divide the egg mixture among them. Place the tops on and serve immediately. Serves four.

NOTE: Ham information: Coursey's, Inc, St. Joe, AR Phone: (870)439-2503
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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Strawberry Pasta Sauce?


In this week's New York Magazine, there's a recipe from the restaurant Sfoglia, for a yummy sounding strawberry pasta sauce.

We don't have much time left to enjoy our great local strawberries, but this should be good even with supermarket ones. Let me know if you try it!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Kitchen Gadget of the Month Club

I should probably wait until Christmas to tell you about the Gadget of the Month Club, but you know me: I'll forget by then. So if you are looking for a gift for the home chef who seems to have it all, I bet this is perfect. A set of odd-sized measuring spoons? A Vacu-Vin pineapple corer? Betcha you don't have one of those!

Neat tricks with beer?


I'm not a beer drinker, but some of my friends are...and who would have known that there are 32 Things You Can Do with Beer, including bathing in it, using it to loosen rusty bolts, clearing up brown spots in your yard...and more!

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

So what's the big deal?

I am a little curious as to why the downtown Saturday-only farmers' market is getting so much hype. Prominent chefs and restauranteurs are touting it, it's all over the news, they're on the local morning shows.

And all this for doing about the same thing that the Agri-Center farmers' market has been doing SIX DAYS A WEEK for as long as I can remember. Granted, week days at the Agri-Center aren't as exciting as Saturdays are, but the farmers and growers are there. And on Saturday, there are the herb lady, the flower man, the meat man, the Amish with their canned goods, bakery products, and lots of small farmers selling out of the back of their pick-up trucks.

I just don't get it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

So sorry!

I have been severely taken to task by several folks about my sporadic posting. It's not as easy now, with my laptop out of commission, to post on a regular schedule, but I promise, I'm gonna try!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Spanish Tortilla al Chorizo

I’ve had several folks ask for “hands-on” classes at the shop, giving each participant a chance to master a skill that might not be easily demonstrated to a group.

The first class I did was a sausage-making class. We made three sausages, stuffed casings, cooked them and had an accompaniment to each. It was a lot of work, but the results were well worth it.

One of the sausages we made was a Spanish style chorizo. For this one, since a coarse grind was important, we ground the meat ourselves with our handy Kitchen-Aid attachment. The seasonings are very different from the Mexican style hot and spicy chorizo. One important ingredient is Pimentón de la Vera, a sort of paprika from central Spain. The peppers used in making it are not dried in the traditional way, in the sun, but smoked slowly for several weeks over an oak fire. It is a wonderful seasoning. Just a touch gives great flavors to leafy greens, beans, rice dishes, fish and pork.

At any rate, the sausage we made using the Pimentón was a huge hit, and we had some left over. I stuck it in the freezer, thinking I would stuff it into casings another time. But I bet you know me well enough by now to know that just didn’t happen!

I had neighbors coming for a Sunday evening supper. There wasn’t enough of the chorizo to serve as sausage but just enough to make a sort of Spanish tortilla. (“Tortilla” is the Spanish word for omelet, as opposed to the Mexican flour tortilla.) Served with a green salad, it was declared quite tasty by all. This would be a perfect brunch dish, too. It can be baked, not done on top of the stove and can be served either hot from the oven, or at room temperature; or you can make it ahead and reheat it.

So, first I am going to give you the recipe for the sausage. You might not want to grind your own pork, but if you do, use something with plenty of fat, like shoulder or Boston butt. Otherwise, call ahead and ask your butcher to grind it for you in “chili grind,” that is, coarsely, and only once through the grinder. And I bet you’re not going to stuff it in casings, either, but you can use it as sausage patties or meatballs. Then use the rest for the Tortilla al Chorizo.

SPANISH CHORIZO SAUSAGE

2 lb coarsely ground pork, with some fat
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 or 3 cloves garlic, very finely minced
¾ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
2 tbsp sweet Pimentón de la Vera (available in specialty markets)
1 good pinch hot pepper flakes (optional, if you’d like a little heat)

Combine all ingredients. Place in a non-reactive bowl, and refrigerate overnight, covered tightly.
NOTE: Casings are available in small packages from Charlie’s Meat Market. They will also do the pork in the appropriate grind with advance notice.

