Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Power of Positive Thinking

A blog a day for a month? As you know, I joined NaBloPoMo, which means that I made a commitment to do a blog a day for a month. I approached this not as a chore, but as an experiment. As it goes, my experiment has been a smashing success even though I was not able to maintain the one-blog-a-day commitment for the past four days due to lack of Internet access in the Great Smoky Mountains.

The reason for my success with this is that I truly have created a new habit that I have enjoyed very much and look forward to the creative process of writing a blog each day. It is no great chore simply because of the way it was approached, and I'm going to transfer this approach to some other "duties" that I have historically labeled as "chores" in the past and therefore am miserable to complete them. Things like certain cleaning "chores," bookkeeping "chores," weeding "chores" in the gardens, and so forth.

And so, I am going to continue with my commitment even though I know that a trip out of the country in a few weeks will prevent my goal of one-blog-a-day for 30 consecutive days. But oh, the fun I will have in the meantime.

Please read the latest post to Zen Habits, which is so timely today in that it illustrates so well the lesson of positive thinking, and look for me here tomorrow!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Friends and Great Home Chefs!

Supper clubs are really catching on everywhere, and they are a great way for friends who normally don't get to spend much time together to connect regularly. Our club is very casual and we meet about every two months. The hosts choose the menu, recipes and assign duties. Then we all show up with our masterpieces, pour the wine and have a great evening together!

Our host last evening hit on a great resource for choosing menus, Cooking Light's Supper Club. The site is full of ready-made menus and recipes, suggestions and instructions to guide you through starting your own supper club. Join in the fun and organize your supper club!
Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Winter's Dream

Need I say more?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Vacation Food

Do you have traditional foods that you eat while you are on vacation? Every year we plan a big fish dinner, but the last fish dinner we had was the year before the trout pond closed. We can't seem to catch fish unless they are penned up in a puddle. Not that we don't try, and that, too, is a lake house tradition. Maybe this year we'll get lucky. I'll let you know, but there's no Internet access or even cell signal there, so you might not get a report back till next Friday unless I drive down to the Microtel and sit in their lobby with my laptop.

These things have been on the menu at the lake house in the Great Smoky Mountains for as long as I can remember:

Moonpies (eaten with a Coca-Cola, the only time we make that combination!)
Pulled Pork BBQ
BBQ Chicken
Hamburgers & Hot Dogs
Potato Salad
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
Pimiento Cheese
Fresh tomatoes, green beans, corn on the cob, and cantaloupe from the produce market

Do you have a list?

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fresh Corn Macque Choux

Now is the time for us all to take advantage of our favorite veggies that are in season. If you can make it to your local farm market, that's great, but many grocery stores are carrying "local" (usually from the region, not necessarily from your community) produce.

What's in season? Corn, green beans, okra, tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers are things you will find in beautiful abundance. Here is a recipe I made for a client yesterday. It's extremely fresh-tasting and delicious, heart-healthy, freezes well (so triple the recipe!) and is based on a recipe from Eating Well magazine.

Macque Choux

Serves 4

1 T. canola oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 3/4 c.)
1/2 med. red bell pepper, diced (about 1/4 c.)
2 tsps. garlic, minced
4 cups of fresh or frozen corn (fresh is best - depends on size but 1 medium ear will generally give you about 1/2 c. of corn.)
1/4 c. water
1 cup chopped ripe tomato
3 scallions, white and green parts, sliced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme or 1/2 tsp. fresh
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 - 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Heat nonstick pan over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add oil. When oil is shimmering, add onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Add bell pepper and garlic and sauté, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes more. Add corn and water and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes until corn is tender-crisp. Remove from heat and stir in tomato, scallions, thyme, paprika and salt and cayenne. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

This is one of those recipes where you can consider the amounts "suggestions." Have fun and play with your food!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Spike on Steak

There's a seasoning blend called "Spike" that one of my fellow personal chefs from another part of the country is always raving about, so when I finally found it in one of our local grocery stores the other day I picked up a jar. (If you can't find it where you live, you can order it from the manufacturer's website.)
Last night I sprinkled it on a couple of strip steaks and vacuum sealed them using my new Foodsaver and then marinated them at room temperature for 30 minutes. I heated the grill to screaming hot to char the steaks on the outside (that gives them great flavor even if there's no seasoning on them) and cooked them till they were our preferred warm red in the center.
Sorry I didn't get a picture of the steaks to show you, but we just couldn't wait to dig into them. The salty, spicy, herb blend gave them the flavors of the finest restaurant steak, and my husband (a connoisseur of steaks, restaurant and otherwise), exclaimed that this was one of the best steaks he'd ever had! This spice blend is definitely a keeper!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ingredient Addition for Chinese Spaghetti & Meatballs

Isn't this picture beautiful? My daughter sent this to me yesterday. Maybe her future should be in food styling!

