Monday, December 30, 2013

Revisiting Black-eyed Pea Soup for Good Luck for the New Year

People around the world eat certain foods on New Years that they think will bring them good luck. In the South we eat black-eyed peas. This black-eyed pea soup, link here, is fantastic served with southern-style cornbread (meaning not sweet cornbread) or crusty bread, which I've shown here.

I wish you the best of luck, good health, and much happiness in the new year.

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

Monday, December 23, 2013

Fruitcake and Friendship – two gifts that last a lifetime

Fruitcake and Friendship - two gifts that last a lifetime

I couldn’t resist sharing this funny Unicef card with you. It brought a big smile to my face. On the inside cover was a small notation – “the largest fruitcake was baked in India in 2011 and weighed over 8,000 pounds.” Can you imagine?

Thank you for your friendship and continuing support of My Carolina Kitchen.

I will be taking a little time off because my back has been giving me worse fits than normal for the past month and I have orders to take it easy for a while. I’ll see you after the first of the new year.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Best Wishes for the New Year 


Sam & Meakin 

My Carolina Kitchen

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book ideas for Christmas or the New Year

I have a few last minute book suggestions for gift giving or actually for gifting to yourself for Christmas or the new year. I’ve broken it down into categories – Fashion / Style, Food, and Decorating - my three main interests. Obviously I love food because of this blog. With regard to the fashion business, my first career centered around it, plus I’ve always been interested in learning more about how to look good and take better care of myself and I follow many fashion blogs. Remodeling and redecorating houses has been a big part of our lives. During our marriage, we’ve redone and redecorating more than a dozen homes. Here are my current favorite books in Fashion / Style, Food, and Decorating.

Forever Chic – A Frenchwoman’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style and Substance by Tish Jett

My friend Tish Jett has written a fabulous, must-have book – Forever Chic – A Frenchwoman’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style and Substance. I’ve been a long time reader of her blog A femme d’un Certain Age, which is dedicated to women 40ish to whateverish and supplies us with every detail about how to live a beautiful life with style, elegance, discipline, simplicity and generosity – but of course with a French twist.

Now with Tish’s book Forever Chic you will learn the secrets that Frenchwomen have known for so long, passed down from their mothers and grandmothers, about how to build their foundation and polish their image. Their beauty regimes are simple and you’ll learn them all. They spend serious money on their hair, which they consider an essential investment, thus no bad hair days and one fewer concern. Perhaps the fountain of youth is really a great haircut and the perfect little black dress. You’ll find that not only their physical aspects, their hair, their makeup, clothes, and posture keep them young, but also the intellectual endeavors they pursue. They are voracious readers, museum-goers, international film buffs and conversational masters.

As much as you might think that Frenchwomen are slaves to fashion, they are not. But they are not oblivious to it either. They like an invigorating shot of the new and the now, but never overdose on it. They’ve built their wardrobe on a foundation of neutrals and add spice with a few magical, highly personal finds. Color is usually in accessories and scarves and they collect them like a curator would fine objects.

Chapter by chapter, you’ll see exactly how the Frenchwomen do what they do so well. Instead of dreading birthdays, they celebrate a life well lead. From face to feet, detail by detail, secret by secret, everything is revealed about how Frenchwomen approach the care and maintenance of their skin, and once again, how they take pleasure in the process. You’’ learn how to start your wardrobe from scratch, how to get your house in order, and how to always look your best.

Forever Chic has been runaway success and is temporarily out of stock at Amazon. However they will ship it to you the moment it arrives or it is available in a Kindle edition for your pads or readers, which you can receive instantly. The good news is that Barnes & Noble currently has Forever Chic in stock and they also have a Nook version. You can keep up with Forever Chic on Facebook and also be sure to subscribe to Tish’s blog - A Femme d’un Certain Age.

Forever Chic is a must-have for all women 40 to whateverish. For those of you who haven’t reached those numbers and weren’t lucky enough to have a French mother or grandmother to pass down their secrets to you, but want to learn them for yourself so you can pass down to your own girls, you’ll definitely want a copy for yourself too.

My Beverly Hills Kitchen by Alex Hitz

When I buy a cookbook, I look for more than recipes. I want a good story to go with the recipes and you will definitely find them in Alex Hitz’s My Beverly Hills Kitchen. Alex Hitz was brought up in Atlanta into a genteel world of entertaining. His mother Caroline had been educated in Europe and grew up in a house where none of the women knew how to cook, or wanted to. She taught herself and in turn, became an exquisite teacher. “Miss Tastebuds,” as Alex says she was often called, “caused” lots of good things to happen in their kitchen. Caroline loved all things French and purchased an old eighteenth-century manor house in the Dordogue region of France. Family vacations were spent traveling in Europe. She gave their family cook Dorothy the benefit of her high standards and unerring taste, making the food in Alex’s home some of the very best in the South.

