Monday, December 21, 2009

A family that cooks together... (Seared Scallops with Lemon Asparagus Risotto)

I love cooking with my family. Lately I’ve had a chance to whip up a meal or two with my brother Ed, and I look forward to our annual Christmas Culinary Duet, which we spent the better part of the morning planning.  This past Saturday night, Steve, Will and I had an amazing dinner. It brought back fond memories of Will’s high school years when he and I would cook Sunday Dinner, with Steve standing in the wings waiting to clean up our mess.

And a lovely mess we make. But if you ask Steve, he’ll tell you that it is worth it.

Saturday night's meal was particularly fun because Will made one of my signature dishes, Lemon Asparagus Risotto, to accompany a simple yet delicious preparation of seared sea scallops. 

Risotto is a Barnett staple we serve at special dinners but is also a “go to” meal that often rescues us from take-out when we don’t think we have anything in the house for dinner. But that’s another blog…

I have to say that it made both Steve and me very happy to see our son working so well on this dish. And it made us even happier when we tasted it.  The kid knows how to cook!

(photo - about half way through the cooking process, add the asparagus)

Seared Scallops
  • 2 – 3 Dry Diver Scallops per person
  • 2 – 3 Tbs light oil (peanut, canola, etc.)
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, smashed
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

  • About 30 minutes before cooking, bring the scallops to come to room temperature.
  • There should not be any moisture on the scallops, but if there is, blot it off with a paper towel so you get a nice sear. Season the scallops with salt and pepper.
  • Coat the bottom of a large skillet with the oil – do not use a non-stick pan
  • Add the smashed garlic cloves and heat on low until slightly browned.  Take your time.  Patience will pay off with yummy garlic oil.
  • When the garlic is nice and brown - but not burnt - you can remove it from the pan and throw it away (or give it to someone you love to spread on a cracker or bit of crusty bread)
  • Raise the heat to medium high.
  • When the oil is good and hot, carefully add the the scallops one by one and sear for 3 – 4 minutes. Don't crowd them.  Don’t mess with them. Let the heat do its magic.  When the scallops are a light caramel color, turn them and cook the other side another 3 – 4 minutes.
  • Remove and serve with lemon asparagus risotto.
 Lemon Asparagus Risotto

  • 5 cups chicken stock (Be sure to use stock and not broth)
  • 1-inch strip lemon peel
  • 1 clove garlic smashed
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • ½ dry white wine (can substitute more stock in necessary)
  • 3 Tbs Butter
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • ½ cup onion, minced
  • 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
  • 10 thin or 8 thick spears of asparagus, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbs lemon zest
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated on micro-plane
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Additional Parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper for garnish.


Prepare the chicken stock:
  • In a medium saucepan combine the chicken stock, garlic, lemon peel, sage and thyme. Heat over medium heat until just boiling and then decrease heat to Low.
 Prepare the risotto:

  • Over medium heat in a large sauce pan melt 2 T of the butter and all of the olive oil
  • Sauté onion until translucent
  • Add rice and stir until coated
  • Add wine and stir until absorbed
  • Add hot chicken stock mixture in ½ cup increments, stirring until absorbed and then adding more; it is ready to add more when a spoon dragged thru the mixture creates a “canyon.” 
  • After about 10 minutes add the asparagus and continue adding broth as above
  • After about 10 more minutes the rice will be tender, but still firm or “al dente.” (taste a few grains to check) At this point, add the rest of the stock and stir until it has almost absorbed it all.
  • Now, add the remaining Tbs of  butter, cheese and lemon zest.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve:
Sprinkle with additional black pepper and Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

First Snow (Healthier Oven Fried Chicken)

You know you're originally from California when you see snowflakes and your brain tells you they are ashes from a wildfire. It was only for a nanosecond, but today as I was walking into Whole Foods that very thing happened.  

But no, it was snow.  A pretty dusting on the trees and shrubs and pristine white piles along the roads and rooftops. The forecast is for one more day of the white stuff and then we should be back to Carolina Blue Skies and crisp winter temps.  As long as the golf course dries out soon so Steve can get out and play we should be just dandy.

Will's home for Christmas, which makes things even better.  Tonight we'll decorate the tree (unbelievably fresh) and have a nice dinner at home, hence the trip to Whole Foods for diver sea scallops. I'll blog the resulting recipe tomorrow.  

For today, I'm sharing an incredibly easy and yummy oven friend chicken recipe that you really must try.  It's yet another application for Fage Greek Yogurt, which takes the place of the skin with great results.  I made this one up the other evening, and now it is yours...

Healthier Oven Fried Chicken
(This is for four thighs, you can adjust the proportions as needed for more or less chicken or different parts)


  • 4 Organic chicken thighs, bone in, skin off
  • 3 oz Fage 0% Fat Plain Greek Yogurt (1/2 a container)
  • 2 tsp Helman's Mayonnaise (Best Foods, west of the Rockies)
  • 1 Tbs poultry seasoning
  • 1 Clove garlic, mashed into paste with the flat side of a knife and a pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt 
  • 2 tsp Fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 cup Progresso Italian Breadcrumbs (or any other bread crumb of choice - Panko would be great, but I've not tried it yet)
  • Pam spray

Heat oven to 350 degrees
Line cooking sheet with foil and spray lightly with Pam spray

  • Combine the yogurt, mayonnaise, garlic, salt and pepper in a medium sized bowl
  • Add chicken and coat completely
  • Dredge the yogurt-coated chicken in the breadcrumbs
  • Set on baking sheet 
  • Spray chicken lightly with Pam

Bake in oven for 30 - 35 minutes
Let rest for 10 minutes before serving

This is great with steamed asparagus and scoop of jasmine rice cooked with chicken broth and a smashed clove of garlic -- toss in some freshly chopped scallions or chives right before you serve the rice.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

If you don’t like the weather… just wait ‘til later (Savory Chicken and Tomato Risotto)

It was a brisk 31 degrees when I rolled into the office parking lot the other morning. A Carolina Blue sky overhead and frost on the ground – a good day to hunker down and get some work done. By nightfall it was raining and the next day it was sunny clear again. As they say here, if you don’t like the weather, just wait… it will change shortly.

