Saturday, August 30, 2008

Back from a Foodie Road Trip!

We pulled into our garage Sunday night, clocking 3, 925 miles in two weeks on my Subaru Forester! Since this was most definitely a "food" trip, my little Subaru had to work harder on the way home because not only had hubby and I packed on some pounds, but we also had the back of the car packed tight with all that we had collected along the way: gallons of Vermont maple syrups, Quoddy Bay sea salt, Finger Lakes wines, a Vermont maple salad bowl, boxes of Bell's seasoning, jars of Raye's mustards, story books and shirts for the grandchildren, and (even though I told hubby that I wasn't going to buy any cookbooks) a bag full of cookbooks!

Of course, I'll be sharing recipes that I picked up along the way from some of the many warm and friendly folks we met. I'm just now sorting out all the pictures we took and labeling them so I don't forget who/what/where, but I promise some great recipes and dishes to come!

One of the highlights of our trip was meeting Chef Ming Tsai at his restaurant, Blue Ginger, in Wellesley, Mass. We were thrilled that he was there and discovered that he is as warm and friendly as he seems on his TV show, East Meets West. Hubby remembered him from Iron Chef America and that he beat Bobby Flay!

Ming's dishes are truly a fusion of cuisines and I found the wine pairing a challenge, so asked our capable server (most have been with Ming for almost 10 years) to do the pairings for us. It was interesting. The wine was delicious and so was the food, but is there a perfect pairing for smoked salmon and beef carpaccio with a tart lime-cilantro avocado salad garnish? The Pinot Noir that was served was great with the salmon and beef, but throwing the salsa into the mix made the wine disappear. The combined flavors of the smoked salmon and beef and the salsa were a party in the mouth, so I just saved the delicious Pinot to enjoy with the cracker basket. THAT was a perfect pairing!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Stuffed Zucchini

I had almost forgotten about this dish from my childhood in Pennsylvania, but when I was visiting family yesterday, some members of their church brought them a hot meal and stuffed zucchini was the star.

I you have ever grown zucchini, you know how prolific the plants are. After you have used every recipe for zucchini that you have ever known, it still keeps coming on and seems to grow from 3 inches to a foot long over night. I imagine this recipe for stuffed zucchini was created by thrifty cooks back in the 1960s as a way to use the squash once it reaches those large proportions and has tough skin and large seeds.

Here are two "recipes" that aren't really recipes, but are more "methods" because quantities of ingredients depend on the size of the squash and what you have on hand to use for the stuffing. Of course, you can use smaller zucchini for individual servings which then become elegant enough for a luncheon or dinner party.

Stuffed Zucchini

One large zucchini
Lean ground beef
Chopped onion
Minced garlic
Cooked rice
Spaghetti sauce
Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Halve zucchini lengthwise. Drizzle with olive oil and place, cut side down, on baking sheet. Roast in 350 degree oven until just tender. Remove from oven. Scoop out large seeds and discard. Remove flesh, leaving 1/4 inch on skin, and place zucchini pulp in bowl. (If using smaller zucchini, there is no need to discard seeds.)
Brown ground beef, onion, and garlic; drain. Place in bowl with zucchini pulp and add rice and spaghetti sauce to bind. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Fill zucchini "boats" with beef mixture, top with cheese and roast in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted. To serve, spoon beef stuffing onto plates. If using smaller, tender squash, serve the squash "boats" on individual plates.

Stuffed Zucchini

One large zucchini
Stove Top Stuffing Mix (your choice of variety), prepared according to directions
Cheddar cheese, shredded
Halve zucchini lengthwise. Drizzle with olive oil and place, cut side down, on baking sheet. Roast in 350 degree oven until just tender. Remove from oven. Scoop out large seeds and discard. Remove flesh, leaving 1/4 inch on skin, and place zucchini pulp in bowl. (If using smaller zucchini, there is no need to discard seeds.)
Combine prepared stuffing mix and zucchini pulp; fill zucchini "boats" and top with cheddar cheese. Roast in 350 degree oven until heated through and cheese is melted. To serve, scoop filling out of zucchini skins. If using smaller, tender squash, serve the squash "boats" on individual plates.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Friday, August 22, 2008

Rustic Tuscan Stew

Nothing like comfort food on a cool, drizzly day. Especially comfort food that only takes about 30 minutes to prepare and costs just pennies per serving. You'd never guess, though, because this is one delicious stew, and I call it

Rustic Tuscan Stew

Olive oil
1 c. chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch (or more) hot pepper flakes
1/2 c. white wine (pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc)
2 c. low sodium chicken stock
1 (28-oz.) can whole tomatoes
2 (15.5-oz.) cans chick peas, drained and rinsed
2 handfuls fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped, or 1 T. dried basil (or more to taste)
4 c. tightly packed spinach leaves
1 piece parmesan rind, about 1 inch x 3 inches (or handful of grated parmesan)

In a deep saute pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and hot pepper flakes and saute until just becoming tender (do not brown). Add wine and bring to a simmer. Add chicken broth, chick peas, dried basil (if using) and parmesan rind (if using) and bring to a simmer.

