Sunday, July 31, 2011

let's review: carrabba's... savannah and beyond

I usually don't gush over a chain... well, yes I do.
     I love Carrabba's. We've long ago established my love of many Italian things: food, wine, men... (namely my husband. hee hee.) This chain restaurant is just one more.
     No matter where I am, near or far, I can usually find a Carrabba's Italian Grill. This can be comforting when you are traveling and haven't yet discovered the local hangouts.
     For the most part, Carrabba's is consistent. At some Italian places, the discerning palate can tell that the food is prepared elsewhere, shipped to each franchise, then recooked... not freshly made. So far, this has not been the case with Carrabba's. I am hoping that with recent corporate restructuring, this long running consistency will be retained. For a look at the restaurant's history, click here.
tag pi pac
     The specials menu changes frequently for regulars and adventurous eaters. The standard fare is reliably good for people who need the edible security found in familiar dishes. Each item is prepared to order, many on a wood-fired grill.
chicken bryan
     Our family frequents the Savannah Carrabba's like some people flock to their favorite local diner. It is our hangout. The management and staff go out of their way to make each meal a personal experience. It is sort-of like going to your Italian nonna's for supper.
     We meet there for weeknight family dinners, birthdays and anniversaries. We even invaded with a huge crowd of friends and family after our daughter's high school graduation ceremony.
     It is great for a late lunch... wood-fired pizza and a salad. But, the atmosphere is cozy enough for romantic date night... Steak Carrabba, garlic mashed, veggies, salad and of course, tiramisu accompanied by espresso.
tiramisu
     So, next time you're in the mood for something Italian, something grilled or something delicious... find your local Carrabba's and pop on in. You'll be glad you did!
 Carrabba's Italian Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 30, 2011

homemade garlic croutons

     Okay, I'm going to teach you a little something that will make you happy. Well, it made me happy, because I love bread so much...
Today, class, we're making some crunchy, garlicky croutons
     You will be saving some of that hard earned grocery money when you stop buying the dry, tasteless mystery cubes that come in a box. And hey, stop throwing out the end of that baguette you had with last night's spaghetti. Croutons can be browned in a skillet or baked in the oven. Either way, they are wonderfully simple. 
     Use whatever type of leftover bread you have. They can be any shape or size from slices of toasted bread, big chunks or small cubes. We generally have wheat sandwich bread with a slice or two, plus the ends in a bag... languishing for days. I make smaller, cubed croutons out of it. If I have a crusty baguette, I make large, rustic chunks.
     Stored in an airtight container or frozen, they are on hand for many uses. Top a fresh Caesar Salad or toss into a bowl of veggie soup. This is a basic recipe and can be doubled or tripled easily. You can mix it up and use several types of bread.
Ingredients
½ loaf of Italian bread, cut into large cubes
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
1 T. olive oil
pinch of kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary or Italian parsley (optional)
Directions
Heat oil in non-stick skillet. Add garlic and toss bread cubes until toasted and browned. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and herbs.
If you would rather bake, toss bread with garlic, salt, pepper and oil. Mix in fresh herbs, if you like, then place on a baking sheet. Bake for ten minutes at 400 degrees, or until crispy and brown.

