Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Mustard-Molasses Glaze, Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberry Couscous

Fall weather is finally peeking its head out in Charleston and last night's dinner was the perfect fall cooking teaser. I had two pork tenderloins in the freezer and John had a friend coming over for dinner so I called upon Epicurious.com for some ideas. For whatever reason, I searched on "pork tenderloin and mustard." I don't quite remember why mustard came to mind now I think back... But anyways, the fourth recipe listed was Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Molasses and Mustard and it had 54 reviews, most all of them glowing, so I gave it a try.
For two pork tenderloins I doubled the recipe. John actually assembled the marinade for me while I was at work and we let it sit in the fridge for about 5 hours.
*1/2 cup mild flavored molasses
*4 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar *4 Tablespoons dijon mustard
*4 Tablespoons course grained mustard
When I got home, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees to roast my vegetables. I then peeled and cubed two medium sized sweet potatoes and cleaned one bag of fresh brussels sprouts (slicing off the bottom part, removing the outer leaves and halving length wise). I tossed the vegetables in a bowl with:
*a few tablespoons of olive oil
*1 tablespoon of maple syrup
*1 teaspoon of kosher salt
*1 teaspoon of dried thyme
*1 teaspoon of dried rosemary *some freshly cracked pepper
Once everything was evenly coated, I spread the mixture on a lightly greased cookie sheet and put them into the oven. After 20 minutes I gave the vegetables a shuffle around with a metal spatula and put them back in for another 15 minutes.
As soon as the vegetables went in, I removed tenderloins from the marinade, patted them dry with a paper towel, and seasoned with kosher salt and cracked pepper. John started the pork on the grill (he cooks it for about 8 or 10 minuets per side for the perfect medium temperature) and I poured all of the left over marinade from the zip-lock into a small sauce pan. I added 2 more tablespoons of cider vinegar per the recipe and boiled over medium -high heat for a couple of minutes until it thickened up a bit more.
Lastly, I prepared one box of Olive Oil and Garlic Couscous per the package instructions adding two Tablespoons of dried cranberries (roughly chopped) in with the spice packet and water. Couscous is one of my go-to weeknight side dishes. You can jazz it up a dozen different ways and it takes 8 minutes max from start to finish.
I let the pork rest 10 minutes before slicing it diagonally and plating with the vegetables and couscous. I served the mustard-molasses sauce in a small pitcher on the side to pour over the pork and it was absolutely heavenly. The sweet-tangy glaze worked very well with the toasty, sweet and savory vegetables and cranberry couscous added another nice touch of fall.
Having company for dinner is always the best excuse for dessert. John picked up cupcakes from the Cupcake store in town. They have 9 or 10 different flavors and they are scrumptiously adorable piled high with frosting and decorated with sprinkles. Last night we had a selection of chocolate, red velvet and Fluffernutter (banana cake with peanut butter/marshmallow fluff frosting!)
P.S. We had left overs again tonight but I baked some ciabatta rolls and made sandwiches with the pork and left over glaze. The only thing I would do differently next time would be to make a third tenderloin!
P.S.2. I just learned that brussels sprouts has the extra s in there! Who knew!?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Asian Tuna Burgers

Whenever possible, I like to sit down on Sunday afternoon with a few cookbooks (or with the laptop) to peruse recipes and plan our meals for the week. I normally plan three different dinner menus and one night of leftovers- I don't plan for Friday or Saturday nights because we're often out and about. I also take my coffee, breakfast and lunch to work every day which is a great money saver and much healthier than eating out.
So yesterday afternoon I did my grocery run (you'll have to check back to see what else we have on the menu for the week!) and Harris Teeter had some beautiful tuna filets. They often have fresh/local tuna on sale for as little as $5.99/lb which is amazing- we're very spoiled. I decided to make tuna burgers which are one of John's favorites and an easy, healthy Sunday night dinner for two. I ended up with about 0.9 lbs of tuna so I decided to make three burgers. (John had one left over for lunch today.)
I start with one small shallot and one clove of garlic in the food processor- I give them a rough chop first. Next I cube up the fresh tuna and pulse it all together in the processor until it resembles ground chicken or beef in texture. I move the "meat" mixture to a bowl and add:
*1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
*1 Tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
*1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
*1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
*half of a teaspoon sesame seeds
*2 Tablespoons of finely diced yellow bell pepper
*small pinch of red pepper flakes
*a few grinds of freshly cracked pepper
I combine everything gently (hands work best) and divide to form patties. Just before I'm ready to cook them - I brush the patties with a mixture of half olive oil and half toasted sesame oil and then coat with another sprinkle of sesame seeds. We've grilled these before but this time I cooked them in a nonstick skillet on the stove which works great too. They cook over med-high heat for about 3-4 minutes per side. I like them browned on the outside but still barely pink in the middle.
I serve them on a toasted whole wheat bun with either Trader Joe's Wasabi Mayo (amazing) or Maggi Sweet Chile Sauce (be warned: this stuff is like crack! I put it on everything)- sometimes lettuce and sliced tomato. These are ridiculously tasty and believe it or not will satisfy even the most serious burger craving. (with less fat and calories)
You can really add just about anything you like to the ground tuna or you can leave it plain to serve with ketchup and mustard like a real burger. Honestly the texture is almost identical to a beef burger once cooked and provided you have fresh tuna, it has absolutely NO fishy taste.
Keeping with our Asian flavors we enjoyed some baked sweet potato fries and shelled edamame on the side. Kozy Shack rice pudding cups for dessert!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Seared Halibut with Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette and Potato Pancakes

