Sunday, November 06, 2011

Where the rich folks eat...

On the Comcast news page, there was a link to the top ten per capita income zip codes in the US, and where the residents eat.  It was interesting that all except one were in either the New York area (including New Jersey) or California.  The exception was Auburn, AL. Who would have thought?

Also interesting that most are bedroom communities and have few, if any, fine dining establishments. 

Take a look and let me know what you think of all this.

Friday, November 04, 2011

It's National Sandwich Week!

And the Huffingon Post has nominated the nine worst sandwiches

Are there any you'd want to try?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Really tasty, but really economical, chicken!

                Everyone's talking about the high price of almost everything lately.  And lots of companies are cutting back on hours, or cutting jobs entirely.  The news is full of examples of folks cutting back on expenses because of it all.
                That certainly doesn't mean you have to cut out everything you like to do.  Such as having friends for dinner.  Which is something I really like to do!  It may not be the filet mignon you might have had a year or two ago, but there's no reason to deny yourself the pleasure of your friends' company.
                I belong to a couple of cooking groups, and we generally share the responsibilities of the meal.  A while back, I had a group of friends over and everyone brought a course to share.  I made the main course and everyone loved it.  Guests contributed a couple of appetizers, a salad, a vegetable and dessert. 
                The dish I made for my dinner was one I had made a couple of times before, always with great success.  I am a big fan of dark meat chicken.   You can simmer it longer in seasoned broths or sauces, so that it soaks up all the yummy factor flavors.  Chicken breast meat would be way overcooked in the same amount of time.
                And in the interest of economy, you can't get much more penny-wise; chicken leg quarters are about one-third the price of hamburger meat.  This main course, even if you have to buy the herbs instead of growing them yourself, should be under $2.00 per person.  The first time I made it, I had read about a similar dish described in a review of an out-of-town Spanish restaurant.  I used Spanish chorizo and Spanish manchego cheese.  Last week, I used pepperoni and Parrano cheese.  The result was equally delicious, and undeniably a fraction of the cost. A nutty Gruyère would suit equally well. 
                And most of the prep can be done ahead. I cut up the potatoes and left them in cool water  I stuffed the chicken legs and tucked them in the fridge.  Then all I had to do was assemble the dish, and stick it in the oven an hour before we ate.  No basting, no watching.  How could it be any better?
8 chicken leg quarters
4 ounces pepperoni, thinly sliced
6 ounces Parrano, gruyère or Jarlsberg cheese, not too thinly sliced
3 lbs. red-skin potatoes, washed and cut into large cubes
1 large onion, cut in half from stem to root ends, and sliced
1 package fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 cups dry white wine (or chicken stock)
1/4 cup (or as needed) extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
                Preheat the oven to 350o.  Rinse and dry the chicken pieces.  Run your fingers under the skin to separate it from the flesh.  Under the skin slide three pepperoni slices.  Under the pepperoni cover the flesh with slices of cheese.  (It's easier to put the pepperoni in first.  Trust me on this.)
                In a baking pan large enough to hold the chicken in one layer, spread out the potatoes  Add the onions, about 1/3 of the thyme and the bay leaves, and toss to combine well.  Place the chicken on top.  Tuck another third of the thyme around and under the chicken.  Pour the wine or stock evenly over the chicken.    Brush the chicken generously with the olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and plenty of fresh-ground black pepper.
                Cook for about an hour, or until the chicken is done through and a rich dark golden brown  Serve at once, garnished with the remaining thyme.   Serves 8.
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Friday, October 28, 2011

The way we look at fast food...

Here are two different views of how to look at the perceived problem of too much bad fast food for too much of the population.   Take a look at both of the articles and let me know what you think!

First, here's a view from Mark Bittman, who is one of my idols, saying that it would be just as easy and less expensive to make a nourishing dinner for four than to take them to McDonalds.

And then, on the other hand, here's a view from the blogger Adam Roberts, of the Amateur Gourmet, saying why don't we just let folks alone...they know what they're eating isn't good for them but they aren't about to stop.

Which side of the fence are you on?

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Yum! Mark Bittman's Date and Bean Salad

                 I really heart Mark Bittman.  For those who aren’t familiar with him, he’s a food columnist for the New York Times, and in several previous columns I’ve referred to some of his work.  One of my favorites came from a 2009 column “101 Simple Salads for the Season.”  Here were his instructions: “Cut cherry or grape tomatoes in half; toss with soy sauce, a bit of dark sesame oil and basil or cilantro.”  I’ve made that so many times it is almost embarrassing.
                I recently picked up one of his books, “Kitchen Express” and the format was similar: no real recipes, just sort of chatty little paragraphs suggesting how to make something tasty, divided by seasons.
                I saw this dish, listed under winter recipes and thought how very “interesting” it sounded. (In my parlance that’s like saying “he has a nice personality.”)  
                Well, it was not only interesting, it was really delicious.  I did add the optional fillip of the crisped coppa (Italian cured pork loin) on top, and the tiniest splash of balsamic dressing on the greens.  Coppa or another option, prosciutto, can be found in most supermarkets, packaged, very thinly sliced.
                I served it as a side salad for dinner, but it is pretty hearty.  It would make a great luncheon main dish, or as a brunch side to an egg casserole of some sort.  Doubled, it would serve six to eight as a main dish.
                If you’re not a bacon eater, you could leave it out, but you might compensate for the loss of the smoky taste by a goodly pinch of Spanish smoked paprika. 
                You could easily make the salad a bit ahead and warm again slightly just before serving.  We had a bit left, and I had it for lunch the next day, and I still would have happily served it to guests.  There’s always room in my repertoire for a dish like that!


4 slices good quality smoked bacon
2 15-oz cans cannellini or northern beans, drained
½ cup dates, pitted and chopped (or use packaged diced)
6 very thin slices coppa or prosciutto (optional)
1 container arugula
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp good olive oil

                Cut the bacon into 1” pieces.  In a good sized skillet, cook until just barely crisp. Remove to a paper towel to drain, and pour off about half the fat. To the pan add the beans and dates.  Warm on low for a few minutes, stirring around a bit.  When ready to serve, put the bacon back into the pan and heat it all together for another minute or two.
                Meanwhile, if you’re using the coppa or prosciutto, heat another skillet over medium high heat.  Put the meat in one layer and cook, turning once, until just crisp. Put on a paper towel to drain.
                In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar and oil. Add the arugula and toss. The dressing will very lightly cover the greens.  Divide the greens among six plates and top with the bean salad.  Perch the crispy coppa or prosciutto on top and serve.  Serves six as a generous side or first course salad.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A bar in Key West...

