Thursday, June 30, 2011

Stop the Abuse

Ladies and Gentlemen,

   I am very sorry that this will not be a regularly scheduled recipe post.  I have some very sad news about a wave of violence that has plagued our world since the late 50's.  It is a quiet violence that I am sure most are unaware of, yet they probably commit the heinous act several times a week.  It was recently, and painfully, brought to my attention that this may not be common knowledge....

Marvel at my graphic design skills.

   Your pots and pans will last forever if you just take proper care of them.  This includes not dragging metal implements over the non-stick surface.  Once the coating is compromised the non-stick properties dwindle.  The scratches give foods a place to grab on and thus, stick.  There is a reason plastic, wood, silicon, nylon, and coated utensils are available in stores.  Even traditional plain metal items such as whisks and tongs are now available in non-stick  safe materials.

   I love my cookware more than my shoes.  It is very high quality and I intend to not buy a new set for at least 10+ years.  If you take proper care of your cookware, especially non-stick pieces, you will not need to replace skillets and pans every couple years.  You can afford a nice set if you don't destroy things inside of a year.  Cookware is an investment that will pay off if you treat it with care and love.  These are my 5 stupidly easy rules concerning non-stick cookware (and from now on, people will need to sign a release before I let them use any of my kitchen equipment.)

Lauren's Rules for Non-Stick Cookware

1.  NO METAL!!!  This includes: metal fiber scrubbers, knives, and forks.  Even stay away from metal spoons.  If metal will touch the surface, don't use it.

2.  Do not put items in the dishwasher no matter what the packaging says.  Things can knock around in dish washers and scratch your surface.

3.  Do not leave a dry (meaning no liquid or fat) on the heat for more than a minute or so.  Your cookware can scorch.  Some TV chefs will have the pan waiting for them, but I prefer to have everything ready then start heating the pan.  I stay more organized and feel less rushed.  Also, I can watch the heat and start the actual cooking right when the pan is ready.

4.  Don't transfer to a very hot oven.  The high heat of ovens can damage the non-stick surface.  Generally, non-stick skillets and pans are good up to 450 deg F, but I try to keep it at 400 deg F or under.  Subsequently, do not put them under a hot broiler.

5.  Always clean your cookware well.  Preferably, shortly after cooking.  (I am guilty of not washing dishes until the morning after, but I at least rinse all my pots and pans very well the night of.)  Use warm, sudsy water and a soft cleaning implement (sponge, dish cloth, soft bristled dish brush).  Don't use abrasive cleaners such as baking soda; if residue is stubborn, soak in warm soapy water for 30 minutes or so.

(Check Save the Artist later today for a fun post!)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Roasted Garlic Meatballs with Spinach Sauce

   I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend!  Wonderful may not accurately describe mine... interesting may be more apt.  Saturday Louis and I went to Bear Island, one of my favorite places.  Sunday one of my best friends in the world came to visit me!  She brought her would-be boy toy, who lives in Charlotte, except he decided to be a prude and not put out.  (Oh yeah, calling him out on that....)  Monday was filled with bathing suit malfunctions, losing accessories to the sea, and rather epic sunburns.  Due to the last, yesterday was spent indoors lazing around, dicking with computers and talking a little shit.

   So, who doesn't love spaghetti and meatballs?  I do, but the traditional red sauce and beef can be a little heavy.  Not exactly the type of thing that you want to eat on a hot summer day.  Also, it is such a basic concept that it is easy and fun to play around with.  Hmm, you know.  Looking at this recipe right now, it is way healthier than I originally thought.  Guilt-free spaghetti and meatballs with some cheese?  Yes please!  (And go ahead and use these recipes in different applications.  I'm giving you two complete recipes today because of my brief absence.)
Roasted Garlic and Fontina Turkey Meatballs
1/2 lb ground white turkey (93/7 preferable; 97/3 if the other is not available)
1 egg white
1/4-1/3 C shredded fontina
4-5 large cloves of roasted garlic, mashed
2 Tbsp bread crumbs (plain or seasoned)
1 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp ground sage
salt and pepper

   Combine all ingredients except turkey (don't add too much salt and pepper at this point.)  Then use your hands to mix in turkey so it is not overworked.
   Cook a little tester.  Adjust seasoning as needed.
   Form into 12 roughly golfball sized meatballs.  Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet.
   Bake at 400 deg F for 12 minutes.  (About 10 minutes if using 97/3 turkey.)

Fresh Spinach and Tomato Sauce
1 lrg onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flake (optional)
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 of a large bunch of spinach, roughly chopped (wash it well and remove stems!)
1/2-3/4 C broth (veg or chicken)
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp light cream cheese
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil

   Heat a little oil over medium.  Saute onions until translucent, ~5 minutes.  Add garlic and red pepper flake, cook 1 min.  Add tomatoes, spinach, broth, and vinegar.  (Amount of broth will depend on how much liquid the tomatoes have.)  Turn heat to med-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until spinach is wilted and tender.  (Add a little more broth or water if the sauce gets too dry, it shouldn't be soupy, but shouldn't be without liquid.)
   Melt cream cheese in a few minutes before serving.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
   Toss with whole wheat pasta.  Top with meatballs and freshly shaved parmesan.
   Serves 4.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Black Pepper Vinaigrette

   I love having versatile vinaigrettes.  It is so nice to make something really simple, but special that can go on pretty much anything.  This sauce... dressing... vinaigrette... fits the bill.  We slathered it on smoked chicken, fabulous.  We tossed a simple salad with it, wonderful.  And we poured it over green beans, amazing.  You can do so much with this one recipe.  It is delicious and way better than those bottled vinaigrettes in the store, but is light enough in flavor that it will compliment anything you want to dress up with it.  (This is yet another recipe adapted from Bobby Flay.  Oh, and whenever I say "adapted from BF" that means Louis made it!<3)
Chopped romaine, green and black olives, thinly sliced red bell pepper

