Sunday, September 23, 2018

Come-on Fall! (Tart and Tasty Waldorf Salad)

Ready to balance any rich holiday meal, my version
of Waldorf Salad is heavy on the lemon, and includes
pecans, dried cranberries and raisins. Yummy.
I've got a deadline for the November issue of Southerly Magazine coming up, so Thanksgiving is has been on my mind.  It was nice and cool today so I thought I'd get ahead of the game and test / photograph a Billings-Barnett family favorite, Waldorf Salad.

Waldorf Salad has been a Thanksgiving staple for my family since the “Cranberry Scare of 1959,” when just days before our favorite food-based holiday the US cranberry crop was reportedly unsafe. In the end, no one got sick, but families all over the country had to come up with a different side to replace their beloved cranberry sauce. For my family, a crisp and tart Waldorf salad made the cut. And it’s been on the table on the fourth Thursday of November ever since. 

I’ve fiddled with this quite a bit since taking over the reins for Thanksgiving years ago. The original featured walnuts and raisins. Since moving to North Carolina, I’ve swapped for pecans for the walnuts, added dried cranberries and, because I’m homesick for my lemon tree in SoCal, a pumped up the citrus flavor with a healthy dose of lemon zest.

Hope you enjoy this as much as we do.

Tasty and Tart Waldorf Salad
Serves 8

  • 4 large apples, peels left on and cut into bite-sized pieces - I like a mix of  1 Red Delicious, 1 Pink Lady and 2 Granny Smith or half and half Red Delicious and Granny Smith
  • 1 large lemon, zested and juiced (If you think your lemon might be a bit on the dry side, pierced a couple times with a sharp knife and microwave it for 20 seconds before juicing)  
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise 
  • 1 cup celery, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup of dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup of raisins, plumped by submerging in a cup of boiling water for 5 minutes and then well drained
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves toasted for a few minutes in a dry pan to bring out their flavor and then roughly chopped.
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Method - 
  1. In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise, lemon zest, 1/2 of the lemon juice and salt until well combined. Set aside
  2. Put the remaining half of 1/2 of the lemon juice in a large mixing bowl, and drop the apple pieces in as you cut them, tossing as you go. 
  3. Once the apples are all cut, add the mayonnaise mixture, celery, cranberries, drained raisins, and nuts, toss well to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes before serving; however this can be made earlier in the day.


Monday, July 30, 2018

Y'all Come! (Carolina Taquitos with SoCal Slaw)

Carolina Taquitos with SoCal Slaw 
Makes 12 taquitos - 4 entrée servings or appetizers for 6-8 people

We love having folks come to visit. Full stop. It’s like combining the best of two worlds - our wonderful area here in Durham, with friends and family from SoCal, work friends from around the world, our son (who now lives in Florida). You name it. We’ll take it. We love having company.
A taste of home - both SoCal and North Carolina

With this as a backdrop, you’ll understand how happy we were when our SoCal friend Sheryl (and my BFF from Cal State Fullerton) decided to come for a long weekend. This was her fourth trip in the nine years (!) we’ve live here, so she already knows the drill. But as Durham continues to evolve, we continue to have new places to go, areas to explore. It’s a blast.

Her arrival also gave me an excuse to try out a recipe I’ve been writing, which transforms the vinegary and slightly sweet and spicy pork barbecue that is common here into crispy crunch taquitos like the ones we loved in SoCal, served up with a refreshing lime and cilantro coleslaw and guacamole. Oh yeah.

We made the dish last night. It earned a Steve Barnett “Home Run, Honey!” In fact, he said it might just be a grand slam! So here it is for you.  

Here's how you do it.

