Thursday, August 30, 2012

A visit to our local farmer’s market in a small mountain town in search of homegrown tomatoes

I thought you might like to come along with us and stroll through our local farmer’s market and see what’s available in a typical small town in the mountains of North Carolina. I’m on the look-out for homegrown tomatoes for lunch. So here we go.

Ah ha, he has tomatoes. Great news. That’s not me above. I’m going to walk around first and see what’s available and then I’ll be back for the tomatoes.

That’s me in the dress visiting with another produce vendor. Let’s just stroll around and see where we go from here.

We have a lot of talented local artists in our area and many have studied their craft at The John Campbell Folk School in nearby Brasstown, NC. The Folk School offers year-around weeklong and weekend classes for adults in crafts such as woodworking and wood carving, art, music, cooking, gardening, nature studies, photography, and writing. Check this link to their website to see their entire schedule.

This young lady is only ten years old and a very talented photographer as well as a fabulous musician who also plays her violin at the market. All of her proceeds from the sale of her note cards and bookmarks go to the people of Haiti.

Now, let’s head back and pick up some tomatoes for a tomato sandwich. How about a taste?

Yes, these are delicious and exactly what I’m looking for. (Pretty wooden bowls.)

The very best way to enjoy a homegrown tomato in my opinion is on a tomato sandwich. I learned to make this particular tomato sandwich when we lived in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Absolutely every party we went to, from formal black tie events to casual picnics on the banks of the Mississippi River, there was always a big platter of these tomato sandwiches.

I call these “Tomato Sandwiches with a Pedigree” because they are fancied up and served without the crust. Pick a good tomato and peel it or not, then slice into rounds, and place on paper towels to drain. Blot tomatoes with more paper towels to remove the moisture (very important). Chop a little fresh basil and sprinkle it on the tomatoes along with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. With a large biscuit cutter, take two slices of white bread and cut each one into rounds to fit the tomato slices. Spread one side of each circle of bread with good quality mayonnaise such as Hellman’s (or better still, homemade) and don’t be skimpy. Insert a tomato slice, top with the remaining bread, then sprinkle paprika lightly over the top. Take one bite and you’ll agree there’s nothing finer than a tomato sandwich. Make as many as your heart desires.

Often in the dead heat of summer and it's hot as all get-out, some Southerners just might enjoy a plate of these tomato sandwiches for their dinner along with a very cold bourbon and branch water and call it a day.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at The Tablescaper, Southern Sundays at Slice of Southern, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

Have a great weekend everyone and enjoy Labor Day if you live in the states.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pheasant Eggs on Sausage Toast – a Very Special Treat

Pheasant eggs you say. Where on earth did you find pheasant eggs? Actually we started out looking for banty eggs, which are tiny eggs laid from a Bantam chicken. Here in the mountains we buy organic eggs or in some areas what are called “yard eggs” from a local vendor. We were visiting with her one day about eggs and she mentioned that occasionally she gets tiny banty eggs and asked if we would like some. Of course we replied, save some for us the next time you have them. I was intrigued with using the tiny eggs in a recipe and we talked about ideas on the way home. As luck would have it, every time we asked about the banty eggs she said the chickens were molting right now and she didn’t have any. (If the word molting and the laying habits of hens when they lose their feathers are as new to you as they are to me, here’s more information.)

After that, we just put the idea of small eggs on the back burner until we were at our local farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago. My husband Meakin was visiting with a vendor who sells produce, eggs, and flowers and on a lark he asked if he happed to have any banty eggs. Much to our surprise he did, but apologetically said that he had only one. But, he added, he also had four pheasant eggs. Bingo, we finally found some tiny eggs.

As you can see by this picture, banty eggs (or bantam eggs as they are also called) are smaller than a large hen egg and pheasant eggs are even smaller than the banty.

The pheasant eggs are khaki-colored and quite pretty. Compared to a hen egg, pheasant eggs and banty eggs have a higher yolk-to-white ratio, thus producing a richer flavor.

If you would like to see what a pheasant looks like, here’s a link along with some tips on cooking their eggs.

This recipe is what I call a “small plate” meal. It also makes a lovely appetizer to pass on a tray at a party. If you can’t find pheasant or banty (bantam) eggs, quail eggs will work very well also.