Alex’s idea of southern food is Charleston and New Orleans food, a new punched up version of plantation cuisine, overlaid with sophisticated sensibilities absorbed from Paris and his time in Europe. Alex enrolled in Le Cordon Blue in Paris after college and later was a partner in a successful Atlanta restaurant, which introduced him to the daily life in the food business. When he moved to California from New York, he introduced his world of sophisticated French inspired southern food to his Beverly Hills neighbors. An heir to a Coca-Cola fortune, Alex felt comfortable around the famous and many of their recipes are in his cookbook -  including designer Bill Blass’s Sour Cream Soufflé and socialite Nan Kempner’s Bacon Sticks.

But don’t think for a minute this cookbook is all about celebrity recipes. Not in the least. There’s Alex’s recipe for Chicken Chausser, a very decidedly French dish which I love, a Red Pepper Tart, which is a gorgeous quiche that is cut into pieces and served as an easy hors d’oeuvre, and a classic Cordon Bleu style recipe for Pork Fillets with Prunes. Plus Alex shares his secrets to entertaining in style, and I do mean style, with gorgeous place settings for scads of bone china and his family’s elaborate silver service, all while guiding you through the recipes with his charming stories and easy to follow instructions.

For more about Alex, visit his website My Beverly Hills Cookbook, his column in House Beautiful, and Alex Hitz on Facebook. At Amazon there is an extensive “look inside” his cookbook. You’ll come away drawn to his style and personality and immediately want to throw your own big dinner party.

500 Kitchen Ideas - Style, Function & Charm from Country Living

This little book is my go-to for decorating kitchens. 500 Kitchen Ideas is where I get a great deal of inspiration by flipping through its more than 700 pages packed into this little book with 500 new and exciting ways to transform the heart of your home – the kitchen. It’s packed with tons of fabulous photos of warm and inviting rooms that give you great ideas that deal with color, pattern, floors, walls, storage, appliances, sinks and work surfaces, plus windows and lighting and charming accessories for your kitchen. While it doesn’t cover kitchen remodels, it will certainly guide you in the right direction on the various kitchen styles, their functions, and of course how to make them charming. Highly recommended.

 Cote de Texas – French Design on the Texas Coast

The last is not a book, but a blog. As much as I love to decorate, I have yet to find a book that covers everything I’m looking for. Then I stumbled upon decorator Joni Webb’s amazing blog Cote de Texas and it’s as close as I’ve ever gotten to a perfect decorating book and all it takes it a subscription to find the answers to all of your decorating needs.

Here’s an example of Joni’s style in a post where she remodeled a friend’s house in the West University section of Houston on Albans near her own home, link here. It’s all about slipcovers and sea grass rugs, a look I personally adore and have incorporated into our own home. Of course you might guess that her post on Kitchens 101 - Elements to Copy, would be one of my favorites too, link here.

I’m crazy about her series “Ask Miss Cote de Texas” where readers have an opportunity to pose questions to Joni. One of my favorites is a question I’ve asked myself many times through the years - “How do you find the perfect house?” link here. In another of the same series, Joni guided one of her readers through a kitchen remodel inspired by the reader’s visit to a chic French hotel, link here.

Joni Webb’s Cote de Texas is where I draw inspiration and get my very best ideas. Cote de Texas beats any decorating book I've ever found. Subscribe or follow here.

Disclosure: The opinions here are my own and I did not receive any of these books, nor was I solicited to give an endorsement in any form or fashion.

* * *

Meakin and I are avid readers and have been enjoying fiction novels lately. We’ve read almost all of David Baldacci’s books. Meakin is currently reading Vince Flynn’s books and I am devouring all of the Stone Barrington / Holly Barker series written by Stuart Woods. Do you enjoy reading and who are some of your favorite authors?

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

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Remembering Foleys and Their Fabulous Cheese Spreads

Cheese spreads are one of my favorite appetizers. These are two old favorites that have been in my repertoire all of my married life. They were inspired by the deli, located in the downtown store at Foleys’ department store in Houston. One has a sharp cheddar base with a bit of heat and the other a blue cheese flavored with port wine.

