Sunday, August 29, 2010

Maldon Sea Salt & Tellicherry Black Pepper

A family member and I paired up for a quick round of grocery shopping last week. (If you want to learn all about the hidden bizarre-o quirks of a person you thought you knew pretty well, all you have to do is witness her weekly shop. Try it out. It's very revealing.) So we had a little tiff in the spices aisle. And it all started with salt.

"Just get the one with the girl on it!" this unnamed relative exclaimed impatiently as I browsed. "See, it has iodine in it. You need that."

Well, it wasn't just about replacement, because we always have Morton's in the cupboard. I tried to explain why I like having a few different salts to use, why I'm a sucker for any kind I haven't had before. I feel like there are different kinds of salt for all manner of dishes, but my shopping partner could not fathom a reason to try out any other salt besides the basic one. A tiny $10.99 pot of fleur de sel was deemed ridiculous. Common sense says that it is...but something changes once you taste it.

Around here, we've used up some fleur de sel in the past year, and I love how melty it is once it comes into contact with food. It's a little like fairy dust in that it makes everything taste amazing. Now we're trying out classic Maldon sea salt, which tastes exactly like the ocean. It may be a new staple. Other salts of note? Well, a small bowl of pink Himalayan sea salt looks nice the table, and we're also working through Bianca's gift of a salt tasting set from the Meadow. I also like the mild taste of gray sea salt and have been dreaming of using it on desserts.

Pepper is a little bit simpler. First, forget all the pink-and-green, brown-and-black mixed peppercorns. It looks pretty, but that's too many competing flavors! I never was that particular about pepper before, and it was a full year before I replaced our broken pepper grinder at one point, so already-ground pepper was the norm. This year, I became interested in Tellicherry black peppercorns after reading about them everywhere, and having this particular kind in the grinder does make a difference on top of a finished dish. This pepper is big, strong, floral, and pungent.

We are trying to figure out how to use white pepper now, too. Recently, I've had it in an apple dessert and heard it's great with asparagus soup. I also really like shredded pink peppercorns with sea salt and honey -- good for a cheese plate.

All of this is not to say that being a total snob about salt and pepper is the key. I still want to be able to adapt and not complain if I don't have a certain kind of spice on hand or I'm cooking somewhere unfamiliar and going with what's provided. But it's nice to toy around with the basics just to learn what it does to your food to see if you really can taste the difference.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Plum, Pluot, and Basil Salad

Plums and pluots are looking great right now. I picked up 5 different varieties in a beautiful range of colors at Fresh Market this week; as I waited a few days for them to ripen, this salad came together in my mind. It's almost like a caprese, but not. Basil, bleu cheese, toasted almonds, and a plum-honey-white balsamic dressing go well with the plums' sweet flavor.

Plum and Basil Salad

1/2 cup of basil, stems removed
5 plums and pluots, not peeled
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/8 cup bleu cheese, crumbled
sea salt and cracked pepper

Wash and dry basil and arrange it into the bottom layer on the plate. Slice plums thinly and alternate them in a circle. Add bleu cheese in the middle. Toast the almonds for a minute in a dry pan on medium heat and add them on top after they cool a bit. Add salt and pepper to taste, and add dressing right before serving.


1 tbsp. of juice from the plums
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. white balsamic
1/2 tbsp. olive oil
squeeze of lemon
sea salt and cracked pepper

Whisk all ingredients and drizzle over composed salad.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Easy Peach Smoothie

I have been freezing peeled peaches so as not to let that perfect point of ripeness go to waste. I was glad to have thought ahead because this ended up being the perfect drink for a sore throat on a blistering hot day.

Easy Peach Smoothie

Makes 2 smoothies

2 1/2 cups frozen peaches
1 small container of Greek yogurt
3 tbsp. honey
1/2 cup milk (maybe more)
pinch of salt

Blend it all up; have a spoon handy.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Vegan Zucchini "Pasta" + New Peeler Report

My sister asked me what we did on Friday night. I told her we went to the store to buy stuff for a tomato aspic salad and then we checked out a whole bunch of vegetable peelers at T.J. Maxx. She laughed a short little disbelieving laugh; being her sister and having known her forever, I knew that it meant she thought our weekend-night adventure was more than a little bit dorky. And she even cooks, too!
Peeler Night really was worth it, though. We've found a new favorite in the julienne one, and because our friend Laura had been raving about her serrated peeler, which takes just the thin skin off peaches and tomatoes, we snagged one of those, too. Three colorful plain peelers were also a must. Trying new things and making quick garnishes has gotten to be effortless after splurging on these tools.