She also informed me that I had omitted an ingredient in the recipe for Chinese Spaghetti & Meatballs. Add 1/2 tsp. of Chinese Five Spice Powder to the meatball mixture, totally optional, but we think it's yummy!

Chef Debbie Talks about Salmonella

Jalapeno Madness????
FDA: Don't Eat Fresh Jalapenos!

Most of us associate salmonella with raw chicken, and many other farm animals naturally carry salmonella, as well. The problem for us is that sometimes people handling fresh meat and dairy, or who have been sick with salmonellosis can transfer this bacterium to fresh produce. If we eat that contaminated produce without cooking it, then we get sick, too.

This morning the FDA announced that it has found an example of the bacteria responsible for the latest infections on one of the thousands of pieces of produce it has tested and issued a warning to the general public not to eat fresh jalapeno peppers.

Now, I love jalapenos. LOVE them! The recipe I posted yesterday for Summer Rice & Mango Salad used jalapenos. I slide them into scrambled eggs in the morning, braise them with beef and pork, stuff them into chicken breasts and yes, I even eat them raw in a hundred different versions of salsa.

Am I going to stop using jalapenos? No, and you don't have to either if you cook them first by sauteing (as in my summer salad recipe from yesterday) or if they are cooked in a dish (such as my braised beef). If you are a healthy person and see that the risk of contamination is minimal, then it's up to you to decide whether to eat raw jalapenos. For extra precaution, wash your fresh jalapenos in water with a small amount of dish detergent or use vegetable sanitizing spray.

If you want more information about Salmonella or Salmonellosis, visit this FDA FAQ site.

If you are a jalapeno fan, too, enjoy Jalapeno Madness and let me know what YOUR favorite jalapeno recipe is!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Shrimp or Chicken Lollipops on Summer Rice & Mango Salad

Sweet, savory, bold, beautiful....and delicious! I created these shrimp "lollipops" this afternoon, but you can use chicken tenders, too. How about doubling the sauce recipe and making both shrimp and chicken? The rice & mango salad is perfect with either the chicken or shrimp.

I hope you will try this quick and easy yet elegant recipe that will make three appetizer portions or 2 main dish servings. Invite your friends and share this budget-friendly dish at your own table!

Shrimp or Chicken Lollipops

For the marinade & glaze:

1 (12-oz.) can mango nectar (find on Latin food aisle)
1/4 c. dark rum
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 small dried cayenne pepper pod, broken in half
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/8 tsp. dried ground allspice
1/8 tsp. dried ground corriander
Ice & cold water

  • Combine mango nectar, dark rum, garlic and cayenne pepper pod in small saucepan. Bring to boil and then reduce heat to maintain a rapid simmer for 5 minutes. Strain to remove garlic and pepper and return nectar to pan. Add lime juice and spices and bring to a boil. Lower heat to maintain a rapid simmer and reduce liquid to 1/2 c. (Pour into glass measuring cup to check.) Remove from heat.
  • Combine ice and water in a bowl and submerge bottom of saucepan in icewater. Stir glaze frequently until cool.

For Shrimp or Chicken:

6 tiger or other extra-jumbo shrimp, or six chicken tenders
6 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 15 minutes
Cooled mango glaze

  • Peel and devein shrimp but leave tail intact; remove tendon from chicken tender.
  • Place in zippy bag with marinade; squeeze out air and marinate in bag in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  • Heat gas or charcoal grill to high, or heat broiler to high heat.
  • Drain marinade, place it back in small pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
  • Drain skewers and spray sharp ends with vegetable oil spray.
  • Run skewer from head end straight through till point is in tail; run skewer lenthwise through chicken tenders.
  • Reduce heat on gas grill to medium high on one side and turn off burner on other side. Arrange shrimp on grill with the shrimp over the direct flame and the skewers over the burner that is not on. If using charcoal, wrap the skewers with foil. If broiling, arrange so the skewer ends stick out the opening of the door and are not under direct heat or flame. You don't want to use metal skewers; who ever heard of a metal popsicle stick?
  • Grill or broil shrimp or chicken, basting frequently with glaze, until firm, opaque, and cooked through. Time will vary depending on size of shrimp/chicken and your grill temperature.
  • Serve on bed of Summer Rice & Mango Salad.