I’ve come to enjoy the ups and downs of North Carolina weather – even if I don’t have a clue what to wear. Clear and sunny means cotton and sandals to a former Californian. You only make that mistake once!

The recent chilly days and nights are also a good excuse to make risotto, a Barnett family favorite and what I tend to make when nothing is in the house. Last night was just such a night. And below is the “what’s in the pantry” dinner we enjoyed as we listened to the rain on the rooftop. Oh, and it was sunny and warm enough today to take a walk without a jacket at lunchtime. Go figure.

Savory Chicken and Tomato Risotto (and fresh thyme from the plant that keeps on giving...)

  • 1 large box chicken stock (about 5 cups)
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • ½ onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely diced
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme (I keep a little plant growing at all times), leaves removed and slightly chopped (or a Tbs of dry thyme will do)
  • 2 frozen chicken tenders, slightly thawed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • ¼ cup tomato paste1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs and 2 tsp butter
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (the best you can find)
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper


  • Heat the broth until boiling and then reduce to a simmer. Keep this warm for use throughout the preparation

In a medium sized sauce pan over a medium flame:

  • Coat the bottom of the pan with the olive oil and melt 1 Tbs of the butter
  • Sauté the onions until soft
  • Add the garlic and sauté until soft – don’t brown it!
  • Remove the garlic and onion with a slotted spoon – reserve for later
  • Now add the chicken, a pinch or two of the salt and pepper and cook until lightly brown. It may still be slightly frozen in the center, that’s OK. Remove with a slotted spoon – reserve for later
  • Add the tomato paste, thyme and reserved onion/garlic mixture to the drippings left in the pan and sauté until heated through (this really helps develop the flavor)

Now for the rice... this takes about 20 minutes, but is well worth it. Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy the process...

  • Add the rice and wine and heat through.
  • Now start adding the warm chicken stock ½ cup at a time, stirring as you go and adding more as each portion is absorbed. You don’t have to stir it constantly, but don’t leave it alone.
  • When you are half way through the broth, add the chicken and peas. Keep adding more broth until you’ve used it all and the rice is done, but still slightly firm.
  • Remove from the heat, and still in the remaining butter and Parmesan cheese. Season with kosher salt and cracked black pepper.

Dust with a little more cheese and a few more fresh thyme leaves (if you've got 'em) before serving.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Our First Carolina Thanksgiving (Waldorf Salad and Elizabeth’s Cranberry Sauce)

“Can you have him call back later?” Those are seven words I don’t think I’ve ever said to Steve when our son Will has called. But yesterday as luck would have it his Thanksgiving call came at that critical moment between the turkey coming out of the oven and being served when everything seems to be happening at once.
Potatoes being mashed, carrots being sautéed, gravy being made, dressing and sweet potatoes coming out of the oven and everyone trying to snatch a taste of the turkey and not loose a finger in the process. At one point we I caught myself turning from the mixer to the stove as my brother went from the stove to the sink and it seriously felt like we were doing some sort of dance. I’m a good multi-tasker, but balancing a phone and having a meaningful conversation in the midst of it all simply wasn’t in the cards.
Thankfully Will called as he was rolling in from a morning hunting trip and in need of a shower and nap before his Thanksgiving feast with college friends and surrogate family in Montana. We caught up later in the evening and all was good.
The preparations for yesterday’s meal began last weekend with a drive out to Cane Creek Farm, which is known for raising some of the best turkeys around.

This is pig country and so pork is their main gig, but they also do a nice business in poultry. We took our niece, nephew and our little Scottie and had a great day; complete with a visit with some week old piglets and stop Maple View Dairy for some of their delicious ice cream.
I think a tradition has been born.
Wednesday we set about the business of making the brine (salt, sugar, herbs, spices, orange peel – I confess I bought the mix at A Southern Season), submerged the bird, stashed it in the garage fridge and hoped for the best.

And the best it was! Somehow the turkey on the table is always the best one ever, but I truly believe this bird was in a class of its own. Turkeys that are pasture raised look different and taste different. They look like they actually were at one point a bird and not some hormone induced freak show. And the taste – the white meat was extremely flavorful and people who never eat dark meat were asking for more. We were lucky to send a tad bit home with our guests and still eek out a day-after sandwich this afternoon.
It seems a bit odd to give a Thanksgiving recipe the day after, but these two are family favorites that are good year-round.

Waldorf Salad
(Serves 8, with leftovers)
My mother’s family started making this back in the 50s when there was some sort of cranberry blight. It has been on our Thanksgiving table ever since, and adds a bit of freshness to an otherwise heavy meal.
Make this early in the day so the flavors can meld together.