If you haven't picked up yet on my love of all things Costco, I am a huge fan. John and I drive 30 minutes across town for the cheese, wine and fish selections in particular. The Alaskan Halibut that they bring in occasionally is exceptional. I had a few pieces in the freezer so I perused a few online recipe for ideas. I found this one on foodandwine.com and decided to give it a try. http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/pan-seared-halibut-with-tomato-vinaigrette For those of you paying attention, I actually tried their "roasted salmon with tomato vinaigrette" a few months ago. Very very delicious as well. The tomato vinaigrettefor this one is different from the salmon recipe and equally as delicious. I used approximately one cup of grape tomatoes (still working on my stash from my mom's garden) and I halved the remainder of the recipe for two servings. I also made a few adjustments based on what I had available at home: *Substituted fresh oregano for chives *Substituted champagne vinegar for white balsamic *went with a full tablespoon of parsley *added one teaspoon of capers *substituted coriander for ground fennel I'm telling you this stuff is GOOD. You could eat on any fish or grilled meat or even as a dip or bruschetta topping. John finished up early at the hospital today and offered to make dinner. When I told him that I'd planned to make the halibut, he offered to make some homemade potato pancakes to go with it! I had to give him a food processor tutorial over the phone from work which to the person in the cube next to me must have sounded a little strange... He decided on an Emeril recipe and it was fantastic. He assembed them earlier in the day and had them ready to go in the fridge when I got home. While I seared the halibut, he browned the potato pancakes in a cast iron skillet. He used a rocks glass to press them flat in the pan which was the perfect way to maximize the crispy brown crust on each side. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/potato-pancakes-recipe/index.html They came out perfectly- the fresh lemon and parsley tied in really nicely with the flavors of the fish. Lastly we steamed some fresh broccoli and seasoned with a little salt, pepper and squeeze of lemon juice. Not to shabby for an easy weeknight meal! Will definitely circle back to this one in the future. John doesn't drink much white wine so with dinner we sampled an inexpensive Costco Zinfandel from Lodi, California called 7 Deadly Zins. As I've said before, Costo's prices on wine are SIGNIFICANTLY better than your local grocery store- by our calculations, an $8 bottle there is a $13 dollar bottle at the grocery. They don't have a huge selection but you can trust that the wines the bring in are good. We actually don't know much about Zinfandels and therefore rarely pick them up but this one was quite nice. It was bold but didn't overwhelm the flavors of the meal.

Zucchini "Lasagna"

I'm still working on some of the amazing vegetables that mom and dad brought down from the garden last week. I had quite possibly, the largest zucchini squash that you've ever seen. I had big plans of stuffing it with ground turkey, veggies and cheese but I was looking for something quick and easy on Sunday night so I called an audible at the last minute. I still had a huge container of fresh tomato sauce that we made for the strombolis so I decided on a baked zucchini casserole that really turned out to be similar to a lasagna. I sliced the zucchini thinly. Again this thing was huge so it was probably the equivalent of 3 or 4 normal sized ones. I greased a baking dish (med sized, smaller than a 9 x 13") and started with a thin layer of sauce at the bottom. I then layered zucchini slices, slightly overlapping each other. I topped that with some fresh buffalo mozzarella, some freshly sliced basil (maybe 3 leaves), a sprinkle of dried oregano, and a generous grating of parmesan cheese. I repeated the layers once more: sauce, zucchini, cheese and herbs. I then ended with a third layer of zucchini, topped that with sauce and then sprinkled more parm and a few thin slices of mozzarella on the very top. OH! and I actually had two lonely Italian chicken sausages in the fridge that I browned, crumbled and tossed in with the cheese layers. You could add more sausage to "beef" up the dish as a main course or go without for a vegetarian meal or side dish. I covered the pan with foil and baked it at 375 for about 30 minutes. Then removed the foil and baked for another 20 or 25 minutes until brown and bubbly. (I would stick a knife through the middle to see if the zucchini at the bottom of the dish is tender to ensure its cooked through.) You could also blanch or par boil the squash before assembly to cut the cooking time down. Sunday we had the "lasagna" straight up with some garlic toast on the side. However Monday, I served it over whole wheat rotini pasta (I tossed the pasta with some left over sauce) and it was a bit more substantial. Next time, I might add some eggplant slices and roasted red peppers to jazz it up even more.