We've returned from our Great Southern Road Trip vacation. And I know I owe you lots of updates on amusing places we saw, and reviews of places we ate. Remember, patience is a virtue.

This was a bar we saw in Key West. The bar area on top, where you see the trees and garden area, is "clothing optional."

We didn't go there. But we did take a trolley tour of the town and the guide suggested that if you plan to go up there, you have a few drinks in the second floor bar first, and sort of watch to see who's going up before you pay the cover charge!
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Easy Vietnamese Caramelized Shrimp!

Once a month Williams-Sonoma has a Saturday cooking demonstration, free of charge. I go as often as I can, because the recipes are always really tasty.

A few weeks ago I went and the recipe was from Sous Chef Justine Kelly, of the restaurant Slanted Door in San Francisco. She called it "Caramelized Shrimp with Lemongrass, Thai Chiles and Ginger."

I had friends coming for dinner that evening and I really wanted to make it, but it called for several ingredients usually only available in Oriental markets: fresh lemongrass, palm sugar and Thai chiles. There is no oriental market near us, so I figured I’d adapt it to supermarket shelves. It came out so well that I thought you’d want to try it too.

For the palm sugar, I substituted dark brown sugar, and frankly I’m not sure the end result wasn’t better for it. I made the caramel syrup with the fish sauce, as indicated, but the recipe called for making a lot more than needed with the note that it keeps well for other uses. I just made enough for the one recipe.  But I'm going to try this same recipe soon with chicken breasts, cut into chunks and cooked exactly the same way, so leftover syrup wouldn't have been a bad thing.

Lemongrass paste is widely available in tubes, in the produce section of your market, usually near the fresh herbs. It works extremely well in recipes such as this, and keeps well in the fridge.  It has the added advantage of not having to deal with the tough parts of the lemongrass that won't get tender no matter how long you cook the dish.

And since there were no Thai chiles, I used a Serrano chile instead. Our friends are much more heat tolerant than I am, so I sliced up another for them to add to the finished dish as taste dictated. A jalapeño pepper would also work.

And finally, although the recipe didn’t call for it, I topped it with chopped cilantro, which all agreed was a felicitous addition.

I served it with steamed white rice, roasted asparagus and Mark Bittman’s salad of heirloom tomatoes, soy sauce and a drizzle of oriental sesame oil, atop a bed of arugula. 

This makes a good dinner for a busy day, because you could probably get the rest of the meal done in about the time it takes the rice to cook. Alternately, you could (as I did) prepare the recipe up to the point where you add the hot caramel sauce. It takes only about 5 minutes then, to finish up.

Vietnamese Caramelized Shrimp

1 ½ lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup oriental fish sauce
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup shallot, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 or 2 hot green chiles, cut lengthwise in half, seeds removed
3 tbsp. lemongrass paste (or ¼ cup fresh, minced)
2 plump cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 2-inch cube fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin matchstick pieces
¼ cup chicken or seafood stock
½ cup cilantro, chopped

Rinse the shrimp, pat dry and sprinkle with the pepper. 

Make the caramel sauce: in a heavy saucepan, simmer the brown sugar with the fish sauce just until the sugar is melted. Keep warm.

In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and chiles and stir a few times. Add the lemongrass paste, garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring for another couple of minutes. Stir in the chicken stock and hot caramel sauce. 

Add the shrimp, turn the heat up a little and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are just done, five to seven minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the cilantro and serve immediately. Serves 6.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

A tasty fish with an interesting background.

As you may or may not know, we are nearing the end of The Great Southern Road Trip. I haven’t been a very good girl about documenting things you might have found interesting because this has been a very laid back trip I mean, hey, we’re in the South, right?

 Now we’re in the Floriday Keys. Tom thinks he wants to retire tomorrow and move here, but I’m pretty sure that some of the beer he drank in the water-front bar whilst watching a lot of football today may have fogged his mind a bit.

Anyway, we took a tour out to Pigeon Key yesterday. It is on the former railroad line paid for by a Mr Flagler. There’s some interesting history there, connected with the Bingham family, newspaper high mucky-mucks in Louisville, my home town, but that will be for another day.

It was a work camp for a while and housed several hundred men tricked into coming down to lower Florida to work on the railroad bridge. There’s a lot of very interesting history and you can find some of it here.

While we were there, we were shown an aquarium with a few small but really beautiful fish. They were immature lionfish. We were told that they were introduced in the the local waters, probably by folks who’d brought them from their native Indo-Pacific home as aquarium fish.

They are voracious eaters and have no predators, so they’ve spread, much to the detriment of native fish. And while they are indeed beautiful, they have spines that carry a toxin that can be very painful if touched.

Now you probably are wondering why I’m telling you all this, especially when I’ve been remarkably lazy about telling you about earlier culinary wonders of the trip but the reason is that I had lionfish for dinner tonight, at Lazy Day Restaurant in Islamorda, The Keys, Florida.  What better way to get rid of an invasive critter but to eat it, right?

It was a very mild flavored fish, which made it perfect for the almond crust and key lime butter sauce with diced tomato and sliced scallions.  Really yummy!

In the interest of fair reporting, Tom had the whole Florida lobster Mediterranean, with capers, diced tomato and lots of other goodies, as you can see  for yourself. 


I promise to make time to fill you in on some of the other culinary delights of our trip.  Tomorrow.  Or the next day.  Or sometime next week.  It’s amazing what being down in the Keys does to one’s sense of urgency.
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Friday, September 02, 2011

A Summer Salad for your Labor Day Cookout!

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I’m in a wine dinner group that meets monthly. The host picks the theme and makes the main course and each guest couple signs up for a different course along the same theme.
Everyone in the group loves to cook and does it well so we have some stellar dinners. Recently it was our turn to host, and I picked Spain as our wine region.

Once again, every single course was exceptional. This is the last of the ones I wanted to share with you. Jeanene Lawhead Feinstone brought a most delicious salad called "pipirrana."

