Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Moroccan Goat Curry

  Don't be afraid of goat!  Please try it.  The meat has a distinct yet mild flavor.  It is lean with about 10 g of fat per pound, and only 3 g of saturated fat.  That is less than half of the saturated fat of an equivalent cut of beef. packed with great protein.  It has more protein than the average beef steak you buy in the grocery store.

Moroccan Goat Curry
1 lb goat steak, cut into 1" pieces.
1 large sweet potato, cut into 1" pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
2 C chicken or beef broth
1/4 C raisins
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp clove
1/4 tsp cardamon
1 Tbsp goat cheese (optional)
oil, salt, pepper

In a large, deep skillet brown goat pieces in oil over medium-high heat. (If the cut has bones, brown those too!  Bones=flavor)  Remove goat, reduce heat to medium. Saute onions for 3-4 minutes.  Add tomatoes, garlic, ginger and broth.  Add all powdered/ground spices and a little bit of salt and pepper.  Bring to boil, reduce to simmer.  Return goat pieces to broth.  Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 hour.  (Or until pieces feel tender.)  Add sweet potatoes and raisins.  Cover and simmer for 35-40 minutes, until potatoes are fork tender.)  To add a touch of creaminess and richness, stir in goat cheese (optional).  Serve over rice that has been cooked with 1 bay leaf, 1 star anise, and 1 small cinnamon stick.
4 servings.
*Beef or lamb could be used with this, but cooking times will be very different.
Not the most appetizing picture, but I was so excited I couldn't wait to make a pretty plate to take a picture.

For more information on goat and to purchase meat here are a few websites:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Double Chocolate Walnut Blondies.

   Caramely, gooey, crowd-pleasing perfection.  What else is there to say about a blondie?  This is a really basic, really simple recipe that can be jazzed up any way you want.  Add a whole bag of white chocolate chips and 1 Tbsp cinnamon for a nice fall holiday treat, or add pistachios and cardamon for an exotic twist.  I cut this batch into little bite-sized morsels, but feel free to cut them as big as you want!  My husband wouldn't even bother cutting... he would just dig in.

Double Chocolate Walnut Blondies
2 C lightly packed brown sugar
2/3 C butter
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 C dark chocolate chips
1 C white chocolate chips
1 C chopped walnuts

In a large sauce pan heat butter and sugar over medium heat until butter is completely melted and mixture is smooth.  It shouldn't take more than 5 min.  Remove from heat and let cool for 10 min.  Stir in eggs and vanilla.  Add flour, baking powder and baking soda.  Just before the flour is fully incorporated, add chocolate and nuts.  Mix.  Spread into a greased 13x9x2 pan.
Bake at 325 deg F for 30 min.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Twice Fried Plantains

   I'll be the first to admit that I can't fry anything.  I've tried, but it is usually a disaster if the fry requires anything more than achieving an outer crust.  Shrimp, chicken, battered vegetables... but I can fry some amazing plantains.  Twice fried plantains are a great snack, appetizer, or side dish with a Caribbean style curry or tacos.

   If you don't know what a plantain is, they are the large banana looking things over near the strangely shaped melons, coconuts, knobby roots, and other unknowns that most people avoid in the produce section.  You can find them green, yellow, and black; the colors are due to the varying levels of ripeness.  Each stage lends itself to different applications.  The blacker the plantain the sweeter it is, but it will not be the same sweetness as a banana.  Yes, they are related and plantains have a hint of banana flavor.  However, they are essentially a savory item.  (Think of them as the sweet potato of the palm family.  Sweet enough for dessert dishes, but better suited for the main meal.)  They have a touch of sweetness with a lovely mild sour-bitter note at the end.  Plantains are a great source of vitamins A, C, and B6 and in general contain more potassium than bananas.

Fried Plantains
3 large yellow plantains
~1/2 C vegetable oil
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp chili powder

In an 8-10 inch cast iron skillet (or heavy bottom non-stick skillet) pour in 3/4-1 inch of vegetable oil.  Heat over medium high heat.  To check if oil is ready for frying, place the end of a wooden toothpick into the oil.  If tiny bubbles quickly release from the toothpick, the oil is ready.
Combine salt and chili powder.
Cut off ends of plantains, score skin  lengthwise, and peel.  It is very fibrous, so the more score marks, the easier to peel.  Slice plantains on a bias about 1/2-3/4 in thick.  Fry slices for 2-3 minutes on each side, until just starting to turn golden brown.  Remove from oil and drain.  Use a sturdy spoon to lightly smash the cooked pieces.  (I find a large wooden spoon works best.)  Return to oil and fry until golden, about 3 minutes a side.  Remove and immediately sprinkle with salt mixture.
4 side dish servings

Sunday, September 26, 2010

2 of Our Favorite Pizzas

   Pizza is a very personal thing.  Everyone has their own opinion about it, and no one's opinion matters more than your own.   I am of the belief that you should be able to put what ever you want on your pizza.  For example, I happen to hate pineapple on pizza, but my husband loves pineapple and pepperoni so I make it for him.  When you make your own pizza at home, everyone can have exactly what they want and you don't have to spend a fortune of several different delivery pizzas.