Friday, July 29, 2011

southwest beef and black bean enchiladas

     Ya know how you love the rich, deep flavor of pot roast? After you've finished that fabulous, comfort food dinner, what will you do with that pound of leftover meat?
     Have it again? Okay. Make barbecue beef sandwiches? Okay... yum. But look what Publix Supermarkets suggests that you try. 
     Southwest Beef and Black Bean Enchiladas. I just love the Aprons people. They consistently come up with simple, delicious recipes that are quick and easy.
     You can use leftover pot roast or if you're running behind on your dinner preparation like I was, you can purchase a 17 oz. package of fully cooked beef pot roast. Most food stores carry one brand or another.
     The Publix brand pot roast cost me around four dollars. At five o'clock in the afternoon, that seemed like a great deal! Amazingly, I had everything else at home but the tortillas.
     I changed it just a little. If you need to see the original recipe, click here. The salsa verde I used is already a little spicy, so I omitted the green chilies and added half a can of corn.
     They also instructed you to fill the shells with all ingredients separate... You know: layer of meat, then beans, then cheese, then chilies, then roll it up. That was too slow for me, so I mixed all of the filling ingredients together first. Much easier!
Ingredients
1 17-oz. package fully-cooked beef pot roast, or about a pound of leftover home-cooked pot roast
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
2/3 c. salsa verde (I like Rick Bayless' fire-roasted green tomatilla salsa)
10 (10-inch) flour or corn tortillas (I used Don Pancho's blend... flour and corn)
8 oz. Mexican shredded cheese blend, divided
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained
1 small can whole kernel corn, drained
1 medium tomato, diced
1 T. fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Microwave pot roast for 2 minutes on medium to warm. Drain gravy into a small saucepan. Add tomato sauce and the salsa verde to the gravy. Cook for about five minutes, or until hot.
Meanwhile, shred beef into a large bowl. Toss in drained black beans, corn and half of the cheese. blend with a fork, then add 1/2 cup of gravy-sauce to meat mixture. Blend well.
Take 1/2 cup of gravy mixture and pour it into the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Take a tortilla and fill with meat mixture. Place it seam side down in dish and repeat until you run out of filling. The package I bought contained ten. I used eight of them.
Pour remaining gravy over and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for 15 minutes. Top with fresh cilantro leaves and serve with diced tomatoes and a dollop of sour cream.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

cranberry-apple jello salad

     Here's a sort of retro recipe from my mom... You really don't see a lot of jello salad anymore. When I was growing up, tossed salads with mixed greens were not popular as they are today.
 the jello era
     My mom made all kinds of salads ranging from a canned peach half topped with cottage cheese and a maraschino cherry to a chunk of iceberg with homemade blue cheese dressing.
     We frequently had jello salad. When Mommy baked a chicken or a chicken casserole, this was her go-to side to accompany the green veggies. We also had it every Thanksgiving.
     It was easy to make in advance and served a crowd. Sometimes she added toasted pecans in with the apples. It gives the salad a nice crunch.
Ingredients
1 3-oz. box strawberry or mixed fruit jello
1/8 t. salt
1 1/4 c. boiling water
1 can cranberry sauce
2 c. finely chopped apple
Directions
Dissolve jello and salt in boiling water. Break up cranberry sauce with a fork. Add to gelatin mixture. Chill until very thick. Fold in apples and pour into mold or pan. Chill until firm. Makes about 4 cups.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

its farmers' market day!

     Are you ready to party? If your answer is a hale and hearty, YES, then get yourself down to the Richmond Hill Farmers' Market this afternoon between four and eight.
     It really is like a big, ole block party... but with produce! You will hear live music playing. Kids play on the playground. Old friends get reacquainted and fellow foodies take photographs of everything.
     I have been known to whine about certain negative things pertaining to life in a small town, but the farmers' market's debut last week sharply tipped the scales toward the positive. I ran into friends from church, saw a former neighbor and visited with growers.
     While conversing with the Honey Man, I found out that the coveted little honey bear on my kitchen counter, given to me by my daughter, came from his bees. It contains his super sweet Tupelo honey. The clover honey he sells is on my shopping list.
     One thing I will do differently today... make a beeline to the Glennville tomato stand. Last week, they nearly ran out while I was gabbing.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

