Sweet and Spicy Steen’s BBQ Sauce

New Orleans and the South Louisiana region are home to a number of “specialty items” that aren’t widely available so are on my at-least-semi-annual visits — Camellia red beans for red beans and rice, olive salad for muffalettas,  Savoie’s Roux in a jar for making gumbo in a hurry, Cafe Du Monde Beignet Mix for my children who insist there is only one beignet, various perishables  and one of my favorite”secret ingredients”, Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup.
The Steen Syrup Mill has been producing cane syrup in south Louisiana for over 100 years.   They harvest the ripe cane at its sweetest, grind it down to extract the juice, then cook it in open kettles until it is thick and dark.  In addition to sauces, I like to use it in cures and on pancakes.
Local food historian Poppy Tooker speaking a couple of years ago at the  International Food Blogger Conference in New Orleans on sustainability,  promoted the idea that the way to save the region’s “endangered local foods” like Steen’s cane syrup (as well as Creole cream cheese and rice calas) is “Eat it to Save it”.  This is my contribution.
Sweet and Spicy Steen’s Barbecue Sauce
Ingredients:
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
  • 5 cups roughly chopped red onion
  • 1/3 cup minced garlic
  • 5 cups ketchup
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup Steen’s syrup
  • 1/4 Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons liquid smoke
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Directions:
  1. Melt the butter in a dutch oven over medium heat.
  2. Add the onions to the dutch oven and saute for 10 minutes or until the onions wilt and begin to turn translucent. Add the garlic and continue to saute for about 5 minutes, until the excess liquid has cooked off.
  3. Stir in the ketchup, apple cider vinegar, Steen’s, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke and red pepper flakes. Add the salt and pepper. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Use an immersion blender to puree the sauce, or cool the sauce before transferring it in batches to a conventional blender. After pureeing, simmer the sauce for 3-5 minutes. Taste to correct seasonings and remove from the heat.
Yield: 6 cups
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
I made this batch of sauce to serve with pulled pork sandwiches topped with Creamy Cole Slaw (a serving will be about two tablespoons per sandwich).  Since I planned to store and serve the sauce in plastic squirt bottles, it needed to be completely pureed and very liquid.  The longer the sauce cooks, the thicker it becomes.  If needed, the sauce can be thinned with a combination of water or chicken broth and vinegar.  I also use a thinned down version of the sauce to baste ribs or chicken while barbecuing and a cooked down version to sauce the meats just before I take them off the grill.

Smoked Chicken and Paprika Brunswick Stew

Smoked Chicken and Paprika Brunswick Stew



Cooler weather is on its way to the High Country.  It is still warm enough to grill and eat on the deck, but I packed away my summer clothes tonight and have the hot tub cranked up and ready to go for the first really chilly night.  And we are slowly transitioning from “summer food” to “fall food”.  One of our fall favorites is this Smoked Chicken and Paprika Brunswick Stew.  It goes together quickly, makes great leftovers and gets a satisfying serving of vegetables into the boys.

Smoked Chicken and Paprika Brunswick Stew

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (3/4-inch) cubed Yukon gold potato
  • 2 cups (1/2-inch) diced yellow onion
  • 2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 1 cup frozen baby lima beans
  • 3/4 cup tomato sauce
  •  2 cups chicken broth
  • 3 bacon slices, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
  • 3 cups shredded smoked chicken
  • 1 teaspoon sweet Spanish smoked paprika
  • 2  teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

  1. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until it renders some fat, then add the onions and cook until soft and just beginning to brown.
  2. Add the potatoes, corn, lima beans, tomato sauce and chicken broth. Bring to a gentle boil.
  3. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 30  minutes or until the potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally.
  4. Stir in the chicken, paprika, salt, red pepper and black pepper. Simmer for another15 minutes.
  5. Taste, adjust the seasonings, and serve.
Yield: 6 servings

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes
Brunswick stew is a traditional southern dish, with both Georgia and Virginia laying claim to its origins.  The only time I recall eating it growing up in Mississippi, my Delta-based grandmother Mimi prepared it with squirrel meat.  I am thinking that that is the only time I’ve eaten squirrel.  Smoky paprika is clearly not a traditional ingredient, but I love the flavor that it adds.

