Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Spicy Cranberry Goat Cheese Log

This spicy cranberry goat cheese log is a fresh twist on a cheese ball and a perfect appetizer for the holidays. The sweetness of the cranberries and cinnamon brings just the right balance to the spiciness of the ginger and the creamy tang of the goat cheese.

If you’re pressed for time and who isn’t, especially this time of the year, you’ll be pleased to know that this appetizer comes together in a matter of minutes and also it can be made a couple of days ahead and refrigerated. Be sure to bring it to room temperature before serving.

Fresh Market featured a similar spicy cranberry goat cheese log in their special holiday cheese this year and it was that log that inspired this recipe. I brought one home to taste and quickly realized that I could make my own with good success. If there is a secret to this cheese log it's the candied ginger. You might think it would be very sweet, but take a bite and all of a sudden you'll get a big burst of spiceness. To me, it's that burst of spice that sets this recipe apart from other cheese logs.

There’s plenty of room for personalization with this recipe – pistachios or pecans could be used instead of walnuts, substitute dried cherries for the dried cranberries, and if you’re not a goat cheese lover as I am, cream cheese would work, but it won’t be as tangy as if you used goat cheese and will change the recipe entirely. I’ve served this with table water crackers, which are a very neutral tasting cracker. I believe stronger flavored crackers such as Triscuits would overpower the log, but apple or pear slices make a nice companion. We chose to serve a red wine with this, such as Merlot, but a glass of bubbly would be splendid as well.

Spicy Cranberry Goat Cheese Log
My Carolina Kitchen, Sam Hoffer, serves 3 – 4
Printable Recipe

3 heaping tablespoons dried sweet cranberries
3 heaping tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts or pecans
3 heaping tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger
3 heaping tablespoons sliced almonds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
1 – 4 ounce soft goat cheese/chèvre log, preferably made in France
White table water crackers such as Carr’s or similar thin, crunchy white crackers
Slices of apples or pears, optional

In a small food processor, grind/chop all of the ingredients except the goat cheese until well blended with no big lumps. Have a little taste and adjust accordingly. Spread on a plate and roll the goat cheese log in the mixture to cover the sides, patting it in with your hands if it doesn’t adhere properly, leaving the ends uncovered. Serve with table water crackers or similar thin crackers and/or slices of apples or pears.

The goat cheese log can be made a couple of days in advance and refrigerated, covered, until serving. You may have some of the topping left over. If so, you can sprinkle some around the cheese log.

Cook’s notes: Dental floss does an amazing job of slicing soft cheeses such as goat cheese. A mild, neutral tasting cracker is a nice companion for the goat cheese log so it doesn’t overpowering the other flavors. Can be made ahead and refrigerated, but be sure to return it to room temperature before serving.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Weekend Bites at Simple Recipes.    
Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Bisque

This bisque has a very festive flair to me with the contrast of the bright orange soup to the green leaves of cilantro and the red pomegranate seeds. A bisque makes a perfect first course or appetizer for any holiday dinner.

I was afraid it would be a bit sweet for my taste, but the Thai red chili paste and pomegranates took care of that and gave it a nice zing. Taste it before serving and if it’s still not spicy enough, add a shot or two of Sriracha. This bisque can be made this ahead and gently heated prior to serving, or better yet, it can be frozen for up to eight weeks, making it one less thing that has to be prepared at the last minute.

For a cheery and colorful addition to your special holiday meals, give this sweet potato and red lentil bisque a try.

Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Bisque
Adapted from O, The Oprah Magazine – serves 6
Printable Recipe

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
½ cup dried apricots, quartered
¼ cup chopped shallots
¼ to ½ teaspoon Thai red chili paste – I used Thai red chili sauce
4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
¾ cup light coconut milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons pomegranate juice or seeds, optional but recommended
Sriracha as needed

Place sweet potatoes, lentils, apricots, onion, chili paste, and broth in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to low heat, cover, and simmer until lentils are falling apart, about 25 minutes. Let soup sit, uncovered, 10 minutes.

