Friday, July 29, 2011

Summertime Succotash Salad Recipe

And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

Lyrics by George Gershwin

It is definitely summertime here in the US. A time when I certainly don’t want to go near a hot stove in the evening. That’s when I look to simple suppers on the porch, sitting under the ceiling fan, a cold drink in hand, waiting for dusk and the fireflies to appear.

This succotash recipe is a breeze to put together. Packed with the bold flavors of cilantro, garlic, and a tiny bit of curry powder, it also provides plenty of crunch from the cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, and fresh corn kernels. Speaking of corn, I feel it’s essential to use fresh corn. Canned or frozen corn just isn’t the same in summertime dishes.    

Succotash is a very versatile dish. It makes a great side dish for grilled chicken or pork. You could add some sautéed chunks of ham and turn it into a main course salad. If you omit the tomatoes, it could be used as a stuffing for tomatoes. Or if you don’t like lima beans, use fava beans, or make it southern with smoky black-eyed peas.

As the song says, “summertime and the livin’ is easy.” It’s time to get out of the kitchen, put your feet up, enjoy life, and stay cool.

Summertime Succotash Salad
Adapted from Sheila Lukins 

3 cups cooked baby lima beans
3 cups fresh corn kernels, blanched
1 cup diced European cucumber
1 cup grape tomato halves
¼ cup chopped red onion
2 scallions with 3” of green tops, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons cider vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon good curry powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Combine the lima beans, corn, cucumber, tomato halves, red onion and scallions in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Place the vinaigrette ingredients in a small jar with a secure lid and shake well. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables and toss very gently with a rubber spatula. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Shortly before serving, toss with cilantro. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve cold or at room temperature. 8 servings.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Peaches & Tomatoes – A Combination Sure To Tickle Your Taste Buds

Farm stands are brimming with local peaches, tomatoes, and corn. In fact the peaches this year have been the best I’ve tasted in years. I’ve been using them in everything, and I do mean everything.

I’ve stumbled on a new taste discovery that tickled my taste buds and made me stand up and take notice. I use the word “stumble” because I didn’t actually discover it, I just happened upon it when I made a salsa with tomatoes and peaches for broiled salmon. 

What would summer be without peaches and tomatoes? Until recently, I’d never actually eaten them at the same time. The wonderful sweetness of ripe peaches and the rich, tangy flavors of local tomatoes are out of this world fabulous together. If you're skeptical, and I'm sure some of you are, before you try these recipes, slice a peach and a tomato, add a little fresh basil, a drizzle of oil, and some freshly ground black pepper, and give it a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. Has anyone else tried peaches and tomatoes together?

I’ve also included fresh corn, which is also in season. At our local farm stand we purchased some ears of bi-colored corn that the grower recommended. As we were paying, he told us that some corn today is being cross-pollinated with sugar cane to make it sweeter. I did some research and found that there are varieties of sugar-enhanced corn (most probably what we purchased) that are grown for retail sales and local markets, but I haven’t been able to confirm the information about cross-pollination. If you know anything about this, please share it. To compensate for the sweetness in the corn, I added a dash of hot sauce to the vinaigrette. Be sure to taste your corn first, and then added the optional hot sauce only if it needs it.

This stuffing is fabulous with the crunch of the cucumber and red onion mixed with the corn, peaches, and basil. I almost ate it all before I stuffed the tomatoes. It won’t hurt my feelings if you leave out the peaches, but I encourage you to give it a try as it is. Maybe your taste buds will tickle too.

Summer Stuffed Tomatoes 
From My Carolina Kitchen

4 smallish tomatoes
Kosher salt
1 cup chopped European seedless cucumber
1 cup fresh corn kernels, blanched
½ cup chopped red onion
2 small peaches, peeled, seeded, and cut into small chunks
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, julienned
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Several dashes of hot sauce such as Tabasco, optional

Wash the tomatoes, then cut off the tops and carefully scoop out the flesh and seeds with a spoon. Sprinkle them with salt and turn them upside down on a paper towel so the excess water will drain out.

Combine the cucumber, corn and red onion in a bowl, and gently toss with a rubber spatula. Combine the vinaigrette ingredients together in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well.

