Monday, December 28, 2009

Black Truffle

I scored this beautiful black truffle at the Whole Foods Market yesterday. It is about the size of a half-dollar. My head is on fire with possibilities. I invited my friend Michael over to have a truffle-off. We plan to make several small plates so we can experiment with this rare gem. We have already discussed a duxelle souffle with shaved truffles, a tofu-truffle-miso soup, and a truffled pasta carbonara. The idea is to keep the dishes simple to let the flavor of the truffle shine through. The Wife has already told me that she is not having truffles for dessert. We'll see...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tofu & Truffle "Pork" Rinds

Two weeks ago I walked out of the Viet Ho market with a huge bag of frozen tofu skins. I had never seen anything like them before, and I had no clue what I was going to do with them. I admit it -- I do love to get challenging ingredients just to see where my imagination will take me. So, the skins sat in my freezer for a few weeks. They were busy mocking me every time I opened it to get some ice or a bit of frozen tomato sauce. Then today it struck me: pork rinds....sort of!

I rarely ever fry anything in my kitchen, but I just knew if I fried up those tofu skins they would puff up like pork rinds -- and believe it or not, I was right. To season them, I used some black truffle salt because everyone knows that truffles are the bacon of the future. Right? You knew that, right?


Bean curd sheet
Canola oil
Black truffle salt
Pour a 1/4 inch layer of canola oil in a small frying pan and set over medium heat. Tear bean curd sheet into two-inch strips. Fry one at a time, turning once. It will take only a few seconds for the skin to crisp. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle each with a little truffle salt. Enjoy hot or at room temperature.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Gifts for the Foodie in Your Life

1. Mandolin slicer (mine is a Norpro Deluxe)
5. Food processor (Cuisinart 14-cup)
6. Cast-iron grill pan
7. Stainless steel measuring cups
9. Bamboo cutting board
10. Pizza stone

I couldn't live without these tools in my own kitchen. Give any or all of these things to the one you love. They'll smile. They'll thank you. (Then you can tell 'em to make you some dinner.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Muscavado-Poached Satsumas

Lousiana's Plaquemines Parrish satsuma oranges wound their way into town this week and a brown bag full of them serendipitously fell into our laps. What to do, what to do? Well, we figured, why not put them on drop biscuits instead of jam? We still had some dark brown, molasses-flavored muscovado sugar left over from last year's Christmas gifts, and we figured not much is better than a skilletful of warm spiced orange wedges. This could be done with any number of oranges, and it releases the sweetness of them while erasing any lingering tart flavors.
Peel and separate 4 oranges. Put them into a frying pan with a tablespoon of brown sugar, 1/2 cup of water, a few quick zests of lemon, and a pinch of cinnamon. Cook it over medium-high for about 8 minutes or until the water evaporates. Serve warm at breakfast.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Easy Horchata

This isn't the traditional way to make horchata, but it suits me just fine. Don't let the simplicity of this little treat fool you. It's very delicious. Make this to go along with tacos or enchiladas or my poblano tamales. The sweet rice milk is the perfect foil for spicy food.

Makes two servings
2 1/2 cups vanilla rice milk
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (a little extra for sprinkling)
a squeeze of agave nectar (two squeezes if you like it sweet)
enough ice to fill two tall drinking glasses

Place the milk, cinnamon, and agave into a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. You want it to get a nice little foam on top. Pour mixture over ice and sprinkle the top of each with a little more cinnamon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In December Drinking Horchata

I just can't resist this catchy little song about my favorite rice-milk drink. Click HERE to check out Vampire Weekend singing about drinking horchata in a balaclava.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Unreal Chicken Pot Pie

Click HERE for the new and improved version of this dish!

I like to call it unreal chicken pot pie because it is u-n-r-e-a-l how good it tastes, and I use fake (unreal) chicken in the recipe. This is one of the few things that The Wife requests on a regular basis. It is simple to make, and she always helps out by making the crust. She says that every good Southern girl should be able to make a pie crust from memory. Here is how she remembers it:

Pot pie crust:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup ice water
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder

**** Place all ingredients except water in the food processor with the dough blade. Turn it on and add the water one tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic and stick it in the fridge for 20 minutes.****

Roll 1/2 of the crust out and fit into a pie plate. Reserve the other half for the top. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
For the pot pie filling dice:
2 medium carrots
2 medium ribs of celery
1 medium onion
1 medium potato
2 cloves of garlic
2 Quorn Naked Chick'n Cutlets
1 handful of fresh parsley

Throw all of that into a large pot with some olive oil, salt, pepper, one chicken-style bullion cube, and one cup of frozen green peas. Allow the mixture to cook on medium-high for about five minutes, and then create a well in the middle by pushing everything up against the sides of the pot. In the well you just created, melt four tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle four tablespoons of flour on top of the melted butter, and whisk the flour and butter together. Allow flour mixture to cook for a few minutes, but keep it moving around the pot so it does not burn. Pour in a cup of milk and stir the whole thing together. Once the mixture has thickened, pour the whole thing into a your pie plate, cover it with the remaining crust and bake for 40 minutes. I like to put and egg wash on the top crust about half way through so the top is a nice, brown color.