In the mood for pasta, but needing something really healthy and raw for a quick weekday lunch during a busy week, I opted for zucchini ribbons. With the help of my julienne peeler, it was easy: I kept the skin on the zucchini and cut off long slices to be blanched then topped with tomatoes and beans.

Vegan Zucchini "Pasta"

1 large zucchini
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
1/2 cup of white wine
1 1/2 cup of grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup of cannellini beans
handful of chopped parsley
sea salt and cracked pepper

Peel strips from the zucchini with the julienne peeler; this should come to about 2 cups. To blanch, boil very salty water and add zucchini for 15 seconds before removing with tongs. (This takes out any bitterness and softens veg.)

Put olive oil and garlic in a sauté pan. Once the garlic browns a little, add the wine. Let it all cook down for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and beans. Add the blanched zucchini, too and cook through for a couple minutes until everything is warm. Top with sea salt, cracked pepper , and chopped parsley to taste.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Vegetarian Tomato Aspic

I was talking to my old friend Scott who works at the venerable Jim's Place East, and he said that they were not only moving to East Memphis but also updating the menu. We got to a point in our conversation where I wondered aloud how one would update something like tomato aspic. He said something to the effect of, "How would you update that?" Suddenly, I saw this as a challenge; since everyone remembers eating this tomato jell-o-like substance in the 80's or the 50's, it's now time to bring the aspic back. (Of course, there would be no gelatin involved. I used agar agar, or seaweed powder, from an Asian market instead.)

Easy Tomato Soup (for the eventual aspic)

Roughly chop 5 large tomatoes and cook them down on medium heat. Once they've broken down after about 10 minutes, run them through a food mill when they've cooled. Add a pinch of sea salt, red pepper flakes, and cracked pepper to taste. Microplane a clove of garlic into the mix. (Honestly, if you don't to do this prep., get a can of smooth tomato soup, because that's basically what you're ending up with here anyway.)

Vegetarian Tomato Aspic

2 cups cooked-down tomato soup
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. agar agar
sliced tomatoes

Whisk together these 3 ingredients, making sure there are no lumps, and pour into a silicone muffin tin; add tomato slices on the bottom before you pour. Serve in the middle of a chopped salad of baby romaine, bleu cheese, celery, and top with buttermilk dressing.

Buttermilk Dressing

1/3 cup buttermilk
1 clove of garlic, microplaned
1 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. mustard
sea salt and cracked pepper

Whisk all ingredients together and chill it in the fridge before using on the salad.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Blackberry-Apple Hand Pies

It's nice when something just comes together without a ton of effort or planning. Take these blackberry hand pies; they were something we always wanted to try, so we included them in an end-of-summer, no-utensils-needed dinner. Old-fashioned in the best way, these mini pies had the same feel of the original kind, just without any frying happening.

Blackberry-Apple Hand Pies

For the crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina flour
1/3 cup olive oil
pinch of sea salt
ice water (just enough for it to come together into a ball)

Put the first four ingredients in the food processor. While it is running, drizzle in the water until the crust comes together and spins around the sides. Wrap it up in plastic and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours.

For the filling:

2 cups blackberries, mashed
1 pink lady apple, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon cornstarch
pinch of cinnamon
juice of one lemon
1/2 cup sugar

Put it all in a saucepan and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes. Let mixture cool and put it in the fridge.

Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch width using just a little flour on your surface and rolling pin. Cut 4-in squares. Spoon about 2 tbsp. of the cooled blackberry mixture in the middle of the square. Whisk up an egg yolk with a little water and brush it on two edges of the square of dough. Fold the dough over to make a triangle and pinch the edges together tightly. Brush the pie with the egg wash and sprinkle sugar over before baking a tray of them at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown. (These can be served with ricotta mixed with honey for extra richness.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stuffed Figs

I was on the lookout for apples and peas this morning at the MFM, but I only scored pears and purple hull peas. Didn't expect to see figs, but just had to buy a box of brown and yellow ones since time is running out this season. (Can you believe that it's right about at the switch to fall crops? It's causing the kind of sudden pain that has two sides to it: very bittersweet.)

I was told that the figs had just been picked this morning, and I could see that they definitely needed to be used today. Why not try something easy that doesn't call for the use of the stove on a sweltering afternoon? I split the figs, spooned out some of the insides to form a pocket, and stuffed them with a little square of bleu cheese, honeycomb and honey, slivered almonds, with fennel powder, sea salt, and pepper to finish. We couldn't eat this little appetizer outside on the heatbox that is our front porch, but there's one good thing about the end of the summer season...maybe next month that'll be no problem.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pizza Three New Ways

Since Friday night is pizza night all across America, I thought I'd share a few of my latest, greatest topping ideas to guide you away from the typical slice. You can find my detailed recipe for pizza crust HERE and read a story I wrote about pizza HERE. I am sort of a fan of the pizza pie.

1. Chanterelles, smoked mozzarella, and zucchini:

2. Green zebra tomato, buffalo mozzarella, and basil margherita:

3. Purple potato, goat cheese, and truffle salt on a Guinness crust:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Food & Wine Magazine on Memphis

Memphis makes a big showing in the new issue of Food & Wine magazine. Ben Vaughn's phenomenal Restaurant Grace is featured (along with my pictures!) in a story about restaurants with a very personal point of view. Writer Julia Reed describes the food as "a soothing and inviting blend of French county and Memphis modern...if only the French were lucky enough to mess around with black-eyed peas and soft-shell crabs." Chef Ben Vaughn also has a great three-cheese mac and cheese recipe in the issue. Read the whole story, "When Restaurants Get Personal" on Food & Wine's website by clicking HERE.

There is also a short interview with Jill Forrester of Whitton Farms and The Trolley Stop Market. The writer suggests trying the Trolley Stop's pizza. I second that. The pizza chef, Jeremy, is doing things so right over at the TSM. The pie being thrown there is a shining example of what pizza can and should be.

We love to see Memphis food and the people who make it highlighted nationally!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Nannie's Blueberry Pie

My grandmother Nannie is a very talented baker. She sells her pies and pound cakes every week in Mississippi and always has something amazing for us to try when we visit. There's sure to be a lemon-glazed, faintly coconut-flavored pound cake waiting in the Tupperware carrier on top of the fridge, and also, a surprise so she can tell the story of the new recipe and ask for our feedback.

Eating this blueberry pie has been as natural to my family as breathing. It's not super-sweet, it stains everything in sight, and it must be served cold. Nannie hand-writes recipes for me in her beautiful cursive, and I have saved them all. She would shake her head and be pretty exasperated if she knew I used a little less sugar and added a few more blueberries in my version, but everything else is exactly the same.

Nannie's Blueberry Pie


3 cups blueberries
3/4 cup cane sugar (+ one tbsp.)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup AP flour
1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. butter
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse berries and set out to dry. Sift the flour over the berries and add sugar, salt and lemon juice. Mix gently. Use this to fill an 8-inch pie crust. Dot the blueberry mixture with small, cut-up squares of butter before adding the top crust. (It helps to loosely wind each crust around a rolling pin and then they'll unroll/drape easily into the pie pan.) Fold the edges of the top crust under the bottom crust and crimp the edges using your knuckle. Cut at least 5 slits in the top crust and sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar over the top. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, and then lower the temp. to 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Let it cool and then refrigerate it 3 hours or overnight before cutting a slice, or it will be too runny.

Pie Crust:

(My grandmother assumes that everyone knows how to make a pie crust; it is not explained in her original recipe. I figured out that this pie uses this classic shortening crust that is sugared on top before baking. It's a classic recipe from my favorite cookbook.)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Zucchini + Purple Basil Slaw

My new favorite toy is called a julienne peeler. The one I have is constructed of stainless steel and is made by Kuhn Rikon. It retails for $20, but I bought mine on a whim at T.J. Maxx for about $7. I've only had it for about a week now, but I can't imagine my kitchen without it. It's perfect for making fresh garnishes, cutting vegetables for noodle soup, or preparing a flavorful slaw like this one.

I tend to think of slaw as a Southern dish, but here I have taken it all the way to Sicily by using a few Italian flavors and serving it atop a pan-fried panelle sandwich. I'm happy to report that there were no leftovers.