Just before serving, prepare the peaches and fresh basil and add to the vegetable mixture. Toss very gently with a rubber spatula, add the vinaigrette and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Again toss gently, then taste for seasonings and adjust accordingly. Stuff vegetables into the prepared tomatoes and serve at once. Makes 4 servings.

You know what they say – what grows together, goes together.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Open-faced Prosciutto and Plum Sandwich with Goat Cheese and Fig Preserves  

When we brought locally cured and aged prosciutto home from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Ham Smoke House in east Tennessee, I wanted to find a recipe that would show off its special flavors. I considered melon with prosciutto and while that’s a wonderful, tried and true appetizer, I wanted more bang for the bucks.

You would swear this open-faced sandwich was created by Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, even though it happens to come from Cooking Light magazine. It’s that sophisticated. In fact it’s down right decedent, even though it weights in with only 318 calories a serving. This is a perfect example of what I call “small plates” that turn appetizers into light meals.

The sweet fig preserves are a perfect balance for the tangy goat cheese and the tart little plums in this open-faced sandwich. The tiny bit of grated fresh ginger brings a little mysterious flavor to the sandwich and really good prosciutto elevates it to food for the gods.

Open-faced Prosciutto and Plum Sandwich with Goat Cheese and Fig Preserves
From Cooking Light – serves 4

¼ cup fig preserves
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
1/3 cup (3 ounces) soft goat cheese
4 slices country wheat bread, toasted
1 cup loosely packed fresh arugula
2 ripe plums, preferably a combination of red and purple, seeded and cut into thin wedges
3 ounces very thin slices of good prosciutto

Combine the fig preserves, lemon juice, and grated ginger in a small bowl and set aside. Spread the goat cheese evenly over each slice of toasted bread. Divide arugula, plum wedges, and prosciutto evenly over the four sandwiches. Drizzle each sandwich with about a tablespoon of the fig preserves mixture. Serves 4 (one sandwich each).

I use prosciutto often as a seasoning ingredient in dishes as such Chicken Marengo (my recipe here). Chicken Marengo is one of our “go-to” favorites when we crave real French comfort food, which is quite often actually.

Prosciutto is also the star of the show in two of my current favorite recipes:

Grilled country bread with prosciutto, melted cheese, and fresh basil - recipe

Asparagus and melon salad garnished with crispy prosciutto - recipe

I'm linking this to:
La Bella Vita's Fresh Food Friday
Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum
On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable
Food on Friday at Carol's Chatter

Be sure to stop by and say hello. There are lots of recipes and great ideas to see. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Peek Inside of Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Madisonville, Tennessee

Have you ever been inside a real, old fashion country smoke house? Well, neither had we and what a fun experience it was.

Last month we attended a get-together at Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings at Almost Heaven South on Tellico Lake in Tennessee. For breakfast the next day our hosts Larry and Bev prepared one of the best BLT’s we’ve ever eaten on Bev’s homemade bread. Right away we noticed that the hickory smoked bacon was something very special and raved about it. Larry encouraged us to stop by Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, where he purchased the bacon, on our way home.

Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams is located in an unassuming building on Highway 411 in the sleepy town of Madisonville, Tennessee. If you didn’t happen to catch the sign, you might miss it. We went inside with the intention of buying a couple of pounds of smoked bacon, and came out not only with some bacon but several packages of Tennessee prosciutto as well.

Owner Allan Benton has earned celebrity status among the chef-and-foodie crowd nationwide for his bacon, country hams, and Tennessee prosciutto. In fact his products are served at the prestigious Blackberry Farms, one of America’s most celebrated intimate luxury hotels located in the Smoky Mountains near Knoxville, Tennessee. Travel & Leisure magazine ranked Blackberry Farms as #1 in their “World’s Best Awards” in the continental United States & Canada.

Let’s go inside. Sammy of Benton's Country Hams has offered to show us around. You're in for a real treat. Vegetarians proceed with caution beyond this point. As Chef Emeril Lagasse would say, in this part of the country "pork fat rules."

Here's a close-up of raw, unprocessed hams as they look when they arrive fresh from the slaughterhouse.

Refrigerated aging room with raw, unprocessed hams from the slaughterhouse.

Sides of bacon hanging in the smokehouse.  Adjust your eyes. It's smoky in here.