Whew! O.K. it looks complicated, but it isn't. Let me know if you have any questions.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Banana-Ricotta Muffins with Walnuts

I love banana bread, but the texture is That first warm slice is good, but after a couple of hours, a weird, tough graininess sets in, and no one really wants to eat it anymore. Muffins in general, are just better-tasting, and also keep longer when put in the fridge and warmed up the next day. Also, the addition of ricotta makes them have a texture that's more like cake. Perfect paired with cold rain and hot white tea.

Banana-Ricotta Muffins with Walnuts

1 1/2 large bananas, mashed
1/3 cup cream or milk
1/2 cup ricotta
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 tbsp. vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup walnuts
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
pinch of salt

Whisk wet ingredients and dry ingredients separately. Stir together until just mixed. Pour batter into oiled muffin tins; sprinkle each with topping. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edges
as soon as you take them out -- this makes it easier to pop them out ten minutes later.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Polenta Pancakes w/ Pear + Clementine, & Vanilla Bean Compote

Someone around here loves pancakes; someone else is repelled by them. The dedicated pancake fan is committed to whipping up a stack just about every Sunday, so she is always searching for a new recipe that will tempt TCV to cross to the other side, if only on the weekends: a way-overboard breakfast of starch, butter, and maple syrup. Chocolate chip pancakes recently failed as a lure, but here is the latest try, which was slightly more successful:

Polenta Pancakes (recipe adapted from
½ cup Delta Grind cornmeal
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1 cup AP flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs
1¼ cups milk
olive oil for skillet

Whisk cornmeal with 1 1/2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, whisk, lower heat, and whisk for a few more minutes until it is thickened. Set aside. Whisk dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, then stir together until just combines. Brush skillet or double-burner pan with olive oil. Set to medium heat and pour on batter for pancakes. When they bubble, flip them.

Pear, Clementine, and Vanilla Bean Compote:
2 yellow pears
3 clementines
1 tbsp. vanilla sugar or raw sugar
half a vanilla bean

Peel ripe yellow pears and dice them. Squeeze the juice and pulp of 3 clementines over them. Add sugar. Slice open and scrape out half of a vanilla bean into the mix, and then throw it in and stir. Heat for one to two minutes. Pour over polenta pancakes along with a pat of butter and a drizzle of maple syrup.

(Oh, yeah -- we recently took advantage of a really good deal on vanilla beans on -- just $15 for an entire bag!)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Vegetarian Chili Two Ways

We had a bunch of friends over on Sunday night for chili and corn muffins. I couldn't decide whether I should make my famous chipotle-chocolate chili or to try something new and make my own version of a white chili spiced with cumin. I finally decided...I would make both. I was a one-man chili cook-off on a mission to make both versions spicy and delicious. The contrasts were interesting. The chipotle chili was dark and smoky with just a hint of chocolate while the white chili was fresh and bright because of the addition of fresh hot peppers and tomatillos.

I took an informal poll at the end of the night, and there was no clear winner. Everyone seemed to love both recipes as they both delivered on the chili promise: a hearty, spicy, belly-full of goodness. Some people put them both in the same bowl as I did, and others had a bowl of white followed by a bowl of chipotle and then another bowl of white. I love to see people go back for seconds at my house, so I'm elated to see some going for thirds.

Here are both recipes so you can decide for yourself:

Chipotle + Chocolate Chili:

4 1/2 cups prepared beans ( mix: pinto, black, red kidney)
2 medium onions (diced)
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
2 "Not-beef" bouillon cubes
1/2 a beer
2 bell peppers (red, green, orange: diced)
1 large can fire-roasted tomatoes
3 chipotle peppers (from a can)
2 dried pasilla peppers (stems removed)
6 cloves garlic
1 box white wave chicken style seitan (drained)
1 small can of diced, fire-roasted tomatoes
1 square of dark chocolate
1 pat of butter
olive oil
salt & pepper

In a large soup pot or dutch oven sauté onions with a few tablespoons of olive oil, ancho chili powder, and bouillon cubes until onions start to brown. Add the bell peppers and deglaze pot with beer. Allow most of the beer to evaporate. Pulse seitan in the food processor until finely chopped (like ground beef), and add it to the pot. Into the food processor place the large can of tomatoes, chipotle, pasilla, and garlic, and blend until almost smooth. Pour mixture over the onions and peppers, add the beans, small can of tomatoes, the chocolate, and the butter. Add enough water to cover. Simmer for at least one hour. The longer it cooks, the better it gets. Add salt and pepper to taste.

