Thursday, June 26, 2014

Baby Greens with Fresh Cherries, Gorgonzola Cheese, & Chicken with Raspberry Vinaigrette to celebrate Fresh Cherries

It’s cherry time and I have a new recipe to add to my repertoire of cherry dishes – a main course salad of baby greens with fresh cherries, crumbled creamy gorgonzola cheese and grilled chicken, dressed with a raspberry walnut vinaigrette. Of course you could always exclude the chicken and make this a side salad to Ina’s roasted lemon chicken with homemade croutons, link to post & recipe here, which is what we are serving tonight for dinner guests.

The inspiration for this salad came from Better Homes and Garden’s Skinny One Dishes. They suggested bottled raspberry vinaigrette, which you know isn’t going to happen in this kitchen. I always make my own vinaigrettes and why not - it’s so easy to make your own and they come together in a matter of minutes. I’ve had luck finding raspberry vinegar at Italian markets and Amazon has a nice selection on line, link here.

The most daunting task with cherries is pitting them and I have a solution there too. A cherry pitter is one of my favorite kitchen gadgets and it also does a great job of pitting olives too. For years I had an old handheld pitter and after a while, my hand would start to hurt. Enter a gift from my brother-in-law – a brand new pitter that pits four cherries at a time with a swift one hand motion. It’s available at Sur la Table and happens to be on sale, link here. If you pit olives or cherries often, you owe it to yourself to have a pitter and I’m not a gadget person.

One quick tip about pitting and slicing cherries, especially light colored ones such as Rainier – don’t do it too far in advance or the edges of the cherries turn dark. I learned this from experience and I won’t make that mistake again.

Baby Greens with Fresh Cherries, Gorgonzola Cheese, & Chicken with Raspberry Vinaigrette
My Carolina Kitchen, Sam Hoffer – serves 4
Printable Recipe

4 cups baby greens
¾ cup fresh pitted and halved dark sweet fresh cherries
1 pound grilled or roasted chicken breasts, cut in half-strips, optional if you wish to make this a side salad
Maldon sea salt or other good quality sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese, or more to taste
Raspberry vinaigrette, recipe below

Combine baby greens, cherries, and chicken in a large salad bowl and toss well. Drizzle with the raspberry vinaigrette, then season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste the salad and correct seasonings if necessary. Serve on individual plates or in shallow bowls, garnish with the crumbled cheese, and serve right away.

Cook’s note: If you are working with light colored cherries such as Rainier, pit and slice them at the last minute, otherwise they may darken around the edges.

Raspberry Vinaigrette
My Carolina Kitchen, Sam Hoffer – serves 4
Printable Recipe

4 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
4 tablespoons walnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons crème fraîche or good quality sour cream

Combine ingredients in a small jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well. Use right away or make ahead and store in the refrigerator for several days.

From the archives, here are three more of my favorite cherry recipes, just in time for cherry season.

Spicy fresh cherry salsa with peaches, served with sliced pork tenderloin, link to post and recipe here.

Boozy cherries with lavender, an easy version of Cherries Jubilee, served over toast or vanilla ice cream, link to post and recipe here.

And another salad, this time with Rainier cherries, creamy goat cheese and crunchy pistachios over greens, link to post and recipe here.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes.  

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mediterranean Salmon Salad

This Mediterranean salmon salad is an interesting combination of part green salad and part pasta salad, neither of which overwhelm nor dominate the other. Flaking the salmon allows a rather small amount of fish to go a long way in this recipe, which is nice if you consider the price of fresh fish today. Other kinds of seafood such as crabmeat, chopped shrimp, and grouper would work equally well if you wish to stay on the seafood theme. Or I know I would like this salad with chunks of white chicken.

Have you ever forgotten an ingredient in a recipe and found it worked better without it? That’s exactly what happened here. The first time we made this salad I completely forgot to garnish it with the feta cheese. As I downloaded the pictures I noticed something was missing and discovered it was the cheese. A few days later we made the salad again and to our surprise, we thought the cheese dominated the salad and was better without it. Mistakes sometimes work out for the best and it’s your choice as to whether to include the feta or not.

