Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spinach and Feta Stuffed Pork Roast

   You know what happened this past weekend?  The hubs and I made our last trip back to Tennessee for this round of living in North Carolina!  In about two months we are moving back to TN for a good long time.  Crazy exciting.  We hung out at TRF on Saturday and Sunday but sadly had to leave before the final day of jousting (congrats to Paul on the tournament win!)  Being there was a little strange at first, this is the first year in a while that I haven't worked a single day of the faire.  However, I have figured out what I want to do there next year and I am crossing my fingers that it works out!

   And now on to the food because that is what this blog is about. 

   I love to stuff meat especially with things like spinach because it is like rolling up a side dish into your main meal component.  Spinach and feta is a classic flavor combination:  mild, earthy spinach and soft, salty feta, so good.  This stuffing isn't fussy or complicated with only a few ingredients.  The presentation is pretty and perfect for serving to guests.  Also, it is easily doubled to feed more people.  You will just need to adjust the cook time.
Spinach and Feta Stuffed Pork Roast
1.5 lb pork roast, butterflied*
8 oz frozen, chopped spinach
4 oz feta, crumbled
2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp oregano
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus a little more)
sea salt
fresh cracked black pepper

   Thaw spinach and squeeze out water.  Combine spinach, feta, garlic, oregano, oil, salt and pepper.
   Salt and pepper both sides of butterflied pork roast.  Place spinach filling down the center of the pork.  Wrap pork around filling and tie with kitchen twine or secure with toothpicks.
   Heat a little oil in an oven proof skillet over med-high heat.  Sear pork on all sides and transfer pan to a 350 deg F oven.  Roast for 40-45 minutes.  When a meat thermometer is inserted into the pork (not to the filling) it should read 155 deg F (this applies to larger roasts as well.)  Pull out of oven, tent with foil and let rest for 10 minutes. 
   Slice in ~1 inch slices and serve.
   Serves 4-6.
I didn't sear mine, so your whole roast will be prettier.

*Your butcher should be able to butterfly the roast for you.  This is a good basic video on how to butterfly, the same technique is easily applied to larger cuts.  Basically, you just want to open to meat enough to stuff it.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Blackberry Caramel Rice Pudding

   Until this, I had never had rice pudding.  Which means, I had obviously never cooked rice pudding.  The hubs did most of the work on this one so that was interesting....  He doesn't cook inside that much, but he is leanring and helping me more and more.  I don't suggest ever trying to verbally explain how to do something you've never done.  Making it was an adventure, to say the least, but the final product was delicious!  Eating this warm may not be the most summery of desserts, but make it a day ahead and chill it down.  Serve with fresh blackberry jam, so good.

  Also, I would not advise you to consult Jamie's Kitchen (by Jamie Oliver) for a dish you are completely unfamiliar with.  The recipes are written the way he talks.  I've had this cookbook for about 8 or 9 years now and I never realized how unhelpful it is for actual directions.
Blackberry Caramel Rice Pudding
2 C 2% milk
1/4 C half and half
1/4 C lightly packed brown sugar
4 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp bourbon (optional)
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 C uncooked rice
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp blackberry jam*
1 Tbsp caramel sauce

   In a 3 qt sauce pot, combine milks, butter, sugar, bourbon, vanilla, and salt.  Bring to a simmer over medium/med-high heat.  Add rice simmer 2-3 minutes.  Then cover, reduce to low, and cook for 40-50 minutes.  Stir occasionally.  When rice is puffy and tender and about 80% of the liquid is absorbed, the pudding is done.  Cool for about 10 minutes (or chill completely).
   Serve with 1 Tbsp blackberry jam and caramel.
   Serves 4.

*Making your own blackberry sauce would obviously be the best thing.  But blackberries are not always in season and can be expensive.  We used a 100% fruit, no sweetener added blackberry spread and it was really good.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Short Cut Chana Saagwala

   Often, I can get a recipe right the first time around.  Everything deserves tweaking, but normally I can get pretty close to dead-on the first go.  If I am working with flavors I know and I am comfortable with, adjusting as I go works great.  Indian food is not my strong point.  I love it and I want to get better at making it.  Talking to the owner of Spice of India was the best mini-lesson I could have received!  Because of him, I learned how to make fantastic Indian style rice and was introduced to wonderfully cheap and tasty tandoori spice blend.  For chana saagwala, he handed me the Badshah chana masala spice blend and told me to follow the directions and just add spinach.  I didn't follow the package instructions because there is an incredible amount of salt in it.  The flavor is there though:  Indian chili powder, fennel, coriander, etc.  I would love to make my own spice blend, but the Badshah is so cheap and now I have learned to work with it.  The "short cut" is because of the spice mix.  It took about 5 tries, but I got it!  This is stuff is addictive.
Chana Saagwala
1 Tbsp oil
1 small onion, diced
1 Tbsp Badshah chana masala
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
1/4 tsp cracked fenugreek seeds (optional)
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp ground coriander
5-6 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed*
1 8 oz can tomato puree
1 14 oz can chick peas, drained and rinsed

   Heat oil over medium heat.  Saute onions for 4-5 minutes until translucent. Add garlic, ginger, fenugreek, and cumin.  Cook 2-3 minutes, stir constantly.  Add spinach, tomato puree, chick peas, chana masala, and coriander.  Reduce heat to med-low.  Simmer and allow mixture to reduce by about 1/4 (this is just to evaporate the water from the spinach.)  It will take about 20 minutes, stir occasionally.  (If mixture over reduces, add a few Tbsp water.)
   Serve with rice.
   Serves 4 side dish portions OR 2 main course portions.