White Chili w/ Tomatillos + Mushrooms

2 cups prepared cannellini beans
2 cups prepared flageolet beans
1 large white onion (diced)
2 shallots (diced)
2 tablespoons cumin
2 "Not-chick'n" bouillon cubes
1/2 cup white wine
2 yellow bell peppers (diced)
6-8 tomatillos (peeled and washed)
20 oz white button mushrooms
2 jalapeno peppers (stem removed)
1 serrano pepper (stem removed)
2 tablespoons chickpea flour
olive oil
salt and pepper

Pulse mushrooms in the food processor until finely chopped, toss with a few tablespoons of olive oil, roast in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Set aside. In a large soup pot or dutch oven sauté onion and shallot with olive oil, cumin and bouillon cubes. Once the onion is translucent, add the peppers and deglaze the pan with the white wine. Cook until most of the wine has evaporated. Pulse tomatillos and hot peppers in the food processor until finely chopped. Add mixture to the pot along with the beans and mushrooms. Add enough water to cover and simmer for one hour. Whisk chickpea flour with some of the broth and add it all back to the pot. Cook for another 10 minutes. (This will thicken the chili.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

In addition to the chili, I made a buffet of toppings consisting of white cheddar, aged cotija, cilantro, green onions, sour cream, guacamole, and fresh lime wedges. I also made a huge pot of rice and got out every hot sauce I own (which is a lot of hot sauce). At the last minute, The Wife had me chop apples for a crumble, and she made the crunchy topping for it. It was the perfect dinner party for a cold and drizzly Sunday night.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cranberry-Apple + Curry-Ginger Chutney

"What were those blood-red rings we used to eat at holiday meals?" I asked my family recently. "And why in the world didn't we make our own cranberry sauce?" The red rings were from cored, unpeeled apples and the cranberry sauce was, of course, canned. I guess our focus was on the always-homemade things like the perennial Christmas cauliflower soup or miniscule, buttery pecan tarts instead of on the lowly cranberry.

But now we know it is so easy to make your own cranberry sauce. There is no valid reason not to! I checked out the back of an interesting jar of chutney at a fancy little market this month, valiantly tried to memorize the ingredients, and then made up this version instead of the cranberry-orange one I usually do. (I didn't know if using organic cranberries would make a difference, so I sprung for them and gave it a shot, and I found out it really was worth it...the usual sharp, over-sour flavor was gone.)

Cranberry-Apple + Curry-Ginger Chutney

2 pints organic cranberries
1 cup of raw sugar
2 big pink lady apples, peeled and diced
one inch of fresh ginger root, microplaned
1 1/2 tsp. sweet yellow curry
1/2 cup tangerine juice

Mix it all up in a saucepan and set heat to medium. Stir occasionally; soon you'll hear the cranberries pop. As soon as that occurs, set heat to simmer. You still want to see individual cranberries and apple pieces, so the whole production should take about an hour, tops. This is great on stuffed acorn squash or tofu cheesecake.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Potato + Caramelized Onion + Goat Cheese + Truffle Oil Pizza

I have more than a few food obsessions (mushrooms, bourbon, tomatoes), but pizza has always remained at the top of the list. When it comes to pizza, I'm sort of a purist about some things (the crust), but irreverent with others like the toppings. I have been known to make pizzas with quail eggs, purple cabbage, and cannellini beans -- though not all on the same pie. So, of course I believe that you should ditch the tomato sauce every once in a while and try something C-R-A-Z-Y.

Here is a great pie to try. I know putting potatoes on a pizza sounds like a starchy nightmare, but it is really, really, really good.

1 red new-potato (thinly sliced)
1 white onion (thinly sliced)
1/2 cup white wine
pinch of sugar
2 1/2 oz. goat cheese
2 oz fresh mozz
olive oil
white truffle oil
salt & pepper

Blanch potato until soft. Caramelize onion in a bit of olive oil, add sugar and wine, and allow most of the wine to evaporate. Top pizza with potato slices, onion, and then cheeses. Bake. Add salt and pepper. Drizzle generously with truffle oil.

The smell of the truffle oil hitting the warm pizza drives me into a frenzy. As you can see from the picture, we really could not help ourselves.