   If everyone agrees on toppings, great!  One large pizza is all you need.  Dissention at the dinner table?  One recipe of the dough can be split into 4 personal size pizzas.  These are two of my family's current favorite pizzas.  We usually make two large pizzas, because what is better than left over pizza?
TIP: To increase the amount of dough made with the recipe, increase water to 2 C and add flour until the correct texture is reached.  Let it rise for about 30 minutes longer than usual.  This is enough dough for the two pizzas below.

Pesto Goat Cheese Pizza
Pizza Dough
1/2 C store bought pesto
8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced
4 oz shredded provolone
4 oz goat cheese
1/2 C sliced black olives

On a large pizza pan or baking sheet that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray, stretch out dough to desired thickness and size.  Place on bottom rack of a pre-heated 450 deg F oven.  Bake for about 5 min, until bottom starts to turn a light golden brown.
Spread pesto onto dough, leaving a 1 inch border.  Top with mazzarella, provolone, goat cheese, and olives.  Bake on center rack of 450 deg F oven for 7-10 minutes.
TIP:  Put goat cheese in freezer for 10 minutes then cut into desired size pieces.

The Ultimate Overlaoded Pizza
Pizza Dough
1 can petite diced tomatoes, partially drained
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
8 oz shredded mozzarella
2 links hot Italian sausage (turkey, chicken, or pork)
pepperoni (turkey or regular)
1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 C sliced black olives
1/2 C parmesan

Remove casing from sausages, cook over medium heat in a little bit of oil.  Crumble as it is cooking.  Combine tomatoes, garlic and herbs.  Use a fork to crush the tomatoes a little bit (optional).  Pre-bake crust as in previous recipe.
Spread tomatoes over crust, leave 1 inch border.  Lay pepperoni out over sauce (it keeps them from sliding off later.)  Add mozzarella and other toppings.  Bake in 450 deg F oven on center rack for 10-12 minutes.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Caribbean Coconut Lime Curry

   I do a lot of my cooking on the fly.  I think about it beforehand, but really just kind of throw things into the pan.  I take flavors and techniques that I am familiar with to create new dishes.  Latin, Caribbean, and Asian flavors are what I know best.  Basically anything that has garlic, ginger and some heat.  The idea for this dish came to me as I was sadly staring at the pre-made frozen shrimp dishes loaded with sodium, unnecessary sugar, and packed with preservatives in the grocery store.  I know that the concoctions they try to pass off as "Caribbean" are syrupy and one dimensional.  With a can of coconut milk, a couple limes, and my well stocked spice cupboard, I knew I could make something WAY better than the overpriced packages in the freezer case. 

Caribbean Coconut Lime Curry
1 lb peeled, deveined shrimp (tails on or off)
1 C coconut milk, unsweetened (light or regular)
3/4 C chicken broth
1/4 C fresh lime juice (2-3 limes)
1 Tbsp honey
zest of 1 lime
1 tsp oil
1 medium onion, large chop
1 bell pepper, large chop (any color)
1 drained can diced tomato.  (See note.)
2 tsp garlic
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 bay leaf

Combine coconut milk, lime zest and juice, chicken broth, and honey.  Heat oil over medium heat.  Saute onion and pepper for 5 minutes, until just getting soft.  Add tomato and garlic, saute for 2-3 minutes. (NOTE:  If you want it spicier, use half a can of diced tomatoes and half a can of Hot Rotel.)  Add liquid mixture and the rest of the spices (except cilantro).  Bring to simmer and reduce by about one half (~15 minutes).  Add shrimp and cook through.  Serve over rice with chopped fresh cilantro.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


    Once again I find myself writing about a "chain" restaurant.  This is even less of a chain than Dan McGuinness though.  Boscos Restaurant and Brewing Company has only four locations: Memphis, Nashville, Franklin, and Little Rock.  The menus come from the same stock of recipes but vary by location depending on the top sellers.  For example, the Nashville menu does not have steak on the menu because they sell more of the vegetarian options, whereas the Franklin restaurant can barely keep steak in stock.  Likewise, the decor and environment of each location is suited to its clientele and town.  The Hillsboro Village, Nashville location is understated urban and rustic with a warehouse feel that proudly displays the silver steel ducts and pipes over-head.  The Cool Springs, Franklin local feels a little more upscale with a suave open bar and sleek, modern like fixtures set against the more earthy exposed brick walls.
 (Smokey, creamy Chicken Poblano Soup)
   Boscos is a microbrewery.  They make my all-time favorite beer, the Isle of Skye Scottish Ale.  It is dark, sweet, and bitter with hints of vanilla.  Every beer they make is good, and there is a style for everyone.  There are four beers which are always on tap plus a variety of seasonal selections,  Their number one seller and award winner is the Famous Flaming Stone Beer that is smooth and rich with moderate body and moderate hops.
 (Mild, flavorful Smoked Duck Spring Rolls)
   The menu is made to go with beer.  It works with wine and cocktails if you really don't like beer, but a pint does complete a meal at Boscos.  One of the nice things about the menu is the wide variety of meat-free dishes (appetizers, lunches, and dinners).  The black bean and goat cheese tamale is heavenly and satisfying. The grilled portobello club paired with pasta salad is a perfect lunch.  The wood fired pizzas and calzones are fantastic.  For an appetizer, try the smoked duck spring rolls.  The meat is mild and tasty.  It truly taste like chicken--what real chicken tastes like, at least.  (It tastes absolutely nothing like real duck, but is still very delicious!)  Based on everything I have had at Boscos, what ever you order will be the right choice.
(Left: Black Bean and Goat Cheese Tamale, Right: Grilled Portobello Club)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Gnocchi with Peas and Crispy Proscuitto

