Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Arabian Nights

So it has been 13 days since my last post which is a bit sad. John's been gone all month and frankly, I haven't done much cooking as a result. I got a serious itch last week however and decided to cook up a Mediterranean feast for some of my girl friends. As I mentioned a few posts ago, I actually grew up in Saudi Arabia so Arab food in particular is near and dear to my heart. I'm not really an aficionado but we definitely had some basic staples in our house growing up. I had about 12 girls over so I decided on some heavy finger foods or meze as they call it in the Middle East. I mixed in some Greek favorites as well to be sure that my not-so-adventurous eaters were covered too. Planning a cocktail (well just wine really) party for a Thursday night is tricky when you work full time so I had to lay my preparations out carefully. I did my grocery shopping on Monday night and prepped what I could Tuesday and Wednesday nights so that I could come home Thursday to just the final touches. I also had to find a balance of store bought, semi-store bought and from scratch menu items to make it manageable. The Menu: Prosciutto Wrapped Dates Brie and Manchego Cheese plate with Fig Jam and Toasted Pine Nuts Spanikopita Triangles Lamb and Rice Stuffed Grapeleaves Tzatziki Dip with Crudite Roasted Red Pepper Hummus and Baba Ganoush with Naan Bread and Pita Chips Pistachio Baklava First up, prosciutto wrapped dates. I prefer the medjool dates as they are typically large, easy to pit and perfectly chewy. Whole Foods actually has them in the produce section in containers alongside the prepared fruit (cut up melon, berries, etc). I bought the large container and used about 30 dates total which was plenty. To pit them you just make a slit length-wise into the date and pull the pit out (very easy) If you really want to do it right, put a toasted slivered almond in its place.) I then took about 12 or so slices of prosciutto di parma, sliced each piece into two or three long strips and wrapped them around the dates. I put them into an airtight container to be baked at 375 degrees for 12 minutes or so as my friends arrived. (I had them wrapped and ready to go Tuesday night). The salty-sweet-chewy combo is really fantastic. Wednesday night, I tackled the lamb and rice stuffed grapeleaves. This was a FAVORITE in our house growing up. The recipe we use actually came from a little Lebanese restaurant in Pittsburgh called Samarenis that my parents frequented back before marriage days. My sister Annie and I learned how to help Mom roll these when we were itty bitty. The filling is very simple. I lb of ground lamb, 1/2 stick of melted butter, 1 cup basmati rice (uncooked), 1 tsp salt and a generous amount of cracked black pepper. You mix it all together with your hands until its combined. You can find the grapeleaves themselves at most grocery stores these days, just take them out of the jar (16 oz) and rinse them in a colander. Immediately set a few aside to line the bottom of the med-sized saucepan that they cook in. You lay each leaf out with the stem side up and closest to your body (remove the stem). Shape about a teaspoon of the filling into a finger shape and place it in the lower/center of the leaf (right where the stem was), fold each side of the leaf in and then roll the whole thing up to to the top.
Line your pot with the stuffed leaves, stacking tightly into multiple layers. Once you've rolled them all, you add 2 1/3 cups water to the pan, bring it to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat and simmer, covered (over low) for about an hour. Test one at 45 minutes and as soon as the rice is cooked but not mushy, they are done. The ticket to these is serving them warm with TONS of fresh squeezed lemon juice over the top. If you don't think you're a fan of these, chances are that you're WRONG. They are unbelievably delicious!
Also prepped on Wed night was the Tzatziki Dip. I used one medium sized container (about 2 cups) of Fage 2% Greek Yogurt and added 1 cup of grated English cucumber (squeezed dry with paper towels), two garlic cloves finely minced, 1/4 cup or so of fresh chopped parsley, a couple of tablespoons of fresh dill, salt and pepper... I actually threw the garlic into the food processor while running, then added my parsley and chopped it all up together. It then needs seasoned well with salt and pepper. I served it with baby carrots, slices of yellow and red bell pepper, coins of fresh zucchini and sugar snap peas. It is cool and refreshing served just as a dip like this but would be great on a pita, or alongside grilled meats too. This was my first stab at Baba Ganoush... and I'm not sure it was entirely successful actually. I made it the night before and I think the extra refrigeration time kind of changed the texture (not in a good way). I used an Ellie Krieger recipe found of (probably wouldn't get an A+ for authenticity but the dish isn't overly complicated to begin with.) I chopped my parsley and some garlic in the food processor for this too and when pureed with the eggplant, the whole thing gleaned a green hue to it that some might not find extremely appetizing. Next time I would first puree my eggplant in a CLEAN food processor and then pulse the parsley in quickly at the end. I would also serve it immediately to preserve the creamy texture. All in all the flavor was good though! The Cheese Plate was very simple so I did that just before my girls arrived. I placed a large wedge of 9-month aged manchego and a wedge of French brie on a cheese board. I then topped the brie with store bought fig jam (in the cheese section at Whole Foods) and then sprinkled toasted pine nuts over the top and arranged some Carr water crackers around. Brie with Fig Spread could be breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert for me ANY DAY- I am utterly obsessed with it! The pine nuts add a nice crunch and of course nutty flavor too- I've used slivered almonds in the past as well. The Hummus came from Whole Foods (why fix it when it ain't broke) and the Spanikopita from the freezer section at Harris Teeter (Costo carries a larger box and its MUCH cheaper, didn't get over there this time though.) Again, to put out 8 dishes for 10+ people on a weeknight, you've got to improvise a little! And then... there was the BAKLAVA! You're going to think I'm nuts but my parents have been ordering from Masri sweets out of Detroit, MI (largest Muslim population in the country) for years. It is the closest we've found to the real thing and they ship it right to your doorstep for cheap!!! If I could have two pieces of Baklava with my morning coffee everyday for the rest of my life... I would be the happiest (and chubbiest) girl around! Our favorite is the traditional pistachio though they offer a few other kinds too. I ordered a half tray (24 pieces) and then cut the pieces in half for the ladies. My mom once told me if you cut something in half, the calories can leak out so two halves is better for you than one whole. =) I borrowed this pic from their website. I have a few pics from the evening to post soon. I was a bit preoccupied getting all of the food out before people arrived and then of course the wine and conversation took my attention so I only caught a few pics mid-party. All in all a great time!!!! and the food was decent too...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Birthday Dinner- Arugula and Goat Cheese Ravioli