  • 1 lemon, remove the zest with a micro plane first and then juiced
  • 3 red apples; core removed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 green apples; core removed and chopped into bites-sized pieces
  • 1 cup celery, chopped into ¼ inch dice
  • ½ cup chopped pecans (east coast) or walnuts (west coast)
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ¼ cup Best Foods (Hellman’s on the east coast) Mayonnaise
  • Pinch of salt
In a large bowl:

  • Put the lemon juice in the bottom of the bowl
  • As you chop each apple, drop them into the juice and toss to keep them from turning brown
  • Add the rest of the ingredients
  • Stir to combine
  • Refrigerate until serving time

Elizabeth’s Cranberry Sauce
Simple and delicious is the best way to describe this sauce. Really yummy on next-day turkey sandwiches, too.
Makes just over 2 cups – It is best to double the recipe if you want leftovers
Make this the day before serving for best flavor
Note – you are at the mercy of the orange so buy a few and use the one with the best flavor.

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 orange – juiced, plus the flesh and peel cut into quarters
  • Enough water to bring the total liquid (water and orange juice) to 1 cup
  • ¼ tsp powdered ginger
  • 1 12-ounce package Fresh or Frozen Cranberries
  • Pinch of Kosher salt

  • Combine sugar, orange juice and water in a medium saucepan.
  • Bring to boil
  • Add cranberries, ginger and salt. Return to boil.
  • Reduce heat and boil gently for 10 minutes, stirring now and then.
  • Remove from heat and cool completely at room temperature.
  • Refrigerate. Even better the 2nd day.

Monday, November 9, 2009

When the goin’ gets tough the though get choppin’ (Fennel Chicken and Stove-Braised Butter Beans)

Ok. I’ll admit it. I had a down right lousy day. We all have ‘em. Technology issues. People issues. Schedule issues. Pick one. Pick ‘em all. That’s why the call it work and not play, eh?

Luckily cases of the work-a-day blues are few and far between. That’s not the “Hollyanna” in me. My glass may be perpetually half full, but work-wise I’m normally an honest to goodness happy girl.

When the stars don’t align and I’m dealt a bad Monday, what do I do? Cook. Of course.

So as the sun set on Old Forest Creek Road, I found myself surveying the bounty of Saturday’s Farmers’ Market. Fresh butter beans. The youngest, sweetest fennel you’ve ever seen. Organic chick thighs...

Throw that woman a shallot, Johnny, and let’s get cookin’!

If I do say so myself, the results were pretty darn good. An omen for the day that will be tomorrow. For now, I’ll capture the recipes and give them to you…

As always,


Two recipes today: Chicken & Fennel; and Stove Braised Butter Beans. Serve with wild rice cooked with beef or chicken stock rather than water.

Chicken and Fennel

Serves 2 with leftovers. You do the math for a larger group.


  • 4 chicken thighs – boned and skinned
  • ½ shallot, sliced thin
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 2 young bulbs fennel (about 1 cup) sliced
  • 6 crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • Olive Oil to coat a large skillet
  • 1 to 1.5 cups cup chicken stock
  • 1 Tbs dried thyme
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 tsp butter


  • Heat a large skillet with a lid
  • While the pan is heating season the chicken thighs with salt, pepper and a pinch or two of the thyme
  • Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil
  • Add the chicken and brown both sides
  • Now add the shallot and cook until soft
  • Next add the garlic, fennel, mushrooms and remainder of the thyme
  • Sauté until all veg are getting soft.
  • Now add the chicken stock, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan
  • Bring to a boil and cover for 20 minute
  • At the 20-minute mark, check the chicken for doneness (juices should run clear)
  • Lower heat and add the butter to the remaining mixture.
  • Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed
  • Keep warm until you serve.

Stove Braised Butter Beans

Full disclosure – until I went to the Farmers’ Market here I had never seen a fresh butter bean. Until tonight I’d never cooked one. Steve tells me they are really good. I humbly have to agree.


  • 1-½ cup fresh butter beans
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • ½ shallot, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 ½ cup chicken stock
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp butter
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


  • Heat a large saucepan with a lid
  • Add the oil
  • Add the shallot, pinch of salt, few grinds of pepper and cook until soft
  • Add the garlic, butter beans and thyme and sauté until the butter beans are just starting to look soft (about 5 minutes)
  • Add the broth. It should just cover the beans.
  • Bring to a boil, cover, lower the heat and cook for 25 minutes
  • Check for doneness. The beans should be soft but not mushy.
  • Stir in the butter.
  • Keep warm until you serve

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Back on the Radar (Smothered Chicken)

So no, I have not fallen off the face of the earth; and I’ve not given up my blogging. It’s just been a bit hectic; but I’m back in the swing of things and enjoying a little “me” computer time before I get back to unpacking boxes and also doing a bit of office work.

We moved into the house on Thursday. I really should say that Steve moved us into the house. I’m in the middle of a couple of big projects at work and missed the bulk of the activity. But suffice to say, by the time it grew dark, we were out of storage and the condo and into our home. And it feels good. Cluttered with boxes - but good nonetheless.

Last night was Halloween, a great way to get to know the neighbors. After a day of unpacking and moving furniture, we ran over to see my niece and nephew in their very scary costumes. Then we dashed back to our place to had out candy.

Our new home has a very steep driveway, so the kids had to work for it. But about probably around 75 kids took the challenge, only little tricker treater took a header on the wet leaves (it rained earlier in the day and the hardwoods are shedding their autumn foliage - and yes, she was fine and Steve made it all better with extra candy), plus most of the parents took the time to introduce themselves and welcome us to the neighborhood.

When it was all said and done we headed over to the home of our new next-door neighbors’, who have a wonderful front yard fireplace for some adult refreshments, and an impromptu lesson in what the locals call beach music and a dance step called the shag. Thankfully the video cameras were not rolling.

Another highlight of the day – I fired up my new Wolf Range and made a yummy chicken dish that is perfect for a fall evening. The recipe literally came together as I was making it, but I jotted it all down for you. I hope you have a chance to try it.