*Forgot to plan ahead a little and didn't thaw spinach?  You can use it from the frozen state, but add it before the tomato, chick pea, etc.  Let it thaw and come up to a luke warm temp before adding the rest of the ingredients.
**Also, do not add salt at any point of this!  The tomato puree and spice mix already have the perfect balance of salt for the dish.  If you have no salt added tomato puree, cook the dish as described and taste about 5 minutes before serving.  If it needs salt, add a little bit at this point.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Duck's Grille and Bar (Swansboro, NC)

   During the deployment, some of the wives/girlfriends of 1/8 Marines started a Facebook group that was intended for support and camaraderie.  It ended up being a one big bitch fight and forum for discussing dresses and dinner plans for homecoming weekend.  I must say, overall, it was pretty amusing.  (Admittedly, I was a little upset when it got shut down because some of those asinine girls couldn't follow the retardedly simple rules of, like, not disclosing your Marine's exact location.)  Duck's is one of the restaraunts that kept popping up in mention for romantic plans.

   A month or so before I moved back to Tennessee last year, Duck's opened a location in downtown Swansboro.  (Original location in Jacksonville, NC.)  A couple weekends ago was the first chance we had to go.  It is on the second floor of a dock side building overlooking the White Oak River filled with yachts, recreational skiffs, and fishing boats.  Once you make it through the lack luster, vacant feeling, attempting to be upscale, 80s dining room you make it to the oddly carpeted deck, but the view is incredible!

   We ordered calamari to start.  After ordering, we heard the group next to us complaining about the texture.  With a half empty bottle of wine on their table, I could tell they were simply trying to sound intelligent concerning their food.  Their assesment of the calamari was that the breading and marinara were perfect but the calamari was overdone and chewy.  Now, maybe they had a completely different plate than we did, but our calamari was cooked to perfection.  While the breading was in the correct proportion, there could have been more flavor to it and it definitely could have been crisper.  And the marinara... well, it was the quality of a good jarred sauce.
   Louis had the applewood bacon wrapped sea scallops.  Again, cooked very well.  The bacon was crisp and the scallops were tender.  The scallops were huge, but that didn't play their favor.  The flavor was too diffused through the meat so the bacon flavor dominated in a rather extreme sort of way.  Also, they were served with an absolutley gratuitous ramekin of gag-inducing clarified butter.  The green beans were delicious though.
   I had the Hong Kong tuna.  Normally I stay away from Asian dishes at non-Asian restaurants, but I had a couple beers at the adorable little pub up the street from Duck's before dinner so I was not thinking quite clearly.  The properly seasoned tuna was an amazing medium-rare, the wilted garlic baby spinach was enjoyable, and the ginger soy broth was lovely.  The "sticky rice" on the other hand was the more the consistency of porridge; it was gross to say the least.  When the dish arrived (in a disconcertingly prompt fashion) it was luke warm.  I love cold tuna and cold wilted salads, but this was obviously intended to be served hot. 
  We split the New York cheesecake for dessert.  It was a good cheesecake, but not a NY cheesecake.  Also it was drizzled with... wait for it..... Hersey's syrup.  Yeah, way to go.  The oddest thing of the evening, was our service.  The waitress was really nice and attentive.  Yet, this is the setting that you would like to sit back and relax, enjoying good food for a couple hours.  We were in and out in just under 45 minutes.  Maybe they are trying to hide the fact that the food is subpar with the in and out, chain restaurant-like service.

   I wouldn't tell you not to eat here, but I won't be dining here again.  The food isn't terrible, it is just unmemorable.  The views are the best thing Duck's has to offer.  After writing this review I am getting more upset than I was when I was at the restaurant.  This location has all the potential in the world with a fabulous fish market less than a mile away and I know that fantastic local produce is available.  Also, the decor... the bones are there; I can't think of a single excuse for the terrible design.  The menu doesn't even need to be changed; the execution just needs to be perfected.  (Maybe the original Jacksonville local has done that; it has been open for quite a while.  So, at this point, I would not apply this review to that location.)

   Actually, you know what?  Don't eat here.  Let it go under and make the space available for a quality restaurant with a chef that has the drive and ambition to create something spectacular.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Shrimp and Bok Choy Noodle Bowl