For the taquitos
12 corn tortillas (try to get fresh corn tortillas from a Mexican market, but packaged tortillas from the store will do.
1 pound of barbecue pulled pork (we get this from the barbecue place up the road) 
1/2 cup Carolina vinegar-based barbecue sauce (if your pork comes unseasoned with sauce)
Corn oil to fill a skillet to 3/4 of an inch
toothpicks for securing the taquitos while frying (2 per taquito)

Garnishes - take your pick, or do them all:
Guacamole - fresh or pre-made (for a quick guac, mash a ripe avocado with the juice of 1/2 a lime, about a TBS each of diced onion, and cilantro, plus a good pinch of salt and a bit of your favorite hot sauce or salsa)
Sour cream
Mexican queso fresco (dry white cheese that crumbles well) or shredded cheddar cheese f

  • Break up the barbecue into thin bite sized pieces and mix in the sauce. Set aside
  • For each taquito, 
  • Warm a tortilla for about 10-seconds per side over a gas flame or dry frying pan to make them pliable and easy to roll. 
  • Put about 2 TBS of the barbecue mixture on a tortilla, towards one side. Then working from that side, roll the tortilla over the barbecue like a cigar. Push two toothpicks through to secure, leaving long on one side.This will come in handy when frying.
  • To fry, heat the oil in a heavy skillet until a piece of a tortilla that is placed in the oil begins to bubble. Then use tongs to carefully place 3 taquitos in the oil, seam side down and long end of the toothpick up, into the oil. Fry until golden brown (about 45 seconds) then pull out the toothpicks and flip to fry the other side until done (about 30 seconds). Remove to drain on paper towels. 
  • Serve with a small pile of the slaw and garnishes of your choice.

For the slaw
1/4 cup sweet onion, quarter-inch diced
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 lime, juiced (about 2 TBS)
1 1/2 TBS jalepeno, seeded and diced
1/4 tsp kosher salt
15 grinds black pepper
1/4 level tsp coriander 
1/4 level tsp cumin
1 14 oz bag of tricolor coleslaw mix (red and green cabbage with carrots - no dressing)
2/3 cup cilantro, finely chopped

  • Mixture first eight ingredients in a large bowl until well combined. 
  • Add the bag of cabbage/carrot slaw mix and the cilantro
  • Stir well and chill at least 30 minutes


Sunday, April 8, 2018

No time for takeout (Chinese Chicken Stir Fry)

Slightly crunch veggies and tasty
 chicken, ready to be enjoyed!

Why do take-out when you can make your own Chinese Chicken Stir Fry in about the same amount of time it takes to call in and pick up an order? Prep the veggies ahead of time for a busy weeknight dinner. Great with shrimp or sliced steak as well.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for going out to one of Durham's amazing restaurants or bringing in take out at the end of a busy day, or the night before a holiday. But given the option, we'll normally stay in. 

So what to do when you've got a hankering for Chinese? Stir Fry! I learned a long time ago that you really don't need a wok to make good Chinese food. I simply crank up the heat on my super large cast iron skillet with great results.

Here's the recipe for a super simple stir fry.Try it with shrimp or sliced steak -- or go crazy and combine multiple proteins for a real treat.

Chinese Chicken Stir Fry
Serves Four

2 TBS soy sauce
1/2 tsp Chinese Five Spice (look for this in the spice section of any grocery store)
1/2 tsp garlic powder

3/4 cup chicken stock
1 TBS soy sauce
1/2 stp garlic powder
1/2 tsp Chinese Five Spice
1 TBS corn starch
1/2 tsp dark sesame oil

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces 
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 TBS light colored oil, like canola or vegetable oil
1 TBS dark sesame oil

4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 small or 1/2 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced 
1 8oz package of mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup onion, large dice
3/4 cup frozen peas
2 cups bean sprouts (sold loose or in a 5 oz package in the produce section)
2 think sliced green onions and 1 TBS sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