Black Pepper Vinaigrette
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C white wine vinegar
4 Tbsp deli-style mustard
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp sea salt

   Combine and whisk all ingredients until mixture is smooth.
   Makes about 1 C.  ~8-10 servings?  It all depends how you use it.  Go ahead and make a full batch; it will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.
Fresh green beans, boiled in salted water 5-7 min until tender.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Zucchini Pancakes

   I love a lazy weekend brunch.  However, that must include that I am lazy too.  I never want to work too hard in the mornings if it is just for me and the hubs.  That doesn't mean I don't like to make special things, I just like to take shortcuts.  Pancake mix is one of my favorite shortcuts.  Not all mixes are created equal though.  The only kind I buy for general use is Bisquick Heart Smart because it is the closest to what you would mix up in your own kitchen.

   Doctoring up pancake mix is so easy.  You can add whatever you want and create something fantastic.  These zucchini pancakes are wonderful for a savory summer brunch.  Easy and a great alternative to regular pancakes or biscuits.  Pair with eggs and bacon, coffee and juice and you are ready to eat!
Zucchini Pancakes
1 C Bisquick Heart Smart mix
1 C shredded zucchini (2 small), quickly pat dry
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 egg white
1/2 C buttermilk (maybe a little more, ~2 Tbsp)*
extra virgin olive oil

   Combine pancake mix and herbs and spices.  Toss zucchini in flour mixture.  Make a well.  Add egg white and buttermilk.  Combine. 
   *If your zucchini is very wet, add a couple more tablespoons of pancake mix.  Mine were actually on the dry side and made the mix a bit gummy so I added a little more buttermilk.  Adjust yours as needed.
   Let mixture sit for 8-10 minutes.  (It will proof and appear slightly frothy; this ensures your pancakes come out fluffy.)
   Over medium, heat a little evoo and butter in a not stick skillet or griddle. ( Preheat oven to 250 deg F if you will need to cook pancakes in batches.)
   Scoop 1/4 of the mixture onto heated surface per pancake.  When edges are set and the surface is dotted with little bubbles, flip.  Cook another 2-3 minutes until bottom is golden.  (Transfer to a baking sheet in the oven if cooking in batches.)
   Top with a pat of butter for service.
   Makes 4 5-inch(ish) pancakes.  Serves 2-4.

And PLEASE remember to visit

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Save The Artist

Hey Guys!

Remember a while back I told you some friends asked me to join a very exciting project?

Well, the site is up for its trial run!  (You won't have to look too hard for my contribution....)

Save the Artist is still in the beginning stages but we are working and brainstorming to make it amazing.  You can help make this venture fantastic by joining the artist community and giving us your feedback.  You can email me (address on blogger profile) your thoughts on the layout, the site workings, things you would like to see included, whatever... and I will pass it along to the masterminds behind this.

Nutella "Cheesecake" Stawberries

   Yesterday was a little more serious and emotional than I expected.  I apologize for that....  So here is a fun, easy summer dessert that will impress the pants off of party guests.  I've expressed my general concern with chocolate covered strawberries.  They are all good, fine, and tasty, but can be a pain the ass to make and are a little romantically antiquated.  Save them for a sexy bedroom treat.  A few years ago, I saw something similar to these strawberries on Paula's Home Cooking.  (I actually saw a rerun of the episode literally an hour after making these, too.)  Well, they are basically the same.  Paula Deen's recipe just used sweetened cream cheese; I altered the filling because who doesn't love Nutella?
Nutella "Cheesecake" Strawberries
1 pint strawberries, washed
3 oz light cream cheese, room temp
2 Tbsp Nutella
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
chocolate sauce (optional)

   Combine cream cheese, Nutella, sugar and vanilla.  Scoop into a plastic bag or pastry bag that has an open medium sized tip.  This will make filling so much easier.  (A #20 tip is about the size you want.)  Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.
   Set strawberries upright, resting on their leaves.  Make a cut down through the strawberries, about 2/3-3/4 of the way down.  Make another cut like that to form an X.
   Fit pipping tip into strawberry.  Gently squeeze filling into strawberries while pulling the tip out so you get an even filling.  Do this for all strawberries.  Drizzle with chocolate.  Place in freezer to set for about 15-20 minutes.  (Or longer, you'll just need to let them thaw a bit before serving.)
   Serves 4 for regular dessert or about 10 for a party setting.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

To Papaw, From Your Girl

   Sunday we made our usual trip to the beach, stopping at Church Street Deli and then continuing on to Salter Path/Indian Beach.   I've gotten into the habit of checking out the little "marquee" in front of the produce stand we like just to see what they think is the best for the day.  Louis hates melons but I was already planning on getting a cantaloupe on our way back home.  As we passed the stand, I was greeted by one of the most inviting words displayed along the top of the sign. 

