Friday, December 31, 2010

Forgotten post – and a New Year’s Resolution (Bourguignon Style Beef Short ribs)

Note:  I just realized that I never posted this one from October!  The recipe is perfect for New Years Day so I’ll go ahead and share it now.  And I’ll also add “get back to blogging” to my 2011 resolutions.

One of the great joys of living in a new area is having visitors to share it with. Earlier this Fall we had the chance to show off our new town to two of our best friends and former neighbors from California, John and Barbara Zachry. 

A fun stop on the Chapel Hill tour
With some help from the wonderful butchers at Whole Foods (shout out to Owen) John, Barbara, Steve and I enjoyed a “locavore dinner” featuring sumptuous grass fed Baldwin Beef short ribs, accompanied by a slightly garlicky cauliflower puree, plus sautéed mushrooms and cipollini onions – all of which were grown or raised by local farmers. Later we retired to the screen porch to enjoy the ice cream from Maple View Farm we had selected earlier that day – a process that required many samples. (And if Owen gets a shout out, so to the Maple View cows – ladies, you are to be commended.

Following this my recipe for the short ribs, which are fashioned after Julia Child's oh so famous boeuf bourguignon. They are best made a day (or even two) ahead, which makes them perfect for holidays or entertaining; but feel free to make and serve them the same day. Perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Bourguignon Style Beef Short Ribs
Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • ¼ lb pancetta cut into ¼ to ½ inch dice.
  • 8 beef short ribs – depending on the size of the ribs, you may want to serve two each for the men and 1 each for the ladies; but I usually go for two each and see how they cook down.
  • ½ cup flour (for dusting the ribs after browning and then later for thickening)
  • 2 Tbs herbs d Provence
  • 2 - 3 Tbs olive oil (for browning the beef – the amount depends on how much fat you render out of the pancetta)
  • 2 large carrots, cut into thirds
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • 3 ribs celery, cut into thirds. Leafy tops a welcome!
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 4 – 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 bottle good (but not priced out of the park) pino noir, merlot or even cabernet wine (or if you are buying French, get a red burgenouis)
  • 1 box beef stock. Get organic, low sodium if you can find it.
  • Kosher or sea salt; fresh cracked black pepper

 Optional, but I'd hate to leave them out:
  • ½ lb cremini mushrooms, cut into quarters
  • ½ lb shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 cipollini onions or ½ lb white pearl onions, peeled (it helps to drop them into boiling water for 2 minutes and then place them in ice water before you peel them. If you use pearl onions, make a little criss-cross cut at the bottom of the onion first, to help them peel more easily)


Method:
(I know this looks like a lot of steps, but it is REALLY quite simple)
  • Heat your oven to 350 degrees
  • In a large Dutch oven:over medium low heat
  • Take the short ribs out of the 'fridge 30 minutes before you want to start cooking. Pat them dry with a paper towel. Season them liberally with salt, pepper and herbs d' Provence.
  • Coat the bottom of the pan with some olive oil and render the fat from the panchetta. They should be brown and crispy. Be patient. It will pay off.
  • Remove the rendered bits. Add some more olive oil if necessary.
  • Raise the hear to medium high
  • Working in batches, brown the short ribs on all sides – including the ends. You are going for a dark brown crust. Remove each batch to a large platter or paper lined surface.
  • When the ribs are all browned, dust them with flour. I usually take this opportunity to add some more salt, pepper and herbs d' Provence. These puppies are going to cook for a long time, they will need the help.
  • Now add the onions, carrots and celery. Let them get slightly soft as you stir them around and get up the brown bits.
  • Remove the veg and put the beef into the pot.
  • Put the veg, the thyme and bay leave atop and around the meat.
  • Add the bottle of wine – yes all of it
  • Now add the beef stock to just cover the beef.
  • Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat. Put the lid on the Dutch oven and put it in the oven.
  • Cook for 1 hour
  • After an hour, check the meat, stirring and flipping as you go.
  • Lower the heat to 250 degrees, put the Dutch oven back into the oven
  • Cook for 2 more hours. (I like to check it now and then to make sure that all the liquid hasn't evaporated. For some reasons this happens now and then. If the meat is fork tender at the 1 ½ or 1 ¾ hour mark you can remove it early. But a bit more time won't hurt and if you are not sure it is tender, don't rush it.
When the ribs are fall off the bone tender, remove them from the oven.  Move the meat to a platter and throw away the veg, sprigs of thyme, bay leaf, etc.

Next to get rid of the extra fat and thicken the sauce...
  • Put the Dutch oven containing the sauce on a medium to high heat and bring it to a boil, this will help bring the fat to the top. 
  • Now for my own little trick – turn off the heat and place 2 or 3 paper towels, one at a time, on top of the liquid. They will absorb the fat. Just lift them up with tongs and toss into the trash. Pretty cool, hug?

 Then thicken the sauce...
  • Simply take ½ cup of the liquid and put it into a small bowl, whisk in 2 – 3 Tbs of the left over flour from before. If it is too thick,add more liquid, or even a bit of water. This will make a thick “slurry” that you stir into the sauce to thicken it.
  • Now raise up the heat again, and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes to reduce the volume and reach the consistency you like. 

At this point, put the short ribs and the reserved panchetta back into the sauce. You can now either reheat them for serving or let the whole thing cool down and refrigerate for up to two days.