Claudia's Coconut Cake

It is hard to pick a favorite of my mother-in-law Claudia's desserts, but I would have to say this one is very near the top of the list. She made it for us one of the very first times that I visited and I'd never had anything like it. As a huge coconut fan, it was right up my alley. I made it for the first time over the weekend and though I had a few minor assembly snafus, it tasted wonderful! I started with a white cake mix. I baked two 9" round layers per the package directions. (I think Claudia actually does this in three layers but I only had 2 pans handy.) While the cake was in the oven, I prepared the filling: 1 cup sugar 1/2 cup milk (skim worked just fine) 2 T flour 2 T butter 12 oz sweetened flaked coconut Mix together in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in a splash of vanilla. I set this aside to cool while my cake layers cooled. You then poke some holes (I used the handle of a wooden spoon) in the cake layers and top with the coconut filling. The gooey syrup sinks into them leaving a layer of coconut over the top. When it came time to stack the layers, I decided to sandwich them together, leaving all of the coconut in the middle. This is where I think three layers would work better to more evenly distribute the coconut and cake ratio. Also, because the filling had seeped into my layers, it was extremely difficult to pick the up without breaking them. It would have been better to start with the bottom layer, top it with filling, then stack the second cake layer and topped it with filling once in place. *Claudia let me know that this is indeed the best approach! Next I made the 7 minute frosting. I have always been a little intimidated by 7 minute frosting but I am proud to say that I bit the bullet and gave it a try- successfully I might add! I mixed the following together in my kitchen aid mixer bowl: 1 1/4 cups sugar (recipe calls for 1 1/2 but I cut it back some and it worked great) 2 egg whites 1 T light corn syrup 5 T cold water pinch of salt I then beat it with a handheld mixer over a saucepan of boiling water for 7 minutes and like magic, I had perfectly fluffy, marshmellowy frosting. *You want to be sure that the bowl isn't touching the hot water in the pan. I read that it could make the frosting grainy.* At the very end, you're looking for it to hold peaks similar to a meringue- then add 1 tsp vanilla. This frosting is absolutely delicious with this cake. It makes for a beautiful presentation too!
You keep it in the fridge and the best part about it is that it actually gets better of the course of a couple of days as the filling and cake continue to soak into one another. Because the recipe calls for only egg whites (for the cake and the icing), it is relatively low in fat however I'm pretty sure that the astronomic amount of sugar kicks it off the healthy dessert list. (sorry) A small piece will do you- so you could easily serve a crowd with smaller slices. *Annie, if you're reading this, I promise to retract my sugar fangs this week so that I can fit into that bridesmaid dress in 17 days!!!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Zabaione with Fresh Berries

My Dad doesn't get much kitchen time in these days between me, my Mom and my sister but he has a couple of specialties that for which we'll gladly step aside- cast iron blackened fish, fresh cinnamon rolls, bagna calda, and magic star biscuits to name a few. One of his FAVORITE desserts to make is zabaione. It an Italian egg custard, whipped until light and foamy and served over fresh berries. After a great dinner at Hank's seafood restaurant downtown, Dad was inspired to whip some up for dessert.
He started with 12 egg yolks in the metal Kitchen Aid mixer bowl and added 3/4 cup white sugar. (The ratio to use is 1/4 sugar to every 4 egg yolks if you want to scale the recipe.) He then set the metal bowl over a pot of simmering/barely boiling water to create a make shift double boiler. With a handheld mixer, he beat the eggs and sugar over the hot water for about 7 or 8 minutes until it was light, foamy and a pale yellow color. Last time I tried to make this by myself, my water was too hot and my yolks started to cook, resulting in a gluey, gummy mess- so be careful.
Once the consistency was right, he added 3 or 4 Tablespoons of Marsala wine, mixed it until incorporated and set it off the heat to cool a little bit. Meanwhile I filled four large martini glasses (large red wine glasses also make for a beautiful presentation) about half way with fresh sliced strawberries and raspberries. Dad poured the custard over the top and we garnished with a few more berries. *These portions were quite large, you could definitely serve this for six people.
It is a very quick dessert though at the same time very sophisticated; rich yet light and airy. I was thankful to have another lesson on the subject from Dad, I'll surely be making it again soon!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lemon Chess Squares

This was one of the very first recipes that I learned back in middle school- maybe even elementary school - and I have to tell you that I still absolutely love it. Chess squares are the perfect treat when you're looking for a cookie-pie-cake-bar fix all in one. The concept is really versatile too. Starting with a canvas of cake mix, cream cheese, eggs and sugar- you can make an infinite number of variations. This lemon version is really one of the best. It's very similar to a lemon square but easier to make! Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (Be sure the rack is in the middle of the oven, you definitely don't want it any lower or the bottom gets too brown.) In a mixer you start with: 1 box of lemon cake mix 1 stick of butter (softened) 1 egg Zest of one lemon Juice of half a lemon Mix until it forms a ball- will be dough like. Press it into the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 pan to form a crust. Next, mix together: 1 pkg cream cheese (softened) *Beat this first until smooth, then add the rest 1 box of powdered sugar (set aside a few tablespoons for dusting later) 2 eggs Zest and juice of one lemon (you could actually go with two for more of a zing)
You pour the batter over the crust layer and bake for approx 30-35 minutes. I always check it at 25 mins and then let it go until the top is just barely golden brown and the center still has a little jiggle to it when you move the pan. DO NOT OVER BAKE.
Once it is completely cooled, dust with powdered sugar and cut into squares. These are super fast, portable to take to a picnic but also elegant enough to serve as a dessert. I served these after our Pork Kebab meal the other night, garnished with fresh mint and a couple of fresh raspberries and they really hit the spot!
A few other great combinations that I've tried:
*Use a chocolate cake mix, omit lemon and add some vanilla extract or Kahlua to the filling
*Use a devil's food cake mix, add 2 or 3 T cocoa powder to the filling
*Use a yellow cake mix, add vanilla and almond extract to filling- serve with fresh berries
*Use a red velvet cake mix, add vanilla and almond extract to filling
*Use a spice cake mix (or add pumpkin pie spice to a yellow cake mix) and add 1 cup of canned pumpkin (and one extra egg) to the filling
If you eat 1/3 of a pan of these in one sitting as I've done before, you'll look a little like my cat Caesar after a big meal...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cumin Scented Pork Kebabs with Red Pepper-Walnut dipping sauce, Corn on the Cob with Mint-Feta Butter and Greek Salad

As I've said before, I spent the majority of my childhood in the Middle East and as a result, my family has a strong affinity toward international flavors and cuisine. This menu from the August issue of Gourmet magazine jumped out at me when I started thinking about what to do for Sunday dinner this week. It is a compilation of Arab and Mediterranean cooking which I knew Mom and Dad would enjoy, yet the dishes are also relatively simple and easy to prepare which meant we weren't going to be tied up in the kitchen all day.