Summer Rice & Mango Salad

1 c. dry converted rice (I use Uncle Ben's), cooked according to package directions with 1 tsp. coarse salt*
2 tsp. finely minced garlic
1 T. finely minced seeded jalapeno pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 c. frozen English peas, thawed
1 mango, peeled, seeded, and diced into pieces the same size as the peas
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, loosely chopped
3 scallions, green tops only, thinly sliced

  • In large non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and jalapeno pepper and saute for 2 minutes.
  • Add English peas and saute for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Add all of the rice and stir to combine. Remove from heat. Salad should not be hot.
  • Stir remaining ingredients into rice.
  • Serve at room temperature

*Time saving hint: Cook rice when you have time, put in zippy bag and refrigerate or freeze to make your meal preparation a cinch!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Culinary Inspiration

Are you always thinking of food? Ways to make something new and easy, fast and different, ways to save money by eating at home and not eating at restaurants?

Today I was busy applying window film (not my "other" job, but one of those DIY projects) and, of course, had the FoodTV on as background "music." I heard "shrimp lollipops" and for the last 4 hours I've been thinking of that and all the possibilities. I KNOW you understand!

Tomorrow's post will be about shrimp lollipops....The Hungry Fox style. Mmmmmmmm....I can hardly wait!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Chinese Spaghetti & Meatballs

I'm at my daughter's house today and she requested Chinese Spaghetti & Meatballs for supper. This is based on one of Rachel Ray's recipes from her show "30 Minute Meals." If you think you don't like whole wheat pasta, try this because it will make you a fan! This is a colorful, flavorful, and healthy dinner and it freezes beautifully, too.

Chinese Spaghetti & Meatballs

For the meatballs:

1 pound ground chicken or pork, or a combination of the two
2 egg whites or 1 whole egg
2 cups Rice Krispies, ground into crumbs
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 T. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste) *See note below
1/4 tsp. pepper (or to taste)
Cooking oil spray
  • Combine all the meatball ingredients in a mixing bowl. Form into 1 1/2-inch balls.
  • Spray rimmed sheet pan with cooking oil spray. Arrange meatballs on pan and spray each with cooking oil spray.
  • Roast at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until firm to the touch. Remove from pan, wrap in foil and keep warm.

*Note: To taste for seasoning, take a tsp. of the raw meat mixture, make it into a little patty and fry it in a small frying pan until cooked through before tasting. Never taste raw poultry or pork.

For the spaghetti:

1 lb. whole wheat pasta, cooked until al dente according to directions on box, drain (reserve 1 c. cooking liquid)
6 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 c. snow peas, thinly sliced on an angle
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 inches ginger root, finely minced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 lb. washed spinach (from a bag is fine), coarsely chopped
1/2 c. soy sauce
1 T. toasted sesame oil
3 T. toasted sesame seeds
Vegetable oil

Heat a large skillet (this will fill up a 12-inch skillet) over medium-high heat until very hot. Add enough cooking oil to coat the bottom. When shimmering, add the vegetables, ginger and garlic. Stir fry 2 minutes, add spinach and toss with tongs until it wilts slightly. Add soy sauce and sesame oil. Add reserved pasta cooking water and toss to coat. Serve topped with meat balls.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Friday, July 18, 2008

Foodsaver Frenzy

I called one of my foodie friends this afternoon on my way home from Wal-Mart, where I'd just purchased a new Foodsaver appliance and I didn't realize how excited I was until I stopped to take a breath and she said, "Geeee....It sure is easy to make us happy!" It sure is...give me a kitchen gadget or appliance or a new pan or cookbook and it's like a shot of adrenaline!

