Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Alotta Frittata

For the last couple of weeks, it seems that I can't get my fridge any less packed-to-the-gills. Last night was yet another night of trying to take bits and pieces of leftovers and put them to use once and for all.  I have 2 cooked chicken breasts and half an onion that have been staring back at me.  So, I grabbed the eggs and decided to whip up a big, puffy frittata.

I learned to make these from a cool cookbook called How to Cook without a Book.  I can't remember how long I've had this book, and in truth, I still read it just to make sure I have my measurements correct.  I've decided to make some notes in it and when Vivian is old enough to move out on her own, I'm going to give her my copy.

Last night, I chopped up most of that leftover chicken, used 3 slices of bacon, chopped up that onion, used a little Parmesan and the last little bit of the Colby we got from the Wisconsin cheese box that my brother-in-law sent.  All you do is cook the bacon and as it begins to render, add the onion.  Once these were cooked, I tossed in the chicken.  You spread all this out to cover the bottom of your skillet.  I'd already mixed 8 eggs, the cheeses and salt and pepper together.  You pour that over the bacon/onion/chicken and cook for about a minute or so to get the eggs to just begin to set.  Then, into the oven for about 13 minutes and you get a golden, puffy frittata.  Very little effort and very big payoff in the delicious department.  

I've never been able to get the Vivver to embrace the idea of an omelet.  But, as she ate her dinner and told me how much she liked it, she said "Hmm, this is kind of like an omelet and a pie, isn't it?"  Call it whatever you like, as long as you eat it!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fresh Pasta

I am notorious for saying things like "uhh, I don't know" or "I haven't even thought about it" or "hmmm, let me think about it" when asked what I want for Christmas, my birthday, etc. Well, this year, I had a break-through.  When my mom asked, I had an answer!  Where did this come from?  The dark recesses of my mind had opened but how, why? My answer:  "I want the pasta machine attachment for my standing mixer."

There, I said it.

So you may ask, "Wow, where did that come from?"  For years, I've read a gazillion recipes calling for fresh pasta, if available. I've also read countless articles about how fresh pasta just can't be beat for lasagna, ravioli, you name it.  You may have come across recipes that describe to you how you can roll pasta dough out by hand and then cut into the shapes you want.  Yes, I suppose that is possible.  But rest assured, to roll pasta to true pasta thickness would take you about 2 hours of rolling pin work.  No thanks. You need a pasta machine.

As I'm sure you've surmised, mom and dad came through with the Kitchenaid attachment. I was elated!  As soon as I got it home I had to try it out.  Here's the coolest part of this story: it is insanely easy to make pasta. I made a basic egg pasta dough, then used my machine to create fresh spaghetti.  If you have a Kitchenaid mixer, you simply mix up the dough in the mixer.  Let it rest for about 20 minutes, then attach the pasta roller to the front.  You effortlessly roll the pasta to the right thickness, then switch to one of the cutter attachments (I have spaghetti and fettucine) and viola! you have pasta.  

I bagged some up for mom and dad then cooked up some for the three of us to try.  Vivi wanted hers plain.  Neil and I had it with a basic red sauce.  The noodles were so tender!  Store bought noodles never have this subtle tenderness.  Right out of the pot, they taste good from the simple salted water.  Since making the initial batch, I whipped up a little lunch for Neil using the fresh spaghetti, some cooked chicken I had in the fridge, leftover asparagus, parmesan and olive oil. He left not one noodle in that bowl!

My next attempt is going to be lasagna.  This is one of my mom's favorite dishes and I can't wait to make one with fresh pasta sheets.  We'll start with traditional but then I want to try out a recipe in one of my Williams-Sonoma cookbooks for duck lasagna with a cabernet sauce.  Oh yeah...

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Merry Christmas to Me!

I invited my parents to come to our house for Christmas Eve this year.  I can't remember the last time I had them come over for dinner, much less dinner for a special occasion.  I contemplated various menus and ideas.  One thing I knew was that I wanted to go all out and make it a special dinner. After all, we're talking about Christmas.

As most of you are aware, I truly love to cook.  More than cooking for the sake of cooking, I really love to cook for others.  I'm fortunate that I have Neil and Vivian who are very appreciative and adventurous eaters here at my disposal. But, when other people get in the mix, it really gets me going.  Having mom and dad coming for dinner got my heart pumping, my brain whirring and my cookbooks flying.  This, for me, was the ultimate Christmas present.  To cook for my family and to cook something special.

After much deliberation, I came up with this menu:
  • She-crab soup (no roe, you know, since we can't get it anymore)
  • Prime rib (I've never cooked this before; maiden voyage)
  • Roasted asparagus
  • Syracuse salt potatoes 
  • Creme brulee 
She-crab is one of my favorite foods on Earth. I've never made it at home, so I was super excited about this.  I used a recipe that I found here. The one change I made was that I finely diced celery and sauteed that with the onion.  Some of my favorite she-crabs I've ever had have that little bit of veggie texture.  I know, I know.  I am a life-long hater of celery.  But, I know enough to know its place when cooked to softness. This is the real deal she-crab.  Since it was Christmas, I made it as written.  In the future, on regular days, I'll be lightening it up for sure.  But, Dave, whoever you are, I salute you!  My parents thought this soup was better than any restaurant version they've ever had.