Pour the tomatoes into a bowl and break them up with your fingers. Pour the tomatoes and their juice into the stew. Bring to a rapid simmer and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Stir in fresh basil, spinach, and grated parmesan if you didn't use the rind. Stir until greens are limp. Remove from heat, spoon out the cheese rind, and serve the stew. I suppose you could add salt and pepper, but I don't think it needs that. The cheese adds a good bit of saltiness to the stew.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chunky Barbecued Chicken Salad

I don't know where this recipe originated, but it is really good and a great way to use up leftover chicken. If you want to try it but don't have any leftover chicken, the meat from a rotisserie chicken will work fine, but will be a lot more salty than what you make at home. Or just grill some boneless, skinless chicken breasts and use those.

Adjust the proportions of the ingredients to your taste. I like my chicken salad quite creamy and spicy, and I prefer to use chicken breast meat only for this salad. This is better if you make it several hours in advance and store in the fridge. The chicken will absorb the flavors of the other ingredients.

Chunky Barbecued Chicken Salad

1/3 c. barbecue sauce
1/3 c. mayonnaise
1 canned chipotle pepper
2 lbs. leftover or plain grilled chicken
1 sm. red onion
1 red bell pepper
1/2 c. lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves

In a large bowl, whisk together barbecue sauce and mayonnaise. Finely chop chipotle and whisk into dressing.

Discard bones from chicken and cut meat into 1/2 – inch pieces. Finely chop enough onion to measure 1/3 c. Finely chop bell pepper and cilantro separately and add to dressing with chicken and onion, stirring to combine well. Season salad with salt and pepper. Serves 4.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chef Debbie Takes a Shot of Wild Turkey

This hen turkey is definitely safe from the stew pot! She came to our yard to eat the seeds that the squirrels knock out of the birdfeeders, and returned every morning and evening for several weeks. Suddenly she stopped coming. We're hoping that her eggs hatched and she moved on with her babies and they will grow up to return to our yard next spring.

In the meantime, I hope you will try this any-time-of-the-year turkey recipe. Several years ago I saw Rachel Ray make this on her TV show and thought I'd give it a try with a few changes. It was so good that it's become a repeat in our household and also for some of my clients. Nobody will guess that they are eating turkey. Enjoy!

Turkey Meatloaves with Pan Gravy

Canola oil
6 oz. cremini mushrooms, chopped
1 shallot, minced
Salt and pepper
1 1/3 pounds ground turkey
2 tsps. dried sage leaves, crumbled
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (Kitchen Basics if available)
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

Combine turkey, sage, Worcestershire sauce, bread crumbs and beaten egg, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add small amount of oil to just coat bottom of pan. Add chopped mushrooms and shallots and season with salt and pepper. Saute mushrooms 5 or 6 minutes until dark and tender. Scrape mushroom mixture into turkey mixture. Combine thoroughly.

Divide meat loaf mixture into 4 equal oval patties 1 inch thick.

Add more oil to pan and heat to medium high. Arrange patties in the skillet. Cook 6 minutes on each side or until no longer pink inside; remove from pan, cover with foil and keep warm. In same pan, add butter to melt, whisk in flour and cook, stirring with whisk, until thick. Whisk in stock and season gravy with poultry seasoning, salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer gravy until it reaches desired thickness, return patties to pan gravy and turn to coat. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice and pour gravy over all.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Healthier Huevos Rancheros

We love Huevos Rancheros, or "ranch-style eggs," but we're doing our best to eat healthier so I make them now without the refried beans and cheese. I still use a flour tortilla, heat it directly over a gas burner till warm, and top with fried eggs and my Salsa Verde. This morning I had garden-fresh tomatoes and they made a colorful contrast, don't you think?

We eat first with our eyes, and if you make this you will smell and taste how good this version is. You will never miss the beans and cheese!

Monday, August 18, 2008

It's Not Easy Being Green

This green sauce, or Salsa Verde, which just means "Green Sauce" in Spanish, never lasts long in our house. It's really easy to make, tastes incredibly fresh, and we use it warm to top fried eggs, cold as a dip for corn or tortilla chips, and hot as a sauce for meat. I like mine really hot (spicy) but I've toned down the peppers in the recipe for you. Add more if you like it spicier, too. I think this tastes incredibly like the Herdez brand of salsa verde, but making it at home is far less expensive.

Here's a picture of a juicy pork tenderloin that was actually braised in the sauce, then sliced and slathered with it. Serve this with rice and homemade corn tortillas. Mmmmmm...

A word about tomatillas and napolitos: tomatillas are available fresh just about everywhere now, and they look like little green tomatoes in a papery husk. Peel that off and the skin should be a bit sticky and the berry plump and bright green. You don't have to core these, just rinse them well under running water. Napolitos are the leaves of a variety of the prickly pear cactus. There are acres and acres of them in Mexico, and compounds in them are believed to contribute to good health, including preventing bladder cancers. You can find them fresh in many stores here, but most of us are a bit wary of the thorns, so for this recipe I just used the jarred variety, which you can find in the Latin section of most grocery stores. When jarred they are very salty, so be sure to rinse the strips thoroughly in a colander under running water to remove much of the sodium.