   I couldn't help but excitedly yell, "Butter beans!"  Fresh butter beans (lima beans to you non-Southerners) are one of my favorite things in the world.  I almost teared up at the thought of sitting in front of our fireplace shelling a bucket of butter beans.  When we would visit my grandparents in Arkansas during the summer, one of the kids' job was to shell the butter beans.  The boys may not have liked this part of the day, but I loved it.  Eat breakfast, shell beans, play in the pool, eat blueberries straight off the bush, try to terrorize the cows, pretend to fish... looking back on it, those days were perfect.
   For dinner, almost everything was fresh out of the garden: butter beans, cantaloupe, sliced tomatoes (which I didn't eat, but they were so pretty), "creamed" corn, watermelon, purple hull peas, okra (which I also didn't eat at the time).  The vegetables varied from meal to meal but at dinner there was always plenty of cornbread.  Not that sweet, dry, dense, yellow stuff, I'm talking about savory, beautiful, white cornbread with margarine on the side--also one of my favorite things in the world.  Dessert, at least once a summer, was homemade vanilla ice cream that we (the kids) had to crank by hand in the backyard topped with fresh picked juicy, sweet peaches.   It was all so simple, but so wonderful and magical by comparison to my general suburban life.
   I desperately wanted the butter beans to still be in their shells, but someone at the farm had already shelled them.  Which meant they were considerably more expensive than they should have been, yet, having the fresh beans was still amazing.  My grandfather died when I was in high school.  I don't remember the exact reason, but I wasn't allowed to go to his funeral.  He died of Alzheimer's so I had said my goodbyes a couple years before he actually died.  But since then, I think about shelling butter beans with him every summer.  Sitting on the brick hearth while he shelled the purple hull peas and us kids working on the butter beans.
   Monday, I did my best to recreate a summer dinner at my grandparents'.  I had to work with what I had and what I could find, so it wasn't completely right.  The cantaloupe, cornbread and butter beans were my favorite things as a kid, so I at least got those three things in there.  Oddly enough, cornbread is the hardest thing for me to make.  My grandma and my mom don't use a recipe and it is always perfect:  crispy bottom, golden top, fluffy and moist inside.  I got the closest on Monday, but I'm not quite there yet.  Also I think my grandpa would have really liked chicken this way.  I wish I had had the chance to really cook for him; he would have been proud of his girl.

Summers in Prescott, Arkansas Menu

Butter Beans
Fried Okra
Mustard Breaded Chicken Tenders

My cousin (Jason), Papaw, me

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Egg Curry with Artichokes and Zucchini

   I almost posted my summer berry clafouti recipe but another food blogger has chosen cherry clafouti as her post for the day.  So out of respect, I guess I need to hold off on that one for a bit.  No problem, I remembered my promise from yesterday and I must stick to that.

   Oh, and this curry is fabulous so I really want to share it with you!  It sounds really strange and not entirely Indian, but it is uncommonly good.  It is kind of more on the Moroccan side because of the vegetables I used, but it doesn't really have enough of the "sweet" spices to be considered totally Moroccan.  Maybe very Northern Indian?  Northwestern Indian?  Half Indian, half Moroccan?  Whatever.  I'm not going to try to figure it out;  I am just going to tell you to make it.  Please don't be turned off by the long ingredient list;  it is super easy to make!
Egg Curry with Artichokes and Zucchini
8 hard boiled eggs, halved and lightly salted
1 lb zucchini, cut into bite sized chunks
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and halved
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp cracked fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cardamon
1 14 oz can crushed tomatoes (~2 C)
2 bay leaves
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick (2-3 inches)
salt and pepper
(you made need about 1 tsp sugar)

   Saute onions in a little bit of oil over medium heat until they just start to turn brown at the edges.  Add a little bit more oil and garlic, ginger, fenugreek, cumin, and red pepper flake.  Saute for about 2 minutes until fragrant.  Add tomato paste, melt into pan (1-2 min). 
   Add crushed tomatoes, zucchini, chili powder, cardamon, coriander, bay leaves, cinnamon, and star anise.  Cover, turn to med-low, simmer for 10-15 minutes.
   Salt and pepper to taste.  If tomatoes taste too tinny or acidic, add a little bit of sugar.  Add a touch of water if tomatoes seem really thick, about 1/4 C.
   Nestle eggs and artichokes into sauce.  Cover and heat through, 5-7 minutes.
   Serve with rice.
   Serves 4

Monday, June 20, 2011

Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs

   It may seem odd that I am talking about hard boiled eggs.  They are so simple, but so many people get them wrong.  I can't tell you how many eggs I have seen boiled to oblivion with tough whites and grainy yolks.  And the worst offense for a hard boiled egg:  that grey-green ring around the yolk.  Yeah, that is not supposed to be there.  There are a lot of how-to's for eggs out there and a lot of them contradict each other.  This is my technique and hasn't failed me since I figured it out.  The whites come out tender and the yolks are soft and creamy, never a ring to be seen.  At first, there seem to be a lot of steps, but I've really broken it down and each step is ridiculously easy.   (I'm setting you up for egg success.)

10 Stupidly Simple Steps to Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs
  1. Let eggs sit at room temp for at least 5 minutes.
  2. Place in a pot that is large enough for the eggs to be in a single layer and have some room to move.  (If you could add 2 or 3 more eggs to the pot you are good.)
  3. Add enough luke warm or ambient temperature water to just cover the eggs.
  4. Bring to a boil.  Boil for 7 minutes.
  5. Remove pot from heat and let sit for another 7 minutes.
  6. Place eggs in a bowl of cool water that has a few ice cubes.  Let sit for 8-10 minutes.
  7. Dry eggs. Gently, but firmly tap eggs on a hard, flat surface until the middle part of the shell looks like a mosaic.
  8. Start to flake shell off with your finger nail/finger tip. 
  9. Then use the side of your thumb to flake the rest of the shell off.  (This helps to prevent taking out gouges of the white so you have a nice, smooth, whole egg.)
  10. Enjoy!
*Tomorrow:  A really unique and delicious way to use your perfect hard boiled eggs!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Monkey Lala

   The name is bizarre.  I am aware of that.  But who cares; it is a frothy, frosty, frozen drink.  It needs to have an odd name.