Add coconut milk. Using a stick blender, puree soup until smooth, in batches if necessary. Stir in salt and pepper, and add more if desired. Taste and add more Thai red chili paste/sauce and/or Sriracha if desired (we did both). Divide pureed soup among bowls, top each with cilantro and pomegranate juice or seeds (if using) and serve.

Cook’s notes: Brown or green lentils can be substituted for the red but they won't fall apart as easily, so forgo the blending and serve the soup as a chunky stew instead. The bisque can be frozen for up to 8 weeks.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Weekend Bites at Simple Recipes.    

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dream Destination Dinner in Saint-Remy-de-Provence in the South of France

Do you have a dream destination for dinner in a foreign city and if so, where would you choose? Paris perhaps or London, Rome or Madrid?  I would probably choose Paris because it’s such a romantic city and the choices of fine dining are plentiful. But how about it if I shake it up a bit and ask what foreign city would you choose if your dream was to prepare dinner for a couple of your friends.

Without hesitation my first choice would be Saint-Remy-de-Provence in the South of France. It is a bit laid back compared to big cities, but that’s what is so charming about the villages of Provence. In fact we are in the process of putting the finishing touches on our next trip there in the spring. St. Remy is in the Bouches-du-Rhône area of Provence in the Alpilles near Avignon, Arles and Aix-en-Provence and about an hour north of the old port city of Marseille. According to the local tourist department, St. Remy is bathed in sunshine for more than 300 days a year.

Since I chose to prepare dinner at home for some friends rather than dining out, it will encompass a bit of shopping. A natural choice for this dream dinner would be to serve a local Provençale Daube of Beef, accompanied by Le Macaronade, a macaroni gratin, and finish with simple dessert such as Julia Child’s cherry clafouti. Join me as we stop in St. Remy for a few things we’ll need.

Shopping in Provence is an adventure all into itself. There will be many stops along the way as you’ll see and everything is done in a leisurely style. Bring plenty of patience with you. I also suggest that you make sure to brush up on your French as many of the shop owners in small towns in Provence don’t speak English and if they do, it is un peu.

In fact if you’re game, I suggest you do a little research and write your grocery list in French. If I happen to look up a recipe on line and the directions aren't in English, I always find it easier if the website owner uses software to translate the website for me. While you’re doing your research, also jot down a few words and phrases that will help you as you shop. I guarantee it will be very helpful. I don’t speak French very well and I found that my written list came in very handy when my school girl pronunciation skills let me down as it often did. Contrary to what you’ve might have heard about the French, most all of them, especially in small villages, want to be very helpful, but it’s important that you do your part as well.

If we are to follow the lead of the locals, the first stop should always be the boulangerie for a freshly baked baguette, the first thing in the morning bien sur.

Tuck the baguette under your arm or put it in your straw shopping bag that you’ve brought along for the occasion. No straw shopping bag? No problem. There will be many to choose from at the local outdoor market in the square, where we’re off to next to pick up some assorted olives and nuts to munch on while we’ll sip a pastis, a popular aperitif in Provence, before dinner.

For the vegetables in our stew, we’ll stop at this lovely vegetable stand and also ask about local cherries for the clafouti.

Of course while we’re at the market we must pick up some flowers. Which ones do you like?

In Provence you never know what you might see at the local market. Perhaps a pet pour vous to take home?

Our final stop will be the boucherie for the meat for our daube. We’ll ask the butcher to choose the cut of beef for us while we chat with him about the weather.

As you can tell, shopping is a leisurely affair in Provence. Everyone must first be greeted with a friendly Bonjour Monsieur or Bonjour Madame as you enter their shop or approach their stall at the outdoor market and there’s always a polite au revoir or bonne journee exchanged as you depart. Oh, let’s not forget to pick up a couple of bottles of a local Cote de Rhone to serve with dinner while we’re out.

