Thursday, December 30, 2010

French onion soup – a perfect dish to serve after a night out on the town

French onion soup is a perfect dish to serve after a night on the town. In fact, it gained its popularity in Paris as the “middle of the night restorative” during the days of Les Halles, Paris’ former wholesale food market.  In the old days revelers and nighthawks would come to the market at Les Halles for a bowl of soup at dawn after the clubs closed.

According to Dorie Greenspan in her wildly popular new cookbook Around My French Table, the secret to making a great onion soup is patience. To quote Dorie, “cook the onions until they are almost the color of mahogany and everything after that will be perfect.” She goes on to say, “the onions can take up to an hour or more to brown and don’t be tempted to speed things up, because if you burn the onions, your soup will have a bitter taste.”  She also advises that if you want your soup to live up to the French standards of Les Halles, you must serve it brûlante, or burning hot.

Speaking of onions, I don’t salt them while they are browning because salt inhibits their ability to brown. Most onion soups call for thinly slicing the onions, but we’ve found that if you chop them, the soup is easier to eat and the onions don’t slide off of your spoon, which Meakin jokingly refers to as a "leaky lip." To make the topping, if your broiler isn’t strong or you don’t have a kitchen torch to melt the cheese, you can make cheese toast in a separate step as I’ve done here.

French onion soup, minus the bread and cheese of course, can be made in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator, making it perfect for a late night meal when you’ve been out on the town. Add a tossed green salad and you’re all set.

French Onion Soup
Adapted from Williams Sonoma Foods of the World – Paris - with advice from Dorie Greenspan
Printable Recipe

2 ½ pounds yellow onions, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
2 cups red wine
8 cups low-sodium beef stock
1 dried bay leaf
2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
6 thick slices of a French baguette
3 cups hand grated Gruyere cheese

In a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter with the oil. Add the onions, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, adding the sugar, until the onions are meltingly soft, golden and lightly caramelized, about 45 minutes to an hour, taking care not to let the onions burn. Add the chopped fresh thyme leaves, salt and pepper and cook a minute or two more. It is important not to salt the onions until they have browned. If you salt the onions beforehand, they won’t brown as well.

Add the wine, raise the heat to high, and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, 8 – 10 minutes. Add the stock and bay leaf reduce the heat to medium-low, and let the soup simmer, uncovered, until it is dark and fully flavored, about 45 minutes. If the liquid is evaporating too quickly or the soup taste too strong, add a little water, then cover and let it continue to cook.

Just before serving, remove the bay leaf and discard. Add the cognac or brandy and let the soup sit for a few minutes. In the meantime, toast the bread on both sides, either in a toaster oven or in a preheated 400 degree F oven, then add the shredded gruyere cheese on top of one slice, return to the toaster or oven until the cheese has melted. Serve the soup burning hot. Makes about 4 servings.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A fruit platter and cheese grits soufflé are perfect brunch side dishes

Pineapple with cranberries & mint
I hope each of you had a great Christmas and Santa was good to you. We had planned to celebrate Christmas in the mountains, so in early December we left our little pied-à-terre in south Florida and headed for home. No sooner than we unpacked the car it began to snow and soon we were snowed in. It didn’t take long to realize that going home for Christmas was a bad idea and as soon as the first thaw, we jumped back in the car and set the autopilot for sunny Florida.

We spent Christmas morning at Meakin’s brother’s house where we enjoyed a scrumptious brunch after opening packages. As you can see, our little nieces were thrilled with what Santa brought them.

Our niece loves The Little Mermaid

Our niece showing Aunt Tammy her new boots

While my SIL prepared her famous popovers

and fried Nueskes thick sliced apple-wood smoked bacon, Meakin scrambled eggs and I prepared a pineapple fruit platter with cranberries mascerated in rum and baked a cheesy grits soufflé.

Pineapple with cranberries & mint
Pineapple fruit platter with cranberries and mint
Adapted from Ocado

1 large fresh pineapple
About 3 tablespoons (or more if you wish) dried cranberries
1 – 2 tablespoons gold rum
1 lime, zest grated and juice reserved
About 3 tablespoons (or more) fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Using a sharp knife, cut away the skin from the pineapple and discard the skin and top. Cut the flesh into quarters, remove and discard the woody core, and slice into spears. In a small bowl, pour some gold rum over the dried cranberries and set aside to plump.