If serving later, remove the Dutch oven containing the short ribs and sauce and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Then heat in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the meat is heated through.

 Cipollini Onion Side Dish
I like to serve this dish with sauted ciapolini or pearl onions and mushrooms. (just saute the onions in a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme until they are slightly soft, then add some broth and steam until a knife can be inserted and removed without resistance. Then remove and keep warm while you saute the mushrooms similarly (without the broth). Then combine and divide amongst your guests.

Additional Side Dishes
A braised dish like this is often accompanied by mashed potatoes, pasta or even risotto – but with a meal this rich, I like to make a simple puree of cauliflower that has been boiled until tender with garlic cloves. Add a little butter and half & half (or plain Fage Greek yogurt), salt and pepper and you won't feel as stuffed at the end of the night!

Enjoy.



Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rescued From Take-Out (Layered Vegetable Casserole)

Hot and bubbly from the oven...
waiting is the hardest part
Like Mother Hubbard,  I went to the cupboard this evening and by golly it was bare.  

The thought did cross my mind to make a quick call to Sal’s Pizza or run over to Alan & Son for some BBQ.  Not exactly healthy moves. 

So instead I took another inventory of the ‘fridge and pantry.  Here’s what I came up with:
  • 1 small striped zucchini from last weekend’s trip to the Farmers Market
  • 1 medium summer squash from the same farmer
  • A good-sized handful of baby spinach
  • 6 large mushrooms
  • ½ pint of whole milk ricotta (the inspiration for this dish.  I couldn't bear to toss it)
  • About ¼ cup of shredded and ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 slice provolone cheese (like you’d use in a sandwich) this is probably optional but sounded like a good thing to do
  • Some fresh basil
  • Some fresh parsley
  • About a cup of dried rigatoni (any shape or style would do)
  • 1 medium can of Cento San Marzano tomato sauce
  • Staples of salt, pepper, olive oil, fennel seed and fresh garlic
Put it all together and what do you get? 

Layered Vegetable Casserole (or lasagna without lasagna pasta), that’s what.

Method

Here’s the game plan:
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degree
  • In small sauce pan, sauté two chopped cloves of garlic and a teaspoon or so of fennel seeds in about a Tbs of the olive oil; then add the tomato sauce and a handful of the basil that you’ve rough chopped
  • Simmer as you prepare the rest of the recipe
  • In a large pot, boil some salted water and cook the pasta until al dente.  When done remove the pasta and add to the simmering sauce
  • Slice the squash into ¼ inch lengthwise slices. 
  • Mix the ricotta cheese with the grated parmesan cheese, a handful of chopped parsley, about a teaspoon of olive oil and a scant pinch of salt and about six grinds of pepper.
  • Slice and sauté the mushrooms in a tsp of the olive oil

Now to assemble:
  • Put some sauce in the bottom of a small casserole dish; smear it around
  • Add a single layer of zucchini
  • Dot the zucchini with ½ of the ricotta mixture
  • Add a layer of the spinach
  • Scoop out the pasta from the sauce and layer on top of the ricotta
  • Add the mushrooms
  • Add the summer squash in a single layer
  • Top with rest of the ricotta mixture
  • Pour on the rest of the sauce
  • Slice the provolone into thin strips and put them as the final layer
  • Sprinkle the shredded parmesan cheese on top’
  • Cover lightly with foil

Time to cook it
  • Bake for 40 minutes covered
  • Remove the foil and bake for 10 more minutes or until the cheese starts to turn golden


Cool for 15 minutes

Slice and serve

Enjoy

Sunday, September 5, 2010

One Year and Counting! (Favorite Marinade & Mixed Pepper Relish)


Roasting peppers at the Carrboro Farmers' Market

Yesterday marked our first year in Chapel Hill.  As you may know, both Steve and I are California natives, as were our parents. So picking up and moving cross-country was no small thing. But we did it.  And despite the fact that we miss our friends we are truly glad we did. 

Slowly but surely we are meeting new people and establishing new routines.  We have learned about the seasons and understand their allure.  The humidity thing wasn’t as bad as it was cracked up to be.  However, I have learned that I am a human magnet for any kind of insect that bites.  Seriously, forget the bug spray – just invite me to your next outdoor party and your guests will be bite free!

But I digress.  So yesterday was the one-year marker.  It was a beautiful Carolina day. Blue skies, a bit of a breeze. Hotter than blazes, but I still drove around town with the sunroof open and all the windows down. 

As I’ve noticed before, it dawned on me that I smile more here. Winding my way through the farmers’ market, shouting “hey” to my brother I passed him and his family heading to the lake on their bikes, strolling down Franklin Street after getting my hair cut, and waving “thanks” to the Southern Gentleman who let me turn left into the line of cars leaving a shopping center – something that happens all the time here. Yes, Chapel Hill is a happy place for me to be.

We ended the day by breaking in the new deck we just had built off the screen porch.  My brother and his family came over, Steve fired up the grill (I’m finally starting to get used to not calling it a BBQ, which in the South refers to the food not the method of cooking) and we enjoyed a long leisurely evening together. 

Today, I’ll share a couple of recipes from the dinner we served.  I hope you try them and smile.

Enjoy.