   I'm pretty sure Sundowners Bar in Roatan, Honduras created this.  I've been to this bar several times but generally on my Roatan excursions I opt for a Salva Vida or a good old rum (Flor de Cana) and coke.  My first visit to Honduras did include one several of these concoctions at Bite on the Beach and The Thirsty Turtle.  Absolutely delicious, but not the type of thing I want to sit around drinking all afternoon.  Usually I have one per vacation now, but this year I am not going to Roatan.  So in a wonderfully alcohol soaked attempt to garner a little piece of that beloved island for the night, I made Monkey Lalas. 
Monkey Lala
1 oz vodka
1 oz Irish cream liqueur
1 oz coffee liqueur
2 oz cream of coconut
a handful or so of ice

   Whiz together in a blender.  You need about 10-12 large ice cubes.  Add a straw and maybe a tiny parasol.  (I just bought them and wanted to use them!)
   Serves 1.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Basic Tomato Gazpacho

   I hated gazpacho as a kid.  Mostly because I hate tomato juice.  It's disgusting.  However, when I was 13 or 14 or something, I realized that gazpacho is more salad than drink.  Now I love it.  (I still hate all varieties of tomato juice... even if you add vodka.)  Personally, I think gazpacho is the perfect summer side or starter.  It is cool, refreshing, super easy, and abnormally healthy.  A great compliment to grilled meat or seafood, or as an easy supper with pasta salad.
Basic Tomato Gazpacho
1/4 of a large bell pepper + 2 Tbsp diced
1/4 of medium red onion +1 Tbsp diced
4 inch length of English cucumber + 2 inches diced
1 tsp minced garlic
~2.5 C high quality tomato juice
hot sauce
juice of 1/2 a large lime or lemon
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro or parsley
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

   Roughly chop the quarter of bell pepper (red, yellow or orange) and onion, and 4 in of cucumber.  Place in blender with garlic and a dash of hot sauce.  Add tomato juice to 2 C mark on blender.  Puree.  Add more juice to 3 C mark, blend.  Add hot sauce your taste.  Refrigerate until service.
   (Tomato juice tends to have quite a bit of salt, so you will probably not need to add any.  But if you find a low sodium or no salt added, add salt to taste.)
   Toss the diced pepper, onion, and cucumber with citrus juice, herbs, and olive oil.  Divide between bowls at service.  (If you really like the chunky texture of the fresh veggies, which I do, just cut up more.  However much you want.  This is just a guideline that will give you good contrast and crunch to this fresh soup.)
   Serves 4 starter size portions or 2  main portions

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Best Pound Cake Ever

   I am not joking when I say the best pound cake ever; this is the kind of cake you dream of.  It is firm and dense that, despite it's look, it not dry by any means and has a wonderful crispy, caramely outer layer from coating the pan with sugar. Through the years, I've made some several awesome pound cake varieties:  lemon buttermilk, chocolate bourbon....  This one doesn't have any fancy flavorings added.  It relies purely on the ingredients that are already in the cake and taking them to another level.  I love baking with buttermilk because it keeps things incredibly moist without messing with the texture or adding a lot of fat.  Also, it adds a lovely slight tanginess that prevents baked goods from becoming overly sweet.  Alright, just onto the recipe but one last thing.... I browned some of the butter for the cake and when it was baking it smelled like the most amazing kettel corn, no joke.
The Best Pound Cake Ever
2 sticks butter + 1 Tbsp (room temp)
1 C white sugar + more for dusting
1 C brown sugar
4 eggs
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pure almond extract
3 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 C buttermilk
1/2 C semi sweet chocolate chips
1/3 C half and half
grated dark chocolate

   Cut one stick of butter in half.  Place in a pan and heat over med-low, stirring frequently, until butter is light brown and smells nutty, 5-7 minutes.  Add to a bowl with the rest of the butter, allow to cool for about 5 minutes.
   Beat sugar and butter together until light and fluffy in appearence.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Add vanilla and almond extract.
   Combine flour, leveners, and salt.  Incorporate into butter and eggs in three batches.  Fully mix in the first two batches.  Half mix in the last batch of flour then add buttermilk.  Fully mix.
   Butter and sugar the inside of a 10 inch bundt pan.
   Bake at 350 deg F for 50 min-1 hr, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Cool.
   In a double boiler, melt chocolate chips and half and half together.  Pour over cake, top with grated dark chocolate.
   Serves ~14

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Broccoli Cacio e Pepe

   This morning has started off amazing.  I woke up to a text... or 5 or something... finding out one of my best friends is coming to visit me in a couple weeks.  And, I just received the most wonderful comment on my German Chocolate Cake in a Jar post.  I literally cried when I read it.  So, thank you and I am so happy that you loved the cake!

   And now back to the regularly scheduled post.

   Cacio e pepe just means cheese and pepper.  Hard to wrong with that combination.  The original Roman pasta dish (spaghetti cacio e pepe) uses pecorino romano.  I had parmesan, so that it what I used.  Any hard, aged Italian cheese would work: pecorino, parm, asiago, whatever as long as it is fresh.  This is not the time to use the stuff in a can.  Louis thought people would be more receptive to the roasted broccoli if it had a dip with it.  So, instead of just loading the cheese and pepper straight onto the broccoli, I made a crazy easy dipping sauce.  It took less than 3 minutes to throw together.  This would be a fantastic alternative to ranch or onion dip for a raw veggie tray.
Broccoli Cacio e Pepe
2 bunches broccoli
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp grated parmesan
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3/4 C Greek yogurt or light sour cream
1/2 C light mayo
1/3 C grated parmesan
1 Tbsp milk
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
dash salt

   Combine ingredients for dip.  (Really any liquid dairy will work:  buttermilk, skim, cream....)
   Cut broccoli into fairly large florets.  Toss with oil, cheese, salt and pepper.  Roast at 400 deg F for 8-10 minutes.  (Broccoli should still be pretty crisp.)
   Serves 10. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

White Bean & Thyme Dip with Fried Potatoes

   I love hummus but I have had issues with making it at home.  The flavor is great, but the texture is off.  Chick peas have a thicker outer skin than a lot of beans so my hummus comes out slightly grainy.  Maybe if I had a food processor it wouldn't, but I don't have one.  I have a standard blender and an immersion blender.  I haven't tried hummus in my regular upright blender, but after making this white bean dip I don't know if I'll get around to trying it.