Friday, November 27, 2009

At The Table

This year, we were going for a fake-rustic, silvery French theme after past Thanksgiving motifs of flourescent brights, neapolitan ice cream, and pink everything...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad w/ Smoked Feta & Candied Pecans

The Wife, who not always loves her veggies, has fallen for the vegetable that is often the butt of the joke: the brussels sprout. She has had me make this salad three times since I made up the recipe just a few weeks ago. I can't say I'm surprised because this dish has it all: sweet, savory, smoky, and rich. A great dish alongside or instead of greens or green beans, it will be a very unexpected treat on your Thanksgiving table.

Serves 4

15-20 large Brussels sprouts (larger ones work best here)
2 cups whole pecans (roasted & salted)
1/4 cup sugar
4 oz smoked goat feta (smoked goat mozz works too)
olive oil
golden balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper

Start by tearing apart the Brussels sprouts. Cut off the stem-end and pull the leaves apart. This takes some time, but it's worth it. When you get to the core, just split it in half and throw it in with the leaves. Blanch the leaves in boiling water until they turn bright green. This will take about 10-30 seconds. Run the leaves under cold water to stop the cooking. Melt sugar in a large frying pan over high heat. (This is so cool to watch.) Once the edges of the sugar start to melt, stir the sugar until all lumps have disappeared. Remove from heat. Toss the pecans in melted sugar until coated. Transfer to a plate to cool. Cut feta into a small dice.
Now you are ready to assemble the salad. Place 4 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of vinegar into a large frying pan over medium heat. Once the dressing is heated through, place leaves into the pan, and toss the dressing with the sprouts. Transfer to a large plate. Sprinkle with cheese and nuts then salt and pepper. This wonderful dish is something you will add to your Thanksgiving meal for years to come. Brussels sprouts are no joke.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Red + White + Pink Thanksgiving

We're all about finding wines at a decent price that are also surprisingly good. I like to buy a few new bottles every month so maybe, just maybe, I can find something in the $8-$15 range that will be a go-to selection for pairing with dinner or taking along to a party.

We want to share a few new discoveries with you just in time for your Thanksgiving festivities -- our two recent favorites, a zinfandel and a riesling with tons of flavor, plus a rosé just for kicks.

Plungerhead, a 2007 old vine zin from Lodi, looks gimmicky but tastes big. The plastic cork is the color of a plunger, and there is a funny little guy with cask-legs akimbo on the label. But open it up, and it is shocking in its complexity: the zin has a great jammy smell with a full-on peppery wallop. Very rich and complex -- one of those red wines that is vibrant enough to stand on its own even before a meal.

Clean Slate, a 2007 riesling from Germany, has a balance of sweet and tart and an almost floral aroma. It's got that good minerally undertone in it that whites sometimes overdo; in this, it's pretty subtle. It comes across as very summery and layered with citrus, the opposite of a sharp, ugly chardonnay.

And even though it may be kind of out of season, we think you can't go wrong with Las Rocas rosé. Mild and layered, not cloying, and very crisp, it's great in hot weather, and it's a good, light first wine before the meal or an inventive last one with dessert.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sweet Potato Pie with Rosemary Cookie Crust

Everybody expects to have pumpkin or sweet potato pie on Thanksgiving, but it's always amusing that no one is able to tell them apart. We always have this same conversation every year at our table; however, we think sweet potato pie made with the real thing is the clear winner. We bought a half-bushel of sweet potatoes from Bennett-Burks Farm last month in order to have the pioneer-life experience of buying a lot for the winter and only eating that same item in different ways for months.

Also, our rosemary plants in the front flowerbeds are still going strong since we haven't had a frost, so we imitated Lindye's rosemary honey cookies for the pie crust. (Let us know if you need some rosemary or lavender this week; we'll leave you a bunch on the porch!)

4 rosemary sprigs, stripped
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup raw sugar
a pinch or two of salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup water
melted butter for pie pan

Place the bits of rosemary with the flour in your food processor bowl. Whir until the rosemary is just in flecks. Add sugar. While the food processor is running, pour in the oil and water, a bit of each at a time, until it comes together into one piece and clings to the sides. (Try not to over-mix it; it'll make the dough too tough.) Next, wrap your dough in waxed paper and let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Roll it out on a floured board, and then wrap it around your rolling pin loosely; this makes it easier to roll it out into your buttered pie pan. Use a fork to decorate the edges.

6 sweet potatoes, cooked 1 hour in a 350-degree oven
1/3 cup cream
1 container Greek yogurt
2 eggs
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/4 light brown sugar
1/4 cup of bourbon
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
a pinch of clove
pinch of salt

This is a good opportunity to mash the baked sweet potatoes aggressively so that you can alleviate some of your pent-up annoyance at the fact that you have a lot of hoops to jump through before Thanksgiving is really, finally HERE. Or you could just whirl all the ingredients in the food processor until your mixture is smooth and butterscotch-colored -- it's your call.

