Monday, February 28, 2011

Do you have seasonal recipes that you forget to serve when the season rolls around?

Do you have seasonal recipes that you love and somehow, when the season rolls around, you forget to serve them? It happens to me more often that I’d like to admit and it took one of you to remind me.

Take this orange salad for instance. I had completely forgotten about it this winter until Chris of Nibble Me This participated in a Culinary Adventure Challenge recently and posted a version of this salad on his blog. He and his wife Alexis gobbled the salad down while he prepared perfectly cooked lamb chops, macaroni, and a Napa cabbage gratin that he says was crazy good to complete the challenge. I owe you Chris. This salad had completely slipped my mind.

Citrus salads are a great substitute for tomato salads when tomatoes are tasteless and not in season. If you’ve a frequent reader, you might remember this salad. I took it to a blogger get-together in Tennessee and later, two of my friends – Larry of Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings and Lea Ann of Cooking at the Ranch made versions of it. Larry served it with coconut shrimp and Lea Ann incorporated it into a camping trip. Now Chris has “kicked it up a notch” and used blood oranges (the glamour queen of oranges) and added feta cheese. All in all, this orange salad with its bit of sweet and spicy taste is a winner and goes with many different entrees.

It’s a hastily made, colorful salad that I found in one of Pierre Franey’s 60-Minute Gourmet cookbooks many years ago.  At our house, we call this “Pierre’s salad.” Pierre Franey was a French chef who ran the kitchen at Le Pavillon restaurant in New York City for years. Pierre went on to write newspaper columns for the New York Times, penned some of my favorite cookbooks, and work alongside his dear friend Craig Claiborne, who practically taught my generation how to cook along with Julia Child.

Salade d’Oranges et Olives Noires
Orange and black olive salad adapted from 60 Minute Gourmet by Pierre Franey

1 each large navel orange and tangelo, or two navel oranges
8 black imported black olives, cut in half (I used Kalamata)
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
½ teaspoon finely minced garlic
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 heaping teaspoon freshly chopped fresh rosemary (optional, but delightful)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Slivers of red onion
Chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Trim off the ends of the orange and tangelo. Peel them, then cut into quarter inch slices, and put them in a mixing bowl. Add the olives.

Put the paprika, garlic, vinegar and oil, rosemary, salt and pepper in a jar with a tight lid and shake well to make vinaigrette. Pour the vinaigrette over the oranges and olives and toss well. Sprinkle with slivers of red onions, chopped fresh parsley, and serve. Easily doubled or tripled.

Do you have favorite dishes that you forget from time to time? Please tell me, because I need some reassurance that I’m not alone in this.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Split Pea Soup and a Question

Quite often we’ll have a bowl of soup and a salad for dinner. We love soup and, in fact, this recipe will be the ninth soup I’ve posted since I began My Carolina Kitchen a little over two years ago. Here’s a link to some of our favorites. You might remember that sometimes we like to pass soup in little demitasse cups from a silver tray as an appetizer when we’re having a dinner party. It makes an elegant starter with a glass of wine or champagne and guests are pleasantly surprised by it.

I was talking to a good friend on the phone one day and happened to mention to her that we were having soup and a salad for dinner. “Oh, I could never do that,” she said. “Bob doesn’t consider soup to be a dinner.”  Which brings me to the question - do you consider soup to be a dinner? I’d love to know what you think.

I believe I’ve found a couple of secrets to making a really good soup. It’s how you sauté the vegetables. My mother used to throw the vegetables in without browning them first. While there’s nothing wrong with that and it does save a bit of time, if you brown the vegetables first your soup will have a much richer flavor. The second secret is to add the herbs and a little bit of tomato paste to the vegetables at the end of the browning stage. Here’s what I do. I start the vegetables on high heat, then quickly switch to low, season with salt and pepper, and cook them slowly until they are nice and brown, taking care that they not burn. Then I add the herbs I’m using (thyme and fresh rosemary are my favorites) and a little tomato paste and cook the vegetables for a few more minutes until the tomato paste is blended in and begins to brown.