We’ve often said that if we had one more big dream left to follow it would be to live in Provence and perhaps find an old mas, the French word for farm house, to remodel. Unfortunately for us, we no longer have enough energy or youth to chase another dream. We already followed one big dream when we lived on a tiny private cay in the northern Bahamas for ten years. So now we visit Provence as often as we possibly can and rent someone else’s home for a couple of months and “pretend” we live there. Here’s our next “pretend” home for the coming spring just outside St. Remy-de-Provence.

When I was last in St. Remy I picked up some Les Olivades napkins at one of the local shops as one of the souvenirs of our trip. You’ll notice that I used them today when I set the table for dinner. Les Olivades is the last local company to continue the tradition of printing on fabric begun in Provence in Marseille in 1648 and they are still creating wonderful designs based on the original styles. Napkins and small things such as the local fleur de sel harvested in the nearby Camargue or charming burlap bags of herbs de Provence make nice gifts for yourself or your friends and they don’t take up any room at all in your suitcase.

The following recipe for daube looks very long, but if I were to leave out the details and the optional garnishes, it might read like this: combine all of the ingredients one day, cook them the next day, let them ripen one more day, spoon off any unwanted fat that rises to the surface, reheat, and eat. All this with only a single pot to wash.

Provençale Daube of Beef or Estouffade Provençale
Inspired by Cooking School Provence –by Guide Gedda & Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells 
Serves 6 to 8 and should be made two days before serving 
Printable Recipe

2 ½ pounds beef, cut into 1 ½” chunks (a butcher can do this for you), we used boneless bottom round
2 medium mild onions, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into ½” rounds
1 celery rib, minced
Kosher salt or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 bottle (3 cups) red wine, preferably Provençale, I used a Cote de Rhone
¼ cup marc de Provence or Cognac
1 bunch of fresh thyme
3 imported bay leaves
4 cloves, wrapped in a bag of cheesecloth
About a ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 strip of orange zest, about 2 inches, dried if desired (link to how to dry orange zest here)

As needed:
1 ounce baking chocolate, chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons local honey
A dash of red wine vinegar

Garnishes, optional:
More orange zest, chopped, for garnish
Fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley for garnish
Assorted fancy mushrooms, briefly sautéed in good butter & seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 or 4 fresh carrots, peeled, par-boiled and sautéed in good butter until they begin to brown, then seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Two days before serving the daube, combine all of the ingredients minus the garnishes in a large enameled casserole. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, bring the mixture to a simmer over low heat. Simmer gently until the meat is very tender, about 3 to 4 hours. Allow to cool down and refrigerate until the fat rises to the top and can be easily scraped off with a small spoon, about 12 hours or overnight.

At serving time, scraping off any additional fat. Reheat until the meat is heated through, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the thyme leaves, bay leaves, orange jest, and bag of cloves. Taste for seasonings and adjust accordingly. You may want to add the crumbled chocolate, honey and/or the vinegar if taste dictates. I added the chocolate and I thought it took away the slight bitterness of the sauce. If your sauce is too thin, see cook’s notes below on how to thicken with a beurre manié.

For garnishes, be sure to use freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley and chopped orange zest. Both bring an air of light freshness to the dish. If desired you can add additional garnishes, such as freshly sautéed fancy mushrooms and additional carrots.

If accompanied by a macaroni gratin (recipe below), be sure to reserve 1 cup of the sauce from the daube for the macaroni. Equally delicious is simple buttered noodles with grated Parmesan.

Cook’s notes: If your sauce is not thick enough (ours wasn’t), make a beurre manie by blending 3 T flour with 2 T softened butter to make a paste. Off heat, whisk in the beurre manié, then simmer the sauce for 2 minutes as it thickens. If you find your sauce is too tart (ours was), you can add some finely chopped good chocolate or a bit of honey and let it heat through the dish. I keep only dark chocolate on hand and honey, especially local, is a staple in any kitchen in Provence. If it needs a bit of spark, add a dash or two of red wine vinegar.

La Macaronade or Macaroni Gratin
Adapted from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells – serves 4
Printable Recipe

To prepare authentic macaronade, you must first prepare a stew, either an Estouffade or a Daube, the traditional beef stew of the south of France.

Kosher salt
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 cup liquid reserved from Provençale Beef Daube
1 cup freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese

Preheat the broiler. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Salt the water and add the pasta and cook until tender, then drain. Spoon half of the noodles in a 2 quart gratin dish or individual serving dishes. Moisten the noodles with half of the stew liquid. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the noodles, then add remaining noodles, liquid and cheese. Place under the broiler and broil just until the cheese is browned and sizzling.

Julia Child’s Cherry Clafouti a la Liqueur
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child – serves 6
Printable Recipe

3 cups pitted black cherries
¼ cup cognac
1/3 cup granulated sugar

Liquid from the cherries and enough milk to equal 1 ¼ cups
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sifted all-purpose flour
An electric blender
A 7-8 cup lightly buttered, fireproof baking dish or Pyrex pie plate
Powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Use fresh, black, sweet cherries in season and let them stand for 1 hour in the cognac and sugar.

Place the batter ingredients in your blender jar in the order in which they are listed. Cover & blend at top speed for 1 minute. Pour a ¼” layer of batter in the lightly buttered baking dish or pie plate. Put in the oven to let the batter set. Spread the drained cherries over the batter, then pour on the rest of the batter and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.

Place in middle position of preheated oven and bake for about an hour. It is done when it has puffed and browned and a needle or knife plunged into its center comes out clean. Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar just before bringing to the table. It need not be served hot, but should still be warm. It will sink down slightly as it cools.

Au revoir for now from Saint. Remy-de-Provence in the South of Provence.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Weekend Bites at Simple Recipes.  

Have a great weekend everyone.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Halmark Cards

Happy Thanksgiving from our house to yours. With so many people in the world torn apart from their families due to violence and disease, we all have a lot to be thankful for tomorrow, even if the American Thanksgiving is not a part of your traditions. May you, along with all of the people you love, have a very special Thanksgiving Day.

Meakin and I are grateful for your support of our blog throughout the years, for your taking time out of your day to leave a comment, for your friendship, and most of all, for making our lives richer.

From Ben Franklin….
“Wish not so much to live long, as to live well.”

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cranberry Sauce & Relish Recipes

Thanksgiving always means cranberry sauce to me. I’ve been making my own cranberry sauce for years and today I’m featuring some of my all time favorites that have appeared previously on My Carolina Kitchen, each with its own special twist and worthy of another showing. Each year I normally try a new cranberry sauce, but vertigo continues to give me problems so for now I’ll be sticking with these sure-to-please favorites.  

The first is our traditional cranberry sauce flavored with red wine with a citrus undertone. I call it “French” cranberry sauce because of the red wine, even though the French don’t have a cranberry sauce that I know of. No matter how many new ones I try, this one will always be my favorite.

My Carolina Kitchen’s French Cranberry Sauce
A citrus twist on a classic – serves 12
Printable Recipe

1 (12 ounce) package of fresh or frozen cranberries
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup dry red wine, preferably French
¾ cup to 1 ½ cups sugar, or to taste (I used 1 cup)
2 oranges, navel or tangerines

Put the cranberries (no need to thaw if they’re frozen) in a sauce pan with the one of the cinnamon sticks, red wine, and sugar. Zest the oranges and set aside half of the zest for a garnish. Add the remaining zest and the juice of both oranges to the cranberry mixture. Stir the cranberry mixture and bring to a boil.  Partially cover the saucepan and simmer about 15 minutes, until the cranberries have burst. Remove from the heat, let cool, and discard the cinnamon stick. The sauce will firm up as it cools. It can be refrigerated, covered, for up to five days. At the last minute, using a microplane rasp style grater, grate a little cinnamon “dust” over the cranberry sauce and garnish with the remaining citrus zest. Serve at room temperature.

This cranberry sauce is a mixture of fresh cranberries and dried tart cherries, flavored with crème de cassis, a popular French black current-flavored liqueur commonly used in a Kir or a Kir Royale. The cherry flavor really comes through in this cranberry sauce and offers a new and exciting taste to the traditional.

Cranberry Sauce with Cassis and Dried Cherries
Cooking Light – serves 12
Printable Recipe

1 tablespoon canola oil
½ cup finely chopped shallots
2/3 cup dried tart cherries
½ cup crème de cassis (black currant-flavored liqueur)
¾ cup sugar
1 (12 ounce) package fresh cranberries
1 ½ teaspoons grated fresh lemon rind

Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add oil, swirl to coat the pan. Add shallots and sauté for 4 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally and taking care not to let them brown or burn. Add cherries, crème de cassis, sugar, and cranberries and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 8 minutes or until cranberries began to pop, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon rind. Cool to room temperature.

The next recipe is a relish and would be good with smoked turkey. It’s from a very old Cooking Light recipe and is fairly low in sugar compared to most cranberry sauces. It cooks for a relatively short period of time compared to most cranberry sauces.

Sweet & Sour Cranberry Relish
Adapted from an old Cooking Light recipe – serves 6
Printable Recipe

½ cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups fresh cranberries
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons good cider vinegar

Coat a saucepan with cooking spray. Place over medium high heat until hot. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until tender. Add cranberries, sugar and water and bring to a boil. Cook 3 to 5 minutes or until mixture is thickened. Stir in the vinegar. It can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 3 days. Serve at room temperature.

This is a citrusy one flavored with dried figs and crunchy nuts. It is another relish and I really enjoyed the crunch of the nuts. My mother used to make a molded cranberry jelly with pecans and the nuts in this one brought back fond memories for me of my childhood. I can still see the pecan tree in the back yard and remember well what a chore it was to crack the pecans and separate the nuts from the shells.

Cranberry Fig Relish
Cooking Light – serves 12
Printable Recipe

1 cup fresh orange juice (about 4 oranges)
¾ cup chopped dried figs
½ cup dry red wine
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup packed brown sugar
1 (12 ounce) package fresh cranberries
1/3 cup chopped roasted fresh pecans or walnuts

Combine the orange juice, figs, and red wine in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Add both sugars and the cranberries. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or until mixture is slightly thick and berries pop, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly. Stir in pecans. Cover and chill. If you make this a few days ahead, leave out the nuts until just before serving so they remain crunchy.

The last one is fresh cranberry relish and it’s important that you use fresh cranberries, not frozen ones, because the cranberries are not cooked in this recipe. The ingredients may sound a bit strange, but the fresh flavors of the cranberries and oranges are very refreshing. The relish just bursts in your mouth and the crunch of the nuts gives it a nice dimension. The first bite reminded me of fresh oranges flavored with cranberries and it looks like colorful sunrise on the plate.

Fresh Cranberry Relish
Adapted from Red Book magazine – makes 2 cups
Printable Recipe

1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries (do not use frozen cranberries)
1 small navel orange (unpeeled), quartered or if large, cut into 1/8’s
¼ cup good orange marmalade
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup golden raisins, chopped
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted, plus a little for garnish
A half slice of fresh orange for garnish

In a food processor, roughly chop cranberries, oranges, sugar, raisins and horseradish to combine. (Check to make sure the oranges are fully incorporated before continuing.) Remove relish from processor and stir in the nuts. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, about 2 hours. Relish can be made 2 days ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving and garnish with a chopped nuts and fresh orange slice.

For better viewing, click on photos to enlarge.  

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Weekend Bites at Simple Recipes.
Have a nice weekend everyone.