Pipirrana is a vegetable salad that is found pretty much everywhere in Spain, with regional variations. Some add diced cooked potatoes, others diced avocado or lightly steamed carrot. Although Jeanene used green bell pepper, you can use red, or a mixture of red and green. In the Basque region, the peppers are often sautéed in olive oil with the onion and cooled before adding the remaining ingredients. I’ve had it with sherry wine vinegar in the dressing, and once I’m pretty sure there was a touch of honey in the vinaigrette.

Jeanene suggests that you add the dressing a little at a time. You want it to coat all the vegetables, but not to have a big pool of it in the bottom of the bowl.

However you do it, since there is no mayonnaise, it would make a perfect picnic food or side dish for your Labor Day cook-out. And for another variation, I stuffed the last bit of Jeanene’s salad into a pita half with sliced tomato and hummus and it made a great lunch. I might do that for the next Botanic Garden concert!

Jeanene’s Pipirrana
(Diced Vegetable Salad)

1 ½ green bell peppers
6 Roma tomatoes squeezed
1 small sweet onion
1 cucumber seeded
3 hard boiled eggs
2 tsp. tarragon finely chopped
1 to 1 ½ cans of tuna in oil (slightly drained)
½ cup olive oil (very good grade)
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Dice all the ingredients finely into ½ in. cubes and toss with blended olive oil and vinegar. Salt to taste.
Chill for at least one hour before serving. Spoon on bed of chopped green leaf lettuce. Serves 8 generously.
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Great melon summer salad!

    Back in my younger days in Louisville, we often went to a buffet brunch after church services on Sunday.  Inevitably one of us kids would take more on our plate than we could eat.  My mom would always say "Your eyes were bigger than your stomach."
    That’s kind of how I am when I go to summer farmers’ markets.  I want it all.  And I almost always buy it all.
    I stopped into the Agricenter market last week, just one day before we were leaving for a long weekend away.  I got too many tomatoes (wait—is that even possible?) and veggies for dinner that night and headed out the door.  And right beside the door was a display of large, enormously fragrant cantaloupes. I just had to have one. 
    I knew it had to be eaten before we left, and that evening a friend was joining us for dinner.  I had already planned the menu, but with the aroma of the melon wafting through the kitchen, I knew I had to use it.  How about a salad?
    I foraged in the fridge and found the makings of an extremely delicious salad.  I put it together and let it set for an hour or so at room temperature and then served it on a bed of arugula.  It was absolutely delicious.
    This could certainly be made ahead and stored in the fridge until you’re almost ready to serve it.  Just be sure to let it come closer to room temperature before serving for the best flavor. I used all cantaloupe, but a mixture of cantaloupe and honeydew melons would also be tasty. 
    I just cut the melon into nice bite-sized chunks.  If you want to be totally chi-chi about it, use that melon baller contraption that you got for a shower gift.  There's one good side benefit: it leaves a lot of little bits and pieces unusable in your salad...but that means you have to eat those bits yourself.  Well, I mean, you can't just toss them into the disposal, right?
    This salad, best when ripe summer melons are available, makes a great side dish for just about any kind of meal.


4 cups melon, cut into chunks
Juice and finely grated zest of one large lime
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tbsp. fresh mint leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. good fruity olive oil
4 to 6 cups salad greens of choice
Additional mint for garnish

Put the melon chunks into a bowl.  Add the lime juice and zest, feta cheese and chopped mint.  Let set at room temperature for about an hour, tossing occasionally.
Taste and add salt if necessary. Some feta cheeses are saltier than others, so you may not need it.  Sprinkle lightly with coarsely ground black pepper.  Add the olive oil and toss again.
Serve on a bed of greens, drizzling any juices from the bowl over the top, garnish with mint sprigs and serve immediately.  Serves 4 to 6.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dinner at Marketplace Restaurant Louisville

Back a few years ago, first my father, and then my mother, became ill in Louisville. My sister and I made many trips up to see them, and always tried to work in a trip to Volare Restaurant.   We even made a special trip to go to one of their special dinners, one with an Umbrian theme.

What made the food so special was Chef Dallas McGarity, and when he left, we had no idea where to find him, and nobody at Volare seemed to want to tell us.  Imagine how pleased I was, as we return to Louisville for a meetingn that Tom has, to pick up a copy of the local what's-happening paper and see a review for his new place, Market Place Restaurant in downtown Louisville. 

Tom and I wandered that way yesterday and had to admire the extensive and quite lovely outside dining and bar area.  Unfortunately I didn't take a picture, but I'm hoping we'll get back before we leave.

I ordered an appetizer, "bacon & scallop, sweet corn puree, marketplace greens, balsamic reduction."  The bacon was crispy pork belly, and the scallop could not have been more perfectly cooked.  It was absolutely delicious.

Tom got an entrée portion of "scallops & shrimp, sweet potato-gingered onion-bacon hash, marketplace greens, sambal-lime vinaigrette."  Oh golly, I could have eaten my weight in the sweet potato hash.  Tom found it a little spicy for his taste, which is odd because usually he has a higher tolerance for heat than I do.  Again, the scallops were perfectly cooked, but he found the shrimp a little overdone.

Looking at the menu, there are other things I would have loved to have tried. I don't think we'll be getting back there for dinner before we leave but maybe we can go for a pre-dinner beverage in that lovely terrace.  Hopefully my sister and I will be making a trip back later in the fall, and we can both come and enjoy Chef Dallas' great cooking again!
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Friday, August 12, 2011

Lovely tomatoes!

Heirloom tomatoes from the Agricenter Farmers' Market...YUM! I just don't know anything else I can add!
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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Great Burgers from the Grill!

One of the great pleasures of the summer, in my opinion, is hamburgers on the grill. We always start out the summer with regular hamburgers, maybe brushed with a little soy sauce mixed with finely minced garlic. Lettuce, tomato, pickles…you know what I mean. But after a bit I start thinking of ways to make a more amusing burger.

Recently I got an email from a former Mantia’s guest who asked about our "Bombay Burger." Each week we had a special burger of the week, and this was one of the more popular. We used pre-formed high quality angus beef burgers, so all the flavor went on the outside. We would blend chopped garlic, grated ginger and Thai sweet chili sauce with olive oil and let it rest in the fridge overnight. Then at cooking time, we would paint the burger with the infused oil.

But working at home gives a little more latitude than when you're feeding a hundred or more for lunch each day, so I mixed all the goodies right into the ground beef.  All the guests agreed that the results were even more delicious!