   I am a fan of any kind of dumpling.  Soft or chewy, stuffed or dropped:  I don't care.  Every culture has some form of dumpling they call their own.  Gnocchi are little Italian potato pillows that can be paired with just about anything.  And guess what:  they aren't hard to make!  I thought they were, but I was wrong.  Sure, they take some time, but you can make a large batch just as easily as a small batch.  If you space them out so they aren't touching each other, you can freeze them and keep them on hand for up to 3 months. 

1 lb baking potatoes (4-5 medium sized potatoes)
2 egg yolks
1/2 grated parmesan cheese
1-1 1/2 C flour
1/4 salt
1/8 nutmeg (optional)

Bake potatoes at 400 deg F for 1 hr to 1 hr 15 min, place directly on rack in the center of the oven.  Allow potatoes to cool until they are easily handled (about 20-30 min.)  Cut potatoes in half and use a fork to scrape out the center into a bowl (to fluff up the baked potato.)  You do not want any of the skin.  Mix in egg yolks, salt and nutmeg.  Add parmesan.  Add flour 1/2 C at a time until dough it no longer sticky.  Use your hands to press and divide dough into manageable pieces.
 On a lightly floured surface, roll pieces into logs about 1 inch in diameter.  Cut into 1 inch sections and place of a sheet pan dusted with flour.
TIP:  If you want to freeze them, at this point cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer.  Once gnocchi are frozen, put them in an air tight container.  They will keep for about 3 months.  This method of individual freezing prevents things from sticking together and freezing slowly (which ruins the texture). 
Directly from freezer cook in liberally salted boiling water until they float (about 6-8 minutes).  Or spread out on a cookie sheet and thaw in refrigerator; follow fresh cooking directions

Cook fresh gnocchi in liberally salted boiling water for 3-5 minutes.  Do this as close to service as possible.

Gnocchi with Peas and Crispy Proscuitto in a Light Cream Sauce
1 recipe gnocchi (cooked)
3-4 pieces of thinly sliced proscuitto
1 C frozen English peas that have been thawed
1 Tbsp butter
2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 C chicken broth (low sodium)
3/4-1 C milk
2 Tbsp cream cheese
1/4 C parmesan cheese

Bake proscuitto at 350 deg F for 15 min or until crispy.  Cool and crumble.  (Bacon that has been chopped and rendered until crispy may be substituted.)
Melt butter over medium heat in a large pan.  Saute garlic for ~1 min.  Add chicken broth.  Reduce by half.  Add milk, bring to a simmer.  Stir in cream cheese, make sure it is thoroughly combined.  Add parmesan and peas.  Heat peas through.  Move gnocchi directly from cooking liquid into sauce pan.  Toss with peas and sauce.  Top with proscuitto when served.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Marsala Fig and Pear Crostata with Steusel Topping

   I rarely see my little brother, but he actually came to dinner last week so I felt I needed to make a dessert.  I had no idea what I was going to make.  There were quite a few dried figs in the pantry from the fig and chipotle stuffed pork.  A tart was the first thing that come to mind.  When I looked at the counter there were a couple of bartlett pears (which are just coming into season!)  Perfect, fig and pear tart (ok, free form tart- called a crostata).... But, crap.  I had never made pie dough on my own.  I picked up the trusty, old Better Homes and Garden Cookbook and looked up a basic recipe.  Then, following my standard fashion, I changed the recipe and just hoped that it turned out well.

   And it did.

1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
1/4 C finely chopped walnuts
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 C cold butter, diced
3-4 Tbsp ice water

Combine flour, nuts, sugar, and salt.  Add diced butter.  Using a fork or pastry cutter, cut butter into flour mixture until it resembles wet sand.  Add ice water (just the water, not the ice) 1 Tbsp at a time until dough just starts to come together. On a lightly floured surface, quickly knead dough (less than 1 minute.)  Wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 min. (up to 2 days).
*You can use store bought pie dough.

1/2 C chopped walnuts
1/3 C brown sugar
1/3 C rolled or quick oats
2 Tbsp melted butter

Combine all ingredients.

Marsala Fig and Pear Crostata
1/4 C water
1/3 C Marsala wine (if you don't do alcohol, use sugar-free cranberry or orange juice)
1 1/4 C sliced dried figs (about 12 whole)
1 tsp vanilla
2 pears, thinly sliced
1 pastry dough recipe
1 streusel recipe
1 egg

Bring water and marsala wine to a boil.  Add figs, simmer for 3-5 min.  Turn off heat, add vanilla.  Let figs absorb the liquid.  Roll out pastry/pie dough into a roughly 10 in. circle.  Arrange sliced pears in center, leaving a 1.5 in border all the way around (they will over lap and there will be two layers).  Place figs on top of pears.  Top figs with streusel.  Fold edges of dough up over the edges of the fruit, overlapping and pinching dough to seal it.  Beat egg and brush over the border created by the dough. (Sprinkle with sugar if desired.)