If you do use tiny eggs, use them in a way that shows them off and puts them on center stage. They make a great conversation piece at get-togethers. But please promise me - no scrambled eggs. They are much too special to use as ordinary eggs.

I hope you enjoy this unusual and attractive treat. If you have used any kind of tiny eggs in recipes, please share your experiences with us.

Join me next time as we visit our Saturday Farmer’s Market that’s typical of a North Carolina mountain town to see what’s offered by local farmers and craftsmen of our region.

Pheasant Eggs on Sausage Toast
Adapted from The Tapas Cookbook – serves 6 as part of a tapas meal

12 slices French bread, cut on the diagonal, about ¼” thick, toasted
24 slices ready-to-eat smoked sausage or Spanish chorizo, cut into thin pieces on the diagonal to fit the toasts, and browned on both sides in a skillet
Olive oil
12 pheasant eggs (or banty or quail eggs)
Smoked sweet Spanish paprika, also called Pimention de la Vera (or substitute mild Hungarian paprika)
Crunchy sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a thin layer of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Break the eggs into the skillet and cook, spooning the fat over the yolks, until the whites are set and the yolks are cooked to your liking sunny side up. Remove the cooked eggs from the skillet and drain on paper towels. Top each piece of toast with browned pieces of sausage. Immediately transfer the eggs to the sausage-topped toasts and dust with paprika. Sprinkle with crunchy salt and lots of freshly ground pepper. Serve at once.

This recipe is being linked to Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at The Tablescaper, Southern Sundays at Slice of Southern, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

Have a great weekend everyone. And keep your eyes out for tiny eggs.

Monday, August 20, 2012

How to Broil Salmon + a Peach Salsa

Some people are intimidated when it comes to broiling salmon. Don’t be. Broiling is one of the easiest and fastest ways to prepare salmon and it is my preferred method. Plus, if you line your broiling pan with heavy duty foil, there’s practically no clean up necessary. I have used this recipe for years and it has never let me down.

Start with boneless fresh salmon fillets, preferably with the skin left intact. Allow the salmon come to room temperature, drizzle with a little oil, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 8 to 10 minutes under a pre-heated electric broiler and voila, dinner is ready.

For the oil, I prefer grape seed oil because of its clean, neutral flavor and moderately high smoke point, which is important when you broil. Any other neutral tasting oil, such as canola can be substituted.

I’ve topped my broiled salmon with a peach salsa that includes tomatoes, fresh corn kernels, red onion, crunchy cucumber, and plenty of fresh basil tossed together in lemony vinaigrette. All of the ingredients are readily available at summer farmer’s markets. The cucumber gives the salsa a crunchy surprise. Nectarines could easily be substituted for the peaches.

Never fear broiling salmon again with this super easy method.

Broiled Salmon in an Electric Broiler 
Adapted from Pierre Franey, 60 Minute Gourmet – serves 4 

1 1/2 pounds boneless fresh salmon fillets, preferably with the skin left intact
2 to 3 teaspoons grape seed oil, or other neutral tasting oil
Kosher salt or sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges or unsalted butter, optional

Cut the salmon into four pieces approximately the same size and weight. Put salmon on a plate, rub with oil, season with salt & pepper, and allow the salmon to sit at room temperature for 10 to 20 minutes.

Preheat an electric broiler. Arrange the salmon in one layer, skin side down, on an unheated sheet pan lined with heavy duty foil for easy clean-up. Place the salmon under the broiler about six to seven inches from the source of heat. Broil 8 to 10 minutes or just until the pieces are cooked through. It is not necessary to turn the salmon. If salmon starts to get too crispy on the top, change from broil to bake and bake at 400 degrees until done. Do not overcook or the salmon will be dry. Allow to rest for a few minutes (just like you would meat or chicken) on the pan before serving. If you wish to remove the skin, slide a metal spatula between the salmon and the skin after it rests on the pan.

If desired, dot with a tiny bit of unsalted butter or squeeze a few drops of lemon juice on the top. These are not necessary if you are serving the salmon with a salsa.