The last steps:
Par-bake the crust for 10 minutes. Pour in filling and let it cook for an hour. Test the middle with a skewer; if it comes out clean, your pie is ready to cool. You can make this a day or two ahead, and it tastes even better.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wine Pairing Notes & Thoughts by Michael Hughes

The Wife and I invited our close friend Michael Hughes over to enjoy our "Thanksgiving Preparedness Drill" meal with us the other night. Michael's blog, Midtown Stomp, is a great tool for anyone who wants to know more about wine in general and the Memphis wine scene in particular. Before he arrived for dinner I described what we would be eating and asked that he, in his vast wine wisdom, pick the perfect bottle to go with this meal. In his own words:

McCrea Cellars Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Syrah 2002 Red Mountain AVA, Washington

This was a stunning bottle when I last tasted it. Over the course of a few hours it expressed a firm graceful elegant grip that was a roller coaster of complex flavors. When you said that the main ingredients were chanterelles, apricots I initially thought of going French. Maybe a Bandol with earthy, wild, gaminess. However, I remembered I had this bottle & with it being 7 years old I figured it had softened up somewhat. When we first opened the bottle I gave it a sniff & immediately smelled a smoky, meaty aroma that was almost primal. What I love about syrah is the sensual, earthy expression that it has. It can be tannic & gripping but still be velvety & caressing. This McCrea had this all over it & then some. It matched harmoniously with your stuffed squash & mushroom/barley gravy because it too had earthy aromas & flavors. The savory umami that the dish had amplified this wild richness in the wine but it wasn't overpowering. I really think that there is magic in pairing wine & food. Sometimes they clash & sometimes they sing together but when a pairing really works it taps into emotions rather than strictly hitting the palate. This was one of those instances that was an incredible strong reminder of why I love what I do.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chanterelle + Apricot Stuffed Acorn Squash w/ Porcini Gravy & Fried Sage

**Easier, updated method available in The Southern Vegetarian Cookbook**
Every year I try to come up with a vegetarian dish that steals the poor turkey's thunder at Thanksgiving. Last year I made a wonderful, rich cassoulet; the year before it was a root vegetable stew in fennel stock served inside of a giant braised pumpkin. This year I decided on acorn squash paired with two of my favorite mushrooms: chanterelle and porcini. The addition of the dried apricots (thank you, Ben) to the stuffing amplifies the earthy, sweet flavor of the chanterelles. I sliced the squash to show off its beautiful scalloped edges. It makes for a particularly beautiful presentation. The unusual addition of barley to the gravy adds body and texture and the fried sage sends this dish over the top. You really should make this for your family's Thanksgiving meal. This recipe will be for one stuffed squash which will feed two to three, so adjust the number of squash according to how many guests you are expecting. Make extra -- even the omnivores will want to try this one.

For the stuffing:
1 stalk celery (finely diced)
1 small onion (finely diced)
1 "Not-Chick'n" bouillon cube
1 cup chanterelles (quartered)
4 dried apricots (finely diced)
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups brioche or white bread (torn into pieces)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper

Beat eggs and add bread. Set mixture in the fridge for an hour or overnight so the bread soaks up all of the egg. Sauté celery, onion, and bouillon cube in the butter until lightly browned. Deglaze the pan with the wine and reduce until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the chanterelles and apricots to the pan and warm through. Add salt and pepper. Chill mushroom mixture throughly before adding to the egg mixture.
Stuff the squash:
Using a sharp kitchen knife and plenty of caution, cut a hole in the stem-end of the squash just as you would a pumpkin at Halloween. Keep the stem. Scrape the seeds and membrane out of the squash. Stuff your stuffing into the cavity -- be careful not to leave any air pockets. Replace the stem and secure with toothpicks or bamboo skewers. Take a moment to poke a few small holes through the flesh and down into the cavity. This will help keep your squash from splitting as the eggs expand during cooking. Place inside a baking dish, cover with foil, and bake the squash in a 375 degree oven for about 2 hours. I rigged up a soufflé dish with some aluminum foil so the squash could bake upright so as to not squish one side as it bakes. Once it is done, remove it from the oven and place it in the fridge to cool. You will want the squash to be cold when you slice it so that it stays together. All of steps up to this point can be done the day before. Slice cold squash into 1 in pieces and place onto an oiled baking sheet. Drizzle each slice with olive oil and place into a 375 degree oven until the color of the squash deepens and it is warmed through.