Bake at 350 deg F for 35-40 minutes, until dough is golden brown.  Serves 8.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bison with Coffee Chili Dry Rub

   I love bison.  It is incredibly lean (a quarter of the fat of regular beef, which also means it has a lot less saturated fat), has less than half the cholesterol of regular beef, and is packed with protein.  Like all red meat, bison is high in iron, but it also contains a significant amount of vitamins B6, B12, and niacin.  If you love beef, bison is a great (healthier) alternative.  And don't be scared of it!  Even though bison is considered "game", the meat that you buy in the store has been domestically raised.  There is absolutely no tinny "game" flavor.  In fact, the meat is incredibly mild, which you would never guess considering the red-black hue of the raw state.

This dry rub has a pronounced flavor, but is not over-powering.  It is great for red meat and heartier cuts of pork.  If you want a stronger flavor add more chili powder and garlic and add 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper and 1 tsp cumin.  (I wouldn't recommend the stronger version for bison.)  The proportions I have in this recipe are enough for 1 1/2 lbs of meat (up to 2 lbs if you like a mild flavor.)

Coffee Chili Dry Rub
3/4 tsp instant espresso powder
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Thoroughly combine ingredients, make sure there are no lumps.  Pat meat dry.  Rub meat liberally with mixture.  Let meat sit for 15 min.  Lightly rub with olive oil before cooking.  Cook meat.

For bison (steak cuts), grill over medium heat (direct).  For 1 inch steak it will be 3-4 minutes a side for medium-rare.  For a 2 inch steak, 6-8 minutes a side for medium rare.

For more information on bison meat:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Best Black Beans and Quick Chipotle Chicken Tacos

Alright.  Shortcut to yesterday's recipe as promised.  This version should take less than 30 minutes from start to finish whereas the regular recipe takes a couple of hours.  Also, super quick and simple black beans and rice that are the perfect side dish for any Latin/Carib meal.
Quick Chipotle Chicken Tacos
1 purchased rotisserie chicken
1 medium onion, sliced
1 medium bell pepper, sliced
2 1/2 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp minced garlic
2 minced chipotles
1/2-1 C water

Remove skin from chicken and shred all the meat (or chop it into small chunks).  Saute onion and pepper in a little oil until very tender, about 12 minutes.  Add a little bit of salt to help the softening process.  Add chicken, spices, and water.  The amount of water will vary depending on how large your chicken is.  There should be liquid in the pot to make the sauce and keep everything moist.  Bring to boil, reduce liquid by 1/4.  Enjoy!
*TIP:  Use a rotisserie chicken for any recipe that calls for shredded chicken.  Sometimes buying the chicken is even better because it adds that savory roasted flavor to the dish which you may not otherwise get.

(Again... sorry for the picture quality.)

Super Simple Black Beans and Rice
1 can black beans (~15 oz)
1/2 of a red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 of a medium onion, chopped
1 tsp cumin
In a little oil over medium heat, saute onion and pepper until tender, 5-7 minutes.  Add beans and cumin.  Adjust salt to taste.  Heat through.
1 3/4 C water or stock
1 C white rice
2 Tbsp of your favorite salsa  (store bought fresh salsa is great for this)
1/2 C frozen corn, thawed
Bring water/stock to a boil.  Add salsa and rice, stir.  When the liquid returns to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Add corn, don't stir.  Cook for another 5 min (keep it covered!) or until all the liquid is absorbed.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chipotle Chicken Tacos

   Talk about comfort food.  This smokey, spicy shredded chicken is great over rice and beans or stuffed inside a tortilla.  It does have quite a few ingredients and takes a while to make but it is so worth it.  Luckily, I do have a short recipe for the same dish which I will share tomorrow.  If you have a lazy Sunday, though, please try the full recipe!  It is great left over (better, even) and will keep for several days.  Use leftovers in quesadillas or in tortilla soup.

Chipotle Chicken Tacos
2 split chicken breasts with rib meat (excess skin/fat trimmed)
1 medium onion, sliced
1 medium bell pepper, sliced (I like green for this, but use whatever you like)
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper 
2 bay leaves
2 chipotles in adobo, minced
3 C water

In a large pot (5-6 qt. that has a lid) heat about 1 tsp oil over medium heat.  Saute onion and bell pepper until tender, about 10 minutes.  Add a little salt.  Add water, garlic, spices, bay leaves, and chipotles.  Place chicken in pot bone side down.  Bring to boil, reduce heat slightly to medium-high.  Cook uncovered for 10 minutes.  Turn chicken meat side down.  Cover and reduce heat to medium-low.  Cook for 15-20 minutes.  Remove chicken and turn off heat.  Wait for chicken to cool.  Remove the rest of the skin.  Take chicken off of bone and shred.  Return chicken to pot.  Near serving time, turn heat to medium-high.  Reduce liquid by about one half.  Adjust salt to taste.  (If it seems to be getting dry at any point in the process, add 1/4 C more water.)
Serve with your favorite taco toppings and taco holder!
(Sorry for the really terrible quality picture.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010