TORTILLA DE CHORIZO

½ lb chorizo (or Italian sausage)
2 tbsp olive oil, as needed
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, with some of the green
¼ cup finely minced white onion
6 oz spinach, coarsely chopped
7 eggs
1 cup finely shredded mozzarella
1 tsp Italian spices or basil, dried, crumbled
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350o. In a skillet, cook and crumble the sausage just until no longer pink. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon. If there isn’t enough fat left to sauté the onions, add enough olive oil to just film the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for a few minutes, or until wilted. Add the spinach and stir and toss until the spinach is wilted.

Meanwhile, spray a 10” pie or quiche pan with cooking spray. The sausage will have given off a bit more liquid. Transfer the sausage to the quiche pan with a slotted spoon. Add the liquid remaining in the sausage bowl to the onion-spinach mixture and cook for another minute. Then spread the onion-spinach mixture evenly over the sausage.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs with a splash of cold water. Add the cheese and seasonings and whisk until well blended. Pour evenly over the contents of the quiche pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the center is set. Cut into six wedges and serve immediately, or reserve and serve at warm room temperature.
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A Toast to Tennessee Wine Festival

If you're not on a barbecue team next weekend, and are looking for a reason for a road trip, you might be interested in this wine and food festival at Nashville Shores. With award winning Tennessee wineries offering a sampling of their finest wines, this festival promises to be most interesting. I might add that I am in a wine tasting group that tried a few Tennessee wines a few years back with less than felicitous results, but I understand that we've come a long way since then!

More than just a showcase for the wine, this event offers gourmet food and fine artisans. After you've tasted and determined your favorites, you are invited to treat yourself to wine by the bottle.

There will be live music, and for the truly interested consumer, there is a series of seminars.

Check the festival website for more information.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Porc Beurre Brun

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A couple of weeks ago, I issued one of those last-minute dinner invitations to a friend. Normally I have something I can fix on short notice, but I knew my fridge was bare. I stopped by the supermarket and found great looking pork chops on special. I hadn’t done anything with pork chops for a while, so I bought a couple.

Then, at home, I had to decide what to do with them. I pulled out spices I always like with pork, cumin, coriander and cardamom, mixed them with olive oil and rubbed the chops with it.
And then I needed some sort of sauce.

I love beurre blanc, a French sauce that starts with white wine, white wine vinegar, shallots and sometimes herbs, simmered a bit to reduce it and strained. Then, off the flame, chilled butter is whisked in bit by bit to make a creamy sauce that is quite fragile: not enough heat and the butter doesn’t melt, too much and the sauce breaks down. This is a problem that one of my chef friends solves nicely, but in quite an un-traditional manner, with a splash of heavy cream whisked in at the end.

I also love beurre rouge, made the same way with red wine. Both are traditionally served with seafood. Both can be tailored to your taste with the addition of herbs, curry powder, Dijon mustard or spices.

I had a little cream sherry left in a bottle a friend had brought a few weeks before to go with our dessert. There wasn’t enough to serve, but certainly enough to cook with. So: there I am standing at my refrigerator door, looking at that bit of sherry and thinking, "Why can’t I do it with sherry?" And I did. Sort of.

I used the aromatics from the rub, crushed, and simmered them with sherry vinegar and the cream sherry and a shallot. I tasted and adjusted some of the seasonings, and let it set while we grilled the chops. While the chops rested, I finished the sauce. Boy! Was it good!

I had tossed asparagus with a little olive oil and sea salt and grilled them with the chops. About five minutes on the grill gives you a slightly crisp texture and pleasantly smoky flavor. I also cooked rice, and had a couple of yellow tomatoes that I sliced along side. An altogether satisfying dinner!

Middle Eastern Pork with Sherry "Beurre Brun"

2 center cut pork chops, about 1" thick
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
¼ tsp each ground cumin, coriander and cardamom
Sauce:
1 tsp each whole coriander seeds, cumin seeds and black peppercorns
1/4 cup sherry wine vinegar
½ cup cream sherry
1 large shallot, minced
½ cup chicken stock
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
4 oz (one stick) butter, very cold, cut into 12 pieces
1 tbsp heavy cream
Mix the ground spices with the olive oil. Rub the mixture all over the pork and let set at room temperature for up to an hour, or cover and refrigerate overnight.