It's always fun to celebrate a Birthday at home. Only your Mom and Dad get as excited about your turning 27 as they did when you turned 9... I got to be princess for the day, princess for the week actually!
We had a celebratory dinner downtown Tuesday night with John and then celebrated my actual birthday with a fantastic meal at home. Mom and I picked fresh vegetables out of the garden in the afternoon. I swear since we were out there three days ago, whole yellow squashes have grown, tomatoes turned from green to bright red and we had a whole pot's worth of roma beans to pick! I think if we sat there and stared at the plants, we'd actually see them growing before our eyes it happened so fast...
Here are some of the fruits of our harvest....
I had requested an Italian themed dinner so we decided on an Arugula and Goat Cheese Ravioli with a fresh Tomato-Pancetta Butter Sauce recipe that my Aunt Ann found in Bon Appetit magazine a few years back. Mom, Annie and I made it once last year and it is scrumptious! It is the perfect summer Italian meal- very light and fresh.

The filling is really simple and using the wanton wrappers means that assembly is relatively painless as well! The recipe makes a ton of them. We cooked half of them and froze the rest. (Freeze them on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper over night and then transfer to a zip lock bag.)

The pancetta is a must- we tried it with bacon before but this time we had the real stuff- it makes a difference if you can get it. The sauce is deliciously fresh because it only cooks for a few mins. Which means its quick too! Mom also cooked up fresh roma beans out of the garden as we did the other day (see the first Kentucky blog for recipe) but we used pancetta instead of bacon to tie it in with the Italian theme and the flavors of the ravioli. They were OUT OF THIS WORLD wonderful. Something about picking them yourself and the fact that they went from the bush to the pot in a matter of 2 hours really makes them taste better.