Cumin Scented Pork Kebabs The Kebab recipe was actually for beef but I had some pork tenderloins on hand that I wanted to use instead. We put the tenderloins (whole) into the marinade late morning to ensure that they had plenty of time to soak in all of the flavors. Later in the day, my Dad cut them up into large cubes and skewered them. He cut the tenderloins (3 of them) in half length-wise and then cut each half into chunks, about 2inches x 2inches. The larger size worked beautifully for grilling. They were perfectly toasty on the outside and still tender and cooked to a medium temperature inside. Let's just say that 5 of us polished off almost three whole tenderloins...a pretty good sign of a keeper recipe.

My mom brought some gorgeous sweet banana peppers grown in her garden so we drizzled them with the remnants of the pork marinade and then grilled those as yet another accompaniment. A nice extra Mediterranean touch!

Red Pepper-Walnut Dipping Sauce This is a dipping sauce almost like a hummus that was a great compliment to the flavors of the pork and was best scooped up with warm garlic naan bread alongside the meal. Gourmet says that it is a take on Muhammara (a Turkish and Syrian specialty). It is similar to a hummus but with an extra zing to it. Mom quadrupled the red wine vinegar, toasted the walnuts, and used a heavier hand with the cayenne. I would highly recommend all three alterations, it was just right. The complexity of the flavors was really fantastic. You could definitely serve it as an appetizer with bread and crudite or eat it for lunch with pita.

My friend Heather from San Francisco also made this menu for a dinner party a few weeks ago and she said that corn was the biggest hit. I like corn, but I certainly don't think of it as a show-stopper side dish by any means. Well you could schmear this mint-feta butter on just about ANYTHING and I would eat it. It.is.amazing. I boiled whole ears of corn for just a quick three minutes and served next to the butter. I went with a whole stick of butter (upped the feta and mint a little bit too), added some fresh oregano (about 2 Tablespoons) and one clove of minced garlic to kick it up a little bit more and YUM. Once you have it all mashed together, I put it onto a piece of saran wrap and roll it up like store bought cookie dough, twisting the ends to pack it tightly together. It can then go back in the fridge to be sliced for a nicer presentation before serving. A scoop of this would be fantastic over a grilled steak, alongside fish or shrimp, or even on a baked potato.
As I said, I purchased some garlic naan bread from the grocery store which I wrapped in foil and warmed in the oven before serving. I also made a huge Greek style salad. I went off-menu with this one though. I am kind of passionate about Greek salad and I had to stick to what I know works (no offense to Gourmet).

The Perfect Greek Salad:

*One bag of Italian mix salad (romaine and radicchio) *2 cups of fresh Arugula *3 small tomatoes (two red and one yellow) fresh from Mom's garden *1 cup seeded, sliced cucumber (also from mom's garden) *1/3 to 1/2 cup real deal Greek feta sliced into large cubes *handful of pitted kalamata olives

For the dressing:

*1/4 cup olive oil *1/4 cup combined, equal parts fresh lemon juice and red wine vinegar *1 tsp chopped fresh oregano *1 tsp chopped fresh mint *a pinch of salt, freshly cracked black pepper *a small squeeze of dijon mustard to help it emulsify I also peeled a garlic clove, cut it in half and let it soak in the dressing that afternoon to sneak in some subtle garlic flavor. I LOVE a good Greek salad. John and I often eat this one for dinner topped with grilled chicken or shrimp.

Our friend Tripp joined us (a regular at Lacy Sunday dinners). He brought a fantastic bottle of french wine. It was a light/medium bodied red and paired just perfectly with all of the different flavors. (I'll have to ask Tripp to fill me in the specifics as I don't pretend to be a French wine guru.)
*Unfortunately, the two Maker's Mark Old Fashioned's that I had before the meal slightly impaired my ability to remember to get some good close up pictures of the dishes. Thus I borrowed some photography (the sauce and corn) from Gourmet.com to give you a better visual.

Stromboli with Fresh Tomato Sauce

My Dad is Italian and therefore, my family has been known to eat our fair share of pizza. My Mom perfected recipes for fresh dough, sauce, and delicious combinations of toppings and ingredients. One particular favorite itteration is the Stromboli, or probably more commonly knows as a calzone.
We had bucket loads of tomatoes fresh from Mom and Dad's farm so we made an absolutely outstanding sauce on Saturday afternoon. We blanched and peeled about 12 fresh tomatoes, pureed them in the food processor, and cooked for hours with simply about one half of an when making a sauce, it needs to simmer over a couple of hours on medium-low heat (stirring every 15 minutes or so). The water cooks out resulting in a more concentrated, sweet tomato flavor. As the sauce thickens and starts to take on a deeper red color, we add a handful of sliced fresh basil and season the sauce well with salt and pepper. I sometimes add a tablespoon of sugar or honey to balance out the acid but if you've really simmered long and slow, it starts to sweeten on its own.
Fresh tomato sauce is truly a labor of love. I have a hundred vivid childhood memories of walking in from school, following the delicious smell into the kitchen, giving the pot of sauce a stir and then sticking a piece of bread down in to sop up a quick taste. There is really nothing like it!
My Mom and Dad fell in love with stromboli at a little Italian place in Colorado called Cappuccino's. They lived there for 8 years before we moved overseas (I was born there.) My Mom has been recreating them ever since. You roll a round of pizza dough into an 8-10" circle. (Mom's dough recipe is killer but we actually cheated this time and picked up fresh dough from Mellow Mushroom up the road.) You can fill them with whatever you like - we layered a few slices of ham, slices of provolone cheese, mozzarella, sliced tomato, sweet sopressata, and pepperoni. My dad likes them just like this but Mom and I went lighter on the meat and added some roasted eggplant, bell pepper, banana pepper and zucchini slices and some sauteed baby bella mushrooms to the mix. John had the supreme version which was a whole lot of everything.
You fold the dough in half to form a half moon shape and roll the bottom edge up to close them. You place the stromboli on a cookie sheet dusted lightly with corn meal and bake at 425-450 degrees for approx 20 minutes or until the top and the bottom crust is golden brown and crusty when you tap on it.
You serve the stromboli whole on a plate (mine was technically 2/3 in this picture), smothered in fresh tomato sauce and sprinkled with some extra mozzarella cheese. Let's just say there isn't must talking once these bad boys hit the table. Serve with a cold beer or glass of Italian wine and plan on doing NOTHING for the remainder of the evening other than laying on the couch in a food coma...hmmm.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