Seasoned & ready for the oven
The prime rib was ridiculously easy.  I followed a basic "recipe" mainly just to know temperatures and times.  I got the oven up to 475, put the roast in then immediately reduced the heat to 325.  Cooked for about 2.5 hours.  Then, rested for about 20 minutes.  I did this without a meat thermometer, seein' as how I didn't have one. (Next day, I got a fancy electronic, remote control one from my parents!)  Regardless, the steak was perfect.  When Neil sliced it up, we all exclaimed that it looked like a restaurant prime rib.  Cooked perfectly, if I do say so myself! I accompanied this with simple roasted asparagus and Syracuse salt potatoes

My dad isn't a big sweet eater, like myself.  However, we both can appreciate subtle sweetness like a simple creme brulee.  And, the Vivver likes it too.  So, again, super easy. I served this for dessert with coffee, Kahlua, champagne or whatever stuck each person's fancy. 

My family was generous with the compliments, which is always great to hear, of course.  However, for me, the real pleasure was simply having them here and creating a special meal for us to enjoy together.  Cooking for people you care about is one of the most special activites in which a cook can engage.  And the fact that all my dishes worked was certainly a big plus! Now, I must apologize for not having any final result photos for you.  We pretty much hit the table with full steam and didn't stop for a photo shoot. 

**I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas!**

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hamburger Helper

Where have I been?  The last month has been a whirlwind. Everyone keeps saying Thanksgiving was late, thereby making Christmas seem early.  I still can't find a way to understand this...I mean, isn't Thanksgiving ALWAYS the last Thursday of November?  Anyway...

I've told you guys before how much I love Zaycon.  A couple months ago, my mom placed an order for the two of us to split.  In the meantime, my brother-in-law accepted a job in Houston.  He left before Thanksgiving and my sister was to follow once the houses got closed. My dear, sweet parents agreed to drive with her to Texas. To drive with her, my 2 1/2 year old niece and the dog.  Saints, they are.

It just so happened that our Zaycon delivery was coming in the following day.  This "event" was ham and hamburger.  My mom ordered one case of ham, which contained two 10 lb. hams.  This ham is so amazingly yummy too.  She also ordered two cases of hamburger meat.  When I first learned that she'd ordered this much, I thought it must be a mistake, but no, she did it on purpose.  It really wouldn't have been a big deal with each of us taking a case home to portion out.  But, remember, mom and dad had just left on this roadtrip the day before.

That left me here in Columbia holding 80 pounds of hamburger.  Yes.  I said eighty. And, it's packaged in 10 lb. "logs" so you can't just plop those babies in the freezer.  Nope.  You must portion it out and wrap and bag for the freezer. 

This post is dedicated to my husband, Neil.  
He is my hamburger helper.

This is just a fraction of our hamburger haul.
We got in assembly line mode and he and I created 40 lbs of 1/4 lb hamburger patties.  Each wrapped in plastic wrap and put in freezer bags.  The other 40 lbs we cut into 1 lb segments and wrapped and bagged.  Neil looked at the half (40 lbs) that was to go to our house and said, "We won't be able to get this in our freezer."  As usual, I replied "Oh, don't worry, I'll get it in there."  Well, suffice it to say that our freezer is literally packed to the gills with meat.  It helps me sleep well at night.  Now, I just have to start writing a list of ways to use hamburger.  Lots and lots of hamburger!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Turkey's Day After

Turkey is the American symbol of Thanksgiving, of harvest time, of bounty and abundance.  Makes you wonder if turkeys have any sense of their importance? Maybe it's a source of great pride? Maybe it's a source of great depression? For the turkey that is.  But for us humans, the turkey represents one of our most anticipated and joyously celebrated holidays.  It's cool too that it's uniquely American.  Interestingly enough, there are some people who regard turkey as the ultimate delicacy and yet, there are those who are just ok with it and some who really don't like it.  But, we roast 'em, fry 'em, grill 'em and serve 'em every year.

Almost as anticipated as the Thanksgiving turkey itself is the leftover Thanksgiving turkey.  Some people dream about the leftover turkey sandwich. I've heard everything from a simple white bread and turkey sandwich to an elaborate turkey, dressing, cranberry sandwich tower. After all the leftovers went into the fridge, Neil & his brothers used to go retrieve the now-cooled gravy, slice it off (yes, slice it) and put a slab of cooled, congealed gravy between two slices of bread.  I AM NOT making this up! My mind usually goes to the old turkey tetrazzini or turkey enchiladas.  But, today we tried something new and I think it's now my favorite.

Back story:  as most of you probably know, my mom and I work together selling real estate.  For many years, we've been sending our clients a monthly recipe postcard.  We've had numerous clients call us to let us know that they've tried the recipe with great success.  I always mail one to mom and dad's house so that I know they've hit the mail and have been delivered.  This month, right before the holiday, the card arrived with a recipe for "Asian Turkey Soup."

