Monday, October 29, 2012

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween everyone. Have a good one. And to all of you who are in the path of Sandy, you are in my thoughts and prayers. Hurricane Sandy's eye went directly over our old houses in the Bahamas before heading to the US. Stay safe and please take all necessary precautions.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cassoulet ~ a lighter, easier version of one of France’s greatest and richest stews from the South of France

Cassoulet, pronounced [ɛ], is a hearty, slow-cooked, meat studded stew from the South of France. The name cassoulet comes from the traditional cooking dish, the cassole, a deep, round earthenware pot with slanting sides.

A typical French cassoulet contains the traditional ingredients of duck confit, goose, pork or bacon, sometimes mutton or veal, but always combined with wine and beans. Some might call it the great- granddaddy of Boston baked beans. Toulouse and Carcassonne, villages in southwestern France, are thought to be the capital of cassoulet. In France cassoulet is often found in a glass jar on the shelf in the store. When we were staying in Saint-Remy de Provence, we actually bought a jarred cassoulet from our favorite boucherie and found it to be of excellent quality.

This is a lighter version and uses chicken as the base of the meats. I don’t know about you, but duck confit isn’t easily found where we live nor does it come cheap if it can be found. I’ve used traditional white beans, or haricots blancs as they’re called in France. Feel free to substitute your favorite bean as I did in this cassoulet using black-eyed peas (recipe here). Interestingly enough, the black-eyed peas brought a certain smokiness to the dish and a nice change from tradition.

A word of caution about cooking the bacon. You don’t want crispy bacon in this. Its texture would be all wrong and it would get lost in the stew. Cook your bacon, but don’t let it get crispy or too browned.

If you’re looking for a dish that can be made in advance, cassoulet is perfect. Stick it in the refrigerator after it’s cooled, then reheat it later and you’re good to go. This is also the perfect time to use those left-over chicken breasts that you’ve cooked in advance for salads and sandwiches. As you know, almost every week I cook chicken for that purpose.

The butter crusted brown topping provides a crunchy texture to the creamy rich, garlicky beans. Be sure that the bread you use is dry, otherwise the topping will become mushy. Served with a green salad dressed with a tangy vinaigrette, cassoulet makes a nice comforting dinner in front of the fire.

Cassoulet – the light version 
Adapted from Eating Well with Bert Wolf - serves 4 to 6.

1 lb dried white beans, Great Northern or navy beans
3 bay leaves
A couple of large sprigs of fresh rosemary
5 or 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 large chicken breasts, with bones & skin
4 oz thick bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces, cooked but not crisp
1 tablespoon fat reserved from the bacon
8 oz little link sausages, cooked & cut into 1” pieces, or ¼ pound dried sausage, cut into ¼” slices
1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
2 cups canned whole tomatoes, chopped with juices
2 cups low sodium, low fat chicken broth
1 cup or more dried fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter

Soak beans overnight in a large stockpot filled with water. Drain the beans and put into a pot with fresh water to cover by four inches. Tie the three herbs together with a string and add them to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, lower heat and simmer until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. After one hour, add salt and taste for doneness. When done, drain beans, discard herbs and add freshly ground black pepper to taste and more salt if necessary. Put into an attractive oven-proof casserole you can use for serving as well as cooking.

Preheat oven to 350. Rub chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake about 35-45 minutes or until internal temperature is 160 degrees. Remove from oven, discard skin and bones and cut into one inch pieces. Add to beans along with cooked bacon and cut up sausages.

Sauté the garlic in a skillet in about 1 tablespoon reserved bacon fat. Add the tomatoes and their juices and simmer 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and cook over medium high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour over the bean mixture and blend well. Mix bread crumbs with softened butter and spread over beans to make a crust.

Place beans in a 325 degree oven and bake, covered, for 45 – 60 minutes. If beans get dry, carefully add more broth while not disturbing crumb crust. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes or until crumb topping is browned.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper, Carol's Chatter Food on Friday, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Musings ~ a Scary Crow

This scary crow is welcoming leaf lookers and wishing them and you a Happy Halloween in downtown Blue Ridge, Georgia

Have a great week everyone.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Chicken Dijon ~ Poulet à la Moutarde

Poulet à la Moutarde, better known in this country as Chicken Dijon, has been a menu staple in our home for as long as I’ve been cooking. It’s a simple bistro style dish staring sharp, tangy Dijon mustard.