   Last Friday I made a chick pea and spinach soup.  I accidentally grabbed and opened a can of great northern beans.  So I put them in container and started trying to figure out what to do with them.  Then I found out we were having people over the following day.  Perfect, white bean dip!  Kettle cooked potato chips, pita chips, or raw veggies would be great with this, but seriously, try these fried potatoes. 
Fried Potatoes
5 lbs potatoes (Russet or Idaho)
light oil (vegetable, canola, etc...)

   Clean potatoes very well.  Cut into 1/3-1/2 inch thick slices.  Place in a pot and cover with water.  Add about 1 Tbsp salt.  Bring to a boil, boil for 6-7 minutes until fork tender.  Drain and cool.  (This may be done the morning of the party.  Store potatoes at room temp, don't refrigerate the potatoes; the texture gets a little gummy if you do.)
   Heat about 3/4-1 inch of oil in a deep pot over medium-high heat.  Drop potatoes in batches into oil.  Fry until golden brown, about 2 min per side.  Remove to paper towels and sprinkle with salt.
   Serves 10

White Bean and Thyme Dip
1 can great northern beans
1/4 C Greek yogurt*
4 large cloves of roasted garlic
1 tsp dried thyme (2 tsp if it is fresh)
1/4 tsp fresh cracked black pepper

   Drain off the top water from the can of beans but not the starchy liquid.  Puree beans and garlic together.  (My hand held blender worked really well for this.)  Mix in the rest of the ingredients.
   Makes ~2 C, will serve 12 or more.
*Soy yogurt or sour cream could be substituted.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mediterranean Inspired Sliders

   I can't remember the last time I had a beef burger before Saturday.  When I made the tester patty, I remembered how perfect and delicious a simple beef patty can be.  I was making food for a bunch of twenty-something Marines, so I didn't want to go too complicated on the flavors.  These sliders are about the beef and the bread.  They are not ordinary, but they are not fussy or complicated.  Simple, quality ingredients are what will set your mini-burgers apart.  (Obviously you can buy great focaccias at bakeries, but please try to make your own!)
Mediterranean Inspired Sliders
*This is a party sized recipe, but it can pretty easily be cut in half for a smaller gathering.
~1 lb 85/15 ground beef
~1 lb 93/7 ground beef
1/2 medium onion, finely minced
3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp ground sage
1-1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 C light mayo
1/4 C chopped parsley
1 Tbsp dijon or deli mustard
1/8 tsp salt
6 slices provolone
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 of a large bunch spinach

   Combine mayo ingredients.
   Combine ingredients for patties using your hands.  Make a small patty to test seasoning.  Adjust seasoning if necessary.  Form meat into 20-24 patties about 3 in. in diameter and 1/4 in. thick.  Do not over work meat.
   For easy party food assembly, heat oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  Sear patties for 1 min on each side and transfer to a baking sheet. (This may be done a few hours before guests arrive.)  Place 1/4 of a slice of provolone on each patty.  Just before assembling your buffet, place sliders in a 400 deg F oven to melt cheese and cook patties all the way though, 5-7 minutes.
   Clean spinach really well, remove stems.  Roughly chop.  Heat a little oil over medium heat, saute garlic for 30-45 seconds.  Add spinach to pan.  Saute for 2-3 minutes, until just wilted.  Do not cook it down too much, you just want it tender.  (This needs to be done just before assembly.)
   Cut each pan of focaccia into twelve pieces and split in half.  Spread a little mayo on each side (This may be done about 1 hour before service.)  Add a little spinach and a patty.
   Serves 10-12.  (Two sliders per person.)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rosemary & Olive Oil Whole Wheat Focaccia

   I was happily mistaken about the level of appreciation that was shown for my menu yesterday.  As expected, a few immediately knew quality.  My shock came from the enthusiastic agreement of the rest.  Yesterday was absolute bliss for me.  I cooked all day and was allowed to witness the pleasure my food brought people.
   I upped the "fancy-factor" of my sliders by making my own focaccia.  It will pretty much blow your guests' minds if you make your own bread.  One guy said it was probably the best bread he'd ever had (and later said it may have been the best meal he'd ever had.  Not sure if I believe that, but I know it is a far cry from his normal microwaved ramen.)

  This bread is crisp on the out side with a little crunch of salt and fluffy on the inside.  Tender and just a teeny bit chewy, it is addictive.  Once you get the hange of it, you'll make focaccia every week.  Cut the recipe in half for practice if you are nervous.  But remember, it's basically flour and water, don't stress too much if it doesn't come out perfect the first time.  I've been making dough like this since I was 14 or 15.  I know it wasn't always spot on when I started; practice makes perfect.
Rosemary & Olive Oil Whole Wheat Focaccia
2 1/2 C whole wheat flour
2 pkg active dry yeast
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil + more
2 1/2 C very warm water
1 tsp salt
4-5 C AP or Better for Bread flour
sea salt