   Asian broth and noodles.  It really doesn't get much better.  So satisfying and comforting on a rainy day, but still light enough that you can eat a huge bowl without feeling guilty.  Originally I wanted to use bok choy.  Then it was like $3/lb at the store so we bough savoy cabbage.  Buuut, on our way back from the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores (one of my favorite places ever) we stopped by a little roadside produce stand.  The main reason we stopped was for peaches.  However, there was a lovely selection of local greens, peppers, onions, etc.  Walking through the small space, I was greeted by a box of gorgeous bok choy.  Best part?  One dollar each!  You can't beat that.  Also, they were the perfect size.  Not baby bok choy, but not the flavorless behemoths found in the store.  I had almost forgotten how much better fresh, local produce is.  Without planning it, this Asian soup became a celebration of eastern NC:  local bok choy, spring onions, garlic, and shrimp.  (Oh, and feel free to use firm tofu instead of shrimp.)
 Shrimp and Bok Choy Noddle Bowl
2 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp grated garlic
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1/2-1 tsp red pepper flake
5 C water
2 C vegetable or chicken broth
3 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce (optional, but salt will need to be adjusted)
juice of 1/2 lime
1 lb peeled, deveined med shrimp
3 pkg ramen noodles (flavor packet discarded)
1 med head of bok choy
1 lrg carrot
1/2 lrg red bell pepper
3 spring onions (or 5 scallions)
1/4 C chopped cilantro

   Heat oil over medium heat.  Quickly saute garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes stirring constantly for about 1 minute.  Add the rest of the broth ingredients except the lime.  Bring to a simmer.
   Roughly chop bok choy, discarding fibrous ends.  Add to broth and cook for 5-7 min.  Very thinly slice carrot and bell pepper.  Thinly slice spring onions, set aside of the green tops.  Add carrot, pepper, and onion whites to broth, cook another 5 minutes.  Veggies should be tender and broth reduced by about 1/4.  Add lime juice.
   Toss shrimp with salt and pepper.  Add shrimp and noodles to soup.  Turn heat up to med-high.  Cook shrimp through, about 5 minutes.  Just before serving, stir in cilantro and green onion tops.
   Serves 5. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cara Cara Orange Granita

   Cara cara oranges are fairly new to most super markets.  I found them at Walmart for god's sake!  However, their presence is not terribly consistent in the produce department so you many have unknowingly passed them over.  This variety of navel orange is slightly smaller than many regular oranges with a softer, smoother skin and very round appearance.  Once cut into, you'll find a deep red-y orange flesh (hence the alternative name: red navel) that is incredibly juicy and low in acid.  The flavor is definitely that of an orange but had so much more depth and complexity than regular navel oranges.  The bag I bought, had hints of pineapple and strawberry and, you are going to think I am crazy, tasted like it had a drop of citrus vodka.  I kid you not.  They are delicious!

   For this recipe you can use any variety of orange you like, but try to find the cara cara orange.  It takes this simple dessert to another level!  The intricate flavor of the cara cara and the rum turn this fruit ice into something special.  Adding the vanilla yogurt allows you to enjoy a childhood favorite with a more intricate flavor well-suited for adult palates.
Cara Cara Orange Granita
6 cara cara oranges
3/4 C water
1/3 C sugar
1/3 C dark rum*
1 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp salt
Vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream (not french vanilla)

   Combine sugar and water in a pot.  Heat over medium-high until sugar is dissolved.  Allow to cool.  Add rum, ginger and salt.
   Zest one orange.  Add to water/sugar.  Juice two of the oranges.  (If you don't want to present the granita in orange bowls, just juice the other four oranges.  If you are using another variety of  orange, know that you'll need about 2 C juice total)
   Optional steps for a fun presentation:  For the other four:  Cut a thin slice off the bottom so the oranges stand stable.  Cut a thicker slice off the top to expose flesh, about 1/4 of the way down.  (As in the picture:)
Squeeze juice out of the cut off tops.  Save the thin slices from the bottom.  Use a spoon to slowly work out the flesh of the oranges.  (A grapefruit spoon would work really well here.)  Squeeze the juice from the orange inards you have liberated from the skin.  If you accidentally poke a hole in the bottom of your orange bowl, flip the thin slice from the bottom upside down to cover the hole.  Wrap in plastic and freeze.  (Like this:)
Combine orange juice and water/sugar mixture.  Pour into a glass or plastic container with a cover and put in freezer for 8 hours to overnight.  After about 2 hours, use a fork to scrape granita.  Scrape again before serving.
*Don't use alcohol?  Leave out the the rum.  However, you will have to scrape the mixture every hour for 3-4 hours and then again before serving for the right icy texture.
   For serving, lightly pack granita into orange bowl until flush with the top.  Place a 2 oz scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt on top.  Top with more of the granita.
   Serves 4.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bacon Fat Fried Smashed New Potatoes

   I claim no responsibility for this absolutely brilliant idea.  I saw this technique a couple weeks ago on The Chubby Vegetarian right after I had proclaimed my undying love for potatoes.  It was too enticing not to try.  Not to mention it involved the type of frying that I am totally comfortable with.  This frying involves no breading or batter, no meat, and not attempting to cook a dense item all the way through.  Basically you are just crisping up the outside.