Salmon is on the menu frequently at our house so instead of cooking the salmon especially for this salad, we used left-over broiled salmon. In the instructions below I’ve included my tried and true method of how to broil salmon that works perfectly every time. Using left-over salmon works great and it makes putting together the recipe go even faster, but just be sure to let the salmon come to room temperature. Don’t be tempted to leave out the red bell pepper. It gives the salad a nice crunch. As summer approaches, this salad is perfect for a main course lunch or a light dinner.

Mediterranean Salmon Salad
Adapted from My Recipes, serves 4
Printable Recipe

2 (6 ounce) salmon fillets, about 1” thick in the middle
Grape seed oil, or other neutral tasting oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup uncooked orzo
2 cups torn baby greens or baby spinach leaves
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
¼ cup chopped scallions
6 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese, optional – I did not use the cheese

Place salmon on a plate, rub with oil, then season with salt, oregano & freshly ground black pepper and allow to sit at room temperature for 10 to 20 minutes.

Cook the orzo according to package instructions, omitting the fat if you wish. Drain, rinse and set aside covered while salmon cooks. In the meantime, preheat the broiler.

Arrange the salmon, 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, then flake with two forks, leaving behind the skin to discard.

To assemble the salad, combine the drained orzo, lettuce, flaked salmon and remaining ingredients in a large bowl and toss well. Garnish with crumbled feta cheese if using.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes.  

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Men Who Influenced the Way I Cook – Father’s Day 2014

Pork Medallions with Capers
For Father’s Day I wish to honor some of the men who influenced the way I cook. My husband Meakin would fall at the head of that list. When I met him, the extent of my cooking skills was meager to say the least. Meakin grew up in a gourmet family and his father Jim was an executive in New York City with a three martini lunch kind of expense account and ate in all of the top restaurants in the city. Obviously I had a lot of catching up to do. Meakin told me if you can read you can cook. “Give cooking a try,” he said, “and if you make something we can’t eat, I’ll take you out.” It sounded like a good deal to me and it worked out well.

Meakin’s Dad Jim

Jim was a tremendous influence on the way I cook. In the early seventies he was the one who first introduced me to the different varieties of lettuces available at the markets, such as romaine, spinach and varieties of baby lettuces. It was Jim who taught me how to make a French vinaigrette, now a staple in my kitchen. An avid cook himself, Jim dreamed of his own cookbook and during the fifties and sixties wrote down many of his favorite recipes in pencil on lined paper and stored them in a 3 ring binder. In 2002 I took those faded copies and typed them into a Word document and, along with Meakin and his two brothers, we were able to have Jim’s cookbook “published” for the family. Needless to say he and all of us were thrilled.

I would like to share one of Jim’s recipes that he created after his cookbook was finished. He put together this very flavorful dish for us one day when we were visiting. In honor of Father’s Day, may I present my father-in-law Jim Hoffer’s pork medallions with capers.

Jim's Pork Medallions with Capers

Pork Medallions with Capers
Jim Hoffer – serves 4, 3 slices each
Printable Recipe

16 ounces pork tenderloin, cut into 12 slices
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon oil
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons (or more to taste) chopped fresh rosemary
½ cup apple juice, preferably organic
½ cup water
1 tablespoon drained small capers

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Slice pork tenderloin into 12 medallions and between pieces of wax paper, pound flat. Season on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a non-stick 12” skillet and brown the pork slices, taking care not to crowd the pan (may have to do in batches), turning once, until almost cooked. Remove the pork slices to an ovenproof dish.

Add chopped garlic to the hot oil in the skillet, sauté for a minute, then add the flour and stir to make a roux, then add apple juice and water and stir until incorporated. Pour the sauce over the pork slices and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove slices to a serving dish and sprinkle with drained capers. Taste the sauce for seasonings, correct as necessary, then spoon over pork and serve right away. Easily doubled or tripled. French Potato Salad, recipe here, makes a nice accompaniment.

