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.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Green Zebra: Fig & Blue Cheese Tarts

Chicago, like New York, is the kind of town where you would really have to be unlucky to happen upon a bad meal. For the most part, everything was exceptional from farro risotto to the coffee to the pizza.

I was as excited about eating at The Green Zebra as I was about running the marathon. I made our reservation weeks in advance to ensure we got a table on a busy Friday night. The Green Zebra is a mostly vegetarian fine dining place in the middle of one of the meatiest cities in America. Chef Shawn McClain's focus on creativity ensures that even those who eat meat won't miss it at this meal. Personally I was blown away by everything brought to the table, and we ordered just about everything.
For the 1st course:
- Fig and blue cheese tarts with candied almonds
- Fresh burrata cheese with concord grapes and fava beans
- Heirloom tomato salad with fried pickles and buttermilk dressing

2nd course:
- Farro risotto with gremolata and mascarpone
- Sweet corn and pumpkin seed succotash with fennel and Thai chili
- Lobster mushroom and garlic crepe with wax beans

...and a few extras:
- Crispy soba noodles with kabocha squash and chestnuts
- Poached egg with smoked potato pureé
- Grilled corn elote
- Crispy chickpea fries

Wow! All of it was memorable and delicious. The first chance I got I attempted to recreate a few of my favorites. Our long-lost friend Justin Hart is back from L.A. for a visit. He came over for dinner the other night, and I made my version of two Green Zebra dishes: the fig and blue cheese tart and the mushroom crepe along with a pickled tomato salad of my own creation. The Wife made a wonderful pudding with fresh fruit.

The fig tarts were a hit, and they are so simple to make.

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups of AP flour
1/2 cup canola oil
pinch of sugar
Large pinch of salt
ice water

All ingredients save for the water go into the food processor equipped with the dough blade. Turn it on and start pouring the cold water minus the ice into the opening until the dough comes together. You will know when it happens. Wrap in plastic and stick it in the fridge for an hour or so until chilled.

For the filling:
1 box of black figs (sliced into rounds)
Maytag Blue cheese
chopped walnuts
Salt and pepper

Roll out the crust and cut out rounds with a drinking glass. Arrange three fig slices on each small round and pinch the edges of the crust up to catch the fig juices as they cook. Place into a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Remove and allow tarts to cool. Top each with crumbled blue cheese, chopped walnuts, and a drizzle of honey. Add fresh cracked black pepper and sea salt just before serving.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


If you live in Memphis and have not yet voted in the special election for mayor of the city then please take some time and vote today. Today is your last chance to make your voice heard.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Heirloom Tomato Marmalade

I was wondering what this would taste like! After lunch yesterday, I had scraps from some heirlooms and decided to make this jam. This has lemon and orange peel in it, so I suppose it is more like a marmalade. It's also sweet, which is a weird surprise. I will have it on cheese and crackers, on french bread with goat cheese, or maybe in a tart.

3 cups tomatoes, chopped
one lemon, juice and peel
orange peel
1/4 cup raw sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
pinch of salt

Mix and simmer it all in an uncovered saucepan for a couple of hours until it is cooked down to half. Will keep in fridge for a few days or in freezer forever.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Super-Easy Chipotle Enchilada Sauce

In a previous post I gave you my recipe for a slow-simmered enchilada sauce which is great if you have the time. If you are in a hurry this slap-dash version is nearly as good and ready in just a few minutes. Use it to dress up enchiladas, tamales, or your-soon-to-be-famous huevos rancheros.
Place 2 small cans of fire-roasted tomatoes, 4-5 cloves of garlic, and 2-3 canned chipotle chilies into a blender or food processor. Blend until very smooth. Place sauce in a pot with about a tablespoon of olive oil and heat it through on the stovetop. That is it. The smoky complexity of the chipotle chilies makes it taste as if it has been simmering all day. Only you will know the secret.

To make a tamale filling throw two sliced portobello mushroom caps, a sliced green pepper, and half a sliced onion into the sauce and simmer for about half an hour. Strain out the vegetables and add a can of drained black beans to the simmered veggies. pulse mixture in a food processor and then mix in 1/4 cup of wheat gluten. Fill tamales with the black bean and mushroom mixture. Serve tamales with your enchilada sauce, cotija cheese, avocados, cilantro, and a lime as shown here.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


This is something we have never made before, and it was so simple and quick, a great dessert after a pizza dinner at home with the family. We found that a nice sub for fat-laden mascarpone is neufchatel cream cheese.

2 packages hard ladyfinger cookies

3 tbsp. espresso powder mixed with 2/3 cup hot water
2 tbsp. rum
3 tbsp. raw sugar

1 8-oz. block neufchatel cheese
1 small container of whipping cream
5 tbsp. raw sugar

1/3 of dark chocolate bar, shavings

Arrange cookies along the bottom of a long pan. Pour warm espresso-rum mixture over the cookies to soak them and let this sit. Whip cheese, cream, and sugar until fluffy, and spread this over soaked cookies. Top generously with shaved chocolate. It should be in fridge for an hour or two before serving.