   I made them to go with turkey burgers.  I think they would be the most satisfying with a huge portobello burger, personally.  They are a fantastic alternative to fries, because lets face, most of can't make decent fries at home.  Oven roasted potatoes are wonderful... but, they are not fried and the crispy, fried outer texture is just what you need sometimes.  I did a totally optional thing with my potatoes... bacon fat.  We had cooked bacon that day for something so I poured the 2 Tbsp or so of bacon fat that was left into the frying oil.  Jesus, my mouth is watering right now.  Obviously this makes it not vegan/vegetarian but it is so unbelievably good!  I would cook bacon just to have the leftover fat to make these.
Fried Smashed New Potatoes
2 lbs baby new potatoes (the very small variety)
Sea salt
Fresh cracked black pepper
vegetable oil
2 Tbsp rendered bacon fat

   Thoroughly clean potatoes. If needed cut the large ones in half so all potatoes are roughly the same size.  Bake at 350 deg F for about 45 minutes, until a knife easily inserts into potato without resistance.  Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes (Or longer.  Ths step and the smashing step could definitely be done ahead of time.  Just make sure to bring potatoes to room temp before frying.)
   Use a wide flat metal spatula or your knife blade to smash potatoes.  Place flat on potato and use the palm of your hand to apply even pressure to potato.  (Wiggling it a little as you smash helps, I found.)  Your potatoes should look like this:
   In a heavy bottomed pot or deep skillet (I prefer cast iron), add oil to a depth of 3/4 inches.  Add bacon fat.  Heat over medium/med-high heat until bubbles rise rapidly from the end of a toothpick when dipped in the oil.  Place potatoes in oil, do not crowd the pan.  Fry for 3-4 minutes per side until crispy.  Drain on paper towels and immediately salt and pepper. 
   To keep potatoes warm while the rest are frying, place on a baking rack on a sheet tray in a 250 deg F oven.
   Serve with your favorite potato dipping sauce.
   Serves 4.

Friday, May 20, 2011


   WTF?! crazy stuff is happening with those blog posts from last Thursday/Friday.  I just realized the tags were messed up so I fixed them and then it reposted with today's day?  Oh well, I hope blogger never has another shutdown like that one. 

   Ok, I couldn't resist another post for today.  After a week, I need to get things caught up.  So, mojitos.  Classic Cuban drink.  It is so delicious and refreshing.  In the last couple of years, it has become a very "in" drink.  Some variations of it are fantastic.  Others are.... well, disgusting.  Sorry, no other way to say that.  This is not a drink that you should ever buy pre-bottled.  Fresh mint and fresh lime are the soul of this drink!  There is no way a bottle isn't going to give you that.

  For Christmas, my mom bought Louis a comprehensive cocktail guide.  (Mr. Boston's, if you are curious.)  Last weekend we stocked up our "bar" (aka the top of our fridge.)  So he has been experimenting with the recipes.  The mojito recipe in the book calls for what we both decided was way too much mint and club soda.  Well, I don't like club soda.  It is like carbonated, slightly salty, nothingness.  I prefer tonic.  I can't think of a single cocktail where the two mixers couldn't be switched.  Plus, I love the slightly citrusy note of tonic and I think it is more bubbly.  Oh, and we use diet tonic so the drinks don't end up overly sweet.

(per drink)
1 1/2 tsp super fine sugar
1 lime, halved
2 large mint sprigs
2 oz light rum (we use Cruzan)
diet tonic water (or club soda, if you like it)

   Place sugar and mint in the bottom of glass.  Squeeze in both lime halves; drop one half into glass.  Muddle (mash) together.  (A wooden spoon works if you do not have a muddler.)  Add rum, stir vigorously to dissolve sugar.  Fill glass with ice.  Top with tonic/club soda.

Buffalo Chicken Pizza

   As much as I want to share another smoker recipe, I will refrain for today.  My mom and I first started making pizza from scratch at home about 10 years ago.  Buffalo chicken pizza was one of the first out-of-the-box originals that we made.  To this day, I have not seen a decent buffalo chicken pizza on any menu.  Often, they have fried chicken (that you know was frozen) dipped in generic buffalo sauce and then slapped on top of a regular pizza.  Boring, greasy, gross.  I am not saying there isn't a fantastic buffalo pizza out there; I am just saying I have not encountered one.  If you are going to have a unique pizza, build it from the bottom up.  Think about it as an entire composed dish as opposed to just a base with toppings.

   This recipe is different than the original buffalo chicken pizza we made.  The original is absolutely delicious, but I am going to save that for grilling.  This one you really want to cook in the oven.
Buffalo Chicken Pizza
Pizza Dough
Corn meal
3 oz light cream cheese
1 Tbsp butter + 1 tsp
~1 Tbsp hot sauce (I use Tabasco) + 1 tsp
1 tsp honey
1 (normal sized) chicken breast
1 C shredded mozzarella
1/2 C crumbled bleu cheese (~2 oz)
1 lrg roma tomato, thinly sliced
salt and pepper

   Sprinkle a baking sheet with corn meal.  Stretch dough to fit 13x9 sheet.  (Or ~12 in circle.)  Pre-bake for 5-7 minutes at 450 deg F, until bottom is very lightly golden brown
   Combine 1 tsp hot sauce and 1 tsp butter.  Slice chicken breast, salt and pepper.  Cook chicken in a little bit of oil over med-high heat for a couple of minutes.  Only cook about halfway through.  Toss in hot sauce and butter.  Let sit for 10-15 minutes.
   Combine cream cheese, 1 Tbsp butter, 1 Tbsp hot sauce and honey.  (Actual amount of hot sauce varies depending on personal taste.)  Spread over pre-baked crust.
   Arrange sliced tomato over cream cheese mixture.  Sprinkle with mozzarella and blue cheese.  Evenly distribute chicken over pizza..
   Bake at 450 deg F for 10-12 minutes.
   Serves 4.