For the gravy:
1/2 cup dried barley
1/4 oz dried porcini mushrooms (finely chopped)
1 "Not-Beef" bouillon cube
2 cloves garlic (minced)
3 sage leaves (minced)
1 teaspoon flour
cracked black pepper
olive oil

Cook barley according to package directions but add the mushrooms, bouillon, and sage to the cooking water. Make a roux by heating the olive oil in a pot, adding the flour, and cooking until lightly browned. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups of water to the roux and cook for a few minutes until thickened. Season with black pepper and add the barley mixture. Adjust the viscosity to your liking using water. Spoon gravy over the squash and top with sage leaves that have been fried in olive oil for just a few seconds.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Turnip + Sweet Potato Gratin

So, as promised, we are getting into some serious Thanksgiving food this week. We will kick it off with this delicious side dish of winter root vegetables. I came up with this preparation because I was looking for a way to serve turnips that was appealing. Turnips have a serious sour note that I like, but some people are put off by. So here I paired them with equal amounts of sweet potatoes. The sweetness from the sweet potato offsets the sourness of the turnip. They match each other well. Plus the orange and white striped gratin makes for a neat presentation.

1 large sweet potato (the one I used was the size of my nephew)
3 large turnips
4 ounces of goat cheese (or any semi-soft cheese)
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk (or cream if you aren't scared)
1 palmful of fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic
salt & pepper

9x12 baking dish
mandolin slicer

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel sweet potato. Using the mandolin, slice turnip and sweet potato 1/8 of an inch thick. Drizzle a bit of olive oil into the bottom of the baking dish to keep things from sticking. Start layering in your root vegetables in a "fish scale" pattern. Do a layer of turnip and then a layer of potato until you have used all of your vegetables. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper in every other layer. The other ingredients go into a food processor and are blended until smooth. Pour mixture evenly over your root vegetables. Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover, drizzle with olive oil, and bake a few more minutes to get some color on top. The result is a creamy and delicious side dish that looks as good as it tastes.
We had it for dinner last night with porcini-dredged tofu and mushroom gravy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Groundnut Stew w/ Kale + Sweet Potatoes

It has been a veritable kale storm around here lately. We love it, and it has been coming to us in abundance from our Whitton Farms CSA. This soup features kale two ways, braised and fried, along with sweet potatoes in a mash-up of more than a few African culinary traditions.

I got the idea from Burt Wolf's show about how much American foodways borrow traditions from Africa. He noted that it was widely believed in the United States that peanuts, native to Africa, were poisonous before being heralded as health food and, believe it or not, a good alternative to meat.

1 onion (diced)
2 inch piece of fresh ginger (microplaned)
4 cups vegetable broth
4 tablespoons peanut butter (chunky kind)
6 cups kale (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (minced)
1 large sweet potato (medium dice)
1 can red beans (rinsed)
salt & pepper (to taste)
cayenne pepper (to taste)
olive oil
1 tablespoon harissa (North African spice paste)
Sweat onion and ginger in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Once the onion starts to brown, add the broth. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until sweet potatoes are tender.

(You can find harrissa at natural foods markets or international food markets in your area. It is a wonderful, spicy paste with hints of clove and cinnamon.)

I served this with Israeli cous-cous and fried kale. Toss any big pieces of curly kale in a tablespoon of olive oil, and then stick it into a 350 degree oven until they are crispy -- it'll take less than 10 minutes. The result is super-cool: kale chips!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pignoli Amaretti

Go ahead and lose your inhibitions! After making these almond and pine nut cookies for the first time tonight, we've decided that hoarding pine nuts and using them sparingly is just too pious. You need to use about half a bag or so to coat these Italian cookies. Make up for it by food processing your own almond paste for them instead of relying on store-bought. They are not too sweet and have the coolest toasted, rich, marzipan-like flavor and light, chewy, smooth texture...the perfect pre-weekend splurge.

Pignoli Amaretti

1 cup whole or sliced almonds
1/2 c powdered sugar
1/2 c raw sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 c pine nuts

Blend almonds in the food processor two minutes until it forms a paste; add a little water if moisture is needed for the paste to come together. Add sugars and vanilla and pulse. Add egg and do the same. Next, add all dry ingredients and pulse again until just mixed.
Spread pine nuts on a plate. Use a small scoop to place dough on pine nuts and roll it around to coat. Cook at 350 degrees for 10 min. on a slipat-lined cookie sheet and let them cool.

Can I Get 3 More Followers?

That would give TCV 100 blog followers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sorrel and Arugula Pesto

I had sorrel for the first time yesterday. I can't even say that I had heard of it before then. My buddy Jill gave me some to try in my CSA bag this week. The flavor is like nothing else I have ever tried. It looks sort of like spinach, but the taste is entirely different. I would describe it as grassy, slightly bitter, and citrusy. From the 1st bite I knew I would have to try it in pesto. That is just what I did.