Smothered Chicken

Serves 2, with possible leftovers depending on size of the chicken thighs. You can also make this with breasts, but if you do go for bone-in as there will be better flavor.


  • 4 chicken thighs, bone in, skin off
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • ½ sweet potato, ½ inch diced
  • ½ red bell pepper, ½ inch diced
  • 6 crimini mushrooms (also called baby portabellas), sliced thin
  • 1 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 Tbs olive oil (lightly coat the skillet)
  • 1 Tbs dried thyme
  • 1 ½ tsp dried sage
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh cracked black pepper


  • Season the chicken with salt and pepper, dust with the flour and set aside

In a skillet with a lid:

  • Heat the olive oil over a medium heat
  • Sauté the onion until slightly soft
  • Add red bell peppers and sweet potato and sauté slightly
  • Add the thyme and sage and stir to combine thoroughly
  • Push the sautéed mixture to the sides of the skillet
  • Add the chicken, reserving the extra flour.
  • Don’t freak out – the flour and remaining veg residue is going to crush up on the bottom of the pan. This is good.
  • When you’ve reached a slightly browned stage, add the mushrooms and the remaining flour. Stir to combine.
  • Add the broth; scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan; bring to a boil
  • Lower the heat and cover.
  • Simmer for 35 – 40 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Serve with wild rice/brown rice (look for a combination of the two) made with chicken stock rather than water.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Stimulating the Economy (Roots)

I figured out why the economy tanked when when the housing bubble burst. Not even a month has passed since we closed on our new home, and the people at Lowe’s, Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond are starting to recognize us as regular customers.

We sent yesterday doing those projects you love to have time to do before the movers arrive with all your belongings. Shelf lining in the kitchen cupboards, caulking and re-grouting bathrooms, setting up closets, installing a new washer and drier. I’d like to see one of those time-lapse video recordings of the property that would show the cars going in and out, people dashing to and fro. We were our own little ant colony.

The weekend has also been quite chilly; at least for a California born and bred girl. Lows in the 40s highs in the 50s. Perfect for my favorite Fall and Winter recipe – Roots. I plan to make this tonight when we return from another day at the house.

I’ve been making Roots for years. It was one of Will’s favorites and I always felt lie I was being a good mom when I dished up a plate of this antioxidant-packed meal. Add a little roast chicken or a link or two of turkey sausage and you are good to go.

The basic recipe is simple – walk thru the market and grab one or two of everything that is a root. Carrots, beets, onions, garlic, the list goes on and on. Tonight’s version will include these little rutabagas – about the size of a golf ball – that have redefined that root for me. Who knew they could be down right juicy, even after being roasted for 45 minutes.

I hope you whip up a batch of these soon. Get creative, there are no rules. You can even throw in a few non-root veg, like mushrooms and asparagus – very tasty and no one will ever be the wiser.




  • 1 sweet potato, washed and cubed into 1 ½ to 2 inch cubes
  • 3 -4 red or yukon gold potatoes (or handful of fingerlings)
  • 2 – 3 shallots peeled
  • 5 – 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 onion, cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 3 beets, peeled and cut into 2 inch cubes
  • 3 rutabagas, cut into 2 inch cubes – if they are very young, you don’t need to peel them
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch black pepper
  • 1 Tbs dried oregano
  • 2 T red wine vinegar


  • Heat oven to 375 degrees
  • Toss all of the ingredients except the vinegar in a large bowl
  • Pour into a large casserole – 13 x 9 inch should do it
  • Bake uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally
  • Remove from the oven, check to make sure that everything is fork tender
  • Sprinkle the red wine vinegar over the mixture and stir well

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Signed Sealed Delivered (Sheryl’s Fried Chicken)

This was a very busy week – and things are about to get even busier. We closed on our new home on Thursday afternoon. Now the work begins.

We attended our Closing Meeting Thursday afternoon. This was quite a different process than in California, where your Realtor tells you that Escrow has closed, brings more papers to be signed and hands you the key to your new home. In North Carolina, there is an actual meeting and the buyer is represented by an attorney who goes over the entire deal, explains things thoroughly and is there to represent you should things not go as planned. While our closing was without surprises and went smoothly, I couldn’t help that think that some of California’s real estate woes might have been avoided had buyers there been represented by legal counsel. But we’ll save that for a different kind of discussion in a different kind of blog.

By Friday morning, Steve had started to dial in the garage. Anyone who has been to one of our previous homes knows that my husband is a bit picky about garages. Good lighting, ample storage and gray indoor/outdoor carpet is a must. (Yes, we vacuum our garages – I was skeptical at first but am now a true believer.) Our new garage was a blank slate – and Steve was a man on a mission. Twenty-four hours after the closing, the shelving was in, the carpet installers were on their way home. And Steve was a happy man.

That evening we also continued a Billings (my maiden name) family tradition. It all started when my late mother closed on her first home in Chapel Hill and my brother and his wife brought over a celebratory dinner of Mama Dip’s fried chicken (the very best fried chicken I’ve ever had) and champagne. The tradition continued with subsequent home purchases by both my mother and my brother’s family. And at 6:15 p.m. Friday, the Billings clan hit our new doorstep with a finger-lickin’ spread with all the fixin’s; homemade brownies and, of course, a bit of the bubbly.

Nothing is more fun to kids than an empty house; and it was great to hear laughter and scampering feet and paws as our nephew Sam and niece Katie explored the upstairs rooms with our Scottie CurveBall.

Dinner was served on paper plates on our screen porch, and the kids checked out the tree house in one of our many trees. We talked of Thanksgiving, which we will host next month; and looked forward to being here for Christmas when Will comes home for his winter break from college.