  • Mix the Marinade ingredients in a medium sized bowl, add the chicken and set aside 
  • Combine the Sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside
  • Remove the chicken from the marinade, pat dry with a paper towel and sprinkle with a good pinch (about a half teaspoon) of Kosher salt and five or six grinds of fresh cracked pepper.
  • Heat the largest skillet you have on high, add the two oils and heat until it shimmers. Then add the chicken and cook until browned and cooked through. Remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon, and keep it warm in a bowl covered with foil.
  • Now begin cooking the veggies in the same pan and leftover oil used for the chicken. I like to push the veggies to the outside of the pan between batches to make room for the next veg — first the onion, celery and carrots for 2 minutes; then the mushrooms and bell peppers, bean sprouts and the cooked chicken for another 2 minutes.
  • When the veggies are cooked but still slightly crunchy, push them to the sides of the pan and add the sauce mixture and cook until it starts to thicken, then stir to combine with the chicken and veggies.  
  • Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds and serve with cooked white rice and more soy sauce to taste.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

It worked! (Chicken Green Burrito Casserole)

As a SoCal Expat, I LOVE a good burrito. Nothing fancy - beans, cheese, salsa and maybe some seasoned meat. A bit of rice is OK, but not requires. All wrapped up in a large warm flour tortilla.  Maybe dollop of sour cream and guac on the side. Or smothered in sauce and melted cheese. 
Hot and bubbly, right out of the oven

These were the memories that I had in mind as I came up with my new favorite make ahead dish -- a Chicken Green Burrito Casserole. Not overly saucy, but filled with all the flavors I love -- chicken, green salsa, cilantro lime rice, refried beans and cheese. All melty. Sublime.

I made one for dinner last night, and got a
Packed up for next
week's workday lunches
big thumbs up from Steve. Then, just to be certain that my recipe was spot on, I sent it to my BFF's daughter, Madison, and asked her to follow the directions and then give me the verdict. Four more thumbs up -- two each -- from Maddie and her husband Eric, who packed up individual servings for next week's workday lunches. 

And now, I share this little ditty with you. 


Garnished and ready for dinner

Chicken Green Burrito Casserole
Everything we love in a green burrito in a quick and easy casserole. Perfect with a green salad.

Serves 4-6 

2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken (about 3/4 of a chicken, dark and white meat)
1 16 oz can refried beans heated with 1/4 cup of water
1 1/2 cups cilantro lime rice (see below)
2 cups cheddar jack cheese, shredded
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
3/4 cups diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced onion
1 1/2 cups salsa verde (green salsa)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbs olive oil
Sour cream and chopped green onions for garnish

Cilantro Lime Rice
1 cups water
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juiced and tested (about 1/4 cup juice)
1/2 tsp salt
Bring the water to to a boil in a medium sauce pan, add rice, cover and cook 15 minutes. When done stir in the lime zest, juice and cilantro.

Preheat oven to 350
Spray a deep casserole dish with cooking spray - set aside

Heat a large sauce pan on medium high heat; add the olive oil and sauce the onions and peppers until soft. Add the cumin, coriander and chili powder, stir to combine. Then add the chicken, stir and heat through. Set aside.

Layer the ingredients in the casserole dish
1) Beans topped with 1/2 cup salsa and a layer of 1/3 of the cheese
2) Chicken mixture topped with 1/2 cup salsa and a layer of 1/3 of the cheese 
3) Cilantro Rice topped with 1/2 cup salsa and a layer of 1/3 of the cheese

Cover with foil without touching the cheese; bake 40 minutes in a 350 oven, then remove the foil and continue another 10 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with sour cream and chopped green onions 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Thinking about the holidays - Apple, Pear and Cranberry Crostata

Sweet meets tart in this free form pastry.
One of the fun things I’m doing these days is writing up recipes for a local magazine.  I know; like I need another commitment.  Not.  But this is a great creative outlet and I’m having a ball.

Today I needed to work on a recipe for a holiday dessert.  We are not big fans of super sweet anything. The dessert I came up with combines two freeform crostatas I made years ago - one pear and one apple, with tart dried cranberries. The results are pretty darn good.  

And won’t Steve be surprised when he comes in from the golf course today!

Apple, Pear & Cranberry Crostata
Serves 8
Sweet meets tart in this easy to make free form pastry.

