Thursday, June 28, 2012

Georgia Caprese Salad – a Peachy Southern Twist to an Italian Classic

This salad is a peachy southern twist to an Italian caprese salad that substitutes ripe, sweet Georgia peaches for the traditional tomatoes found in caprese salads. The local peaches this year have been exceptionally sweet and delicious. This time of the year most of our peaches come from Georgia and South Carolina.

Picking out peaches can be tricky though. Normally when you see them they haven’t quite ripped yet and can be hard. Don’t worry, just bring them home and store them on the counter for a few days and they will ripen before you know it. I say “before you know it” because peaches can get away from you. One day they are still hard and the next day they will be perfect. If you don’t catch them at just their peak of ripeness, they shrivel and should be thrown away. Of course you know this, but always avoid buying any kind of fruit that is bruised.

I also pick up a peach and smell it before I buy it. When you take a whiff, if you don’t detect a faint peach smell, keep looking until you find one that actually smells like a peach.

The vinaigrette for this salad contains honey to bring out the sweetness of the peaches. A little tip about measuring honey – if you use the oil first in your spoon, followed by the honey, the honey won’t stick to your spoon.

The combination of the mint and basil in this salad just brings all of the flavors together beautifully. We served it with my father’s southern “unfried” chicken for lunch and it was a big success. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Georgia Caprese Salad with Lime Vinaigrette
Adapted slightly from Southern My Way by Gena Knox – serves 4

Juice and zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon champagne or white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon salt

4 ounces tiny water-packed mozzarella cheese balls
4 ripe peaches (southern if you can find them), unpeeled, each cut into eight wedges
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, torn into pieces

Prepare the vinaigrette by combing the ingredients in a glass jar with a screw top lid. Shake well to combine and set aside. Cut cheese into 1-inch pieces (or leave whole if they are small balls) and gently toss with the peaches. Add the vinaigrette and toss again gently. Add a little freshly ground black pepper and the basil and mint pieces. Serve right away.

These are two other peach recipes that I’ve made in the past that I think you’ll enjoy during peach season.

Stuffed tomatoes recipe - this stuffing is fabulous with the crunch of the cucumber and red onion mixed with the corn, peaches and basil. I almost ate it before I stuffed the tomatoes.

The silkiness of the peaches and prosciutto goes well with the salty prosciutto in this green salad in this recipe.

For those of you celebrating the 4th of July next week, I hope you and your family have a safe and happy holiday.

This guy was in our driveway the other morning enjoying a few tender shoots for breakfast. As you can see, he wasn’t the least bit afraid of us. Trouble is, sometimes his breakfast of tender shoots includes the leaves of our azalea bushes!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lentil Salad – Delicious and Easy for Busy Days

A lentil salad is one of those year-around meals that I rely on for a delicious dinner  when I’m tired from a busy day and want something substantial but easy to put together without too much fuss. Most lentil salads contain a mirepoix (equal parts chopped onion, celery, and carrot) of aromatics and are tossed with a French vinaigrette. The one I present today is gently warmed lentils, carefully tossed in red wine vinaigrette, then enriched with a garnish of browned, smoky / spicy kielbasa sausage rounds.  To complete the meal, add a simple green salad and pour yourself a glass of red wine.

Lentil salads also make a great vegetarian meal, as shown here tossed with a sherry vinaigrette and garnished with little rounds of goat cheese. Click here for the recipe.

If you can find the tiny French green lentils known as lentilles du Puy, by all means use them. They are from the Auvergne area of France and well worth seeking out. Amazon sells them on line and I find that Fresh Market in the states always has them.

For this recipe today, I used, out of necessity, supermarket brown lentils. I thought I had a package of French lentils on my shelf and when I reached for them, surprise, they weren’t there. I must have used the last one and didn’t make a note to buy more. The salad turned out fine, but I think it is much better with the French lentils. The French variety has more flavor and they don’t tend to turn to mush as the supermarket variety tends to do. You can also see the difference by comparing the picture of the salad garnished with the goat cheese above to the one with the kielbasa, that the French lentils are dark brown and look firmer when cooked compared to the pale color & texture of the cooked supermarket ones. So - do as I say, not as I do. But - if you must use ordinary lentils, check them often while they simmer and take extra special care not to overcook them.