As I write this I so wish we were in Provence right now where I could pop over and buy a crusty baguette from this cute French guy at the farmer’s market. A girl can dream, can’t she?

Market day in Saint Remy-de-Provence, France

Split Pea Soup
From My Carolina Kitchen

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 sprigs parsley, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 whole carrots, scraped & diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
A good pinch of dried thyme and chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon tomato paste
12-oz package of green split peas
6 cups liquid (4 beef broth and 2 water)
1 bay leaf
Browned small chunks of ham for garnish (optional)

Brown the vegetables in a non-stick skillet in the olive oil about fifteen minutes or until well softened and have taken on a golden hue. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Start the vegetables off on high heat and quickly turn the heat to very low, stirring frequently. After the vegetables have browned, add the dried thyme, chopped fresh rosemary, and the tomato paste and stir well. Cook a few minutes more until the tomato paste gets incorporated into the aromatics.

In the meantime put the peas (it’s not necessary to soak split peas prior to cooking) and the broth and water into a large stockpot. After the vegetables have browned, add them the peas along with a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, turn heat to low, cover and cook 1 – 1 ½ hours or until peas are tender. Remove the bay leaf and puree the soup with a wand mixer or in a blender. Add more liquid if necessary and check for seasonings. Garnish with small chunks of browned ham if desired and some crusty French bread.

Cook’s variation:

Sauté onion and carrots over medium high heat, stirring frequently. Add a chopped clove of garlic, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, 1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika, a bay leaf, and freshly ground black pepper; cook three minutes. Add tomato paste and 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce. Before serving soup, combine 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon chopped garlic, 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, and some chopped fresh parsley. Stir mixture into the soup. Spoon soup into individual serving bowls and top with about a tablespoon of sour cream per serving.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Jacques Pepin Dessert That Looks Like Sunshine on a Plate

This dessert from Jacques Pepin is simple, healthy, yet elegant, and is perfect served with a little cup of coffee after dinner. Speaking of coffee, our coffee maker just died a week or so ago. No warning, no nothing. It just quit. I must have been living right as they say, because that same morning that the coffee pot gave up the ghost, an email came from CSN asking me if I would like to review one of their products. I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Our last coffee maker ground its own beans. While that sounds wonderful, our first experience with the bean grinding feature wasn’t all that great. In fact it was eye opening. We set the coffeepot to grind the beans, hit the switch, and went to bed. The next morning we woke to a very loud, screeching noise coming from the kitchen. It was the coffee maker grinding the beans. I don’t want to tell you exactly what my husband said when he was rudely awakened by the coffeepot happily whizzing the beans around in the grinder, but it was similar to “what the H is that noise?” Since then we’ve laughed about it, told the story to friends, but from that moment on, we’ve not allowed the grinding of coffee beans to be our morning wake-up call.  

Photo from CSN
Our new Cuisinart coffee pot from CSN is a high tech looking brushed stainless, Brew Central model that will be perfect with our other stainless appliances in our new kitchen at the condo. I love the brew pause feature, allowing me to grab a cup before the brewing is finished. The other feature that impressed me is one I’ve never had before – a carafe temperature dial. I can to set the temperature of the coffee after brewing to high, medium, or low. As much as I dread replacing coffeepots and other small appliances, this has been a very pleasant experience. From choosing the coffeepot from CSN’s vast array, to being pleasantly surprised that their shipping on the model I chose was free, to the UPS man delivering my package within days of placing the order, I could not be more pleased.

Back to Jacques’ dessert. This is a simple, healthy recipe that allows you the freedom to “make it your own.” You could substitute peaches or nectarines for the mangos. To save calories, you could use Splenda in place of the sugar. When it comes to the choice of liquor, I always favor rum because for years we lived in the Caribbean, which I sometimes refer to as "de land of de rum and coconuts”, but Jacques suggested Cognac or whiskey. It’s fabulous over vanilla ice cream, or serve it alone as I did here. Have fun with this one. It looks like sunshine on a plate.