Mom and Dad are in town from Kentucky for a little R&R this week as they gear up for my sister's wedding festivities next month. They arrived Friday evening after a long 9 hour drive so I wanted to keep dinner simple and light. John did a Costco run that afternoon so I had him pick up two racks of lamb which we cut into rib chops, seasoned simply with salt and pepper and grilled for just 2 minutes per side until perfectly medium rare. To accompany them I made a quick dipping sauce of 3 T olive oil, juice of one lemon, 1 T red wine vinegar, one clove minced garlic, a pinch of dried thyme and 3 fresh basil leaves, chopped - which added just the right amount of zing without overwhelming the natural flavor of the lamb. (I was out of dried rosemary but I would have definitely added that too.) **I actually did some reading on the Costco lamb that afternoon out of curiosity. It comes from The Australian Lamb Company which is one of the largest distributors internationally of Halal lamb- a Muslim method by which the animals are slaughtered (by a Muslim butcher, quickly and humanely with a very sharp knife, facing Mecca.) Most Muslims will only eat lamb that follows halal or "the law." I found this interesting one: because I grew up in the Middle East and two: because I would not have guessed that the international market would be large enough to warrant these practices being implemented by an Australian producer. Anyways, Mom brought with her BOATLOADS of fresh vegetables from her garden- primarily the most beautiful bounty of tomatoes that you ever did see. We sliced two large "better boy" tomatoes and one yellow one (not sure which variety) and stacked them with fresh mozzarella. They were a mouthwateringly deep red and so delicious! You just don't get the same flavor down here in South Carolina. We drizzled the stacks with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and then topped with freshly sliced basil. We put some arugula with them as well as we dished up our plates. Lastly, I made some quick garlic toasts- a must have alongside a great tomato salad in my opinion. I toasted some fresh bread until golden brown, rubbed the slices with a clove of garlic, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with kosher salt. I learned this method in Italy on our honeymoon and it really is superb. We enjoyed a leisurely dinner, catching up, and some red wine on the back porch- it was a refreshingly cool evening around 70 degrees. Before we knew it, it was almost midnight and we rolled to bed with happy, full tummies. (John's was particularly happy having polished off approx 10 lamb chops by himself.) A great start to the weekend!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Note to Loyal Readers

I'm still learning my way around this blogging thing and I just discovered that I can add up to 10 people that will be notified by email when I post something new. (Mom, Dad, Annie and Aunt Ann- yall made the cut so far. Let me know if you want to "unsubscribe") I'm sure there's a way to set these up yourself- particularly if you have a gmail account... need to consult a Blog World for Dummies guide on that. Anyways, if anyone else wants me to add their email address, let me know!