There is always a bottle of Dijon mustard in our refrigerator. It’s one of the things I never let myself run out of, just as in the case of mayonnaise, anchovies, capers, and other “can’t live without” condiments.

Our favorite brand of Dijon mustard is Maille, the one with the black label and lid. They have been making Dijon mustard for 260 years. Maille mustard is so famous in France that they have two boutiques if you can believe it – one in Paris and one in the city of Dijon. Maille also make flavored mustards, but our favorite is the traditional Originale. You would not want to use one of the flavored mustards in this dish. But the supermarket brand Grey Poupon, or “poo-poo” mustard as Meakin called it when he was a boy, will more than suffice if you can’t get your hands on the Maille brand.

This is an easy French dish which requires little in the way of skills compared to some of the older recipes for Chicken Dijon. I can remember having to temper the two eggs that went into the dish. As a young cook, my egg tempering skills weren’t all that great. That recipe came from The Art of French Cooking by Fernande Garvin, a long out of print little paperback originally published in 1958. Sometimes used copies can be picked up for a song at Amazon. My 1965 edition is stained and the yellowed pages are falling apart from use, but I wouldn’t part with it for anything. There are too many good memories in that book.

James Beard always served roasted chicken on a bed of watercress as I’ve done with this chicken and there’s a reason why he did that. Roasted chicken is rich and the crispy tang of watercress is the perfect foil for that richness. The sauce acts like a dressing if you will with the watercress and smoothes the dish. Oven roasted crispy potatoes would make a delicious side to the watercress. I added the red tomatoes for color.

I present to you the very easy French dish ~ Poulet à la Moutarde

Chicken Dijon ~ Poulet à la Moutarde
From Bon Appétit – serves 4

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, about 1 1/2 pounds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small leeks, white and pale-green parts only, rinsed & thinly sliced, ½ cup
½ cup minced onion, approximately 1 small onion
4 small garlic cloves, minced
2 cups low-salt, low fat chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup good Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme, plus thyme leaves for garnish
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Watercress for serving

Season chicken breasts with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Place chicken in skillet and cook until brown on both sides, 12-15 minutes total. Transfer to a plate, tent with foil to keep warm, and set aside.

Place leeks and onion in same skillet and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth, wine, Dijon mustard, and minced thyme and bring to a simmer. Return chicken to skillet. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Transfer chicken to plates and tent with foil to keep chicken warm. Bring liquid in skillet to a boil; cook until sauce is thickened and glossy, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter. Taste and season if necessary with more salt and pepper. Place watercress alongside the chicken, spoon sauce over the chicken, and garnish with fresh thyme leaves.

The table is set and ready. Bon Appétit!

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup Caribbean Style

This Caribbean inspired recipe marries the flavors of pumpkin, black beans, tomatoes, ham, and sherry to create a very flavorful soup. For a festive and elegant soup tureen, present in a carved out pumpkin shell. Here’s a link to how to prepare a pumpkin shell.

I’ve sautéed the ham to give it more of a smoky flavor, but if you’re in a hurry you could skip that step. For a vegetarian version, omit the ham completely and substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock.

If you wish to cook the beans from scratch, you’ll need 3 cups of dried beans. I find canned black beans perfectly acceptable drained and well rinsed. In fact if your store doesn’t have a good turn over in their dried black beans, chances are that they are old and will take a long time to cook.

The recipe calls for sherry vinegar. I love sherry vinegar and always have a bottle on my shelf. It’s wonderful tossed with equal parts walnut oil and a neutral tasting oil such as grape seed oil to make a fantastic robust vinaigrette for green salads garnished with toasted walnuts. Recently I posted a rather fancy French arugula salad tossed in a sherry and truffle oil vinaigrette – link here. My French lentil salad also uses sherry vinegar – link here.