We whipped up a batch of this today and served with some veggie egg rolls on the side.  Man, did it hit the spot!  Especially on a cold day. And, best of all, it was a snap to prepare.  

We had enough for the three of us and more for tomorrow.  The Asian flavors were just right for making this something new and different than the usual, traditional leftover turkey fare. 


Monday, November 25, 2013


Are you familiar with Boursin cheese?  It's a spreadable, butter based "cheese" that is delightful on crackers and crudites.  It's also pricey.

Being the coupon addict that I am, I sometimes use that addiction to bring items home that I normally won't buy.  I've become a cheap skate you see.  Boursin is one of those items. A few days ago, I had a coupon that combined the purchase of bagel chips and Boursin.  Overall, it wasn't a stellar coupon, but given the fact that I was buying about $150 worth of groceries for only $65, I thought I could afford the "fluff."  So, I bought Boursin "light" garlic and herb. I considered it a special treat.  

Tonight, my little one asked for one little after dinner snack.  I played my usual "I don't know if you'll like this.  See right here?  It says gourmet on the package.  I bet not many other 2nd graders would like this fancy stuff."  Hook.Line.Sinker.  Opened up the bagel chips and Boursin and the kid went crazy.  She even went so far as to explain to me that the Boursin was a buttery flavor with an "herby undertone."  I promise, that's what she said! There you have it.  Kids can and will eat pretty much what you give them. You just have to present it in a way that jives with their personalities.

A few years ago a good friend gave me the coolest Christmas circe. It was a little ceramic crock of homemade "Boursin" with a little spreader and the recipe attached.  If you know anything about my recipe/microwave/notebook deal, let me assure you that same little recipe card is in the book...preserved forever.  And, I'm going to share it with you. Especially since the holidays are upon us, you may find this useful for holiday parties, hostess gifts, appetizers at the big family feasts, etc.  You get my drift. Enjoy and toast a glass of champagne to my friend Mary Ann.

Boursin Cheese
  • 1   8 oz tub whipped sweet cream butter
  • 2   8 oz packages cream cheese
  • 1   crushed garlic clove
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dill
  • 1/4 tsp marjoram
  • 1/4 tsp basil
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
Let the butter and cream cheese soften so that you can cream together. Mix all spices together and sprinkle on cheese mixture.  Mix so spices are distributed evenly. chill for at least an hour before serving. (May be frozen)

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Real Deal

You guys have probably been wondering where I've been.  At least I hope you have.  I feel guilty and a bit off my axis because it's been so long since I've written.  You see, our nephew got married on October 26 in Lakeville, Minnesota.  I've never been there and of course, the wunderkind hasn't either and she'd never flown before.

Seriously, is this not the cutest thing you've ever seen?  Still hasn't mastered the spelling of her middle name yet though!
  Neil hasn't been back since 1994. As a Southerner, born and bred, here's what I thought I knew about Minnesota:
  • Everyone, I mean, everyone is of Viking descent
  • All 10,000 lakes are freezing cold
  • With the exception of July and August, it's numbingly cold and snowing all the time
  • They have a killer restaurant scene, if you believe Guy Fieri or Adam Richman
Turns out I was right about one of these.  The restaurants.  Think it about a minute.  If you watch Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Man -vs- Food, etc., you may have noticed the disproportionate number of MN restaurants featured on these shows.  Why, I often wondered?  

One that caught my eye a long time ago was about two joints in the Twin Cities area that have a long time feud about who invented the "Juicy Lucy."  You may remember this post after I saw this on TV.  I told Neil back then, "One day, when we go up there, we're finding this place and having a Juicy Lucy."  The place I'd decided looked and sounded the best to me is called the 5-8 Club.  So, when we booked our flight for the wedding, I promptly went to the 5-8's website for their address because, as I said, WE ARE GOING TO GET THIS HAMBURGER. Since I now have crazy coupon lady syndrome, I noticed a little place on the site that said "Join our email club."  This, of course, made me say to myself, "hmmm, I bet if I do that I'm going to get something."  Well, sure enough, I instantly received an email coupon for a FREE Juicy Lucy.  We're officially in business.

We arrived on Wednesday and I mentioned this Juicy Lucy obsession to my brother-in-law.  His response?  "Let's go tonight!"  And it was so.

Friends, this was a hamburger. I split one with the little one because they are 1/2 lb.  Just as expected and promised, I cut it in half to see golden, oozey cheese burst forth.  The meat was well seasoned and cooked just right. A nice crust that comes from a nice, hot flat top. The closest I have been able to come to this is with a good ol' fashioned cast iron skillet.

Did somebody say Ooey Gooey Good Golly?

 To make the whole experience even better was looking around and recognizing where we were from the TV shows.  Oh yeah...we also had real, Minnesotan cheese curds.  Not familiar with these?  More on that later.

Authentic Minnesota Cheese Curds!
 Our trip was fantastic on many levels.  My nephew's wedding was beautiful, the parties were rockin' and the food, drink and dancing kept us all busy well into the night(s)!  Jackie and her wedding party were all gorgeous and her style was evident in all the details.  