   In a very large bowl, combine whole wheat flour, sugar, 1 Tbsp evoo, and yeast.  Mix in water.  Allow to proof for 5 minutes.
   Add 1 C flour and salt, mix.  Mix in flour in 1 C increments until it forms a ball that isn't too sticky.  Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 3-4 minutes.  Add flour as needed so it doesn't stick to your hands or counter.  (Divide dough in half to knead if it is too cumbersome as one unit.)
   Cut dough in half and place into two bowls that have been oiled with extra virgin olive oil.  Spread a little oil over the tops of the dough.  Cover bowls with a warm, damp towel and set in a warm place to rise for 1-1 1/2 hours, until doubled in size.
   With evoo, oil two 13x9 baking pans.  Transfer dough to pans and use your finger tips to spread into the whole pan.  You want those little tears and divots in the dough, so don't try to make it smooth.  Sprinkle the tops with sea salt and rosemary and just a little bit more olive oil.  Allow to rise again in a warm place for 1-1 1/2 hours.
   Bake at 425 deg F for 17-20 minutes until bottoms are golden and dough is cooked through.
   Serves 12 or more (just depending on your spread.)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mediterranean Menu for UFC 131

   As far as I know, we are having people over to watch the fight tonight (which I found out yesterday afternoon.)  I think Louis may be upset with me for planning a menu.  Which is unfair, he knows I can't have people at my house and feed them frozen tater tots and fatty, pre-formed burger patties!  I live for this type of thing.  Never mind the fact that I'm just going to be feeding drunk Marines... there are a few who will appreciate it.  While they may take for granted the amount of work I actually put into the menu planning and physical cooking, they will enjoy the food.  Even the dumbest person can discern a bad burger from a good burger; they just may not be able to voice or express the difference.  Wow, um... that came off kind of terrible.  Oh well.  (This is still a work in progress, I'll give you the final menu tomorrow.)

Mediterranean Inspired Fight Night Menu

Sliders with Provolone, Parsley Mayo, and Wilted Garlic Spinach on Focaccia

White Bean and Thyme Dip with Fried Potato "Chips"

Cacio e Pepe Broccoli Spears

Buttermilk Pound Cake with Ganache

*I don't include Louis in this category of Marines just so you know.  That would be awful.  He has a very good palate and adores good food.  I know he is simply trying to spare me when he says I don't have to cook, but it's my choice, buddy!  I love you!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Spanish Summer Pasta Salad

   I know people who trick themselves into thinking they don't like pasta for weird fad diets.  However, I don't know anyone who truly hates pasta.  A big bowl of hot or cold pasta is irresistible even to people who have wheat allergies.  It is something we are hard wired to adore.  For summer, a cold pasta salad is perfect for a light dinner with a salad, on a BBQ buffet, for a picnic, or as starch alternative to potatoes for those really hot days.

   This particular pasta salad was inspired by an old vegetarian cookbook that I've had for about 10 years.  It has great ideas for unique side dishes when I get in a rut.
Spanish Summer Pasta Salad
1 box (13 oz) whole wheat penne, bow tie, or rotini pasta
1 large sweet bell pepper (red, yellow, or orange), cut into thin strips
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp capers
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
2 tsp pasted garlic
1 tsp honey
juice of 1 large lemon
red pepper flakes (optional)
salt and pepper

   In a large bowl, oil, lemon juice, honey, garlic, herbs, garlic, and capers.  Add a little salt and pepper
   Cook pasta according to package directions in very salty water.  2 minutes before pasta is done add bell pepper strips.  Drain.  Add to dressing while still very warm.  Toss.  Sprinkle with red pepper flakes.
   Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to overnight.
   Serves 4-6.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Anchovy and Artichoke Pizza

   I can't say this pizza is for everyone; anchovies seem to be rather controversial as an ingredient.  I had most of a tin left over from the puttanesca so I had to figure out something to do with them.  Laugh if you want, but I thought of Futurama and Fry's love of anchovies when thinking of meal options.  Pizza just seemed obvious.  The artichokes came about because I wanted something familiar but special with a more subtle flavor than the tiny, briny fish.
   Louis and I were surprised at how much flavor the anchovies added to the whole pizza, even though I only put a few on it.  Each bite had a slight seawater hint to it that was absolutely lovely!  The little fish are intensely salty, and I have since learned that you should probably rinse them off before an application such as this.  That is up to you, but I suggest rinsing them so you can add a few more to the pizza and not blow your taste buds out with the nutty saltiness of the anchovies.
Anchovy and Artichoke Pizza
Rosemary Whole Wheat Dough (1/2 recipe, instead of all the herbs in this recipe just use 1 1/2 tsp rosemary)
1 large tomato, thinly sliced and pulp removed
1/2 C shredded mozzarella
1 C shredded fontina
6 artichoke hearts, quartered (~1 14oz can)
8-10 anchovies

   Sprinkle a 13x9 baking sheet with cornmeal.  Stretch dough to fit pan.  Pre-bake for 7-8 minutes at 450 deg F, until bottom is very lightly browned.
   Lay tomatoes onto crust.  Sprinkle cheese over pizza.  Top with artichokes and anchovies.
   Bake at 450 deg F for 10-12 minutes.
   Serves 4.
He LOVES pizza! 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Red Wine Puttanesca

   One of my very first posts was a sort of Americanized bacon puttanesca.  Because, most of my days are spent with Food Network or The Cooking Channel on, I am often heavily influenced by the dishes that are being made on any given day.  One day, not too long ago, it was like a mini-puttanesca marathon!  I had to include it in the weekly menu. 