From Benton’s website, “Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams are slow cured using salt, brown sugar, and sodium nitrite and typically aged 9-10 months, though hams are available 1 year and older. This time-honored practice dates back to the era of our forefathers, when the preparation and preservation of meat was a way of life and sustenance. Although the hands of time and technology have sculpted many aspects of our modern world, at Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams we have upheld the traditional dry-curing process and are striving to produce world class country hams and bacon.

Our business was started in 1947 by the late Albert H. Hicks, a dairy farmer who began curing and selling country hams out of a painted block building. Allan Benton and his employees have honed the dry-curing of hams and bacon into a culinary art and have catapulted the products from a simple breakfast mainstay into the world of gourmet cooking, where they have been praised for their characteristic flavor. Benton’s Country Hams and Bacon are available either un-smoked or hickory-smoked. Hickory smoking is performed in a small, wood stove smokehouse behind the business, imparting a distinct smoked flavor that many customers prefer”.

Here are slabs of smoked bacon and ham in Benton’s aging room.

Salt cured country hams hanging in the refrigerated aging room.

Tennessee Prosciutto on aging racks.

To help country hams keep their shape, they are placed in nets while they age.

Country hams in aging room coated with Benton’s “secret rub.”

Here are sides of already smoked bacon, ready to be cut up and packaged for consumers.

Three ladies work in the bacon packing room where they place the bacon into one pound packages for consumers. They turn out 800 to 1,000 packages a day.

We extend our very special thanks to Sammy of Benton’s Country Hams for showing us around their packing house and explaining the whole process. If you would like to order any of the things you've seen here from Benton's, click the link above.

You certainly can’t say I don’t take you to fun places can you? Please join me next time as we sample some of Benton’s fabulous aged Tennessee prosciutto served on an open-faced sandwich with juicy fresh plums, creamy goat cheese, and fig preserves.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Salmon with Tomato Peach Salsa – a spicy way to enjoy local peaches  

Local peaches from Georgia and South Carolina are abundant at farmer stands throughout the south right now. Sweet and juicy, they aren’t just for pies and cobblers anymore. In fact Cooking Light magazine featured fresh peaches on their July 2011 cover as a spicy salsa for grilled salmon. One look at the picture on the cover and I knew what we were having for dinner.

This dish falls into the quick and easy category and can be on your table in 30 minutes or less. It’s full of the summery flavors of tomatoes, peaches, and basil, plus it also has a big wow factor in the eye-candy department.

The original recipe calls for grilling the salmon, but I chose my tried and true broiling method which works for me every time. Why mess with success. If you like your salsa extra spicy, leave a few of the jalapeno seeds. Don’t like it hot? Leave the jalapenos out all together. The dish will still be fabulous. The salsa would also be terrific served with grilled chicken or pork.

Salmon with Tomato Peach Salsa
Adapted from Cooking Light, serves 4

1 cup peeled and chopped fresh peaches
¾ cup grape tomatoes, halved
¼ cup thinly vertically sliced red onion
3 – 4 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, julienned
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 jalapeño pepper (optional), seeds and ribs removed, chopped
Kosher salt

4 (6 ounce) wild caught salmon fillets
1 tablespoon grape seed oil, or other neutral tasting oil, such as canola
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the salsa ingredients in a bowl and taste for seasonings, adding salt to taste. Set aside for flavors to blend.

Preheat the oven to broil. If your oven has a low setting for broil, use it. Arrange the pieces of fish in one layer, skin side down, on an unheated broiler tray or large sheet pan lined with heavy duty foil for easier clean-up. Smear the fish with the oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the fish under the broiler about six to seven inches from the source of heat. Broil about six to eight minutes or just until the pieces are cooked through and the top of the fish starts to brown. It’s not necessary to turn the fish. If the fish begins to brown too much, turn the oven to 400 degrees F and bake for a few minutes until they achieve your desired degree of doneness. Remember not to overcook the fish, because if you do, it becomes dry. Serve with the tomato peach salsa.

This recipe for Salmon with Tomato Peach Salsa was featured on Stone Gable's On the Menu Monday.

If you love peaches as much as we do and want to take advantage of them while they’re available, you’ll also like my version of Cooking Light’s Prosciutto & Peach Salad. As an added bonus, there’s no cooking involved in this recipe.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Baby Cardinals Up Close in Their Nest

The kitchen is closed today as I take time out to talk about gardening and all of the fun things associated with it. When we lived in Vicksburg, Mississippi in an house we remodeled on Confederate Avenue in the old military park, azaleas and camellias grew as high as trees in our yard and we were never sure when to prune them.