2 cups fresh sorrel
2 cups fresh arugula
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 small garlic clove
olive oil
salt & pepper

You will notice that there is no lemon. There is no need. The sorrel adds all of the citrusy flavor you need. The first four ingredients go into a food processor. Then add enough oil to get it moving. It should take a few tablespoons. Blend until everything is well incorporated, but not until smooth. Add salt & pepper to taste.
I served this pesto on a pizza with roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and goat cheese. You can get my pizza crust recipe HERE. While you are at it, read THIS STORY I wrote about my true and undying love of pizza.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Seared Fennel and Carrot Salad

There's gotta be sweet, savory, sour, and spicy in most dishes. We are liking balance above all else over here lately, and this simple, impressive little experiment was a hit. It splits the difference between a side dish and a salad, and it was perfect with arugula and truffle oil soufflés tonight. Here's how it went:

a fennel bulb, split lengthwise
2 carrots
2 tbsp. canola oil
5 dried Turkish apricots, diced
2 oz. Maytag blue cheese, crumbled
1 oz. sherry vinegar
drizzle of olive oil
fleur de sel and crushed pepper to taste, plus fennel fronds to garnish

Heat canola oil on high on stovetop. Place fennel and carrots, cut side down, into hot oil. Stick this in a 450 degree oven for 30 min. Arrange fennel and carrots on plates and top with crumbled blue cheese and diced apricots, which you just toss with sherry vinegar and olive oil. Garnish with fennel fronds and add your salt and pepper.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Banana Pudding + Meringue

Ah, banana pudding...The Wife fondly recalls this dessert as a constant in her family's refrigerator every week, a copious amount in a big glass bowl, always topped with clouds of singed meringue. Everyone ate it straight out of the container like wild wolves with magical spoon-holding abilities. You can make this whole deal from scratch, but it won't be as good. Rarely do we advocate throwing together a few store-bought ingredients as a recipe for dessert success, but she has cracked the code of banana pudding and wants to share it with you.

She uses Dr. Oetker's vanilla pudding mix in a box and prefers 2% milk, not skim. Wait 'til it cools to put the pudding together -- you can hurry it along with an ice bath under another bowl. Plain old classic, but not reduced-fat, Nabisco Nilla Wafers work best, of course, so arrange them on the bottom and sides of your bowl or pan. Organic bananas sliced into rounds are mandatory, too, at the bottom, and then just pour the cooled vanilla pudding over it all.
Please don't even think about using whipped cream on top. Instead, here is our hard-fought, always-fluffy meringue recipe:


2 egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
1/8 cup raw or powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Put packages of frozen fruit or vegetables all around your stand mixer's bowl to keep it as cold as possible. Pour in all ingredients and mix on high for 1-2 minutes in order to whip in lots of air. Once hard peaks form -- they should stand up on their own when you pull the whisk up -- spread this on top of chilled pudding. Using the back of a spoon, pull peaks up from the smooth meringue. Place meringue-topped pudding under a broiler for just a few seconds.

Tips: Watery meringue happens when cold meringue is added to warm pudding, so be sure they are close to the same temp.! Also, make it all ahead. It is so much better after a day in the fridge.

Mushroom and Barley Soup

I went to a great dinner at the Dixon called the Brewer's Feast. Dale Skaggs and Mike Lee paired handcrafted beers with each of four courses. The beer and the food were amazing. It got me thinking about what I would make for a beer dinner and the answer seemed obvious: barley. Beer is brewed from barley so it makes perfect sense to me. Here is what I came up with. Oddly enough I chose to drink wine with it.

10-12 oz small cremini mushrooms (quartered)
4 cloves garlic
2 large carrots (diced)
2 celery stalks (diced)
1 white onion (diced)
3 cups cooked barley
1 cup roasted tomatoes
2 bouillon cubes
1 tablespoon butter
red or white wine for deglazing (or beer)
2 bay leaves
4-6 cups water
olive oil
salt & pepper
First toss the mushrooms in a few tablespoons of olive oil and roast them along with the garlic cloves in a covered dish with the oven set at 300. Leave them in for 45 minutes to an hour. In a large soup pot over medium-high heat saute carrots, celery, and onion in some olive oil until the onion is translucent. Deglaze the pan with a half cup of wine. Add the remaining ingredients including the mushrooms and their juice to the pot. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

I served mine with a few warm chanterelles on top and a grilled cheese on rustic seed bread. This is the perfect meal for a cool fall night.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Creamy Polenta with Warm Tomatoes and Olives

Surprisingly enough, simple preparations often make the best meals. Such is the case with this simple but delicious post-farmers-market fall lunch. I'll be honest: this is my most favorite dish I've made in a while. There is something magical about it that I can't quite put my finger on. I suppose this is my own little way of saying my final farewell to homegrown tomatoes for the season. I used three kinds of tomatoes from three different farms; the small orange ones came from Whitton, the medium-sized yellow ones came from Dodson Farms, and the green tomatoes came from Tims.