We have a lot of work to do to make it our own and modernize appliances and fixtures. But our new house has good bones and the heartbeat of a family home.

Now for this week's recipe:

Truth be known, the last time I actually fried chicken, I was 23 years old and as I recall it was a disaster. My friend Sheryl, however, is known for her crispy pollo so I asked her to lend her recipe for this post. I gotta admit, it looks a little scary – she puts something called “Butter Buds” in her coating. (Really, Sheryl?) But everyone who has ever tasted Sheryl’s Fried Chicken has cried out for more.

As always I hope you Enjoy.

Sheryl's Fried Chicken


  • 1 frying chicken, cut into parts and brined for 6 hours (see below)
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 1 batch coating mixture (see below)
  • Corn oil for frying


  • Rinse and pat dry the brined chicken
  • Marinade it over night in the buttermilk
  • Put the coating mixture in a shallow bowl
  • Remove the chicken from the buttermilk, piece by piece and dip it in the coating mix, to coat completely
  • Heat about an inch of corn oil in a heavy skillet to 375 degrees
  • Fry 3 or 4 pieces at a time.
  • According to Sheryl, the trick is to wait until you turn the chicken until it comes up completely clean without losing any skin or coating. She says it’s a very relaxing experience.
  • Once you can turn, do. And again and again until the coating is set and the juices run clear.
  • If you turn too fast, you get a mess. So, like she said, just relax.

Coating mix:


  • 2 cups breadcrumbs
  • ½ up parmesean cheese
  • 2 Tbs Butter Buds Sprinkles (in the spice aisle, or diet food aisle)
  • 2 Tbs paprika
  • 1 Tbs garlic powder

To Brine Chicken:

I don’t make a production of brining – I just put a handful of kosher salt some fresh ground pepper and sometimes a crushed garlic clove in the bottom of a pot large enough to hold the chicken. Then cover with cold water and stash in the fridge for 2 – 6 hours. At the end of this time, I rise the bird, pat it dry and continue with my recipe. To learn more, here’s a good article from Cooks Illustrated.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Alfresco Autumn Sunday Dinner (Creamy Garlicky Salad Dressing)

There’s something special about Sunday dinner. Whether you share it with friends or family or enjoy it solo, the final dinner of the weekend is a great time to relax, recapture the week past and enjoy the last few hours before the work week starts up again.

We just returned from just such a dinner with my brother and his family. Ed and his wife Lyn have a wonderful mid-century modern home here in Chapel Hill; complete with a creek that makes the whole backyard experience even better.

It was slightly cool and breezy tonight and acorns danced around us as they fell from the trees. Ed made a fire in their fire pit and cooked up “hobo dinners” (seasoned ground local beef with potatoes and veggies, wrapped in aluminum foil and tossed in the embers), while the grown-ups tucked into a spicy brew of chili. Lyn’s from scratch corn bread and a crisp salad (my contribution) rounded things out. A delicious apple pie emerged from the oven as we finished up our meal. Fall has certainly arrived.

I promised Lyn that I’d share the recipe for the salad dressing I made, so what better way to give it to her is to give it to all of you as well. It is sooooo easy, it’s almost embarrassing. But it is also sooooo good.

I serve this on a crisp salad made of hearts of romaine, chopped scallions and quartered cherry or grape tomatoes. Avocado is also excellent.

Creamy garlicky salad dressing


  • ½ cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 Tbs Best Foods or Hellman’s Mayonnaise
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 clove of garlic, mashed into a paste with the side of a chef’s knife with a pinch of salt (this is a great technique when you want the flavor of garlic, but don’t want to bite into a chunk of it)
  • ¼ cup shredded or grated parmesan or asaigo cheese
  • juice of 1 lemon


Whisk all of this together; toss over salad made with either hearts of romaine or iceberg lettuce. Makes a great base for a bleu cheese dressing as well.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

North Carolina to Go (Pimento Cheese, inspired by Bill Neal)

Cal State Fullerton Baseball. USC Football. The College World Series in Omaha. Carroll College Football. (And I’m assuming, hoping, praying, Tar Heel Baseball, Basketball and Football). Aside from being championship programs, what do all of these collegiate sports institutions have in common?


Oh yeah, serious tailgating. The kind you plan for all week. The kind that makes you say to your husband, “sure honey, Mother’s Day brunch in the Cal State Fullerton parking lot sounds great.” And mean it.

Yesterday was Homecoming at Carroll College, where our son goes to school and is a member of the football team. The day started out as scheduled, smoke from grills wafting through the air, a band playing on the practice field. Purple and gold everywhere.

And yes, the Fighting Saints won. But I dare say that the game on the field was matched by the game in the parking lot. These people know how to throw a tailgate, with a smoker the size of a small car, mounds of pulled pork, large pots of chili, racks of ribs and salads galore.

In celebration of our new home, I decided to bring one of my favorite pre-game appetizers, a pimento cheese spread that was inspired by late Chapel Hill area chef, Bill Neal, of Crook's Corner fame. Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients - makes about 3 cups

  • 16 ounces aged white cheddar cheese, grated – if you like a milder flavor, you can also mix mild cheddar with sharper white cheddar.
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 small jar diced pimentos, drained. I like to chop them a bit more to help them blend into the cheese
  • 6 Tbs mayonnaise – Best Foods or Helman’s or Best Food’s please
  • 3 Tbs Jack Daniels Tennessee Whisky – if you don’t have this on hand, buy one of those little airline sized bottles at a liquor store. You’ll use about ½ of the little bottle. Do what you feel best with the leftovers (-;
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin (don’t sweat it if you don’t have this on hand. I didn’t this weekend and it was still great)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste (a dash of Tabasco works, too)

  • Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl until well blended
  • Chill 30 minutes before serving
  • The traditional cracker to serve this with is a saltine. I also like Club crackers.