When I’m going to do my burgers on the grill I like at least a 20% fat content in the ground beef. That keeps the burgers moist, especially for those who like their burgers a little more well done. Don’t overwork the meat. Start with cold ground beef, and just sort of crumble it. Sprinkle the ingredients over the top and toss to combine.  And don't squish it down too much as you form the burgers.  Pat them together just enough to make sure they don't come apart and fall down into the coals.  I hate it when that happens!

You could do this, too, with ground turkey, but be sure to use the mixed ground white and dark meat. I’ve never found a way to keep all-white ground turkey moist and juicy on the grill.  And I’ve had more success with grilled turkey burgers if I brush the outside with a bit of olive oil.

The aioli starts with store-bought mayonnaise, but if you'd rather make your own, be my guest.  This spread is also particularly good on roast beef or roast turkey sandwiches, too.  And I bet it would be equally successful with crab cakes.

To accompany this, I made potato salad with an olive oil and white wine vinegar dressing, with roasted poblano chiles, chopped cilantro and minced red onion. You could just as easily use canned green chiles instead of the poblanos. I bet if you bought carry-out potato salad and added the canned chilies it would still be quite tasty. Slice some farmers’ market tomatoes onto a platter and sprinkle with salt and pepper, and you have the perfect outdoor grill dinner.


1 ½ lb ground beef
3 cloves garlic, pressed or very finely minced
1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp. Thai sweet chili sauce
4 green onions, with some of the green top, finely minced
2 tsp. salt
Curry Chutney Aioli:
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, pressed or very finely minced
¼ cup Major Grey mango chutney
2 tsp. curry powder
To finish:
4 crusty buns or ciabatta rolls
Sliced tomato

Mix all the burger ingredients together and form four burgers. Put them in a single layer on a plate, cover and chill until ready to cook.

In a small bowl, whisk together all the aioli ingredients. Some chutneys have big chunks. If yours does, chop them into smaller pieces. Cover and chill at least an hour for flavors to meld.

When ready to serve, grill burgers to your desired level of doneness. Alternatively, cook in a hot skillet, or under a broiler, until done as desired.

Place each on a bun or ciabatta roll, spread with prepared aioli and sprinkle with cilantro. Top with arugula and tomato. Serve at once. Makes four burgers.
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Thursday, August 04, 2011

A Great Sounding Road Trip!

One of the blogs I read often is Bunky Cooks. Based in Atlanta Gwen Pratesi writes about lifestyle, travel and food. She also heads up a non-profit enterprise meant to get adventurous gourmands up close and personal with America’s new generation of farmers, vintners and distillers.

Their next trip is to Kentucky. I am a native of Louisville, and if there were anyway I could work this into my schedule, I would love to do it, but we'll be in Key West at the time.

Pratesi wrangles for her intimate tours – the Kentucky trip is limited to 20 people – access to the best chefs,  farms, vineyards, distilleries and other destinations.

The Kentucky tour runs from Sunday, Sept. 18 through Tuesday, Sept. 20 focusing on the region’s farm-to-table culture in the Louisville and Lexington areas.

For the schedule and more information check out On the Road Culinary Adventures.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A restaurant that bans children?

There's a restaurant in Pennsylvania that now bans children under six at all times. You can read about it here. What do you think?

Friday, July 01, 2011

Sweet smoky Spanish-inspired ribs!

A couple of weeks ago, I promised more of the recipes from our wine dinner club Spanish meal. I was the hostess, so I made the main course.

I had had "Costilla de Cerdo Lacada," or glazed pork ribs, in a tapas bar in Washington, DC, a while back and thought I’d attempt a similar recipe. I knew it had smoked paprika and a lot of brown sugar and garlic. The first time I tried it, it was tasty enough but didn’t have the glazed look of the original. And was missing a spiced flavor that I decided was cinnamon and ginger.

I tried it again and intended to glaze it with reduced sweet sherry, but didn’t have any in the liquor cabinet. I looked to see what might be a good substitute and there was a bottle of maple syrup in the pantry. Talk about serendipity! It was the perfect glaze, and so easy!

I served the ribs with a yellow rice pilaf and the wonderful rum-baked black beans from a much earlier column. You can find the recipe on my blog.

I did them as noted below. But last week I visited my son and his family and wanted to make them again for a group of his friends. He has a smoker and smoked them for about four hours on low heat, then glazed them on the grill. They were wonderful, so if you have a smoker you might want to try it.

With the Fourth of July weekend upon us, why not give these ribs a try? With rice, baked black beans and a salad, you have a dinner that will have your friends saying "Ole"!!!


2 racks baby back ribs (about 3 lbs each)
½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 tbsp. Spanish sweet smoked paprika
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. ground ginger
5 plump cloves garlic, put through a press
2 tbps. Chipotle Tabasco sauce
1 tbsp. kosher or sea salt
¼ cup maple or other pancake syrup
Fresh cilantro, for garnish

Rinse the rib racks and pat dry. In a bowl, combine all remaining ingredients except maple syrup and cilantro.

Tear off a strip of heavy duty aluminum foil large enough to seal around one rack. Using half the spice mixture, rub evenly over the meat. Use about a third on the bottom (bone) side, and the rest on top. Seal the foil completely, then over-wrap with another sheet of foil. Repeat with the second rack.

Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate at least four hours or up to 24 hours. Remove from the fridge about an hour before you plan to cook.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the racks side by side on a baking sheet. Bake for an hour. Remove the foil and place the racks on a clean baking sheet. Discard foil and any cooking juices. Brush the meaty side of the rack with the syrup.

Pre-heat your grill to medium-high. Place the racks with the glazed side down and cook for about 5 minutes. Turn and brush again. Cook for another five minutes. Cut into three-rib servings and sprinkle with the cilantro. Delicious hot, but also perfectly tasty at warm room temperature. Serves 6 generously.

NOTE: Spanish smoked paprika is available in many supermarkets, and at Fresh Market and Whole Foods.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Dinner at La Summa-Boston

Recently, after a visit in Massachusetts with my son and his family--including my two sweet angel grand-daughters--my sister Cindy and I had a couple of days of sisterly bonding in Boston. This mostly comprised shopping and eating. And if not eating, talking about where to eat next.

One of the musts, of course, was the North End, the Italian neighborhood. I always make time for that when I fly in and out of Boston. There are scores of wonderful Italian restaurants and a couple of great markets and at least two incredible pastry shops. Mike's Pastry Shop is my favorite.