For the polenta:

1 cup of Delta Grind grits or polenta
4 cups water
2 bouillon cubes
4 cloves garlic
Salt & pepper

Boil water, cubes and garlic. Add grits and stir to make sure there are no lumps. Simmer on low until thick which should take about 30 minutes.

For the tomatoes:

1 green tomato (chopped)
handful of yellow tomatoes (whole)
handful of orange tomatoes (whole)
1/8 cup olive oil
salt & pepper
Toss the tomatoes and the oil into a soup pot and turn the burner on high. (The high walls of the soup pot will keep the tomato juices from evaporating.) Once the tomatoes start to release some juice, remove from the heat and set aside; you just want them to warm through, so this should only take a few minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. I also sautéed some kale in garlic and olive oil for this dish as well.

To serve, spoon polenta onto a plate, top with greens, tomatoes, chopped oil-cured olives, and parsley. Spoon the the tomato juice from the bottom of the pot over the preparation for extra flavor.

Friday, October 30, 2009

This Little Piggy Went to Market...

..and bought every tomato he could get his hands on. October 28th was the last East Memphis Farmer's Market so The Wife and I brought home all we could carry including tons of sweet potatoes, three kinds of tomatoes and two kinds of greens. We will miss this Wednesday tradition and look forward to the spring when they reopen.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Perfect Baked Eggplant Parmesan

Being lazy in the kitchen is not always a good thing, but it can lead to some unexpected discoveries. While taking a shortcut preparing a batch of eggplant parm, I left out a step. I typically dry out-bread in the oven before pulverizing it into crumbs which I use to coat the slices of eggplant. This time I tore up a 1/2 of a fresh baguette and stuck it into the food processor with two cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper. The result was a moist breadcrumb unlike any I had ever used. I shrugged and went ahead as usual dredging the eggplant slices in flour, then beaten egg, and then coating each with moist breadcrumbs and arranging them on a large baking sheet. I preheated the oven to 375, drizzled each slice with a little bit of olive oil, and stuck them into the oven. After 15 minutes, once the top started to look golden, I flipped them, drizzled them again with olive oil, and left them to cook for another 15 minutes. The final step is to add a heap of grated parmesan on top of each eggplant during the last five minutes of cooking. This is a great dinner with tomato sauce, parsley, and spinach but it also makes a great sandwich for lunch on-the-go.

The result was fantastic. The outside was crispy and crunchy, but the inside was soft and moist and in between is a rich layer that tastes like it has been batter-coated. With dry breadcrumbs the outside may be crisp but the inside not yet cooked. This way it is all done at the same time. When you take a new path, even if it is a shortcut, you always make a discovery.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Perfect Vessels at Swanky's Taco Shop Tonight (10.23.09)

We start the music at 10 & It's FREE. I hope to see you all there. I'll be the one behind the drum kit.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Chicago Style Pizza

I thought I hated Chicago-style pizza. You know the one I'm talking about: the 3-foot-thick gut bomb, sauce-bucket, the one with 10 pounds of cheese. Turns out that version is more of a parody of what true Chicago pizza is and should be. The bellman, Jeffery, at Hotel Allegro suggested that we try Lou Malnati's, a no-nonsense local pizza chain that serves up genuine deep-dish pizza.

From the 1st bite I had a better understanding of what all the fuss was about. The crust was like a sourdough focaccia. That was topped with a generous, yet not obscene, amount of cheese with the sauce on top of the cheese. It worked for me. You could pick up a slice, but most of us choose to use a knife and fork.
I knew I had to recreate this at home. For the crust:

1 warm beer (I used a pale ale)

3 cups bread flour

1 tbsp. active dry yeast

1 tbsp. honey

1 tsp. salt

olive oil

Throw the dry ingredients and also the honey into your Kitchen Aid stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, and then turn it on low. Add the warm beer 1/4 cup at a time. You may need the whole beer, or you may not. Look for the dough to come together. You will know it when you see it. Let the mixer run on low for about 7 minutes. This will develop the gluten in the bread flour – this is required for a good pizza dough. Now turn off the mixer, remove the dough hook, divide dough in half, and coat your dough in a generous amount of olive oil. Press each dough down into a 8-10 inch straight-walled cake pan or use a spring form pan if that is what you have. Cover and allow the dough to rise until doubled. This should take about an hour or two.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Top each dough with a cup to a cup and a half of shredded provolone cheese and stick it in the oven. Once the cheese has melted top with a layer of your favorite pizza sauce or crushed tomatoes. They take about 20 to thirty minutes to cook through. You will see the crust tart to turn golden brown and the sauce on top will be nearly dry. Remove each pizza from the pan, top with some parm, and enjoy.