Leftovers (if you’ve got ‘em) make a killer grilled cheese, especially nice with a thick slice of tomato.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just Like Mamma Used to Make (Chicken Enchilada Casserole)

One of the casualties of our move from Orange County, California to Orange County, North Carolina was a previously booked week-long trip to Montana to see our son who is in college and plays football there. As luck would have it (or not) our closing date fell on the very day we were scheduled to leave on of our trip. So flights were cancelled and schedules changed. And today, almost a month later I’m hopscotching across the USA to finally see our boy. First stop Chicago; then on to Denver (where I’m posting this) for yet another equipment change before heading on to Helena. I’ve got a hefty research report to read (half done) and a blog post (done) to write so the day should fly by. No pun intended.

This will be my fourth homecoming weekend at Carroll College. I typically arrive on a Thursday so I can work from my hotel Friday before heading out to the pep rally and other festivities. Saturday will be filled with a serious dose of tailgating, the game, hopefully a post-win celebration and dinner out with Will and his friends. This is the college’s centennial year, so I’m sure there will be even more than the usual fanfare. It should be a blast.

Our Thursday night tradition also includes a home-cooked meal for Will and whatever roommates or friends are around. I’m thinking enchilada casserole and a salad with a cilantro vinaigrette. Unfortunately, I’m not bringing my usual payload of California avocados for the salad, but I’m sure the kids will appreciate the mom-cooked meal all the same.

Before I head to my gate, here’s the recipe I’ll use tonight. It’s not my usual “from scratch” fare, but it’s a quick and easy dish that can be made in someone else’s kitchen (who knows if they boys have a cheese grater) and is sure to please.


Chicken Enchilada Casserole


  • 1 Rotisserie Chicken, skin and bones removed, meat shredded
  • 1 large can enchilada sauce – either red or green is fine. I’m using red tonight.
  • 1 large bag of shredded cheddar cheese (you may have leftovers)
  • 1 small bag of shredded pepper jack cheese (you may have leftovers)
  • 2 dozen corn tortillas (you will defiantly have leftovers, but you can always make quesadillas with the leftover cheese)
  • 1 onion, finely diced (look for milder Mexican white, Maui or Vidilia varieties)1 small can of sliced olives (optional)
  • Olive oil, vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pan, or Pam Oil Spray
  • Aluminum foil

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
  • In a 13/9 casserole:
  • Rub the bottom and sides of the casserole with oil or spray with Pam
  • Dip the toriallas, one by one, into the sauce and line the bottom of the dish a single layer. I typically lay three down the middle and then cut two more into quarters to fill in the corners and gaps.
  • Sprinkle about a quarter cup of the onions (small handful) on top of the sauce
  • Sprinkle a think layer cheddar cheese on top of the onions
  • Top with ½ of the chicken; and drizzle about another 1/3 cup of sauce on top.
  • Repeat the process – tortillas, sauce, onion, but this time substitute the pepper jack cheese, then chicken.
  • Top with a final layer of tortillas, sauce and onions.
  • Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top; you can add olives at this point if you are using them

Tent lightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 10 to 15 minutes until bubbly.

Let the finished dish rest about 10 minutes before serving. If for some reason it doesn't seem gooey enough, pop each serving into the microwave for about 30 seconds.

Warm the remaing sauce in the microwave for 30 seconds and serve for those who want to add more.

Note – all rotissary chickens are not the same size. If it seems like you have a ridiculous amount of chicken, and use less. This recipe can be made with whatever cooked meat you have – leftover turkey, ground beef, even venison (for my Montana readers) is great.

Another Note - this recipe scales really well - for the boys, I used one of those oversized disposable aluminum lasagna pans and 1 3/4 rotisserie chickens. In a house inhabited by five football players, this was necessary. There was just one serving leftover and when I stopped by the next day it, too, was gone!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Sneak Peek at the Future (Tomato, Roasted Pepper and Basil Tapenade)

It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when everything you need is no more than 15 minutes of where you are. Yesterday was one of those days, with a trip to the Farmers Market; shopping for carpet; shower enclosure and stove decisions (can’t wait fire up my new Wolf!), a hair appointment with a new stylist (which kills HOURS) and assorted other errands. Oh yes, and it all had to be done by 6 o'clock so we could hit the annual block party in our soon to be new neighborhood before our 8 o'clock dinner reservations at Elaine’s on Franklin (Chef Bret Jennings participated in the Farmers Market event).

Somehow we did it.

I could write all morning about yesterday’s Farmers Market, which included a celebration of seven local chefs who shop regularly at the Market. Not only did we get our weekly haul of veggies and ridiculously fresh poultry, we also had a chance to chat it up these delightful and talented men and women, taste samples of their work learn more about the Chapel Hill area local food movement. It just makes sense to support your local farmers and in the end it is healthier, too.

The neighborhood block party was also a good experience that gave us a glimpse of our lifestyle to come. The neighborhood reminds us a bit of the two neighborhoods in Brea where we raised Will. Tight knit, but still private. A huge dose of pride of ownership. Add in a lot more trees and a discussions about which plants the deer will eat less of and you’ve got our future home.

I’ve got to admit, it was tough to walk into the cul-de-sac knowing nobody. We arrived fashionable late and our friends who will be our new neighbors had already dashed off to another event. But no sooner had we put our contribution to the appetizer course on the table, that good old Southern Hospitality set in and folks started to wander over to greet us.