   This isn't the most traditional recipe for puttanesca sauce, but is sure is tasty!  An interesting little tidbit about spaghetti alla puttanesca is that it literally translates into "whore's spaghetti".  In the 1950's Italy's brothels were state owned and had to keep all the shutters closed so as to not allow street views or invite corruption to small towns.  The sauce served two purposes: 1) make a lot of food quickly from cheap odds and ends to feed the house girls and 2) entice passersby seeking pleasures of the night with its distinct vinegary scent.  As far as innovative dishes go, puttanesca caught on quickly with the "respectable" crowds and made its way on to Neapolitan menus by the 1960's.

3 slices bacon, cut into lardons (or chopped; leave out for vegetarian)
1 medium onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 dozen mushrooms (button or crimini), diced or sliced
2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp garlic
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (add more if you like it really spicy)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (omit if you want it mild)
1/3 C black olives, chopped or sliced
1/3 C green olives, chopped or diced
1/4 C capers (plus 2 tsp of capers' liquid)
1 lb pasta (penne, spaghetti, whatever... cooked according to package directions)

Render bacon over medium heat.  Add onion and carrots, saute until soft (7-10 minutes).  Add mushrooms, cook for 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes, garlic, thyme, oregano, paprika, red pepper flakes, and cayenne.  Simmer over medium for about 10 minutes.  Toss in olives and capers, heat for another minute.  Toss with pasta.

Tip:  The sauce before the olives and capers is good all on its own.  Also, it freezes really well.  To freeze, make the tomato sauce without the olives and capers and seal in an airtight container.  When reheating, add the capers and olives a few minutes before serving.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Whole Foods' Tequila Lime Seasoning

   The hot sauce company Cholula is well known for their vinegary, spicy sauces.  A few years ago they made some dry-form seasonings to compliment their sauces, and my mom fell in love with the chili lime.  Apparently the product endeavor did not pan out for them and the dry-forms have been discontinued.  I kept telling my mom that we could make our own chili lime seasoning with some chili powder, cayenne, lime zest, and sea salt but for some reason she never wanted to do it.  She kept desperately searching for this now-nonexistent product.  Last week I found her substitute.

   Whole Foods may be a horribly pretentious company with the strict rules they apply to the products they allow in stores, but they do carry a fantastic array of meats, seafood, cheeses, produce, and specialty items.  (I will never pay such outrageous prices for dry goods I could get for less than half the price at WalMart....)  While we were waiting for our fish, I happened to look down and see the specialty seasoning blends that are bulk packaged in-house.  Even though it was labeled "Tequila Lime," it was easy to tell that chili powder is a main ingredient.  It had to be close to my mom's beloved chili lime.  The very nice and extremely helpful fishmonger gave me a 1.5 oz. sample of it for free.  We used it to season our turkey burgers a few nights later and it was delicious.

    The basic ingredients of this seasoning are salt, chili powder, cilantro, lime zest, garlic powder, and onion powder.  It is a universal blend that would honestly be good on just about anything from steak to rice.  Oh, and did I mention it is cheap?  Seriously, a Whole Foods product that is CHEAP!  You get 6 oz. for $2.99.  A decent seasoning salt or blend from the spice aisle is going to run you about $3.50 for 3-4 oz.  This blend is an absolute bargain!

Because we used this in turkey burgers, I thought I'd give you a tip on how to keep your all-white meat ground turkey from drying out.  For every 1 lb of ground white meat turkey, grate in 1 medium sized carrot.  It adds a lovely hint of sweetness while keeping the meat moist and juicy.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tuna BLTs with Wasabi Mayo

   Even though the weather has started turning here in Tennessee, it is still summer!  Get out there and mix it up on your grill.

   The first trip my husband I took together while we were dating was to Ft. Walton, FL.  For lunch one day we stopped in at one of the ubiquitous, monster beach bars that doubles as a club during spring break and the summer.  It was close to the spot on the beach we had staked for the day, and we honestly expecting nothing of the food.  Hidden among the fried plates and generic burgers was the tuna BLT.  It was a revelation to the classic sandwich and a nice alternative to a burger.  It is meaty, hearty, and completely satisfying.  Tuna is a little on the expensive side, but this sandwich is worth it.  And I have a great tip on stretching your money with this one (if you want....)

Tuna BLT
1 1/2 lb fresh tuna, 1 inch thick (*or 1 lb fresh tuna)
4 fresh buns (I like french buns)
1 tomato, sliced
8 slices of bacon, cooked to your preference
soy sauce
vegetable oil
salt and pepper

Cut tuna into even 6 oz portions.  Brush with soy sauce, then oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill over medium-high for 2-3 minutes a side.
TIP:  Grill tuna without portioning, still follow seasoning directions.  Then slice to serve on sandwiches.  Servings will be about 4 oz.  Slicing tuna instead of serving tuna in steak form is a great way to stretch a dollar in any situation.