To complicate things, every year Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal built a nest in the azaleas right outside our dining room window and the last thing we wanted to do was to disturb their nest.

I thought you might enjoy seeing their nest and the babies up close. We made a photo album of this for our granddaughter and named it “Miss Birdie and Her Babies.”  These photos were taken a long time ago from inside our dining room window, looking out on the azaleas, on film, so bear with me.

Even Mr. Cardinal takes his turn feeding.

Here in the mountains where we spend our summers now we don’t have to worry about pruning azaleas because Bambi and his friends drop by and perform the task for free. But if you would like to know how and when to prune azaleas, my friend Larry at Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings has a very informative Gardening Series each Thursday that no serious gardener should miss. The other day he discussed when to prune azaleas. Larry, (smile), where were you when I had those overgrown azaleas and needed you?

I am linking this to Sidewalk Shoes' Garden Tuesday. Be sure to stop by and see all of the other interesting things going on in gardens around the world.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New England Clam Chowder à la Vichyssoise

Almost everyone has a recipe for New England clam chowder. It’s served piping hot and perfect for taking the chill off of a cool evening in the fall. But have you ever considered serving it cold? When blended and served chilled, the chowder takes on the richness of a fancy vichyssoise.

Although vichyssoise sounds very French, is an American invention. A Frenchman by the name of Louie Diat created the soup for the Ritz Carlton in New York City during his tenure as the chef. He named the soup after Vichy, a town not far from his hometown of Montmaraut, France. In 1950 in an interview with The New Yorker magazine Diat said,

“In the summer of 1917, when I had been at the Ritz seven years, I reflected upon the potato and leek soup of my childhood which my mother and grandmother used to make. I recalled how during the summer my older brother and I used to cool it off by pouring in cold milk and how delicious it was. I resolved to make something of the sort for the patrons of the Ritz.”  

Vichyssoise just might have been the soup that propelled American chef, host of No Reservations, and author Anthony (Tony) Bourdain into his highly successful food career. In his book Kitchen Confidential Tony describes vichyssoise as being the first food he ever really noticed and his first indication that food was something other than a substance one stuffed into one’s face when hungry. In the fourth grade young Tony was on a family vacation on board the Queen Mary bound for France when he ordered the soup. He says the crunch of the tiny chives and the pleasurable shock that the soup was cold to this day makes the word vichyssoise still have a magical ring to him. Now if only Tony would take on a campaign of instructing us how to correctly pronounce this rich, luscious soup of his childhood. It’s veeshee-swahze, not veshy-swah.

In this chowder, I’ve chosen to blend it and serve very cold, turning it into New England’s version of vichyssoise with clams. Packed in a thermos, it’s perfect for a summertime lunch at the beach or an elegant first course for a warm evening’s dinner party on the porch. Just don’t omit the sherry. It gives it that bit of French je n’est sais quoi that makes pronouncing veeshee-swahze all the more easier.

New England Clam Chowder à la Vichyssoise
Adapted from The Beach House Cookbook – serves 6

2 slices bacon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 cup water
1 cup bottled clam juice
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried
3 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced
Dash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1 (10oz) can whole baby clams
1 (6.5oz) can chopped or minced clams
1 cup whole milk
1 cup half-and-half
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dry sherry
½ cup snipped chives for garnish

Fry the bacon in a large soup pot until cooked, but not crispy. Drain bacon, chop and reserve. Discard all but a tablespoon of the bacon fat. Add the butter to the bacon fat and melt over low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.

Add 1 cup of water, the clam juice, wine, thyme, and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Puree the soup in batches in either a blender or food processor. Return to the pot and add the canned clams and their juices, the hot sauce, and the chopped bacon and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in milk, half-and-half, and salt and pepper to taste. Raise the heat to medium and, when the soup is just barely boiling, stir in the sherry. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator and serve very cold, garnished with the chives.

Cook’s note: Always taste anything served cold for seasonings. Cold dishes often require a bit more salt than hot ones. Feel free to blend the soup after the addition of the clams rather than before, which would make it creamier than my version.