Now, here's the recipe for my

Tomatilla y Napolito Salsa

1 1/2 lbs. tomatillas, husks removed, rinsed, and cut into quarters
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and cut in half (remove seeds if you want no heat in this sauce)
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
Handful fresh cilantro (just tear off a handful and some stems are ok..they have lots of flavor)
1 tsp. instant chicken boullion (I use Caldo de Pollo, also found on the Latin foods aisle. It's like boullion only in powder form with dried parsley in it and is a staple in most Mexican kitchens.)
1 1/2 cup water
1 (30 oz.) jar napolitos (optional; we like this with or without)
Juice of 2 limes

Place all ingredients except napolitos and lime juice in a 3 quart saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until onions are tender. Allow to cool. Pour into food processor or blender, add rinsed and drained napolitos (if using) and whir until vegetables are pureed. Stir in lime juice and enjoy!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Summer Vegetable Soup

Lots of people love gazpacho, but probably a greater number of people in the United States have never had the opportunity to try it. It's a great way to use up your fresh tomatoes and, in fact tastes best with tomatoes that are perfectly ripe. I've made this in the winter, though, and to get that summer tomato flavor, just use canned diced tomatoes that you've drained.

Make this several hours in advance and chill it; the flavors only get better and it's really delicious icy cold!


1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 red bell pepper, cored and roughly chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, cored and roughly chopped
1 c. chopped onion
1/3 c. fresh cilantro leaves (a few stems won't hurt)
4 c. V-8 Juice (I use the hot and spicy variety)
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 T. red wine vinegar
2 T. good balsamic vinegar
Drizzle of dry Sherry
Sour cream, whole cilantro sprigs, and optional croutons for garnish

Put all the vegetables into the bowl of a food processor and mince. Pour in juice. The amount will be determined by the size of the just want liquid in there to really puree the raw vegetables. Reserve any juice that didn't fit into the food processor. Pulse and then continuously process until the vegetables are just tiny specks. Add the cumin and vinegars and pulls several times until the flavors are combined. Pour into pitcher and add any reserved tomato juice you may have left. Stir; cover and refrigerate until very cold. To serve: Pour cold soup into individual bowls. Float a dollop of sour cream in the middle, several crotons around that, and garnish with the cilantro sprig, and drizzle a small amount of sherry over top of soup. This recipe makes about 2 1/2 quarts of soup.

Note: You can use whatever color peppers you prefer, and if you would like this spicier you can spike the soup with Tabasco sauce. (Texas Pete or other sauces like that will add too much vinegar flavor.)

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why There's a Timer on the Oven, or My Recipe for Incinerated Sweet Potatoes

I've just been so hungry for baked sweet potatoes, that healthy, complex carbohydrate that, with a sprinkle of cinnamon, can taste like dessert. So when I got home yesterday, I pulled three out of my grocery bag, washed them and set them neatly on aluminum foil in my preheated 375 degree oven, closed the door, checked the time and dreamt of a really yummy side dish for my pork tenderloin that I was making for supper.

I got busy doing the usual multi-tasking: laundry, sweeping the floor, going through the mail, etc., and then started cleaning greens and doing some "prep ahead" work to save me time later.

Just then the phone rang, and it was another personal chef friend with whom I hadn't spoken in a couple of weeks, so I grabbed my cup of coffee and went out to the sunroom. We chatted for about an hour. (And it was delightful catching up!)

The dryer buzzed and so my attention was on the laundry for I-don't-know-how-long, and then I grabbed a bowl of cucmber peelings and tomato cores off the kitchen counter and headed out the door to find a new spot for a compost pile. I'm not going to go into all the distractions I found outside, but it was kinda like the old Family Circus cartoon from the Sunday paper, where little Billy's footprints are visible doing circles and loopty-loops all over the back yard tracing his path to do just one simple thing.

Ok, so back into the house I go and the phone rings again...this time it's my husband and I wander into the dining room while chatting with him....and I smell something burning. But it's so hard to identify! I walk from the dining room to the sunroom to the kitchen and back, and the dining room is the only place where I smell something burning. Thinking maybe it was electrical, I proceeded to unplug every lamp cord and sniff the outlet. Nothing! Weird.

So, I grabbed up the laundry basket and headed back through the kitchen to carry the clean towels to the bathroom, and came up short as I passed the wall ovens and felt the heat from them on my arm! It came to me in a flash! OMG! The sweet potatoes! They had been in the oven for 4 hours! (They may look nice and plump in the photo, but they were empty shells.)

So, there you have it, my method for making incinerated sweet potatoes.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Friday, August 15, 2008

Quick Tomato-Basil Vegetable Pan Sauce

One of the easiest ways to save time in the kitchen on busy weeknights is to cook chicken breasts ahead on the weekends and then throw together a quick pan sauce when you're ready to serve them. This one is full of chunky veggies and is so fresh and pretty on the plate that your family won't believe that it only took 10 minutes to make. Serve this with chicken, fish, shrimp, pork tenderloin or chops, or steaks. It's low-fat and low-sodium, too.

Quick Tomato-Basil Vegetable Pan Sauce

Canola oil cooking spray
3 medium fresh tomatoes, cored and chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1/2 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. dried Italian herb blend (McCormick)
1/2 c. loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped (or 1 tsp. dried if you don't have fresh)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Drizzle of good balsamic vinegar

Heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet to medium-hot. Spray with non-stick canola oil spray and add onions, garlic, peppers, and dried herbs. Steam, stirring frequently for 3 minutes or until just beginning to soften. Add tomatoes and fresh basil and simmer just until tomatoes are heated through. Take off heat, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper to taste and serve.