Favorite Marinade
(Mainly used for beef and pork, but surprisingly good on chicken)

Ingredients:

¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ soy sauce
1 1/2  TBS herbs d’ Provence (if you don’t have it on hand - as was the case for me yesterday - you can actually substitute poultry seasoning – go figure!)
2 cloves of garlic chopped
Big pinch of salt
6 – 10 grinds of black pepper
1 bay leaf

Method:
  • Put all ingredients in a large plastic zip bag
  • Add meat
  • Mush around to coat
  • Stash in ‘fridge

(I marinade tri tip roasts 2 hours to over night; pork chops for a couple hours and surprisingly, chicken does well with this but I only marinade it for 30 minutes to 1 hour)
  • Grill meat as normal.

For a 2.5 pound tri-tip on a gas grill: sear on high heat and then drop to medium-off-medium  with the lid closed for 30 minutes then check with an instant read thermometer.  You should be at around 140 for medium rare/150 for medium (if you want it well done, skip the grill and go buy some jerky). 
  • Tent with foil for 10 minutes then slice thin.

Serve with Roasted Mixed Pepper Relish

Roasted Mixed Pepper Relish
(This one was inspired by Giada De Laurentiis, but she uses only red and yellow bell peppers and does not include garlic)
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1 poblano pepper
  • 1 anaheim pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large clove garlic, grated on microplane or finely diced
  •  3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and Pepper

Method:
  • Grill the peppers until charred; preferably over an open flame, but you can also use the broiler.  My farmers’ market has a guy who does this for you – he’s very popular!
  • Put the peppers in a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Wait at least 10 minutes.
  • When the peppers are cool enough to handle, scrape off the charred skin
  • Cut open and scrape out the seeds and the ribs
  • Slice into thin strips
  • Put the pepper strips, capers, olive oil, garlic and parsley in a glass bowl.  Stir to combine thoroughly
  • Season with a pinch of kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • Cover with plastic wrap and stash in the ‘fridge until It’s time to serve.  

Sunday, August 15, 2010

End of vacation dinner (Will’s lemon scented pasta)

A note from Holly:
(I was going to post the recipe for my lemon chicken – and then I realized that I’ve already posted it.  Brain Cramp. What I will share with you is the pasta that we served with the lemon chicken I made last night.  More of a method than a recipe, this one so simple yet so delicious.  And the really cool part – Will came up with it!  I guess he got the cooking gene!)

It seems like we just picked up Will at the airport and now his summer break is over.  Tomorrow at o'dark-thirty he and Steve will leave for a cross-country drive back to school. They’ve got a great itinerary planned – and will hit baseball games in Chicago and Minneapolis before fishing their way thru North Dakota and finally dropping into the Big Sky State. 

As moms are wont to do, I cooked up one of Will’s favorite dishes last night – lemon chicken.  And this time, he taught me a trick – scenting the pasta itself with lemon by putting both the juice and the juiced lemon halves into the salted pasta water right before you add the pasta.  Wow, was it good.

Lemon Scented Pasta

Ingredients
  • Large pot of boiling water
  • 2 – 3 Tbs of Kosher Salt
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • The actual lemon that was just juiced
  • 4 servings of angle hair pasta (or any shaped pasta of your choice)


Method
  • Boil the water in a very large pot
  • Add the salt, lemon juice and juiced lemon halves
  • Add the pasta and cook according to package directions
  • Drain the pasta and return to the pot you cooked it in.
  • If you are serving with a dish that has a sauce, pour some of the sauce on the pasta before serving. 
  • Or you can simply toss gently with
    • 1 Tbs melted butter
    • 1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
    • Some chopped flat leaf parsley


To serve
  • This is great with lemon pasta, but would be equally good with shrimp, fish, or even sautéed zucchini or spring peas.
  • Dust with Parmesan cheese

Dig in and enjoy!


Saturday, August 7, 2010

It’s Tomato Time (Deconstructed BLT Salad)

Summer and tomatoes go hand and hand.  And when it comes to a summer lunch or even dinner, what can be better than a BLT? 

My mom made a mean BLT, and I still remember one that I had at a golf course in Mexico on a steamy summer day back in the 80s.  But the very best BLT I have ever had is right her in Chapel Hill, at a gas station turned lunch stop called Merrit’s Store & Grill.

Merrit’s roots go back to 1929 when original owners Ruby and Eben Merritt opened a gas station and store on Columbia St, a narrow winding road that eventually cuts right through the UNC campus and connects with Franklin Street at heart of Chapel Hill. 

Later in 1991, current owner Robert Britt bought the store and added the signature BLT to the menu.  The sandwich’s beauty is in its simplicity.  Lightly toasted bread, a thin smear of good quality mayo and a layer (or more, depending on the size sandwich you choose) each of farm stand tomatoes and crisp local bacon are topped with crisp iceberg lettuce.  The whole thing is wrapped in foil and handed to you in a brown paper bag.  Need I say more?

We had our first Merrit’s BLT the week we arrived in Chapel Hill a little under a year ago.  As we settled in to enjoy our lunch at a picnic table behind the store, there was a flash of lightning, a crash of thunder and the sky literally opened up. Just like in the movies!  We dashed to the car and had our picnic right in the gravel covered parking lot.  It was a great way to start our adventure, and a memory I will always cherish.