Penne with Fresh Pesto, Summer Vegetables and Grilled Chicken

I've really turned over a new leaf recently in the gardening department. I have historically had a rather poisonous black thumb when it comes to sustaining plants of any kind- but I'm happy to report that I've made some improvements this summer.
My azaleas bloomed for the first time since we bought our house three years ago, I've only replaced the plant by the front door twice (last year was more like 5 or 6 times), I have a baby sago palm that looks quite pleased with his new home on my porch, and I have luscious basil plants a plenty growing in the back. (My mom's tip about cutting them down from the top of the plant to prevent flowering did the trick.)
So I decided to make use of a small basil harvest by making some fresh pesto. I saw this recipe in Epicurious a few months back so I used it as the framework for a yummy weeknight meal.
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Zucchini-Corn-and-Basil-Fusilli-with-Bacon-242838 Our neighbors came over for dinner in celebration of little Logan's first birthday so I decided to add some grilled chicken to the pasta as well. I cut three chicken breasts in half length wise so that they would cook more quickly and evenly and then placed them in a glass dish. I always buy the Certified Organic Smart Chicken when available- not only is it better for you and the eco-friendly thing to do, it actually tastes like real chicken! I seasoned the halves with salt, pepper, and a bit of garlic powder and then drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I let them sit in the fridge for about an hour while I finished the rest of the preparations.
Next I made the PESTO:
4-5 cups fresh basil leaves
3 large cloves of garlic
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4-1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
I roughly chopped the garlic and then dropped it down the tube into the food processor with the blade running. Next I added the pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and basil leaves. I pulsed the motor until it all started to come together but still had some texture to it and then poured the oil in with the blade running just until incorporated. I seasoned lightly with salt (the cheese adds a lot of flavor) and freshly ground black pepper. UTTERLY DELICIOUS! Store bought pesto doesn't even hold a candle to freshly made.
The flavor of the fresh pesto was so heavenly that I decided against the bacon in the recipe because I didn't want it to overpower. (And winning a battle over pork fat in this instance is really saying something about the pesto!) I diced one medium vidalia onion and sauteed it in some butter while I sliced two fresh local zucchini squashes. I added the zucchini as soon as the onion started to look translucent and sauteed 4 minutes more before adding a heaping cup of frozen sweet corn, one can of petite diced tomatoes (rinsed to remove the liquid) and some salt and pepper. I sauteed the vegetable mixture until the corn and tomato were just heated through, and then I set the pan aside.
John grilled the chicken breast halves and I cooked two packages of penne pasta in salted water- subtract one minute from package directions for my version of al dente- while the chicken rested. I drained the pasta into a colander in the sink and into the warm pot I added my pesto and about 1/3 cup of white wine- stirring to combine and warm. Back in went the penne, followed by the vegetable mixture and the chicken (sliced into bite size pieces). I tossed it all together and added some additional cracked pepper before transferring half of the pasta to a serving dish and sprinkling generously with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. (We saved the other half for left overs the next night.)
Served alongside a simple mixed green salad with balsamic vinaigrette, it was a hearty yet light and fresh tasting summer meal. Next time I would add some red pepper flakes to the vegetable saute to give it a little extra kick!
John made some brownies the night before to serve with ice cream for dessert. (He is the Brownie Czar of our house- for whatever reason, mine just aren't as good.) John, Leigh and Clark all went with plain old vanilla but I stepped it up with peppermint stick ice cream and I'm pretty sure mine was the best!
The Guest of Honor/Official Taste Tester Approved...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

White Pizza with Chicken Sausage, Artichokes and Peppers

Having just returned from a long weekend in Las Vegas for my sister and her fiance's bachelorette/bachelor extravaganza... I have yet another easy week night supper for you... (I promise to step it up here soon.)
I ALWAYS have a Pillsbury refrigerated pizza dough on hand for nights like tonight. The new thin crust one is really quite good. I then played what John and I call "the pantry game" which is essentially "what I can make with whatever I happen to have in the fridge/pantry?" Tonight I had some hot Italian chicken sausage, a yellow pepper, a roma tomato, and a jar of marinated artichokes. My kind of pizza actually!
I browned three chicken sausages whole in some oil until cooked through and then set aside to rest while I assembled the rest. I then sprinkled a sheet pan with yellow corn meal, unrolled the pizza crust and pressed it into an even layer. I didn't have any tomato paste which is actually my go-to for "pizza sauce" these days. It has a really bright and fresh flavor and because it has such little liquid in it, the pizza crust doesn't get soggy... In this case however, I went white pizza style so instead I pressed two cloves of garlic into 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil and then brushed it generously over the crust. I sprinkled about a half a teaspoon of dried oregano over the crust as well.
I sliced my yellow pepper, drained and roughly chopped my marinated artichoke hearts, and sliced the roma tomato thinly. I layered the veggies over the crust and then topped with the sliced sausage and two or three cups of shredded mozzarella cheese. The pizza baked for 14 minutes at 450 degrees in the lower half of the oven.
John and I enjoyed our homemade pizza and a couple of beers while catching up on DVR'd Top Chef Las Vegas!!!! Not a bad Monday night.

My Restaurant Debut!

