Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Potato Latkes with Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraiche, and Caviar – or “How to Spoil Someone Rotten”

You may remember I said last week that while I’m recuperating Meakin was spoiling me rotten. Well, this is what “spoiled rotten” looks like.

Here my loving husband turned the simple potato latke into a decadent treat topped with smoked salmon, crème fraiche, and caviar. Latkes can also be served with applesauce or plain with a salad for lunch. Feel free to substitute sour cream for the crème fraiche if you can’t find it in your market. Or better yet, make your own with this super simple recipe using heavy whipping cream and buttermilk.

Warning. This is a very rich dish, so try not to overindulge. While I can’t claim it’s diet food, the good news is that the latkes are baked, not fried in oil as most recipes call for. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how crisp the latkes are. If you like to do some of the work in advance, the latkes can be prepared ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator overnight and simply reheated in the oven the next day.

“Spoiled rotten” just got a whole lot easier.

Potato Latkes
Adapted from Eating Well

3 teaspoons neutral tasting oil, such as canola
2 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled
¾ cup finely chopped red onion (1 medium)
¼ cup all-purpose white flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

Set oven racks at middle and lower positions. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Prepare 2 baking sheets by brushing each sheet with 1 teaspoon of the oil.

Using a shredding blade of a food processor or a hand grater, grate the potatoes. Place in a large bowl and add the onions, flour, salt, and pepper. Toss with clean hands to mix well. Add the egg, egg white, and the remaining 1 teaspoon oil, and toss again to mix.

Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of the potato mixture onto the prepared baking sheets and press lightly to form cakes. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom. Turn the latkes over, switch the position of the baking sheets, and bake for about 5 minutes longer, or until golden brown.

Transfer the latkes to a platter, arranging brown side up, and serve. Makes about 24 latkes. Top as desired, or serve plain. Latkes may be prepared ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat in the oven at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes.

Join me later in the week at Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum, Pink Saturday at How Sweet the Sound, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable, where I will link this recipe.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sweet Bell Peppers with Vinegar and Oregano

Farmer’s markets and vegetable stands are overflowing with colorful sweet bell peppers this time of the year. There are so many things you can do with them, from roasting in the oven to a quick sauté that I present here. This recipe is one of my standbys when I want something that can be prepared in advance and served at room temperature. Plus it’s gorgeous to look at. The original recipe calls for using only yellow bell peppers, but I couldn’t resist mixing in some red and orange ones for extra piazza.

Sweet Bell Peppers with Vinegar and Oregano
Adapted from Cucina Fresca, Italian Food Simply Prepared by La Place & Kleiman- serves 4

4 yellow sweet bell peppers, preferable a combination of yellow, red, & orange
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried Mediterranean oregano
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Fresh oregano leaves for garnish

Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and remove the stems, seeds, and membranes. Slice into ¾-inch-wide strips. Cook the bell peppers in the olive oil in a skillet, covered, over low heat for about 8 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the peppers from browning. The peppers should have some crunch to them. Add the vinegar, sugar, dried oregano, salt and pepper, and stir. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes, uncovered. Remove to a platter and garnish with fresh oregano leaves if desired. Serve at room temperature.

I will be linking this recipe to Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable. Be sure to drop by and get inspired. I know I always do.

In the last week you may have noticed that I’ve been “missing in action” so to speak. For the past two years I have suffered from chronic back pain. Unfortunately there’s no silver bullet or magic operation that can fix my back problems. If there was, I would have been the first to take advantage of it. I am very much of a “can do, get-it-done” kind of person and take charge of problems the moment that they arise with vigor and determination, charging full speed ahead and getting it over posthaste. If only it was that easy this time. The only way to take charge of this kind of back pain is to accept my limitations and learn to live with it. Not an easy pill to swallow for me knowing I can’t do the things I used to do.

The good news is that I am greatly improved from two years ago when I received my diagnosis and it’s all thanks to a wonderful pain management physician and physical therapy. But I still can’t stand or sit for any length of time without pain, which has slowed me down considerably. I also wish I was able to post to my blog more frequently than I do, but as much as I enjoy it, it’s just beyond my capabilities.

To further complicate matters, last week I had a surgery unrelated to my back problem that also came with restrictions. My mother always taught me to do as I was told with no argument (yep, you guessed it - she was a teacher). So I’m being a good girl and following the doctor’s orders. Hopefully I’ll soon be back to normal. Well, as normal as I can be with chronic pain. Thankfully I have my loving husband Meakin taking good care of me and doing a great job of spoiling me rotten. For now I miss visiting your blogs and will drop in as often as I can. In the meantime I’ll be sitting around recuperating and watching the grass grow.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Spicy Grilled Pineapple and Red Onion Salsa

Like many of you, we try to maintain a healthy life-style through diet and exercise. A comedian was asked if he watched what he ate and quipped, “You bet.  I watch every bite when it goes in my mouth.”

