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.