I am so very glad I started Accidental Syrup before reading the book "Julie & Julia" because the fact that I'm not nearly as witty, clever and hysterical as Julie Powell would very possibly have deterred me. She is an absolute RIOT and for the record the movie does a terrible job of portraying her. To be fair, I enjoyed the movie from Meryl Streep/Julia Child angle but the Julie Powell piece of it was all wrong. Please please read the book if you haven't already.
Anyways, I was reading the book when I received an email newsletter from Tristan restaurant- a fixture on the downtown dining scene here in Charleston - advertising a "Julie & Julia" recipe contest. It of course caught my attention for two reasons: 1) I love to cook and 2) who doesn't love a contest? (Though I normally never win any.) John actually took me to a cooking expo that Executive Chef Aaron Deal did at Whole Foods last year and I was very very impressed. I think he was only 28 years old at the time and he was speaking about his focus on fresh, seasonal and local flavors which really inspired me.
He made a delicious and summery Shrimp Nicoise dish that day- John and I have made it a couple of times since. I actually learned from his demo that shrimp, contrary to popular belief, is not intended to be cooked quickly in a sizzling saute pan but rather cooked over low heat, slowly bringing the shrimp up to temperature to ensure that the shrimp are perfectly tender and not tough, shriveled up or chewy. Chef Deal actually starts with the shrimp in a pan before turning the heat on which I'd never seen before.
Ironically enough, when I decided on a whim to send in an original recipe for the contest, I chose a shrimp dish of my own. My Mom has been making this"Oven BBQ Shrimp" since I was just a little munchkin. Honestly, I lost her recipe so I've recreated one of my own that is a go-to for quick and delicious entertaining. I decided I'd send in a link to my July blog entry featuring a BBQ Shrimp and Cheddar Jalapeno Grits dish that I made for some friends. A few weeks went by and I had almost forgotten about the contest entirely when I received a call at work from Chef Aaron Deal himself informing me that I was the winner!!!
The prize was quite possibly the highlight of my year. I got to spend the day in the kitchen with Chef Deal adapting my recipe to be featured that night on Tristan's menu!!!!! AND I got to invite three guests to join me at the Chef's table for dinner. Let me preface this account of my day with the fact that I have ZERO professional training as a chef and I've NEVER set a foot in a restaurant kitchen. I was kind of a bumbling mess but Chef Deal and the whole team at Tristan were amazingly hospitable and made me feel right at home. They suited me up with my very own chef's coat and I got a tour of the whole kitchen area before we sat down to talk through my recipe and to make a preparation plan for the afternoon.
Now my recipe is quite delicious as far as home cooking goes but it's not exactly 4-diamond restaurant material so I was very interested to get Chef's input as to how we could kick it up a little bit. His first idea was to cook the shrimp sous-vide was was so much fun. The equipment costs over $1000 and it's therefore not a technique that you'd ever get to try at home. We made a game plan, a few other tweaks and then he turned me lose in the kitchen!
I first started with all of my prep (measuring my ingredients, shredding cheese, chopping shallots, garlic, jalapenos, etc). I then got to work on the sauce which was exactly my original recipe (though we used fresh thyme versus dried) and then multiplied it to accommodate more servings. We decided to prepare for 25 servings, 5 large shrimp each- I believe there were about 50 people with dinner reservations for that evening. I was actually mortified watching award winning Chef Deal cleaned all 5 lbs of the shrimp for me as I worked on other preparations. I pleaded with him that the blue collar jobs were way more my speed - I was sure he had more important things to tend to - but nonetheless he insisted on helping! (Humble doesn't really even describe it.) Chef also suggested that we cook the sauce for 15 minutes or so over low heat and then strain to further refine it- removing the tiny pieces of herbs and garlic which is an idea I'll actually use at home next time I make it.
Once the sauce was finished, we put individual portions of the shrimp into plastic bags and ladled the sauce over before vacuum sealing them closed. We cooked the shrimp with the sauce in warm circulating water at 130 degrees for 35 minutes until they were just perfectly cooked through. As the dishes were ordered, the bag could be opened, transferred to a saute pan and finished off with some sherry vinegar (as we did a taste test, it was decided that the sauce needed more acid to cut through the richness of the butter) and fresh herbs before plating the shrimp and sauce over the grits.
My original recipe was actually a grit souffle made with quick cooking grits however we chose to go with traditional stone ground grits for a more elegant presentation. It also allowed us to cook the grits in advance. I was sweating the shallots and garlic with red and green jalapenos fresh from the pastry chef's garden, Chef Deal suggested that we whip up some crispy fried shallots to tie in some crunch and another layer of elegance to the presentation. I sliced 4 large shallots very thinly and then made a flour coating with some Old Bay seasoning, salt and cayenne pepper for some heat.
The grits had been soaking in milk for a couple of hours so they went into a large saucepan with the shallots, garlic, peppers and some chicken stock over low heat until cooked through at which point the cheddar cheese was added along with some additional cream to smooth them out. (Chef shared that another trick for making silky, luxurious grits is to finish them with marscarpone cheese... I will definitely try that!)
Next I even got to peruse the china collection to pick the plate that I wanted the dish to be served in. I went with a cool "sleigh" shaped plate to hold all of the delicious sauce in and around the shrimp and grits.
While it sound fairly straight forward, my fumbling around the enormous kitchen and getting into everyone's way as they prepared the rest of the mouth-watering menu for the evening actually took us right up to 5pm! I went home to grab a shower and then I got to experience the meal from the other side of the line which I have to say was equally as wonderful.
Tristan has the line open to the dining room so that you can see the chefs bustling around, plating, etc. (Chef Deal said that this poses adds a layer of complexity to what you're doing in that you have to maintain an awareness of what you appearance, volume (language), etc. This would definitely throw me for a loop in my kitchen!) The chef's table sits directly in front with a perfect view of the action. I have to say I was absolutely giddy the whole evening, it was great fun to be the guest of honor and to wave to everybody that I'd had the opportunity to meet earlier that day. To open the menu and find my very own recipe featured there was fantastic!! John, Tripp and Luci all ordered my dish which was very sweet of them though I told them that wasn't necessary. Not at all to my surprise, the dish looked and tasted absolutely fantastic! After all I'd left it in great hands. (I had a wonderful snapper, cooked to perfection and served with sauteed spinach and french green lentils in a savory broth.)
I had a group of about 10 great friends that came out to celebrate with me as I basked in the excitement of my day. By the time they ordered entrees around 8:30pm, my dish was almost sold out!!! There were only 5 left which was just perfect so they were able to try the shrimp and grits along with some of the other amazing dishes on the menu. A table nearby actually tried to order my dish after it had sold out and when the server informed them that it was me that prepared it as part of a contest, they told me to "get back there and make some more!" It was great!
All in all I will say that I felt like a kid on Christmas. We enjoyed a great meal, LOTS of amazing wine (Jocelyn Cabernet Savignon from California), and a fun night out with friends at one of the best restaurants in town. However the afternoon in the kitchen with Chef Deal and the staff at Tristan was priceless. They were all so friendly but Chef really went out of his way to make me feel comfortable and that I- in some crazy way- fit in there. I know there are millions of enthusiastic home cooks all over the world that would DIE for the opportunity to play "pretend restaurant chef" for the day and it was more fun that I'd even imagined.
SADLY... Chef Deal is leaving Charleston!!! It was his very last day at Tristan as a matter of fact-can you believe he spent it with me!?? He is actually moving to Chicago to take the Executive Chef position at Custom House restaurant. http://www.customhouse.cc/ Though a big loss for Charleston, it does not surprise me one bit that he's on to bigger and better things. I'll be sure to pay him a visit (though probably just to the dining room next time) some day soon.