This stew is based on one published a number of years ago in Cooking Light.  The biggest, and most important, difference between my version and Cooking Light’s is that I use smoked chicken. When whole chickens are on sale, weather permitting, I buy several and throw them on the smoker, then debone and freeze the meat. I’ve also moved the smoker box on to a corner of the grate and smoked the chicken on the gas grill.  With smoked chicken in the freezer, I typically have all the ingredients to throw this together on hand.  Corn bread muffins are the perfect side.

Chicken Meatballs with Pasta al Pomodoro

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Chicken Meatballs with Pasta al Pomodoro

My boys are both in high school now, and both are running cross-country.  My older son is driving now so the two of them leave the house around 7:45 in the morning and are gone until 6:30 or 7:00 in the evening.  I am hearing faint whisperings of an empty nest. At first I felt a bit at loose ends, but then I remembered how much I relish time home alone.  And in the past few weeks, several tasks that have lingered on my to-do list for an absurdly long time have finally gotten done.  I had hoped that if I ignored that stuff long enough it might go away but apparently the IRS had no interest in cooperating.

Family dinner is more important than ever.  Warren Buffett is constantly begging to watch New Girl during dinner but I resist.  We talk about school, all the crazy politics these days, Warren Buffett’s latest plan to make a million dollars. I tell them goofy stories about my students, correct their table manners and insist they eat their vegetables.  They make me laugh.  They make each other laugh. And then we watch New Girl.

This recipe for chicken meatballs with pasta and a pomodoro sauce served with a green salad is a perfect family dinner — lots of carbs and protein for the athletes. The meatballs can be a do-ahead or a chance to drag the kids into the kitchen and put them to work.  It is a versatile  meal– skip the meatballs and go vegetarian or skip the pasta and go low carb.  Make a double batch of the chicken meatballs to use  in meatball subs for a later meal.  I freeze them before baking, but you could also bake and freeze, then rewarm in the sauce.

Chicken Meatballs with Pasta al Pomodoro

Ingredients:

For the Chicken Meatballs:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2/3 cup minced onion
  • 2 ounces fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • olive oil cooking spray

For the Pasta al Pomodoro:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 28 ounce can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon  Gourmet Garden Basil Herb Blend or basil pesto
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt (divided)
  • 12 ounces spaghetti
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Put a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.
  3. Warm the olive oil in a medium non-stick skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes until it softens and begins to brown.
  4. Add the spinach to the skillet and cook for about 3 minutes until it is wilted and any water has evaporated.
  5. Add the garlic and cook another 1-3 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat and let the vegetables cool.
  6. In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, bread crumbs, cheese, egg, tomato paste, salt and pepper.  When cool, add the vegetables and stir to combine.  Stir in the milk, adding it sparingly.
  7. Spray a rimmed cookie sheet with olive oil cooking spray
  8. Roll the chicken mixture into 12 golf ball-sized meatballs and place them on the cookie sheet.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the internal temperature is at least 165 degrees.
  10. Wipe out the non-stick skillet and heat the 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil.  Add the minced onion and cook for about 10 minutes until it softens and begins to brown.  Add the garlic and cook for 1-3 minutes.
  11. Increase the heat to medium and add the crushed red pepper flakes, tomatoes, basil puree, pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Cook the sauce, stirring occasionally, until it thickens, about 20 minutes.
  12. Add the 1/2 teaspoon salt to the pot of boiling water then drop in the pasta. Cook the pasta according to package directions until it is not quite tender (about 2 minutes less than the prescribed cooking time).  Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of pasta water.
  13. Turn the heat up to medium high and stir the pasta water into the sauce to loosen it.  Bring the sauce to a boil and stir in the drained pasta, continuing to stir until the sauce coats the pasta and the pasta is al dente.
  14. Serve the pasta in shallow bowls.  Top each with 3 meatballs and a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano and parsley.