  • 1 frozen pie crust, thawed (or your own favorite pie crust recipe, if you are so inclined)
  • 2 apples - I like a combination of Granny Smith and Honey Crisp, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 pears - I like Bosc, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 TBS orange juice
  • 1 TBS lemon juice
  • 1/3 + cup 1 TBS  granulated sugar
  • 1 TBS cornstarch
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg plus 1 TBS water whisked to make an egg wash
  • Parchment paper
  • Baking time! The house is
    going to smell amazing!
  • Powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat your oven to 450
  • Cut a piece of parchment paper to line a large baking sheet; put the paper on your workspace
  • Combine the lemon and orange juice and zest in a large bowl and toss with the diced fruit; set aside
  • Roll out the pie dough to an circle about 13 inch across. It does not have to be perfect. Transfer this to the parchment paper
  • Mix the cornstarch, 1/2 cup of sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt in a small bowl until well combined. Add this dry mixture to the fruit and toss to combine, then transfer the fruit to the center of the crust. Leave any extra liquid in the bowl. Pile the fruit high, trying not to expose too many of the the cranberries.
  • Pull the crust up over the edges of the fruit, pinching and folding as you go. Leave the center fruit exposed. Brush the top portion the dough with the egg wash and sprinkle with 1 TBS of sugar. Slide the parchment paper, with the crostata onto a baking sheet.
  • Bake for 30 minutes. Then cover the top of the crostata with aluminum foil, reduce the heat to 375 and bake an additional 10 minutes. Don’t be alarmed if the top of the crostata looks dry. This ends up being a very moist dessert after it rests.
  • Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes. Use the parchment paper to help you slide it onto a serving plate, and cut away the excess paper for a rustic presentation. 
  • Dust with powdered sugar before displaying and serving

Serve with vanilla ice cream. 


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Easy Breezy - Summertime Mexican Rice

It’s been unseasonably cool the past few days - high 70s and breezy. Perfect for tennis, golf and grilling on the deck. Between Steve and me we checked off all three boxes yesterday, and topping the day off with a fun cooking session with friends.  

Fresh uncooked corn and tomatoes plus defrosted
 frozen peas bring summertime freshness
to this Mexican Rice
While our respective Steves (seriously the most common name for guys our age!) played golf, my friend Amanda and I tested and updated a favorite recipe of mine — Some Like it Hot Fish Tacos, with Salsa Blanca.  You can find the updated version at this link.

I also tried out a new recipe for Mexican Rice.  This one has been on my mind for a while - traditional flavors, but freshen up with uncooked corn and tomatoes and a squeeze of fresh lime.

If I do say so myself, this one is a serious winner, so I’ll share the recipe with you here.  It goes great with the tacos, but would be a nice side dish for any summertime meal.

Summertime Mexican Rice
Serves 6-8 

  • 1 cup white rice
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup  cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed but not cooked
  • 1/2 cup fresh uncooked corn cut off the cob, basically one ear’s worth (or frozen if you don’t have fresh corn)
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 cup diced sweet onion (Vidalia, Maui, or the like)
  • spice blend, see below
  • Zest and juice of 1/2 a lime

Spice blend
  • 3/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt.

  • Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium sized lidded sauce pan
  • Add the rice, stir gently as it comes back up to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat, fluff the rice with a fork.
  • Pour the cooked rice into a large bowl
  • Add the tomatoes, peas, corn, cilantro and rice, stir to combine
  • Add the spice blend, stir to combine
  • Right before serving add the lime juice and zest, stir to combine


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Summertime Summertime (BLT Crostini and Summer Squash Crostini)

Ready for the dinner party: two summertime apps inspired
by two of our favorite local haunts, Merrit's and Picnic
Summer in North Carolina means two things:   Bacon Lettuce & Tomato sandwiches and Barbecue. So when I was asked to bring a appetizer to a Saturday evening dinner party this weekend, I decided to create a couple of crostini recipes using inspiration from two of our favorite local recipes — Merrit’s in Chapel Hill, home of the a simple and straightforward BLT that defines that iconic summertime sammy; and Picnic, an up and coming Durham BBQ restaurant that is co-owned by a local heritage pig farmer and raising the bar for succulent whole hog Q.