Foleys, one of the grand department stores in downtown Houston on Main that occupied the entire city block plus the parking garage across the street, was an institution, where generations of Houstonians shopped. The downtown store was like a city with its nine floors, plus a full basement that housed the budget departments. Foleys was one of the first buildings in downtown to have a tunnel that allowed people to get to the parking garage without having to wait to cross the street. You could buy everything your heart desired there. The escalators were state of the art and they whisked you up from the basement through the entire store all the way up to the ninth floor and were by far the fastest escalators I’ve ever been on in my entire life. At Foleys you could find fashion attire for the entire family, select bridal china and silver, purchase your baby’s first shoes, furnish your entire home from linens to a dining room table, or outfit your house with major appliances and televisions. During your visit you could have lunch in one of several restaurants, or browse for the latest best seller in their well stocked bookstore, while waiting for your prescription to be filled in the pharmacy.

Going to Paris? Foley's travel agency could book your flight while you shopped for luggage and got a trendy hairstyle in the beauty salon. Perhaps you are only in town for a short time with a very long shopping list and very little time – a personal shopper will be dispatched to your rescue. Men could leave their car in the auto department of the parking garage to be fitted with new tires while they shopped for all of the latest in sporting goods & golf clubs or checked out the newest advances in cameras. On the way down to get his car, perhaps stop at the Men’s Grill for lunch with the guys. Many generations of Houston children sat on Santa Claus’ lap and told him what they wanted for Christmas after making their selections in Foleys extensive toy department. And of course you could purchase their fabulous cheese spreads which I loved so much in the deli.

I began my career at Foleys in the downtown store, recruited off campus in the late sixties from the University of Arkansas where I was working on my masters, to join their executive management training program in fashion merchandising. At that time women weren’t in management positions in business, especially in the South. I envisioned a world where women had the same opportunities in the business world as men. Unfortunately there weren’t any Sheryl Sandburgs telling us how to “lean in” or role models such as Marissa Mayers, currently the CEO at Yahoo, showing young female college graduates how to climb the corporate ladder. A career in fashion merchandising was one of the only places that I found that welcomed women into the fold of the business world, and men for that matter, without prejudice based on race or sexual preferences. Foleys & Federated department stores were what I call “the major leagues” in the business and there were plenty of women role models to be found in management there. I consider my experience at Foleys as a way of finishing graduate school and the lessons I learned there were invaluable throughout my career.

Their blue logo 

In my early career, my whole life revolved around Foleys downtown. I found my husband at Foleys, or as he tells it, he found me. As a trainee on a break, I sat about six stools down at the same lunch counter from Mohammad Ali, generally considered among the greatest heavyweights in the sports history, as he and his manager and a friend were sipping sodas, acting like normal, everyday shoppers.  The omelet king Rudy Standish, who earned that title by making omelets for JFK’s inaugural breakfast and later flipping his famous omelets for Princess Diana, demonstrated his famous pan in the fifth floor Azalea Terrace dining room.  As a young cook I was so impressed that I rushed to the house wares department and bought his pan in harvest gold (remember harvest gold?) and made my very first omelet. When the astronauts returned to Houston after their walk on the moon and were honored as local heroes with a huge parade in downtown Houston on Main Street, I stood with my friends and waved and threw confetti from the rooftop of Foleys.

When I joined Foleys it was a part of Federated Department stores. They prided themselves in customer service. In the downtown store, lunch hour for office workers from the surrounding buildings was from twelve to one o’clock and the store would be packed with shoppers. Twelve to one at Foleys was called “Holy Hour.” Every executive from the CEO on down was on the sales floor assisting customers during twelve to one o’clock and there were no exceptions or excuses for ever missing Holy Hour. The customer came first and was always guaranteed satisfaction. As the story goes, a young boy once told his mother, “I wish I had gotten the measles at Foleys. Then I could have taken them back.” After I left, Foleys changed ownership and continued to build more branches throughout Houston, then on to other cities in Texas and the southwest. Towards the end once again they became part of the Federated group. Soon all of the Federated stores, with the exception of Bloomingdales, became Macy’s stores.

I am still in shock that this past September the downtown store was imploded (link here to pictures) and a downtown Houston landmark went up in smoke. As one Houstonian said, “They blew up Foleys. What’s next, the Astrodome?” The Astrodome, once dubbed the 8th wonder of the world, was the world’s first multi-purpose domed sports stadium and had just been completed when I moved to Houston, fresh out of college. As I write, the fate of the aging Astrodome is unknown and may just become a part of history too, just like downtown Foleys.   .