eggplant parm

     I bought some little white Japanese eggplants at the local farmers' market. They are supposed to be slightly milder than the purple ones. That's what the guy who sold them to me said, anyway... slightly.
     My husband and mother-in-law love Eggplant Parmesan. It isn't my fave, but I made a quickie version for them for dinner. In the past, I've assembled this dish two ways. You can put yours together how you wish.
     It can be placed it in a large, flat baking dish, or individual dishes, like in a restaurant and lay the eggplant out in a single layer, OR you can put it in a deeper pan and make several layers of eggplant, cheese and sauce kind of like a lasagne.
     My husband likes it either way. It comes out gooey, cheesey and bubbly, so the semantics don't really matter.
     Kayla, who is a skeptical gourmand, arrived just as we were sitting down to eat. Wonders never cease... She ate some and loved it. She said it tasted like chicken... parm, of course;)
Here's what I did:
Ingredients
4 Japanese white eggplants, sliced lengthwise
1/2 c. Italian breadcrumbs
1/2 c. panko
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 t. Italian seasoning
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. black pepper
1 egg, beaten with a couple of drops of water mixed in
1 c. canola oil
1 large ball, fresh mozzarella
1 jar prepared marinara
Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking dish and set aside. In a large, flat bottomed pan, heat oil on med. high. Blend egg and water with a fork, in a flat bowl. Combine breadcrumbs, panko, Parmesan, Italian seasoning, garlic powder and black pepper in a large plate. Dip sliced eggplant in egg, shaking off the excess. Lay in the plate, pressing crumbs onto both sides. Gently slide into oil. Saute on both sides until brown. Drain on rack set over a cookie sheet.
Pour a small amount of sauce into bottom of baking dish. Place eggplant slices in bottom. Top with slices of mozzarella. Pour sauce over, then bake for 20 minutes or until brown and bubbly.

Friday, July 22, 2011

panzanella

     This is the perfect dinner salad for a hot summer day. It utilizes that last half of the baguette you had for dinner last night... or the night before.
     It can be made with any type of bread, in fact... or a mixture of breads. I've even frozen leftover bread to save for panzanella or Italian Bread Soup.
     You can add other things you like, or leave out some of the following ingredients, if you are offended by them. I have seen recipes using blanched green beans, mushrooms, cucumbers, asparagus, or any number of veggie combinations.
     So, mix it up. Get creative. Try different types and colors of tomatoes. Remember those lovely vegetables you bought at the Farmers' Market last week? You haven't cooked them yet, have you? They are languishing in the bottom drawer of your fridge as their nutrients slowly slip away... Toss them in!
Ingredients
6 cups old crusty bread, cut into large cubes
5 Roma or mixed heirloom tomatoes of varying size and color, cut into large chunks
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1/2 c. roasted red or yellow pepper
1 can hearts of palm, drained and sliced
1 cubanella pepper, chopped
1/4 c. pepperoncini, chopped
1/4 c. pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
1/2 c. green Sicilian olives, chopped
2 oz. flat anchovy fillets, drained and finely chopped
1/4 c. basil leaves, torn
zest and juice of a nice, fat lemon
3 T. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
a splash of brining liquid from the pepperoncini
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
handful of small leaf greens, such as baby spinach, arugula or mache'
Directions
Place bread, tomato, onion, peppers, hearts of palm, pepperoncini and olives in a large bowl. In a small bowl or food processor, mash anchovy fillets. Add basil, lemon zest and juice, vinegar, oil and brining liquid. Blend, then season with salt and pepper. Dress salad with dressing, tossing in greens at the last minute and enjoy.
Dinner in a hurry... in and out of the kitchen, quick! It is the very best summer menu idea, yet.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

farmers' market fun

     The first ever, Richmond Hill Farmers' Market was held on Tuesday afternoon in the park. It was a great success according to the Market Manager, Angus McLeod. He wrote on the Market's Facebook page that no one expected to see around six hundred people turn out for the event.
     I say, Why in the world NOT? Many of my friends who live in Richmond Hill bemoan even the prospect of traveling all the way to Savannah. My reply is usually a very snarky, Well, its not like this is New York City.
     In the ten years I have resided in the Coastal Empire, venturing farther than the Bryan County line on one side of the Ogeechee River is a weekly occurrence for us.
     There was a great variety of products to see and buy. Artisan pasta from FraLi Gourmet... guess what I bought? Fresh baby bella Mushroom Ravioli. Surprise, surprise.
Local honey
     Wild caught Georgia shrimp... right off the boat. I bought head on. I need to make some shrimp stock.
Grass-fed Beef from Hunter Cattle Co. in Brooklet, Georgia. Savannah River Farms was also in attendence from Sylvania.
 Plantation Jewels was there selling beautiful and unique jewlery made from items recovered in shipwreck dives.
The Lemonade Girls were there, attracting the attention of local news crews
     Beyond chatting with friends, hugging many a sweaty neck, talking to the person who grew the produce I would have for dinner, I would have to say that my favorite thing was the fact that I would be back at my house in five minutes!
Hope to see ya'll next Tuesday!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