Lentil Salad Garnished with Smoky Kielbasa Slices
Adapted from Gourmet Comfort Food – serves 4 as a main course
Printable Recipe

2 cups lentils, preferably French green lentils (13 oz)
6 cups water
2 Turkish bay leaves
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled & cut into ¼-inch dice
2 celery ribs, cut into ¼-inch dice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
½ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 pound smoked kielbasa, or other smoked sausage, sliced on the diagonal in ¼ inch thick slices (I used turkey kielbasa for less calories & fat)

Bring the lentils, water, and bay leaf to a boil in a 2 to 3 quart heavy saucepan, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are almost tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Check lentils from time to time to make sure they are not over-cooking.  Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, then simmer lentils, partially covered, until tender but not falling apart, another 3 to 5 minutes.

While the lentils simmer, cook the onion, carrots and celery in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 12” heavy non-stick skillet over medium-low heat, stirring, until vegetables are just softened, about 7 to 9 minutes. Add the garlic, dried thyme, and a teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground black pepper, then stir constantly about 1 minute more until garlic and thyme are incorporated into the vegetables, taking care that the garlic does not burn. Cover and set aside.

In a jar with a tight fitting lid, make the vinaigrette by adding the vinegar, mustard, and the olive oil along with a ¼ teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground black pepper, then shake well to emulsify and set aside.

When the lentils are done, drain well and discard the bay leaves. Add drained lentils to the cooked vegetables that were set aside in their skillet, then add the well shaken vinaigrette and the chopped parsley and stir to incorporate. Return the skillet to the heat and cook over low heat, stirring, until just heated through. Taste for seasonings and add salt or pepper if needed. Keep the lentils warm, covered.

For the garnish, brown the kielbasa in a 12-inch non-stick heavy skillet, turning once, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. (You may need to brown the kielbasa in batches.) If your kielbasa is too lean, add a little olive oil to the pan.

Serve the lentils gently warmed, garnished with slices of browned kielbasa. Cooked lentils will keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. They can be gently reheated in a pan on the stovetop or in a microwave, but take extra care not to overcook them or let them scorch.

This recipe will be linked to Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Foodie Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable. Please stop by and join in the fun.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Broiled Cornish Hens with Herbs & Mustard and a Simple Pan Sauce – a French Classic

Broiled hens with herbs and mustard and a simple pan sauce (Poussins aux Herbs et a la Moutarde) is a French classic. A French poussin is a tender and juicy baby chicken that weights about a pound. Cornish hens, as I’ve done here, make an excellent substitute if baby chickens are not available.

It is the simple pan sauce of deglazed wine that elevates this dish to “company worthy.” While the original sauce recipe called for a dry white wine, I’ve substituted Madeira and a bit of chicken broth in this version. The first time we prepared this, we used a dry white wine and it was excellent too. Dry sherry is also a good choice. I think it’s fun to change the wine for different flair. You can also change the herbs or add a touch of curry power or cayenne pepper if you like.

This is a very easy dish and the some portions can be prepared up to twelve hours in advance. If you have a grill or grill pan, you could also grill the hens. I find that the chicken is good served hot or at room temperature, making it an excellent buffet dish.

Today I’ve served it over arugula, but it’s also good over watercress or mixed baby greens shown here. (I got a little carried away with baby sprouts.)

I like to garnish the dish with a touch of red, as seen here with the grape tomatoes. Tomatoes Provencale, green peas and buttered noodles or rice would also be lovely side dishes with this.

Broiled Cornish Hens with Herbs & Mustard and a Simple Pan Sauce
Adapted from French Classics Made Easy by Richard Grausman, serves 4 - 6

3 Poussins or Cornish hens (about 1 pound each), split in half, backs removed
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 ½ tablespoons grainy style Dijon mustard (or use all regular Dijon)
1 tablespoon dried tarragon
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

Pan sauce:
1 cup Madeira wine
½ cup low fat, low sodium chicken broth, preferably homemade
2 knobs of cold unsalted butter

Place the chicken halves skin side up in a roasting pan and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  In a small bowl, mix together the two mustards, dried tarragon, basil and thyme leaves. Spread half of the mustard herb mixture over the chicken halves, then turn them over, season with salt and pepper, and spread with the remaining mustard herb mixture. At this point, the chickens can be refrigerated, covered well, for up to 12 hours before proceeding with the recipe.

If you don’t plan on preparing the chickens ahead, I like to prepare the mustard herb mixture at least 6 hours in advance. While it’s not necessary,  I find that if you do, the flavors of the mustard and herbs tend to meld better.

When ready to cook, place the chicken halves 3 to 4 inches below a hot broiler, skin side down.  When they have browned well on one side, about 8 to 10 minutes, turn and broil on the other side, until well browned, about 7 minutes.

To make the sauce, remove the chickens to a warm platter, cover, and set pan on the stove over high heat. Deglaze the pan by adding the Madeira and chicken broth to the pan, tilting and stirring to loosen the caramelized bits on the bottom of the pan. When the sauce reaches the desired consistency, return the chickens to the pan, baste them with the liquid, then run the chicken back under the broiler for an addition 1 to 2 minutes until the juices of the chicken run clear when pierced with a fork and the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F.