For the sauce, crush the whole spices with a mortar and pestle, or with a rolling pin, or with the side of a heavy knife. In a small pan, add them to the vinegar, sherry and shallot. Simmer until reduced by about half. Remove from the heat, strain and let set until pork is done.

Either grill the pork on a charcoal or gas grill, or under the broiler, about 15 minutes on the first side, and 5 to 10 minutes on the second side, until done to your liking. I prefer my pork a tiny bit pink; it’s a lot juicier that way. Remove to a plate and tent with foil while you finish the sauce.

Reheat the strained sauce until just simmering. Remove from the heat and wait about two minutes. Then begin whisking in the butter piece by piece. When the last piece is in, whisk in the cream. Remove the chops to dinner plates and drizzle with the sauce. Serve immediately. Serves two but doubles or triples easily.


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Friday, March 23, 2007

A Paella Party for the Masses!

When it comes to learning new styles of cuisine, Larry and Mimmye Goode go all out. When they first got a time-share apartment in the New Orleans French Quarter, they went to classes to master the art of gumbo, oyster-artichoke soup and other Creole specialties.

A friend in New York introduced them to Thai food years before Thai was cool in Memphis. They sought out Thai restaurants in New York and New Orleans, and I was with them in London when, one chilly, night, we wandered through the rain and mist looking for a highly recommended Thai restaurant. Then they made several trips to Thailand, taking cooking classes in Chiang Mai.

In another phase, a brush with Indonesian food took them to Ubud, in Bali, for classes in the guest house of a prominent cookbook writer; they’re going back there later this year.

So it came as little surprise to their friends when, after reading that the best paella in Spain is prepared over a wood, fire, Larry dug a pit in the side yard of their East Memphis home, lined it with stone, put a grate on it and invited everyone to help.


Over the years this has become an annual affair. The guests, this year numbering more than 30, bring an appetizer or dessert and a bottle of wine, and mingle while the paella cooks.

There are stories: the year it rained and umbrellas were held over the fire pit until the paella was done; the year the firemen came after a neighbor saw the smoke and called them.

Two kinds of paella are made, one of all seafood to accommodate the non-meat eaters in the crowd, and another of the traditional sort, with chicken, shrimp, shellfish and chorizo.

Why not give it a try? You probably aren’t going to dig a hole in your yard, but you can use a gas or charcoal grill; toss on some wood chips for a good smoky flavor. It can also be prepared on top of the stove with excellent results.

If you’d like to include the seafood paella, just follow the directions, leaving out the chicken and chorizo, and using seafood stock as your liquid.

Get all your prep work done ahead, invite a few friends, who’ll supply the appetizers and desserts, and make your paella when they get there. Who knows? You might start your own tradition!

PAELLA VALENCIANA

3 tbsp good fruity olive oil
1 small chicken, bone-in, cut into serving pieces
2-3 cloves garlic (more can’t hurt), minced
1 large onion, chopped
1 lb paella, arborio or carnaroli rice (see note)
6-8 cups chicken stock
1 tsp (loosely packed) saffron threads
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 lb each fresh mussels and fresh clams, scrubbed
4 oz sweet Spanish chorizo sausage, or pepperoni, thinly sliced
1 10-oz package frozen peas, thawed
1 red bell pepper, in julienne strips
1 yellow bell pepper, in julienne strips

In a paella pan or heavy 12” skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the chicken without crowding, turning a couple of times, until the skin is golden brown and crispy. Remove to a plate and reserve. Add the garlic, stir a couple of times, then add the onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender and lightly browned. Add the rice and stir until coated with the onion/garlic/oil mixture. Nestle the chicken pieces in the rice.
Meanwhile, bring the stock to a boil, add the saffron and reduce the heat to simmer.
If you’re using a grill, preheat it and put the pan over the hottest part. Add the stock by ladlefuls, waiting until most of it is absorbed before adding more. After about 10 minutes, add the chorizo and shrimp, pushing down into the rice mixture. Gently mix in the peas. Then put in the clams and mussels, hinge side down. Continue adding stock until the rice is almost tender. Scatter the peppers on top and cook until the shell fish are open (discard any that don’t) and the rice is tender but still firm in the center. The consistency of the paella should be very moist but not soupy. You can serve this immediately, but often in Spain it is served almost at room temperature. Serves 10-12.