Yield: 4 servings

Prep time: 50 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Teaching Teens to Cook: Turkey Sloppy Joe Sliders

sloppy joe sliderFor a couple of summers now, I’ve suggested that my boys (now 17 and almost 15) start learning how to cook.  This summer, out of necessity, I’ve given them no choice.  Over the past year, when I’ve been too busy or tired to make dinner, I’ve summoned them to the kitchen and insisted they stay until dinner was on the table.  Ice-T, my older son, is learning how to grill.  With the help of a meat thermometer, he can cook a flank steak to medium rare perfection.  He can make french toast, rice, waffles and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Warren Buffet, my younger son, understands the basic composition of salad dressings and marinades, fries bacon and makes guacamole,  blueberry pancakes with orange honey butter, and brownies.aus-ginger-tube-new-lge  All those years of watching Top Chef are clearly paying off!

Over the past couple of months, there have been several nights when I was busy with freelance projects and had absolutely no time to cook.  I had planned and shopped though, and saw no reason to order pizza (not that any places deliver to my address anyway). Their first joint cooking project was a chicken and asparagus stir fry served over rice.  I keep Gourmet Garden tubes of garlic, ginger and a couple of herbs on hand for times when I am trying to throw together a dressing, marinade or stew in a hurry.  This cut down on the kind of chopping that might make me nervous.  The asparagus was easy to slice,.  The guys received extensive instructions on the proper handing of chicken (during which they announced that their dad and my mother each thought I was a little neurotic on this topic).  Dinner turned out really well.

Whenever one kid is gone and one is home, I tend to scale back on cooking,  While Ice-T was in the mid-west sailing and having a great time at engineering camp earlier this month, I was super busy teaching a course while updating my teaching materials, spending time on research, and working on freelance projects daily.  Warren Buffet was thrust into the role of chef and, more or less, rose to the occasion.  One night, he mixed up a marinade for chicken breasts, put together a Greek salad including the dressing, and made tzaziki sauce with me providing instructions from the next room.  Another night, he made his blueberry pancakes with cinnamon-maple syrup and orange-honey butter and bacon with little maternal guidance.  His third dinner that week was these sloppy joe sliders, made with ground turkey and loaded with vegetables.

Turkey Sloppy Joe Sliders
Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 pounds ground turkey (I prefer 85/15% fat)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion (1/2′ dice)
  • 2/3 cup diced celery (1/2′ dice)
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 cup shredded zucchini, excess moisture removed*
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 table spoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Cholula hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme (plus sprigs for garnish)
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 8 slider buns

* After you grate the zucchini, wrap in a paper or kitchen towel and squeeze out any excess fluid.

Directions:

  1. Brown the meat in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat, using a spatula to break it up. When you are sure the meat is thoroughly browned, dump it in a colander to drain the extra fat.
  2. Wipe out the skillet, and heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onions, celery and carrots until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the zucchini to the skillet and saute until any moisture has cooked off, then add the garlic and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Dump the meat back into the skillet, add the salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Then, add the ketchup, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar, brown sugar, hot sauce and thyme. Stir to combine.
  5. Stir in 1/2 cup beef broth and simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes.
  6. Adjust seasonings to taste.
  7. Toast the slider buns. Top each bottom bun with the meat and top bun.

Yield: 4 servings     Prep time: 30 minutes     Cook time: 30 minutes

This is a great dish for teens to learn to make. It’s filling, nutritious, comfort food and way better for them than processed frozen stuff.  It is inexpensive and can easily be doubled or tripled and frozen.  The leftovers always get eaten!

I don’t have a nutritional analysis of a serving of these sloppy joes, but I tell myself that each diner is surely getting at least a cup of vegetables so that a side dish is not absolutely necessary.   If you’re not buying it or want a fresh side with a contrasting texture, try my broccoli- apple slaw or crunchy broccoli salad.  Or you could just have some potato chips.