Neil's old house

Como Park, St. Paul MN

We also got to see Neil's old childhood home, the ski slope where he trained (and so did Lindsey Vonn), went to the 1st zoo established in the state of Minnesota (Como Park), saw St. Paul, saw Minneapolis, and got to visit the 5-8 Club for the original Juicy Lucy.  I'd say this was one successful voyage!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Chile Relleno Nirvana

Mexican food has been one of my favorite cuisines for most of my life.  I can still picture in my mind the way my mom would "set up" tacos at our house.  Little bowls lined up on the counter with diced tomato, cheddar, shredded lettuce, olives, and taco meat, of course.  As we aged, our Mexican repertoire grew.  This was helped along by the fact that one of our good friends, who happened to be Mexican, opened a restaurant near our house.  Now, it was easy to get our hands on enchiladas, tamales, panchitos, quesadillas, carne asada and chile relleno. 

Relleno is hands down my favorite Mexican dish.  But, it's not always made the same way.  Some restaurants serve a plate of gobs of melted cheese under which you discover a slice of pepper draped over some hamburger meat.  This is not relleno. You may be saying, "But, Elizabeth, it's a Mexican restaurant. Surely they know what a relleno is."  Here's my retort:  just because you own a restaurant doesn't mean you're a good cook. Some restaurants get closer by actually serving a stuffed poblano, but they don't call it relleno, but the otherwise catchy title of "stuffed poblano."  Crafty little diablos.  I've had some that are pretty darn good: crispy, spicy, cheesy, saucy.  And others who can't even be appreciated because they are so eggy you'd think you got slipped an omelet instead.

A few days ago, Neil returned from Atlanta with a plethora of beautiful stuff from the Farmer's Market.  In addition to a bag of Scotch Bonnets, a fresh cut bunch of bananas, 4 giant mangoes, 2 pineapples, there were 5 gorgeous poblano peppers.  I am a huge fan of poblanos.  Whenever I make corn chowder, I use roasted poblano to give it depth.  But looking at these beauties, I knew we had to make chile relleno!

Right off the flame getting ready to be sealed up in the paper bag to steam
Ready to slip that skin right off

 I have spent the last couple of days searching for the right recipe.  I've made this dish in the past, but never landed on a preparation that I thought was right on.  But today, I struck gold!  I used this recipe but I deviated by browning some ground beef with onion and mixing that into my cheese mixture. Also, I didn't have any Monterrey Jack, so I used mozzarella and cheddar only. Well, I'm sure you know what I'm gonna say next...why would I be writing this anyway?

This is the perfect relleno recipe. In fact, after my first bite I told Neil I thought this was better than any I've had in a restaurant. The exterior was perfectly light yet crunchy, the filling I used was just right, the batter held together and kept my filling from leaking out and the sauce was simply divine.  You know that feeling when you cook something that you, as the cook, feel is so good that you get that elation, total satisfaction, almost to the point of a high?  Well, that's what happened to me tonight.  Everything about the dish was exactly what I wanted: roasty poblano flavor, cheese, and the cinnamon in the sauce added a depth that I can't really find the words to describe. 

Finished product. I ended up eating two!
This is me diggin' the result!

I will sleep well tonight knowing that I've finally unlocked the secret to a perfect relleno.  What's really cool is knowing that now this can be a regular feature here at home and will be fun to make for friends!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Muy bueno!

Neil was in Atlanta for a couple days this week and came across the State Farmers' Market.  He called me, excitedly, at the abundance of peppers, crazy fruits and beautiful veggies.  He said he was seeing some of the biggest poblanos he'd ever seen. Should I bring some home?  Uhh, yeah.

He arrived here with quite an assortment of bounty.  About 2 dozen habaneros (yikes to most people, but not this man o' mine), 2 pineapples, 6 giant mangoes, a fresh cut bunch of little bananas and a bag of crazy looking bread, simply labeled as "Mexican sweet bread."

I've never seen anything like this stuff.  It's colorful,it's mildly sweet, which is great for someone like me...not being a big sweet freak and all.  And, it's practically light as air.  This morning, Viv ate hers just plain but I lightly toasted a slice and gave it a coat of (real) butter.  Oh my...where has this stuff been all my life??

Monday, October 7, 2013

Eggplant disguised as a Meatball

Eggplant has a tough time.  It seems that people either love it or hate it.  I'd put myself in the "love it" camp, but I must admit, I've had my "hate it" eggplant days too. For instance, I can't deal with baba ganoush.  At. All.  I've tried it numerous times over a period of years. I mean, the name just sounds so fun, you'd think anyone would love it. But, for me, no.  And there are other eggplant preparations that I can't deal with.  After a semester in France, I can tell you unequivocally that I loathe ratatouille.  (Loathe: v. hate, detest, abhor, abominate.) It was even hard for me to sit through the animated movie with my daughter because of my ratatouille flashbacks.  (Live a semester with a French family whose regular repertoire is ratatouille, cous cous, pretty much raw hamburger steaks, celery salad and scrambled eggs with french fries, and you might begin to understand...) Yeah, no "French cuisine" in the average household over there, that's for damn sure!