Remove the chicken to a warm platter and cover. Let the sauce cool for a minute or two in the pan, then add 2 knobs of cold unsalted butter and stir to incorporate. Sauce the chicken with the pan juices and serve right away or at room temperature.

* * *

This weekend is Father’s Day. To all of the fathers out there, I wish you a very happy Father’s Day and I hope your day is surrounded by those you love and filled with sunshine, lots of happiness, and all of your favorite foods.

Last year for Father’s Day I made one of our family favorites - my father’s Unfried Chicken in honor of him on this day. It’s “fried” in the oven and turns out crispy and delicious. It's also fabulous for a picnic. I hope you’ll give it a try. It just might become one of your family favorites as well.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Feast for Special Friends by the Hoffer Brothers with a Spectacular Flaming Grand Finale

Bananas Foster

As you know from my last post, we attended an authentic Cajun crawfish boil at a blogger get-together at Almost Heaven South on Tellico Lake over Memorial Day weekend. Our host, Larry of Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings, and his wife Bev, invited Meakin and myself, along with my brother-in-law Stuart and his wife Sandy, to spend an extra night with them at their home. I’d bragged to Larry about what wonderful cooks Meakin and Stuart are and how well they work together in the kitchen and with that he challenged them to prepare dinner for him in his kitchen on our last night together. Of course the Hoffer brothers, always up for a challenge, immediately said yes. Here is their menu.

Dinner at Almost Heaven South 
Monday, May 28, 2012
Guests Chefs – Stuart & Meakin Hoffer


Savory Bleu Cheese Popovers

First Course

Chilled Spanish Gazpacho Soup with  Crispy Croutons


Roasted Tenderloin of Beef
Napped with a Peppery Port Wine & Fig Reduction  
Garnished with Caper Berries

Mediterranean Style Ratatouille

Truffle Infused Mashed Potatoes

Crispy Fried Shallots

Cheese Course

Four cheeses with Honey Rosemary Glaze


New Orleans Style Bananas Foster over Vanilla Ice Cream


After the crawfish boil and a cruise around the lake on Larry’s party boat, before we went to bed Meakin laid the beautifully trimmed beef tenderloin on a rack on a sheet pan, salted it heavily, and put in the refrigerator to rest overnight.

Photo courtesy of Big Dude's Eclectic Ramblings
beef tenderloin resting overnight
The next morning we got up and started our day with a big “Larry style breakfast.” If you read Larry’s blog, you know Larry is the king of breakfast.  As a special treat, he had prepared homemade scrapple. Read more and see the amazing breakfast Larry prepared here. It was, needless to say, out of this world and you won’t find better anywhere on the planet. In fact we were so stuffed that we lazed around the remainder of the morning and everyone took a nap in the afternoon in anticipation of the evening meal.

Around five, we all gathered in Larry’s kitchen to watch Meakin & Stuart start their prep work for dinner. Stuart passed around his savory mini blue cheese popovers and we nibbled on them while Larry poured a glass of wine for everyone.

Photo courtesy of Big Dude's Eclectic Ramblings
Stuart & Meakin
As you might imagine, the challenge of this dinner came, not in planning the menu, but the logistics of preparing a 5 course dinner in someone else’s kitchen. It turns out that Larry & Bev have one of the finest kitchens known to man and stocked with everything conceivable a cook would want. They’ve thought of everything – a fancy six burner stove, every utensil imaginable, double dishwashers, huge built-in oven with a convection microwave above, a large pantry with more spices than one could dream of, and tons of chef quality sharp knives. Why even the food processor is built in – open a door below the island and out it pops, ready to go to work on any project.

Here everyone enjoys Stuart’s Spanish gazpacho for our first course.

L to R - Stuart, Bev, Larry, Sandy, Pat, me
The entrée was Meakin’s roasted tenderloin of beef napped with a peppery port & fig reduction garnished with caper berries, truffle infused mashed potatoes, crispy fried shallots, and Stuart’s Mediterranean style ratatouille.

Fig & Port Wine Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light – serves 8

1 1/2 cups tawny port
½ cup beef broth
2 ½ tablespoons finely chopped shallots
12 small dried figs, quartered
1 - 6” sprig of fresh rosemary
2 tablespoon drained small capers
1 tablespoon of caper juice
Kosher salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper
2 oz brandy
2 oz slurry of arrow root and water
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
4 -5 caper berries

Combine all of the ingredients down to the brandy, in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil 15 minutes or until reduced to 1 cup. Remove rosemary sprig. Strain and return to the pan. Taste for seasonings, add the slurry and heat over a moderate flame. When thickened, add the brandy and flame. When the flame has died down, swirl in a knob of butter and then spoon sauce over steak and garnish with caper berries.

Some people, including Meakin, are never too sure they like eggplant, which just happens to be the main ingredient in ratatouille. Stuart’s recipe is the only one that has ever pleased Meakin. Even Larry was a bit leery, but said afterwards, “I even liked the ratatouille, which was a first.” Way to go Stuart.

Ratatouille Mediterranean
Adapted from the New York Times Cookbook and the Joy of Cooking

2 ½ cups diced eggplant (2 small ones)
1/3 cup olive oil
¾ cup thinly sliced onions
2 clove garlic chopped
½ cup black pitted olives
2 green or red peppers julienned
3 cups zucchini in ½ inch slices
2 cups skinned, seeded, quartered tomatoes
3 tablespoons capers
Italian Herbs (dried) or oregano
Salt & pepper to taste

Peel and slice the eggplant into rounds, then salt and place the slices on a rack to drain over the sink for 30 minutes.  At the end of the 30 minutes, wipe off the salt and dice.

In a deep skillet sauté the onions and garlic until lightly brown, add the olives, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, and drained & diced eggplant in olive and sprinkle with the herbs. Simmer the mixture, covered, over low heat for about 45 minutes, then uncover and continue to cook for an additional 15 minutes to reduce the liquid. Taste and season to taste with additional salt & pepper if needed and serve.

The cheese course was an assortment of four cheeses, saga blue, brie, Irish cheddar, and limburger accompanied by a smear of rosemary infused honey on individual cheese boards.

The finale of the dinner party was the dessert - Bananas Foster. If you’ve ever been to Brennan’s Restaurant and they’ve prepared their fabulous Bananas Foster for you tableside, then you know what a special dessert it is. It happens to be one of Meakin’s specialties and he prepared it often when we lived in the Bahamas with tiny fingerling bananas that grew in our garden. We weren’t able to find the fingerling bananas, but keep your eyes out for them. They are petite, sweet bananas with bright yellow flesh and are normally sold by a bunch with small “hands” that contain ten to twelve “fingers.”  Children love them. You can sometimes find them in Asian markets and I have, on occasion, even seen them in our supermarket. Here’s a photo I found on the web.

To make the flame sparkle when you’re flambéing that will remind you of fireworks on the 4th of July, don’t miss the tip about sprinkling the flames with a little ground cinnamon held high.

Bananas Foster
Adapted from Brennan’s of Houston in Your Kitchen by Chef Carl Walker – serves 4

½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon banana vodka or other banana flavored liquor
6 tablespoons dark rum, divided
4 ripe bananas, peeled, sliced lengthwise, and halved again into quarters
½ teaspoon cinnamon plus more for sprinkling into the flame
4 scoops vanilla ice cream

In a flat sauté pan or medium skillet, add butter, sugar and, banana vodka, and 2 tablespoons rum. Cook over medium-high heat while stirring to melt. Add bananas. Use a table fork to lightly prick bananas while they cook. Sauté about 1 minutes, or until bananas began to soften.

Carefully tilt the pan towards you to get top half of the pan hot, then remove the pan from the heat. (Removing the pan from the heat is an important step, because it is not safe to ever pour liquor straight from the bottle into a hot pan.) With the pan off of the heat, pour remaining rum over the bananas.

To flambé bananas, carefully ignite rum by either tilting pan towards flame on a gas range or cautiously lighting with a long taper match.

Tip: Gently shake flaming pan with one hand and hold a shaker of cinnamon high above the flame and sprinkle some over the flame with the other hand. By sprinkling the cinnamon directly into the flame, it creates a Fourth of July effect that is pure food magic!

When the flames die out, immediately spoon bananas and their sauce over ice cream.

Cinnamon being sprinkled into the flames to make sparkles
A big thank you Larry & Bev for your gracious hospitality and allowing us to prepare dinner as a thank you from us for hosting your 3rd annual world famous Tennessee blogger get-together on your dock on Tellico Lake. Since my photographer was busy cooking, I also want to thank Larry for allowing me to use some of his photos from the dinner party.

Don’t you just love this photo that Larry took of the two chefs sitting down to a bowl of Stuart’s gazpacho?

Photo courtesy of Big Dude's Eclectic Ramblings
L to R - Sandy, Pat, me, Meakin, Stuart, Bev

* * *

This will be linked to Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Foodie Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable. Stop by and join in the fun.