Peach Salsa
From My Carolina Kitchen – makes 4 servings

4 medium sized tomatoes, cut into small chunks
1 cup chopped European seedless cucumber
1 cup fresh corn kernels, blanched
½ cup chopped red onion
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 small peaches, peeled, seeded, and cut into small chunks
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, julienned
A sprig of fresh basil for garnish if desired

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

Place the tomatoes, cucumber, corn, and red onion in a bowl and gently toss with a rubber spatula. Season with salt and pepper. In a jar with a tight fitting lid, combine the vinaigrette ingredients together, shake well, and set aside.

Prepare the peaches and fresh basil and add to the tomato vegetable mixture just before serving. Toss very gently with a rubber spatula, add the vinaigrette. Again toss gently, then taste for seasonings and adjust accordingly. Garnish with a sprig of fresh basil and serve at once.

* * *

This recipe will be linked to On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms.

Eat More Fish

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Heirloom Tomato Tart - two different versions

I just can’t seem to get my fill of the wonderful heirloom tomatoes this summer. Bear with me for one more tomato post. I’m beginning to believe tomatoes may be my all time favorite food, even surpassing my love of wild-caught shrimp.

Since my birthday is this month, instead of a cake I’m celebrating with a tomato tart or pie if you will. I’ve prepared it two different ways. One was baked 9” springform pan and looks more like a deep dish pie than a tart.

In the other one, I’ve used a tart pan and, as you can see, resembles a quiche.  Either way they were delicious.

Any garden fresh red summer tomato is perfect, but if you can find heirloom tomatoes in a couple of different colors, so much the better for appearance sake, as well as the depth of flavor the heirlooms bring. The kalamata olives bring a surprise flavor and the shallots give a little crunch to this.

When I think of savory pies or tarts, I usually associate them with lots of calories and fat primarily coming from heavy cream and lots of cheese. I even have an old recipe that uses mayonnaise. This one from Cooking Light comes in under 300 calories per slice and serves 8. Add a salad and you’ve got a light, delicious summer meat-less meal or serve a slice as an appetizer with drinks.

Heirloom Tomato Tart / Deep Dish Pie
Adapted slightly from Cooking Light – serves 8
Printable Recipe

½ of a 14.1 ounce package refrigerated pie dough
3 heirloom tomatoes, preferably different colors
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray
All purpose flour for rolling the dough
2 ½ ounces (2/3 cup) fontina cheese, grated
½ cup pitted and chopped kalamata olives
1/3 cup peeled and sliced shallots
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 ½ cups 2% reduced-fat milk
1 ½ tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
3 large eggs
Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Bring refrigerated pie dough to room temperature. In the meantime, cut tomatoes into ¼ to ½” thick slices and gently push out the seeds with your fingers. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and freshly ground black pepper and place on thick paper towels to drain. Let them drain for about 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For a tart, coat 9” deep-dish tart pan with cooking spray. For a deep dish pie, coat a 9” springform pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle a cutting board or your counter with a little all purpose flour and roll the dough into a 12” circle. Fold the dough in half, then into a quarter for ease of carrying to the prepared pan or roll it around your rolling pin. Carefully press the dough into the pan and crimp the edges. Cut off excess dough in making in a tart pan. Sprinkle the dough with a base of fontina cheese, olives, and shallots, then arrange half of the tomato slices over the base mixture. Combine the flour, cornmeal, and chopped fresh thyme and sprinkle over the first layer of tomatoes. Top with the remaining tomato slices and sprinkle with a little more salt and freshly ground black pepper.

In a bowl, whisk together the milk, grated Parmesan cheese, and eggs, then pour the mixture over the tomatoes. Place the pan on a large sheet pan and bake in the oven for 40 – 50 minutes until set. (The pie in the springform pan will take longer to cook than the one in the tart pan.) Test for doneness by jiggling the pan. It will be done when the filling no longer wiggles. When done, remove from the oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving. Top with small basil leaves. Can be served warm or at room temperature.

This is being linked to Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at The Tablescaper, Healthy Mommy, Healthy BabySouthern Sundays at Slice of Southern, On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable, and Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter.