Note: This sauce should retain the fresh components of the vegetables and they shouldn't be soft, just tender.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Hungry Fox Caprese Salad Pizza

What to do when you have an abundance of basil and tomatoes? Make America's favorite fast food: Pizza!

Actually, I was hungry for a caprese salad AND pizza, so the logical result was to make a pizza with all the components of a caprese salad on top.

I really like the texture of pizza crust when it's baked on a stone. I've had a lot of practice making messes in my ovens as I've attempted to use a peel to slide my pizza onto the stone. Then I experimented with laying a piece of parchment paper on the back side of my baking sheet, dusting it with cornmeal, and then laying out the pizza dough on that. Place the baking sheet next to the baking stone and slide the parchment paper, pizza and all, onto the stone. It works great.

Maybe somebody else had this idea first, but I came up with it one day in an effort to bake 2 dozen miniature pizzas at once, and I needed to get them all onto the stone at the same time. Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

The toppings that I used for this pizza were olive oil, Victoria Taylor's Sicilian Seasoning, fresh tomatoes, fresh whole basil leaves, roasted red peppers, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar.

Here's my crust:

3 1/2 c. bread flour
1 pkg. rapid rise yeast
1/2 c. warm water
1 c. warm water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. olive oil
1 tsp. sugar

Heat oven with baking stone on bottom rack to 450 degrees.

Combine the 1/2 c. warm water, yeast and sugar in a measuring cup and dissolve for 15 minutes. (It should be foamy; if it's not, then your water was too hot and start over.)

Put 3 c. of the flour, the salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Pour in the yeast mixture and the 1 c. of warm water. Pulse and run until the dough comes together in a ball and run the blade for about 3 minutes, pulsing, total to knead the dough. (Drizzle in more water if the dough does not collect into a ball.)

Use the remaining 1/2 c. flour to dust your counter; turn the dough out onto it and knead briefly until it's smooth and shiny. Turn into a lightly oiled bowl and turn the dough to coat with the oil. Cover with a dinner plate and set the bowl over another bowl of warm water for about one hour, or until doubled in size. Turn out onto counter, cut in half (or however large you want your pizzas) and shape each piece into a ball or whatever shape you want it to be. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.

Shape into flat disks (toss, roll, etc.). Turn a baking sheet back-side-up and cover it with a piece of parchment paper. Dust it with cornmeal and lay the dough out on it. Poke it all over with a fork to prevent air bubbles; brush with olive oil, add seasonings and whatever toppings you want. Slide parchment paper with pizza on it onto the hot stone and bake until crust has browned and cheese is golden, about 10-15 minutes or so depending on the toppings and size of pizza.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Operation Baking GALS Update & Cookie Recipe

The response to Operation Baking GALS has just been incredible! Already we have 12 members on our team, and I hope to add 10 more to the roster. I forgot to mention that our soldier, Daryl's, birthday is August 26th....what a great birthday surprise!

Here is a recipe for one of the types of cookies that I'm going to be baking. You might recognize them as Pecan Sandies, but in my family they've always been known as Overnight Cookies. They are pretty sturdy and don't get stale as long as they're sealed tightly, so they should make the long trip just fine.

If you can't be a baker, but have a favorite cookie recipe that I or other members of our team can use, we sure would appreciate it if you would share it with us. I'm going to post our team members after this recipe just in case you'd like to see who they are and where they're from. Many have their own baking blogs where you can find terrific recipes that you might want to use.

Overnight Cookies

3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
1 c. shortening
2 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 T. vanilla
1 c. pecans, coarsely chopped

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Cream remaining ingredients and combine with dry ingredients. Stir in one cup coarsely chopped pecans. Roll in waxed paper to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Chill overnight. Slice 1/4-inch thick and bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 10 – 15 minutes at 375 ° till slightly golden on the edges.

Here's our team so far!
Heather Peskin of Brooklyn, NY & Sherry Trifle
Carmella Lanni-Giardina of the Bronx, NY & The Food Duo
Amy Gurnsey from Detroit, MI & Wake Me When It's Over
Tanya Schroeder of Hoffman Estates, IL & Take the Cannoli
Beth Morey of Missoula, MT & Muffin Love Chick
Kim Onstott of Estrella Mountain Ranch, AZ & Your Place Gourmet
Kelsey Morris of NY, NY & Kelsey Kakes
Linda Harper of Los Angeles, CA & Tender Crumb
Brent Evans of Charlotte, NC & Personal Chefs Network
Gwen Byrd of Lancaster, SC
Dolores Ferrero of San Ramon, CA & Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity
Marianne Qoyawayma of Scottsdale, AZ
Penny Harper of Tualatin, OR
Pamela of Cookies With Boys
Katy Swanson of Overland Park, KS
Lorna Cohen of Northbrook, IL
Marilyn Nowalk of Washington, DC

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Okra Succotash and Justin Wilson

I don't know if Justin Wilson was THE original Cajun TV chef, but in our book he was and remains the most beloved.

Back when Bob and I were newlyweds, before children, before the big yard to mow, know....during that honeymoon period when you pretty much have no priority other than each other and your job and friends, we would lazy around the house all day on Saturdays. And an important part of our Saturday routine was watching Justin Wilson's show on PBS. He was so entertaining with his jokes and sense of humor and the food he made looked mouth-wateringly yummy! (Click HERE if you'd like to hear his voice or order his cookbooks.)