NOTE: These specialty short grain rices are available in gourmet markets and some supermarkets.
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Friday, March 09, 2007

Butternut Squash Risotto

I've had several folks e-mail to ask for a good risotto recipe. It brings to mind a dish I made back in the fall. I've become quite a fan of several online "blogs." One of my favorite ones is "Stephen Cooks." Its author, Stephen Smith, cooks the way I wish I had time to, and I've tried many of his recipes. This one was adapted from one of them, and I know you’ll like it.

Risotto is an Italian rice dish, almost always served there in small quantities, as a first course. Cooked over a low flame, constantly stirred, with the liquid added gradually, it turns into a creamy, not-quite-soupy dish. It is imperative to use the right variety of rice; Uncle Ben's won't work! It must be a short grain rice, such as arborio, vialone nano, or my favorite for risotto, carnaroli. These are imported from Italy and have a firm core, but with a softer outside that dissolves in the cooking process to give just the right creamy consistency. It is true Italian comfort food, and perfect for this time of year.

I made it as a main course, and accompanied it with a salad of slivered fresh fennel and red bell pepper with a red wine-oregano vinaigrette. The flavor of the fresh fennel nicely echoed the fennel seed in the recipe, and I used the feathery fronds to garnish the dish.

One of the drawbacks for many is that it should be eaten as soon as it is finished. But you know how I love to have my friends gather in the kitchen, nibbling on an assortment of appetizers, as I finish dinner. I know your friends won’t mind, either, when they have their first taste!

BUTTERNUT SQUASH-ITALIAN SAUSAGE RISOTTO

1 butternut squash, about 2 lbs.
Olive oil
3 slices pancetta, about 1/4” thick, cut into strips (see notes)
1 lb Italian sausage, casings removed
1/2 cup red wine
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts
2 cups (1 lb) rice for risotto
5 to 6 cups chickens stock
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving (see notes)
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp fennel seed, crushed

Wash and dry the squash, rub it with oil and bake on a sheet pan in a preheated 400o oven for about an hour, or until easily pierced with the tip of a knife. When cool enough to handle, cut open. Scoop out and discard the seeds and dark orange membrane from the center. The hollow body of the squash will be softer than the solid neck; scoop it into a bowl. Dice the firmer portion from the neck and reserve separately. (You can do this ahead and refrigerate for up to a couple of days.)
In a large heavy pot, cook the pancetta and the sausage, breaking up large clumps with a wooden spoon, until browned and crispy. Add the red wine and simmer until absorbed. Remove about a fourth of the mixture and reserve for garnish.
Meanwhile, cut the leeks in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/4” half rounds. Rinse well and place on a paper towel to drain. Bring the stock to a simmer in a separate pot.
When the wine is absorbed, add the leeks and cook, stirring, until soft. Add the rice and fennel and stir constantly until the rice turns milky white. Stir in the reserved softer part of the squash. Add a couple of ladles of the simmering stock and continue to stir as it cooks. Continue adding stock, a ladle at a time, just enough to keep it fairly soupy. After 15 minutes, begin to taste the rice. It should be soft on the outside but still firm, but not hard, in the middle. It will probably take no more than 20 minutes total to reach the right texture. When done, add the grated parmesan, butter and fennel seed. Ladle into flat soup bowls and top with reserved squash cubes and meat mixture. Pass a chunk of cheese and a grater at the table. Serves 4 to 6 as a main course.

NOTES: Pancetta is a sort of un-smoked Italian bacon, available at specialty markets. If unavailable, just leave it out. For the grated cheese, I prefer either imported parmigiano reggiano, or the more affordable but still very flavorful grana padano.
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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Pain d'Epices aux Poires

 





















I was having dinner with a group of friends recently and they asked what my next column would feature. When I told them, there was general astonishment: "Dessert? You're doing a dessert?! But you don't DO dessert!!"

I told them to just wait. It is an established fact that dessert is not one of my strong points. Mostly, I get my feelings sort of hurt if you're still hungry at dessert time. But this one is so easy!

Back in November, my friends Mimmye and Larry Goode invited me for dinner. Mimmye had a pear upside-down spice cake that she had made for Thanksgiving, and sent some home with me. I loved it; it wasn't overly sweet and sticky.

I asked about the recipe and found that she had used fresh pears that she poached and then made the cake from scratch. And that was the end of it for me, I thought. That was way too much work for a dessert in my own opinion.