Mangos with Dark Rum
Adapted from Cooking with Claudine by Jacques Pepin – Serves 4

2 ripe mangos
Julienned zest of two limes
3 tablespoons sugar or Splenda
2 tablespoons Meyers dark rum, Cognac or whiskey
3 tablespoons fresh lime lime juice

Peel the mango, cutting deeply enough into the fruit so than any green-colored flesh is also removed. Then, cutting inward, toward the pit, slice each of the mangos into slivers about ½” thick. Discard the pit. Using a zester, remove the lime peel from the limes and set aside until you are ready to serve.

In a bowl, combine the mango slivers with the sugar, rum, and lime juice. Either serve immediately or, for added flavor, chill for at least two hours, stirring occasionally before serving, then bring to room temperature. Sprinkle the mangos with the julienned lime peel just before serving.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sexy Citrus Seafood Salad for Valentine’s Day

This vivid citrus shellfish salad is sexy looking with its beautifully browned sweet morsels of sea scallops, vibrant and juicy orange segments, slippery white pickled onions, and bright green parsley leaves. In winter when temperatures drop and the days are short, let this sun-soaked salad whisk you and your love away to a romantic tropical island beach for a quiet dinner alone on Valentine's Day. It can be put together in under thirty minutes, giving you time for more important things.

This is another dish that falls into the “small plate” category for a light, healthy meal. The ingredients are simple and you probably have a jar of pickled cocktail onions sitting in your refrigerator right now that you keep for martinis. I’ve used navel oranges, but ruby red grapefruit segments or blood oranges would also be lovely. Wild caught shrimp could easily stand in for the more pricy sea scallops.

When you select scallops, be sure to look for the dry-packed ones, as opposed to wet-packed scallops, which are sitting in phosphate brine.  Jay Harlow offers this advice from Sally’s Place on buying scallops. “When shopping for fresh or thawed scallops, look for ivory or creamy-colored meats, even as dark as a light tan; a stark, bleached white can be a sign of heavy phosphate treatment. There should be little or no milky liquid in the tray, another sign of heavy soaking. In fact, the best dry-packed scallops are often a bit sticky. A fairly strong sweet-briny aroma is also not a problem, but a fishy or sour smell indicates spoilage.” 

Jay sums up how to cook scallops in one simple sentence. “One of the best ways to treat scallops is like little filets mignons -- seared in a hot skillet until the outside is browned and a little crusty, and the center is anywhere from rare to medium rare.”  Thank you Jay. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Scallops with Orange and Onion Salad
Adapted from Food & Wine – makes 8 first course servings or 4 “small plate” meals

4 large navel oranges (or ruby red grapefruits)
3 tablespoons drained pickled cocktail onions
2 tablespoons packed flat-leaf Italian parsley leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ pounds sea scallops, preferably dry pack
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Using a very sharp paring knife, peel the oranges, removing all of the bitter white pith. Carefully cut in between the membranes to release the orange sections into a bowl. Discard all but one tablespoon of orange juice from the bowl. Stir in the drained pickled cocktail onions and parsley leaves and season with freshly ground black pepper and set aside.

Pat the sea scallops dry with a paper towel and season them all over with salt. Heat a large, non-stick skillet over high heat until very hot. Add one tablespoon of olive oil and heat until it is shimmering. Cook the scallops over moderately high heat, taking care not to crowd the scallops in the pan. Turn once until they are crusty brown and just cooked through, about 3 - 4 minutes total, depending on the size of the scallops. Do not overcook the scallops or they will be tough and rubbery. Remove them immediately from the pan onto a clean paper towel.

Spoon the pickled-onion-and-orange salad onto small plates and arrange the scallops around the salad. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, some freshly ground black pepper, and serve at once.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mark Bittman’s Squid with Cilantro, Garlic, and Lime

Mark Bittman is one of the most popular cookbook authors of our time. On the tenth anniversary of his wildly popular cookbook How to Cook Everything, he’s published an anniversary edition with 2,000 simple recipes.  It’s a cookbook I go to all of the time for recipes as well as Mark’s good advice.

He’s also written another fresh and inspiring new cookbook that has become one of my current favorites - Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express, 404 Inspired Seasonal Dishes You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less. 