This was also way before the Internet, too, and even personal computers, for that matter! The only way to get Justin's recipes was to order his cookbook or to jot down guestimates of what he was "trowing" in the pot. Since our budget couldn't handle ordering expensive cookbooks from PBS, I would sit with pencil and paper in hand through each show in hopes of getting down all the ingredients to try in my own kitchen.

One dish that I've made for years is Okra Succotash and it was inspired by Justin Wilson. I'd be willing to bet it's not precisely like his, but it sure is good! This is a great dish for this season because you can find everything in the grocery store or farmers' markets right now. And did I mention that it is really good and fresh-tasting? It freezes well, too.

Now, a word about okra. If you are buying fresh okra, the pods must be no more than about 3 inches long and with no brown on them. Longer, and they get tough and stringy. Also pay attention to the price. Frozen sliced okra works just as well as fresh in this recipe without compromising a thing, so buy the frozen (do not defrost) if the value is better or you are short on prep time. There is no okra slime in this dish if you follow the directions to cook the okra till it loses its every time!

Oh, and fresh corn is best, but frozen works great, too. If you can't find really good fresh tomatoes, use canned diced tomatoes. This is NOT a fussy recipe at all! Make lots of this now and freeze it to use this winter.

Okra Succotash

Serves 10-12

6 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
4 T. reserved bacon drippings
2 c. chopped onion
2 c. chopped green bell pepper
½ tsp. or more ground cayenne pepper
1 (16 oz.) bag frozen sliced okra (4 c. fresh)
1 (16 oz) bag frozen corn (4 c. fresh)
3 med. tomatoes, chopped (or one large can diced tomatoes, drained)
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large sauté pan, sauté onion, green bell pepper, and cayenne pepper in bacon drippings until onion is limp. Add frozen okra and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until okra has lost most of its “slime.” Add corn and tomatoes. Mix well and simmer, uncovered, until the corn is cooked (about 10 minutes). Stir in the crumbled bacon and salt and pepper to taste.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Monday, August 11, 2008

Roasted Figs with Bacon, Goat Cheese, and Rosemary Honey

One of the reasons farmers' markets are so much fun is that you never know what treasures you will find there. This time it was tiny fresh figs! Hmmmm....what to do with these little morsels of goodness???

Here's my creation for the day. Sweet and soft warm figs, salty and creamy goat cheese, crisp and salty bacon, sweet herbed honey with just a bite of black pepper, and a drizzle of very good balsamic vinegar provides the acid to cut through the sweetness.

Roasted Fresh Figs with Bacon, Goat Cheese and Rosemary Honey

For each appetizer serving:

3/4 c. small fresh figs* (about 10), stemmed and sliced open
2 T. goat cheese (or more)
1 slice smoked bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
1 T. honey
1/8 tsp. finely minced fresh rosemary
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Drizzle of very good balsamic vinegar
Sprig of rosemary for garnish

Heat oven to 425 ˚. Spray small gratin dish for each serving with canola oil cooking spray. Arrange figs in each dish; sprinkle with goat cheese and crumbled bacon. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and drizzle with hot Rosemary Honey and vinegar.

Rosemary Honey: Combine honey, rosemary and ground black pepper in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high for 30 seconds or until bubbling.

*If you have large figs, use three per serving. Stem figs and slice in quarters from the stem end just to, but not through the blossom end. Spread open, fill with goat cheese and crumble bacon over top. Proceed with recipe.
Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Operation Baking Gals

I'm so excited about Operation Baking Gals! (Gals stands for "Give a little support.) All across the country, baking gals (and guys) are showing their support for our troops overseas by firing up their ovens, dusting off their stand mixers, and pulling out their favorite recipes for baked goods!

This is the second round and I've volunteered to be a host this time. What I need is everyone's help to make this "Operation" a real success. We want our servicemen to be bombarded with goodies from home!

My serviceman is my son-in-law, Daryl, who is a staff sergeant in the Air Force serving in Iraq. Many of you have already met Daryl and know that he was shipped out a month before his precious little son, Deven, was born. Lyndsey and Daryl also have a 2 1/2 year old little girl, Mary, who misses her daddy tremendously. He can't wait to get home to see them, but that won't happen till early winter. In the meantime, we are all trying to keep him and his 22 other fellow troops from his air base in good spirits and aware that they are appreciated back home.

This is how it works: Ship anytime the week of August 23-30 and use the USPS for your package that will be going to a camp in Iraq. What can you bake? That's up to you! Just keep in mind that it will take about one week to get to Daryl and will be subjected to temperatures over 100 degrees and lots of jostling around along the way.

If you or any of your baking friends want to join my team, please post a quick comment here and email me at thehungryfox AT yahoo DOT com and I'll send you more info and Daryl's address.