With dinner we enjoyed a 2005 Masi Valpolicella. We first had this wine on a family vacation in the Bahamas and Dad made a point to remember the name of it because it was great. Valpolicella's are not as popular as many Italian wines these days but there are some really great ones out there! The Masi is acidic yet fruity and packs a punch similar to a Chianti which pairs great with the acidity of a fresh tomato sauce. My parents have usually have quite the wine stock at the house and my mom has a great trick that I'll share. They are always trying new things so when she gets home from the wine store, she sits down with a sharpie and the receipt and writes the price on the back of the bottle (very small of course so you can only see it if you're looking for it). That way when they drink the wines later, she can remember the various price points for future reference. Comes in handy! Then there was of course the Birthday Cake!!!! My little sister works for a bakery and catering company out of Augusta, GA called Very Vera. They do all sorts of goodies via mail order (cookies, bars, casseroles, breads, etc) but I would bet that they are most widely known for their cakes!! They sell pound and layer cakes of ALL flavors and they ship all over the country. They come in the most adorable packaging and the cakes are packed in a cooler for shipping, great for gifts!

Annie sent me a new flavor this year, Strawberry Lemonade, and it is RIDICULOUS. Very Vera is famous for the Strawberry layer cake and the Lemon layer cake- this one is half and half!! The perfect blend of sweet, tart and decadent... the cake is splendidly moist and it's adorable too. Would be so cute for a baby shower, for Easter, or of course a summertime Birthday!
It was a wonderful meal, capping off a wonderful day, and a fantastic 26th year!!

Those are real sunflowers out of Mom's garden too!!!!

Kentucky Hot Browns

While I am a big fan of the turkey sandwich, turkey soup, and most all of the other left over stand-by's...the Kentucky Hot Brown is far and away the most brilliant use for left over turkey. It kind of has an unfair advantage however because anything with cheese sauce poured over it is going to get my vote. (I would probably eat a rubber tire if it were smothered in cheese sauce... or cream cheese icing.)
You toast a piece of bread or two (english muffins work really great too), lay your warmed sliced turkey over the bread, pour a simple cheese sauce over the turkey, and then lay a couple of slices of bacon and tomato over that. You can then throw the whole thing under the broiler for a minute to get the tomato warmed through and the sauce super bubbly or you can just dig right in.
Any cheese sauce would do but here's a good one:
2 T butter
2 T flour
2 1/2 cups milk (whole if you've got it)
2 cups sharp cheddar (I like white)
1/4 cup Parmesan
Pinch of cayenne
Melt butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk, bring to a boil and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened and the flour has cooked out, about 4 to 5 minutes. Whisk in cheese and cook until the cheese has melted. Season with cayenne and salt and pepper.
We ALWAYS serve steamed broccoli with hot browns because the cheese sauce is perfect over that too...
There's nothing like them!
Here's my Mom cooking up the cheese sauce!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sunday Night Turkey Fry