But I got to thinking and here's what I did: I got canned pears and used gingerbread mix for the cake. It was easy, quick and delicious.

A couple of tips: the first time I made it I used a store brand of pears. They were of uneven size, several were broken, and the texture was a bit mushy. The next time I used name brand pears with much greater success.

And secondly: I tried both Hodgson Mills organic whole wheat gingerbread and Betty Crocker brand. Both were quite yummy but I preferred the texture of the Hodgson Mills.

Wrapped, this keeps well, and in fact gets better after a day or so. It reminds me very much of the taste and texture of the French spice cake "pain d'épices," so that's what we'll call it. Enjoy!

PAIN D'EPICES AUX POIRES

3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
6 or 7 pear halves, from a large can
1 package gingerbread mix, prepared as directed,
but substitute milk for the water called for
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Whipped cream for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350F. Put the butter and sugar in a deep 9-inch cake pan and put into the oven until the butter is melted. Remove, stir well and spread the sugar out evenly. Put the drained pear halves, rounded side down and pointy end toward the center, in the pan. Use six or seven, depending on how big they are. Don't crowd them.

Prepare the gingerbread mix as directed, using milk instead of water. Stir in the cinnamon and cardamom. Gently spoon over the pears, covering them completely and spreading the batter evenly. Bake as directed.

Let the cake cool on a rack for only five minutes (any longer and it might be hard to remove from the pan). Invert the pan on a cake plate and let cool. Cut into wedges to serve and garnish with whipped cream. Serves 6 to 8.
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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Truffles in Tennessee?


This week in the New York Times, there was an article that told of the finding of truffles, those funky smelling funghi, in East Tennessee. Trees with roots treated with spores of truffles were planted, and lo and behold! Black gold! Check out the whole story here.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Brazilian Baked Black Beans

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When I published my first "Weekend Entertaining" column in the Memphis Commercial Appeal back in 2004, I suggested a grilled pork tenderloin, yellow rice and these beans. These are with no competition the best black beans I've ever had.

In this week's column I again make a Southwestern inspired pork dish and mention the black beans. There's never enough space in my column to say everything I would like to say (those who know me probably won't be surprised at that) so I am re-publishing the black bean recipe here for those who would like to make it.

You can put this together ahead of time and bake it later. If it's more than a few hours ahead, you might want to refrigerate it, but take it out of the fridge a bit before baking. It makes a pretty "juicy" dish, but I like that with the rice. I always make extra rice and beans when I do this for guests. Beans and rice together make a complete protein, so it makes a healthy supper another evening when I come home hungry but don't want to cook! You can also mix them together and add vegetable or chicken stock for a pretty tasty soup.

BRAZILIAN BAKED BLACK BEANS

3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup onion, diced
1 can Rotel with lime and cilantro
1-1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1-1/2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp Tobasco
1 tbsp Worcestershire
1/3 cup dark rum (or fresh lemon juice)
3 16- or 19-ounce cans black beans, not rinsed or drained
Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat the oil in a large pot. Add garlic and stir a couple of times. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add remaining ingredients except beans and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add beans stir to combine, add salt to taste, place in a casserole. and bake for about an hour. Serves 8-10.


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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

World Nutella Day

The food bloggers of the world are celebrating this delicious spread on February 6. So for the next couple of weeks, many of us will be posting a recipe using Nutella.

Years ago, when I first went to France to study, I spent a lot of time at the home of a friend whom I had met when she had been an exchange student in Louisville. She had a younger brother who was in elementary school. Dinner in France comes later than here, and he would come home from school ready for a snack to hold him over. His afternoon treat almost every day was a chunk of crusty baguette smeared with a chocolate-hazelnut spread: Nutella.

It originated in Italy in the 1940’s when chocolate was outrageously expensive because of the war rationing. Hazelnuts, on the other hand, were plentiful in the Piedmont area of Italy, and were used by the Ferrero pastry company to extend the chocolate, with cocoa butter and vegetable oil added to make it spreadable. Over the years it became popular all over Europe.

I loved the stuff! Each summer I would come back from France with a suitcase full that I would hoard over the months. On toast at breakfast, on waffles at brunch, warmed on ice cream for dessert…but finally I would sadly scrape the last bit out of the last jar.