Here's a recent letter from Daryl to a friend of mine after she and her book club sent them a care package:

On behalf of all of the troops on Alpha flight/586ESFS, I would like to say thank you so much for that wonderful care package that you sent us. We really appreciate it. Out of everything that you sent us, the cookies were the biggest hit around here. Everyone just went on and on about them. I also appreciate the beautiful letter that you wrote as well. And trust me I know how blessed I am to have such a beautiful family. Well I have to turn in now, but please pass on our thanks and appreciation to the rest of the wonderful women in the Book Club. It really makes this place not so bad when you know you have such wonderful people supporting you. You and Franklin are wonderful and I thank you for your support during this deployment. I love you guys and can't wait to see you both when I come home. ~Daryl

I hope to hear from you and your friends soon!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Here's our team so far!
Heather Peskin of Brooklyn, NY & Sherry Trifle
Carmella Lanni-Giardina of the Bronx, NY & The Food Duo
Amy Gurnsey from Detroit, MI & Wake Me When It's Over
Tanya Schroeder of Hoffman Estates, IL & Take the Cannoli
Beth Morey of Missoula, MT & Muffin Love Chick
Kim Onstott of Estrella Mountain Resort, AZ & Your Place Gourmet
Kelsey Morris of NY, NY & Kelsey Kakes
Linda Harper of Los Angeles, CA & Tender Crumb
Brent Evans of Charlotte, NC & Personal Chefs Network
Gwen Byrd of Lancaster, SC

Mary Makes Pita Bread!

I'm staying with the mid-Eastern theme for one more day. I asked my daughter to bring some pita bread home from the grocery store. It was so dry and tough...the polar opposite of what I had enjoyed at the Lebanese restaurant. So, I decided that since my granddaughter and I had all afternoon together, we should try our hand at making homemade pita bread. It turned out tender and absolutely delicious. I'm sure that Mary had a lot to do with that!

Mary helped form the loaves. The hardest thing for us to do was wait for the loaves to rise, but the reward was worth the wait!

Mmmmmmm, Mimi...this is really really good!!!

What a beautiful stack of pita loaves! Here's the recipe:

The Hungry Fox's Pita Bread

1 pkg. rapid-rise yeast
1 T. sugar
1/2 c. lukewarm water
6 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 c. milk
1 1/2 c. lukewarm water

-Dissolve yeast and sugar in 1/2 c. lukewarm water until foamy.
-In bowl of food processor, briefly pulse 6 c. flour and 2 tsp. salt.
-Pour into flour mixture the yeast water, 1 1/2 c. warm water and 1/3 c. milk. Pulse until combined and starting to pull together.
-Process with stop & go motion until dough pulls together and becomes smooth and elastic.
-Pour dough out onto floured counter top and briefly knead until able to form a ball.
-Lightly grease large bowl with olive oil, add dough to bowl and turn to coat all sides with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and then clean cotton dish towel. Set over pot of tap-warm water for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. Turn out onto lightly floured counter top.
-Knead and shape dough for 2 minutes. Form into long rope, about 3 inches in diameter.
-Heat oven to 475 degrees. ( Heat baking stone, also, on bottom rack.)
-Cut into slices (orange-size) and form into balls. Place on baking sheet, cover with clean cotton towel, and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Pat each ball into flat disc, then roll thinly (less than 1/4 inch) in shape of circle. Return to sheet; cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
-Place each disc directly onto heated baking stone or baking sheet.
-When bread is puffed, turn and continue baking for 2 minutes. Timing depends upon thickness of your bread. Do not overbake and it is not necessary to brown this bread.
-Remove loaves to cooling rack. Cool completely and store in plastic zipper bags for one day at room temperature and longer in fridge or freezer.
-Makes 11 -12

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Chef Debbie's Tabbouli

If you read yesterday's post you won't be surprised that today I made tabbouli. I experimented and think that it comes really close to what I enjoyed at the Kabob Grill last evening. This is a great side for grilled red meat. Good luck finding the bulghur. We had to buy a box of Near East Tebbouleh mix and used just the cracked wheat, leaving the seasoning packet for other uses later.


6 side servings

1/2 cup bulghur wheat
1/2 cup boiling water
1 large bunch parsley, stemmed & minced
3 T. minced fresh mint
2 cups perfectly ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 finely minced green onions (white & green parts)
Grated zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
Drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt, adjusted to taste

Soak the bulghur in water for 15 minutes, then drain well. Place the bulgher in a mixing bowl and add all the remaining ingredients. Adjust seasoning (salt). Chill thoroughly before serving.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Friday, August 8, 2008

Personal Chefs at The Kabob Grill

Can you imagine being a restaurateur hosting a group of personal chefs for dinner? Thursday evening our Carolinas Personal Chefs chapter of the USPCA decended upon The Kabob Grill at its location off Rea Road in Stonecrest.

This was an exciting experience for me because Lebanese food is not something I am at all familiar with. The closest I've gotten is lamb grilled on a skewer, or baba gannouj, or teboulleh salad.

The first thing I always do when I know I'm way out of my league with a menu is have a serious conversation with the server who, in this case and by the best happenstance, was one of the owners. I asked him if he would mind choosing my dinner for me and I told him there were no restrictions. (I was pretty sure they didn't serve anything moving on the plate or having six or more legs!) What he delivered was a real "meat and potatoes" manmeal...Lebonese style. I guess that's what I get for leaving the ordering up to a man! I have to say that it was really tasty, though, and a good representation of kabobs at their finest. (Note: There are many vegetable and even vegetarian selections on the menu.)

I should have gotten a picture of Reid's teboulleh salad. It was beautiful....deep verdant green with diced garden-ripe tomatoes gracing the top. I learned this evening that I've never added enough parsley to my teboulleh salad! If you really, really searched, you could find the grains in Reid's salad. Did I say if you really really searched? My body fairly screamed, "This is so healthy; this is so healthy!"