Stops Along the Way: Cork & Bean, Bryson City, NC

A few weeks ago I took a Saturday afternoon paddling trip down the Tuckaseegee River* in a canoe   It was a gorgeous day, warm in the sun and chilly in the shade.  My friend and his daughter are both experienced whitewater paddlers. I have mostly flat water kayaking experience on lakes, bayous and creeks so was pretty much just along for the ride.  After my initial horror that I would be spending the afternoon on my knees in the front of the canoe, my leg muscles and I relaxed and enjoyed the trip, picking up some paddling pointers and lingo along the way.  We spent the night at a group camping area in the Nantahala National Forest and had a fun time sitting around the campfire sipping red wine and listening to the kids tell jokes.

corkandbean1

  On Sunday morning, the weather was cool and drizzly so I headed for home early.  By mid-morning, I was starving so pulled off at the Bryson City exit, just outside the Smoky Mountain National Park, in the hopes of finding something good to eat.   I parked and spotted the Cork & Bean, but the restaurant didn’t start serving for another twenty minutes or so. Wandering down the street and over the bridge, I found a place that looked promising, but had a long line of people waiting to eat.  I’d rather spend my time window shopping than waiting so headed back up to the Cork & Bean, and am really happy that I did!photo-12

The Cork and Bean is located at the corner of Main and Everett street in the former Bryson City Bank building. It’s ambience is perfect for Sunday morning brunch — casual, a little bit of elegance combined with a little bit of funk:  Cabin-style wood paneling, moose folk art, fabulous old dark wood arched top windows and very cool wrought iron chandeliers.  The front room of the restaurant, where the bar is located is furnished with small tables as well as a cozy sitting area.  In addition to a good selection of wines and seasonal beers, the bar serves organic, free trade coffee and espresso,  mimosas and bloody marys.

The back room, the main eatery, is a little less less so, but still interesting and pleasant.  I was seated at a table in the corner by the window — a great spot for dining alone.  After ordering an ice coffee and some fresh orange juice, I turned my attention to the menu.  The restaurant prides itself on serving as much organic and locally-sourced foods as possible.  They are known for their crepes — both breakfast and dessert.  There were a number of enticing dishes on the brunch menu, but I only had eyes for one…

158 I had stopped in the pottery shop across the street to kill some time while waiting for  it to open.  The artist working there recommended the Eggs Benedict.  I didn’t need to be told twice!  Mine arrived with a side of stone ground grits.

Cork and Bean’s Eggs Benedict is slightly untraditional — a toasted english muffin topped with well poached eggs and rich hollandaise sauce served over a bed of fresh spinach with slices of bacon, ripe avocado and tomatoes on the side.  So much goodness!  It was a beautiful plate of food.  And I loved that the dish included more than token good-for-you fruits and vegetables to alleviate my guilt (just a little) about the poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.  I relished every bite.

I am not sure if I had been to Bryson City before that day.  I had in my mind that the town was one of the little tacky tourist traps that dot the Smoky Mountains.  And while there may be some of that in the summertime, the town itself is quite charming. With its many inns, lodges and B&Bs, it would be a lovely spot for a little romantic weekend getaway in the spring and fall.  And if it were my romantic getaway, I’d definitely plan on making more than one stop at the Cork and Bean.

*That is not me in the kayak, but the video gives you an idea about the scenery and water hazards!

Cork & Bean on Urbanspoon

German Chocolate Cake with Coconut-Pecan Frosting

german-chocolate-cake-1

My newly seventeen year old son, Iced T (his current choice of blog persona) , arrived home today from a 10-day trip which took him from Charlotte to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for the Club 420 Nationals then on to Michigan State in Lansing for engineering camp. By all accounts, it was a grand adventure.  He and his partner Patrick finished 5th in the regatta of 60 boats — better than any of us expected.  And he had a great time, enjoyed the independence and made a lot of friends at engineering camp.  His birthday was last Monday so a celebration is overdue.  Warren Buffet (current blog persona for my younger son) and I are planning to make my mother’s absolutely divine German Chocolate Cake with Coconut-Pecan Frosting.

Growing up in the Mississippi Delta in the 1950s, my mom was served cake every Sunday. Six days of the week, my grandmother Mimi made a pie. On Saturday, she baked a cake as well. And on Sunday, she went to church then came home to a bounteous lunch with delicious cake for dessert. Mimi baked an impressive array of cakes, all from scratch — Devil’s Food or Angel Food with 7-minute Icing, white cake with caramel icing and pecans on top, and one she called 1234 cake. She iced yellow and white cakes with fudge-like cooked chocolate icing, white cakes with coconut icing and, at Christmas time, made her special Jam Cake. But, according to my mom, she never made a German Chocolate Cake.