Back in the late 70s I bought a Daisy Seal-a-Meal to use to freeze leftovers and fruits and veggies and I've been hooked every since. I wore that one out and then they were out of favor and you couldn't find bags anywhere. Then came the Foodsaver Vacuum Sealer....I guess in the mid 90s and, once again, my pulse was rat-a-tatting as I drove home from Wal-Mart with it.

Problems arose, though, because it was impossible to control the vacuum, so that limited its use to dry non-smushable foods. Then there came a model with manual controls, but it was big and cumbersome, and I waited for something smaller that I can carry with me on cookdays.

Finally, I have just what I was looking for, with features like moisture sensor, an anti-"smush" setting, and it is compact and less than $100!

I'd write more, but I'm going to go play with my new gadget. Have a great weekend!

Bon Appetit!
Chef Debbie

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Food Safety & Salmonella

Jalapenos? Tomatoes? Cilantro? The panic is on!

Nobody really knows what is spreading the salmonella infection, but these three are the most likely suspects today according to the FDA. What's a person to do?

Well, you can always avoid these foods, but my take on this action is that it's not necessary as the number of people infected really is very low considering the level of consumption, and a healthy person infected with salmonella may get very sick, but it is usually not a life-threatening experience. (Although you might be ready to ask someone to put you out of your misery as quickly as they can figure out a legal way to do that.)

If you choose not to panic and delete these delectable foods from your diet, here are some other things you can do to reduce your risk of eating those bad little "bugs."

  1. Purchase your produce from your local farmer's market. Fewer people have handled it and it hasn't been washed in a huge vat with 600 lbs. of other produce, everything jumping in the tub together and sharing possible contaminants.
  2. Use a vegetable cleaning spray on all vegetables and fruits. Even watermelon and cantaloupe. When you run your knife through the skin, your knife will pull any contaminants present on the skin through the flesh, so scrub first.
  3. For leafy greens and herbs, hold them under a fine spray of water to rinse off all surfaces. The method used to be to throw them all in a big tub of water and swish. See #1.
  4. Tomatoes+ jalapenos+ cilantro=SALSA! Buy a good quality jarred salsa such as Herdez (my favorite!). Jarred salsa has been heat-processed to kill anything bad that might be present.

And finally:

5. Don't sweat it because next month it will be something ELSE!

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Grandma and Cherry Pudding

I've been thinking about Grandma a lot lately. Well, I think of her all the time, but even more now that the canning & jelly-making season is here. I can see her so clearly in her steamy kitchen, stirring a bubbling pot of fruit for jam, a wayward curl escaping her bobbie pin to dangle down the middle of her forehead.

Grandma had sour cherry trees in her yard and she used them for preserves and pies, froze them for winter use and also made something that she called cherry pudding. At least that was the title of the recipe that she jotted down for me to put in my cookbook more than 30 years ago.

I don't know why this was called a "pudding" and she didn't either, because it is more like a tender-crumbed sweet bread, but not too sweet. The best way to eat it is straight from the oven in a bowl with a bit of cold milk poured over, but it is equally good by itself, with ice cream or vanilla yogurt, cold, hot, room temperature, with a fork, spoon, fingers...get the picture? You can use other berries, too, like raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, or a combination. If they are fresh, just rinse them lightly. If they're frozen, don't thaw them first, and if they are canned just drain them really well.

Here's Grandma's recipe as she gave it to me with my clarifications in parenthesis.

Cherry Pudding

1 egg
1 c. sugar (white granulated)
3/4 c. sweet milk (regular as opposed to sour or buttermilk)
2 tsps. baking powder
2 c. flour
1 T. butter (melted)
1 c. seeded sour cherries (or berry of your choice)

Bake in slow oven 1 hour. (Heat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a loaf pan or an 8-inch square baking pan. Whisk together the flour, sugar and baking powder. Beat egg lightly and add with butter to milk. Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture until blended (don't overbeat) and stir in berries. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, checking after 50 minutes, until golden and tests done with a wooden skewer or toothpick. This freezes well.)

Bon Appétit!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The strange things we eat!

If you had told me two years ago that I would be eating corn smut, I would have told you you were crazy, but that's just what I did when I made these Cuitlacoche & Sweet Corn Quesadillas for lunch yesterday.