Of course Foleys deli in the downtown Houston store and their fabulous cheese spreads that I adored are a fading memory and a part of their demise. Foleys had several versions of cheese spreads and I’ve tried for ages to get the original recipes with no luck, even when I worked there. Over and over again I experimented with them, tasting the originals alongside my own, and finally created these as close as I possibly could to the originals. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do. These are spreadable cheeses and you don’t want the consistency to be too thick or dense, hence the use of cottage cheese.

Foleys Cheddar Cheese Spread
My rendition from My Carolina Kitchen

8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, or a combination of cheddar and Edam, cut into ½” cubes & chopped in a food processor for about 30 seconds to 1 minute (yellow cheddar is recommended for color)
8 tablespoons small curd cottage cheese, or more if necessary
4 tablespoons mild to medium Mexican picante or taco sauce (not the chunky kind)
6 tablespoons chopped jalapeno peppers, seeded and ribs removed
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian frying pepper, plus more for garnish

Pulse cheddar cheese cubes in a food processor, then add the cottage cheese and picante sauce. Process once again with all of the peppers. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more cottage cheese. Taste for seasonings. Should be mildly hot but not overly hot. Can add a dash or two of Shirachi if you wish, which was unknown to me at the time or leave some of the seeds in the jalapenos for a spicier spread. Will keep several days, covered, in the refrigerator. Best served with thin, crispy Finn Crisp, 100% rye crackers, which I always bought in the deli to go with their cheese spread.

Foleys Blue Cheese Port Wine Spread
My rendition from My Carolina Kitchen

8 oz sharp Cheddar cheese, cut into ½” chunks
2 oz cream cheese, cut into ½” chunks, we used low fat
2 oz blue cheese, crumbled into chunks
4 tablespoons small curd cottage cheese, we used low-fat
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon port wine
Chopped green onion tops, 4 – 6 tablespoons

Pulse cheddar cubes in a food processor for about 30 seconds until it begins to crumble. Add cream cheese, blue cheese, cottage cheese, garlic salt, Worcestershire sauce, and port wine. Continue to process until the mixture resembles a spread. Add the green onion tops and process until smooth. Will keep several days, covered, in the refrigerator. Serve with crackers or crudités.

I want to add a PS to this. The Foleys I describe is the downtown store in Houston. Many of the things I remember about the downtown store were sadly not in the branches.

If you would like to read more about the history of Foleys, Lasker Meyer, the son of one of Foleys original owners who became President and later CEO, has written a very comprehensive history in his book, Foley’s, a part of the Images of America series. The Department Store Museum has some great photos of various department stores, link here. You also might enjoy The World of Department Stores by Jan Whitaker, link here.

Do you have a favorite department store that brings back memories for you?

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

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pomegranate Glazed Chicken

This dish just sings of Christmas. The pomegranate arils sprinkled on the glazed chicken look like dark red berries and the parsley garnish resemble holly leaves. Subtly sweet, slightly tart pomegranate juice with just a touch of fruitiness compliment the smoky garnet-colored glaze on the chicken and the arils add a nice touch of crunchiness.

Speaking of pomegranate arils (seeds) – I think of them as pesky little things that are very difficult to remove from pomegranates and are messy to boot. If you know me well, you know that I do not like messy. To solve the problem, I’ve been buying the arils in a little jar at the supermarket. But now my friend Chris at The Café Sucre Farine has come up with an amazing super easy, step-by-step method of removing pomegranate seeds in less than a minute, no fuss, and no water that you must try, link here.  Problem with pomegranate seeds solved.

Believe it or not, the chicken was grilled indoors on a stove-top grill. Just imagine the smoky flavor and grill marks you would get if you did it outdoors on a charcoal or gas grill. We do what I call “faux-grill” on the stovetop on a grill pan from All Clad, commonly known in our house as “Giada’s grill pan,” because it’s similar to the one she uses on her cooking show. It does a very nice job if you don’t have an outdoor grill.

If you plan to grill this recipe outside on a charcoal or gas grill, I recommend that you use a whole chicken, cut into parts, in place of the breasts. The original recipe called for a whole cut-up chicken and I’ve included the instructions in the recipe below. If you are as big a sauce lover as we are, I would probably double it if I was preparing a whole cut-up chicken instead of four breasts. If there’s too much sauce, you don’t have to use it all. More often than not we say, “I wish we had more sauce.”

This is a beautiful dish and is perfect for holiday entertaining.