After her freshmwedding photo - Copyan year at the Mississippi State College for Women (now the Mississippi University for Women) — a somewhat improbable choice in my view — my mom transferred to Ole Miss where she met my dad while working on his successful campaign for 1959 editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian. At some point during her sophomore year, her sorority sister Eleanor Becker’s aunt arrived from El Dorado, Arkansas with a German Chocolate Cake with Coconut-Pecan Frosting for her niece’s birthday. In my mom’s words, she “thought that she’d died and gone to heaven”. I’m not sure my boys are familiar with that expression, but they pretty much feel the same way.

Eleanor’s aunt was happy to share the recipe. My mom used it to bake the cake for years until the frayed recipe card washed away with much of the rest of the lower floor of our family home in Hurricane Katrina. Now she uses the recipe from the inside of the Baker’s German Chocolate package.

I’ll confess that I plan on cheating a bit.  My altitude of 3500 feet makes baking cakes from scratch a losing gamble.  So my plan is to use a Betty Crocker German Chocolate Cake and doctor it up with extra eggs, some sour cream and vanilla.  If you don’t have altitude issues, give the real thing a shot!  One tip of my mom’s is that when baking cakes, always use pans that you only use for cakes.  Otherwise, the layers may stick.

German Chocolate Cake with Coconut-Pecan Frosting

Ingredients:

For the German Chocolate Cake:

  • 4 ounces Baker’s German Chocolate
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon good quality vanilla
  • 1 cup buttermilk

For the Cococut-Pecan Frosting:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 12 ounces evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon good quality vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 7 ounces sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Cut 3 rounds of parchment paper to fit the bottom of a 9-inch round pan.
  3. Spray the bottoms and sides of 3 9-inch round pans with cooking spray, then line the bottoms with the rounds of parchment paper.
  4. Combine the german chocolate and water in a microwaveable bowl on high, stirring every 30 seconds until the chocolate is almost melted. Remove from the microwave and stir until the chocolate is completely melted.
  5. Beat the egg whites in a bowl with the mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form and set aside.
  6. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside.
  7. Beat the butter and sugar in large bowl with mixer until light and fluffy.
  8. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each.
  9. Add the melted chocolate and vanilla and blend to combine.
  10. Add the flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating until well blended after each addition.
  11. Fold in the egg whites, stirring gently until well blended.
  12. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.
  13. Bake the cake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in one of the centers comes out clean. Immediately run agerman-chocolate-cake-2 small spatula around each of the layers.
  14. Cool the layers in the pans on wire racks for 15 minuntes, then remove the layers from pans and set on wire racks to cool completely.
  15. While the cake cools, make the frosting by combining the egg yolks, milk and vanilla in a large saucepan, whisking until well blended.
  16. Add the sugar and butter and cook on medium heat for about12 minutes or until thickened and golden brown, stirring constantly.
  17. Remove from heat and add the coconut and nuts. Stir well to combine.
  18. Cool slightly to desired spreading consistency.
  19. Spread the frosting between the cake layers and on top of cake.

Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

Of all the wonderful cakes that my mom makes, this one is probably my family’s favorite.  The cake is beautifully moist and the perfect delivery system for the oh-so-yummy frosting.  The boys enjoy it with big glasses of white milk.  I like it with a Pinot Noir after dinner or a cup of coffee at breakfast. Good cake doesn’t last long around here!

german-chocolate-cake-3

Summertime & the living is easy

There is so much to love about summer meals — savoring the abundance of fresh seasonal produce, grilling on the deck at the end of the day, dining  al fresco and lingering at the table, sipping crisp whites and rosés. We spent this weekend at the lake so I stopped at Josh’s Farmers Market on my way out of Mooresville yesterday and bought bags of (mostly) local fruits and vegetables — strawberries, tomatoes, peaches, new potatoes, summer squash and zucchini. I’ve planned my meals for the week around those bags!

roseMy new grill is going to get a workout this week.   I’m encouraging the boys to  learn to grill but lately the weather has been so lovely that I’ve done it myself — relaxing on the deck with a glass of wine while I wait for the grill to heat up, then another while I cook.  With the long days this time of year, we eat a little later.  The early evening light is my favorite of the day and I relish being outside to enjoy it.  Its been a little cooler than usual lately so we sometimes need our hoodies to be comfortable eating outside, but I pretty much insist unless it is pouring down rain!