Our first dinner was at La Summa. We chose that because it was a little off the main drag, and were happy we did. It was small and a lot quieter than most. Our server was delightful. She knew all the details of all the dishes, made appropriate suggestions, and gave perfect service. She was attentive without being intrusive.

For our first dish we split a special of the evening, Eggplant Bruschette.

The eggplant had been lightly breaded and was obviously freshly cooked. And perfectly cooked, with a creamy center and a crispy outside. The tomato topping had fresh basil, a touch of garlic and a fine fruity olive oil. Topped with shredded mozzarella and heated just enough, every bite was delicious.

Then we split the ever-present Insalata Caprese.

Although the tomatoes could have been a bit riper, I suppose we must remember that seasons aren't the same in Boston. They still had dogwood and azalea blossoms while ours have been gone for weeks and weeks. Still, the mozzarella was obviously freshly made (something I never see in Memphis, at least not since Mantia's closed!) and the olive oil was obviously a cut above standard supermarket brands, fruity with a bit of a peppery bite.

And then we split the main course the server recommended: Vitello Speciale.

It was described on the menu as "Barbara's specialty - lightly breaded veal or boneless breast of chicken layered with prosciutto, mozzarella and mushrooms in a wine reduction." Once again we were delighted with the choice. It was a substantial dish. What I show is one half of a serving, since the kitchen very considerately split it for us.  Loaded with sautéed mushrooms, in a rich Marsala wine reduction, it was the perfect ending to the meal.  Ending because there was no way we could manage dessert after all this.

And you certainly couldn't quibble with the price.  With generous servings, plenty of warm crusty bread and a bottle of very nice pinot grigio, and with a generous tip, our check was still less than $100!
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Fabulous white sangria!

I’m in a wine dinner group that meets monthly. The host picks the theme and makes the main course and each guest couple signs up for a different course, along the same theme. Sometimes it’s based on one kind of wine, but usually it’s geographic.

Everyone in the group loves to cook and does it well so we have some stellar dinners. Recently it was our turn to host, and I picked Spain as our wine region.

Once again, every single course was exceptional. In fact, over the next few weeks, I’m going to share several of the recipes we enjoyed.

Our first course appetizer was served with white sangria made by Commercial Appeal Food Editor, Jennifer Biggs. It was, with no competition, the best white sangria I’ve ever had (and with my age and travels, I’ve had a few). And it looked absolutely beautiful in the clear glass pitcher, with berries on the bottom, citrus slices and fresh mint.

The secret ingredient was one we all had a little trouble identifying: fresh tarragon. Who would have thought? It was subtle but made all the difference in the flavor. Don’t be tempted to leave it out.

You can make your infused lemonade ahead of time and chill all the components to be assembled when you’re ready to serve it. Have an iced tea spoon ready so you can scoop out a blackberry or two for each glass, pour, and enjoy!


16 oz good lemonade (see note)
1 handful fresh mint
1/2 handful fresh tarragon
1 750ml bottle dry white wine
8 oz. grapefruit soda (see note)
1 cup Cointreau or triple sec
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
1 lime, sliced
Blackberries or other berries
Handful of mint sprigs for garnish

Bring the lemonade to a boil and add the mint and tarragon. Remove from the heat and allow to infuse at least 15 minutes. Discard the herbs and allow the syrup to cool. Put the wine in a pitcher, then add the herbed lemonade, grapefruit soda and Cointreau. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

To serve, place fruit, berries and mint garnish in the serving pitcher, add ice, and pour in the sangria. Add more grapefruit soda or Sprite if you want a bit of fizz. Makes 8 to 10 five-ounce servings.

NOTE: Jennifer used a bottled not-from-concentrate lemonade available in the juice section of the supermarket. For the grapefruit soda she used Ting, available from the Winchester Road Farmers Market, or in the international aisle of some supermarkets. Fresca or Squirt would also work, but would be less sharp.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

From a food blogger whom I quite enjoy and respect!

There are a lot of food blogs I follow, some casually, occasionally, when I think about it. Others I pretty much read everything written.

One of my favorites is Adam Roberts, The Amateur Gourmet.  He writes well, and with such a great sense of humor without being pretentious about either the food or the humor.

Today he wrote about his philosophy of life.  Whether or not you enjoy his style of writing (and what, I want to know, is not to like?) it's an interesting insight into his life voyage from law student to an MFA in dramatic writing,  to widely acclaimed food blogger who has just sent a cookbook manuscript to his publisher.

Check him out and leave a nice comment telling him how much you and I both admire him!


If I still owned a restaurant...

I was having lunch recently with "the girls" at a pretty pricey and fairly new place in Memphis which will go unnamed. If I still owned a restaurant (and you know I used to) here are two things I would tell the servers, which apparently were not told to our server.

First, we had a "funny" waiter. He thought he was SO cute. Lots of jokey comments about what we ordered, both wine-wise and food-wise. Frequent interruptions to reinforce how cute he was, often in the middle of a conversation.

Of the four of us, three ordered a glass of wine, all different. None of us got the right wine, the one we ordered. Now in fairness they were all white, but ya' know? We took sips, looked at each other, identified what we thought we got, and passed it to the right person. When we mentioned it to him, he made a joke about it, not an apology.

Expensive main-course type salads came with one very thin slice of un-toasted Pullman bread with the crusts cut off, slightly stale. We asked for a roll each instead. His comment: "Really? Everyone else likes that bread."

We were half-finished with our salads and he asked if we were ready to order dessert. Duh. No, not yet. And excuse me sir, but we are having some serious talk here. Please do not interrupt us again. And we really don't care what you think about the topic.

If I owned a restaurant, the server would be much more sensitive both to the type of folks he is serving, and to the tone of the conversation. And in any case would not consider himself part of the conversation! Polite, yes. Attentive, yes. But almost invisible unless he was needed.

And secondly, but absolutely not confined to this restaurant--this is common practice but NOT in my restaurant. Nobody's plate gets taken away until everyone is finished (unless, of course someone asks for it to be taken away). I eat very slowly and, okay, sure, I talk a lot. I'm almost always the last one finished. I feel a little self-conscious to be the only one at the table with a plate in front of me. So I don't always finish my lunch or dinner out with a group. You wouldn't do that to guests in your home, why would you do that in a restaurant?

What do you think?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Easy Chicken-Black Bean Tacos

A couple of weeks ago I had grilled more chicken breasts than had gotten eaten.  I sliced them and stuck them in a baggie in the freezer.  I've had a very busy few days recently and last night I pulled them out to thaw.

I never did fulfill my earlier promise to cull down the contents of pantry, fridge and freezer.  In fact I seem to keep adding to it.  I'm such a bad girl that way.  So trying to decide what to make with the chicken  I spied a can of Bush's Fiesta Style Grillin' Beans: black beans simmered in a tasty chipotle sauce with corn kernels and red peppers
 I also had some tortillas, so I'm thinking tacos.  There's not a recipe here, because what I did was so simple.  I chopped a small onion, sliced up about 4 plump cloves of peeled garlic and cooked it in a sauté pan in a little olive oil.  I added a couple of cups of grilled and semi-thinly sliced chicken and about a tablespoon of Penzey's Salsa Seasoning.  Regular taco seasoning would work just fine, or even chili powder, but I am awfully fond of the Penzey's blend.

After the chicken, onions, garlic and seasoning got to know each other a little better, I poured the can of beans over it and simmered until most of the liquid was gone.  Then I added the finely grated zest and the juice of one lime.  That's it!

You can add whatever condiments you have and like.  I had salsa, shredded Napa cabbage, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream and cilantro.  I think diced avocado or guacamole would be great with these as well.

I had some fresh corn, so I did my favorite thing to do with corn: into some soft butter I grated the zest of a lime and added the juice.  I spread the shucked corn with this, wrapped it in foil and roasted it in the oven at 350 for about 45 minutes.  Or you can do it at 400 for about a half an hour.  If you are grilling, you can cook them right on the grill. A sprinkle of the Penzey's salsa seasoning here is pretty tasty too.

Altogether it took about 10 minutes of my time and from start to finish was less than 45 minutes.  If you don't do the corn, it's about 20 minutes total.  If you go to a fast food joint during rush hour it'll take longer than that to drive through!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Great Summer Ribs!

 Baby back ribs were on sale.  How could I say no?  I toted them home before even thinking of how I might do them.  Digging around in my spice drawer, I found an un-opened packet of Colorado Spice Sicilian Pork Rub.  The ingredients sounded right up my alley: coriander and mustard seeds, garlic, fennel seed.  I used most of the packet to rub the ribs down.

Once I had my ribs rubbed down, covered and refrigerated, the question of sauce arose.  I wanted to use the remaining rub in the sauce, but what else?  This was truly one of those thrown-together sauces that turned out really well, I thought.  The first draft was tasty, but needed to be kicked up a bit.

I was going to visit my sister in Knoxville the following weekend.  (I can’t imagine why, but anytime I visit family I always wind up cooking.)   This was the perfect opportunity to do the ribs again.  With a few changes to the sauce, by Jove, I thought we had it!   With fresh green beans steamed, then sautéed in garlic butter, a home-made lentil salad, and potato salad and cole slaw from the local deli we had a real feast.

There's no reason, if you are having a cookout for the Memorial Day holiday, that you couldn't roast the ribs and make the sauce earlier in the day, to finish at meal time.   A trip to the deli for side dishes, or pot luck from the guests, and you have a great meal.

There was a good bit of sauce left over; it was great a few days later brushed on grilled salmon.  It  would be equally good, I think, on shrimp skewers, swordfish or chicken.  You might want to reserve half the sauce before adding the pork rib pan juices just in case!


2 slabs baby back ribs (4 to 5 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 package Colorado Spice Sicilian Pork Rub (reserve 2 tablespoons for the sauce)
Spiced apple BBQ sauce

Rub the ribs first with the oil, then rub them down well with the spice rub.   Refrigerate, covered, for a couple of hours or even overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.    Place the ribs in a single layer in a baking dish and cover snugly, either with a lid or with foil.  Roast for about 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the pan juices.  Then baste lightly with the sauce and continue to bake, covered, for 15 minutes more.

Remove the rib racks and skim as much fat from the pan as you can.  Add a goodly splash of water, place on the stove and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits from the pan.  Add this to the BBQ sauce.

Brush the ribs on both sides with the sauce and place over hot coals (or under the oven broiler) and cook, turning several times and continuing to baste, until the ribs are nicely glazed.  Serve with the remaining sauce at the table.  Serves four to six.


2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup onion, minced
2 tablespoons reserved spice mixture
1 jar (16 to 18 oz) apple jelly
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup bottled BBQ sauce (I used Cattleman's)
1 tablespoon Dijon or brown mustard

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds, without browning.  Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the reserved spice mixture and stir briefly.  Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil and reduce heat to low.  Simmer until reduced by about a third.  Makes about 3 cups sauce.

NOTE:  Colorado Spice products are available at some supermarkets.  They are usually on hanging racks near the seafood or meat counters, not in the spice section.  If you can’t find it, use the following:

2 tablespoons mustard seeds, coarsely crushed (or 2 teaspoons ground dry mustard)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, coarsely crushed
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds, coarsely crushed
2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spicy Orange-Basil Scallops

I had gone out to lunch with a neighbor and as we headed back to the house, we passed the Agri-Center. And there was the Paradise Seafood Truck. We pulled in and each of us picked up some seafood.

One of the things I was excited to see was fresh jumbo head-on shrimp, and I’ll tell you about that on another day. But I also picked up a pound of scallops, lovely large scallops. Unprocessed, too.

You’ve had the scallop lecture from me at least once before, but just to remind you, most of what you buy frozen in bags at the supermarket or price clubs will state "containing a solution of…" which means they are pumped up with water and chemicals to keep the water in. By the time the water has cooked away, and the scallops start to brown, they are overdone and tough. I think that may be why some folks don’t think they like scallops.

I had a lot of oranges and limes, so I thought I would try to turn them into something a bit spicy. For spice, I like Chipotle Tabasco. I love the smoky flavor it lends, and that it’s not nearly as hot as regular Tabasco. I use it a lot.

The basil in my herb pots out back had already filled out, so I used that too. With rice pilaf and a green salad, I had a quick and yummy dinner.


2 large oranges
2 large limes
2 tbsp chipotle Tabasco (or to taste)
3 tbsp butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1 lb sea scallops, patted dry
3 tbsp olive oil
3 plump garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tbsp (packed) fresh basil leaves, slivered
Additional basil, for garnish

Rinse off the oranges and limes and dry well. With a grater or microplane remove the zest from one orange and one lime and put into a small heavy saucepan. Squeeze the juice from all the fruit and add to the pan. Over medium-low heat, simmer to reduce by about half or a little more. Let cool slightly and whisk in the butter. Set aside.