Wasabi Mayo
1/4 C light mayonnaise
3/4 tsp wasabi powder (paste can also be used, add by 1/4 tsp until desired heat level is reached)
1 tsp lime juice

Combine and spread on toasted buns.
Assemble sandwiches.  Grilled vegetables w/ sesame ginger dressing make a great side dish.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dan McGuinness

   I am of the staunch belief that there are very few thing more perfect than a properly served Guinness.  This rich, bitter-sweet tradition absolutely can not be served in a can or bottle; the flavor and experience are utterly ruined by the grocery store conveniences.  It has to be draught.  And Dan McGuinness Irish Pub does it right (as they should in order to call themselves "pub".)  I wouldn't normally review this place because it has become a franchised chain, but it remains a small chain and the first three locations are in Tennessee (Memphis being the first.)  Also, this is the only convenient place near me that can serve up a proper Guinness.

   This is also the closest place to our house to get good fish and chips (of course served with malt vinegar) and maybe the only place to even get a scotch egg.  It's amazing how fried food can be celebratory, comforting, and guilt inducing all at the same time.  However, it is absolutely necessary sometimes.  And last night was one of those times.  It may have been a premature celebration of my interview today, but I am alright with that.  While nearly half of the menu is fried, it is all delicious and never greasy.  The stuffed (and fried) mushrooms are incredible.  The thick cut fried pickles are a southern delight; however the batter can get a little thick and gummy, but other times it's light and airy.  It's an iffy dish to order, but take your chances at least once.  Everything is fried to order which is a relief... you never know in some places. 

   I'm sure their other standard pub fare like bangers and mash and shepard's pie are wonderful.  I don't know about their non-traditional fare like California wrap, "Celtic Queso", or "Pub Pizza"... I don't approve of such menu items for a pub.  But really, I'm not in a position to critique any entree because I always order fish and chips (and always on a Thursday:  the "wee order" is only $6.00 then which is an amazing deal for the two huge hunks of Atlantic cod and plateful of fries!)

(I admit that I did not take these pictures... I blatantly took them from the Dan McGuinness and Guinness websites because I received an odd call during dinner that threw me off and pictures completely escaped my mind.)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Fundamental Difference

   Two hours of relatively unsuccessful job searching can beat a person down.  I've applied to about 20 different jobs in the past week and a half and I am only [barely] partially qualified for any of them.  Times like this make you realize how important it is to be certified in something:  medical technician, x-ray technologist, physical therapy.... It seems that a bachelor's degree in microbiology is absolutely useless.  Which may be the irony of my life because one of the deciding factors for me going into science was the abundance of jobs available.  Then again, we all know how different things were four years ago.  As soon as I am finished typing this, I am going to make peanut butter chocolate chip cookies for my dad.

   Cooking and baking allow for me to have complete control.  I can make it taste the way I want.  I dictate the texture, the amount, the size, and the happiness.  Happiness?  Yes.  I know cooking makes me happy.  Likewise, traveling makes my incredibly happy, but cooking is a lot less expensive.  It makes me forget all the horrible things in the world, and I know that [at least some] people are very happy--giddy, even--when they eat my food.  I don't like to think of myself as a control freak, but in reality, I am.  Especially when it comes to my kitchen.

   Eating is another source of nearly pure happiness.  People talk about comfort food, and for me all food is comfort food:  sushi, ravioli, fish tacos, chili, garlic bread, cheesecake.  Everything that is worth eating is comforting in some way.  But there is a distinct, fundamental difference to the happiness and pleasures gained from cooking verses eating.

   Anthony Bourdain (one of my biggest idols and inspirations) sums up the difference beautifully at the end of his essay "Pure and Uncut Luxury".  The passage refers specifically to professional chefs, but I feel it is applicable to anyone who seriously enjoys and appreciates all the various aspect of creating, finding, living, and eating food.
   ".... Give yourself over to the experience.  And enjoy.
   Cooking professionally is a dominant act, at all times about control.
   Eating well, on the other hand, is about submission.  It's about giving up all vestiges of control, about
entrusting you fate entirely to someone else.  It's about turning off the mean, manipulative, calculating, and shrewd person inside you, and slipping heedlessly into a new experience as if it were a warm bath.  It's about shutting down the radar and letting good things happen.  What that happens to a professional chef, it's a rare and beautiful thing.
   Let it happen it you."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pizza Bread

   My mom has been making this since I was really little.  It was great at our birthdays when we were kids because there is no messy sauce.  It's the perfect hearty finger food for your next casual get together or night in with a couple of movies.  I'm giving the classic version that we do, but it can be stuffed with just about anything (provided the stuffing isn't too wet.)  Also, this dough is incredibly versatile; it is the same recipe I use for pizza dough and focaccia. 