Arrange the pineapple spears on a serving platter and squeeze the lime juice over, and then scatter the cranberries over the pineapple and drizzle with the rum. In a small bowl, add the chopped mint, lime zest and brown sugar, and mix well. Drizzle the mixture evenly over the fruit, then chill the fruit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Before serving, bring back to room temperature. Serves 6 to 8.

Cheddar cheese grits souffle
A sautéed sweet red bell pepper was added to the cheese grits for a holiday accent. When you cook grits, always, and I emphasize always, salt your water before adding the grits. If you skip this, you will never be able to properly season the grits and they will taste flat and unseasoned.

Cheese Grits Soufflé
Adapted from Southern Living

4 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup uncooked quick-cooking grits
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
½ cup finely chopped parsley or herbs of your choice
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Bring milk just to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; add salt, then gradually whisk in butter and grits. Reduce heat, and simmer, whisking constantly (whisking keeps grits from spattering on you and the stove), 5 to 7 minutes or until grits are done. Remove from heat and taste for salt. (We usually add more salt.)

Into the hot grits, stir in the lightly beaten egg, freshly ground black pepper, cheese, and chopped parsley. Pour into a lightly greased soufflé dish. (You could also use a 11- x 7-inch baking dish.) Sprinkle the grits with grated Parmesan cheese. Bake, covered, at 350° for 35 to 40 minutes or until mixture is set. Serve immediately. Garnish, if desired. Yield: 6 – 8 servings.

Cheese grits souffle with red peppers
Optional red bell pepper addition for cheese grits

Prepare grits as above and add the sautéed red peppers at the same time you add the cheese.

1 sweet red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a 10” non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil, and then add the chopped red bell pepper and sauté for about 4 to 5 minutes, until it softens. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from the heat and add to the hot grits when you add the cheese.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Moooooy Christmas !

Moooooy Christmas !

This is our Christmas card this year. It’s from a painting by Tim Knepp titled “Ho, Ho, Holstein.”

I couldn’t resist it. It just looked so “North Carolinian” with the cow in the snow in front of a red barn. Here in the mountains, farms with cows and red barns are still the norm. Everyday farmers can be seen driving their tractors along on our winding roads to bring bales of hay to their cows. Yesterday morning we saw a new baby cow nestled between two big cows eating hay for breakfast. It’s been bitter cold here and that baby is one smart little cow.  He’s already figured out how to keep warm.

Some interesting tidbits about Holstein cows:

One of the oldest dairy breeds, the Holstein’s development began almost 200 years ago when people of the Netherlands began selectively breeding the cow for its efficient use of their land’s most abundant resource, grass. The Holstein is long valued in Europe as a high yielding milk cow. American farmers, eager to meet the growing demands for milk products, looked to the Holstein. The first cow arrived in American in 1825. Today the splash black and white Holstein dominates the dairy industry and is valued for its generic superiority.  

Ho, Ho, Holstein.
Meakin and I wish you a very merry Christmas filled with wonderful food, family and friends. Happy holidays to you and your family. Be good 'cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

Sam & Meakin

Monday, December 20, 2010

Barefoot Contessa’s roasted lemon chicken & roasted rainbow carrots

Have you bought your copy of The Barefoot Contessa’s latest cookbook How Easy is That? If not, you’d better hurry if you want it under your tree for Christmas. The book is all that the title promises and more. How does popcorn drizzled with truffle butter sound served with a glass of bubbly? Or perhaps you prefer rich fresh salmon tartare or roasted figs with proscuitto. It’s all in the book, plus lots of other easy but sophisticated recipes that only Ina knows how to do best.

One of my all time favorite recipes of Ina’s is roasted chicken breasts. You’ve probably even made it yourself. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over chicken breasts with bones, sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, pop in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 30 – 40 minutes and you have the best and easiest roasted chicken breasts ever. And – with the leftovers, you can have a chicken sandwich or salad the next day. It’s a “go-to” in our house on a regular basis.