As far as we know, the Aztecs were the first brave souls to tast this strange-looking fungus and to this day it is a popular delicacy in Mexico, with millions of pounds harvested each year. You can find it canned and frozen, but there is nothing like fresh "cuitlacoche" or "huitlacoche." It's a fungus that grows inside each corn kernel, making it expand to huge proportions and turn gray, then black. Finally it bursts, spreading its spores to other ears and to the ground, where it rests to re-infect sweet corn fields the following year. Because of its amino acid profile, it is a complete protein and therefore a good meat substitute and actually more nutritious than plain sweet corn.

The last time we were in Mexico, my friend Manuela bought some cuitlacoche at the market and, with some trepidation, I tasted the soft tacos filled with "Mexican Truffles" and loved them. So, when my friend Pam emailed me the other day about finding "corn from outer space" in the corn patch, I knew just what she was talking about and she took me to the patch. Of course, she thought that I was from "outer space" to even consider eating the smut and I know she will never taste it. More for me!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Lobster on a Work Night?

So, you want to do a little special weeknight meal...entertaining some good friends, the boss, your special someone...and you're short on time but want to make a great impression? Here's your menu and it will only take about 45 minutes to prepare, and you can pick up all the ingredients at the grocery store on your way home from work!

I bet you've never thought of lobster as fast food, but it definitely is an I'm going to show you how to do it anytime and with ease and style!

Menu for Entertaining on a Week Night!

Sweet Iced Tea
Chardonnay Wine (Unoaked is best)
Cheese & baguette slices (purchased baguette slices, your favorite artisanal cheese)
Grilled lobster with compound butter and fresh lemon
Tossed green salad & vinaigrette (organic mixed spring greens, ready to serve from the container, favorite bottled vinaigrette)
Rolls & butter (get the brown & serve kind of rolls)
Vanilla ice cream with grilled pineapple (purchase fresh pineapple rings and good quality vanilla bean ice cream)

Here's your grocery list:

1 ready-to-eat baguette
Your favorite cheese (don't you dare get the little cut-up squares!)
Organic Salad Mix
Vinaigrette Dressing
Brown & Serve Dinner Rolls
1 stick butter for rolls
1 lobster (1 1/2 - 2 lbs.) per person
1/2 stick butter per lobster
1 tsp. minced garlic per stick of butter
1 small bunch of fresh basil per stick of butter
1/2 lemon per lobster
Good quality vanilla bean ice cream
Fresh pineapple rings (allow 1 per person)
Ground cinnamon

Here is the only recipe you need:

Grilled Lobster for Four

1 lobster (about 1 1/2 - 2 lbs.) per person
1/2 stick salted butter per lobster (yes, I know this is 4 oz. per person but this IS a special meal!)
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 small bunch fresh basil

Here is the game plan:
  1. When you get home, put your box of lobsters in the fridge or in a cooler, put the salad in the fridge and leave the butter on the counter. Put a very large stockpot of water (heavily salted) on the stove to boil and put your pretty glass bowl for the salad in the fridge.
  2. Take your shower or freshen up and put something FABULOUS on for the evening.
    Pour yourself a glass of wine (an unoaked Chardonnay will be great with this meal) and put your apron on.
  3. The water should be boiling by now, so drop into the boiling water (head first) as many lobsters as will fit into your pot. (You might have to do this in a couple of batches, and if you do,make sure to bring the water back to a boil each time.) Make sure you have your exhaust fan going full don't want to give yourself a facial AFTER you have your makeup refreshed!
  4. Boil each lobster for 7 minutes and then put them on a platter or baking sheet to cool on the counter.
  5. While the lobsters are boiling, finely chop the fresh basil and stir it and the garlic into the softened butter. Set that aside on the counter.
  6. Set the table; cut the butter for the rolls into pats and place on a plate in the fridge.
  7. Return to the cooled lobster. Place each back-side-down on a cutting board and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out body but leave tail and claws intact. Spread 2 T. compound butter over the meat in the tail and put 2 T. in the body cavity and leave on sheet pan on counter. (You may cover with a clean cloth or plastic wrap if you want.)
  8. Open wine bottles and place corks part way back into bottles; place in ice & water-filled buckets to chill and artfully arrange cheese and sliced baguette on your decorative platter or beautiful wooden cutting board in a strategic location.
  9. Turn on oven to desired temperature for browning rolls and light grill.