The brand of sherry vinegar that I use is Columela from Spain. It’s aged for 30 years in oak barrels (just like wine) and is made from the same grapes that are used to produce Spain’s famous sherries. Fresh Market stocks it in the states as well as Sur la Table, but it’s also available on line from Amazon. In a pinch you could substitute either a good red wine vinegar or champagne vinegar. Balsamic vinegar would be too sweet. Some people say you can use rice wine vinegar, unflavored of course. Personally we use sherry vinegar often enough to warrant having a bottle on hand and it doesn’t seem to go bad, probably because it’s aged.

You could serve this soup now through Thanksgiving or as a first course for an island inspired menu any time during the year. Or perhaps after a chilly Halloween night out on the town. The last minute addition of sherry linds an air of mystery to the soup. Garnish if desired with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with pepitas (pumpkin seeds). Served with a little glass of Spanish sherry, it’s positively magical.

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup Caribbean Style
Adapted from Soup for Every Body by Joanna Pruess – serves 6

2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, drained & rinsed
1 cup diced canned tomatoes
1 cup canned pumpkin (not to be confused with pumpkin pie mix)
2 ½ to 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces precooked ham, chopped into small cubes
1 ½ cups finely chopped onion
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
½ cup dry sherry (do not use cooking sherry, it's awful)
Garnish with sour cream (low fat if you like) or plain yogurt and toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

Combine the beans and tomatoes in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse until the beans have started to smooth out, but are still somewhat chunky. Place in a soup pot, then add the pumpkin and 2 ½ cups of stock. Stir to combine and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the ham and onions and sauté until lightly colored, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cumin and stir for 30 seconds more. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the sautéed vegetables to the soup pot containing the beans and tomatoes. Stir in the sherry vinegar. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat, and stir occasionally to keep soup from sticking to the bottom of the pot, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the sherry and heat through.  Taste for seasonings and adjust as necessary. Add remaining stock if soup seems too thick.

Serve in bowls topped with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt if desired and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds for a garnish.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, It's Fall Y'all at Love Bakes Good Cakes, Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Pink Saturday at How Sweet the Sound, Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

* * *

On a separate note, my salad with fresh cherries, goat cheese & pistachios was featured in Daily Foodbuzz’s Top 9 recipes using goat cheese. Thanks Daily Foodbuzz. Here’s a link to the article.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Blogging is all about the friendships you make

Dale, moi, Susan

One of the best parts about blogging is the friends you make. I’ve found that you really get to know someone well when you read their blog, but it's even better when you get to meet them in person. Meakin and I have been very fortunate to have met some of you. In fact over the last three years we’ve met thirty-one of you, counting spouses. If you count children, we’re in the high thirties.

Susan and Dale, of The Schnitzel and the Trout are two of our most recent. They were visiting family near us and were able to come to lunch at our house. Meet the Schnitzel and the Trout, photo above. I’ve known Susan for almost the entire four years I’ve been blogging. We had a great time visiting with them about their European adventures, the best websites for lodging in France, and of course, food and trout fishing.

You know we’ve made friends with Larry & Beverly of Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings because we toured north Georgia wine country with them recently. But we also know them from the fabulous parties they host in the spring at their dock at Almost Heaven South on Lake Tellico along with Chris from Nibble Me This and his wife Alexis, and Katherine from Smoky Mountain Café with hubby A.J., a.k.a. the Cajun crawfish chef.



A. J. & Katherine
Penny of Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen and her husband David of Riding with Dave were also at the party. I’ve known Penny almost from the beginning of blogging. This year David rode his motorcycle all the way to Alaska where Penny met him for the ride home. Now that’s an adventure. They had just returned from France and we were delighted to hear all about their trip.

Penny with Larry in the background

Other bloggers were Dave of Big Daddy Dave and his wife Laurie in the background enjoying the crawfish. They live near Larry and Bev. And one more Dave - Dave of Year on the Grill and E-Recipe Cards with his wife Jackie, who drove all the way from Kansas for the get-together in the foreground.

L to R, Dave, Jackie, Dave, Laurie
Rebecca from Chow & Chatter and I have tried to get together several times. This past winter she was visiting in Florida with her adorable young family (the wee one is on her lap), and we met Lyndsey of The Tiny Skillet and her husband and daughter for lunch in Sarasota at a restaurant catty-corner from Whole Foods & Sur La Table. Talk about location, location, location. Guess where we went after lunch.

