Thursday, May 5, 2016

Happy Mother’s Day and the Beginning of a Complete Kitchen & Laundry Room/Butler’s Pantry Remodel

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. We wish all of the mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers a very happy Mother’s Day and hope you have a spectacular Sunday.

The gardenia photos were taken a couple of weeks ago and they are from our bush, which is now bursting with flowers outside our lanai. Gardenias were Meakin’s mother’s favorite, so we are thrilled that our garden came with this beautiful bush.

We’ve been extremely busy in the last two weeks and that’s why I’ve been missing in action. This past Monday we started a big kitchen and laundry room/bar renovation. We’ve spent the majority of our time packing boxes full of kitchen, laundry and bar contents. Thank goodness we had some help along the way. All of the pictures on the walls in the entire house were taken down, rugs were rolled up, the television was removed from the wall, and all of the furniture in the entire house was covered. On Monday the demolition crew came in and ripped out both rooms down to the studs and tore out the drop down ceiling (see photo below) in the kitchen. We were thankful that we had rented a dumpster, which ended up being full right to the brim. At one point the insulation from the kitchen’s drop down ceiling was two feet deep on the floor and the demolition guys were covered in the stuff. What a mess! We were so glad that cleanup was included in their price.

Our kitchen was the original kitchen from the late ‘70’s. It had been updated from time to time by previous owners who had the brown cabinets & walls painted white and new tile on the walls. Through the years they bought new appliances, replaced the Formica countertops with Corian, and re-tiled (over the old tile in you can imagine) the kitchen, living room, dining room, entry way, den and laundry room.

Our plans are to replace all of the cabinets in the kitchen with custom ones, change the layout a bit by placing the stove where the refrigerator was and moving the refrigerator to a more efficient location with a counter depth one so it doesn’t stick out in the traffic pattern. By tearing out the drop down ceiling, it will finally be the same height as all of the other rooms in the house. The original laundry room was very small with old appliances and had a sliding door connecting the room to a linen cabinet above a small counter with another cabinet below, which we have been using as a bar. Our demolition crew tore out the wall between the two spaces, which will create room long enough to have a countertop connecting the bar and wine cooler to the laundry area (with front loader washer and dryer), essentially converting that entire space into a butler’s pantry. The sliding door and pass-through slider will be replaced with energy efficient hurricane glass ones, which will make the room quieter and also cooler in the warm months since the kitchen faces south.

As you can understand, with all that is going on we’ll be tied up the entire month of May and June. When I catch my breath, I’ll post more photos of the original kitchen and laundry room/ bar area and updates of the progress from time to time so you can see what’s happening. I also apologize for not having the time to be out and about, reading your latest posts, which I miss so much. But at least you know I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. We also packed Meakin's camera, so the pictures aren't as good as usual because they're from my phone. In the meantime, I hope you have a very nice weekend.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Pork Marsala

We’ve prepared Pork Marsala several times in the past few weeks and the sauce alone is worth making this dish. Truthfully I had forgotten how much I love Chicken and Veal Marsala. So when I spotted this recipe using pork on Pinterest from First Home Love Life, I knew we had to try it.

Using a wine such as Marsala gives a restaurant-quality finishing touch to dishes. In this particular case the Marsala is simmered in chicken broth along with meaty baby bella mushrooms and shallots, giving the dish a rich and complex character.

Marsala wine is a fortified wine produced in the region surrounding the city of Marsala on the island of Sicily. It has a raisin-like flavor and is served at room temperature. Although we mostly think of Marsala in cooking, traditionally it was served between the first and second course of a meal or on its own with a tasty cheese. Marsala can also be served as an after dinner drink.

There are two varieties of Marsala - dry or sweet. The dry is used for savory dishes and adds a nutty flavor and carmelization to the fond of veal, chicken or beef dishes. The sweet is used mainly in desserts such as zabaglione and tiramisu.

This upscale sauce alone is reason enough to try this dish. If you need more of an incentive, it’s simple to make and comes together quickly in 30 minutes or less.

Pork Marsala 
Slightly adapted from First Home Love Life, serves 4
Printable Recipe

4 boneless pork chops, about ¾ to 1” thick
About 1/3 cup all purpose flour for dredging
½ to 1 teaspoon garlic powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms
2 peeled and thinly sliced shallots
2 peeled and chopped garlic cloves
½ cup dry Marsala wine
½ cup low-sodium, low fat chicken broth or homemade
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
4 fresh thyme sprigs for garnish

On a plate or a piece of waxed paper, mix flour and garlic powder together. Season pork chops with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper on both sides. Dredge the seasoned pork chops in the flour and garlic powder mixture, then tap off excess.