We've been frying turkeys at Thanksgiving now for about 4 or 5 years. After the first time we tried it, we knew there was no going back to the old school oven method because it just doesn't get any better. The turkey is so moist and flavorful that you can almost skip the gravy all together. Furthermore, we decided that because a fried turkey is soooo delicious, there is absolutely no reason to limit ourselves to enjoying it just once a year.
So on a leisurely summer Sunday afternoon, we pulled the fryer and the oil out of the barn for mid-year feast. Mom had two turkey breasts, each about 8.5 lbs, that we injected with a Creole Butter marinade (store bought) and rubbed with a Montreal Garlic and Herb grill seasoning. Read the turkey marinade instructions because it explicitly tells you how to strategically inject to avoid too many holes in the turkey- you want to keep all of the juices in. We got the marinade and seasoning going about 6 hours before fry time to let the flavors sink in.
My Dad is the turkey fryer extraordinaire of the family and his magic ratio is three minutes of fry time per pound. (My husband's is two beers per turkey I believe, not quite as reliable) Dad is also the scientist and safety guru of the family so his technique for setting up the fry station a safe distance from the house, measuring the appropriate amount of oil, getting the oil to just the right temperature, lowering and removing the turkey from the hot oil bath, and wearing the appropriate safety gear (eye protection, gloves, etc) have all been carefully calculated and proven effective over the years. Here he is in all his glory...
A perfectly fried turkey comes out golden crunchy brown and smelling DELICIOUS. We let them rest for 30 minutes at minimum before carving them up. I've noticed at our house that everyone tends to gravitate to the kitchen during the carving process because Dad has been known to pass out pieces of the crispy crunchy skin to those observing. I'm pretty sure fat in any other form has never tasted so good!
To accompany the crispy fried birds- we made a Summer Squash Casserole and Collard Greens. (Note: Such decadent Southern fare is really not the norm at mom's house but we have a tendency throw all dietary caution to the wind to celebrate occasions where there are 4+ Cobetto/Lacy/Hodges/Cunningham's under one roof at the same time.)
Mom had a bunch of fresh, local yellow squash though the recipe calls for zucchini as well. It goes a little something like this:
6 cups sliced green and yellow squash 1 can cream of celery soup 1 cup sour cream 1 cup shredded carrot 1- 8oz pkg seasoned stuffing mix ½ cup melted butter
*Boil sliced squash and chopped onion in salted water for 3-4 minutes- drain. Combine soup and sour cream Stir in shredded carrots Fold in drained veggies Combine stuffing mix and butter- spread half into 12x7x2 baking dish Spoon veg mixture in and sprinkle remaining stuffing over Bake at 350 for 25 or 30 minutes till heated through
And Mom's collards are as close to HEAVEN as a leafy green vegetable can get. She starts off with 2 slices of bacon in the bottom of a large pot- remove the bacon once crispy (you're probably noticing a pattern here), then add about a quarter of a large sweet onion (chopped) and 2 cloves of garlic (minced). As the aromatics start to soften, add 1 lb collard greens rinsed well and chopped/torn into bite sized pieces. Add some beef bullion to 2 cups or so of water until is starts to dissolve and then pour over the greens. Cook over med-low heat for 30-40 minutes until tender. Then she hits them at the end with a few tablespoons of rice wine vinegar and crumbles the bacon pieces back in. We had more of the pickled cucumber and onion slices again tonight with these and my were they TASTY!
Turkey was fried, carved and plated, Casserole was bubbling in the oven, collards hot on the stove, last but not least we peeled and sliced some fresh local tomatoes, drizzled with balsamic and olive oil and a chiffonade of fresh basil and chow's on!
We had some Tomato Jam left over from the previous night's fried green tomato extravaganza so we served that alongside as the PERFECT summer time turkey topper. Think of it as a stand in for the cranberry sauce, just a little something extra on the plate that adds a big punch of flavor.
Cocktail hour included gin and tonics and some Bella Sera Pinot Grigio with Mom and Dad's friends the Chiericozzi's -another Italian family here in town with an appreciation for a big family Sunday dinner. And then with dinner we sipped on a crisp, cool Sterling Vintner's Collection Savignon Blanc which was a perfectly refreshing compliment to hearty home cooked turkey dinner. Cheers to summer!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Home Sweet Home