In a bowl mix the flour, cumin, coriander and salt. Remove and reserve one tablespoon of the flour mixture. Toss the scallops in the flour mixture to coat well.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet large enough to hold the scallops in one layer. Add the garlic and cook until just barely golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the scallops two or three at a time. Cook the first side until a rich golden brown, then turn to lightly brown the bottom. As they brown, remove and place on a clean plate.

Return the garlic to the pan and add the slivered basil. Sprinkle with the reserved tablespoon of seasoned flour and stir a couple of times. Add the reduced orange mixture and bring to a simmer, stirring to scrape up any browned bits. Simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Return the scallops to the pan and simmer just long enough to heat through.

Serve immediately, garnished with fresh basil. Serves 4.
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Friday, May 06, 2011

A tasty brunch for any occasion...

I know I’ve mentioned before that I’m from Louisville, and that the high social season there revolves around the Kentucky Derby, held the first Saturday in May.

Of course when I lived there I had to have a party at some point. But the trick was to schedule it so I wouldn’t miss any of the other good ones. My solution: a brunch on Sunday after the Derby. Nobody else did that so I was assured a good turn-out. One constant of a Derby party is ham (it would be good country ham) and another would be something involving asparagus.

Tomorrow is Derby Day, and we’ll be watching. But in case you’re not a horse race fan, remember that Sunday is Mother’s Day, and I bet your mama, or your childrens’ mama, or somebody you know would love to have a nice brunch to honor her.

I used ham because I had Easter ham leftovers but diced roast chicken or turkey would work equally well. And I used purchased fresh salsa but there’s no rule that says you can’t make your own if you are so inclined..

2 cups ham, diced
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1 cup Monterey jack cheese, shredded
1 4-ounce can diced green chiles
1 tbsp. Penzey’s salsa seasoning (or regular chile powder)
8 stalks asparagus
8 8-inch flour tortillas
6 eggs
1 tbsp. flour
1 cup half-and-half (or whole milk)
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 tsp chipotle Tabasco sauce (optional)
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
Salsa, for serving

Grease a 9x13 baking dish. Combine ham, Monterey jack, onions, green chiles and salsa or chile seasoning. Spoon about 1/3 cup of this in center of each tortilla. Top with an asparagus spear. Roll tightly and place in prepared dish. (This can be done a day ahead, covered and refrigerated.)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Combine eggs, half-and-half, flour, Tabasco, salt and pepper. Beat well. Pour evenly over tortillas. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until eggs are set. Sprinkle cheddar cheese over the top and bake an additional five minutes or so, until cheese is melted. Remove from oven and let set for about 5 minutes. Serve with salsa.

Serves four to eight, depending on the guest list.
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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

A delicious end to a Moroccan dinner!


Our church, Immanuel Lutheran, has a system of connection groups, with the purpose of getting folks together who might otherwise just say "hi" on Sunday mornings. Of course there are Bible study groups, and mission groups, but there are also lots of interest groups: golf, theatre, walking, gardening, and the one I'm part of, a gourmet cooking group.

Last night we met and the culinary focus was North African. The food is rich and spicy so, in my opinion, needs a light dessert. I set out to do an orange dessert but found some blood oranges as well. Which I found odd because in my mind I thought the blood orange season was in the winter. But I still had to have them. It made a beautiful dessert.  I tossed slices of regular and blood oranges with dates and a typical Moroccan seasoning, ras el hanout. This is sort of like the Indian curry spice blend, in that no two folks make it the same way, or maybe even the same way twice.

It's easy enough to mix it up. I'll give you a suggested starting point and then you can fiddle with it a bit if you want. It's great on lamb or chicken. Actually it's also great on pork but you'd be less likely find that in Moroccan cuisine. I think you'll find all kinds of uses for it: sprinkle on apple pie filling before baking. Or cut fresh peaches in half and remove the seeds. Put a spoonful of butter in the center, sprinkle with ras el hanout and bake in a hot oven for about fifteen minutes. Serve with a spoonful of whipped cream or a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream. Or sprinkle on the foam on a cup of cappuccino, or just stir a pinch into your regular breakfast coffee.

Orange flower water adds a wonderful exotic flavor to this. Although still quite tasty without it, it's easy enough to find in middle eastern markets most anywhere, or although more expensively, in Fresh Market or Whole Foods.

This will be equally tasty the next day but I don't think that's a problem you'll have to deal with!


For the dessert:

8 large juice navel oranges
2 tbsp orange flower or rose water
2 tbsp sugar
6 sprigs fresh mint
1/2 lb pitted dates, diced
Pinches of ras el hanout
Powdered sugar

Peel oranges, removing all membrane. Cut in half vertically, then into half-moon slices. Put into a serving bowl and add orange-flower water or rose water and sugar. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour. When ready to serve, shred the mint leaves and chop the dates. Scatter over the oranges with big pinches of ras el hanout. Dust with powdered sugar and serve shortly. Serves 8.

Ras el hanout:

3/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground white pepper
1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cardamom1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Keep in a tightly capped jar.
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Friday, April 22, 2011

What a great idea!

      I've got to have these! Toss that roll of cooking twine!  Toss those awkward trussing needles that never hold the turkey legs together anyway!  Forget losing stuffing out of your pork chop in the sauté pan, or under the broiler or on the grill!  These handy little bands can stand heat up to 600 degrees F (according to the hype). 
      Here's where you can get 25 of them for only $6.00 (and I SWEAR I get no commission or even honorable mention out of this!)  AND you can read all the hype.  Online at Sur La Table!

Osso Buco Siciliano

I love the Italian dish known as osso buco, but in the past, at least in Memphis, the cross cut veal shanks needed were generally not easy to find. Now that I’ve found them available even at Costco, I would love to share a version I made recently for friends.

The term osso buco means hollow bone in Italian. One of the best parts of the dish is the marrow in the bones, scooped out and spread on bread. There are special scooping spoons made for this, but the only ones I could find here are quite pricey. I find a cocktail fork works almost as well, but the little scoops are on my shopping list for my next trip to Italy.