Craig Claiborne's Shrimp & Grits
Craig Claiborne

One of the most popular posts on My Carolina Kitchen is Craig Claiborne’s Low Country Shrimp and Grits, link here to the post and recipe. Early on in our marriage Jim gave me a copy of Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Cookbook, complete with notes above his favorite recipes. The New York Times Cookbook sold over three million copies and was eventually translated into seventeen languages.

“Craig Claiborne was the founding father of the American food revolution. From his first day in 1957 as the food editor of the New York Times, Craig Claiborne was going to take his readers where they had never been before. Claiborne extolled the pleasures of exotic cuisines from all around the world, and with his inspiration, restaurants of every ethnicity blossomed.

So many things we take for granted now were introduced to us by Craig Claiborne— the Cuisinart, chef’s knives, crème fraîche, arugula, balsamic vinegar, even the salad spinner. He would give Julia Child her first major book review. He brought Paul Bocuse, Paul Prudhomme, and Jacques Pépin to national acclaim. He turned home cooks such as Marcella Hazan, Madhur Jaffrey, & Diana Kennedy into stars.” - from Amazon.

To read more about Craig Claiborne and his influence on the way we eat, I highly recommended a fascinating book apply named about his life – The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and The American Food Renaissance, available at Amazon and bookstores everywhere.

Morrison Wood's Chicken Marengo

Morrison Wood

My first cookbook was With a Jug of Wine by Morrison Wood, one of Jim & Meakin’s favorite cookbooks. Born in Chicago, Morrison Wood was the author of “For Men Only!” a syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune. I’m on my fourth copy of the cookbook and I still go to it often.  Many of his recipes are of French origin. In my opinion Morrison Wood was one of the best at writing an introduction to a recipe and an inspiration for today’s writers. Like Ina Garten, his recipes always worked. One of my all time favorites in Jug of Wine is Chicken Marengo pictured above, the famous French dish invented by Napoleon’s battlefield chef to celebrate Napoleon’s success in northwest Italy in 1800. You may remember this dish – link to post and recipe here. Chicken Marengo is one of the most popular dishes on the blog.

Morrison Wood's Chicken Country Captain

Another great from Morrison Wood is Chicken Country Captain, a Southern dish filled with spices and a Low Country’s favorites. You’ll find it served in restaurants and home dining rooms throughout the southern cities of Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. Both lay claim to this Southern classic, which may have been brought to America by a ship’s captain ferrying spices from the Far East. Link to post and recipe here.

My husband Meakin

I’ve obviously saved the best influence for last – my husband Meakin. He is the one that inspired my love of cooking in the early days of our relationship. He and the cookbooks I read, including Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, taught me how to cook. Our philosophy has always been that “we do everything together.” My Carolina Kitchen will celebrate its sixth anniversary this fall and I don’t know what I would do without him. We share responsibilities in the kitchen and work together as a team. I have always found food prep relaxing, so it is I who does the most of that.  Because of my persistent back pain in recent years, Meakin steps in and does a great deal of the actual cooking when I can no longer stand or I get tired. I choose the recipes, style the plates with Meakin’s sharp eyes closely watching, and then he painstakingly photographs each dish. Afterwards when I’ve finished writing the posts, I depend on him for the final critique before it goes live. Without Meakin’s help there would be no My Carolina Kitchen.

Cheers to all of the men who inspire our cooking! 

For all the dads out there, Happy Father’s Day. Have a great weekend everyone.  

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes.    

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Asparagus with Strawberries & Feta Cheese, plus Bell Peppers in Vinegar, Sugar, and Oregano, both using Vermont Vinegars

I have two dishes today – the first is asparagus with My Carolina Kitchen’s homemade vinaigrette using Crosby’s Vermont elderberry vinegar and garnished with local North Carolina strawberries and feta cheese. The second is Italian yellow and red peppers dressed with a combination of Crosby’s Vermont acorn vinegar and Crosby’s Vermont elderberry vinegar, garnished with pickled Vermont acorns and fresh oregano leaves from our herb garden. Both dishes are perfect for those occasions when you need food that can be served at room temperature.