We may not be in Kansas, Toto, but everything is going to be more than just Okay.

Here’s the appetizer I latterly threw together in 15 minutes between the appliance shopping hair appointment. It features one of the red peppers one of the local farmers roasted for me at the market. Everything (except the olive oil and vinegar) was grown, produced or baked locally.


Tomato, Roasted Pepper and Basil Tapenade


  • 1 roasted bell pepper, seeded and diced into 1/2 dice
  • 1 basket cherry tomatoes, chopped (the easiest way: cut each tomato in half and then cut each half into quarters. Sounds tedious, but if you get a rhythm going it is a heck of a lot easier than trying to actually chop them)
  • A big handful of fresh basil, chopped medium-fine
  • 1 clove garlic mashed into a paste
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • About 5 or 6 grinds of black pepper
  • 1/2 cup of feta, broken into large chunks. (Try to get a block of high quality cheese and break it up yourself. I used a local sheep’s milk feta. Oh my.)
  • Pinch of salt


  • Mix everything except the feta and salt in a medium sized bowl. Make sure the garlic is evenly distributed.
  • Add the feta cheese.
  • Mix lightly so you don't mash the feta.
  • Taste for saltiness and adjust accordingly.

Serve on sliced chebata or French bread. (I found an amazing seeded chebata that was delicious).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Po-tay-toe; Po-tah-toe (Farmers Market Tapas)

I think I just tasted a potato for the first time. Of course, I’ve had potatoes before – in fact (as my business travel companions know) one of my favorite “go-to meals” is a salad and baked potato. But last night we had a simple dinner featuring a number of the goodies I found during my first trip to the Carrboro Farmers Market, and low and behold the star of the show was the lowly potato.

I hardly recognized them as Yukon Golds ; still covered with earth, and hardly picture perfect. A good scrub, a thick slice, plus a little olive oil, salt and pepper rendered a crispy yet fluffy bite reminiscent of tapas you might have in Spain. Without the jet lag.

The Saturday morning Farmers Market in Carrboro, which is just outside of Chapel Hill, is like no other market I’ve been to. I had to circle it once, just to get my bearings. The little stands are staffed by farm families and what appear to be their employees. Most tend to specialize in one type of item – cheese from local cows and goats (unbelievable), late season tomatoes, root vegetables, etc. Everyone is knowledgeable, friendly and takes pride in what they are selling.

As late summer merges with fall, the colors of the market are particularly vivid this time of year. Our simple dinner last night reflected this fact. The following is not so much a recipe, but a demonstration of what can be done with amazingly fresh ingredients, a little olive oil, and a grill pan. I hope it inspires you to visit your local farmers market sometime soon, and create a meal that comes from the soil near you.


Grill-Pan Yukon Golds:

Depending on size, for two people you’ll want two or three Yukon Gold potatoes. Wash, slice to about ¼ inch rounds, toss in olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh thyme. Grill on an inside grill pan until crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

Local Sausage Bites

Keep in mind, we are living in the “land of the pig.” Two stands carried their own version of sausage. The one I bought was slightly spicy. I formed small balls and simply grilled them off on the same pan as the potatoes, keeping them separate so the fat didn’t intermix with the potatoes. Not that it wouldn’t have been tasty, but potatoes in pork fat is not exactly the healthiest thing in the world. Once the balls were browned, we drained them on paper towels. Just a few per person added the spicy bite the meal needed.

Grilled tomatoes

I found the coolest little tomatoes – the shape of a Roma tomato, but abut the size of your thumb. We sliced these in half, dusted with a scant amount of salt, pepper and fresh thyme and placed them cut side down on yet another part of the grill pan. These were cooked until they were slightly caramelized.

Caramelized onions and peppers

In a separate pan I sautéed slices ½ of a red onion and ½ of a roasted red bell pepper (I’m sure I’ll post more about these later – they roast them up for you as you wait!) with a scant bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and yes, fresh thyme. I kept this going until the mixture was very soft and slightly caramelized.

Arugula salad

I found a vendor with the youngest and most tender arugula I’ve ever seen, so I bought a bag. Rinsed and patted dry, these spicy leaves were tossed in the juice of half a lemon and a very slight drizzle of olive oil. This was a great complement to all of the dishes.

Dust over the top of all of the dishes

A light grating of locally made asiago cheese.

To serve

Create a plate with a bit of this and a bit of that. Crusty bread would have been nice, but we didn’t have any and it really was not necessary. For true tapas, you’d also make a garlicky mayonnaise for the potatoes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Comfort. (Chicken and Wild Rice Soup)

Moving is tough anytime you do it. And after a week of packing, a week of driving and a long weekend of moving into temporary housing combined with house hunting for a permanent residence… let’s just say that by last night we were dead dog tired. And in need of a comforting meal. So we hit a local market and less than two hours later, were enjoying the following Chicken and Wild Rice Soup.

Homemade soup is one of those things we often forget about. It really isn’t all that difficult and the rewards can last for days.

Last night’s soup hit the spot. Tonight we had it as an equally comforting meal after my first day at my new office. Tomorrow I’ll freeze single portion sized zip-lock bags for emergency rations later this month.

I hope you give this one a try – or that it reminds you to whip up a batch of your favorite soup recipe the next time you need an easy and comforting meal.


