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.
Posted by Picasa

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.
Posted by Picasa

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.
Posted by Picasa