In Kitchen Express Mark has taken a whole new approach from some of his other best selling cookbooks, which have formally written recipes. This book has one paragraph instructions and Mark talks you through the recipe, allowing you to do what you mother did - add a pinch here and there, and taste as you go. Don’t have an ingredient? Substitute what’s in your pantry or throw in some fresh herbs if you have them.

A perfect example of substituting ingredients is this recipe. In the cookbook it’s titled Shrimp with cilantro, garlic, and lime. Mark suggested squid as a substitute for the shrimp and that’s what I’ve done here. Don’t be afraid of using squid. It can be bought ready-prepared from your fishmonger, so you no longer have to clean it yourself.  Simply cut the white body of the squid into thin rings and, if you like, use the cute little tentacles as well. They are my favorite part of the squid. Be sure to dry the squid well before using and take care not to overcook it or it will taste like tough rubber bands.

Squid with Cilantro, Garlic, and Lime
From Kitchen Express by Mark Bittman

In a large bowl, combine a handful or so of chopped cilantro, some minced garlic, the zest and juice of a lime, a tablespoon of fish sauce, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper. In vegetable oil, cook a pound of cut up squid (dry squid well first) until they are done, about  two to three minutes, taking care not to overcook. (Or use shrimp and cook for three to four minutes until pink and no longer translucent). Toss the squid with the cilantro mixture. Serve on angel hair pasta, over noodles or rice, alone, or even as part of a salad.

I’m thrilled that more bloggers are becoming interested in Mark Bittman and his brilliant cookbooks. A group of five fabulous ladies are now celebrating Mark with a monthly Bittman Blog Hop called Tackling Bittman. It’s on the first Thursday of each month and I’m submitting this recipe to the February blog hop. Please visit Alex at A Moderate Life (the lovely and talented creator of the blog hop), Christy at Frugality and Crunchiness with Christy, Dr Laura at Who is Laura?, Sue at Couscous and Conciousness, and Pam at Sidewalk Shoes to see the other wonderful Bittman recipes featured this month on Tackling Bittman.

What’s your favorite Mark Bittman recipe?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Seared Tuna With Ponzu Dipping Sauce

There’s a new wave of entertaining popping up in homes throughout the world. It’s called the coffee-table movement. More and more people today are serving small, healthy dishes that are perfect for chic, informal meals served around the coffee table. Hence the name, coffee-table movement. Depending on where you live, these little dishes may be called antipasti, appetizers, tapas, mezze, sushi, or simply finger food.

In the introduction of her delightful cookbook Small Bites, author Jennifer Joyce explains, “There’s a revolution going on. The formality of the dining room is being exchanged for a more relaxed gathering around the coffee table as a new mode of entertaining. Growing numbers of home cooks are unashamedly offering guests simply a selection of canapés and appetizers as a main meal. They are dismissing the classic three course scenario with large cuts of meat and fish in favor of diminutive yet beguiling small bites.” 

These little small bites, or appetizers if you wish, are especially suited for those who want to entertain stylishly, but live in a small space without a dining room. They are also perfect for those of us that wish to eat less but not compromise on quality.

This seared sesame tuna is a perfect of example of small bites that can be served around the coffee table. The tuna is best prepared the night before so it is firm to cut, making it easier to slice. The ponzu sauce can be made on the morning of the serving day. Of course you could purchase the ponzu sauce, but why when you can throw it together in a matter of minutes.

When we lived in the Bahamas, tuna was on our menu frequently. Our favorite way to prepare freshly caught tuna is to make a simple raw tuna tartare and serve it as an appetizer with crackers. This is a picture of my husband and his friends with their catch at the dock, still dripping with salt water. It took two men and a boy to boat this big boy. So unless you’re lucky enough to catch your own, be sure to buy really good top quality sushi grade tuna – ruby red with a little white marbling throughout – and for heaven’s sake, please don’t overcook it.