The other night we had a similar storm, and as luck would have it I also had some heirloom tomatoes, local bacon, and the other necessary BLT fixin’s on hand.  However, we weren’t in the mood for a sandwich, so I did a deconstructed version and called it dinner. 

Will took a great shot of the salad before we enjoyed it with a nice glass of crisp white wine. I hope you give it a try and enjoy it as much as we did. 

Enjoy!

Deconstructed BLT Salad
(serves 4 as an entrée)

Ingredients:

For the Dressing:
  • ½ cup non fat Fage Greek Yogurt
  • ¼ cup Best Foods, Helman’s or (my new favorite, which is available in the South) Duke’s mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 small clove of garlic, grated on a micro-plane or mashed into a paste
  • pinch salt
  • 6 grinds black pepper


For the salad:
  • 4 thick slices of hearty white bread (I get a local baked farm style bread; sourdough would also work)
  • 1 very large heirloom tomato (red and yellow ones are really good for this), cut into 4 think slices
  • 2 medium sized red tomato, cut into 8 slices
  • 8 slices thick cut apple smoked bacon
  • 2 cups shredded (make nice, long shreds – not chopped) iceberg lettuce
  • Olive Oil for grilling the bread
  • salt and pepper


Method:

Make the Dressing

  • Whisk together the yogurt, mayo, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper.  
  • Cover with cling wrap and chill until you are ready to make the salad.  


Cook the bacon -- I like to bake mine, which keeps it perfectly flat and drains the fat from the meat:
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
  • Lay the bacon on a rack atop sheet pan
  • Grind some pepper on the bacon
  • Bake for 10 minutes, flip and bake 5 minutes more, or until desired doneness is reached.


Grill the bread -- I use a grill pan inside, which works just fine.
  • Brush the bread on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with a very small amount of kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
  • Grill until you’ve got good grill marks and the bread is crispy


Assemble the saladUse nice big dinner plates since this gets a bit messy  when you start cutting into the salad.

Atop each plate layer:
  • A slice of grilled bread
  • The largest slice of tomato
  • A slice of bacon
  • Another slice of tomato
  • A slice of bacon
  • Another slice of tomato
  • A handful of the lettuce
  • A drizzle of the dressing
  • Salt and Pepper.


Enjoy!


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Back Porch Summer Evenings (Black Bean Hummus)


I’ve written before about our wonderful neighborhood and the people who live here. As we near the year anniversary of our cross-country move, I continue to be thankful that we made our decision to purchase the house we now call home. 

This summer many of the neighbors have been getting together on alternate Saturday nights for cocktails, appetizers and a lot of laughs.  We inevitably end up on the back porch – the quintessential Southern gathering place on a hot summer night.  

In California we would have called it the deck or patio.  Here a back porch is often screened, which makes it seem even more like a part of the home. Furnishings are typically simple, but the spaces have a cozy feel.  Both the screened and completely outdoor variety back porch often overlooks a wooded yard and, if you are lucky, a creek or stream. A flickering of fireflies and the symphony of cicadas, tree frogs and bullfrogs rounds the whole thing out.
  
We had just such an evening planned for last night.  The day, however, had been long, busy and active day for both Steve and me, so a quick and easy to make appetizer was in order. 

I’d been thinking about making black bean hummus all week (I truly don’t know why, but it sounded like a good thing to do), and earlier in the week had jotted down what I thought would make a good recipe for it. The party was a great opportunity to give the recipe a try.

As usual, I made an adjustment here and there to my original ideas about spices and seasonings.  At one point, Steve (my official taster) declared it “too limey,” so I added a seeded and minced jalapeño pepper, which balanced the whole thing out. 

I also made a batch of homemade tortilla chips, something I hadn’t made since college (so easy – just cut up fresh corn tortillas, fry them in canola oil and sprinkle with sea salt).  Then with crossed fingers and a bottle of wine, we headed over to the party of unsuspecting guinea pigs.

They may have just been being polite, but everyone said they liked it.  The bowl was all but licked clean, so I’m calling it a success.

Here it is for you to try out.

Black Bean Hummus

Ingredients
  • 2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 ½ limes (the juice of both and the zest of one)
  • 1 large clove of garlic, grated on a micro-plane, or minced and then rubbed with the side of a knife with some Kosher to make a paste (you want the flavor of the garlic, but not a chunk of it)
  • 1 Tbs chili powder
  • 1 ½ tsp hot sauce (Cholula "original" or another flavorful, spicy hot sauce of your choice - see photo)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted in a skillet until they are fragrant
  • ¾ tsp Kosher salt
  • ½ tsp fresh cracked black pepper
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed, and finely minced
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbs minced cilantro for garnish


Method
In a food processor
  • Pulse the black beans, lime juice, lime zest, garlic, chili powder, hot sauce, cumin seeds, salt, pepper and coriander until smooth.
  • Scrape down the sides of the food processor and pulse again to mix.
  • Switch the setting to “on” and stream in the olive oil
  • Add the ½ cup of cilantro leaves and the jalapeño and pulse to mix
  • Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper to taste
  • (If you like a thinner hummus, you can thin with a table spoon or two of water)
Remove to a serving bowl or plate and chill for at least 30 minutes
  • Garnish with remaining 1 Tbs of cilantro leaves and line wedges


Serve with tortilla chips or sliced red bell peppers and/or sliced jicama


Enjoy!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Outer Banks Escape (Herbed Cheese and Prosciutto Crostini)

Just one more day until summer is officially here. And summer in North Carolina equals The Beach.  Maybe it’s because it takes a bit of effort and involves a two to three hour drive and usually an overnight stay, but going to the beach is an iconic Carolina summer experience. In fact, lately it seems that everyone I come in contact with has just returned from the beach or is headed there in the next few days.