   This is significantly more traditional recipe than my first with one twist:  red wine.  It adds a really nice flavor, a little sweetness and a touch of sharpness from the tanins.  I know it is said all the time, but use a wine you would drink!  It doesn't need to be expensive, but use something delicious.  You are reducing the wine and if it tastes bad out of the bottle, it will taste bad when it is condesed in the sauce.  Also, the variety of red is up to you:  Shiraz, Merlot, Zinfandel, whatever.
Red Wine Puttanesca
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 anchovy fillets (optional, but I urge you to use them)
1 medium onion, diced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp red pepper flake
1/2 C red wine
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
3/4 C chopped black olives
1/4 C capers
salt and pepper
parmesan cheese
fresh, chopped parsley
balsamic vinegar*

   In a large pot or pan, heat evoo over medium heat.  Add anchovies to oil and mash lightly with a wooden spoon.  They will start to melt into oil.  When anchovies are mostly melted, add onions and saute until translucent.  Add garlic and red pepper flake.  Saute for 1-2 min.
   Add wine and oregano, reduce wine by about 1/3.  Add tomatoes, a little salt and some pepper.  Turn heat to med-low and simmer for about 20 minutes.
   Add olives and capers, simmer for about 5 min.  Salt and pepper to taste.
   *When you taste it, if it doesn't taste like it is totally finished, add a splash (~1 or 2 tsp balsamic vinegar.)  Depending on your wine and tomatoes you may need a little acid.  The balsmic should balance everything.
   Serve over spaghetti, top with parmesan and fresh parsley.  Pair with a simple salad, some good bread and olive oil, and the rest of the bottle of red wine.
   Serves 6.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Blackberry Long Island Iced Tea

   Before getting underway with this post let me just say:  I HATE APPLE!!!  I hated Macs in 5th grade when I pretended to use them for reading class (because no one explained how they work), and I hate this god forsaken iPod.  User friendly my ass....

   This would be the perfect thing to make me forget about my burning, passionate abhorrence.  However, it isn't even 9 am.  I will continue to sip my coffee calmly waiting until Louis gets home to transfer the one lonely album from iTunes to the iPod or until 5 pm rolls around so I can make myself one of these bad boys.  (Also, I find Apple rather arrogant in their capitalization of a non-primary letter.)

   Sorry, back to the drink.  T.G.I. Friday has been boasting blackberry drinks for a while now.  Yet, it seems every time I am there, the bar has just run out of blackberries.  I managed to order one once.  It was good, but the blackberries were frozen/thawed.  Frozen berries would be a great substitute out of season, but fresh berries are magical.  We bought some fresh blackberries at a local produce stand.  They are tart, sweet, juicy, and giant!  The perfect fruity compliment to the onslaught of alcohol in a Long Island.   
Blackberry Long Island Iced Tea
1 1/2 oz gin
1 1/2 oz vodka
1 1/2 oz tequila
1 1/2 oz rum
1 oz blackberry liqueur
1 oz simple syrup (more or less depending on sweetness of berries)*
juice of one large lemon

   In the bottom of two glasses, mash 2-3 blackberries (more if they are small). 
   In a cocktail shaker, add alcohols, liqueur, simple syrup, and lemon juice.  Add a handful of ice and shake well.  Divide between the two glasses.  Fill with ice and add a splash of cola.  Garnish with a fresh berry.
   Serves 2.
   *Simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water heated until sugar is dissolved completely into water then cooled.  Make a 1C:1C amount and store the extra in a squeeze bottle so you have it on hand.
   **Use high quality liquors, especially for gin and tequila, so the flavors blend well and nothing over powers the drink.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Church Street Pub and Deli

  I hope everyone had a weekend that was as awesome as mine!  We spent Saturday at the beach.  My "secret" fee-free parking area in Emerald Isle has been taken over by fat, middle-aged men who want to charge $10 for parking so we just kept driving down the island until we got to Indian Beach and I spotted a public access lot.  It ended up being way better than Emerald Isle because there are less drunk Marines, it is less crowded in general, and everyone pretty much kept to themselves.  Quiet, peaceful, relaxing, sunny and breezy!

  Other brief recap:  One of the stray cats around here adopted us; he is in love with Louis!  We saw X-Men: First Class; awesome, go see it.  We grilled fresh shrimp one night and ribeyes the other.  Because of grilling the first night, the backyard was set on fire.  Yup, sometimes 24 hours isn't enough for the charcoal to completely burn down and cool off.  Don't throw those coals into a pile of dry pine needles.  Our new cat is the one who warned us, so it was taken care of very fast.  But still.... backyard on fire.

  Alright, so before we made it over to the island, we stopped at our favorite deli, Church Street Deli.  This place is hands down my favorite sandwich shop ever.  They make simple, uncomplicated, high quality sandwiches, wraps, soups and sides.  They use all natural Pepperidge Farm breads and Boar's Head meats and cheeses which are sliced on site.  I don't mind that those are purchased.  The ingredients are fresh and the adorable building with its lovely kitschy decor is spotlessly clean. 
Everything I've had here is fantastic, but on the weekends, they make amazing shrimp salad from fresh, whole, local shrimp.  It varies week to week but it always has a very light mayo based dressing which is usually flavored with dill.  This past weekend, it was just that with lettuce and incredibly fresh tomato in a sundried tomato wrap.  (Not the cutest thing to eat on the beach though...)
Louis normally gets the same thing:  Shon's Close the Menu Turkey Sandwich.  It is thick-cut turkey, muenster, lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and ranch on lightly toasted whole wheat bread.
   If you find yourself in the Swansboro, NC area I strongly urge you to get lunch here!  Pick it up on your way to the beach and then stop by on your way back to grab a beer at the attached pub with a fantastic beer selection.  (The super sweet older waitress can pour a mean Guinness.)  Obviously, this plan depends on where you live/are staying.  But whatever, make plans to eat here even if it is a little bit out of your way.