Crosby’s Vermont vinegars first caught my attention on a post here on TW Barrett’s blog Culinary Types. A week or so later Paul Crosby, who makes the vinegars himself, contacted me and asked if I would like to try the acorn and elderberry vinegars.  Of course I said yes and soon a bottle of each, plus a jar of pickled acorns, arrived on my doorstep.

I learned from Culinary Types' post that elderberries grow wild where Paul lives in Vermont, but he’s growing his own berries now. A bumper crop of berries was the inspiration for his elderberry vinegar. For the acorn vinegar, Paul forages the acorns in the fall by gathering fallen white oak acorns on his own property. Once they are collected they are dried and stored in a cool dry area away from the squirrels. To start a batch of vinegar, two cups of dried acorns are cracked, sorted to exclude the bad ones and then put in a bath of hot water to release the bitter tannins. That process is done three times usually to release the bitterness. Then Paul tastes to make sure the flavor is right, then the acorns are processed and ready to infuse in a gallon of white vinegar, which takes up to three weeks.

We tasted by vinegars “straight up” and were impressed with the complexity of both. The acorn vinegar is a bit softer on the tongue where the elderberry vinegar was reminiscent of balsamic vinegar. The pickled acorns have a tiny bit of crunch and a nice woodsy-clove flavor.    

I served the asparagus and strawberries dressed with the Vermont elderberry vinaigrette to guests one night and not only was it a fun dinner table topic to talk about vinegar made from elderberries, but the asparagus dish was the first thing they ate that night.  Crosby’s Vermont vinegars are for sale on line here and here. I hope you’ll give them a try.

Asparagus with Strawberries and Feta Cheese
From My Carolina Kitchen – Sam Hoffer – serves 4
Printable Recipe

1 lb fresh asparagus, tough lower ends snapped off
2 teaspoons salt
Water flavored with low sodium, low fat beef broth to taste

1 tablespoon Crosby’s Vermont elderberry vinegar or red wine or balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Dash of hot sauce such as Tabasco
Maldon sea salt or other good sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled, then sliced - more if desired
Sugar to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled, more if desired
Fresh mint leaves, chopped, optional

After the tough ends of asparagus have been removed, peel the remaining ends unless the asparagus is thin; if thin, leave as is. Bring enough water flavored with beef broth and salt to cover the asparagus to a boil in a shallow pan. Add asparagus, turn heat to low and cook for about 4 minutes until asparagus is crisp tender, taking care not to overcook. Immediately plunge the asparagus in an ice water bath to stop the cooking and retain the green color. After a minute or two, remove the asparagus and dry well with a towel. Asparagus may be either wrapped and chilled for about an hour, or served at room temperature.

In the meantime, prepare the vinaigrette by placing all of the ingredients into a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well. When ready to serve, place the asparagus on a platter, shake the vinaigrette well, drizzle it over the asparagus, then garnish with the strawberries, feta cheese (and mint if desired).

Italian Sweet Bell Peppers in Vinegar, Sugar, and Oregano
Adapted from Cucina Fresca by Viana La Place & Evan Kleiman – serves 4
Printable Recipe

2 yellow bell peppers
2 red bell peppers (or all yellow peppers)
1 tablespoon each of Crosby’s Vermont acorn vinegar & Crosby’s Vermont elderberry vinegar (or 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon sugar
Coarse salt to taste
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
Vermont pickled acorns for garnish, about 8 or to taste, optional or substitute a sprinkling of drained capers

With a sharp knife, start at the top of the pepper and cut off all 4 sides, starting at the top, leaving the stem and the seeds. Discard the stem and seeds. Slice the peppers into ¾” wide strips. Cook the bell pepper strips in the olive oil in a skillet, covered, over low heat for about 8 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the peppers from browning. The pepper should have some crunch to them. Add the two vinegars, sugar, and salt. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes. Garnish with fresh oregano leaves and pickled acorns. Serve at room temperature.

Disclosure: The opinions in this post are mine and my husband's alone and we were not compensated for this review other than the samples.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, and Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter.  

Have a great weekend everyone.