It's Kentucky week on Accidental Syrup!! I apologize for my lack of posting activity this past week. John is doing an away rotation this month in Lexington so I've been a bachelorette since August 2nd with nobody to cook for. But this week I'm in Kentucky visiting my parents and John when he's able to get away from work. As I've said before my gusto for good food is only multiplied when I'm home with family- so this week should make for some yummy posts!
My parents live in Harrodsburg, about 30 minutes outside of Lexington and it just might be the most beautiful farm country anywhere. One of my favorite things about Kentucky is the four very distinct seasons. Summers are not too hot and the extra sun light makes for many a great sunset dinners on one of the three great porches at Windy Hill Farm.
I arrived yesterday afternoon and my mom had the perfect Kentucky Summer menu planned. Summers here could make almost any meatlover do without as the local vegetables are ridiculously fresh and flavorful. My mom had fresh corn, Kentucky wonder pole beans and new potatoes from a neighbor up the road, green and red tomatoes out of her own garden, and two racks of lamb from a farm right here in town.
Mom battered and fried the green tomatoes as an appetizer. She dunked the tomato slices into a bath of sour cream and milk (works the same as buttermilk!) and then coated them in a corn meal/flour mixture before pan frying them until golden brown in some olive and canola oil. The wow factor was actually in her Roma Tomato Jam that she made to accompany them. She found the recipe in a cookbook that I gave her a couple of years ago from The Boathouse Restaurant in Charleston! She sauteed 1 medium onion (minced), 1 1/2 quarts roma tomatoes (chopped) and 1 T chopped garlic in some olive oil over medium-high heat. She then turned the heat down to low and added 1 cup balsamic vinegar and 1 cup brown sugar. It cooked over low heat until the mixture had a jam like consistency (about 30 minutes). It has a tart, sweet and savory flavor that was perfect schmeared on the fried green tomatoes. It would also be good with chicken, pork, okra, anything really! Another note about the tomatoes - try to avoid using tomatoes that have ANY pink to them when sliced. You really need the firm green texture to avoid any mushiness.
*Note also yellow pepper and gorgeous Zinnias from mom's garden!
The green beans were actually started earlier in the afternoon. The pole beans have to be stringed well as you're snapping them into pieces -they are pretty tough otherwise. Mom starts with 2 to 3 thick slices of bacon in a big pot and renders them down until crispy. She then sets the bacon strips aside to crumble into the beans before serving. The cleaned/snapped/stringed beans go into the pot with the bacon drippings over med-high heat and you stir them constantly until the beans are all bright green and almost translucent looking (3-5 mins). Once that happens, you fill the pot with water- about 2/3 of the way up the beans- bring to a boil- and turn the heat down to a simmer. You want to liberally season with salt and pepper and mom tucks half of a sweet onion into the beans for added flavor as well. The beans cook for about hour- though you have to watch to ensure there is always enough liquid. (add some water if you need to along the way). 15 or 20 minutes in to the cook time, you tuck maybe 10 small new potatoes in with the beans to cook as well.
Now, you CANNOT have these beans without another critical southern accoutrement- slightly pickled cucumbers and sweet onions. You peel and slice a cucumber and thinly slice a sm/med sweet onion. Then you pour over some cider vinegar, a little bit of water a pinch of sugar and some salt to make a bath. I'll have to get the proportions from my mom but you let this sit in the fridge for an hour or so and it's pickly but still crisp. You scoop these over green beans, collards, etc. on you rplate and it's just amazing.
These beans with the cucumbers and onions will forever remind me of my grandmother- all Kentucky fare does really- but I have the greatest memories of visiting her during the summer and eating meals just like this one on her porch. After dinner, my sister and I would run around the yard attempting to catch lightening bugs in jars until my grandfather said it was time to go to Baskin Robbins for ice cream.
Anyways, I digress... so along with the beans we boiled some delicious sweet corn and then grilled two racks of lamb, seasoned simply with some Lawry's and black pepper. The lamb was a wee bit of a disaster at first. Because my mom got it from a local farmer, it wasn't trimmed as well as it usually would be from the grocery store. The extra fat quickly melted on the grill and caused quite the grease fire in the bottom of the grill. The flames of course seared the racks more quickly than planned so we pulled them off after a few minutes and finished them in the oven at 350 degrees until they came up to 150 or 160 degrees. (med rare/med for lamb). Nontheless they turned out perfectly!
With the lamb (well before, with and after the lamb actually) we had first some Spanish Rioja and then a Beringer Cab- both delicious. We did two taste tests. My mom and dad are hooked on the Montecilla Crianza Rioja- they buy it by the case. Its about $9 a bottle and it really is fantastic. They've been buying the 2003 but recently brough home some 2005. We opened one of each and found that the 2003 definitely had some more depth to it but both were tasty. The other reasonably priced staple at their house is the Beringer Founder's Estate Cab. Same price point, we opened one regular Beringer Cab and one Founder's Estate Cab to try side by side and again the favorite did prove to be superior, but both were good. (especially considering we were 4 bottles in at that point...)
And for dessert, another Kentucky specialty, strawberry shortcake. Now I say Kentucky specialty because this is not your average sponge cake or Bisquick variety shortcake. We slice fresh strawberries and let them macerate in some sugar for a few hours and then we layer them with vanilla ice cream and pie crust. Yes, pie crust. You roll out the crust until slightly thinner than what you'd use for an actual pie, cut it into 3x3 inch squares or so, sprinkle with granulated sugar and bake on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees until lightly golden brown (8-9 mins). The combination of the crispy crust with the ice cream and berries is really far and away better than any other shortcake in my opinion. (Apologies, the wine tasting did not help my photography or food presentation skills one bit.)
More Kentucky home cooking on deck for tomorrow- so check back soon...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cedar Plank Salmon with Green Bean and Hazelnut Salad