The Merrit’s BLT rift was pretty simple. Crusty bread, a touch of mayo, and bright red juicy tomato slices topped with crisp applewood smoked bacon and shredded lettuce.  I jazzed the mayo up a tad by adding chives from the garden and a touch of garlic, salt and pepper. The beauty of a Merrit’s BLT is its simplicity, no need to guild that lily too much.

The Picnic influenced crostini was a bit more of a challenge. I didn’t want go the smoked and pulled piggy route.  Way too filling for a pre-dinner app. Instead, I took inspiration from a refreshing squash side salad you often find on the Picnic menu when the prolific veggies are in season.

BLT Crostini
Following are the ingredients and methods for these tasty treats.  I hope they inspire you to come up your own new favorite start to a summertime meal.

BLT Crostini
(makes 8 pieces, two per person)

  • 8, 1/2 inch slices of a crusty baguette.  (I used ciabatta baguette from Trader Joes)
  • 1/2 cup of Dukes or Best Foods Mayonnaise
  • 1 small clove of garlic, worked into a paste on a cutting board, with a bit of coarse salt and the side blade of a chef’s knife
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped chives (optional)
  • 4 slices of thick sliced bacon (I used uncured applewood smoked bacon from Trader Joes), cooked crisp, blotted dry with a paper towel and broken into 1 inch pieces
  • 8 pieces of sliced tomato, about the same size as the bread, drained on a paper towel. Pick the best and brightest red tomatoes you can find. 
  • 1/2 cup of shredded romain lettuce - make it as thin as you can, and moisten slightly with a bit of oil and vinegar
  • Kosher salt and course ground pepper to taste
  • Olive oil spray, or a bit of olive oil and a brush

  1. Spray or brush the bread slices with olive oil and grill on a grill pan until slightly crispy. 
  2. Mix the mayo, garlic and chives in a small bowl and set aside - it’s nice to do this a bit ahead of time so the flavors can come together 
  3. To assemble, use an offset spatula or butter knife to spread a bit of the mayo on each piece of bread, top with a slice of tomato, then dab two or three pieces of bacon with a dot of the mayo (like glue) and press them atop the tomato, then put a bit of the lettuce atop the bacon.
  4. Enjoy.

Summer Squash, Zucchini and Corn Crostini
(makes 8 pieces, two per person)
Summer Squash, Zucchini &
Fresh Corn Crostini

  • 8, 1/2 inch slices of a crusty baguette.  (I used ciabatta baguette from Trader Joes)
  • 1/2 zucchini, sliced into ribbons, using a vegetable peeler
  • 1 large summer squash, sliced into ribbons using a vegetable peeler
  • 1/2 corn cob, kernels removed with a chef’s knife
  • 1 Tablespoon walnut oil (you could substitute another mild oil, like canola or grape seed)
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped basil
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped tarragon
  • 1/2 cup creamy goat cheese (I used a log of herbed goat cheese from Trader Joes)
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons milk or half and half
  • 2 Tablespoons roasted, salted sunflower seeds
  • Kosher salt and course ground pepper to taste
  • Olive oil spray, or a bit of olive oil and a brush

  1. Spray or brush the bread slices with olive oil and grill on a grill pan until slightly crispy. 
  2. Use a fork to mix the goat cheese and milk / half & half until smooth and spreadable. 
  3. Combine the squash ribbons, corn, oil, vinegar, basil, tarragon, salt and pepper in a small bowl and set aside. It’s nice to do this a bit early so the flavors can meld and the squash can soften
  4. To assemble, use an offset spatula or butter knife to spread a bit of the goat cheese on each piece of bread; then top each piece with a few kernel of corn, two to three squash ribbons and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds, salt and pepper.
  5. Enjoy.