In her new cookbook, she’s added fresh lemons and garlic to the chicken breasts and it’s even more fabulous than her original recipe.  All she did was heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a sauce pan and add some chopped fresh garlic and let heat ever so gently until the garlic softens but doesn’t start to brown. Off heat, add a splash of dry white wine, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, some chopped fresh thyme and a pinch or so of dried oregano to the olive oil mixture, pour over the chicken breasts (no bones this time, but still skin), throw in some slices of fresh lemon and cook at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes or so and you’ve got the most fabulous baked chicken ever.

I decided to serve the lemon roasted chicken with roasted carrots. When I found these organic rainbow carrots at the market, I knew they would be a fabulous choice. Since they are organic, I washed them but it’s not necessary to peel them. One was larger than the other, so I sliced it in half. I drizzled them with some extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled them with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and chopped fresh thyme leaves and roasted them in the same 400 degree F oven with the chicken for 20 – 30 minutes, depending on their size and voila, dinner was ready.

How easy is that?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pfeffernusse cookies & Italian espresso with a special "house seasonings"

Pfeffernusse cookies

Pfeffernusse cookies are a traditional Christmas cookie from Germany and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. They are what I refer to as an “old world” cookie and you hardly ever see them anymore. Both Meakin and I are of German heritage, so these cookies are a tradition in both of our families.

Pfeffernusse cookies are covered in confectioner’s sugar and taste similar to gingerbread, but are spicy and seasoned with black pepper. In appearance pfeffernusse cookies can be confused with Mexican wedding cake cookies because both are covered in confectioner’s sugar.

I'm sure our ancestors must have made batches of these cookies, but since I’m not much of a baker, we buy our pfeffernusse cookies. However they aren’t always easy to find. Archway brands makes a very good cookie and I’ve also been able to find them at The Fresh Market. I grab several boxes as soon as I see them in December. I’ve found a couple of recipes on line at Fabulous Foods and All Recipes for those of you who are bakers and would like to add them to your cookie collection. If you have a recipe you would like to share with me, I would love to hear from you.

German Gluhwein

Pfeffernusse cookies are wonderful served with espresso or German Gluhwein. Last year I posted a recipe for German Gluhwein, taken from an old German cookbook, if you would like to make your own. It’s super simple and not too sweet.

I would like to share some secrets to making a good cup of espresso and a little “house seasoning blend” that I got from a friend’s Italian grandmother that makes the espresso taste even better. You’re probably thinking who needs a recipe for espresso? Just stay with me for a moment and you’ll see.

First of all, I use the Bialetti Moka Express espresso stovetop pot. It’s the Italian made aluminum one with the funny looking little fellow with the mustache on the pot. Bialetti is the world’s number one coffee-maker and the most copied coffee coffee-maker in the world, so don’t settle for an imitation. Best of all, it’s not expensive. The six cup version costs around $30 and sizes range from one cup to twelve. Not a bad price considering some of the electric espresso machines can run into the hundreds of dollars.

Always buy the best coffee you can find. We prefer the Italian illy brand because it is 100% sustainably grown Arabica coffee and in our own taste tests, it always wins hands down to other brands.

I mix the Illy espresso blend with a little of what I call “my house seasonings.” An excellent Italian cook shared her grandmother’s espresso seasonings with me and I want to pass it on to you. She whispered to me, "This will take the bitterness out of the espresso and no one will know your secret." This is how you do it.

Before brewing, sprinkle the coffee grounds with a little sugar (to your taste – I don’t use very much) and top with one star anise. When I don’t have a star anise, I’ve substituted a good pinch of anise seeds with excellent results. Mix every so slightly, then brew your espresso according to the manufacturer’s direction. That’s all there is to it. Very easy and so, so delicious. Great for a snowy day. Here’s our first big snowfall of the season. Winter’s starting early this year.

These are my own opinions and I was not compensated by any brand name mentioned.. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Panettone French toast for an elegant breakfast treat

Panettone is classic Italian sweet, fruity bread traditionally enjoyed around Christmas time. We resist opening our pretty red box until we are ready to use it, because for some mysterious reason, slices seem to disappear and no one knows what happened to them. One theory is that Santa’s elves sneak into our house during the night and help themselves to a slice while we sleep. Seriously, pannettone is that good and I promise that you can’t stop eating it once you start. Consider yourself warned.