I was delighted when Nutella was first imported into the USA in 1983. Eventually it became almost as popular here as it was in Europe. Initially available only in “gourmet” markets, it was quite expensive. With a plant built in New Jersey in the 90’s it has now become widely available, not just in specialty stores, but in the peanut butter aisle of most supermarkets.

A couple of weeks ago I wanted something fast and easy for dessert for friends. I had a challah, a slightly sweet egg bread made by Sherie McKelvie of La Morinda Bakery. I had a jar of Nutella. AHA!

This version of French toast made a good, but rich, dessert. You might want to try it after a simple meal of grilled meat or seafood and salad, or try it for a quick and easy brunch dish. I garnished it with raspberries, a dab of crème fraîche and a sprig of mint. Sliced bananas or poached pears would be equally good as a complement.

If you don’t have a loaf of challah around, you can use egg bread, French bread, or even pound cake (but then leave the sugar out of the egg mixture). In fact, it’s so good that I bet you could even use slices of sandwich bread and it would be quite tasty!

“Pain Perdu,” or “Lost Bread” is the French term for what we call French toast, so that’s what we’ll call it!

PAIN PERDU AU NUTELLA

Four 2” slices of challah, French bread or pound cake
1/2 cup (or as needed) Nutella
4 eggs
1/2 cup milk or half-and-half
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp butter
Fruit, for garnish
Crème fraîche or whipped cream, for garnish

With a serrated bread knife, cut almost through the bread. Spread the Nutella evenly inside and press lightly together.
In a pie pan or other flat dish, whisk together the eggs, milk or half-and-half, sugar (if not using pound cake) and vanilla. Add the stuffed bread, turning several times, until most of the mixture has been absorbed.
In a medium non-stick skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the bread and cook, turning once, until the egg mixture is cooked through and the outside is golden brown. Serve at once garnished as desired. Serves four.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Tortellini in Brodo Rosso

  A few years ago a friend and I made a trip to Italy. We started in Bologna and made a big circle, through Tuscany, and back to Bologna.

We were very fortunate that a friend in the wine business set us up for a visit to a vineyard a little off the beaten path in the Chianti region. Afterwards, we were looking for a place for lunch and driving through the town of Greve-in-Chianti, noticed a small restaurant down a side street--exactly the kind of place I like to find when traveling in Europe.

It was small, and most of the tables were filled with locals. It smelled wonderful. The menu was short but had some very interesting selections. One we saw at another table was a stuffed chicken neck--with the head still attached. We didn't try that.

But one dish I loved was "tortellini in brodo rosso." The legend is that the tortellino was inspired by a glimpse of the navel of Venus by an innkeeper who was so enchanted that he modeled a pasta after it. According to tradition, tortellini are served only "in brodo," or in broth. This was in a broth based on Chianti wine, rather than a clear broth, and was wonderful.

I came home and tried to re-create the dish, but had a hard time until I figured out the secret: red onions, which caramelize beautifully and add a depth of flavor and color to the broth.

With the holidays coming up, this would make a lovely first course (as it is served in Italy), or a good weekend supper with just a salad. Be sure you have some crusty bread to soak up the last of the broth.

Tortellini are found in the supermarket with the refrigerated fresh pastas. I used cheese tortellini, as they did, but I think this would be equally good with either chicken or sausage filled ones. Just be sure you use a young and fruity wine for the broth.

TORTELLINI IN BRODO ROSSO

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, cut in half from stem to root ends and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups fruity red wine, such as Chianti, sangiovese or beaujolais
6 cups chicken stock
1 package (10-12 ounces) tortellini
Salt and pepper to taste
2 green onions, thinly sliced, for garnish
4 ounce chunk parmigiana reggiano or parmesan cheese

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent. Sprinkle with the sugar, stir and turn the heat to very low. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the onion is caramelized, about 20 minutes more. Add the red wine and cook until reduced by about half. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, add the tortellini and simmer until just tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Ladle into flat soup bowls and sprinkle with the green onion. Pass the parmigiana reggiano cheese with a grater for each person to add his own. Serves 6 as a first course, or 4 as a main course. Posted by Picasa
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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Mushy peas?

I have a friend from England who has often spoken of "mushy peas." Sounds pretty yucky to me, but look at this! A website dedicated to them! Who knew?