Not to be left out, Steve and I made our first weekend pilgrimage to the sandy shores of our new state last weekend.  I had just come off of a big project and needed a break. So we broke out Google Maps and started checking things out.  A tip from my brother charted our course – The Outer Banks. Even it’s name sounds remote and nostalgic. We couldn't wait to get on the road.

The Outer Banks is actually a thin strip of tiny islands off the North Carolina Coast, with the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and Alberlarle Sound and Pamlico Sound to the west.  It’s where the Wright Brothers made their historic first flight at Kitty Hawk and where the Pirate Blackbeard fought his last battle. Today, you can still find pristine beaches of fine white sand and sea grass, quaint light houses, lovely beach houses and inns, and excellent restaurants. The islands are accessible by bridge or ferry, which turns a quick getaway into more of an adventure.

One of the highlights of the trip was a fantastic dinner at The Inn on Pamlico Sound, a beautiful property with an excellent restaurant that over looks -- you got it -- the Pamlico Sound.  

One of the highlights of our meal was a great herbed cheese and prosciutto crostini appetizer. Crostini means “little toasts” in Italian. They can be topped with just about anything, but this version’s light and fresh flavors of herbs and lemon were a perfect complement to a crisp sauvignon blanc and a warm summer night. 

As often happens when we are in a restaurant, I vowed to duplicate the dish when we got home. Yesterday I put together the recipe below and took it to a neighborhood get-together last night. I must say, I think I nailed it.  I hope you give it a try.

Herbed Cheese and Prosciutto Crostini
Serves 6

Ingredients
  • 1 package Snofrisk (This is a mild spreadable cheese that is 80% cows milk and 20% goat milk. Look for this in the specialty cheese section of your grocer.  Whole Foods carries it.)
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 Tbs finely minced chives
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 5 grinds black pepper
  • 12 thin slices of ciabatta bread
  • 12 thin slices of parma prosciutto (Get the real deal if you can.  It’s pricy, but you only need 12 slices.  Have the butcher or deli person slice it ultra thin)
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 handfuls of arugula


Method
Herbed Cheese:
  • Mix the cheese, thyme, chives, lemon zest and pepper in a small bowl
  • Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors meld.  You can make this the day before.


Crostini Toasts:
  • On a grill pan or outside grill, toast the bread slices


Balsamic syrup:
  • In a small saucepan, heat the balsamic vinegar and sugar over very low heat until it has reduced by half and creates a thick syrup.  You won’t end up with much, but you only need a very small amount
  • Set aside


To assemble
  • Spread a thin layer of the cheese mixture on each piece of toast
  • Top with a piece of the prosciutto
  • Heap the arugula onto a serving platter
  • Place the crostinis on top of the arugula
  • Using a teaspoon and lightly drizzle the balsamic vinegar syrup over the toasts and arugula


To eat, you can place a piece or two of arugula atop the crostini. 

Enjoy!





Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hello, Summer! (Keep it Simple Potato Salad)

How can you not like potato salad? It screams “Summer!” and picnics and tailgates and, for me, the simple and delicious meals my mother used to make when we were growing up in Whittier, California.

I was fortunate to be raised by parents who enforced what we now know as “family dinners,” without knowing it.  We ate dinner together every night, and 9 out of 10 times those meals were at home. Lots of veggies, grilled meats and fish, pasta dishes and simple yet yummy casseroles – I’d kill for her seven-layer casserole or stuffed bell peppers right now!

My mom also made excellent potato and macaroni salads that were so fresh and good.  I think it was the lemons and celery seed -- and the fact that she didn’t muck things up with extra ingredients that simply are not necessary.  

So in honor of Mom and Memorial Day I whipped up a batch of potato salad this morning. I’m working on a big project and was on my way to my home office when inspiration hit.  I ran back down stairs and within 15 minutes, the salad was cooling and ready for the ‘fridge.

I can’t wait for Will to get home from work tonight so we can dig in.

Keep it Simple Potato Salad

Ingredients
  •  1 mesh bag of new red or white potatoes (the little ones are best)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and left whole
  • ¾ cup celery, ¼ inch dice
  • ¼ cup green onions, ¼ inch dice or smaller (whites and greens)
  • 1 red bell pepper, ¼ inch dice
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ¾ cup Best Foods or Hellman’s Mayo
  • 2 tsp celery seeds
  • 2 large pinches Kosher salt
  • Lots of fresh ground pepper


Method:
  • Place the uncut and unpeeled potatoes and the clove of garlic in a large pot and cover with cold water.  Add a healthy dose of Kosher salt (about 2 Tbs) put the pot on high heat and bring to a boil. 
  • Once the potatoes are boiling, lower to medium high and cook for 10 minutes, or until a knife can pierce the potato and come out fairly easily.  I will admit, I cut one in half to check at the 7-minute mark. You don’t want mushy potatoes!
  • While the potatoes are cooking, chop the celery, onions and bell pepper. Place in a large bowl. 
  • Add the mayo, celery seeds lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir to combine
  • Once the potatoes are done, drain them well and cut into quarters while they are still hot.  Use a sharp paring knife and you can make short work of this.  Leave the skins intact as much as possible.
  • At this time, also mash up the clove of garlic that boiled with the potatoes.  Add it to the mixture in the bowl and stir to combine.
  • Now add the still warm potatoes to the bowl.  Stir to combine.
  • Allow to cool and then cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.  Chill for at least 2 hours.