One year ago - Grilled Thai BBQ Chicken

Two years ago - A trip to Highlands, NC

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Green on Green Salad with Charred Corn, Chicken and Homemade Green Goddess Dressing

How often do you hear we should “eat our greens?” One of the simplest ways is to eat more green salads. But I don’t like boring green salads and I suspect neither do you.

I call this salad “green on green,” but I’ve added a handful of charred corn kernels for a pop of color and sliced chicken breasts for protein to make this a main dish salad. You could easily leave the chicken out and use this as a side salad to a whole roasted chicken or a grilled steak.

Almost every weekend I roast several chicken breasts and keep them in the refrigerator to use later in the week for sandwiches and salads. The easiest recipe I’ve found for roasting chicken breasts comes from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, and the chicken always turns out perfect.  Just preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, place the chicken breasts (I use bone-in, skin-on) on a sheet pan (cover with heavy duty foil for easy clean-up if you like), rub the skin with a little olive oil, then season liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stick the chicken in the oven and let it roast for about 35 to 40 minutes until cooked through and the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees on a meat thermometer, taking care not to overcook it or it will be tough. When the chicken has cooled, wrap breasts individually and store in the refrigerator for use later in salads and sandwiches.

To keep the theme of green on green, this salad is dressed with homemade Green Goddess dressing. Green Goddess dressing was popular in the ‘70’s and was bottled by Seven Seas. For some reason I assumed that Green Goddess was some big secret recipe that Seven Seas had created. Turns out it was concocted in 1923 by the executive chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco to pay tribute to actor George Arliss and his smash hit play The Green Goddess. Goes to show you that you shouldn’t assume things.

Green Goddess dressing is a snap to make. Whirl a little yogurt, a dash of vinegar, and a couple of anchovies around in a mini food processor with some fresh herbs straight from your garden and you’ve made your own homemade Green Goddess dressing.

Green on Green Salad with Charred Corn, Chicken, & Homemade Green Goddess Dressing
Adapted from Home by Design – serves 4

1 pound cooked chicken breasts, roasted or grilled
2 ears yellow corn, shucked & silks removed
Olive oil for brushing corn
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 cups fresh arugula
½ English cucumber, very thinly sliced
1 medium ripe Hass avocado
Homemade Green Goddess dressing (recipe below)

Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Rub the corn with a little olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill, rotating occasionally, until the corn is charred on all sides. Remove to a cutting board and when cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off of the cobs.

Divide the arugula among four plates and sprinkle with a little salt & freshly ground black pepper. Top with sliced chicken, some corn, and the sliced cucumbers. Cut the avocado in half lengthwise and remove the pit. With a large spoon, scoop the avocado out of the shell and cut the flesh into thin slices. Place ¼ of the avocado on each salad in a fan shape. Serve with Green Goddess dressing on the side.

Homemade Green Goddess Dressing
Adapted from Home by Design – serves 4

½ cup Greek yogurt
2 anchovies
¼ cup lightly packed Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons roughly chopped chives or the white part of scallions
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar, or any good white wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients through the vinegar in the bowl of a mini food processor and blend for several minutes until the dressing is bright green and the herbs are incorporated. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste and add more lemon juice if needed. Makes about 2/3 cup.

Mr. Bunny says, "Don’t forget to eat your greens."

This will be linked to Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at The Tablescaper, Southern Sundays at Slice of Southern, Summer Salad Sunday at Easy Natural Food, Carole's Chatter Food on Friday, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

In Celebration of Homegrown Tomatoes

“Home grown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes. 
What would life be like without homegrown tomatoes? 
Only two things that money can’t buy, 
That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.” 

An excerpt from a John Denver song, words & music by Guy Clark.

No truer words were ever spoken. Who wants to live without true love and homegrown tomatoes?

Summer is my favorite time of the year, primarily because I love homegrown tomatoes. I grew up in the small town of Warren, located in Bradley County in south Arkansas. Bradley County’s slogan was “The land of tall pines and pink tomatoes.” Bradley County grows a special variety of a pink tomato appropriately called the Bradley County Pink. In 1987 the South Arkansas vine ripe Pink Tomato was named the official state fruit and vegetable of Arkansas.