Having said all that, let's move on, shall we? I grew up loving eggplant.  My dad always planted a huge garden since we lived on acreage. My mom found all kinds of cool ways to introduce us to our own backyard bounty so that we never got bored.  But, when it comes to eggplant, the best is simple, thin-sliced eggplant fried nice and crispy.  Now, as we all know, the late 80's began the Anti-fried movement in America.  If you read me often, you know my thoughts on frying properly and frying in the old fashioned, non-healthy-on-any-level way. Using good oil, a heavy cast iron skillet and the right heat yields a good crispy eggplant (or zucchini, squash, pickles, shrimp, etc.)  Yet, I think all of us kids of the 80's were effectively shamed into denying our love of fried food so that none of us cook it often.  That's ok though, because when we do, it's more special.  

So, anyway...seriously, my mind is really wandering but what can I say?

The point of all this is that I tried out a new eggplant dish that I want to pass on to you guys.  I've been reading it over and over again for months.  The curiosity was tickling my imagination but the possibility of the rest of the family not digging it was holding me back. My last Brown Box Veggies box contained two big beautiful eggplants, so I decided the time had finally come to give it a whirl. EGGPLANT BALLS

Just going into the oven

 Wow!  Who is Aunt Mary and what made her think up this recipe?  Well, no matter, she's a damn genius and that's all we need to know.  Y'all, this dish was ridiculously easy to prepare, was "meaty" and filling yet lighter than meat and so packed with flavor.  We took the suggestion of serving with spaghetti and red sauce. I added the "Mullaney salad" and a fresh baguette on the side. 

My husband, like most men, appreciates meat.  But, he had no complaints with this dish.  In fact, before he finished his first helping, he said to me, "Good meal, babe."  And, coming from a not-so-crazy-about-eggplant guy, this is significant!

Vegetarian or not, you'll enjoy this dish.  I love the idea of using the mixture for a "burger" or a "fritter" too.  We had the "meatballs" over spaghetti with a red sauce which I think complemented the eggplant and Parmesan perfectly.  One thought I had as I was eating this dish was "what if I added some grated zucchini to this?"  I think that sounds like a good plan, just to ramp up the vegetable value...stay tuned. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Nickel and Dimed

I take great pleasure in recommending others, raving about their services and/or products and telling others how great it is.  I really do love that.  There's a restaurant (locally owned; my fave) that I've told you all about in the past and I've always been very favorable and enthusiastic about.  But, today, I'm not feeling so warm and fuzzy.  In fact, I'm pretty irritated.

My mom and I stopped in there for lunch today.  I ordered one of the specials, which was a turkey Philly.  Neil's a big fan of chicken Phillys, so I reasoned, it must be good with turkey too.  I asked the waitress what kind of peppers they use on the sandwich and she said "bell peppers."  I then asked if they had hot cherry peppers. 

She went to the kitchen and asked and I actually heard the answer "yes."  Ok, great.  I'd like the Philly but ask them to add some hot cherry peppers to the bell pepper please.  No problem.

It was a bit odd to me that the cherry peppers had been battered and fried.  What?  But, they were tasty this way, although I've never, ever seen them cooked this way.

For my side dish, I got fried green tomatoes, which come with a sauce.  Mine turned over and started filling up my sandwich basket.  I asked for an additional sidecar of the sauce. Turns out the sauce was pretty good dabbed on the sandwich.

So, it's all good.  Mom and I were both pleased with our lunch.  We had a really attentive and pleasant waitress.  Then we looked at the check.  They charged us $.50 for the cherry peppers and $.50 for the replacement dressing.  Are you freakin' kidding me?  

First, in the modern world of rip-off tea that we live in (see this post), it is inexcusably tacky and in poor taste for ANY restaurant to nickel & dime their customers on an extra piece of cheese, more salad dressing, adding onions to a burger, putting jalapenos on whatever I say to put them on, or whatever.  It was all I could do not to blow my stack over this check.  Let's break this down, shall we?

So, from this previous post, we know that a glass of iced tea costs (give or take) a whopping $.11 to make.  I don't have supplies on hand tonight to conduct one of my super-scientific studies, but I feel confident in these statements. 1) If salad dressing costs $.50/Tablespoon, we'd all be eating dry salad because we simply couldn't afford a bottle of dressing to keep in our fridges, and 2) $.50 worth of hot cherry peppers would easily fill up a shoebox, which as any idiot can surmise, is way too much for one, a dozen or even 45 Philly sandwiches. So, to the owners of "XXXX" restaurant in Cayce (names changed to protect the innocent), please explain the logic behind charging me for these miniscule additions to my lunch order.  

Other than petty, arbitrary and capricious upcharging that does nothing but piss off a previously happy-to-praise-and-rave-about-you customer?  Huh? Hell, if you need the dollar that bad, take it out of your insanely inflated tea revenue!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Big Easy on the Mountaintop

You know how when you learn a new word, all of a sudden it seems you hear that word every time you turn around.  I had this experience this weekend with a recipe, or rather, with a dish.