When your guests arrive:

  1. Greet guests with wine or sweet tea, cheese & baguettes, a relaxed smile, and chat a bit.
  2. Put the rolls in the oven and return to your guests for more chat.
  3. When the rolls are finished, put them in fabric-lined baskets and set aside.
  4. Call everyone into the kitchen and, with a flourish, unveil your beautiful red lobsters and head for the grill. Everyone will follow to watch because this is so special!
  5. Turn the grill to medium-high and place lobsters directly over the flame with the cut side up. Close the lid and grill for 3 minutes while you entertain your guests with brilliant conversation. Turn off grill and move lobsters to top rack and navigate your guests to the wine to refill their glasses while you return to the kitchen.
  6. Toss salad greens with vinaigrette and pile artfully onto your chilled platter. Place on the dining table with the basket of rolls and chilled pats of butter.
  7. Assign a helper to refill wine/tea glasses while you arrange your lobster halves, wedges of lemon and basil bouquets on a pretty platter. Place on the table and be ready to take bows!
  8. When most of your guests are half way through the lobster, excuse yourself to the kitchen. Put coffee on if you are serving that. Dredge the pineapple slices in the light brown sugar and grill on each side until heated through and caramalized, about 2 minutes per side. Place scoop of ice cream in each bowl, lean warm pineapple ring jauntily on each scoop and sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Serve and bask in the praise!
I just know my PC buddy Debbie will notice that I neglected to remind you to refill your wine glass during the course of the preparation/evening! (I bet you won't forget to do that!)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Heritage Beet Salad with Goat Cheese

We all agreed that the best part of our meal last evening was the beet salad that I made from the organic heirloom beets and tender Swiss chard that I brought home from the farmer's market earlier in the day.

I was disappointed that I couldn't get my goat cheese from Bosky Acres goat dairy, but Bill Makuch said he'd heard that the recent afternoon thunderstorms had knocked out their power and they lost much of their cheese.

Make sure you serve this salad at room temp. You will love the way the tangy, salty goat cheese contrasts with the sweetness of the beets, and the minced shallots provide just the right amount of crunch and bite. We liked lots of coarsely ground black pepper on this salad.

Heirloom Beet Salad with Goat Cheese
Serves 4

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, July 2008

1 1/2 lbs. small to medium size beets (mixed colors make a pretty salad)
12 cups combined beet greens and Swiss chard
2 T. white wine vinegar
2 T. minced shallot
2 tsps. Dijon mustard
1/4 c. Canola oil or olive oil blend
Salt and pepper
2 oz. or more goat cheese, crumbled (place in freezer for 20-30 minutes for easier crumbling)

Make beets: Heat oven to 400˚. Trim beet stems to 2 inches; wash beets and place on heavy duty foil. Bring sides together and crimp to form packet. Place on baking sheet in oven and roast for about 1 hour or until tender. Remove from packet and allow to cool to room temperature. Trim ends and peel or rub skin from beets. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces and combine in a bowl. Toss to distribute different colored beets together.

Make greens: While beets are roasting, pull chard and beet green leaves from thick stems and discard stems. Wash leaves thoroughly in several changes of fresh water until clean and drain in colander. Pack into microwavable bowl, cover with plastic wrap and vent by poking holes in surface with a fork. I use the Pampered Chef large micro-cooker. Place in microwave and cook on high for 5 minutes (1000 watts) until greens are wilted. (Water clinging to leaves from washing is sufficient for steaming in microwave.) Remove from bowl and spread on plate to cool to room temperature. On cutting board, roughly chop cooked greens.

Make vinaigrette: Combine vinegar, shallot, mustard, a good pinch of salt and sprinkling of pepper in small bowl. Pour oil into vinegar mixture in a steady stream, whisking briskly until thick and incorporated. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Make ahead: You can make these salad components ahead to this point and refrigerate them. Return to room temperature before serving.

Compose: Distribute chopped greens evenly between 4 salad plates. Top with beets and crumble a generous quantity of crumbled goat cheese over top of each. Spoon vinaigrette over each salad, top with a coarse grind of black pepper and serve.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Waxhaw Farmer's Market Finds

I wish that I could do justice in photographing the beautiful fruits and veggies that I found at the Waxhaw Farmer's Market this morning.