Lyndsey, Rebecca & the wee one
Last but certainly not least, a couple of years ago Penny of The Comforts of Home, hosted a get-together at her home for fourteen bloggers (names of everyone here). Along with the blog The Comforts of Home, Penny has just started a food blog – From Harvest to Table. Penny cooked a delicious lunch for all fourteen of us, plus some spouses, and afterwards took us to her favorite antique stores for an afternoon of shopping. Somehow you knew when fourteen ladies got together that we were going shopping didn't you?

Penny, first row, second from the right
It is such fun to meet friends face to face. Who will be next?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Grilled Citrus Chicken Breasts Recipe

This week our weather in the mountains has been deliciously cool, with temperatures in the seventies during the day, dropping down into the fifties and low sixties at night. Our windows are open during the day to enjoy the cool breezes and sleep comes easily with the windows open at night under a quilt.

We want to spend as much time as we can outdoors enjoying this crisp autumn weather before it gets cold and we become housebound and have to flee to the warmth of the south.

In the heat of the summer we tend to rely on grilling rather than heat up our kitchens. I think that in the fall when the weather is gorgeous, it’s also the perfect time for grilling. Neither of us pretends to be great grillers, especially moi who doesn’t even know much more than how to turn the gas grill on. This recipe was a joint effort. I put together the marinade and Meakin did the grilling. Works for me.

I may not know much about grilling, but I do know that if you aren’t careful you can overcook chicken, whether on the grill, on the stove, or in the oven. When you overcook it, it will be dry and tough. Marinades bring a lot of flavor to foods that will be grilled and this one is full of flavor with the citrusy oranges and lemons, and the perfume of the rosemary. Regardless of how much flavor you have in the marinade, if you want to preserve the moisture, avoid grilling the chicken too quickly over too high heat because it will end up scorched and dry.

Grilled Citrus Chicken Breasts
Adapted from Bon Appétit – serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing while grilling
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
½ cup fresh lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons (or more) fresh rosemary, minced
2 teaspoons kosher salt

4 skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts (about 2 ½ to 3 pounds)
2 oranges, cut into quarters
2 lemons, cut into quarters
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves for garnish

In a bowl whisk together the 2 tablespoons of oil and the remaining marinade ingredients. Place chicken breasts in a large zip-lock bag and pour the marinade over the chicken, zip bag, and chill overnight (or at least 3 hours).

Build a medium-low fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to medium. Remove chicken breasts from marinade and set marinade aside for later use. Place chicken on grill, skin side up. Cover and grill, moving chicken to different spots on the rack for even cooking but without turning, until slightly charred and almost cooked through, about 20 minutes. Turn chicken. Brush orange and lemon quarters with a little olive oil and arrange around chicken breasts on the grill. Continue grilling until chicken breasts are golden brown and cooked through and orange and lemon quarters are caramelized, about 10 to 15 minutes longer.

Transfer chickens to a platter and surround with grilled oranges and lemons for squeezing. Cover loosely with aluminum foil. While the chicken rests, bring marinade to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until reduced to a glaze consistency (about a third of a cup). Season glaze with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper, then spoon glaze over chickens and garnish with parsley. Can be served hot or at room temperature.

This weekend the John C. Campbell Folk School in nearby Brasstown, North Carolina will be celebrating its 39th Annual Folk Festival on October 6 and 7th.

Wood Carver

Located in the scenic Blue Ridge mountains, the Folk School offers year-around weeklong and weekend classes for adults in crafts, art, music, dance, cooking, gardening, nature studies, photography, and writing. On my previous posts you’ve probably noticed how many crafts we have at our local farmer’s market and the Folk School is one of the reasons there are so many talented people in our area. There will be demonstrations at the Festival of some of the crafts that are taught at the school. One example is the woodcarver in the photo above.

Below are a spinner and a broom maker. For information about the Folk School and the classes they offer, click this link. I wrote a post about the Festival a couple of years ago with lots of pictures of the different festivities. Here’s a link.

Spinning wool

Broom Maker

 This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.