There are many stories regarding the origin of panettone (and none include Santa’s elves sneaking snacks.) My favorite is a romantic tale of two lovers and special bread.  In Milan there supposedly was a baker named Toni who had a beautiful daughter. A young man who worked for Toni in the bakery wanted to marry his daughter. To win Toni’s approval, the young man created special sweet bread filled with fruits and other rich ingredients. The special bread the young man created made Toni’s bakery famous and people began to call the bread “pan ad Toni.” Needless to say, Toni became rich and allowed the young man to marry his daughter.

Panettone, pronounced pænəˈtoʊni, originated in Milan and the word “panettone” is derived from the Italian word “panetto,” meaning small loaf bread. The suffix “one” (pronounced “o-neh”) changes the meaning to large bread. During the Christmas season, Italians eat pannettone for breakfast with coffee, between meals with Marsala wine, and after dinner with spumante.

The fragrant, scented panettone dough, rich in butter, eggs, raisins and candied fruit, is raised naturally in special paper until it reaches the traditional famous rounded shape. If you’d like to make your own panettone, here’s Mario Batali’s recipe from a Food Network television special - An Italian Christmas with Mario Batali and Giada DeLaurentiis. I prefer to purchase my panettone and I was thrilled to learn recently that you can buy it year around in some Italian markets.

This recipe is a gussied up version of French toast using pannettone topped with cinnamon and bananas. The Grand Marnier is my addition. You could leave it out, but I think it gives the dish elegance and a little French ooh, la, la. Who couldn’t use a little French ooh, la, la in their life? This would be perfect for a Christmas day breakfast or a treat for yourself on a snowy morning when you sleep late and want to feel pampered for breakfast.

Panettone French toast with cinnamon and bananas

Panettone French toast with cinnamon and bananas
Adapted from Simply Delicious Food by Fran Warde

4 large eggs
3 tablespoons half & half or light cream
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra for dusting
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier, divided
4 thick slices pannettone
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
4 firm bananas
Honey or maple syrup, to serve

Put the eggs, cream, cinnamon and 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier in a bowl and whisk to blend.  Pour into a shallow, flat bottom dish, add the slices of pannettone, and let soak for 5 minutes. Turn the slices over and let soak an additional 5 minutes.

Heat 4 tablespoons of butter in a large non-stick pan. When the butter is foaming, drain off the excess egg mixture from the pannettone and add the soaked slices to the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side or until golden.

Remove the cooked pannettone from the pan and place on a heated serving plate and keep warm in a low oven. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the pan and turn heat to medium low. Slice the bananas into the pan along with the 2 remaining tablespoons of Grand Marnier and toss gently for 5 minutes. Spoon the bananas over the pannettone, then drizzle with the honey or maple syrup and dust with cinnamon. Serve hot as soon as possible. Serves 4.

Friday, December 10, 2010

One of our very own bloggers – Chow & Chatter - has released a recipe app for Apple’s iPhone

Move over Mario Batali and Martha Stewart. Make way for one of our very own bloggers who has just released a recipe app for the Apple iPhone. Meet Rebecca Subbiah, the author of the very popular blog Chow and Chatter. To many of you, Rebecca needs no introduction. You, like myself, have been following Chow and Chatter since it’s inception. But just in case you don’t know my friend Rebecca, let me tell you a little bit about her, her blog, and the great new recipe app she’s just released for Apple’s iPhone.

Rebecca’s passions are food and travel and, through her travels, she hopes to inspire others to try new healthy and easy recipes from other countries. She is a registered dietitian in both the US and the UK, so you can count on finding healthy food in this app. Recipes can be searched by cuisine, ingredient, or dish and the app features a large selection of popular global recipes, such as Turkish Beef Meatballs, Aloo Gobi, an Indian dish of spicy cauliflower & potatoes

Aloo Gobi photo courtesy Chow & Chatter

and my personal favorite, charming little French Madeleines flavored with Meyer lemon.