 Church Street Pub and Deli
105 West Church Street
Swansboro, NC 28584
(910) 326-7572

Friday, June 3, 2011

Quinoa with Onions and Tomatoes

   There is divide concerning quinoa.  Some love it, others find it tasteless and boring.  I happen to love it.  The flavor is nutty, very slightly bitter, and with the hint of sweetness that you find in most whole grains.  It is a great alternative to rice and a really healthy carb option.  It has more protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals than other grains.

   If you've had quinoa before and didn't care for it or you've never had it, I urge you to try this super easy side dish!  The onions and tomatoes are caramelized and sweet but don't over power the quinoa.  And the flavor combination is so classic and basic that you could serve this year round.
Quinoa w/ Onions and Tomatoes
1 small onion, chopped
2 roma tomatoes, chopped*
1 tsp minced garlic
1 C water
1 C low sodium chicken broth (or veg stock)
1 C quinoa
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
fresh chopped basil or parsley

   Heat oil over med/med-low heat.  Add onions and slowly being to caramelize, stir frequently.  When onions are clear, add tomatoes.  Cook until onions are golden and tomatoes have started to break down and get a little color.  Add garlic, a little salt and pepper(~1/8 tsp each), cook ~1 minute.
   Add water and broth.  Turn heat up to high, bring to boil.  Add quinoa, cover, and turn heat down to low.  Cook for 20 minutes.  Quinoa is done when you can see the germ ring around the grain and the center is lightly translucent with an opaque center dot (like the picture.)  Sprinkle with fresh herbs.
   Serves 4.
*It doesn't really matter what type of tomato you use.  You just want about 3/4 C of "dry" tomato flesh (none of that slimey pulp.)

Serve this with spinach and feta stuffed pork for an easy company-worthy dinner.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Grilled Pineapple with Greek Yogurt and Honey Walnuts

   More grilling!

   I am crossing my fingers that is cools down a touch here so it is not unbearably hot this weekend.  With our 3-side closed in back patio of siding and concrete, it gets a few degrees hotter than the high.  No one wants to fire up a grill in those conditions.  The only saving grace is that is roughly faces east, so it does not get direct sun for most of the day.  We'll see.  Hopefully your outdoor setup is not as dire.  But Louis is the one who does most of the grilling so I can just stay inside.  (This is also one of the Bobby Flay recipes with a couple tweaks:  peaches aren't quite in season and I think it originally called for hazelnuts.)

   If you have not had grilled pineapple, you are missing out!  It is so sweet and delicious.  The yogurt and walnuts even out the sweetness with a little bit of tang and nutty savoriness.  And the honey brings it back to the dessert world with a lovely floral hint.  Oh, and this is the time to break out the gooood honey.  I used a small batch pepper honey (from blossoms of the plant that produces pink peppercorns) that I bought in Maryland from The Bee Folks at the MD Renaissance Festival. 
Grilled Pineapple with Greek Yogurt and Honey Walnuts
4 slices fresh pineapple, core removed, ~1/2 in thick
1 C Greek yogurt
1 C roughly chopped toasted walnuts
~1/2 C honey

   Combine honey and walnuts in a pot, heat through over med heat until the honey is loose and the walnuts are warmed through.
   Grill pineapple over a hot grill for about 2 minutes per side.
   Place a 1/4 C scoop of yogurt in the center of each pineapple slice.  Spoon honey walnuts over the top.
   Serves 4.
The best husbands make dessert for you!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Triple S (Sweet, Sour, & Spicy) Chicken

   It is the first day of June and the temperatures are already over 100 deg F here in Jacksonville, NC.  I don't remember it being this hot last summer.  At least that means the beaches are nice!  Because of the location on the coast, there is a constant gale force wind breeze on the Atlantic side of the islands.  So when the temperatures are in the 80's, it can actually be a little cool.  However, when it is hotter the breeze makes is perfect beach faring weather.

   Now, in my delusional world, I have pictured all of you grilling this past weekend (unless you were working at a Renaissance festival.)  Because you have spent the past weekend grilling, I imagine that your love for outdoor cooking has been dusted off for the summer.  We made this chicken dish a few weeks ago.  Louis found the recipe in Bobby Flay's Grill It!  I accidentally lied to him and said we had red wine vinegar.  So we had to change it, but honestly, I can't imagine the red wine vinegar being better than what we came up with.  Also, our ratios ended up being a little different (the liquid to solid portions of the sauce) but, again, can't believe the original is better.  Our version is spicier, but not too spicy by any means!  Everything is balanced and each note plays off the other flavors in this Caribbean-inspired chicken dish.
Triple S Chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 C white vinegar
1/4 C cider vinegar
1/4 C balsamic vinegar
1/2 C (unpacked) brown sugar
1/2 C pineapple juice
1 lrg jalepeno, roughly chopped (seeds and all)*
2 inch piece of ginger, roughly chopped
1 lrg clove garlic, smashed
1/4 lrg red bell pepper, diced**
1/4 lrg yellow bell pepper, diced
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro (or parsley)
salt and pepper

   In a pot over medium heat, combine vinegars, sugar, pineapple juice, jalepeno, garlic and ginger.  Bring to a simmer.  Reduce by 1/3, stir occasionally.  Strain through a mesh sieve to remove chunks.  Add bell peppers and cilantro.  (Does not need to be hot for service, but does need to be room temp.  This could be done a day in advance if you like.) 
   Place chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap.  Use a meat mallet to gently pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness, about 3/4- 1 inch thick.  Salt and pepper both sides.  Place on a med-hot prepped grill (gas or charcoal).  Cook for 5-7 minutes per side, depending on how large and thick the breasts are.  When done, remove to a plate and immediately spoon some of the sauce over the chicken.  Let rest for 7-10 minutes.  Add more sauce for serving.
   Serves 4.

*Worried about the heat level?  You can use a small jalepeno instead of a large one and/or remove the seeds from the chili.