John finally received his step 2 board scores last Wednesday...and not surprisingly, he did great! It was definitely cause for celebration however we'd done a big birthday dinner out for Nate on Tuesday so we decided on a nice quiet dinner at home...
I found some wild salmon at Harris Teeter that looked beautiful so I did some online recipe browsing and fell upon a Michael Chiarello recipe that had an oddly large number of rave reviews. (47 to be exact) I figured it had to be good... and O.M.G. was it.
I actually hit the grocery store on my lunch hour right after I got John's call with the good news- so I luckily had time to soak a cedar plank for 6 hours or so in water. The rest of it came together super quickly after work. The glaze and dry mustard rub are both so simple and you're sure to have everything you need in the pantry which is great too. I followed the recipe exactly- I'd never cut into the fish before to let the marinade seep in, what a great idea.
As you toast the plank under the broiler, be sure to stand there and watch because it goes quickly! Your kitchen kind of smells like a camp fire as you're doing this- don't be alarmed unless you see flames. Also, I (accidentally) broiled the salmon on the plank for a minute to two before I realized I was supposed to turn the oven down to 400 degrees. It actually caramelized the glaze and fish nicely and the salmon was still cooked to the perfect temperature. I cut the baking time back to 15 minutes from the time I turned it down to 400 from broil. Definitely take Michael's advice and put a cookie sheet on the lower rack (lots of drippage) and continue to baste with the glaze until you've used it all. I think I basted it twice as it was cooking and once more at the end. The cedar really adds a wonderful depth of flavor and the glaze is YUM.
I found a new green bean recipe to try (also had a large number of glowing reviews on and it is A KEEPER for sure.
I halved the recipe using one bag of the fresh, already cleaned green beans that you buy in the produce section. They are a bit of a rip-off but so convenient as you can microwave them right in the bag they come in. I didn't have the flaxseed oil but I did use the hazelnut oil which is a must. Also, I used Vidalia onion instead of red. The grainy mustard, the balsamic and the toasted nutty flavors could not have beet a better compliment to the planked salmon! It is like the two recipes were destined to find their way onto the same plate.
I am so excited about these two new additions to the repertoire that I just might make them again this week.
I wanted to pick out a special bottle of wine to toast John's hard work and stellar performance so I went with an Erath Pinot Noir from Oregon. Not your average weeknight dinner wine, it is right around $20 or $25 and it's very very good. Seeing as it's so light, we've found that it is great chilled down a bit. I put it in the fridge for about an hour before pouring.
Congrats John!!!! Love you xo