South Pacific Smoked Scallops

   I seriously did not intend to leave for a week.  Last Friday we took the computer, my ancient MP3 player, and my iPod to Best Buy in hopes that the Geek Squad could transfer the protected files from the MP3 player to the iPod.  No such luck.  I would just re-load all the CDs except that some punkass little teenager stole over 100 CDs out of my car almost 5 years ago.  Looks like I am going to have to (illegally--shh, you didn't read that) download everything.  I legitimately paid for it all once, I have the right to do it!

   My computer would have been really helpful this past week too.  Louis had duty Wednesday which meant he was working for 30+ straight hours.  Normally it wouldn't be a big deal.  However, the realization that I was totally alone without shit to do hit me hard.  I had no projects.  No one to cook for.  This boredom was magnified by the fact that this is the first time I have lived without a pet.  Not even a goddamn fish!  No projects, no work, no other living creature except the couple of invading fruit flies....  I laid around watching Ghost Hunters for like 12 hours!  Basically what I mean by this is that I seriously miss my cat.  Right now, I might trade Louis for him.  No, um, just kidding.........?

   Alright, this weekend looks like it is going to be really nice.  Perfect for grilling.  This marinade is fabulous on scallops and shrimp.  It would also be great on chicken, pork tenderloin, salmon, vegetables.... almost anything really.  And you do not have to smoke the scallops.  You can grill them or broil them on high heat for a couple minutes per side and they would be just as delicious.  Obviously, the smoke flavor will be missing but it will still be crazy tasty!
South Pacific Smoked Scallops 2 lbs diver scallops (abductor muscle removed)
1/3 C low sodium soy sauce
1/4 C pineapple juice
1/4 C cider vinegar
2 Tbsp brown deli mustard
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

   Combine all ingredients.  Refrigerate for 1-3 hours.
   Set up smoker according to manufacturer's suggestion with charcoal and wood chunks.  (We used applewood, but hickory would also work.)
   Skewer scallops on soaked bamboo skewers for easier transfer.  Leave about 1/2 inch between scallops.  Smoke for 20-25 minutes.
   While scallops are cooking, place extra marinade in a pot.  Bring to boil over med-high heat, reduce by about 1/3 to create sauce.
   Serves 4-6.

(PS--After a week away, it literally took me 1.5 hours to decide which recipe to blog.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

2 recipes for 200 posts!

   So guess what?  Yesterday was my 200th post.  It seems appropriate that as I venture further into the world of blogging that I take up a new form of cooking and expand my presence in the internet food world.  Some friends are working on an incredible project that they have asked me to join.  I am honored and thrilled and just a little bit intimidated.  Currently I am working on perfecting a flagship post.  But I am getting ahead of myself, I'll let you know more about it as it happens.

   Alright, as you know the hubs and I spent this past weekend smoking a huge variety of foods.  The first two recipes are really easy.  Barely even recipes.  Though, I think you want to start with easy things when smoking.  Salmon and corn are two very forgiving foods when it comes to smoking so I think they are the perfect items to start with.

Spicy Applewood Smoked Salmon
2/3 lb fresh salmon fillet, skin on, about 1 inch thick
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
Applewood chunks

   Pat salmon dry.  Sprinkle on spices.
   Spray rack with cooking oil.  Smoke for 45 min- 1 hour.  (In "ideal" range for Brinkmann Smoke 'n' Grill; about 225 deg F.)
   Remove skin for service.  Serve with cream cheese and bread, or use it in another recipe.
   Serves 4 (appetizer portions) or 2 (entree portions)

Smoked Corn on the Cob
Ears of corn (for however many people you plan to feed)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh cracked black pepper

   Gently peel back husks of corn, remove the first few outer leaves, but leave most intact.  Remove silks.  Brush corn with oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Make sure to get every surface of the corn seasoned.  Fold husks back up over the corn.
   For 7-8 inch ears of corn, smoke 1 1/4- 1 1/2 hours.  (Smaller ears: 50 min-1 hr; extra large ears 1 1/2-1 3/4 hr.)  Use any wood.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Toy! (Brinkmann Smoke 'n' Grill)

