Friday, December 26, 2008

Eat Black-eyed Peas on New Years Day for Luck in the New Year

Our recipe for Southern Black-eyed Pea Caviar includes ham for an extra measure of good luck. Southerners consider it good luck to eat black-eyed peas on New Years day. The peas look like little coins when cooked, so they are thought to symbolize wealth. They also swell when cooked, another sign of prosperity. Other southerners eat cabbage and pork. Cabbage because it looks like cash and pork as the pig symbolizes progress because pigs push forward, rooting themselves in the ground before moving.

People around the world eat special food on New Years. In Germany they dine on carp and often will place several pieces of the fish’s scales in their wallets to insure financial good luck. In other cultures, a coin is hidden inside a cake and the recipient of the coin is said to be lucky. In Spain, Mexico and Cuba they eat twelve grapes, one for each month, at the stroke of midnight. If the grape is sweet, the month will be good one and if it’s sour, a bad one. Martha Stewart suggests threading twelve grapes on a wooden skewer and serving them with champagne. Be sure to avoid lobster because they move backwards and might lead to setbacks and any winged fowl for fear good luck could fly away.

There are many variations to this recipe. We frequently fix it with sliced tomatoes on the side rather than in the salad and accompany it with sausage poppers (see recipe in cheese poppers post below). We’ve also served it with chopped fresh avocado on top. Others call for Mexican tomatoes (Rotel) instead of fresh tomatoes and include corn. On New Years you could also serve cabbage slaw alongside for even more good luck. Please use the recipe search sites on the right for other ideas.

Black- Eyed Pea Caviar 
Serve with tortilla scoops. Easily doubled or tripled and good for a crowd. Be sure to write the recipe on a few cards because everyone always wants a copy.

1 (15.8 oz) can black-eyed peas, drained & rinsed well
¾ cup cubed ham steak
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Pinch of sugar
Dash of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons chopped red onion
1 ½ cups chopped tomato
2 tablespoons chopped scallion including some green tops
2 tablespoon chopped seeded fresh jalapeno pepper
2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro or flat leaf parsley
Jalapeno slices and cilantro sprigs for garnish (optional)

Place black-eyed peas in bowl.  Sauté ham over medium heat in a non stick skillet until nicely browned, about 5 minutes.  Let cool for a moment and add it to the peas. Put olive oil, vinegar, sugar, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, salt & pepper in jar and shake well.  Toss over peas and ham and stir to coat. Add tomatoes, onions, scallions, jalapeno and cilantro; toss well. Refrigerate for a couple of hours for flavors to develop.  Bring to room temperature and garnish with jalapeno slices and cilantro sprigs if desired. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Reinventing the Cheese Ball

We took an old recipe for cheese balls from the ‘70’s and turned them into modern cheese poppers by changing an ingredient. Substituting Monterrey Jack cheese with jalapeno peppers for the normal sharp cheese gave it a new 2008 twist.  While we were flipping through old cookbooks, we came across one of Bisquick’s most popular recipes: Sausage Cheese Crumbles. It brought back fond memories as well so we made a batch and called them sausage poppers. Both recipes cook in a 400 degree oven, making them a good match. Serve these at your next party and watch them disappear before your eyes. Men love them.

Cheese Poppers

Be sure to grate your own cheese for this as the pre-shredded kind is difficult to work into a dough.

1 pound Monterrey Jack cheese with jalapeno peppers, grated 
1 cup all purpose flour
Worcestershire sauce to taste
Large jar of medium sized pimento stuffed green olives

Grate cheese on coarse end of grater. Let cheese soften at room temperature until it resembles butter. Add flour and Worcestershire, put in a bowl of a food processor and pulse until it forms a dough. Remove from processor and press dough around drained olives. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven on a greased baking sheet for 10 - 15 minutes or until done, being careful not to burn. Serve hot.
Sausage Balls 

For a less spicy version, substitute mild sausage.

12 oz. hot sausage, such as Jimmy Dean
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 1/2 cups Bisquick

Bring all ingredients to room temperature. Add to a bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined. Remove and roll into bite size balls. You may freeze the individual balls at this point, thawed and bake later. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven on a baking sheet for 15 minutes or until done. Serve hot. As a variation, omit the cheese.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Easy Appetizer Recipes

We like to serve bruschetta or crostini as appetizers with drinks or wine because they are easy and affordable. All of the recipes here are simple to prepare. Most require only assembling ingredients. They make a nice alternative to the standard assorted cheese & crackers appetizer. Most bruschetta is also excellent served with a green salad for a light lunch. 

Bruschetta (broo-SKEH-tah or broo-SHEH-tah) is Italian toast. Bruschetta slices can be large or small, but a slice about three inches in diameter by half-inch thick is ideal. Italians call smaller, thinner slices, such as those from a French baguette or small Italian loaf, “crostini”, meaning “little toasts.”

The most important ingredient is the bread. Artisan breads & baguettes are perfect for bruschetta & crostini. A chewy rustic loaf is ideal, preferably one that won’t get too hard when toasted. Soft bread doesn't work well. We like sourdough or a French baguette. The bread can be toasted in a toaster, under the broiler, in the oven, in a toaster oven or on a grill. Toast the bread just before adding the topping so that the warmth can enhance the topping flavor.

Take the following ideas as a base to create your own special easy and tasty holiday appetizers.

Avocado & Green Onions – Peel, pit and mash a ripe avocado. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mound mixture on toasted bruschetta and sprinkle with diagonally sliced green onion tops. Drizzle with a few drops of extra virgin olive. My personal favorite and using French sea salt makes it even better.

Sliced Smoked Salmon
  With Cream Cheese - Soften cream cheese to room temperature. Combine with finely chopped red onion, drained capers and chopped chives. Top toasted bruschetta with cream cheese mixture, arrange salmon slices on top, sprinkle with a touch of lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
With Cucumbers – Place smoked salmon on toasted bruschetta, top with very thinly sliced European seedless cucumber slices, sprinkle with lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper. 

Goat Cheese
With Sun-dried Tomatoes & Fresh Rosemary – Mix goat cheese, oil packed chopped sun-dried tomatoes, freshly chopped fresh rosemary and a small amount of minced garlic. Spread on toasted bruschetta.
With Basil and Green Onions – Bundle basil leaves and cut into a chiffonade (very thin ribbons). Thinly slice green onions, including some of the green tops and combine with softened goat cheese and basil. Serve on toasted bruschetta. Garnish with a few of the sliced green onion tops.
With Fig Preserves and Walnuts - Serve softened goat cheese topped with fig spread and crushed toasted walnuts on toasted bruschetta. You can omit the walnuts if desired.
With Tapenade - In a small bowl, combine purchased tapenade (an olive paste), chopped fresh thyme leaves, chopped toasted walnuts and a few dried currants or raisins. If you have the time, plump the currents in some warm water for a few minutes; then drain. Spread softened goat cheese onto toasted crostini slices. Place a good dap of tapenade on top of bruschetta. 
Other Goat Cheese suggestions – Spread toasted bruschetta with softened goat cheese and garnish with any of the following: roasted red pepper strips (jarred are fine), dabs of green or black olive paste (tapenade), oil-marinated sun-dried tomato pieces, a piece of black olive or green olive, snipped chives, minced fresh parsley or parsley sprigs, fresh basil leaves, tiny diced and salted tomato, green and red grape halves, or a drizzling of extra-virgin olive oil with a grinding of fresh coarse-ground black pepper.

Blue Cheese or Gorgonzola
And Honey – Bring cheese to room temperature and crumble. Spread on toasted bruschetta and drizzle with honey.
And Port Wine – Bring cheese to room temperature and crumble, add a small amount of melted butter, a little port wine to make a spreadable paste. Spread on toasted bruschetta and top with apple or pear slices. 
Other Blue Cheese suggestions – Bring cheese to room temperature, spread on toasted bruschetta and use one of the following garnishes: chopped toasted walnuts or pecans, tiny diced apple or pear, or cranberry sauce.

Purchased Pate - Bring pate to room temperature. Spread on toasted bruschetta and sprinkle with finely chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley and a drop of fresh lemon juice.

Sweet Pepper Crostini with Fontina Cheese – Arrange purchased roasted red bell pepper strips atop toasted bruschetta. Sprinkle with grated fontina cheese and broil until the cheese melts, about 2 minutes.

Feta Spread with Ouzo or Pernod – Crumble feta cheese into a bowl of a food processor. Begin to process the cheese and slowly add some extra-virgin olive oil. Blend until completely smooth. Add a few drops of Ouzo, Pernod or any licorice-flavored liqueur and some freshly ground black pepper. Process until incorporated. Spread on toasted bruschetta and drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil before serving.

Strawberry Bruschetta - Spread softened butter over the toasted bruschetta. Arrange sliced strawberries over the toasts. Sprinkle the strawberries with sugar. Broil until the sugar begins to caramelize, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately. If you have a Brulee torch, you can use it in place of the broiler. The torch makes it really special. This is a sweet bruschetta but don’t hesitate to serve it along-side a savory one.

Strawberry Preserves and Goat Cheese – Spread toasted crostini with softened goat cheese. Top with strawberry preserves. Sprinkle preserved with freshly ground black pepper. 

Monday, December 15, 2008

Left-over Turkey Dilemma

We fix a turkey for Thanksgiving every year and always have the same dilemma. What should we do with the left-overs? The white meat automatically goes to sandwiches, which we love more than the roasted turkey itself. The problem is with the dark meat. Most years we make a turkey curry which turns it into an exotic but strong dish. If you would like a copy of the turkey curry, email me and I’ll send it to you. It’s a fast and easy dish.

This time we went another route and tried turkey hash. The recipe below is our version of Martha Stewart’s Pepper Turkey Hash that I found searching for recipes on the internet. In the right column are listed an extensive number of search sites and also food blogs that I follow.

Martha used more peppers that we did and ground turkey instead of left over dark meat. We also added a little oregano plus red wine vinegar in the end to give it the spark it needed. This is ideal for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Turkey Hash

While it is tempting to substitute green peppers, the red & yellow ones are sweeter where the green ones can overpower dishes.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium Idaho potato (about 9 ounces), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper, seeds removed, cut into 1/2-inch dice
8 ounces button mushrooms, stems trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
16 ounces left over cooked dark meat turkey
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 cup chicken broth, more if hash is dry
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 large eggs (optional), poached or "fried" in a nonstick skillet

Heat olive oil in a large nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, carrot and potato. Cook until vegetables soften and begin to brown, 6 to 7 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium. Add bell peppers and mushrooms, and cook until vegetables are just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add turkey; sauté until cooked through. Sprinkle with flour; stir to combine.

Add sherry; scrape any browned bits from pan. Cook until most liquid has evaporated. Add broth, salt, black pepper, chili powder, paprika, and oregano; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer; cook until liquid thickens and reduces by half. Stir in parsley and red wine vinegar. Serve hot, topped with egg if using. Serves 6.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pumpkin Bisque --- a seasonal favorite --- served as an appetizer in demitasse cups

During the holidays I like to serve seasonal soups and pumpkin is one of my favorites. If you want to add flair and make it extra special, serve it in demitasse cups as an appetizer. It’s an unusual way to serve it and people are always surprised and pleased. I have an avocado soup that I use in the summer and I always use demitasse cups. If you plan to serve it this way, I recommend that you blend the soup before serving, either carefully in a blender or with a stick blender, which I find is one of the handiest tools in the kitchen.

I have two pumpkin soup recipes that I alternate between, Pumpkin Bisque and Southwestern Pumpkin Soup. To make these vegetarian, use vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth. You could also substitute sweet potatoes. Both of these are fast and easy and can be made in advance and gently reheated before serving. Be sure to buy pumpkin without the added spices.

Both recipes call for nutmeg. I prefer freshly grated to the pre-grated canned version. A rasp, another of my favorite kitchen tools, is perfect for grating whole nutmeg. They also make zesting a lemon a breeze. They can be found at gourmet shops or kitchen supply stores. Rasps are inexpensive and cost around $15.

Pumpkin Bisque

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
½ cup finely minced yellow onion or the white part of a leek
1 tsp rubbed sage
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin, no spices added
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, not the kind from the green can
½ cup heavy cream

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the garlic, onions, sage, thyme, cayenne and nutmeg. Cook on medium heat until onions are translucent. Add the pumpkin puree and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese and stir well. Add heavy cream, heat and serve. Serves 4.

Southwestern Pumpkin Soup

3 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin, no spices added
3 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Optional garnishes: Cheddar cheese and cilantro

Bring chicken stock and cream to a boil in a heavy medium-sized saucepan. Whisk in canned pumpkin, brown sugar, cumin, chili powder, coriander, and nutmeg. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until soup thickens slightly and flavors blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with grated Cheddar cheese and finely chopped fresh cilantro if desired. Serves 4.

Friday, December 5, 2008

New Recipe Search Links

In my Recipe Search section, which you’ll find in the right hand column, I’ve added more search sites.

Traditional cooking magazine links include Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Gourmet Archives, Food & Wine, Martha Stewart, Oprah, Yahoo Food, Food Network and Epicurious. Links to more gourmet sites are Williams Sonoma, Saveur and Fine Cooking.

Healthy links include Cooking Light and Eating Well. Southern cooking links are Southern Living, Cottage Living, Paula Deen and Taste of Home. Quick & easy recipes include Everyday Food and Rachael Ray. Kid friendly, casual cuisine links are Better Homes & Garden, Good Housekeeping and Redbook.

Seafood recipes can be found in Coastal Living. Specialty cuisine links are Diabetic Cooking, Vegetarian Times, Low Carb Simple Recipes and Italian foods La Cucina Italiana.

Food dictionary, culinary terms, food history & more can be found in the Food Dictionary from Epicurious and What’s Cooking America.

I use and enjoy these sources frequently and I hope you will like them as well as I do. Bon Appetit.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Fairy Tale Lodge in North Carolina wins the National Gingerbread House Contest Teen Category and will be on "Good Morning America" Christmas Eve

Dear friends of ours, Bill and Kenna Anspach, built a gorgeous fairy tale lodge in Burnsville, NC near Mt. Mitchell in a perfect 400 acre woodsy setting over Hurricane Creek. They nicknamed it Mudville during its four year construction and it was featured in the Asheville Citizens-Times as Tour House of the Week this past September.

Now their gorgeous home has received another prestigious honor. Twins from nearby Weaversville chose Mudville as their gingerbread house entry in the 16th Annual Gingerbread House Contest held at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville and it won the Teen Category. The fifteen year old twins, Patterson and Peyton Young, took the honors for the second year in a row. Grove Park Inn pastry chef Aaron Morgan, one of the seven judges, will be taking their gingerbread house, along with six others, to ABC’s "Good Morning America," where they will be featured on Christmas Eve.

Entries were judged on overall appearance, originality, creativity, difficulty, precision and consistency of theme. The twins used unusual items such as pumpkin seeds for leaves on a tree and herbs for the grass. The girls were even able to include a gingerbread dog of Miss Maggie Jones sitting on the stairs by the door.

Hansel and Gretel, a story of two children who walked through a dangerous forest and found gingerbread house, made gingerbread houses popular with Americans and Europeans. Information on constructing your own gingerbread house can be found on the web: A gingerbread tradition and How to build a gingerbread house step-by-step.

It took the twins 8 ½ weeks to complete their entry and it’s easy to understand why. Mudville isn’t an ordinary house. With its tall turrets pointing to the sky, it looks like it is straight out of a fairly tale. It is imposing with 7,000 square feet, including a guest house, wine cellar and pool with Hurricane Creek actually running underneath the main house.

Ninety-five per cent of the rock used came from their 400 acres, which they have deeded as a permanent wildlife refuge prohibiting development. The rock walls were designed to resemble the Grove Park Inn and lodges that Bill was familiar with in Iowa, where his parents were from. Many talented master woodworkers and masons contributed to the four year construction project.

As you enter the foyer through heavy front doors that came from a church in the Caribbean, you feel as if you have entered into a castle. The lightening is spectacular. The living room has torchiers from the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach and a gothic chandelier from a Methodist Church in Kentucky, making it seem like a cathedral. In the huge kitchen are yardarm lights salvaged from a freighter. Of course as a cook I went gaga over the gourmet kitchen, the wood burning pizza oven and the gorgeous red stove that Bill built with components to make it look like a French antique. Kenna’s gardening expertise has transformed the grounds into a magical and beautiful Carolina mountain forest.

Their wish was to make the house look like it grew out of the mountain and their wish has definitely come true. It is a special place created by special friends. Congratulations and job well done. We’ll be watching on Christmas Eve.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Have you ever flipped through a magazine, seen a recipe you liked, and wished you could have a copy?

I love magazines especially ones that have recipes. There are so many on the market that is almost impossible to subscribe to all of them. I would love to know your favorite ones.

I’m the first to admit that I have a pack-rat gene that I inherited from the Stewart side of my family that prevents me from throwing away things, including magazines. Therefore, to help cure this addiction, I subscribe to only a very few magazines.

Currently my favorite food magazine is Everyday Food. It’s great food fast from Martha Stewart. It’s small in size (7 ½" x 5 ¼") compared to Gourmet or Bon Appetit but it covers all of the subjects that the larger magazines do.
Have you ever been in the doctor’s office flipping through, as example, Southern Living and seen a recipe you’d like to have? It happens to me all of the time. Do you tear it out? Ask the person at the desk to make a copy for you? Or does the magazine just happen to find its way home with you? I sadly admit I’m guilty from time to time.

Well, feel guilty no more. Many of the recipes in magazines can be found on line on their web sites. It’s certainly true for Southern Living, Cooking Light, Cottage Living, Coastal Living, Martha Stewart and many others. I’ve compiled a list of my favorite magazine on-line search sites in the side bar of this blog. Write down the name of the recipe you want and go on-line. Give them a try before you tear something out of a magazine. I declare this solution as not guilty.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Famous Cheese Ball --- perfect holiday appetizer

Drum roll please. Here, published for the first time, is Nancy Simpson’s famous cheese ball recipe.

Cheese balls make a great appetizer, they are easy to prepare, and men love them. Fellow writer and poet Nancy Simpson brought her famous cheese ball to Netwest’s Prose Group last Thursday night at Tri-County College. The first person to comment, Jerry Hobbs, said, "Anything with pecans in it has to be good." It didn’t take long for the seven of us to devour it.

She kindly shared her recipe with me. It gets it kick from the Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning mix. Wherever she takes it, she says, people always request the recipe. Nancy likes to give her cheese ball as a Christmas gift by putting it on a pretty plate and adding a cheese knife. If you know Nancy, maybe you can get your name on her gift list because it’s that good.

Here, by popular demand, is her recipe.

Nancy Simpson’s Cheese Ball

1 (8 oz) package Original Philadelphia cream cheese
1 (8 oz) package 1/3 Less Fat Philadelphia cream cheese
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 ½ cups crushed pecans (divided)
1 package Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing and seasoning mix
1 teaspoon Heinz Worcestershire sauce
Pecan halves for garnish

Bring all three cheeses to room temperature. Combine both cream cheeses, cheddar cheese, ½ cup crushed pecans, salad dressing and seasoning mix and Worcestershire sauce. Roll into two large balls or three small balls.

Roll balls in 1 cup of crushed pecans. Garnish decoratively with pecan halves. Serve with Triscuits or crackers of your choice.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cranberries for Thanksgiving

Sugar and spice and everything nice add up to a new twist on some cranberry recipes for your Thanksgiving feast. These sauces are easy to make and vastly superior to the canned versions.

Serve left-over cranberry sauce over melted Brie cheese and accompany with toasted French baguette slices and a salad of mixed baby greens and nut oil vinaigrette.

For breakfast or with a cup of espresso in the afternoon, the yellow cranberry muffins are beautiful with the red berries.

Cranberry Sauce 
A citrus twist on a classic

1 (12 ounce) package of fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cinnamon stick
Grated zest of one orange
Juice of ½ orange
1 cup dry red wine, such as a Merlot or Syrah
¾ cup to 1 ½ cups sugar or to taste
Julienned orange zest for garnish (optional but recommended)

Mix all of the ingredients (except the garnish) in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then partially cover and simmer about 15 minutes, until the cranberries have burst. Cool and remove cinnamon stick. Sauce will firm up as it cools. Can be refrigerated, covered for up to 3 days. Serve at room temperature and garnish with the julienned orange zest if desired. Serves 6 to 8.

Cranberry Onion Relish
Great with a fried turkey

1 tablespoon canola oil
¼ cup chopped onion
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 (12 ounce) package of fresh or frozen cranberries
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Heat the canola oil in a small saucepan and place over medium high heat until hot. Add onions and garlic; sauté until tender. Add cranberries, sugar and water.

Bring to a boil. Cook 3-5 minutes or until the mixture is thickened. Stir in the vinegar. Remove from the heat and store in an air-tight container. Can be refrigerated, covered for up to 3 days. Serve at room temperature. Serves 6 to 8.

Warm Brie & Cranberry Sauce with Baby Greens tossed with Nut Oil Vinaigrette
Here’s an idea on how to use left-over cranberry sauce. This was inspired by a recipe, Mache with Warm Brie & Apples, in Ina Garten’s latest book, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. Use either one of the cranberry sauces from above.

12 slices of a French baguette cut into ½ inch thick diagonal slices
12 ounces French Brie cheese, cut into 4 wedges
4 tablespoons cranberry sauce at room temperature
4 ounces mixed baby greens
2 tablespoons peeled and minced shallots
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons walnut oil
2 tablespoons canola or other neutral flavored oil
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
A handful of unsalted nuts, either pecan or walnut halves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the 4 wedges of Brie snuggly in one layer in a shallow baking dish.

Heat the nuts in a 10" non-stick skillet on the stove over medium heat. Toss constantly until lightly brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Do not burn. Set aside.

Toast the bread in a toaster oven or on a sheet pan in the oven at 350 until crisp. Set aside.

Make the vinaigrette by putting the shallots, sherry vinegar, walnut and canola oil along with salt and pepper in a small jar. Shake well to combine.

Bake the Brie for 3 to 5 minutes until it begins to ooze but not actually melted. Watch carefully, it can get away from you. While the Brie is baking, toss the baby greens with the vinaigrette and the nut halves. Divide the salad among 4 large salad plates.

Place a slice of warm Brie in the center of each plate and dress each slice with a tablespoon of cranberry sauce. Place 2 or 3 slices of toasted baguette on the other side of the Brie. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Cranberry Cornmeal Muffins

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
¾ cup plain nonfat yogurt
½ cup nonfat milk
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1 large egg

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line twelve 1/3 cup muffin cups with paper liners (recommended for easier clean-up and a prettier presentation). Coarsely chop cranberries in a food processor or carefully by hand with a sharp knife. Set aside.
Combine flour and the next five ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk yogurt, milk, butter and egg in medium bowl to blend. Add to dry ingredients; mix just until combined. Fold in cranberries. Divide batter equally among muffin cups. Bake until golden and tester inserted into center of muffins comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to rack and cool. Makes 12 muffins.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sharing Recipes and Stories

Nancy Simpson posted a comment saying no one has ever asked her for a recipe. Somehow I don’t believe her, but her real talent lies in her poetry. I follow her site Living above the Frost Line. It is filled with wonderful poetry and pretty pictures of her garden in the mountains.

Her comment about sharing recipes made me think of my husband Meakin’s late step-mother Wanda. She was probably the best cook I have ever known and was never afraid to tackle even the most complicated of foods. Her daughter Marilynn ran a successful catering business in Buffalo, NY for years. Anyway, years ago Wanda served a fabulous Clam Zucchini soup as a first course and I asked for the recipe. I was out of luck because she didn’t share recipes. That was a shame because, as a new cook at the time, I certainly could have learned a lot from her. I vowed to myself that day that I would always share and so I have.

Nancy and I belong to the North Carolina Writers Network and Netwest. Glenda Beall, Netwest Coordinator, wrote a post about sharing recipes and included fellow writer Peg Russell’s yummy Rum Cake. Click on the above link for Peg’s recipe.

A friend of ours, David Dabney, owns a beautiful antebellum tour home, The Martha Vick House, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He tells a wonderful southern story of recipe sharing in the Vicksburg cookbook, Ambrosia, which is out of print now but can be purchased from used booksellers on the internet.
Ambrosia is a coffee table cookbook filled with rich food, gorgeous pictures, amusing stories about the south, and is an excellent tour guide of the city of Vicksburg. Vicksburg’s finest cooks share their recipes for entertaining for special occasions throughout the seasons.

David’s mother had a wonderful cook named Esterine for forty years. In those days ladies entertained with bridge clubs at home and served lunch. Esterine made a scalloped oyster dish that the ladies loved but she had no recipe. Everything was just pinches or dashes of this and that. All of the ladies wanted the recipe. One day they caught her in a good mood and she gave them the recipe. They were very proud of themselves for finally getting her to share her secrets.

About a week or so later, Esterine was at the Piggly Wiggly doing David’s mother’s marketing and one of the ladies was in line with her. The lady said, “Esterine, Honey, I did those scalloped oysters just like you told me to, but, you know, they didn’t taste like yours.”

Esterine drew herself up and said, “I didn’t ‘tend for ‘em to be.”

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Have You Ever Thought of Entering a Cooking Contest?

Have you ever thought of entering a cooking contest? Some of the big contests offer large dollar prizes. There are three major national contests: The Pillsbury Bake-Off, the National Beef Cook-Off, and the National Chicken Cooking Contest.

The Food Network shows the cooking contests from time to time. I happened to catch the Pillsbury Bake-Off the other night. It was exciting to watch the contestants compete for the grand prize, which is now up to one million dollars.

It reminded me of the time I was the Mississippi finalist in the 40th National Chicken Cooking Contest. I was awarded an all expense paid trip to the competition where participants are introduced to the 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. Goat cheese in 1993 was a fairly exotic ingredient. Many people stopped by my booth with questions.

We lived in Vicksburg, Mississippi at the time and our city newspaper’s food editor, Laurin Stamm, accompanied me, along with my husband Meakin, to the contest. She actually presented my dish to the judges for tasting. Although I did not win the grand prize, she said they "didn’t leave a bite."

It was an experience of a lifetime and the contests treat you like royalty. I won’t soon forget it. If you have ever considered entering a contest, I think the key is to send in as many recipes as you can. Your odds are much greater that way and you never know which recipe will be the most appealing to the panel. There are many smaller contests, which is how I originally got started. I urge you to give contests a try. You never know what might happen.

Here is my entry. Goat cheese is easy to obtain at any grocery store. For the health conscious, goat cheese or chevre has half the fat of cheddar, cream cheese or Brie. Although in appearance it resembles cream cheese, its wonderful tang sets it far apart.

Recipe: Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Goat Cheese, Sun-dried Tomatoes & Rosemary
Excellent served with Green Beans and Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts halves (1 1/2 lbs)
4 oz. fresh goat cheese
4 whole sun dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
1 very finely minced clove of garlic
1 large egg, beaten to blend
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons melted sweet butter
Mushroom sauce - recipe follows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pound chicken breasts between sheets of plastic wrap to a thickness of 1/4" using mallet. Bring 2 cups of water to boil; add sun dried tomatoes & remove from heat. Let soak 4 minutes until soft. Remove from water, pat dry & finely chop. Combine tomatoes with goat cheese, rosemary & garlic. Spread cheese mixture lengthwise over center of each chicken piece. Roll chicken up & tuck short ends in and secure with toothpicks. Dip chicken in egg, allowing excess to drip into bowl. Roll in bread crumbs, shaking off excess.

Place chicken in baking dish that has been lined with aluminum foil. Pour 2 tablespoons melted butter over chicken & bake until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven.
Remove toothpicks from chicken, cut rolls crosswise into 1/2" thick rounds. Fan chicken on plate, spoon mushroom sauce over & serve immediately. Serves 4.

Mushroom sauce

Sauté 1 cup fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced, in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a non-stick 10" skillet over medium high heat until tender. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth & 1/2 cup dry white wine (or substitute more chicken broth) to mushrooms & reduce until about 1/3 cup remains. Remove from heat & add 1 tablespoon cold sweet butter. Stir to blend.

Cooks tip for making homemade bread crumbsThere is a real advantage to making your own crumbs instead of buying the pre-packaged ones, which can have an unpleasant preserved taste. Use full tasting bread, like a sourdough or a French baguette. Simply tear the bread into small chunks and grind in a food processor or blender. For a more delicate crumb, trim the crusts first.

Recipe previously published in The 1993 Chicken Cookbook, a Dell publication.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Learning to cook by the book

I was raised in small town America. Alan Jackson’s country hit Where I Come From It’s Cornbread and Chicken is an accurate description of the cuisine of southern Arkansas. My mother was a good cook and made her own bread, thick blackberry jelly and rich homemade mayonnaise. She rolled handmade pastry dough and filled it with fresh apples for pie and made bran rolls or cornbread everyday. Our cuisine was based on the seasons, just as the fancy restaurants practice today. We had home grown tomatoes, corn right out of the fields, freshly picked strawberries and beans by the bushel bought direct from the farmer. I shelled enough purple hulled peas in my day that I had purple thumbs for a week. It felt like I spent my entire summer vacation with a newspaper on my lap shelling beans until the bushel baskets were empty. The only problem was my mother never let me to do a thing in the kitchen except watch so I never learned to cook.

After I graduated from college I moved to a large city and was on my own. As a departing gift, my mother gave me a large red version of her bread bowl so I could make her homemade bread, which she never taught me how to make. When I met my husband Meakin in Houston I could prepare college kid food such as cheese toast, pimento cheese sandwiches and tuna noodle casseroles, but that was about the extent of my cooking skills. Meakin grew up in a gourmet family. His father was an executive in New York City with a three martini lunch kind of expense account and ate in all of the top restaurants in the city. It was a far cry from my cornbread and chicken, and I couldn’t even cook that.

Meakin told me if you can read you can cook. "Give cooking a try," he said, "and if you make something we can’t eat, I’ll take you out." It sounded like a good deal to me.

My first cookbook was With a Jug of Wine by Morrison Wood. It was one of his dad’s favorites. I flipped through the book and chose Chicken Rosemary as my first dish to prepare for my new gourmet boyfriend. It had seven ingredients and I recognized all of them, so it sounded doable to me. Meakin was very pleased with the results. I had prepared my very first successful meal.

Meakin and his Dad had a tremendous influence over my taste in food. I had an adventuresome palate and was willing to give anything a try. As a couple we cooked together. In addition to Meakin, Julia Child, Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey were my teachers. You might say I cut my teeth on such classics as Mastering the Art of French Cooking, The New York Times Cookbook and The New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet. I learned knife skills from black and white drawings in Julia’s cookbooks. The Hoffers ate well. Food and cooking became our combined hobby and our passion. I’ve progressed to winning cooking contests and writing food columns.

How people learned to cook is fascinating to me. I hope you will share your story. I look forward to your comments. Bon appetit.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sam the cook and writer

Welcome to my blog. My name is Sam Hoffer. I live in Murphy, North Carolina and write a food column, From My Carolina Kitchen, for the Cherokee Scout newspaper. This blog is a supplement to my column. I am passionate about food and have never met a food I didn't like. I live to eat and love everyday. My day revolves around my husband and food.

I am a member of the North Carolina Writers Network and active in it's affiliate Netwest.

My husband Meakin and I retired to live in the out islands of the Bahamas for ten years on a tiny private cay in the Abacos called Lubbers Quarters. It was a very special time of our lives and one we won't forget. I am in the process of writing a lively memoir, Living on Island Time, Retirement in Abaco Spiced with Food, Friends and Rum. It's a travel adventure including the wonderful friends we made as well as building a home, boating and fishing, entertaining and, most importantly to me, food.

Stay tuned and check again for some of my favorite recipes and pictures in future posts.

I look forward to your comments and input. Welcome to My Carolina Kitchen. Bon appetit.