Enjoy!


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Farmers Market Cooking Class (Cumin Scented Spinach Couscous with Spring Vegetables)

Whew. What a week. A big project came to fruition, just as we hit the home stretch for a big event that is being planned for the first week of June. Late nights, early mornings, voice scritchy from talking on the phone.  Frankly, I had a blast.

Those who know me well, know that the harder I push at work, the more I need to chop, sauté and plate-up new dishes. So the timing of my first cooking class at A Southern Season this morning was perfecto!

A Southern Season is a Chapel Hill institution.  Amazing cooking store, meets outrageous specialty food store and invites a wine shop and florist over for a party. Toss in a great restaurant, phenomenal candy store and a cooking store, plus a healthy dose of Southern cuisine favorites and you’ve got A Southern Season.  Oh yeah, forgot the cheese section.  And the paper goods.  You get the point.

The class I took revolved around the Farmers Market that takes place outside the store every Saturday morning.  After donning  our aprons we headed out to the market to meet the farmers and gather up supplies for lunch.

Everything we cooked with was from the local area – farm fresh eggs (from pasture-raised chickens) and local cream for a stove-top crème brulee (watch for future posts as I make this one my own); strawberries, dried figs, local cheese, bacon, greens and garlic for a sweet & savory salad; multi-colored carrots and radishes that we tossed in olive oil and roasted; plus  tomatoes, spring garlic and cucumbers that found their way into a delightful couscous salad that I re-created tonight and will share with you here.

The best part, I spent two hours cooking and enjoying lunch with the most wonderful group of people. We chopped, chatted and learned. Then we enjoyed the fruits of our labors. If you’ve never done anything like this, I highly recommend it. 

Here is how I remembered the couscous.  I don't think we put parsley in, but I did tonight and it was tasty.  Cilantro would be good too. I also added some spring onions from last week's market. 

Cumin Scented Spinach Couscous with Spring Vegetables

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup spinach couscous (if you can’t find spinach couscous, plain couscous will do.)
  • 1 ¼ cup boiling water
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 large or 2 small tomatoes, cut into ½ inch dice
  • ½ cup diced English cucumber (the kind that comes wrapped in plastic when you buy them at the grocery store) 
  • ½ cup spring onion, cut into ½ inch dice (They look like a cross between a leek and a green onion and are VERY mild.  This is a staple in our farmers markets here, but if you can’t find them, I’d use chopped green onions or even red onion that you cut into ¼ inch dice and soak in ice water to remove the bitterness)
  • ¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground (or if you are in a pinch like I was tonight, around 2 ½  tsp ground cumin)
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 Tbs good olive oil
  • 2 Tbs red wine vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


Method


  • Combine the couscous, boiling water and 1 tsp Kosher salt in a medium sized glass bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to set until the liquid is completely absorbed.  This takes about 10 – 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, combine all of the other ingredients, except for the final dose of salt and pepper in a large bowl.
  • When the couscous is absorbed and tender, fluff it with a fork.
  • Then add the couscous to the vegetable mixture. 
  • Stir well.
  • Season to taste.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  (Note, we didn’t really have time to get it cold during class or tonight when I made this, and it was perfectly fine.)


This was a great side dish with some grilled local sausages tonight.  Tomorrow it will make a comeback with burgers when my brother’s family comes over for dinner. (Shhhhhh don’t tell them, but they are getting leftovers!)  (And thanks, again, Ed for giving me this class for Christmas. You know your sister well.)

Enjoy.



Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Fever (pineapple mango salsa)

Spring has sprung! I took a much needed half day off today - talk about perfect timing. Weather in the high 60s/low 70s and not a cloud in the sky. 

After doing my part to help the local economy and dropping off some flowers at my brother's house,  I spent a peaceful hour reading outside and chatting with a girlfriend in California.  Basketballs could be heard bouncing and swuushing from driveways up and down the street. The kids next door zip lined from tree to tree. And a bright yellow bouquet of fresh daffodils could be seen through the window, providing a cheery welcome to our home.

When Steve got home from golf (hooray, the course is open and dry!) we enjoyed a really nice dinner that was filled with the flavors of spring.  Here’s what was on the menu:
  • Wild Sea Bass – seasoned with a bit of grape seed oil, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper; pan seared and cooked to crispy yet moist perfection; and then topped with a fresh pineapple mango salsa.
  • Fresh English Peas – shelled, lightly steamed, and finished with a tad bit of butter and a squeeze of lemon.
  • Primavera Brown Rice – brown rice cooked in chicken broth and sautéed garlic, with diced asparagus, shredded carrots and halved grape tomatoes added during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Here’s the recipe for the salsa, which is great on fish, chicken or even tortilla chips. (Feel free to add some diced Hass avocado if you have it on hand.)