  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • ½ onion – rough chopped
  • 3 large carrots – cut 2 in half; chop the remaining carrot into ¼ inch dice
  • 3 stalks celery – cut 2 in half; chop the remaining celery stalk into ¼ inch dice
  • 4 large or 6 small cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed (smash with the side of a large knife)
  • 3 - 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 Tbs dried oregano
  • 1 whole chicken – rinced, skin removed as best you can… don’t sweat the wings
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 cups water (or enough to almost cover chicken - see description below)
  • 1 box Uncle Ben’s chicken and wild rice mix (not instant) (this part was pure accident – I didn’t see the rice I wanted so I bought a rice mix – the seasoning packet is a nice addition to the soup, and surprisingly does not make it salty)
  • ¾ cups frozen peas
  • 3 large mushrooms diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste


In a medium to large stock pot:

  • Heat oil
  • Sauté onion until soft
  • Add large pieces of carrot and celery (reserve the diced portion for later)
  • Add garlic, fresh thyme and dried oregano
  • Heat everything together, stirring occasionally for 3 – 5 minutes
  • Add chicken, breast side up
  • Add broth first and water – just up to the beginning of the breast portion. You don’t want to cover the entire bird
  • Bring to boil
  • Add seasoning packet and stir until dissolved.
  • Drop heat to “low,” cover and simmer for 1 hour

After one hour:

  • Remove chicken to shallow bowl and allow to cool
  • Add rice, peas, diced carrots, celery and mushrooms to the broth mixture
  • Bring broth mixture back to a boil and then drop heat to low again
  • Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and leave covered.

  • By this time the chicken should be cool enough to work with; remove meat from bones and chop into bite-sized pieces.
  • Add chicken to broth/rice/veg mixture. Stir well and serve.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Smile (Lemon Chicken Pasta)

Nothing guarantees a smile outta me like a text or email from our son, Will who has been attending college in Helena, Montana for the past three years. Anyone who has had a child go off to college knows the feeling. You devote 18 years of your life getting them ready to leave the nest. And then they do. Thank goodness for the Internet.

I got one of those emails the other day while we were driving cross-country. He was cooking dinner for a friend and wanted to know if I had any ideas. The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree and Will knows his way around the kitchen, which is a good thing when you are an athlete.

So I tapped out my response – a lemon chicken pasta that I felt was sure to please. Turns out, he fixed something else (which is totally OK, and I want the recipe for the salad he made!). But tonight, after unpacking boxes for 9 hours I found myself walking down to Weaver Street Market to pick up the fixin’s.

And when Steve walked in the door after spending 9 hours of supervising (and helping) our moving crew as they transferred our all our worldly possessions into storage, I saw a smile on his face, too.

Here it is… give it a try… and hope you smile as well.

Lemon Chicken Pasta

(Serves 2 - usually with leftovers for lunch the next day. Scales well to serve 4 or 6)


  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts or 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 Tbs flour
  • 1 1/2 to 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil or butter (enough to coat the pan)
  • ½ medium sized onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 3 large or 6 small mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 Tbs fresh thyme
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 Tbs capers, drained
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • ½ box penne pasta, cooked
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley to garnish (optional)


  • Put a large pot of water on to boil, season with salt
  • Add pasta, cook until al dente (about 8 minutes) then drain. Set aside.

While the pasta is boiling:

  • Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then toss with the flour
  • Melt the butter or warm the olive oil in a medium sized skillet over medium/high heat.
  • Brown the chicken, about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  • Add the onion to the pan. Cook until soft.
  • Lower the heat… Add the mushrooms, garlic and thyme. Cook another 5 – 7 minutes, or until soft.
  • Add the chicken back into the pan.
  • Stir in the broth, scraping up any browned bits.
  • Add the capers
  • Now add the drained pasta

At this point you can turn the heat off and cover to keep warm.

  • When you are ready to serve, heat the mixture up, add the lemon zest and juice. Continue heating until everything is warmed through.
  • A bit of fresh parsley and Parmesan is a nice garnish.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

9:36 (Tomato Corn Chutney)

BOOM….. BOOM …..boom boom boom boom… Boom……boom boom

With the exception of one summer that I spent in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, just about every summer night of my life has been punctuated by the Disneyland fireworks.

These days Disneyland's fireworks fill the skies on weekends during the rest of the year, too. But I equate them with summer. Depending on where you are located you might see them; but most often you hear them in the distance. And from whatever reason I always glance at the clock and announce, “9:36,” which more often than not is the time on the clock when the sound reaches us.

It is strangely reassuring.

Last night we watched the Disneyland fireworks light up the sky as we whizzed along the 57 freeway past a packed Anaheim Stadium and equally full Honda Center parking lot. I felt a tad sad, knowing that soon this would be a summer memory. But was also curious about what will fill the void left in my future summer nights.

I’m looking forward to summer evenings watching fireflies, which I saw for the first time last year (until then my firefly experience had been limited to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, again a Disneyland reference). I’m sure they will torment our little Scottie dog who has a thing for bright lights and shadows. I can already hear my niece Katie squealing with delight.

Tonight’s recipe is one that often makes an appearance of a summer night as well. A rich tomato corn chutney that celebrates some of the best flavors that summer has to offer. I’m looking forward to making it with Katie and enjoying it after a night of chasing fireflies.

Tomato Corn Chutney

  • 1 medium red onion - diced
  • 1 basket cherry or grape tomatoes - halved
  • 2 ears corn, kernels removed (or 1/2 bag frozen corn thawed)
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 sprigs thyme (or 1 tsp dry)
  • 1 clove garlic, slivered
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • In large sauté pan, heat the oil, cook the onions over medium heat until just beyond the translucent stage
  • Add the thyme, cherry tomatoes and the garlic – cook over medium low heat until caramelized. This step requires patience.
  • Add in the corn and saute until heated through.
  • Lower the heat and stir in vinegar, combine well.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste

Serve hot, at room temperature as a side dish or cold as condiment for grilled chicken