   Meet our new toy!  The Brinkmann Smoke 'n' Grill.  It is a simple yet effective compact design that is perfect for any size backyard.  Our last visit to Tennessee of course included a trip to Home Depot with my mom so she could get the military discount.  While she was debating over--lightbulbs?-- I wandered over to the grill isle and saw this beauty.  The price got me really excited:  $39.95!  (If you don't want to assemble it yourself you can pay another $10 for someone to do it for you.)  With our 10% military discount, the deal was too good to pass up.
   Once the box was in our cart, I became even more excited because I could see the actual setup of the grill.  On the bottom you have the charcoal/wood pan which will hold about 10 lbs of charcoal.  Halfway up is the water pan to keep everything moist and regulate the temperture.  On top of that is the first grill rack then at the top is a second grill rack.  You can fit a lot of food onto this thing.  The pans and racks aren't in fixed positions so they are easy to remove for cleaning and for moving the charcoal pan up for traditional grilling.  Also, there is a convenient little door on the front to easily add more wood or charcoal.  Included is a basic cooking guide with some simple recipes and time table.
   My only complaints about this grill are very minor ones.  The first rack is basically impossible to get to if you have food on the top rack.  (More expensive models with horizontal configurations have hinged racks that are really convenient.)  Now, this isn't a problem if you properly plan out your smoking times.  Larger items that are going to take longer have to go down in the middle of the smoker and smaller items need to go on the top.   Just make sure you don't plan on removing middle rack items before top rack items.  The positive side to this is that the smoke flavor is more concentrated because it has less travel time (and therefore less time to diffuse) from heat source to food.  Secondly is the fact that the cooking time table is rather incomplete.  It has the basics but does not include strategies for smoking a large variety of items.  I suggest buying a true cookbook dedicated to smoking because the internet is also seriously lacking in decent information for anything out of the normal relm of smoked foods.  (Ex:  It was really hard to find the time for shrimp smoked in the shell.  The time I did find was wrong.  That experiment needs to be repeated.)
   If you are considering purchasing this fantastic little smoker, you will want to buy a chimney starter, heat proof/grilling gloves, good quality charcoal (nothing flavored and nothing that says instant or match light), and hardwood chunks.  The chips burn too fast and they put out our embers when we soaked the chips.  The chunks last a good while and produce great flavor! 
   Yeah, soooo, Mother's Day just passed, which means Father's Day is coming up.  This would be the perfect gift for the dad who loves outdoor cooking!  Louis says there is nothing that can make you feel manlier in a short amount of time than grilling.  I guess you can feel even more masculine if you assemble it yourself. (Although, I will say form our experience, tiny fingers work better.)  The assembly is really easy and straight forward.  If you can use a screw driver, you can put this puppy together.  Even if your dad/husband doesn't like outdoor cooking, you may find that you do.  And isn't always nice to buy a present for someone that you can use and enjoy?
   This is pretty much our whole back patio.  See?  Very compact.  We bought a metal drip pan from an auto store for easier clean-up (and would protect the wood of your deck) and to give us a cleaner surface for placing the lid.
This is decidedly not Sparta.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chocolate Cinnamon Scones for Mother's Day

   Oh no!  You forgot it was Mother's Day?!  Well, there is still time to get into the kitchen and bake something scrumptious for brunch.  I unfortunately am 700 miles away from my mom, and even if I were in Tennessee I would be at the Renaissance Festival.  Now, my mom is not a huge fan of breakfast or breakfast pastries, but I bet she (and my mother-in-law) would enjoy these scones.  They aren't too sweet and have the wonderful combination of dark chocolate and roasted cinnamon with a surprise nuttiness.  So good.  These scones, a quiche or fritatta, a light salad, a pot of good coffee and some fresh juice would make the perfect simple brunch.
Chocolate Cinnamon Scones
1 1/4 C flour
1/4 C ground walnuts
1 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp roasted cinnamon
pinch of salt
4 Tbsp cold butter, chopped
1 egg
5 Tbsp buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 C dark chocolate chips
1 Tbsp half & half or heavy cream
1 Tbsp raw sugar
chocolate and caramel sauce (optional)

   Combine flour, walnuts, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut butter into flour mixture until it resembles wet sand.
   Make a well in the center of the flour.  Add egg, buttermilk, and vanilla to well.  Beat and slowly being to work in flour.  When about half mixed fold in chips.
   Turn onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead a few times then shape into an 8x5 rectangle.  Cut into 6 squares.
   Place on a lightly greased baking sheet.  Brush the tops with half and half.  Sprinkle with raw sugar.
   Bake at 400 deg F for 10-12 minutes.
   Drizzle with caramel and chocolate for an extra little indulgence.
   Serves 6.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

German Inspired Burgers

   We have burgers a couple times a month.  We always make turkey burgers.  I actually would prefer beef for this particular burger, but ground turkey is what we had.  Feel free to use whatever ground meat you like for this.  Pork would even be delicious.  I like a 90/10 meat for burgers, but you can use any fat content.  Just know that cooking time will vary depending on meat/fat.  Oh, and this is the perfect burger to use those quick pickles.
German Inspired Burger
1 1/3 lb ground turkey, pork or beef
4 slices bacon
1/3 C amber beer
1/4 C bread crumbs
2 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp brown mustard
3/4 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 kaiser rolls
4 slices butterkase, muenster, or swiss
slices tomatoes
1 recipe quick pickles with onions (see link above for recipe)
more brown mustard

   Combine beer, worcestershire, and bread crumbs.  Let sit together for about 15 minutes.
   Cut bacon into lardons.  Fry over medium heat until about halfway done- edges are browned but it's not quite crispy.
   Combine bacon, bread crumb mixture, mustard, thyme, salt and pepper.  Work into ground meat.  Form into four patties that are slightly larger than the buns you are using.  Cook in a little bit of oil over medium/med-high heat for 5-6 min per side (for turkey). (Or grill.)  In the last couple minutes off cooking, top with cheese so it melts.
   Toast buns.  Assemble.
   Serves 4.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Quick and Spicy Dill Pickles with Onions

   Today is a very special day in my head.  Roughly.... now.... my four Renaissance clothing creations are making their debut to the public.  If you consider school children "the public".  Sometimes I feel like I am over this experience, but at this moment, it does feel like something is missing from my life.  That tiny, nagging emptiness you can't quite put your finger on.  Except that I can put my finger on it.  I love the Tennessee Renaissance Festival with all my heart, and this is the second year in a row that I am not there for opening weekend.  Because of TRF, I have the most amazing friends a person could ask for, I met the most wonderful man in the world, I discovered a deep passion for sewing and designing, and I have grown as a person in ways I can't even describe.