In a non-stick sauté pan, add olive oil and butter and heat the pan over medium-high heat. When butter is frothy, add pork chops to the pan, turning once, allowing both sides to get golden brown. When pork reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F, which is medium rare, or 160 degrees F, which is medium, remove the chops to a plate and cover. (These temperatures are the guideline from the National Pork Council. We like our pork chops a little pinker, around 138 degrees F.)

Lower the heat to medium-low and add mushrooms and sauté, stirring occasionally until they have rendered their juices and are brown. Add shallots and garlic and cook for 1 – 2 minutes more, taking care that the shallots and garlic don’t burn. Add the Marsala wine and chicken broth. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up the fond (brown bits) from the bottom of the pan. Add the chopped fresh thyme, stir to incorporate, then cover the pan and let simmer for about 5 to 8 minutes more.

If the sauce has not thickened to your liking, make an arrowroot & water slurry (mix equal parts arrowroot and cold water in a small dish with a spoon), then stir the slurry into the sauce until the sauce is sufficiently thickened.

Serve the sauce over the pork chops, then garnish each chop with a fresh sprig of thyme. Mashed or oven roasted potatoes make a nice accompaniment.  

Variation: If you like, add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard to the sauce, which is always good with pork, when the fresh thyme is added.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This recipe will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen’s Full Plate Thursday.

We hope you’re having a nice week 
and thank you for visiting My Carolina Kitchen. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Individual Savory Apple, Blue Cheese & Walnut Tarts

We’ve found that by using puff pastry your dishes can look more professional. Take for instance this Provencal Tomato Tart that we made last summer when juicy vine-ripened tomatoes were in season, served atop puff pastry and can be found here.

Today we’ve made individual savory puff pastry tarts with apples, blue cheese, and walnuts, served for a light lunch with a green salad tossed with a tart lemony vinaigrette (recipe here) & a few grape tomatoes thrown in for color. This savory apple tart would also make a nice starter dish for dinner. We’ve found that guests really like it when they get their own individual tart made just for them.

This apple tart recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks – The Lazy Gourmet, Magnificent Meals Made Easy by Robin Donovan & Juliana Gallin. It’s a cookbook I often turn to for sophisticated recipes that are also easy. You might remember one of my all time favorite dishes to serve for dinner guests - Baked Chicken with Lemons & Olives, which can be found here. Well it happens to be from The Lazy Gourmet too. I recently served it for a small family reunion at our home the week prior to Easter and it was a big hit. One of the best things about this recipe is that the crispy potato wedges bake alongside the chicken at the same temperature and the same cooking time. That alone makes life a whole lot easier for the cook.

The authors suggest several different combinations you might try. What if you substituted figs, apricots or pears for the apple and used Gruyere, a sharp Cheddar, or Manchego in lieu of the blue cheese. Or you could turn this dish into a dessert by using ricotta in place of the blue cheese and omitting the black pepper. Let you imagination be your guide in creating your own individual tarts.

This tart is best served right out of the oven, but if you want to make it ahead an hour or so (or happen to have leftovers), the tarts can be re-heated in a 400 degrees F oven until heated through, about 5 minutes.

Individual Savory Apple, Blue Cheese & Walnut Tarts
Very slightly adapted from The Lazy Gourmet, Magnificent Meals Made Easy by Robin Donovan & Juliana Gallin, makes 4 individual tarts
Printable Recipe

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted
A bit of flour for your board
1 medium sweet tart apple, such as a Pink Lady, also known as a Cripps Pink, quartered, cored & sliced into 1/8” thick slices (I used a Cripps Pink, but a Honeycrisp or a Fuji are also excellent)
4 ounces Cambozola (a cheese that’s a combination of a French soft-ripened triple cream & Italian Gorgonzola), or other mild blue cheese of your choice, thinly sliced or crumbled
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon honey
Freshly ground black pepper
Beaten egg (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Cut sheet into 4 squares and place on the prepared baking sheet. Prick the dough with a fork to release steam and prevent it from puffing up, taking care not to prick the 1” outer edge because you want that outer edge to puff up.

Lay 4 apple slices, slightly overlapping in the center of the square. (You may have a few apple slices left over as a cook’s treat.) Follow with the cheese, then the chopped walnuts, a drizzle of honey and lastly a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper over each tart. If you desire a nice brown glaze on the tart, brush the outer edges with a beaten egg as a final step.

Bake the tart in a preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until pastry is golden brown and nicely puffed up around the edge. Serve warm.

Cook’s note: The tart is best served warm out of the oven. However, it can be made ahead a couple of hours and reheated in a 400 degree F oven for about 5 minutes, until reheated.

For better viewing click photos to enlarge

I will be sharing this dish with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen’s Full Plate Thursday.

Thank you for visiting My Carolina Kitchen
& we hope you have a nice weekend.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pat Conroy’s Crab Cakes - his legacy to the food world

Pat Conroy, one of the great writers of our time, passed away this last March at this home in Beaufort. He wrote many best sellers including Beach Music, South of Broad, and of course The Great Santani. In honor of Pat, I am revisiting his fabulous crab cake recipe today. The original post titled “How to Make Great Crab Cakes” is from back in 2014 and can be found here. Pat was not only a wonderful writer, he also knew his way around the kitchen. Anytime Pats name comes up in a conversation, I always ask, “Have you read his cookbook?” And the answer invariably is, “No, I didn’t know he wrote a cookbook.” Well he did and it’s called The Pat Conroy Cookbook, Recipes of My Life. The book is filled with top quality recipes, but to me the best part of the book is the stories he shares about the recipes. The book is a novel within a cookbook. And his crab cake recipe is one of the best recipes in his cookbook and I believe his legacy to the food world.

A cute story I’ll pass along about Pat’s crab cakes. His wife novelist Cassandra King says that Pat said to her when they first met that, his crab cakes are so good I’ll want to marry him after tasting them. They were and I did". True story.

Photo from Amazon 
When it comes to crab cakes, in my opinion most crab cakes fall into one of two categories – they are either “great” or “not-so-good”. It’s not difficult to pinpoint what’s wrong with the “not-so-good” ones – they’re either over-cooked or under-cooked, too greasy, or so full of fillers that the sweet taste of the fresh crab doesn’t come through.

But what makes a crab cake “great?” I believe the secret is in the preparation.

First and foremost, don’t load the crab cakes with a bunch of fillers, such as crushed crackers or lots of breadcrumbs.  When you buy an expensive, quality ingredient like fresh lump meat crab, you want to taste the crab and not much of anything else. Also I beg you, please don’t substitute canned crab or fake crab. Buy the best lump crab you can afford.

Second, when you’re assembling the crab cakes, don’t over handle them. The best way I’ve found to mix the ingredients together is to use your hands. How many times have you heard that clean hands are the best tools in your kitchen? This is one of the times your hands beat any other utensil in the kitchen.

Third, chill the crab cakes in the refrigerator for an hour or so.  Because you aren’t using fillers, you don’t have much a binder in this recipe to hold the cakes together, so chilling is essential.

The last and possibly the most important thing that I’ve learned for perfectly cooked crab cakes is from Pat Conroy. In his book The Pat Conroy Cookbook, Recipes of My Life, Pat shares the “southern secret” for perfect crab cakes, Pat says:

1) The fat must be sizzling hot when you add the crab cakes
2) Cook the cakes for two minutes on each side and
3) Turn them once.

That’s Pat’s secret, pure and simple.

A quick tip – a thin fish spatula, such as the shown one below from Williams Sonoma, is the perfect tool for lifting and turning delicate cakes or any fish to prevent them from falling apart. It’s an essential and inexpensive tool if you cook a lot of seafood, which we do. It’s also perfectly designed for flipping fried eggs.

Fish spatula from Williams Sonoma

Today I’ve made my version of Pat’s crab cakes, following all of the ideas above, but I urge you to try Pat’s recipe from his cookbook, which can be found here. I like just a couple of squeezes of fresh lemon juice on my crab cakes, but Pat has a little bit fancier sauce napped with a lemony butter sauce and capers that’s also delicious and can be found here & here.


Pat Conroy’s Crab Cakes
Adapted slightly from The Pat Conroy Cookbook – makes 8 cakes
Printable Recipe

1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over & cleaned, with all shell fragments removed
1 egg white, lightly beaten until just foamy but not stiff
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions, white part only (or finely chopped chives)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Several sprinkles of hot sauce to taste (I used Tabasco)
Small, small dash of Worcestershire sauce, taking care not to overpower the delicate flavor of the crabmeat
Pinch of Old Bay crab boil seasoning
2 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons peanut oil (don’t use olive oil, it will overpower the taste of the crab)
Lemon wedges

Place the cleaned crabmeat in a medium mixing bowl. Pour the foamy egg white over the crabmeat slowly, stopping occasionally to mix it through. When the crabmeat has absorbed the egg white and feels slightly sticky to the touch (about 30 seconds or so), dust the flour over the crabmeat, then sprinkle the chopped scallions, freshly ground black pepper, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay, and a scant teaspoon of salt evenly over the top of the crabmeat.

With clean hands lift the crabmeat from the bottom of the bowl, turning over very gently with your hands to mix the ingredients, taking care not to over handle the crab. Separate into 8 equal portions and gently roll each between the flattened palms of your hands to form loose balls. Flatten slightly and transfer to a plate. Sprinkle both sides with the remaining teaspoon or less of salt, cover gently with wax paper, and (very important) refrigerate the cakes for at least one hour before cooking.

Line a baking sheet large enough to hold 8 crab cooked cakes with paper towels and set aside. Melt half of the butter and oil together in a heavy, 10” non-stick skillet, until the mixture is foamy and begins to brown. Cooking the crab cakes in two batches, carefully place 4 of the crab cakes in the hot fat and fry until a crust forms, turning only once, about 2 minutes per side.

Remove the crab cakes and drain on the prepared pan. Cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm while you make the second batch. To prepare the pan for the second batch, carefully pour off the cooking fat from the first batch and discard, wipe out the pan, and return to the heat. Prepare the second batch of crab cakes using the remaining butter and oil. Serve hot with lemon wedges. Our favorite way to serve them is on baby arugula, but watercress or baby greens are equally good.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

I will be sharing this recipe with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen’s Full Plate Thursday.

Have a great week  
& thank you for visiting My Carolina Kitchen.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Coq au Vin Blanc

When you think of Coq au Vin, you typically think of it being cooked in red wine. Here we’ve substituted a dry white wine for the red, which produced a brighter flavored dish.

This recipe is based on one from Williams Sonoma and the original called for chicken legs, but we’ve substituted boneless, skinless chicken thighs. The original also used baby carrots, which I had no luck finding. I used the smallest carrots available, but click here to see Williams Sonoma’s photo of the dish, which you’ll see is very pretty with the baby carrots and chicken legs. If at all possible, seek out smaller carrots than I found. We also substituted pearl onions (because we had them) for the shallots and used a bit less bacon than the original recipe. The pearl onions added a few more minutes, so if time is an issue, I would recommend the shallots.

This is a great way to take a winter favorite and lighten and brighten it for spring. We’ve served it with a scoop of mashed potatoes, but noodles would be nice too. I hope you’ll enjoy this spring time version of coq au vin as much as we did.

Coq au Vin Blanc
Adapted slightly from Williams Sonoma – serves 4 – 6
Printable Recipe

1 bottle (750 ml) dry white wine
5 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs, plus 2 Tbs. finely chopped parsley
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
4 oz. thick-cut bacon slices, chopped
3 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb. small white button mushrooms
1 dozen (or so) pearl onions
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 3/4 cups low salt, low fat chicken broth
3/4 lb. small baby carrots, peeled
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

In a large saucepan over high heat, boil the wine until reduced by half, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make a bouquet garni: Using a piece of kitchen twine, tie together the parsley sprigs, thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Set aside.

In a large ovenproof sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate to drain. Discard all but 2 Tbs. of the fat from the pan. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Set the pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, sear the chicken, turning once, until browned on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes per batch. Transfer to a plate.

Discard all but 2 Tbs. of the fat from the pan. Return the pan to medium-high heat, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside. Set aside the sauté pan to brown the pearl onions.

Parboil the pearl onions in boiling water for 3 seconds. Drain and when cool enough to handle, peel. Using the same sauté pan that you used to brown the mushrooms, brown the pearl onions until they are slightly brown and have taken on a bit of color. When done to your liking, set aside with the mushrooms.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the butter. When the butter has melted, add the garlic and flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the sherry and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the pan bottom. Whisk in the reduced wine and the broth, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Add the bacon, chicken, mushroom mixture, carrots and bouquet garni. Cover, transfer to the oven and braise until the chicken is tender, about 1 1/2 hours (less if you’re using boneless chicken).

Transfer the chicken to a plate. Using a large spoon, skim the fat from the surface of the liquid. If you don’t have enough sauce, add some more white wine to the pan. Set the pan over medium-high heat and simmer until the sauce is thickened, 12 to 15 minutes. Discard the bouquet garni. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Return the chicken to the pan. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6 and accompany with mashed potatoes.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms and Miz Helen's Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.

Have a nice weekend and thanks for visiting
My Carolina Kitchen