French Madeleines photo courtesy of Chow & Chatter

The Chow & Chatter app also has a link to Rebecca’s blog which allows you access to her latest dishes and new recipes. I just learned that an exciting new release in the spring for the Chow and Chatter app will feature wine pairings from Stephanie Savors the Moment.

In addition to the iPhone, the Chow and Chatter app is also compatible with other Apple products. You can purchase it in the iTunes store for only 99 cents. It’s perfect for anyone, including yourself, who wants to eat healthy and try new recipes from around the world. I hope you’ll stop by Chow and Chatter and congratulate her on a job well done. Rebecca is definitely in the big leagues now.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Announcing the winner in the “turn your blog into a handsome book” giveaway

This is the back cover of the book I made for My Carolina Kitchen using the wonderful site, Blog2Print, who can turn your blog into a handsome, professional book. The front and back cover photos are of your own choosing. This photo is from a vegetable stall in a charming village in the south of France, Saint Remy de Provence, on Market Day. It brings back wonderful memories of our French vacation there and the fabulous foods of Provence.

I was fascinated to read your comments about who you would dedicate your book to. They told me a great deal about who you really care about and why you blog.

I am so pleased to announce that we have a winner for Blog2Print’s gift certificate of $40, to be used towards the purchase of your very own blog book. The winner is Donnie of New Blessing Everyday.

Donnie said, “I would dedicate the book to my grandchildren because they are the reason I'm doing it. Someday, since all the young are so technical, they may want to read what Grandma & Grandpa were up to during their later years.”

Congratulations Donnie. I really enjoyed meeting you and Don this fall in Asheville. I know you and your grandchildren will enjoy your book as much as I have mine. Please email me your address so I can send your information to Blog2Print and they in turn will send you your gift certificate.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Convert your blog into a handsome book with this fabulous giveaway

One of the most rewarding things I’ve done this year is to have my blog converted into a handsome book. It’s thrilling to be able to display my very own book in my bookshelves right alongside some of my favorite authors, such as the Barefoot Contessa. The book turned out beautifully and was so easy I could hardly believe it and I have to share the experience with you.

A wonderful site, Blog2Print, will take your blog posts and turns them into a book for you. You will not believe how simple it is. With only a few clicks of your mouse, like magic, you have your very own book. All you have to do is choose your cover (hard or soft), the posts you’d like to include, and voila, you’re on your way to creating your very own blog book.

Tasty seafood & French Memories
Click Blog2Print to see a sample of your blog. Go on, give it a try. It’s free to see what your blog would look like published. I guarantee you will be very impressed.

Table of Contents
Your book will also include a dedication page and an easy to use table of contents. The friendly customer service people are absolutely fabulous to work with and can be reached by phone, email or live chat. No question or problem is too big or small for them to take the time to answer.

Dedication  Page

You’ve probably guessed that my dedication page is to the love of my life and the photographer for My Carolina Kitchen, my wonderful husband Meakin.

Carmine's Gourmet Market, Palm Beach, Florida

Bahamian Junkanoo on Green Turtle Cay, Abaco

Blog2Print is offering a $40 gift certificate to one of my readers towards the purchase of your very own blog book. That will make roughly a 60 page hardcover book or a 90 page soft cover book.

To QUALIFY for this giveaway, all you need to do is leave a comment saying who you would dedicate your book to and why.  It’s that simple.

The winner will receive a $40 gift certificate to Blog2Print and this giveaway is open to bloggers worldwide.  If you live outside the United States, you will be responsible for the shipping for your book. (Shipping is free within the US). The contest will end on December 8, 2010.

For TWO chances to win, if you follow My Carolina Kitchen, please leave a second comment saying so.

For an ADDITIONAL TWO chances to win, blog about this giveaway on your blog or put it on your Facebook page.

Extra pages for more photos
Extra pages of photographs can also be added. Reader’s comments can be included or not, again your choice.

Our blogs are essentially diaries of our lives and I love flipping through my book remembering our fabulous vacation to the south of France, our favorite recipes, farmers markets we’ve visited, road trips we’ve taken, and places we’ve eaten.  