1/2 C all-purpose flour + 2 1/2-3 C
1 pkg active dry yeast
1 Tbsp honey
1 1/2 C very warm water
1/4 tsp salt
extra virgin olive oil

Combine 1/2 C flour, yeast, honey, and water.  Let proof for about 5 minutes.  Add salt.  Add additional flour 1/2 C at a time combining after each addition until dough forms into a ball (about 2 1/2 to 3 C will be added.)  Dough will be slightly sticky.  Turn dough out onto a floured surface and dust top with flour.  Knead for 5- 10 minutes until dough is no longer sticky and it is smooth and elastic.  Pour about 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil into clean bowl.  Place dough in bowl and coat it with the oil.  Cover with a warm, damp towel and allow to rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour) in a warm place.
Pizza Bread
1 large egg
1 Tbsp water
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
1 C shredded mozzarella
1/2 C parmesan
3-4 oz pepperoni
sea salt

Combine first 7 ingredients to make egg wash.  Punch down risen dough and place on lightly floured surface, stretch into a rectangle about 10 in X 14 in.  Brush liberally with egg wash (about 2/3 of mixture.)  Evenly distribute cheese over dough leaving a 1 inch border all the way around.  Lay out pepperoni.  Roll up long-ways and seal edges.  Place on baking sheet that has been dusted with cornmeal.  Brush the top with the rest of the egg wash.  Sprinkle top with sea salt.  Cut a few slits in the top to allow the steam to escape.  Let rest/rise for 15-20 minutes.
375 deg. F for 25-30 min.  Slice and serve warm, room temp, or cold!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Grilled Vegetables with Sesame Ginger Dressing

   We are in the process of switching from Comcast over to AT&T U-verse so this is going to be a quick one.  It is really fresh and light.  This dressing is great for lettuce and pasta salads, grilled veggies, and makes a great marinade!

Grilled Veggies with Sesame Ginger Dressing
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar (unseasoned)
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp lime juice
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/4-1/2 tsp sriracha
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro or parsley
1 large zucchini
1 large yellow or red onion
1 red bell pepper

Combine first 8 ingredients for dressing.  Cut vegetables into equal sized pieces that are large enough to skewer.  Spear vegetables onto steel kebabs or bamboo skewers that have been soaked in water for ~30 min.  Brush veggies with a little bit of oil.  Grill on low for 20 minutes, turning halfway through.  Remove veggies from skewers and toss with dressing.  Serves 4.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Taste of India

   Finally the much needed Indian restaurants have made their way to the Cool Springs area of Middle Tennessee.  Several years ago an Indian place opened in a location notorious for being unable to sustain a restaurant.  The food was incredible, but everyone knew the venue was too large (about 200 seating capacity) to last for long.  Needless to say, it closed after only a few months.  More than six years later, the same management (the well-established Sitar of Nashville) of that ill-fated restaurant have tried again and I think it is going to work this time.

   Taste of India is small corner eatery off of Carothers Parkway in Cool Springs of Franklin that opened about three months ago.  Like most Indian joints, they immediately bring a plate of papadum:  thin, crispy, cracker like bread made from lentils.  With it, they bring mint sauce (which is delicious, but tastes more like cilantro) and a raw onion chutney that is just spicy enough with a hint of sweetness.  I could eat this chutney by the spoonful!  For appetizers we ordered the vegetable pakora (served with a delightful tamarind sauce) and the vegetable samosas.  Both had incredible flavor, but the chick pea breading on the pakora and the pastry of the samosa were a little heavy and slightly tough.  For entrees we ordered chicken xaccutti (a savory coconut and star anise flavored dish) and chicken kolapuri (a spicy blend of peppercorns, whole seed spices, bell peppers, and onions.)  Medium heat is the spice level we chose.  It is the perfect level that warms your mouth but doesn't prevent you from finishing your food.

(Top Left: Handi Goat, Center: Chicken Xaccutti, Right: Chicken Kolapuri)

   And then there is the goat.  Yes, goat.  It's a standard Indian protein that isn't frequently seen on menus in the States.  Our waiter was very hesitant in his recommendations when we asked him how it was.  Apparently several customers were extremely put off by the bones (large pieces and small fragments.)  Initially we ordered something else, but after discussing it for a few minutes decided to try the goat (in a Handi style curry) and brave through the bones.  I can not begin to explain how happy I am about this decision.  If you are warned about the bones up front, they are not an issue because you know to look out for them. This was my first opportunity to try goat since starting to eat meat.  It is so tender and flavorful.  That grassy, heady note in goat cheese and goat milk is in the meat.  I am convinced that all parts and products of this animal share similar flavors.  For the first time in my life, I picked up a hunk of bone and put it in my mouth to get all the meat off of it.  This was absolutely a shift in my meat perspective.  I can't imagine ordering another chicken dish at Taste of India.

(lunch buffet, dinner, takeout)
101 International Dr.--Franklin, TN 37067
(615) 567-6420

Friday, September 3, 2010

Mix Up Your Chocolate Chip Batter

   My dad and my husband are cookie fiends!  I can not tell you how many batches of cookies I have made in the past 9 months alone.  And I'm sure that over the course of my twenty-two years, I have made 1000's of batches.  In high school, I got really creative with some recipes, but lately I feel like I have been in a cookie rut.  Despite the fact that I may only eat about 5 cookies per batch, I get bored making the same thing over and over and over....