Pineapple Mango Salsa
  • ½ cup pineapple, chopped into ½ inch dice (fresh, frozen or canned is fine, but of course we always like fresh better
  • ½ cup fresh mango, chopped into ½ inch dice
  • ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tbs finely minced red onion
  • ½ tsp finely minced jalapeño pepper
  • Juice from either ½ lime or ¼ lemon
  • Pinch kosher salt
Method
  • Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl, chill 1 hour.

How easy is that?

Enjoy!




Thursday, February 25, 2010

Could Spring be Around the Corner? (Sheryl & Madison’s Bleu Cheese Coleslaw)

(Note - I wrote this while flying to a conference last Sunday... BEFORE the snow flurries that kept us chilly today...)

What a great day last Saturday was.  The WRAL weather team was true to their word and we enjoyed a sunny day with temps in the 60s and a light breeze to remind us that Spring is just a few weeks away. However, it was not just the balmy (by this winter's standards) temps that spelled late winter for Steve and me.  It was th ping of aluminum bats as we walked up to Boshamer Stadium  for our first Tar Heel baseball game.

While we kept catching ourselves comparing the experience to our many years at Cal State Fullerton Titan's Goodwin Field (which made us miss our Diamond Club Friends even more), we left knowing that we'd be back for more.  College baseball, the season's first bag of seeds, and college kids enjoying the warmth of the sun.  Yup, it was a good day.

Alas, we had to leave before the 9th inning was over to get ready for our nephew Sam's Blue & Gold Dinner.  The event was the culmination of his first five years in Scouts and his efforts were rewarded with the Arrow of Light Award. (Shout out to Sam -- We are so proud of you! And you should be proud of yourself for all your hard work!)

The dinner also celebrated the Scouts centennial year with a 100 Year Ho Down.  I must sa I was impressed by the event.  In addition to amazing fried chicken and probably the best spread of potluck sides I've ever seen (man o' Manachevetz, these Southerners know their sides), e also enjoyed a blue grass band, and a clogging demonstration to boot! (Shout out to my brother Ed and his leadership team -- way to keep an awards ceremony from being boring!)

Never one to want to arrive at such an affair empty handed, I did contribute to the bounty of sides.  Bleu Cheese Coleslaw.  Need I say more?  

Not one to keep these things to myself, I'm passing the recipe along to you. Aside from a handful of scallions, I can't claim credit - this one is a little ditty that my friend Sheryl and her daughter Madison created.  It is a true crowd pleaser and super easy. I literally threw it together in the 10 minutes I had to spare between the game and the dinner.

Enjoy!

Sheryl & Madison’s Bleu Cheese Coleslaw


Ingredients:
  • 1 bag coleslaw cabbage and carrot mix
  • 6 scallions, chopped fine (my one addition to the recipe - I really can't control myself)
  • 1 cup "premium" chunky bleu cheese dressing (the refrigerated kind you get in the produce department)
  • 1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles
  • 2 Tbs prepared (not creamed) horseradish

Method:
(I did say this is easy...)
  • Put all the ingredients in a large bowl
  • Stir well to combine
  • Cover and chill; or if your ingredients were all cold, serve right away
  • Sit back and listen for people to say, "Did you taste that coleslaw?"



Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day Walk - Lemon Scented Lamb Shanks with Rosemary





Happy Valentine's Day!

It’s a beautiful, crisp day in Chapel Hill.  The sun is shining from a perfect Carolina blue sky. Birds are devouring seed from the feeder in our backyard while the kids next door play a serious game of basketball. 

I have to laugh -- the highs are in the mid-40s and back in California I would have been bundled up grousing about the weather.  Instead, Steve and I took CurveBall for a quick “once around the neighborhood” (short dog = short walks) and then headed out to investigate a walking trail that is about 5 minutes from our home.

We had a great hour-long walk on one of many trails that wind thru deep green pine trees and leafless hardwoods.  Not a sound to be heard, except for birds and our footsteps. Now and then a small plane would take off from the little airport nearby.  My thoughts soared up with them and I imagined their view of the lake, our nearby creek, and the contrast of the pine trees against the stark white remnants of last week’s snow. 

Back home Steve settled in to watch a bit of golf as I prepared our Valentine’s Dinner.  It’s a bit of a tradition for me to make something “that cooks all day” for holidays like this.  A trip to the meat counter at Whole Foods earlier today determined exactly what that would be:  lamb shanks that were just too perfect to resist. I’m trying something new this time and have added rosemary and sliced lemons.  I’m cooking it early and then will reheat it later (a good trick for braised meats).  The dish will be served atop pappardelle pasta (think fettuccini pasta on steroids) tossed in olive oil, parsley and lemon zest.

The recipe I created for this dish is below.  I hope you give it a try.

Lemon Scented Lamb Shanks with Rosemary
Serves 2 - cooking time 1 3/4 to 2 hours

Ingredients
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 lamb shanks – seasoned with salt and pepper and dusted with flour
  • 2 carrots, chopped into ½ inch dice
  • 1 medium onion, chopped into ½ inch dice
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped into ½ inch dice
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly smashed (whack an unpeeled clove with the flat side of a chef’s knife to loosen the skin and crush the clove slightly
  • 1 lemon, sliced into ¼ inch slices and seeded
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme (you can leave whole and pull the stems out later)
  • 3 cups organic beef broth (low sodium, if you can get it)
  •  
  • 2 servings of pappardelle pasta
  • 1 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 – 2 Tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley (also called Italian Parsley)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest






Method
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Heat a large Dutch oven over high heat
  • Add olive oil and reduce heat to medium high.
  • Brown the lamb shanks on all sides, remove and keep warm
  • Add the chopped onion, carrot, celery and whole garlic cloves; sauté until the onions are soft
  • Add the rosemary and thyme, stir to combine
  • Now place the lamb shanks in the middle of the pot. 
  • Place two lemon slices atop each shank; place the rest amid the sautéed veg
  • Carefully pour the stock into the pot.  It should come up about ½ way up each piece of meat. Do not submerge the meat completely.
  • Raise the heat to “high” and bring the liquid to a boil.
  • Cover and place in oven.  Braise for 1 hour, and then turn the meat.  Cover and cook for another 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the meat is very tender.
  • After 2 hours remove from the oven.  Remove the meat and cover with foil to keep warm.
  • Remove the stems from the thyme, throw away
  • Remove the lemon slices, reserve if you like and serve with the final dish
  • If there is a lot of liquid, Put Dutch oven on the stove over a medium/high heat and cook liquid until reduced by half. Otherwise, proceed to the next step.
  • Purée with a hand blender for a smooth sauce. If it seems a bit thick, you can add some broth or some pasta cooking water if you've already boiled the pappadelle
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper
  • Add the lamb shanks back into the sauce
  • Serve immediately or cover to keep warm for up to 2 hours and reheat in a 350 degree oven for 20 - 30 minutes before serving






Serve with pappadelle pasta cooked al dente in salted water then tossed in olive oil, chopped parsley, and lemon zest

Enjoy.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Back in the groove – (Cream of Tomato Basil Soup with Grilled Cheese Dipper)

Comfort food at its best
Recipe tested and updated September 2017

First off, thanks to the friends and followers who have inquired about my intentions to continue doing this blog – no, I’ve not given it up; yes, I’m still cooking on a regular basis; yes I still LOVE North Carolina.  I just had a particularly busy late December/early January and aside from work, it took me a while to get back in the groove.
Chances are you have all the
ingredients you need in your
pantry, fridge and garden.
But baby I’m back! And I'm looking forward to posting on a regular basis again, and sharing some new recipes.

If you’ve seen the news, you’ll know it’s been a bit chilly here.  The last week of December and the first couple of weeks of January were particularly ridiculous.  I’m all for the changing of the seasons, but when CurveBall goes out on the screen porch for a drink of water and her little Scottish Terrier beard freezes before she gets back inside, it’s too freakin’ cold for this SoCal born and raised girl. 

The chilly weather has led to a new collection of scarves and gloves, and an appreciation for the art of "layering" without looking like the Michelin Man! 

The chilly weather has also prompted a number of new tummy warming favorites and the tomato soup below is one of them. It combines two favorites – tomato soup and grilled chesses sandwiches – into comfort food bliss.  Pair with a crisp white wine and a salad and it makes a great dinner.  Leftovers reheat nicely in the microwave for lunch.

Enjoy.


Cream of Tomato Basil Soup with Grilled Cheese Dippers
 Serves 6

Cream of Tomato Basil Soup Ingredients

  • 2 large cans Cento San Marzano whole tomatoes (Sure you can use any old canned tomatoes, but if you can find Cento or another brand of San Marzano tomatoes, pop the few extra cents and get the good stuff)
  • 4 cups (1 box) chicken stock
  • 3/4 cup diced carrots (about 2 medium carrots)
  • 3/4 cup diced onion (about 1/2 large onion)
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed (you can fish this out later if you are not a big garlic fan)
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste 
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, loosely packed, left whole
  • 3 TBS chopped fresh basil (about 1/2 cup whole leaf) (chop right before use)
  • ¾ cup cream or half-and-half 
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper


Method
In a large saucepan or medium size dutch oven:
  • Sauté the onion, carrots and celery in the olive oil over a low heat until soft (about 2 minutes), add a large teaspoon of Kosher salt and 10 grinds grinds of black pepper, the garlic and tomato paste and continue sautéing 3 more minutes
  • Add the canned tomatoes (with juice) and broth and the whole leaf basil; mash down the tomatoes gently with a potato masher or slotted spoon, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium/low and cook partially covered for 30 minutes.
  • Turn off the flame and let cool for 10 minutes.   
  • Fish out the bay leaf (and garlic, if you desire) and puree the soup mixture with a hand-held stick blender (or in batches in a regular blender of food processor) until smooth. 
  • Add cream or half-and-half and remainder of basil; stir and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Warm over a low flame if necessary.
  • Serve with with Grilled Cheese Dippers (see below)

Grilled Cheese Dippers Ingredients
  • 12 slices sliced ciabatta bread 
  • 12 slices cheddar/jack cheese, cut in half to match the shape of the ciabatta 
  • 1/4 stick softened butter

 Method
  • Heat a or grill pan over a high flame until very hot
  • Divide the cheese to top half the bread slices, top with the remaining bread slices, smear with the butter and place butter side down on the hot pan
  • Lower the heat, cook until crispy and flip, cooking again until the second side is crispy and the cheese is gooey.
To Serve
Ladle the soup into a bowl, top with a grilled cheese dipper and enjoy.