French Patisserie in Saint Remy de Provence
Birthday celebration in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, The Bahamas

The book would make a lovely gift for a family member or even a gift for you. I’m anxious to hear who you would dedicate your book to and why. Good luck to all. The giveaway ends December 8, 2010.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Baked Ham Barefoot Contessa style

I hope everyone who celebrated Thanksgiving this week had a fabulous feast with family and friends and hopefully didn’t eat too much.

Thanksgiving for us this year was a bit unusual. For about as long as I can remember, it’s celebrated at our house and we do all of the cooking. As the big day approaches, we always make certain that everyone we know has a place to go on Thanksgiving. If not, they are always invited to join us. There’s just something about being alone on Thanksgiving that doesn’t seem right to us. I've actually seen tears in people's eyes that were almost strangers when we invited them to our home for Thanksgiving. When we lived in the islands, no one was near their family so everyone became everyone's family. It's a tradition we'll never change.

This year was different. We’re in Florida and Meakin’s brother Jarvis invited us to Thanksgiving dinner at his house, which is down the street from our tiny pied a terre.  If you know either of us, you know the first words out of our mouth after an invitation are, “What can we bring and how can we help?”

After much discussion we settled on a things we could make in advance – a baked ham, my cranberry sauce (which I posted earlier), and an appetizer.

That would free up time for Meakin to arrive early and make his famous gravy. My sister-in-law Carolyn said, “Meakin, I hope you’ll carve the turkeys, because Jarvis would rather clean out the garage than carve anything.” Consider it done Carolyn.

The baked ham recipe is from the Barefoot Contessa and the only changes I made were to cut the recipe in half (hers served 35), and substitute Grand Marnier and gold rum for the orange juice. The little specs you see in the picture are bits of orange marmalade and garlic. The ham was no trouble at all to make. Keep this recipe in mind if you’re looking for something classy for your Christmas buffet that can be served at room temperature.

Baked Ham with orange glaze Barefoot Contessa style
Adapted from the Food Network, courtesy of Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa

1 (8 to 10 pound) fully cooked, spiral-cut smoked ham on the bone

Orange glaze:
3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 ¼ ounces of orange marmalade
¼ cup of Dijon mustard
½ cup brown sugar packed
Zest of half of an orange
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1 tablespoon gold rum

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the ham in a heavy roasting pan or a heavy-duty disposable aluminum pan.

Put all of the glaze ingredients in a bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Pour the glaze over the ham. If the ham is spiral cut, carefully fan open some of the slices and let the glaze seep in between the slices. Bake for one hour until the ham is fully heated and the glaze is well browned.Garnish with slices of citrus. Serve hot or at room temperature.

This is a simple appetizer that can be put together in a matter of minutes. Bring a round of Saga blue cheese to room temperature. Remove the top rind and cover with pancake syrup, dried cranberries and toasted pecans. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and serve with assorted crackers.

I know, I know. You're shuttering at the mention of pancake syrup in this. I did too, but the first time I tasted this appetizer, all I could say was, "OMG. Get me away from this. It's much too good and it'll spoil my appetite for dinner."

It was served to us by Betsy, an old friend of ours. She's a very classy lady and really knows her stuff when it comes to food. A member of a prominant family, she's hosted many a fabulous party in her antebellum mansion and was once the mayor of her berg outside of Washington, DC in Virginia. We thought of substituting maple syrup, but decided that it would overpower the wonderful flavor of the blue cheese.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Quick and easy homemade cranberry sauce

This homemade French cranberry sauce with red wine uses 5 ingredients and takes about 15 minutes. It can’t get any easier than that. One taste and I guarantee you’ll never ever serve the canned stuff again.

I’ve been making this cranberry sauce for over thirty years and it’s by far the best I’ve ever tasted. A couple of years ago I posted a similar recipe along with ways to use cranberry sauce leftovers, so you may remember that it’s a family favorite. The citrus gives it a very fresh flavor that distinguishes it from the canned stuff. Normally I use navel oranges, but this year I couldn’t resist the cute mesh bag filled with Florida tangerines that I saw in the market. Be sure to zest the tangerines before you squeeze them.

The cinnamon dust is a new idea. Using a microplane rasp style grater, grate a little “dust” from a whole cinnamon stick over the sauce. A big fat stick works best. The dust doesn't actually show on the sauce, but it gives it a little last minute oopmh of cinnamon flavor.

I really love the subtle depth of flavor that red wine brings to this, but feel free to substitute water if you don’t want to use wine. How much sugar to use is up to you. For a sweet cranberry sauce, use up to one and a half cups of sugar. If you prefer a more tart sauce, three quarters of a cup or a little more will be perfect.

This cranberry sauce can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for several days, leaving plenty of time on turkey day to roast the big bird and put together your side dishes.

The smell coming from your kitchen will be very alluring as the cinnamon and citrus simmer on the stove with the wine and cranberries. Perhaps this cranberry sauce with its citrusy touch will become a family favorite for you too.

Homemade French Cranberry Sauce with Red Wine
A citrus twist on a classic 

1 (12 ounce) package of fresh or frozen cranberries (no need to thaw if they're frozen)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup dry red wine, such as a Merlot or Syrah
¾ cup to 1 ½ cups sugar, or to taste
2 tangerines or navel oranges

Put the cranberries in a sauce pan with the cinnamon stick, red wine, and sugar. Zest the tangerines and set aside half of the zest for a garnish. (If you are making the sauce in advance, wait until the last minute to zest the second tangerine, otherwise the zest will dry out.) Add the remaining zest and the juice of one of the tangerines (squeeze juice through a strainer to eliminate the seeds) to the cranberry mixture.

Stir the cranberry mixture well 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.

Before serving, using a microplane rasp style grater, grate a little cinnamon “dust” from a cinnamon stick over the cranberry sauce and garnish with the remaining citrus zest. This recipe serves 6 to 8 and is easily doubled or tripled. Serve the sauce at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pumpkin Squash Soup – an easy make-ahead lunch to serve on Black Friday

November seems to be month of the pumpkin. I’ve seen pumpkin in one form or another in practically every food magazine and on just about everyone’s blog. It’s been the star attraction in fall displays with scarecrows to the main ingredient in hearty soups, rich bisques, individual bread puddings with caramel pecan sauce, cute little mini cakes with rum glaze, and chess pies with praline sauce.

It’s hard to believe that next week is Thanksgiving, followed by the frantic shopping sprees that lead up to Christmas. Black Friday is upon us, when thousands of people flood the malls scooping up bargain such as cashmere sweaters on sale and fighting over the last ridiculously low priced flat panel television at the discount store the day after Thanksgiving.

When I saw this recipe in Southern Living magazine I thought it would make an excellent do-ahead soup to serve on Black Friday for a much deserved leisurely lunch after shopping or while watching a football game on television. I plan to serve it with turkey sandwiches to complete the meal. The fact that this soup had an express version that cut the hands-on time in half particularly appealed to me. Roasting a whole pumpkin and dealing with cutting up an acorn squash in the original version sounded like much more work than I wanted to tackle on the week of Thanksgiving. Even the cook deserves a day off, n’est pas?

Pumpkin Squash Soup – Express Version
Adapted from Southern Living – makes about 8 cups
I encourage you to grate your own nutmeg. It tastes so much fresher than the pre-ground stuff.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil or other neutral tasting oil
1 medium-size yellow onion, finely chopped
4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish
4 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth (homemade if you have it)
2 - 12 oz cans pumpkin (not the pie filling)
2 - 12oz packages of frozen squash (I used butternut)
½ cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground fresh nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
All natural pepitas (pumpkin seeds), toasted, for garnish

Melt butter and oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté 5 minutes or until tender, taking care that the onion doesn’t brown. Add fresh thyme and sauté 1 minute or until fragrant.

Stir in the broth along with the pumpkin and squash pulp. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool 10 minutes.

Process soup, if desired, in a food processor or blender until smooth. Return the soup to the Dutch oven and stir in the half and half, cider vinegar, ground ginger and ground nutmeg. Cook, over low heat, stirring often, 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Taste for seasonings, then and add salt and pepper to taste. To serve, garnish each serving with toasted pepitas and chopped fresh thyme leaves.