This is a tough cut of veal, but the long oven braising gives a really rich and flavorful sauce. It could also be braised on top of the stove at a very low temperature. Many Italian homes, even today, don’t have large ovens and would do that. But then you’d have to check it occasionally to make sure there’s enough liquid, and that the shanks aren’t sticking to the bottom of the pan. So much easier to put the pan in the oven and forget it!

The classic standard is "Osso Buco Milanese," with white wine, vegetables and tomato. I wanted something a little different, and tried it with dry Marsala, to give it a more Sicilian feel. With the standard version, the traditional side dish is saffron risotto, but I used grilled polenta. Rice or mashed potatoes would be equally tasty and less work. Even chunks of crusty bread would be great to soak up every bit of the tasty sauce.


1 ½ cups dry Marsala, divided
½ cup golden raisins
1 cup flour
1 tsp. each salt and pepper
6 pieces veal shank, cut about 1 ½-inch thick
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ cup onion, diced
1/2 cup chicken stock
4 or 5 sprigs fresh thyme (see note)
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Minced parsley or more thyme sprigs, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Pour ½ cup of the Marsala over the raisins in a small bowl and let set until needed.

Mix the flour with salt and pepper in a plastic bag. Add the shanks one at a time and shake to coat. Remove each to a wire rack while coating the others. Toss any remaining flour into the trash.

In a Dutch oven just large enough to hold the shanks in one layer, heat the olive oil over medium heat. In batches, brown the meat well on both sides. Remove to a plate and reserve. Add the garlic, stir a couple of times then add the onion. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the Marsala and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up any browned bits. Add the chicken stock.

Return the veal to the pan with any juices on the plate, making sure the smaller end of the bone is facing down (so the marrow doesn’t fall out). Add the raisins with their soaking liquid, scattering evenly. Tuck the thyme and bay leaf around them, cover tightly and bake for about an hour. Stir the balsamic vinegar into the cooking liquid, replace the cover and cook another 15 to 30 minutes, or until veal is very tender.

If you’d like a thicker sauce, remove the shanks to a plate and keep warm while reducing the liquid over medium heat. Serve in flat soup plates with the sauce ladled over it. Garnish with additional thyme sprigs or chopped parsley.  Serves 6.

Note: If you don’t have fresh thyme substitute two tablespoons fresh or one tablespoon dried rosemary leaves. Dried thyme would not work well in this dish.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A great brunch, lunch,supper...whatever dish!

      I’ve been going through a stack of cooking magazines lately, trying to cull out the ones I want to keep and those that can be discarded. It’s a really big stack, and I keep getting distracted by recipes and articles I can’t wait to make.
      One that had lots of things I liked the looks and sound of was a two-year-old Cuisine et Vins de France. It had an article with lots of quiche and tart recipes. All sounded delicious but I had everything it took to make one of them…so I did.
      I made the crust from scratch, following their instructions to replace half the ice water with balsamic vinegar and it was delicious. But the filling was so tasty that you could easily use a pre-made crust from the supermarket dairy case, as I usually do. I had made too much filling for the tart pan I used, so I did just that and made another one to take to work the next day. It reheated well, and it disappeared in a hurry.
     It could be served in small servings as an appetizer, or in larger servings with a nice salad for a brunch or supper main course. Either way, I think you’ll enjoy this as much as everyone at work apparently did.


1 pie crust, either from your favorite recipe, or pre-made
3 tbsp unsalted butter
4 large onions, sliced thinly
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp sugar
½ cup dry red wine
5 eggs
½ cup half-and-half
Generous pinch of ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley, for garnish

      Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Fit the pie crust into a buttered tart pan*. Prick all over with a fork and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
      In a wide skillet, melt the butter over very low heat. Add the ginger and stir a couple of times. Add the onions, stir well and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until soft. Sprinkle with the sugar and stir. Raise the heat to medium. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently until all the liquid has evaporated and the onions are nicely caramelized, about 15 minutes.
     Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the cream and the nutmeg and whisk until well combined. Season with salt and pepper.
Spread the onions over the bottom of the tart crust and pour the egg mixture evenly over the top. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the filling is set and the crust is golden brown. Let set a few minutes before cutting.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley just before serving.

Makes 12 appetizer servings, or 4 to 6 main course servings.

*For the pan, I prefer one with a removable bottom but a 10-inch pie pan would work as well.
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Friday, April 08, 2011

My herb garden

As many of you know, we moved into a beautiful zero lotline home at the end of June last year. In my former house, I had a big space on the side with tons of herbs, including some unusual ones. Just outside the back door was my "kitchen garden" in a pot: one or two basil plants, one sage plant, one oregano and some thyme that sort or wormed its way around beneath it all. I could lean out the back door and get what I needed for immediate needs, but in the side garden I grew enough basil to provide frozen pesto for the winter, and herbs to freeze or dry to get me through until the next year. 

Last year when we moved in I planted a few plants in the bed at the edge of the back patio, but something ate them. I planted a few in a pot but by then it was too hot for them to do well, but at least they escaped the herbivore, whatever it was. So this year, we got some very attractive pots, filled them with enriched potting soil and planted lots of herbs. I think I'll have enough for pesto, too. I got the irrigation system tech to make sure they'd be watered nicely.

One pineapple sage plant. It produces lovely red blossoms which are great in salads, and the leaves may not taste very pineapple-ish but they are very good. And then two regular sage plants. I really dislike dried sage that you buy, but I can cut this and hang it and find my home-dried sage quite acceptable. The two  plants will give me more than I need to cook with and I will cut tops off to dry. That way the plants will bush out and give me way more sage than I'll need for the summer. And it will come back next year!

Basil. This may be a bit crowded. I have six regular basil plants arranged around the back. In front are one cinnamon basil, one Thai basil and one lemon basil. I'm pretty sure I have too much in this pot but if I keep them trimmed back, which I will, since basil is my very favorite herb, they should be okay.

One Greek oregano plant, one thyme plant and one rosemary. The oregano won't spread much. The thyme will, but it will be low. The rosemary will also grow into a big bushy plant, but there should be plenty of room in the pot for it.  It may live over the winter but if not, will come back next year.

And the last is out in the full sun. Mint. No self-respecting Louisville girl would have a garden without mint. For juleps of course. And lamb. But you gotta keep it in a pot or the entire neighborhood will soon be one big mint bed. Well maybe I exaggerate. But not by much! I will keep you posted as the summer progresses!