The next logical question was what wine to drink with all this grilled meat and bold flavors. Now, I have to tell you that I was familiar with most of the wines on the wine list, but it's always a good idea to at least try a wine that is created near where the food originates. (That's a rule of thumb to remember...they generally pair well together.) "We do have a Lebanese wine and it's delicious," I was told and so I jumped at the opportunity to try that, my first Lebanese wine!

Out our host came with my glass of Chateau KSara "Le Prieuré!" Deep purple, dark berries, spice, balanced acid and tannins enough to stand up to the grilled meats and olive oil. Yummy and perfect! I will never understand those people who insist on drinking only one variety of wine....they miss so much! If you never thought of wine being made in Lebanon (I never did!) and would like to pay a virtual visit to this winery, by all means click here.

A wonderful evening all around....good friends and colleagues, great food, wine, and service that was welcoming and friendly. I highly recommend a visit to The Kabob Grill in Stonecrest.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Pennsylvania Dutch Pepper Slaw

For generations the Pennsylvania Dutch women in my family have been making pepper slaw and when my friend Debbie of Yummy~Issimo sent out a request for a slaw recipe I immediately thought of this Pennsylvania Dutch Pepper Slaw. She wanted something spicy, and while this is not spicy (most PA Dutch food is not), it can easily be adjusted to individual taste with the addition of diced jalapenos or cayenne pepper flakes.

Here's the recipe as it appeared in Edna Eby Heller's 1968 "The Art of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking." (My grandma gave me this cookbook in 1980 and her simple inscription inside the front cover still makes me get all misty.)

Pepper Cabbage
4 c. shreded cabbage
1/2 green pepper, chopped fine
1 stem celery, cut fine
1/4 c. grated carrot (opt. and not used in my family)
1 tsp. salt
5 T. sugar
1/2 c. water
5 T. vinegar (apple cider)
Combine all ingredients, mixing well. If refrigerated, will keep well for several days.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Chef Debbie's Pesto Day

What to do with your bumper crop of basil and mint?! I had my helper, Mary, with me all day and we decided it was time to do something constructive with our herbs so that we can enjoy them all winter. I'm going to freeze some of the mint and basil in water to add to sauces and tea, but today was PESTO DAY!

These are all the ingredients you need for a really great basil-mint pesto. I made two batches of this...what a really vibrant flavor that pops in the mouth! Perfect for fish or chicken...or lamb chops!

I also made a basil-sun dried tomato pesto, and that will be great with whole wheat pastas in the winter. Go to your local catering supplier and get these little 2 ounce containers. Freeze them on a tray then pack them into ziploc or vacuum seal bags to store in the freezer.
Here are the recipes!

Basil-Mint Pesto

1 c. fresh mint leaves
1 c. fresh basil leaves
1/2 c. walnut pieces, toasted
2 T. shredded Parmesan cheese
Juice of one lemon
2 garlic cloves
3/4 tsp. salt
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil plus extra as needed

Combine ingredients in blender container and pulse until emulsified. If too thick, while motor is running drizzle in extra olive oil until smooth.

Basil Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

3 c. fresh basil leaves
3 cloves garlic
1/4 c. sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped and ready to use
1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 c. canola oil, plus more as needed
1 tsp. kosher salt
2/3 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
Dash coarsely ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in blender and pulse until emulsified. Add more canola oil if too thick.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Barley Salad with Fresh Herbs

Are you interested in adding more whole grains to your diet? Here's a salad I made last evening, inspired by Rebekah Marion of GroupRecipes. I added the diced tomato and think that crumbled feta cheese would be a great addition, too, for variety. If you have some fresh oregano, throw that in with your fresh herbs of choice. This is really one of those salads that you can easily personalize.

I already had some cooked barley in the freezer (it freezes beautifully!), so I used some of that and reduced the other ingredients to make just the right amount for two. The flavors are even more vibrant this morning, so be sure to make this salad several hours ahead of time and the barley will absorb the flavors of the citrus, herbs, and garlic. Serve a perfectly chilled California Sauvignon Blanc or an Italian Pinot Grigio with this salad.

Here is Rebekah's original recipe:

Barley Salad with Fresh Herbs

3 cups water
1 cup uncooked pearled barley
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped flat Italian parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 TB chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup Canola Oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 TB freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a sauce pan, combine water and barley. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until barley is tender, 40-45 minutes. Drain barley (cool) and set aside. Combine green onions, red (bell) pepper, parsley, basil and mint in a large bowl. Toss in the cooked barley. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, minced garlic and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then toss into barley salad, stirring to combine well. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve room temperature or cold.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Monday, August 4, 2008

Recipe for Cargill's Salad

Back in the 1960's and 1970's going out to a restaurant was a treat and not a weekly occurrence as it is today. Cargill's was a family restaurant near the rural community of McVeytown, Pennsylvania, where my family would go for dinner after church once every few weeks. As with so many family-run restaurants, its life was relatively short (the original owners retired) and it is no longer in existence. I don't remember a thing about any of the dishes from Cargill's Restaurant except their signature salad, which I recreated because I enjoyed it so much. If you love olives, this salad is for you. Few ingredients, simple flavors, and a combination of wonderful textures make up this easy salad.