On a food blogger page that I'm a part of, someone posed the question of taking the Ruth's Chris recipe for New Orleans BBQ shrimp and turning it into a cream-based pasta sauce.  She asked for advice, opinions, batted around some ideas of other ingredients to add, et cetera. I've read this Ruth's Chris recipe before but haven't gotten around to making it myself.  It looks and sounds awesome so I need to just quit thinking about it and make it happen.  

So, this past weekend I took my little Wunderkind to visit my sister up in Asheville.  It's that time of year again, so we were making a trip to the apple orchard.  (Now I've got apples up to my ears and need to start up all the apple recipes.) My sister says to me on the evening that we arrived, "Hey I was going to make this for dinner.  I made it not long ago when we had a friend over and he went crazy over it."  She hands me a recipe for New Orleans BBQ Shrimp.  To quote Shatner in Airplane II, "irony can be pretty ironic sometimes."  Now it seems this shrimp recipe is really making the rounds and I'm running into it everywhere!

So, Katherine's version was, in a word, delicious.  If you aren't familiar, the shrimp is left in the shell and covered in this New Orleans style sauce and baked.  Since everyone at the table peels their own shrimp, this makes life really easy on the cook. It's loaded with spices and herbs and creates a fantastic sauce.  So make sure you have a good crusty loaf of bread and sop that stuff up like a starving Frenchman. Didn't expect to be transported from the mountains to New Orleans! Take a look at how beautiful this turned out...

Just gorgeous and tasted divine.  I'm not sure exactly which recipe it was that Katherine used, but the Ruth's Chris recipe is posted below, if you want to give it a try.  This would be a great dish to serve to a crowd at the beach; a nice alternative to the ubiquitous Frogmore Stew. 

Ruth's Chris New Orleans-Style BBQ Shrimp

-Makes 4 servings
-20 large (16/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined
-1 ounce canola oil
-1 tablespoon plus 5 teaspoons green onions, chopped
-2 ounces dry white wine
-1 teaspoon fresh chopped garlic
-4 tablespoons Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
-1 teaspoon Tabasco
-1/2 teaspoon cayenne
-1/2 teaspoon paprika
-8 ounces (2 sticks) salted butter

Place a large cast iron skillet on a burner and heat over high heat. Add oil and cook shrimp until they are just done. It's best to prepare shrimp in batches if you do not have large skillet. Remove shrimp and set aside on a large platter.

Add green onions to the oil in the skillet and cook for 1 minute. Add white wine and let simmer until it is reduced by half.

When the wine is reduced by half, add chopped garlic, Worcestershire, Tabasco. cayenne pepper and paprika. Shake the pan well and cook for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low.

Cut butter into small chunks with the knife and slowly add into pan, shaking fast to melt butter.

Continue to add butter and shake until all butter is melted. Add shrimp back to pan and toss well to coat shrimp with butter and seasonings and to heat the shrimp. Place shrimp on four plates and enjoy.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


I know I go off all the time about how much I love the Brown Box Veggies folks, but here I go again.  I have been jonesin' for my veggies big time after I committed the cardinal sin two weekends ago.  Yes, I admit it.  I ordered a box and <gasp> forgot to go pick it up. To say I was devastated is an understatement the size of Texas. If I must force myself to find a bright side, it's that the Veggie Gals, as they like to call themselves, donate any unclaimed boxes to a charity.  But, dammit, that weekend, I wanted to be my own charity and I forgot.  

So, as you can probably guess, I've been pining away for veggie weekend ever since. I mean, we've been eating <again, gasp> grocery store produceBut today was the day!  I wasn't going to have a repeat of last time.  I had a reminder and alarm set on my phone, a sticky note on the inside of the front door, and I had a small carrot tattooed on my index finger to remind me.  I even arrived early.

Yowza is all I can say.  When the Veggie Gal handed over the box, it was all I could do to carry that sucker to my car.  It was heavy.  Really heavy.  But I bolstered my strength with the eager anticipation of opening this treasure chest and carried that bad boy to the car. Once home, I cracked it open and it was like that scene when Vincent opens up Marcellus' briefcase.  

The golden light shone upon my face.  
So, getta load of this y'all:

I got squash, zucchini, parsley, Roma tomatoes, onions, over a dozen jalapenos (Neil is in heaven), cabbage, cucumbers, pea pods, peaches, apples, pears, and the largest head of romaine I have ever seen in my life.  Seriously, in the romaine world, you wouldn't want to pick a fight with this big guy. See for yourself.

Perfect lunch box sized pears & apples

Cabbage: the red-headed stepchild of the vegetable world. Undeservedly so. I see eggrolls and stuffed cabbage rolls in our future.

The largest head of romaine I've ever seen

Neil's dietary staple

Uhh, I'm thinkin' salsa? 

This amount of pea pods in the grocery would probably cost half of what I paid for my glorious Brown Box Veggies!

If you know me and my addiction to anything pickled, guess what I'm gonna do with these little cuties?
 Tonight we took advantage of yellow squash, pea pods (snow peas, you may call them) and coconut shrimp. I'm thinking it was a hit since there was NOTHING leftover.  As the cook, that's always a good sign. As a hater of leftovers, that's always a good sign! 

Ok, I realize I'm repeating myself, but if you haven't ordered from Brown Box Veggies before, get online RIGHT NOW! It's a killer deal, it's local produce and it is simply a joy to open that box and see what surprises you'll find inside. Oh, by the way, I was just jerking your chain about that carrot tattoo.  I doubt that even Peter Cottontail would pay money for that!  :-)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Riverfront Revival

As a Realtor, it pains me to see empty buildings around town.  One in particular has been the former New Orleans restaurant.  This building occupies one of the most prime locations and views of the city than anywhere else in town.  Sadly, since January 2010 the building has sat empty and lonely. Until now.

Stone River has recently (like 3 weeks or so) opened.  They are touting themselves as Columbia's premiere wedding and event hall. Extensive renovations/changes have been made to include new stacked stone accents inside and out, new big beam timbers framing the entrance and what appears to be an outdoor covered space, walls have come down to open up the building and the decor is sharp & modern (lots of wood, black & white.) And, they also serve lunch. 

I headed over there today with my mom and dad to try out the lunch menu and to check the place out.  I really like the upfitting that's been done to the building. It's very attractive.  While at first glance, the new openness may seem too open, when you consider what they've designed the place to be (events) it really makes sense. The dining areas have all been pushed out toward the windows, overlooking the Saluda river and downtown Columbia.  And of course, there is dining on the porch. Where previously there had been rows of tables in the center of the room, there is now open space for dancing, cocktail mingling and bouquet throwing.  The tables are dressed with white tablecloths under black, simple black chairs and I know you may think I'm nuts to say this, but I even like the water glasses.  They are a highball size rather than a giant milkshake sized glass.  I rarely drink a whole glass of water during any meal and I really hate it when this huge vessel of water ends up just flooding my table with condensation.  (Does anybody remember the simple little "bev-nap"?)  Valuable little square of paper, in my opinion but today, you have to request them if, like me, you hate a drippy, wet table. With this shorter glass, I don't feel like my table is so cluttered nor is there as much surface area to sweat all over my placesetting!

So, how about if we talk about the food?  Yes, let's.

My mom ordered the club sandwich with baked potato salad. Like a lot of clubs, it is huge.  Nice, homemade looking bread loaded with turkey, ham and bacon, pretty red tomato and a little mayo.  Mom really liked the potato salad, which is noteworthy because usually potato salad (of any kind) is the last side dish she orders.  But she opted for this rather than fries and was pleasantly surprised.  The salad was warm and had gooey melty cheddar in it.  I tried a bite and it really had that baked potato flavor.  I'd order that myself.

I love the way they stand the sandwich up! Side of baked potato salad.

My dad chose the three salad plate (chicken, tuna and shrimp.)  In a nutshell, he said his tuna and chicken salads were very nice, but the shrimp salad, and this is a direct quote, "is a total disaster."  I knew the answer, but I asked it anyway.  Pre-cooked and/or frozen shrimp.  You know the kind.  They end up looking translucent, feel slick & rubbery in your mouth and have zero flavor.  I tried a bite.  No bueno.  Here's my thing about this.  We live in a coastal state.  The shrimp is only a couple hours away.  Hell, you can find a fisherman in Charleston who would meet you halfway on I-26 every morning with fresh shrimp, crab and fish. So what in the world is any restaurant in Columbia doing buying sub-par shrimp from a freezer?  If the Stone River guys take this piece of advice, throw out that junk and serve SC shrimp, this dish will improve exponentially. 

Chicken, tuna and shrimp salads with homemade pita chips.

I ordered the Cobb salad.  I always joke about installing a salad bar in my house right after I win the Powerball.  I am a salad junkie.  I love them, I crave them.  Cobb salads are one of my favorites because I am also addicted to bacon and blue cheese.  This is one righteous salad, friends.  It was served with a very generous amount of fresh blue cheese crumbled on top, pinwheels of smoked turkey and ham, fresh bacon pieces, avocado chunks and bright red, tasty tomatoes.  Traditionally, a Cobb is served with hard-boiled egg, which I loathe.  So, I always request no egg.  However, unless I really missed it big time, the menu didn't list egg, so I said nothing.  Yep, egg was on the plate.  However, since the salad was laid out in rows as a Cobb should be, it was a piece of cake for me to just eat around the egg. No big deal.

Cobb salad-isn't that pretty?

As for the people, everyone we encountered was very pleasant.  We were welcomed by the owner, Chris and later greeted by the GM, Jay.  Our waiter was Cameron and he was very personable, knew the specials and was attentive to us. It's so exciting to see something happening in this space after sitting vacant for so long.  As far as using it for an event hall, I can see loads of potential there.  You overlook the river and the riverwalk, have an awesome view of the ornate Gervais Street bridge and enjoy a great view of Columbia's skyline.  How could you not be happy sipping champagne at your cousin's wedding or enjoying lunch with friends while a couple of kayaks glide by? 