   Especially with chocolate chip cookies.  Everyone loves a good chocolate chip cookie, but admit it, they get boring after a while.  Sure we may throw in an oatmeal cookie every now and then, but chocolate chip seems the be the old stand by.  The most exciting things most of us do with these cookies is add a nut or go out on a limb by using a different chocolate.  It is still just a chocolate chip cookie though.

Here are couple easy and delicious tips for mixing up the everyday chocolate chip cookie:
  1. Dried Fruit.  Dried cranberries, cherries, and blueberries add an unexpected tang and sweetness to your  cookie.  I love using dark chocolate chips when adding dried fruit to my batter.
  2. Overload on Nuts.  Simply using more nuts that called for in the recipe is the easiest way to change things up.  Also, try using a nut you may not normally use like macadamia nuts, cashews, or pistachios.
  3. Try a Different Vanilla.  You'd be surprised how different the flavors can be.  Mexican vanilla is my personal favorite.  Make sure you always use pure vanilla extract.  No artificial flavoring, please. 
  4. Pure Extracts.  Vanilla is not the only extract in the grocery store.  Try adding almond or orange for a different, yet familiar flavor profile.
Cranberry, Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies (above)
2 1/4 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter (room temp)
1 C brown sugar
1/2 C granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla
1/2 tsp pure almond extract
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 C chopped walnuts
1 C dried cranberries
1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine first three ingredients.  In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Mix in eggs, extracts, and nutmeg.  In thirds, add flour mixture to wet mixture.  Before the last third in fully incorporated, add nuts, fruit, and chocolate chips.  Finish mixing.  Spoon tablespoon size amounts onto cookie sheet.
Bake 350 deg. F for 10-12 minutes.  Makes about 4 dozen.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fig and Chipotle Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

   I'm not going to lie, this is one of the technically hardest dishes to make.  Have no fear though, because I have a couple tricks to make it a little less daunting!  It is a two step process of marinating then stuffing.  The marinade is great all on its own, too.  I can't exactly define a region or cuisine to this recipe, but it is most definitely Spanish-inspired.  It is a super impressive dish that is actually very healthy (but it doesn't taste like it.)

1/2 C freshly squeezed orange juice
1 Tbsp orange zest
2 Tbsp dry sherry (optional, if not using sherry, use 1 Tbsp red wine or cider vinegar)
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp minced garlic
1-1.5 lbs pork tenderloin

Trim off excess fat and remove silver skin.  Cut your pork tenderloin in half.  (It is just easier to work with the shorter sections.)  Butterfly open the halves.  Marinate for several hours (up to 24 hrs.)
*If you are not stuffing it, add salt and pepper to meat just before cooking
**Easier Option:  Use chicken breast or thick cut pork chops and cut a deep pocket into the side for stuffing.  This saves you the hassle of butterflying and is just as delicious.

1/2 C diced dried figs (about 6-8 whole dried figs, preferably black mission)
1/3 C chopped parsley
1/4 C pistachios, chopped
2 Tbsp dry sherry (if not using sherry, use equivalent amount of stock or orange juice)
2 Tbsp chipotle puree (2-3 whole chipotles in adobo that are minced into a fine paste)
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Combine all stuffing ingredients.  Remove meat from marinade; salt and pepper meat.  Lay flat the sections of pork.  Divide stuffing in half and spread over the pieces, leaving a half inch border on three sides.  Roll halves up.  Truss with butchers twine or secure with tooth picks.
375 deg. F for 45 minutes.  Until internal temperature reaches 140 deg. F.  Rest for about 8 minutes, slice and serve.  (4-6 servings)
**Easier Option:  Place stuffing into pocket of chicken breast or pork chop.  Secure with toothpicks.
375 deg. F for about 30 minutes (depending on the size of the meat cuts.)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Balsamic Mustard Marinade

   I can't take any credit what-so-ever for this idea, but I can pass along my version.  This is a super simple marinade that should be in your repertoire if it is not already.  It is great for beef, pork and chicken.  Also, it can stand up to a variety of cooking techniques such as grilling, broiling, or roasting.  The flavor is bold and pronounced but not overwhelming so it is absolutely a family friendly recipe.  The flavor profile of the balsamic and mustard together is incredibly complex and therefore very impressive to dinner guests.  The best part is that the meat only has to marinate for 30 minutes, but can marinate for 24 hours.  (Or longer.  I once forgot about a couple chicken breasts.  They had been sitting in the marinade for almost 3 days, and they were absolutely delicious.)

Balsamic Mustard Marinade
1/4 C balsaminc vinegar
2 Tbsp dijon or deli-style mustard
2-3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp dried rosemary (1 Tbsp if using fresh)
1/2 tsp dried thyme (2 tsp if using fresh)

This amount of marinade is good for up to 2 lbs of meat.  Pierce meat with the tines of a fork or a knife.  Salt and pepper the meat.  Place in marinade making sure all surfaces are coated (a large resealable bag is great for this.)  Marinade for 30 min up to 24 hrs.  Shake off excess marinade and broil, roast, or grill until meat is done.

Enjoy! And let me know what you think!