Zucchini and Purple Basil Slaw

2 tablespoons mayo (I use vegan mayo)
10-12 purple basil leaves
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon olive oil
splash of white balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
2 medium zucchini
1 medium carrot

Using a food processor or mini-prep, blend the first six ingredients to make the dressing. Then, using a julienne peeler, break down both the zucchini and the carrot into thin strips. Toss vegetables with the dressing and allow it all to sit for about 10-15 minutes to let the flavors come together. Use this slaw on sandwiches, eggs, polenta, or salad. It is a easy and delicious way to work some raw veggies into your diet.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tiger Melon Granita

The heat is getting serious this week in Memphis with a 115-degree heat index, so let's get creative and figure out some new cold things to make.

Having never used this basic method for granita before, I was skeptical, but the technique is simple. The best snow-cream-like texture emerges at the end, and it made me wonder why in the world I didn't give this a shot sooner. (Remember Sno-Biz in the 90's? The miniscule white building marooned in the parking lot at Kirby and Poplar? The texture of this granita is a lot like that. I feel the need to granita-ize their Mud Pie with cream very, very soon.)

We made our first granita with a little tiger melon, but you can sub in any fruit as long as it is blended up well. (I tried strawberry-lime. too; white peach granita is also on the list.)

Tiger Melon Granita

one melon and one lemon
1/4 cup cane sugar
2/3 cup water
pinch of salt

Peel and roughly chop the melon before putting it into your food processor. Pulse it until it liquefies. Add sugar, lemon juice, water, and salt and give it another spin. Pour it into a shallow dish and put it in the freezer. Mix it around with a fork after an hour or so to fluff it up and get some air in it. When it is fully frozen, scrape it up with a fork to serve.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ginger + Orange Marmalade Tofu w/ Soba Noodles & Pickled Vegetables

I hijacked The Wife's orange marmalade to make this healthy tofu noodle dish for lunch on Sunday. From the second I tasted the marmalade, I knew what I wanted to make with it -- and there was no toast involved.

I love to take something sweet and add it to a savory dish almost as much as I love adding something savory to a sweet dish. The result in both cases is a round and full flavor with lots of dimension, just like in this dish. (Read more about our experimentation with sweet/savory switch-ups HERE.)

For the tofu you will need:

1/2 block firm tofu (cut into thin slices)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
canola oil
2 cloves garlic (microplaned)
1/2-inch piece of ginger (microplaned)
1/8 cup soy sauce
1/2 white onion (cut into slivers)

First, dredge the tofu in the flour and pan fry it over medium heat in the canola oil until it's brown on both sides. (This should take about 2-3 minutes per side.) Remove the tofu and clean out the pan. Turn the heat to low and add the remaining ingredients to the pan. Whisk to incorporate everything; add a little water if the mixture is too thick. Slice fried tofu into matchsticks and add it to the sauce.

I served this citrusy tofu over some soba noodles with a side of quick-pickled carrots and red peppers. I topped the whole thing with cilantro and peppers from our garden. This would be just as good with a few stir-fried veggies and rice, wrapped up in a dumpling, or even inside a spring roll.

Orange + Vanilla Bean Marmalade

Why did I shrink away from marmalade in terror as a kid? It seemed like the yuckiest flavor of all; obviously, grape was a very close second. Twenty-plus years have passed, so maybe it's time to give orange marmalade another try.

We started with a recipe from a great little black book called The Basics, which covers just about every technique a home cook should master, from infusions and classic sauces to sabayon and even foams. (Right -- like we're going to start foaming things...but hey, you never know!)

Orange Marmalade

4 organic, unwaxed oranges (since you will be using the peel)
1 cup water
1/2 cup cane sugar
half of a vanilla bean

Cut off a little of the top and a little of the bottom of the oranges. Next, cut the peel completely away, but save it. Now you will need to cut away the membrane and pith, so go on and check out this video on how to supreme an orange and then put your handiwork into a saucepan. Cut all the white pith away from as many pieces of orange peel as you can bear; this is boring and will put you in a trancelike state, so be ready for it. Put the thin peel into the saucepan and add the water. Add one-half of a vanilla bean. Cook the mixture on medium-low for an hour. Mix in the sugar and cook it all for another hour until it is reduced and not watery. Let it cool and then scrape out the inside of the vanilla bean into the mixture. Put it in your food processor and pulse until it looks like jam.

Freeze it for later or use it the week you make it. (Our brother-in-law suggests going the classic route with the marmalade, no dilly-dallying around, by just slathering it on some properly buttered toast.)