   I wish I had a period recipe to share with you.  Maybe a roast pheasant or peacock.  I would even go with the not actually period yet faire-ubiquitous turkey leg.  Next year at this time, promise.  While I don't have a period recipe, I do have a new recipe using a period technique.  Pickling.  It's been used for centuries to preserve food through winters and for long journeys.  Dill, onions, and cucumbers were horticulturally established in England during the 16th Century.  The geographic equivalents of France, Germany, and Hungary were preserving cucumbers with herbs and spices at the time.  So, technically speaking they could have made something very similar to this.
Quick and Spicy Dill Pickles with Onions
1/2 lrg English cucumber
1/2 medium onion
1 tsp dill
1/2 C white vinegar
1/2 C cider vinegar
1/4 C water
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 lrg cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flake

   Cut cucumber on a bias in 1/4 inch slices.  Thinly slice onion.  Toss with dill in a heat proof bowl or jar.
   Combine the rest of the ingredients in a pot.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Boil for about 2 min then turn off heat.  Allow to cool for 3-4 minutes.  Pour over vegetables.  Let cool to room temp.  Refrigerate.
   Will keep for about 10 days.
   Serves 4-6.

And for you to get an idea of my love for the TN Ren Faire...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Southwestern Baked Chicken Pasta

   I would say after an 11 hour drive your brain is not functioning at its full capacity.  This explains why I cooked four whole chicken breasts when two would have sufficed.  Needless to say I had a lot of leftover chicken that I needed to figure out how to use.  Also, it already had a chili powder seasoning on it.  That limits the possibilities a bit.  This is what came out of it and it was pretty delicious.  I had one serving the night I cooked it and the hubs ate the rest (a huge portion the night of and another huge portion for lunch the following day.)  I didn't expect that; I thought I would have lunch out of it too.  At least I know he thoroughly enjoyed it!

   This is perfect for leftover chicken.  If you are making chicken quesadillas for dinner one night, go ahead and cook some extra chicken to make this pasta dish later in the week.  Or a rotisserie chicken would be fantastic.  Or... you know, you could leave out the chicken.  It would be great without it; maybe some grilled shrimp on the side.  There is corn and tomatoes in here, but a simple salad or roasted/steamed green veggie on the side rounds out the entire meal
Southwestern Baked Chicken Pasta
12 oz whole wheat penne pasta
2 cooked chicken breasts, roughly chopped (~2.5 C shredded chicken)
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 med onion, chopped
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1.5 C chicken broth
1/2 C buttermilk
1 Tbsp cider vinegar (or other mild vinegar)
3 oz room temp light cream cheese
1 C shredded cheese (any kind you like: pepper jack, cheddar, etc.)
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 C frozen corn
1 chipotle, minced
1 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper
cooking spray
chopped cilantro and scallions (optional)

   Cook pasta about 1 minute shy of being done.
   Heat olive oil over med heat.  Add onion, cook until tender and translucent.  Add garlic, saute about 1 min.  Melt in butter, add flour and whisk out lumps.  Slowly add broth and buttermilk, whisking constantly.  Whisk in vinegar, cream cheese, and shredded cheese.  Add tomatoes, corn, chipotle and chili powder.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Heat through and bring to a bubble.  When sauce has thickened a little (it should take about 4-5 min), fold in chicken and pasta.
   Lightly spray a 13x9 baking dish.  Pour pasta into dish. 
   Bake uncovered at 350 deg F for 20-25 minutes.  (If made ahead and refrigerated, add 5-10 minutes to cook time.)  Sprinkle cilantro and scallions on top before serving.
   Serves 6 (normal sized portions... It all depends on who exactly you are feeding and the side dishes available)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dry, Red Sangria

   Pretty much everyone knows what sangria is nowadays.  If you don't, it is basically a wine and fruit punch.  Simple, easy, delicious.  It is a great cocktail for a crowd because it is cheap and the ultimate make-ahead drink.  There is no need to buy a nice wine for sangria.  A $5 or $6 bottle is perfect (I suggest Barefoot or Yellowtail).  Or if someone brings you a bottle of red as a hostess gift and you aren't crazy about what they chose... make it into sangria!  Even those of my friends who don't like wine like sangria.  The sweetness of the fruit takes the sharp edge off the wine that tends to turn people off.  If you have a pretty, clear pitcher, break it out!  It is an instant gorgeous centerpiece to a casual table.  (I, unfortunately, do not own such a vessel.)

   Often, sugar is added to sangria.  I prefer a drier wine cocktail, so that what I wanted to do for my first recipe.  I like my sangria to taste like wine and fruit.  If you would like it sweeter, add 1/4 C super fine sugar, honey, or agave syrup.  Whisk it into a small amount of the liquid (the rum or a little bit of wine) to easily incorporate.  There are sooo many different recipes out there and infinite possibilities with sangria.  This is one, simple recipe that has a little twist with the dark rum.  I will probably definitely have several more variations this spring/summer.
Don't you love the orange pitcher?  I'm pretty sure it is older than I am.