Grilled Chicken Salad with Apples, Cranberries, Blue Cheese and Candied Cashews

This is kind of a silly post because it is far from an Earth shattering recipe- but it really is one of my favorite FAVORITE combinations when it comes to a salad. John's not really a salad-for-dinner kind of guy and even he agrees that this one is tasty.
When I need to pull dinner together fast, I like to use chicken tenderloins because they cook quickly and evenly in a skillet. I season them simply with salt and pepper and then brown in olive oil over med to med-high heat until cooked through. (3 minutes per side) I can start the salad while the chicken is cooking and then just set it aside to rest while I assemble the rest.
For two large salads, I use one bag of Riviera blend lettuces as its called in the grocery store (butter and radicchio). I add the following:
One half of a Fuji or Gala apple, thinly sliced
A handful of dried cranberries
2 T of blue cheese or gorgonzola crumbles
2 T roughly chopped candied nuts (I had some butter toffee cashews on hand from Target that were GREAT)
Honey Orange Vinaigrette:
2 T olive oil
1 T walnut oil
1.5 T balsamic vinegar
1.5 T freshly squeezed orange juice
0.5 tsp dijon mustard
small squeeze of honey
pinch of salt and some freshly cracked pepper
I cut the chicken tenders into bite size pieces and piled over the top of the salads before drizzling with the vinaigrette and that's it. I've made a variation of this vinaigrette about 500 times so I can do it very very quickly. All said and done its 25 minutes of prep max.
A few other variations that I've tried:
*bosc pear slices versus apple
*praline pecans or pistachios in the place of the cashews
*seared salmon fillet instead of chicken
*goat cheese instead of blue
*baby spinach instead of the butter and radicchio

Mountain Weekend with the Nelsons

Our friends Tripp and Luci invited us to the family mountain house in Linville, North Carolina for a getaway and holy GORGEOUS, what a beautiful spot! An hour and a half Northeast of Ashville on one of the oldest and most amazing golf courses around (1892), it is a quite literally a little slice of heaven on Earth. We had a fantastic time soaking up the cool mountain weather, doing a little hiking, golfing and a lot of sipping cocktails on the back porch. Friday night Tripp's mom made some delicious Shrimp Gumbo (Paula Dean's recipe) and then Saturday night we took over the kitchen. Tripp was in charge of grilling ENORMOUS ribeye steaks for the boys and some proportionately large filets for the girls- which he seasoned with a yummy steak seasoning late afternoon and then cooked absolutely perfectly on the Big Green Egg. (please note the professional looking hash marks).
Alongside the steaks we had Ina Garten's roasted vegetables and a fresh heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad out of a friend of Mrs. Nelson's garden. The roasted vegetable recipe is a recent favorite of mine from Ina's newest Back to Basics cookbook. The combination of vegetables is unique (my personal favorite is the fennel) and it is really simple to prepare. It calls for: 1 lb of fingerling potatoes (we used yukon gold creamers which worked great) 2 small medium fennel bulbs (tops removed) 1 lb french string beans (we used regular green beans) 1 bunch thin asparagus (trimmed and cut into 3 inch pieces) 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese salt and pepper Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the fennel bulbs into 6 wedges each, cutting through the core to keep the wedges intact. Place on a sheet pan. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and place them on the pan with the fennel. Drizzle the olive oil on the vegetables, then sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Toss with your hands. Roast the vegetables for 25 to 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, tossing once while cooking. Toss the string beans and asparagus with the roasted vegetables and roast for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the green vegetables are tender. Sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese and roast for another minute or two until the cheese melts. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Again, the combination of veggies is really great and the key is to use a larger sheet pan so that the vegetables brown nicely. If the pan is crowded they'll steam and just get soft versus toasty. You could serve this alongside just about anything and it has your starch and veggies all in one. I highly recommend it. Next up, the caprese salad. Tripp's mom had a mixtue of beautiful red, yellow and even a small green variety heirloom tomatoes that we sliced about 1/4 inch thick and layered on a plate with fresh mozzarella sliced at the same thickness. We then topped it with some freshly sliced basil and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and seasoned with salt and pepper. I could eat a big plate of this with a big slice of toasted bread as a meal any day but in this case it was the perfect salad with this meal. Considering we already had our green going on with the green beans and asparagus, the tomatoes added even more color to the plate.

All in all everything came together without much fuss but the meal was still elegant -largely thanks to the beautiful back drop that was Linville and the Nelson's gorgeous home! I told Tripp's mom that I'd cut out of Charleston and move in as her personal cook in a heartbeat- still waiting on the call though. ;) Of course my husband was the only person at the table to finish all .75 lbs of his steak however the pups were happy that the rest of us had scraps. I shamelessly volunteered to hand feed the three of them which of course made me best friend for a day.

For dessert Mrs. Nelson made the most delicious peach pie. I've never had anything like it and I will definitely attempt to recreate it. She blind baked a pie shell and then she told me that the filling was simply fresh sliced peaches, sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice. I'll have to ask her for the exact recipe because it was absolutely YUMMY.
Another pic of the pups considering Stuart looks like an alien dog with the green eyes in the other one.. The best dogs EVER! The chefs.