It's such a prime spot for a restaurant and an event space.  I wish Stone River well.  I think they've put together a great multi-purpose venue and they serve a nice lunch as well.  

Stone River on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Thank you Pinterest

Since joining Pinterest a couple years ago, I've pinned many, many recipes.  I think the exact number is one zillion and two.  And I know I'm not alone here. In that time, I've made some of them.  Some have been successful, some lackluster, some not good at all.  But tonight changed all that.  Tonight I made a crock pot of creamy tomato soup that I've been eyeing for months and as cliche and juvenile as it is, all I can say is "OMG."  (It's like Moon Unit Zappa's horrible 80's "oh ma god, like gag me with a spoon.")

So, in full disclosure, the recipe came from here. I didn't grow up eating tomato soup because my mom can't stand it.  And, that crap in the can tastes like some weird sugary tomato concoction that can only have originated in Willie Wonka's factory. For quite some time now, I've been on the look-out for a homemade tomato soup.  The photo of this recipe lured me in. As soon as I read the recipe, I've been dreaming of making it and pairing it with a gooey grilled cheese sandwich.  However, the hubinator has been craving baked potatoes lately and that sounded like a pretty good combo.  So, today was the day.  I whipped this soup up in my trusty crockpot and I am so happy that I did, that...well, I just felt compelled to write about it and tell you. So, as I type this post, I have a warm belly full of the most awesome, rich, fresh, flavorful tomato soup and the happiness that this entails.

Even if you never fancied yourself a lover or even a liker of tomato soup, if I were you, I'd venture out and try it.  The ingredients are cheap, so if you hate it, throw it out and it'll be no biggie. I bet you won't though.  In fact, I think even my mom would eat this soup and like it.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Baby's First Dish

As you all know, it's always been my goal to engage my child in cooking, food and nutrition.  As soon as she was old enough, I've had her in the kitchen.  Starting at things like pushing the buttons on the food processor, to measuring ingredients, mixing stuff up and even some beginner knife work.  But, tonight was the culmination of it all...my baby COOKED!

She's ready to roll!

 That's right.  She cooked an entire dish all by herself.  Of course I was standing right there overseeing, and I did all the prep work (chopping) but she cooked all by herself!  We decided to go with a Chinese flair tonight, so I worked on beef with broccoli while Viv worked on the veggie fried rice.  

So, this is onion, carrot, broccoli and ginger (which I think is nectar of the gods!)
I was so proud of her.  One: because she actually listened to and followed all of my directions.  Two: because she was talking constantly about her observations and her technique of stir-frying the veggies.  Three:  she sloped the rice up the sides of the wok like I told her and scrambled the egg down in the center. She did it all and we ended up with a great batch of fried rice. The real joy of it all was, of course, her pride in her creation and the excitement of being allowed to work with the stove and just do it.  Like all cooks though, at the table she kept insisting that my dish was better than hers while Neil and I insisted that the rice was the best.  

The beef with broccoli did turn out well too.  I used a flatiron steak, sliced really thin. Marinated in soy sauce, a little flour, a tiny bit of sugar and sherry cooking wine.  Stir-fried broccoli then cooked the steak with its marinade, which creates the sauce. 

I can't ever give Viv the plate that was chipped by the dishwasher. Ever.

  I may have said this to you all before, but I'm going to say it again. The beauty of Chinese cuisine is quantities.  Over dinner, we talked about this.  People walk into a place like Longhorn and order a 12 oz. steak.  That's a hell of a lot of meat.  That's more meat than a person is supposed to eat at any given sitting. Our dinner tonight was made with 8 oz. of steak and it was more than enough for the three of us.  What the Chinese know and have known for thousands of years is that you can take a little bit of a lot of things and make a satisfying meal.  

Think about this for a minute.  Fried rice is loaded with vegetables and tiny cubes of pork, chicken, tofu, or shrimp, right?  But, it's plenty for you.  MooGooGaiPan is thin slices of beautiful white chicken surrounded by tons of veggies.  Sweet and sour pork uses about 8 oz. of meat and the rest is all veggie.  And for those people who always say after eating Chinese food, they are hungry an hour later...all I can say is vary your selections.  You can't eat a wheelbarrow-load of fried rice, fried wontons or egg rolls and escape the carbohydrate coma and hunger that comes quickly.  You simply must treat this cuisine like any other.  Incorporate a salad, a main dish with protein, a veggie side and yes, carbs too.  But don't lump all Chinese in with your starch/MSG stupor and subsequent hunger.  Don't do it, I say!

My happiness tonight isn't stemming from the fact that I made beef and broccoli that Neil, the Vivver and I loved, but rather from the fact that my baby got in the kitchen tonight and OWNED  it!  I've waited for this day. Having her cooking alongside me, not having to worry about her getting hurt or spilling some hot something all over herself.  It was wonderful! If you have kids, bring them into the kitchen.  It will prepare them, in many ways, for their future life but also will bring so much joy to the here and now.  For you both.


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