Dry, Red Sangria
1 bottle medium-bodied red wine (Merlot, Shiraz, or a Cab-blend)
1/2 C dark rum
2 C orange juice
1 medium orange
1 large lemon
1 large lime
1 1/2 C grapes

   Place grapes in freezer for at least 1 day.  These will be used as ice cubes.
   Thinly slice citrus fruit.  Place in the bottom of the pitcher and lightly mash with a wooden spoon.  Add wine, rum and juice.  Stir.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, 24 hours is better.  Add frozen grapes to each glass or to pitcher at service.
   6-8 servings.
If you are patient enough to let the grapes freeze all the way, they will float.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dessert Fried Plantains

   I adore plantains.  I crave them.  I admit that there are weak nights, when I am alone, that I will have fried plantains for dinner and nothing else.  Salty, crispy, starchy heaven.  My love for them may be greater than my love for potatoes.  However, for lovely, savory twice fried plantains, you need to have green/yellow plantains.  Around here (and by here I mean the majority of America) they don't sell terribly well, so the fruits may sit in the store for awhile.  There is nothing wrong with that, but they do continue to ripen.  When they turn black they aren't rotten.  They are simply soft and sweet.  It is almost like a completely different fruit than the green ones.

   For our fight night menu, the only ones available were black.  Which was perfect because we were using them for dessert.  That's right:  dessert.  I can't actually claim credit for this recipe.  It was Louis' idea.  I am fixated on savory fried plantains so I didn't even think of a sweet application.  It was a great idea.  You can fry them the first time and smash them before people arrive then second fry them right before service.  I made a huge platter of them and they were devoured!  This recipe really depends on how many people you intend to feed.  Plan on one large plantain for every two people.  Then maybe make a few extra, just for good measure.
Dessert Fried Plantains
6 black plantains
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
caramel sauce
hot fudge
Veg oil

   Pour oil into a cast iron skillet (1/2-3/4 inch).  Heat over medium.  To test oil, place the end of a toothpick into the oil; if bubbles rapidly rise from the toothpick, it is ready.
   Combine sugar, cinnamon, and salt. 
   Peel and slice plantains on a bias about 3/4 inch thick.  Fry for 1-2 minutes per side.  Drain on paper towel.  Use a wooden spoon to gently smash the plantains.  Fry again for 1-2 min per side; until lightly browned.  Drain on paper towels.  While still hot, sprinkle liberally with sugar mixture.
   Drizzle with chocolate and caramel.*
   Serves 8-12.
   *For easy and pretty drizzling, put sauces into plastic condiment bottles.  They will probably need to be spooned into the bottles then warmed through for easy application.  Wrap the bottoms of the plastic bottles with foil and gently heat in simmering water to warm the sauces.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Simple Chicken Quesadillas & Cinco de Mayo Menu

   This past week has been pure craziness!  I finished my sewing projects; I am so proud of what I made.  When I made the final stitch, I felt a huge weight simply float away.  The decision to take a week off from blogging was not exactly intentional, but it was much needed.  Plus, Louis and I were all over Middle Tennessee taking care of things like my flower tattoo (which I really want to show you, but it is healing super fast and is in its flaky, peely stage) and his school registration.  We were barely in one place for more than 24 hrs. 

   But now I am back, and I have a new toy.  A charcoal smoker, oh yeah... be prepared.  Also, I have finally caught up on all of your lovely blogs.  I just spent an hour and half reading everything.  Let me say, you fashion bloggers... you make me feel so lazy right now.  You are out there finding, buying, and wearing some fabulous pieces.  I am sitting here with horribly unkempt hair and a Lord of the Rings t-shirt that I've had on since yesterday afternoon.

   We got home Saturday night, only to throw ourselves into hosting a mini-party for UFC 129.  The menu had been planned for about 2 weeks because we were really excited about the title fight between St. Pierre and Shields.  (Happy GSP won, but the fight could have been more exciting.  Whatever.)  It was something that I knew I could slap together in my sleep.  Then I realized that Cinco de Mayo is coming up and our fight night menu would be perfect for an easy, casual May 5th get together.

Easy, Festive Cinco de Mayo Menu
Simple Chicken Quesadillas
Veggies with Chipotle Sour Cream
Guacamole with Tortilla Chips
Salsa and Queso (good quality store-bought... it's ok!)
Dessert Fried Plantains (recipe tomorrow)
Margaritas, Sangria, and/or Mexican beer

Simple Chicken Quesadillas
2 chicken breasts
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
12 6-inch flour tortillas
1 C shredded sharp cheddar
1 C shredded pepper jack (or monterrey jack)
3 large scallions, chopped (4-5 small scallions)

   Cut each chicken breast into 3 large slices (for faster cooking.)  Toss with chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Arrange in a single layer on a foil lined baking sheet.  Bake at 375 deg F for 10-12 minutes.  Let cool and chop into small chunks.  (The chili-lime seasoning would also be delicious for the chicken.)
   Build quesadillas with chicken, cheese, and scallions.  Cook in a non stick skillet over med/med-low heat until cheese is melted and tortillas are golden brown.  Keep warm on a baking sheet in a 250 deg F oven, if desired.
   Serves 6.  Serve with lime wedges, chopped cilantro and whatever sauce you like.