Several weeks ago Meakin hit a plateau with his weight loss program and our trainer at the gym suggested that he keep a daily food diary. At first it sounded like a pain to write down every bite you eat and then calculate the calories, but apps and websites have changed all that. Meakin uses My Fitness Pal and what once would have been a chore is now a snap to do. We’ve found that it’s amazing that the simple act of writing down everything you eat makes you much more conscious of what you put in your mouth. My Fitness Pal is a free calorie counter and food diary using an app and a website that sync automatically.

Now, just like the comedian, we watch every bite we eat. But we wanted our bites to be delicious and low in calories, not boring and dull, so we turned to Cooking Light for help. It turns out that most of the Cooking Light recipes are on My Fitness Pal and those that are not are available on-line, making it simple to calculate your calories. As one of my favorite Food Network stars would say, “How easy is that?”

This spicy salsa with grilled pineapple and red onions is a perfect example of recipes that can be found in Cooking Light. The original recipe served the salsa with a grilled pork chop, but we substituted grilled slices of lean pork tenderloin. It would be equally delicious with grilled chicken, or your favorite fish. Enjoy this flavorful salsa and your waistline and the scale will thank you.

Spicy Grilled Pineapple and Red Onion Salsa
Adapted from Cooking Light – serves 4

4 slices of fresh pineapple, about ½” thick each
1 medium red onion, cut into ½” thick slices
Cooking spray, such as Pam
1 tablespoon seeded and minced jalapeno pepper
2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Coat a grill pan with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Add pineapple and onion and cook about 4 minutes on each side or until onion is tender. Remove both from the pan and coarsely chop. Add to a bowl and toss with remaining 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice and chopped jalapeno pepper.

The opinions expressed here are solely my own and I was not compensated to recommend this. This recipe will be linked to Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable. Be sure to drop by and see what’s cooking.

Just so you don't think all we think about is food at My Carolina Kitchen, these pretty Black-eyed Susans have been blooming in our garden in the mountains for quite a while now.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Salmon Smothered with Tomatoes and Basil  

This salmon dish is one of my all time favorites because the best flavors of summer shine through – vine-ripe tomatoes and freshly picked basil. Plus it’s healthy, simple to prepare, and deliciously colorful. Did I mention that it also can be made ahead and is good served warm or at room temperature, making it perfect for a buffet. What more could you want in a recipe?

If you think this dish sounds familiar, it is. I first posted it two years ago and it’s still one of my most popular salmon dishes. It is truly summer at its finest and a wonderful way to say au revoir to my most favorite season of the year.

For the tomatoes I’ve used heirlooms. The deep rich color and flavor of Cherokee Purples have made it my favorite heirloom and if you pair them with little yellow pear-shaped cherries, you have a striking color combination. If you don’t have heirloom tomatoes, don’t let that stop you from making this dish. Any garden fresh tomato will work just fine. This is also the time to use the best salt you can find. French fleur de sel has a lovely crunch that goes well with the winey Cherokee Purples. This is the kind of dish you serve when tomatoes are at their peak of freshness. Otherwise, tuck it away for later. Hot house winter tomatoes just will not do in this. So hurry and make this before all of the summer tomatoes disappear.

Salmon Smothered with Tomatoes and Basil - the flavors of summer
Adapted from “Simply Shrimp, Salmon, and Fish Steaks” by Leslie Grover Pendleton and “The 60 Minute Gourmet” by Pierre Franey

1-2 vine-ripe tomatoes, depending on their size, preferably heirlooms
A handful of yellow pear-shaped cherry tomatoes
Fleur de sel (French sea salt)
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 boneless salmon fillet, about 1 ½ lbs, preferably wild caught
Grape seed oil, or any neutral flavored oil

Dice the tomato, season with fleur de sel salt and pepper and transfer it, along with all of its juices, to a bowl. Add the basil, lemon and 1 tablespoon olive oil and combine well. Let the sauce sit while preparing the salmon.

Preheat the broiler. Line a sheet pan or broiler tray with heavy-duty foil for easy clean-up. Arrange the pieces of salmon, skin side down, in one layer on the pan, drizzle with a little oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place the salmon under the broiler about six to seven inches away from the source of heat. Broil (on low if you broiler has that setting) about 7 to 10 minutes or just until the pieces are cooked through. It is not necessary to turn the salmon. If it starts to burn, change from broil to bake and bake at 400 degrees until the salmon is done but still a little pink on the inside.

Remove from the oven and, when the salmon cools slightly, carefully slip the skin off with a knife and discard. Slide the salmon onto a platter, what was skin side down, and smother with the tomato and basil mixture. Let it stand for at least 10 minutes to absorb some of the tomato juices before serving. The salmon can stand at room temperature for up to 45 minutes. Serves 4.

This recipe is linked to Fresh Food Friday at La Bella Vita, Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable. Be sure to stop by these great blogs. You’ll find lots of inspiration and delicious dishes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Dinner at the Inn on Biltmore Estate & a Tour of the Antler Hill Farm

Inn on Biltmore Estate

After we toured the mansion and gardens of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC last week, we returned to the Inn on the grounds where we spent the night and dined in the Estate Dining Room. I can tell you without a doubt that everything about it was beyond our expectations. We enjoyed the same gracious hospitality and pampering as if we were old, personal friends of  George & Edith Vanderbilt themselves.

The Inn is in an idyllic setting overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Pisgah National Forest. The Pisgah forest land was originally a part of Biltmore Estate until Edith sold nearly 87,000 acres to the federal government in 1915 after George Vanderbilt’s death, creating what now is the Pisgah National Park. Mt. Pisgah in the distance is an elevation of 5,721 feet. Can you imagine once owing a national forest? It is mindboggling and impressive to me. A virtual tour of the Inn, including the beautifully appointed suites, the lovely guest rooms, the spacious lobby and library with a fireplace, and of course the dining room, is available on-line. The architecture is reminiscent of country inns of the late 19th century.

View from the Inn & Dining Room
The dining room at the Inn is luxurious and the service impeccable. It's also a coat-and-tie and little black dress kind of restaurant.  Everywhere you go in the Inn they use your name and always seem to be at your beck and call for anything and everything your heart desires.

Meakin started his meal with an appetizer of South Carolina Quail with grilled peach jam atop a black pepper waffle and mache. The waffle was crispy as expected and the surprise bite of black pepper in the waffle batter paired beautifully with the sweet peach jam, the baby lambs lettuce, and southern quail.

South Carolina Quail with Peach Jam on Black Pepper Waffle
As a main course, he ordered Rabbit Pappardelle, which is braised rabbit with tomatoes, prosciutto, olives and charred green onions served over large, broad fettuccine. As you know, if lapin is on a menu, one of us is bound to order it. The lapin was succulent and fork tender and the tomato prosciutto olive sauce brought just the right amount of moistness to the pasta.

Rabbit Pappardelle
Meakin’s choice of wine was from the Reserve List – a Biltmore Pinot Noir. It was a complex, yet elegant Pinot Noir with delicate fruit flavors and reminiscent of a French Pinot Noir. It was so delicious that we brought a few bottles home with us that we picked up at the winery the next day.

He chose a Biltmore Reserve Chardonnay for me because I’m fond of buttery, full-bodied Chardonnays. My entrée was an old classic French dish, Lobster Thermador, made for special occasions that you don’t often see on menus today and needless to say, I was delighted. The stuffed lobster was garnished with a bright green whipped pea puree, and served with a mixed vegetable succotash, and drizzled with a rich, creamy lobster popcorn butter. As you can see, it’s eye-candy on a plate. The tail was stuffed with a generous amount of Maine lobster, lightly seasoned with brandy, French cheese (probably Gruyere), and bread crumbs. It made an outstanding entrée with the buttery Biltmore Reserve Chardonnay wine.

Lobster Thermador
For dessert we shared a beautifully presented goat cheese cheesecake with a blackberry Merlot sorbet, a walnut nougetine, and blackberry jam. It was my birthday and Meakin had requested that they not make a big deal about it, so “Happy Birthday” was scrolled in chocolate above the cheesecake.

Goat Cheese Cheesecake 
After dinner we lingered over espressos and brandy and mentioned to our waiter how much we enjoyed the goat cheese cheesecake and that we were hoping to make our own goat cheese at home sometime. All excited, he said he would like to introduce us to Chef Ryba, the Chef de Cuisine, because he makes his own cheeses. We had a delightful conversation with the Chef at our table and he took the time to tell us about how to make cheese and afterwards, he brought a sample of some flavorful, sharp blue cheese that he had made. As we strolled out of the dining room, we remarked to each other that this must be how the Vanderbilt’s guests felt when they retired to their room in the evening in the mansion so many years ago.

The “Field to Table” Program at the Biltmore allows the chefs to prepare the best of what the season has to offer, featuring seasonal produce, wine from their winery, and locally grown ingredients. Much of the produce is grown on the Farm at Antler Hill Village on the grounds of the Biltmore. Antler Hill Farm is a step back in time for a hands-on legacy that was the center of Biltmore’s farming community more than a century ago. The Kitchen Garden produces lettuces, tomatoes, herbs, beans, root vegetables, berries, and squashes. Here’s a look around Antler Hill Farm.

The horse barn and farm exhibit offer a closer look at what life was like for families who lived on the Biltmore Estate in the early 1900’s.

The barn was the social and work center for these families.

It is here that they worked and visited while their children played.

Some were blacksmiths.

Blacksmith Shop
Others worked in the wood shop.

Wood Shop
While others raised livestock, tended crops, or worked in the dairy.

We’ll wander around and see the exhibits of turn-of the-century farm equipment and state-of-the art tractors of the time.

On the farm, meet some chickens, sheep, a donkey, and Belgian draft horses.

A chicken enjoys some sunflower seeds

There is so much to see at the Biltmore Estate and through the years they have added many new attractions and opened more rooms in the mansion to the public.  If you have never been or haven’t been in a while, you owe it to yourself to visit if you are in the Asheville, NC area. Christmas at Biltmore Estate is a very special time and also in the spring when 50,000 tulips and over 1,000 azaleas burst into bloom in the garden are a spectacular site to see. Allow a full day or more to tour the mansion, gardens, farm, and winery and be sure to read the tour tips. Our visit ended as we purchased wines and vowed to return soon for a complete tour of the winery – the most visited winery in America.