Seared Sesame Tuna With Ponzu Dipping Sauce
Adapted from Small Bites by Jennifer Joyce – makes 8 small appetizers or 4 small meals

1 ½ pounds best quality fresh tuna, preferably from the tail
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon white sesame seeds
4 scallions, white parts and some green, cut into matchsticks
1 Granny Smith apple, (or apple of your choice), cut into matchsticks
1 European cucumber, peeled and seeded, cut into matchsticks
Green scallion tops for garnish
Ponzu dipping sauce, recipe below

Cut the tuna lengthwise into 2 – 3 long slices, 2” wide, like you would small beef fillets. Heat a large, non-stick sauté pan on medium high heat. Meanwhile, rub the tuna with the olive oil, then roll it in the salt, pepper and sesame seeds. Place the tuna fillets in a dry pan and sear until brown on all sides, taking care not to overcook – the meat should be raw inside.

Allow the tuna to cool slightly, then wrap them very tightly in plastic wrap. The more tightly it is wrapped, the firmer it will be to slice. Refrigerate for at least an hour and preferably overnight so it’s firm to cut, making it easier to slice.

Unwrap the fish and slice very thinly, about ¼” thick. Arrange on a bed of scallions, apple and cucumber on individual plates and top with tuna slices. Garnish with some of the green scallion tops. Serve accompanied by the ponzu sauce for dipping.

Printable recipe including ponzu sauce

Ponzu Sauce
Be sure to zest the lemon before squeezing

1 cup low sodium soy sauce
4 tablespoons sugar
Juice of ½ lime and ½ of lemon
1 scallion, chopped
Zest of ½ of a lemon for garnish

In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the soy sauce and sugar until the sugar dissolves.  Add lime and lemon juice and allow to cool to room temperature, then stir in chopped scallion. Garnish with lemon zest.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Room with a View

View from the bedroom

We are currently in the process of completely remodeling a condo in a marina overlooking the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, on the Florida gulf coast. Fort Myers, as you may recall from one of my previous posts (see sidebar), was the winter home of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford and their homes are one of the main tourist attractions of the area. The climate is tropical and the winters are normally warm and mild. After living in the islands for ten years, you could say we’re spoiled and much prefer our winters warm now.

Our condo is located in a marina with some cute waterside restaurants that we can walk to. The marina has direct access to the Caloosahatchee River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico, making it ideal for boating and fishing. When we lived in the islands, our boat was our only mode of transportation, except for a golf cart that we used to visit our friends that lived on the cay. We referred to it as our “station wagon of the sea.” Once the remodeling is completed and our credit card returns to normal, we hope to get another run-about and keep it in the condo’s marina.

The building we are in is twenty-eight years old and our unit has never been remodeled. As you can see from the pictures, it looked pretty bad. I counted the other day that in our forty-one years of marriage, we’ve owned fifteen homes, lived in twelve of them, and remodeled ten of the twelve. With twelve remodel jobs under our belt, this hopefully will be lucky thirteen.

Kitchen before

The kitchen has been gutted, the carpet and tiles have been ripped from the floors, the bathroom vanities have been torn out, and we’re ready to start putting everything back together.

Gutted kitchen
We have spent a great deal of time with kitchen designers and decorators in the past month. New kitchen cabinets and counters are on order along with bathroom vanities and tile for the floors. Colors throughout the unit have been chosen from Martha Stewart and lighting fixtures have been purchased.

It boggles my mind to think about all of the decisions as we’ve made in the last month. The decisions regarding lighting alone can give you a headache trying to figure everything out. Fortunately, we’ve hired a great contractor to take care of most of the projects for us. Normally we would have acted as our own contractor as we’ve always done in the past. However, as you get older (horrible to admit, but true) your mind thinks you can do the same things you did just a few years ago, but your body rebels and reminds you very quickly that you can’t lug sheetrock up three flights of stairs or chip tile off of the floor anymore.

Bathroom before
The fun part of remodeling for me is feathering the nest, choosing fabrics and furniture, and color schemes. This will be a winter home for us, so our good furniture won’t be making the trip south. I’m hoping to eventually have some modern office furniture in the library where I plan to have the computer and comfortable outdoor furniture for relaxing on the lanai (elsewhere in the world known as a screened porch) watching the boats come and go. Stay tuned.