To make ahead: Store it for up to four days in the refrigerator in a container with a tight fitting lid. Bring to room temperature and gently reheat, taking care not to let it burn or stick to the bottom of the pan.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A perfect late night snack and a winner in the CSN giveaway

First of all I want to thank each of you for the incredible response to my blog's 2nd birthday/anniversary. I am touched by your generosity and kindness in your well wishes. I also wish to thank CSN for hosting the fabulous giveaway.

We have a winner in the $75 giveaway from CSN and it is Lea Ann of Mangos Chili and Z. Congratulations. I know you’ll enjoy spending the $75 at CSN. I know I would. Please send me your email address to me at samhoffer (at) gmail (dot) com so CSN can contact you.

More congratulations are in order for Lea Ann. Her recipe for Scallop Sandwich appetizer is one of the winners of the Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook contest and it is published in their gorgeous new book book – Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook. Why don’t you run on over to Mangos Chili and Z to tell her congratulations. Look around while you are there. She is amazing photographer as well as a fabulous cook.

I have really enjoyed reading your comments on whether you have stools in your kitchen or not. It was divided pretty much 50 -50 on those of you who used stools like I do and those of you who don’t. Some of you like people to visit with you while you cook as I do and others don’t. Our winner Lea Ann left the following comment. “I love stools in the kitchen. My mom always had a couple when I was growing up. Usually my aunt and I would sit there and pester her while she cooked. :-)”

Speaking of visiting with people in the kitchen while you cook, my friend Susan of The Schnitzel and the Trout left a comment that brought back memories. Susan said, “I do not like anyone in my kitchen because I get so involved in conversation that I forget what I am doing.” Susan, you have no idea how right you are and it’s happened to me. Read on…..

Visiting with people while you cook almost turned into a disaster for me when I was the Mississippi finalist in the 40th National Chicken Cooking Contest. It was one of the big three contests and the oldest of its kind. In other words, the National Chicken Cooking Contest was a big deal and the cash prize in 2009 was $50,000. Sadly, because of economic conditions, the contest has been suspended.

As Mississippi’s contestant I was awarded an all expense paid trip to the competition where participants are introduced to the press and audience as the state winner. With a banner draped over your chest, you walked out feeling very much like "Miss America". Everyone had their very own kitchen. A flag was provided that each contestant could raise or lower, indicating whether they were available for conversation and questions while preparing their dish.

My dish was Chicken Breasts stuffed with Goat Cheese, Sun-dried Tomatoes and Rosemary. Goat cheese in 1993 was a fairly exotic ingredient. Many people stopped by my booth with questions. As you know I like to visit in the kitchen, so I eagerly answered their questions until I glanced down at my watch and realized I had talked away valuable time and I was running out of time to prepare my dish twice - one for the judges to sample and the other for display. I quickly changed my flag and got to work. In other words, I realized that I might not finish on time which would ruin my chances to win. Thankfully I did finish, but Susan, you are so right. You can definitely get involved in conversation while cooking and forget what you’re doing and the results for me could have been disastrous.

I still love goat cheese and use it often. This sandwich would make a great late night after the theater snack or a lovely light lunch. Goat cheese has become increasingly popular. For this dish I can see flavoring the goat cheese with many combinations such as sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil, assorted fresh herbs and garlic, black olive tapenade, or crushed pink peppercorns and herbs de Provence. The combinations for mild creamy goat cheese are almost endless.

Open-faced sandwiches with goat cheese and fried eggs
A perfect late night after the theater snack or a light lunch
Adapted from Cooking Light – serves 4

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil + 1 teaspoon
1 ½ teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 cup organic spring mix lettuce
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices five grain bread or other hardy bread
4 large eggs
4 oz soft goat cheese
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

Combine 1 tablespoon olive oil, lime juice, a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well. Toss the mixture with the organic baby lettuce mix and set aside.

Toast the bread until your desired degree of doneness.

Heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crack eggs into pan and cook 2 minutes. Add one tablespoon of water, cover and cook an additional 2 minutes until whites are set and remove from the heat.

Spread the toast with equal portions of the goat cheese, then the dressed spring lettuce mix, and top with a fried egg. Sprinkle the eggs with chopped fresh thyme, a pinch of sea salt, and some freshly ground black pepper. Serve a little extra sea salt alongside for those who like a bit more salt and crunch.