Pomegranate Glazed Chicken
Adapted from Rick Rodger’s New Flavors for Chicken for Williams Sonoma, serves 4

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large shallot, peeled & minced
¾ cup bottled pomegranate juice
¾ cup hearty red wine
¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 1 ½ pounds (instructions for whole cut-up chicken below)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil for grilling
1/3 cup fresh pomegranate arils (seeds)
Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves for garnish

In a nonreactive saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallot and garlic and sauté until they are softened, taking care not to burn the garlic, for about 2 minutes. Stir in the pomegranate juice, wine, and sugar, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to half, about 10 minutes. When the pomegranate sauce has reduced, in a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and cold water. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the pomegranate sauce and cook just until thickened, about 10 seconds. Transfer the sauce to a small bowl and let cool.

Trim away any excess fat from the chicken breasts, then brush them with the olive oil. In a small bowl stir together the oregano, cumin, 2 teaspoons of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper. Season the chicken with the oregano mixture and let stand at room temperature while the grill heats.

If you are using a stovetop grill, heat to medium high. If you are cooking the chicken on a charcoal or gas grill, follow the instructions below for grilling. Grill the chicken, turning occasionally. Just before the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees, baste both sides of the chicken and continue to turn until the internal temperature is 165 degrees and the chicken is nicely glazed. Transfer to a warmed platter, drizzle with any remaining sauce, sprinkle the pomegranate seeds over the chicken, garnish with the parsley, and serve right away.

Instructions for grilling a whole, cutup chicken:

Prepare the sauce as instructed above and let it cool. Cut the chicken into pieces, and brush with the olive oil and seasonings as instructed above. Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for indirect-heat cooking over high heat. Replace the grill grate and brush it with canola oil. Place the chicken skin-side down, on the cool side of the grill. Cover the grill and cook the chicken for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over and continue to cook, covered, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast meat registers 165 degrees F, about 15 minutes longer. Brush the skin side of the chicken with half of the pomegranate mixture and move, skin side down, to the hot side of the grill. Grill uncovered, turning occasionally and basting the other side with the remaining pomegranate mixture, until the chicken is glazed, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a warmed platter, drizzle with some sauce, sprinkle the pomegranate seeds over the chicken, garnish with the parsley, and serve right away.

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

Have a great weekend everyone.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Leftover Cranberry Sauce? Make a Cranberry Blue Cheese Crostini

Do you have leftover cranberry sauce and not sure what to do with it? Then try this easy cranberry blue cheese crostini. If you’re been reading My Carolina Kitchen for a while you’ve probably seen it, but it’s so simple and delicious, that I’m showing it again for those who might have missed it.

All you need to do is toast some slices of a crusty French baguette, top with a few sprigs of fresh arugula or watercress, then a dab of cranberry sauce, a slice of good blue cheese, a tiny drizzle more of cranberry sauce and a crank of freshly ground black pepper and you’re good to go. For a festive touch during the holiday season, garnish with a sprig of holly from your garden or the florist.

I’ve used my “French” cranberry sauce, link here, but any good cranberry sauce will do.

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

Have a great weekend everyone.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Plethora of Cranberry Sauces & Relishes

There is never a Thanksgiving at our house without cranberry sauce and this year will be no exception. I’ve been making my own cranberry sauce for years and each year I try a couple of new ones.

The first new 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. I have to admit this one stole my heart.

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.

The next new recipe is also 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.

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.

The next three you may remember from last year. 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 nuts but leave a few for garnish. Cover and chill. If you make this a few days ahead, leave out the nuts until just before serving so they remain crunchy.

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, but save a little for a garnish. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Last, but certainly not least, is our traditional cranberry sauce is flavored with red wine with a citrus undertone and I’ve dubbed it “French” cranberry sauce because of the 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 use 1 cup)
2 navel oranges

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, garnish with the remaining fresh citrus zest. Serve at room temperature.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who will be celebrating this Thursday and I hope everyone has a very nice weekend.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rustic-style Herbed Bread Dressing with Sausage & Mushrooms

Most years I make a typical southern-style cornbread dressing similar to what was served in my home on Thanksgiving when I was a child, but I was in the mood for a change this year and wanted to try my hand at a bread based dressing. Slightly spicy sweet Italian sausage and rich earthy cremini mushrooms bring a lot of hearty flavors to this rustic-style herb bread dressing. Using artisan bread adds another dimension of freshness instead of using the dried packaged bread stuffing mix. And of course it’s not dressing without the traditional flavors of fresh thyme and sage herbs. An aromatic mirepoix of vegetables rounds out the dish. I did increase the amount of fresh thyme and sage by half again from the original recipe, so if you think that might be too herby for your family’s taste, cut them back to one tablespoon each.

I’ve used cremini mushrooms in this recipe. Often you’ll see them labeled baby portabellos or baby bellas. The differences between white button mushrooms, cremini and portabellos can be confusing and what it boils down to a matter of their age. The cultivated white button mushrooms are the youngest variety of button mushrooms. When the mushroom is left to grow for longer and become mature, they turn brown, their tops spread out and that is the portabello. The cremini mushroom is the one in between. It is a moderately mature version of the white button mushroom yet younger than the portabello, hence the name baby portabellos or baby bellas.

Cranberry sauce is one of my Thanksgiving specialties and I will be posting several versions early next week for those of you that love cranberry sauce, so stay tuned. Here’s a close-up of the herbed bread dressing. Dig in with your fork

Rustic-style Herbed Bread Dressing with Sausage & Mushrooms
Adapted from Wine, Food & Friends by Karen MacNeil, based on a Lightened-up Recipe Makeover from Cooking Light, yield 12 servings

1 ½ pounds peasant-style artisan white bread
4 (4 ounce) links sweet Italian turkey or chicken sausage in casings
2 teaspoons sweet butter
1 pound cremini or baby bella mushrooms, cleaned, tough stems trimmed off, then quartered
2 tablespoons sweet butter
1 ¼ cups chopped mild white or yellow onion
1 ¼ cups peeled & chopped carrots
1 ¼ cups chopped celery
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 ½ tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 ½ tablespoons minced fresh sage
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 (14 ounce) can fat-free low-sodium chicken broth (or homemade if you have it)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut bread into 1” cubes and arrange in a single layer on a half sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes. Toss half way through to insure evening browning. Remove from the oven and place in an extra large mixing bowl. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Cook sausage links in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes until they are cooked through, browning evenly on all sides. Remove from the skillet and set aside until they are cool enough to slice. After they are sliced, add to the bowl with the bread cubes.

In that same skillet, melt 2 teaspoons of butter over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until they’ve given up their liquid, salting about half way though. Add them to the bowl along with the bread.

Carefully wipe out the skillet and add the 2 tablespoons of butter. Sauté the onions, carrots and celery over medium-high heat until they have softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the parsley, thyme, sage, salt and freshly ground black and sauté one minute to incorporate. Add the vegetables to the bowl with the bread, sausages and mushrooms.

Whisk together the eggs and chicken broth. Stir the liquid into the bread mixture to moisten and toss well to coat. Coat a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray, then spread the bread mixture evenly in the dish. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. Serve warm. Yield 12 servings.

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Spicy Roasted Butternut Squash, Feta, and Olive Salad

This is a nice spicy fall salad, filled with the flavors of the Mediterranean. The briny kalamata olives and feta cheese pair well with the spicy warm roasted butternut squash that’s been seasoned with touches of cumin and cayenne pepper and dressed with a red wine and shallot vinaigrette. We found this to be a lovely fall vegetarian lunch or a fine accompaniment to a roasted chicken or pork loin.

I don’t know about you, but I dread dealing with hard winter vegetables such as butternut squash or pumpkin. They’re difficult to cut and a challenge to peel. So I asked the green grocer to cut the butternut squash in half, which prevented me from having to enlist my husband and his trusty long French chef’s knife. Then I relied on a wide peeler to remove the skin. Believe me, a regular thin vegetable peeler would take forever and frustrate you at the same time. The wide peeler, example here from Williams Sonoma, is your best friend when it comes to peeling big hard vegetables. Roasting is definitely the way to cook butternut squash. As you can see in this photo, the high temperature gives it a nice caramelization.

Make sure to find a nice creamy feta cheese that comes in brine (heavily salted water). The dry crumbly feta just won’t get the job done here. It might look okay, but it lacks the taste and texture of the brined cheese.

We learned something the other day about olives. At an Italian market we overheard a customer order a scoop of kalamata olives with pits and Meakin asked him why, since it’s so much more convenient to buy them already pitted. He explained that the olives have more flavor with the pits, because when the pits are removed, the olive is more exposed to the brine and that affects the flavor. Interesting. I was giving up flavor for a short-cut.

Speaking of olives, Bill Granger, whose recipe I’ve adapted here, says if you find store-bought olives a bit too salty for your taste, soak them in water for an hour or two and then drain. If you want marinated olives, pour a little good extra virgin olive oil over them and add green peppercorns, garlic cloves, or other seasonings that suit your taste.

The original recipe calls for pumpkin, so feel free to substitute it or sweet potatoes for the butternut squash. Next time I would cut the olives in half lengthwise to make the olives go further in the dish. This warm and spicy salad is a definite have-again.

Spicy Roasted Butternut Squash, Feta, and Olive Salad
Adapted from Bill’s Food by Bill Granger – serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb, 12 ounces butternut squash, cut into ¾” cubes
3 ½ ounces baby spinach leaves
5 ½ ounces feta cheese in brine, drained and crumbled
20 Kalamata olives, pitted (sliced in half if desired)

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely sliced or chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Measure the olive oil, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper into a small jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well to combine. Place the squash on a roasting pan large enough to hold the cubes without crowding. Pour the spices over the squash and with your hands, stir the cubes to combine with the spice mix.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender and slightly caramelized. Set aside to cool very slightly, yet still warm, while you assemble the vinaigrette and the salad.

Combine the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a small jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well to combine.

Divide the spinach leaves among four serving plates and scatter warm squash, feta and olives over the top. Drizzle each salad with the red wine shallot vinaigrette. Serve right away.

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

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Chocolate Cassis Cake to celebrate our 5th Blog Anniversary

My Carolina Kitchen is celebrating its 5th blog anniversary and I wanted to make something rich and decadent to thank all of you for your support along my journey. It’s been a wonderful and rewarding five years. Meakin and I have been fortunate enough to meet many of you and your families in person and look forward to meeting more of you in the coming year. Blogging has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me, other than marrying the love of my life forty-four years ago tomorrow.

What better way to celebrate than with a cake. But this isn’t just any old cake – its Ina Garten’s rich, decadent, dark chocolate cassis cake, glazed with a dark chocolate ganache spiked with crème de cassis, and served with bright red, sweet berries on the side.

Many of you that know me well know that I’m not a baker. The funny part of it is that my mother was an excellent baker, baked bread daily, and was best known for her luscious angel food cakes and rich brownies. Somehow I didn’t inherit her sweet tooth and I don’t make desserts very often. If the truth be told, this is only the second cake I’ve ever made. The first was another rich and decadent cake - an almond Limoncello cake, featured on the blog a couple of years ago, link here. I make it only on special occasions or for very dear friends.

I was surprised how easily this cake came together because most of the work is done by your stand mixer. You can make this cake ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it. The main flavoring ingredient besides dark chocolate is crème de cassis, a black current liqueur that is used in the popular French aperitif Kir and Kir Royal. A Kir is made with a dash of crème de cassis topped with white wine and the Kir Royal is made the same way but topped with bubbling champagne.

I read the reviews of the cake before we prepared it and made a few small changes. A couple of people remarked that the cake was sticky to cut because it was so moist, so we added a couple of tablespoons of flour to the batter. I would also recommend that you clean your knife between slices because of the stickiness of the cake. You can see how moist the cake is below.

Several people suggested cutting back on the amount of sugar and cassis in the berries, so we took their advice. If you don’t like or don’t have crème de cassis, one reviewer substituted cherry liqueur for the cassis and used cherries in place of the berries. I think that sounds like a marvelous idea when fresh cherries are in season.

For the presentation of this cake, fresh mint sprigs are essential. We did this photo shoot twice. Once without the mint and the cake was dark and uninteresting. When we added the mint sprig it changed everything and the appearance improved dramatically. So please don't forget the mint.

The cake is very impressive and was a very big hit. I would definitely make it again, especially if you love dark chocolate as much as I do. It will absolutely satisfy those cravings. Be careful with left-over’s though. If you are a chocoholic, it’s very tempting to stand at the kitchen counter and eat the whole thing with a spoon.

Chocolate Cassis Cake
Adapted slightly from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa & The Food Network – serves 10 to 12

For the cake:
Baking spray with flour, such as Baker's Joy
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons crème de cassis liqueur
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the glaze:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 to 3 tablespoons crème de cassis liqueur
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To serve:
2 (1/2 pint) boxes fresh raspberries
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and thickly sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons crème de cassis liqueur
Fresh mint sprigs for garnish

For the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch round spring form pan with baking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and spray it again with baking spray.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Whisk in the cocoa powder, flour, cassis, and vanilla and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (you can also use a hand mixer), beat the eggs, sugar, and salt on high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until pale yellow and triple in volume. Pour the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and carefully but thoroughly fold them together with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until just barely set in the center. Allow to cool in the pan for 30 minutes and then release the sides of the pan. Invert the cake carefully onto a flat serving plate, remove the parchment paper, and cool completely.

For the glaze, melt the chocolate and cream together in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until smooth. Off the heat, whisk in the cassis and vanilla. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and spread over just the top of the cake.

Fifteen minutes before serving, toss the berries gently with the sugar and cassis. Cut the cake in wedges and serve with the berries on the side and garnish with fresh mint sprigs.

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

Thank each & every one of you again from both of us for your continued support as we celebrate My Carolina Kitchen's 5th anniversary. This photo was snapped at a party a few years ago. Tomorrow we will be celebrating our 44th wedding anniversary. Life has been good to us.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Chicken with Tomatoes, Green Olives, & Cilantro

This little 30 minute meal makes an easy supper for weeknights when you’ve had a busy day but want somethinh a little special for dinner. The combination of the bright red tomatoes, green olives and cilantro makes a festive presentation and the zesty flavors burst in your mouth with freshness. I would serve this with orzo or rice, a simple tossed salad and a crusty French baguette.

Chicken with Tomatoes, Green Olives, & Cilantro
Adapted from Everyday Food, Fresh Flavor Fast – serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 ½ pounds)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
½ cup green olives with pimentos (no pits), halved lengthwise
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup packed fresh cilantro, chopped (save some leaves for garnish)

Season the chicken on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. If they are very plump, flatten then so they will cook evenly. Heat oil in a 12” non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. When the oil is hot, add chicken and sauté until just cooked through, turning once, about 10 to 15 minutes. If the chicken crowds the skillet, cook in two batches. Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover loosely with foil.

Using the same non-stick skillet, raise the heat to medium and cook the sliced onion, stirring occasionally until soften, taking care not to burn the onions for about 5 to 7 minutes,. Season the tomatoes with a little salt and carefully add them to the pan along with the olives. Cook until tomatoes have softened and released their juice, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the lime juice and cilantro. Season the mixture lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top the chicken with the tomato, olive and onion mixture and serve.

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

Happy Halloween everyone. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Mediterranean Chicken Stew on Polenta

We were very pleased with the results of this Mediterranean chicken stew. First of all, its flavors are very reminiscent of the Mediterranean with the sultry black olives and tomato bits briefly stewed with the chickpeas and chicken. Second, the appearance of the dish really has a wow factor when you strew the chicken and vegetables across the rich creamy polenta. The most surprising of all is that it was so easy to make the polenta in the oven. It just baked away happily in the oven while the stew went together on top of the stove. Best of all, this dish comes together in thirty minutes.

If you aren’t a fan of chickpeas (that would include my husband), by all means use cannellini beans. I can see shrimp in this stew, briefly sautéed and added at the last minute in place of the chicken. Most any fresh herb would suffice. We chose fresh oregano because we have it spilling over in abundance in our herb garden. Feel free to use marjoram, thyme, or basil. A brief word about fresh oregano – every time we’ve planted it, it has thrived and taken over sections of the herb garden. In the spring it has pretty delicate pink blossoms. It is a perennial that keeps on giving and will reward you for years to come. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about it taking over.

Mediterranean Chicken Stew over Polenta
Adapted from Great Food Fast by Martha Stewart

1 ½ pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts halves, cut into ¾” chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 15.5 ounce can chickpeas or cannelloni beans, drained & rinsed well
4 – 5 plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, & cut into ½” pieces yielding 2 cups
3 tablespoons pitted kalamata olives, cut in half
1 teaspoon champagne vinegar or other white wine vinegar
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
Polenta for serving, recipe below

Season chicken with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Reduce the heat in the skillet to medium-low. Add remaining teaspoon of oil to the skillet. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds, taking care not to let the garlic burn. Add the drained beans and 1 cup of water. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cook over medium heat until starting to break down, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the olives, vinegar, and cooked chicken along with any accumulated juices to the pan. Toss until warmed through, about 1 minute. Stir in chopped parsley. Serve over polenta, recipe below.

Printable recipe (including polenta)

Oven Baked Polenta
Adapted from Great Food Fast by Martha Stewart

¾ cup cornmeal, we used yellow
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups water
¼ cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or marjoram

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In an ovenproof saucepan or (ovenproof casserole) with a lid, whisk together the cornmeal, salt, pepper & water. (If you mix the ingredients together before the oven is heated to temperature, whisk them together again at the last minute.) Cover and bake 30 minutes, stirring half way through. Remove from oven, whisk in milk, butter, and oregano until smooth. Serve immediately.

Printable recipe for polenta

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Wind' Down Wednesday at Dizzy, Busy & Hungry, Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper & Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter.  
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Have a great weekend everyone.