Logo courtesy of the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival

In 1956 a group of town merchants and members of the Chamber of Commerce, which included my father, created an event to celebrate the tomato industry and help promote business in the area. The Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival was born. Parades and a beauty pageant crowning Miss Pink Tomato were added the second year. The annual All-Tomato luncheon showcased the best tomato recipes of local cooks. Since then the celebration has grown into a weeklong affair and is one of the oldest continuous running festivals in Arkansas. This year the Pink Tomato Festival celebrated its 56th year.

Tomatoes & I have a history. My father was President of the Fair & Marketing Association, which sponsored the Pink Tomato Festival, about the same time the Festival got its start. One night he came home for dinner and told us that a member of the association had a cousin named Johnny from nearby Kingsland who was an up and coming singer for Sun Records in Memphis and he was willing to sing at the rodeo during the Festival. It just happened to be the same time that Elvis Presley was also recording for Sun Records. Johnny brought a friend of his along to perform at the rodeo, Jerry Lee Lewis, who had just recorded two hits for Sun -Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On and Great Balls of Fire. By now you know I'm talking about the legendary Johnny Cash. It was on that night in the fifties that people in my small home town got a glimpse into the beginning days of Rock & Roll and I was in a front row seat.

The Broadway hit Million Dollar Quartet was inspired by the legendary Rock and Roll recording session at Sun Records that included Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and of course the King of Rock and Roll Elvis Presley.

In honor homegrown tomatoes, I have two simple recipes that showcase the rich, sweet flavors of vine-ripened tomatoes. Our friend and fellow blogger Larry from Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings and his wife Bev have shared two of their homegrown tomatoes from their garden with us today.

The yellow one’s name is Persimmon and the green striped one is a Green Zebra. I picked up the dark wine colored one, a Cherokee Purple, along with a small red heirloom, at our local farmer’s market to complete the color combination.

An easy way to serve tomatoes is to arrange some slices on a platter, drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar, liberally sprinkle with crunchy sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and top with a few leaves of fresh basil from your herb garden. It doesn’t get much simpler or better than that.

If you want to get a little fancier, take the same arrangement of tomatoes and instead of using the olive oil & vinegar, top them with a southern pea salad.

I normally use black-eyed peas for this salad, but again thanks to local homegrown gardens, I was able to find fresh purple hull peas, another great memory from my childhood in the south. Purple hull peas are a cousin of the black-eyed peas and sometimes called “cow peas” or “southern peas.” When I was growing up, my mother bought bushel baskets of unshelled peas from local farmers and everyone in my family sat around and shelled peas into newspapers in their lap, probably watching Ozzie and Harriet. I shudder to think about how many bushels of peas I shelled as a child. The thing I remember most about purple hull peas is that they stain your fingers a light shade of purple and I can assure you, very embarrassing for a teenager at school the next day.

I’ve used ham in this recipe, but feel free to leave it out for a vegetarian dish. Black-eyed peas are normally in this, but if you ever run across purple hull peas, be sure to give them a try. Most people think they’re more flavorful than black-eyed peas.

Southern Pea Salad, sometimes called Southern Caviar
From My Carolina Kitchen

1 can black eyed peas, drained & rinsed well (or cooked purple hull peas)
1/2 cup (more or less) lean cooked ham steak, cut into ½” pieces
1 shallot, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Pinch of sugar
Dash of Tabasco (or to taste)
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Crunchy sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
Minced scallions, including green tops
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded & diced, optional
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Place pea in a mixing bowl and set aside. Sauté the ham in a non-stick skillet until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Let cool for a moment and then add it to the peas. Add shallot and stir. Measure olive oil, vinegar, sugar, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, and salt & pepper in jar with a tightly fitting lid and shake well to make vinaigrette. Toss the vinaigrette over peas and ham and stir to coat. Add the scallions and jalapeno pepper. Refrigerate for a couple of hours for flavors to develop.  Serve at room temperature. Easily doubled or tripled. Great served with sliced homegrown tomatoes.

Plain or fancy, there’s nothing in the world like homegrown tomatoes.

These recipes will be linked to Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at The Tablescaper, Southern Sundays at Slice of Southern, Summer Salad Sunday at Easy Natural Food, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.