On Friday night, I’m hosting my first dinner party in ages.  I’m taking a chance on a new grilled chicken recipe from this month’s Food and WineFive-herb Grilled Chicken with Green Aioli.  I used to make new recipes for dinner guests all the time, but haven’t in quite a while now.  The rest of the meal includes all long-standing summertime favorites so if the chicken isn’t fabulous, it should still be a great meal.

My plans are to use up all that great produce and grill every night:

Monday – grilled chicken and summer vegetable tostadas, black beans, guacamole

Tuesday – grilled salmon with herbed butter compound, basmati rice, zucchini and tomato gratin

Wednesday- bacon avocado burgers, baked beans, grilled corn on the cob

Thursday – caesar salad with grilled shrimp

Friday – five-herb grilled chicken with green aioli, minty roasted potatoes, marinated tomato salad, white chocolate blueberry bread pudding

Later this week I’ll be posting about some of my favorite rosés — perfect wine for the season!

Brunch for Two: Spinach Salad with Scallops, Mango, Avocado and Candied Macadamia Nuts

scallop salad 1

Brunch is my new favorite way to entertain.  In the past I have hosted big, somewhat lavish brunches — tables full of friends and family, noshes to nibble with a Blood Mary or Brandy Milk Punch  before the main event, dessert and coffee afterwards, much fun but a lot of work.

My brstrawberriesunches these days are much more relaxed — one guest, fresh fruit and bubbly, a dish which can be mostly be made beforehand, more fruit and bubbly for dessert.

This Spinach Salad with Scallops, Mango, Avocado and Candied Macadamia Nut is perfect.  The nuts can be candied and the dressing blended the night before leaving you free to sip champagne and enjoy your guest until just before you are ready to serve.
Spinach Salad with Scallops, Mango, Avocado and Candied Macadamia Nuts

Ingredients:

For the Macadamia nuts:

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup whole Macadamia nuts
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Cooking spray

For the dressing :

  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup sliced peeled mango
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

For the scallops and salad:

  • 2/3 pound sea scallops
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 2/3 cup diced avocado
  • 2/3 cup diced mango
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

Directions:

For the Macadamia nuts:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
  3. Combine the sugar and tablespoon of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the macadamia nuts. Toss so that the nuts are thoroughly coated.
  4. Spread the nuts onto the baking sheet  and sprinkle with the salt.
  5. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes, stirring once.
  6. Spray a sheet of foil with cooking spray.
  7. Remove the nuts from the oven and immediately scrape them onto the sheet of foil. Spread  the nuts evenly on the foil.  When completely cooled, lightly chop the nuts and set them aside.

For the dressing:

  1. Combine  the the water with the mango, lime juice, olive oil, ginger, and cilantro in a food processor. Blend until smooth. Set dressing aside. Note that this will make more dressing than needed for two servings of salad.

For the scallops and salad:

  1. Dry the scallops gently but thoroughly between two layers of paper towels.
  2. Sprinkle the scallops with the salt and pepper.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
  4. Add the scallops and sear for about 2 minutes on each side. Be careful not to overcook!
  5. Arrange 2 cups spinach on each plate. Top the spinach with half the scallops, 1/3 cup mango, 1/3 cup avocado and 1/8 cup red onion.
  6. Drizzle each salad with 3 tablespoons of the dressing and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons chopped nuts.

Yield: 2 servings

Cook time: 12 minutes                                                                                  

Prep time: 30 minutes

Makin’ Bacon

This post is a bit of an experiment — can I pull content, recipes, photos, etc. of my favorite posts on Another Marvelous Meal and plonk them down here?  The answer appears to be yes.