We have a lady who grows organic veggies, makes her own soap, and is always ready with a suggested recipe. The carrots and beets in the picture came from her.

Bill and Donna Makuch, who started this farmer's market, provided the tomatoes and baby pattypan squash, and their neighbor went the whole way to McBee (pronounced Mac'-bee) and probably to McLeod Farm to bring back these giant, aromatic peaches. I'll have some photos over the next few days to share what I transformed these veggies into. Lyndsey (daughter) is going to make healthy, whole grain pancakes in the morning and has laid claim to the peaches for slicing over those. Of course, I'll take pictures of those, too!

At my farmer's market, I can find organic, TRULY free range chicken eggs, small-batch delicious goat cheese (chevre), pickles and fruit preserves, whole grain and organic pita and other breads, all the veggies I would want, herbs and even flowers far more beautiful that any local florist has.

If you haven't been to your local farmer's market and maybe don't even know where it is, go to Local Harvest to find a market near you and take advantage of it. You will be getting produce cut and pulled that morning, eggs freshly plucked from the nests, and will be able to shake the hand of the farmer that is providing the food for your table.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Chicken Vegetable Soup with Tortellini

Do you make your own chicken stock or do you have a favorite boxed stock? I do both depending on what I'm making. There is no substitute for homemade stock for some dishes, such as Southern Style Chicken & Dumplings and Pennsylvania Dutch Chicken Corn Soup, but there is great boxed stock and broth being made for our convenience now and since low-sodium and low-fat varieties are available, they are also much healthier than they used to be.

Price-wise, two boxes of really good quality stock (8 cups) will run you about $8.00 and the time it takes to open and pour them into your stock pot. Yesterday I made "from scratch" stock and it cost me $12 to make 8 cups, but then I had the bonus of the chicken to use and my house smelled fabulous all afternoon. So it was a wash as far as the price, but it also took about 3 hours to make and most days I just don't have that much time.

I made a great soup with my stock and vegetables from my daughter's garden. I've streamlined this recipe so you won't have to spend 3 hours making the stock before you even begin to make the soup. Using rotisserie chicken speeds up the process even more and you'll have a delicious, healthy and colorful meal in about 30 minutes!

Chicken Vegetable Soup with Tortellini

2 boxes good chicken broth or chicken stock (8 cups)
1 medium zucchini, coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow squash, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bag (9-16 oz.) frozen tri-color cheese tortellini
4 Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 T. fresh basil (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 T. tsp. fresh oregano (or 1 tsp. dried)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 rotisserie chicken, skinned and boned

  • Pour broth or stock into stock pot.
  • Add zucchini, yellow squash, onion, celery, carrots and garlic; cover and bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
  • Add tortellini and tomotoes. Run your knife through the fresh herbs to roughly chop them and add them to the pot. Cover and bring to boil; reduce heat to simmer for 3 minutes.
  • Remove pot from heat and stir in the chicken. Adjust seasoning. Cover and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cookies for Care Packages

Sending home-baked goodies to troops in the Middle East is tricky right now because of the intense heat there. Our son-in-law, who is in the Air Force in Iraq, says not to send chocolate because it will melt. Of course, that was a challenge that I couldn't ignore.

Once when I was in the American Southwest desert, we were hiking and when we returned to the Jeep, we found that we had left a zippy bag full of white chocolate-macadamia nut cookies lying in the sun. To our delight, the white chocolate chips were soft but intact and the cookies had that just-out-of-the-oven taste and texture! Wow....the heat could actually be to my advantage because he would be getting cookies that would be as good as if he were in my kitchen!

The next consideration besides affects of heat is the texture itself. They have to stand up to being thrown around in transit; what I didn't want was for him to open a box to find nothing but crumbs. The cookies would have to be dense but still tender and a bit crisp but not too delicate. And I did want to use real dark chocolate because, well, there is just nothing like chocolate to give you that sense of well-being! Here is the recipe I came up with. I sent them yesterday packaged in disposable plastic bins in a box full of magazines, and I doubled the recipe so that he can share both the magazines and the cookies with his troops. I'll let you know what he says when they arrive.