Cargill's Salad

Serves 4 as a side salad

1/2 head iceburg lettuce, chopped in 1-inch pieces
1 medium ripe tomato, chopped in 1/2-inch pieces
2 narrow ribs celery, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
3 hard-boiled eggs, cut lengthwise into quarters and then across three times
Good quality mayonnaise, such as Kraft (about 1/2 cup)
20 small green stuffed olives, coarsely chopped
Olive brine
Salt & Pepper

In a large bowl, toss together vegetables, eggs, and olives. Season with salt and pepper. Add a generous spoonful of mayo and a drizzle of the olive brine (about 2 tsps. or more for more olive flavor). Gently fold into vegetable mixture. All the vegetables should be lightly coated with the mayo/olive brine. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately.

To make ahead: Combine the vegetables and eggs and store in refrigerator. Just before serving, add the S&P, olives, and mayo/brine.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Monty's Grill is Great!

One of Charlotte's best-kept secrets is surely Monty's Seafood Grill in the Ballantyne community of Charlotte. Last evening we had the spicy mussels in this picture, and of course the best part of this tapa (small serving) is sopping up the delicious wine-chorizo sauce with the hot and crusty bread from the breadbasket that is always kept full. We also had our favorite steak lettuce wraps, lamb lollipops, fried green tomatoes with goat cheese, and spinach gnocchi. Yes, the selections on the menu are international yet each dish compliments the other.

Bob and I love to order a half dozen or so tapas to share, but we've had their regular entrees there and they are fantastic, too. Everything is cooked to perfection and full of bold flavors.

We find that a tapas dinner is fun and exciting as we "discover" new and varied flavors with each dish, and for us that is often much more fun than having a large serving of just one entree. Order a bottle of the Spanish Albariño, ask your server to stretch out your meal, and she'll bring you your tapas a few at a time and you're in for a wonderfully relaxing evening!

"Upscale" at Monty's means the superb quality of the food, the exquisitely tasteful yet casual ambiance, the attentive service, the balanced wine list, and the friendly proprietress (Robyn), who will always visit your table with a smile and a welcome. It does NOT mean overpriced, and that is quite refreshing! On Wednesday evenings, they also offer 1/2 price bottles of select wine, and live music later in the evenings, and they have an excellent Sunday brunch, too.

Give this privately-owned restaurant a try and I know you'll love going there as much as we do!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Chef Debbie on Tasting Wine

Do you know how to drink wine? Of course you do, but do you know how to really appreciate the wine in your glass? Pour your next glass with purpose and take a minute to do these things:

Admire the color of the wine in the glass, and the variation between the color at the rim and the color at the core. Note the vibrancy of the color...does your white fairly shine in the glass? Is your wine effervescent? Anticipate the feel of tiny bubbles bursting in your mouth.

Swirl your wine in the glass and admire the rivulets sliding down the sides. (These are also called "legs" and you can anticipate the way the wine will feel in your legs mean a light mouth-feel and lots of thick, clinging legs mean a full-bodied wine with a long finish.)

As your nose approaches the glass, how close must it get before you can detect the scent of the wine? Place your nose as far into the glass as you can and inhale deeply. If all you detect is alcohol, set your glass aside for a few minutes to allow the alcohol to dissipate and try again. What do you smell? Flowers? Berries? Chocolate? Herbs? Try to identify as many aromas as you can, and know that what ever you smell is what you smell. (Don't worry about what somebody thinks you should smell.)

Sip and swirl the wine in your mouth, "chew" and make sure the wine has reached all your tastebuds because different parts of your mouth will detect sweet, sour, salty, bitter, etc., and then swallow because the alcohol will hit the back of your tongue (and eventually your brain, of course). Try to identify the flavors that linger in your mouth. Are they the same as those aromas that you detected? Are there new components now? Dried fruit? Pencil box? Spice? Does your mouth feel dry inside (tannins)? Does the back of your throat burn (alcohol)? Is your mouth watering (acid)?

Make this routine a habit and soon you will discover that you will find more pleasure with each wine you try, and you will want to try new wines, make discoveries, and experiment with matching food with your wine. Enjoy!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Friday, August 1, 2008

Chef Debbie Stuffs Lobster Tails

I just love the job I do! Romantic dinner party for two this evening, and it was a surprise birthday present which made it even more fun for me! The "birthday boy" saw me when I pulled into the parking lot in my chef whites and immediately put 2 & 2 together and I had to chuckle at the spring in his step as he trotted up the stairs to let his girlfriend know that he'd figured out his surprise birthday gift.

As for me, I really enjoyed meeting Gregg & Brandy and helping to make Gregg's birthday dinner extra-special. Brandy had ordered his favorite dishes, so crab-stuffed lobster was tops on the list, and I really welcomed the opportunity to be creative with the prep and the plating.

I got the biggest kick (and always do) out of watching my clients enjoy their food, but this evening there was a bonus because I got to hear Gregg's side of all the "Happy Birthday" phone calls he received. Each of them went something like this: "Hey....yeah, thanks man....yeah....I'm just finishing up my dinner here. We had our personal chef come in this evening to make us dinner." (Very nonchalant!)

And the very best part of the evening was when I overheard him tell Brandy that he'd never had better food in any restaurant, and he would be talking about this birthday gift for a very long time to come.

You know, it's truly a wonderful thing when one has a passion for something that brings joy to others!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie