Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Barley Any Trouble at All: Sausage and Barley Stuffed Tomatoes

I’ve been in a rice rut lately. I’ve got long grain, short grain, white, brown. I’m tired of rice. I love quinoa, but unfortunately quinoa is a little out of the budget for the immediate future. So while I was roaming through the grocery store this week, I noticed pearled barley. Read More

Recipe: Sausage and Barley Stuffed Tomatoes

Monday, June 28, 2010

Bilingual Blueberries: Mango and Blueberry Galette (or is it Crostada?)

I’ve got a friend who owns a bakery. She makes these wonderful dessert bites – little hors d’oeuvres that seem like they should be on display rather than eaten. I have neither the skill nor the patience for that. My desserts lean heavily towards the rustic. It doesn’t mean they are any less flavorful. But they are definitely meant to be eaten, not admired for their artistic quality. Read More

Recipe: Mango and Blueberry Galette

Friday, June 25, 2010

My Childhood Favorite with a Twist: Noodles and Green Beans with Asian Peanut Sauce

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to eat was pasta and peanut butter. I don’t even know where I got the idea. Mom didn’t make it, my brothers didn’t eat it, but I absolutely loved it. In fact, I think my brothers’ collective reaction was ‘Eew, gross,” when I made it. They just didn’t know what they were missing. Read More

Recipe: Noodles and Green Beans with Asian Peanut Sauce

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rolling the Dice: Mushroom and Spinach Stuffed Pork Loin

Some good friends are getting ready to head north for the summer (that’s the problem with living in Florida: no one else lives here year-round), so we decided to get together for one last dinner party before they head to the Arctic Circle (OK, they’re summering in New Hampshire, but that’s close enough for me). Even though we were not hosting the evening, somehow I ended up preparing dinner - again.

I didn’t want to do BBQ and burgers, and I also didn’t want to do a formal, sit-down affair. Comfortable but nice is what I was going for. I’ve done too much chicken, seafood, and pasta recently, so I was grasping for something different to make. That’s when I decided to play The Game. READ MORE

Mushroom and Spinach Stuffed Pork Loin

Monday, June 21, 2010

Call It Whatever You Want, Just Eat It: Three Cheese Grits Soufflé

There’s something about a stick-to-your-ribs breakfast that just makes the morning better. Granted, you can’t do it every morning, but a weekend indulgence is just the time to reacquaint myself with my rural roots.

When I was a kid, the best thing in the world was to spend the night at my grandparents’ house. It was totally full of unique experiences: hunting forgotten treasure in the woods; a ride in the wagon pulled behind the tractor; sleeping on the hide-a-bed (OK, I was 6. It seemed like an adventure then – now it would break my back); but the best experience was breakfast. READ MORE

Recipe: Three Cheese Grits Soufflé

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More Than One Way to Skin a Catfish: Catfish Tacos with Cucumber Salsa

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in the rural Midwest (Bedford, Indiana, to be exact). Catfish was a part of everyday life. You could order it any way you wanted – as long as it was fried. I think I was pushing 40 before I found out that there wasn’t a law preventing you from preparing catfish different ways. I’d never had it other than batter-dipped, deep fried, and covered in tarter sauce. Now all of that has changed. How much farther can you run than Catfish Tacos with Cucumber Salsa? READ MORE

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My Rosetta Scone: Orange Ricotta Scones

Just like the 19th century artifact that unlocked the secret of Egyptian hieroglyphics, I have finally stumbled upon the secret to making great scones. You know, fluffy and moist on the inside while simultaneously being a little crunchy on the outside with that great looking, craggly crater that forms on the top. I’ve tried recipes for years, and they all turn out too dry or too biscuity or too something else. Never have I been able to produce a scone that rivals the ones I grab at the bakery (or even Starbuck’s for that matter), until now. READ MORE

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rubbed the Right Way: TexMex Rubbed Shrimp Skewers with Peach Salsa

Dry rubs and grill seasonings are a handy thing, aren’t they? But I just can’t bring myself to buy the premixed things off of the grocery store shelves. Why? Because A) you don’t know what’ they’ll taste like until you get them home and open them up; B) they’re mostly salt; and C) they end up being way too expensive per ounce. I can make up my own rubs and seasoning blends at home for a fraction of the cost, control the salt, and know that they taste good. Read More

Friday, June 11, 2010

Grilled Fruit Salad with Kiwi Sauce

I had one of those moments the other day. I don’t like to talk about it too much because it’s kind of embarrassing, even though it happens to all of us. Luckily the moments are rare and mostly fleeting – I decided to make a virtuous dessert. READ MORE

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Blue(berry) Heaven: Grilled Salmon with Blueberry Dijon Sauce

The blueberries are starting to roll in from the Florida fields, and I once again have the opportunity to cook with fresh berries. (Yea!)

For some reason, it seems like I eat healthier when I can incorporate fresh berries into my diet: berries for breakfast, berries for dessert, and berries seem to find their way onto my dinner plate as well. It’s like a gateway food to healthy eating. I realized that I eat more fish and fewer starches when I cook with fruit. And the blueberries are coming just in time – my pants have been getting a little tight over the past couple of weeks. READ MORE

Monday, June 7, 2010

Half-Baked: Multigrain French Bread

I really like to bake. I’m not good at it, but I like it. I think that part of the trouble is the demanding precision that good baking requires. I’m a kitchen designer by trade – it requires me to be exacting all day long. You would think that those skills would translate into good baking, but it turns out that one of the reasons I love cooking so much is the total lack of precision that’s needed for most dishes (you know, everything else BUT baking). READ MORE

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Balsamic Rosemary BBQ Chicken & Grilled Corn with Pesto Butter

This is one of my latest attempts to ‘class-up’ BBQ chicken. Now there’s nothing wrong with BBQ chicken in its everyday state – thick and spicy with a tomato-based sauce. You know, the kind that takes 3 napkins to eat. The problem is that is has a markedly casual connotation – visions of poolside eating while still in your bathing suits. I’m looking for something that feels like it could be eaten indoors, at the table with a knife and fork.

Because this sauce cooks for so long, I didn’t use the good balsamic for the recipe. I save 10-year stuff for use in its straight-out-of-the-bottle form. The balsamic I use for this is the 3-year / $3 per bottle stuff. Besides, the additional flavor components in the sauce are bold in their own right, so it would mask the deep, rich flavor a more expensive balsamic has. Additionally, I used dried rosemary instead of fresh. Make no mistake, I’d much rather use fresh herbs, but it’s one of the financial compromises I’ve had to make. If fresh herbs are in your budget, then use them. But remember that you want to use about 3 times the amount of fresh herbs as you would use dried, so bump the measurement up to 1 tablespoon of chopped, fresh rosemary – instead of 1 teaspoon of dried.

The sauce is thinner than the tomato-based, and has a mouth-feel closer to a glaze than a traditional BBQ sauce. On the other hand, the flavor is a little more adult and gives the illusion that it could be eaten in the dining room, instead of finger food in your bathing suit.

Since I already had the grill fired up, I thought I’d throw some corn on the grill at the same time. There’s nothing like sweet corn with a little char on it. I grew up in Indiana, which is basically the corn capital. Unfortunately, as a child I never had corn that was anything but boiled – and usually overcooked (I can remember corn being on the stove in a big pot of water for 30+ minutes). This is quick and easy – it takes about the same amount of time as the chicken – and infinitely tastier. The sugars get the chance to caramelize and pair with the smoky depth of flavor that comes from cooking over an open flame.

I mentioned in another post that a friend had given me a bunch of basil that I turned into unbelievable pesto. Basil is a wonderful flavor to pair with corn, so I finished up my grilling with a little compound butter to spread over the top. Delicious. I know that serving corn on the cob goes against the concept of a more upscale BBQ, so you could always cut off the corn and place it in a serving bowl before adding the pesto butter.

I hope you enjoy Balsamic Roesmary BBQ Chicken and Grilled Corn with Pesto Butter.

Just as an aside: I’ve developed my own corn husking tricks to remove all of the silks, but I know that there are many others out there. If you’ve got a foolproof one, I’d like to hear about it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Seasonal Abundance: Onion and Arugula Tart

Have you ever heard of a CSA? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, people buy a share of the produce harvest that a farm produces all season. They are nationwide, and there is one here in BradentonGeraldson Community Farm. Even though I’m not a shareholder, I’ve been the recent recipient of their bountiful harvest.

Last week was the final pick-up of the season at Geraldson (it runs from November through May – this is Florida after all), and the Vidalia onions were overflowing. How do I know this? It turns out that I have two different friends who are members of the CSA and passed along about three pounds of sweet onions, each. (One friend also gave me this wonderfully fragrant bunch of sweet basil that I turned into a pesto sauce and parked in my freezer. I’ve tried all sorts of prepared pesto sauces from the grocery store, and absolutely nothing compares to homemade. I’ll be able to work off of the two cups of freezer pesto for a few months.)

So, back to the story: six pounds of onions and two people in the house – what do you do? Well, I started playing with onion recipes, of course. The first one up is a real winner: an Onion and Arugula Tart. The filling is composed of sweet onions that have been caramelized with a little balsamic vinegar, mixed with peppery arugula, and combined with ricotta cheese. That all goes into a homemade pie crust that’s been seasoned with dried herbs. It was a total experiment, and turned out better than I ever thought it would. I think the only thing I might do differently next time is add a little heat to the filling. I thought the sharpness of the arugula would cut through all the sweetness of the onions, but it needs a little help.

As for the crust, I don’t know where I picked up this basic pie crust recipe, but it’s all I ever use. It takes about 2 minutes to put together and is just about foolproof. I usually add a little sugar to it when I’m making dessert, but when I’m using it for a savory dish, I try to spike it a little that way as well. The addition of dried thyme to the dough really adds a complexity of flavor that I thought was lacking when I left it out. Of course, you can certainly use a refrigerated pie dough from the grocery store, if you want (I won’t tell anyone), but when it’s this easy, why would you? Besides, the 30 minutes that you need to park the dough in the fridge is about the same amount of time that it takes to caramelize the onions, so it’s not like you’re gaining that much time anyway.

So I’m starting to think that this CSA idea is a pretty good one. I’ve been contemplating it for the last couple of years, and I think it’s time to pull the trigger and sign up for next fall’s harvest. Either that, or make friends with more people who are already members.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Silence of the Lamb Chops

One of the bad habits that I have recently adopted is to stop at the lamb section in the meat department of the grocery store and wish longingly (Have I mentioned that I really like lamb? Only about every other post). Most days I think I probably whimper a little to myself too. I miss it, but at $13 or $14 per pound, lamb chops really aren’t in the budget right now. Sigh. (Want to know the really sad part? I hit 3 stores, and I do the same thing in all three.)

I was making my usual grocery store rounds this weekend. I did my lamb sigh in the first two and was rambling through store number 3 when I saw it. It was there, tucked between the veal cutlets and the beef hearts: lamb chops - on sale for only $6 per pound! YES! SIX DOLLARS PER POUND! I think I actually squealed like a 4-year old when they find out they’re going to Disney World. (Seriously – I squealed out loud. It takes a secure man to admit that, don’t you think?)

I resisted the urge to empty the whole section into my cart, but I grabbed 4 and ran home. It was almost as good as winning the lottery. Once I was in the kitchen, I pondered how I should prepare them. They were too rare a find to experiment with, so I finally decided that a clean, simple dish was the best way to go. I mean, who knows how long it would be before I got the next opportunity? So last night we feasted on Grilled Lamb Chops Gremolata with Rosemary Polenta and Roasted Tomatoes with Feta. Simple, succulent, and sublime. I was in heaven.

Now, I use regular yellow corn meal instead of specialty 'polenta corn meal'. It's a heck of a lot cheaper, and no one has ever noticed the difference. (And, just between us, I routinely interchange polenta and grits in dishes. If you call it polenta, people like it. If you call it grits, no one will touch it - it's the same freakin' thing, people!)

Ahhh. Now my lamb chop craving has been sated for a little while. But who knows for how long? At least next time you’ll know what that whimpering is when you’re in the meat department.