Death by Chocolate Cookies

1 pkg. (8 squares) semi-sweet baking chocolate
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp. real vanilla extract
1/2 – 3/4 c. all-purpose flour (start with 1/2 c. and add more as needed)
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 c. chopped nuts (pecans, macadamias, walnuts, almonds, etc.)
1/2 c. dried cherries or cranberries

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Melt the semi-sweet chocolate in a large microwavable bowl in microwave for 2 minutes on high. Stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth.
  • Stir in the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla with a wooden spoon until the mixture is well blended.
  • Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt, and then stir in the white chocolate, fruit and nuts. (The batter will stiffen as it sits.)
  • Drop by spoonfuls (I use a one-ounce scoop) onto ungreased cookie sheets or preheated baking stones (that's what I use).
  • Bake for 14 minutes or so until just firm on the edges but slightly soft on the top. These cookies are very dark so make sure you don't burn them.
  • Remove from oven and cool cookies on wire racks.
  • Makes about 2 dozen cookies, depending on the size spoon you use.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wine with WHAT???

We all know the old "red wine with meat and white wine with chicken or fish" rule, right? Pretty simple thing to remember, don't you agree? But it's no longer as simple as it was in the '70s when our wine choices at most restaurants were simply "Burgundy" and "Chablis."

One of the most enjoyable things about exploring wine is doing it in the context of food. It's like creating a third dimension. For example, at a recent wine tasting at Global restaurant in Charlotte, NC, Chef Bernard Brunet offered a delicious New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that was quite everything that grape offers from New Zealand, bright acid and lots of vibrant, flowery and green flavors on the palate.

Now, we know that Sauvignon Blanc is generally a perfect pairing for salads with vinaigrette, seafood, Thai food, etc., but the server placed a neat shot of cold, sweet, cinnamony pureed acorn squash soup on my plate. My interest was peaked! I took a sip of the fresh, light and perfectly balanced soup, rolled it over my tongue and then, with a tiny bit of the soup still upon my tongue, sipped the wine. Amazing! The wine's acidity dropped and the vegetal qualities disappeared! The soup tasted less sweet and the squash flavor became more pure. They became the sum of each other's parts and in my mouth joined into harmonious balance. That, my friends, was a perfect example of a brilliant pairing of food with wine!

Albert W. A. Schmid, a renowned expert on wine and spirits and author of manuals for the hospitality industry advises, "If all else fails answer these three questions: Do you like the food you are eating? Do you like the wine that you are drinking? Why does this have to change? Perhaps you have stumbled on the perfect pairing between food and wine…for you. Trust yourself!"

So go out and have fun playing with your food....and wine. And don't worry if you think you might be breaking "the rules." Explore, experiment, and trust your own palate!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

30 days to a New Habit

I've been doing some serious introspection lately...thanks to my fellow personal chef and buddy Debbie Spangler of Yummy~Issimo! Personal Chef Service. And she doesn't even know that she was the catalyst here.

I mean, just look at the last time I posted to this blog! And every day I get a post from Debbie, true to her commitment to naploblamo or whatever the heck it is! The key here is the commitment, whether to naplobano or your accountant or yourself.

There are so many positive things that we can do to improve our lifestyle/business/health/spirituality simply by doing away with negative habits and creating new, positive and beneficial ones.

There's a great blog called ZenHabits that I want you all to visit for inspiration. Scott Young posted 20 Tricks to Nuke a Bad Habit and I'm sure that in those 20 tricks you can find YOUR key to give you the strength to create that new good habit. Mine is #8: Make it an Experiment. Be a scientist. Just try the new habit to see what it will be like, rather than a great emotional struggle. This will help keep you focused on conditioning the trial and allow you to view results with less bias.

So, I joined NaBloPoMo because #1 of Scott's Tricks is : Commit for a Month. Thirty days is all you need to make a habit change permanent. Less time than that and the new alternative might not be hardwired into your brain. More time and any failures to last are usually a failure of strategy, not duration. Joining NaBloPoMo is a commitment to blog every day for a month.

Symbolic, I know, but maybe that will inspire me to do other positive things every day....such as exercise, filing, housework, thing at a time. After all, Scott's Trick #3 is: Start Small . Changing habits isn’t a matter of willpower, but patience and strategy. Don’t expect to overhaul your diet, exercise or thinking patterns in a day. Tackle one habit at a time.

See you here tomorrow!