Homemade bacon…  not something you made in a 1970s home economics class, but how hard could it be?  Answer: ridiculously easy.
Making bacon is one of those things I likely never would have tried had it not been for 2011’s Charcutepalooza Challenge and the charcuterie bible,  Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing.
I cut my big slab of locally-sourced pork belly  into three pieces (one 2 pound piece and two 3 pound pieces) so I would be able to fit each into a regular 1-gallon zip-lock and ultimately, into my Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker.  I stashed the 2 pound chunk in the freezer for a future project (Bahn Mi!).
I mixed up a cure for the bacon using my pink salt and Ruhlman’s basic cure:

Ruhlman’s Basic Cure

Ingredients:
  • 1 pound kosher salt
  • 8 ounces sugar
  • 2 ounces pink salt
Directions:
Whisk together the salts and the sugar.
For one of the 3-pound pieces of pork belly, I made a sweeter cure by adding 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar to 1/4 cup of the salt mixture. Then, I dredged the pork belly in the cure and bagged it in the zip-lock, squeezing out the extra air.
For the other 3-pound slab, I made a savory cure by adding 3 crushed bay leaves, 5 smashed cloves of garlic, and a tablespoons of crushed black peppercorns to 1/4 cup of the salt mixture. After dredging the pork belly in the cure, I bagged it in a separate zip-lock and squeezed out the extra air.
The two bags then spent a week in the fridge. I flipped the bags daily to redistribute the cure.  After 7 days, I rested.  Not really — I took  the chunks of pork belly out and rinsed off the cure. Then I fired up the smoker, using whatever I had on hand — 3-4 pounds of mesquite-flavored charcoal along with some hickory chunks and chips and smoked the bacon on a very low heat — around 125 degrees — for about 7 hours.
Sweet bacon:
Savory bacon:

This isn’t necessarily the kind of bacon you want to slice thin and fry up for Sunday morning breakfast — although that will work.  This is special bacon.

Cut it into thick lardons and serve it withsalad with lardons and soft eggsartisinal greens and soft  eggs.

Or make a lovely hash with sweet potatoes and apple.

Next up: Irish bacon.

My unofficial review of knife & fork

knifeandforklogomenuI didn’t take any pictures.  I don’t have a copy of the menu, although it changes daily so would only be illustrative anyway. I can’t remember the name of our charming and knowledgeable server.   I do know that I’ve been to Knife & Fork twice in the past couple of months, once for dinner and once for brunch, and that  most every morsel that I’ve put into my mouth has been divine.

The Spruce Pine, NC restaurant is owned by Nate Allen, the chef, and his wife Wendy.  I first heard of it a couple of years ago at the Asheville Food & Wine Festival where the finals of the WNC Chef Challenge, which Nate won, were being held.  A month or so later, I read about the chef and his restaurant  in Cooking Light magazine when he was given their Small-town Chef Award for 2011.  I’d been wanting to visit the restaurant and try his very inventive, farm-to-table food since.

Chef Nate clearly shares my fascination with charcuterie.  At Sunday’s brunch, I couldn’t help but order his confit chicken neck with asparagus, poached egg and grainy mustard. Everything about the dish was done well — the confit was meltingly tender and finished so that there were plenty of crispy bits.  The split stalks of asparagus were cooked perfectly, bright green and tender, sauced with the yolk of the poached egg.  With a slice of grilled bread and some grainy mustard, I was one happy diner.

On both visits, I’ve ordered the excellent house made charcuterie which comes with three varieties, a little salad and some grilled bread with spicy honey mustard.  I can’t decide which was my favorite — the  grilled rabbit liver or the pork terrine.  Both the pork rillettes and the rabbit rillettes were also heavenly.

The restaurant’s wine list has a carefully chosen selection of reasonably-priced bottles as well as a nice selection of wines by the glass.  You can’t order alcohol before noon on Sunday in Spruce Pine, but the charcuterie platter arrived just in time for a glass of a nice red blend of Paso Robles varietals, Troublemaker Blend 6.

I am looking forward to visiting this place often.  Hopefully my next trip —  during which I’ll order a number of new dishes, take lots of pictures and try another glass of wine or two so that I can write my official review — will be soon!

 
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