new favorite scone... bleuberry-lemon rosemary

     Remember when I reported in the last post that Orange-Cranberry scones were my fave? Well, a new favorite has risen to the top of the heap.
     The Blueberry-Lemon Rosemary Scone with lemon glaze is to die for. I made them this afternoon, just before running out to the new farmers' market.
     Here they are baking... I am impatiently peeking through the oven door. When they came out, I drizzled them with lemon glaze. (The recipe is in the variations section at bottom of page on the previous post.) 
     They were still warm when Hannah left for her evening class. Taking a cup of iced coffee and a couple of warm scones, she made for the door... one happy chickadee.
     You have to try these. They are fresh and lemon-y. The rosemary prevents them from being too sweet and the tartness of the lemon glaze is, well... the icing on top!

Monday, July 18, 2011

simply delicious scones

     First, a silly story about my discovery of scones, followed by an easy-peasy recipe. The first time I tried authentic English scones with decadent Devonshire cream was in England at Hampton Court Palace, reported to be one of Henry the Eighth's favorite residences.
     My husband and I were chaperones on a youth leadership tour in the summer of two thousand-four. The summer skies over Hampton Court were ominous when we arrived. The know-it-all teenagers in our group were set on conquering the Maze Garden, an enormous hedge maze.  
     I on the other hand, was intent on avoiding the impending storm by visiting the cafe, a former conservatory, for a spot of afternoon tea. My husband really wanted to go with them, but at the last minute changed his mind.
     The optimistic bravado of youth carried the kids toward the maze. We had just poured our piping hot tea when the heavens opened. Minutes later, a raucous group of rain-drenched teens tumbled through the door.
     Our kids spotted us, cozy and dry, and began to laugh while mentally noting that Moms are usually right! After repairing their dignity (with a stop by the loo,) they joined us with cream tea of their very own. We all swooned over the biscuit-like scones served with rich, clotted cream and jam.
plain scones with jam and clotted cream
     The following recipe is very simple, using sour cream to bind the dry ingredients, instead of whipping cream. Many recipes I've tried either lead you through a myriad of difficult steps or come out like a glorified cookie. The true scone (actually pronounced sk-on, not sk-own,) is similar in texture to a biscuit or an old-fashioned shortcake.
   I don't even bother with the electric  mixer, but simply crumble the dry ingredients together with my hands. In a smaller bowl, whisk wet stuff with a fork... Clean-up is a breeze!
Ingredients
2 c. all purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2. t. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, frozen
1/2 c. dried currants
1/2 c. reduced fat sour cream
1 large egg or 1/4 c. egg substitute
2 T. milk
1 t. sugar
Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, placing rack in the lower middle of oven. In a medium bowl, blend dry ingredients. Using a box grater, grate frozen butter into flour mixture. Crumble butter into dry ingredients with your fingers. It should resemble coarse meal when you are done working it in.
Toss in currants. With your hands, work them in until they are covered in flour.
In a small bowl, whisk sour cream and egg together until smooth. Add to the flour mixture. Mix with a fork until clumps form. Using your hands, press dough into a large ball.
Place on a lightly floured surface and roll or pat into rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. If making sweet scones, brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar, then cut with a small circular biscuit cutter or cut into small squares. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool for five minutes on a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Yield 16 -20 small scones.
traditional currant scones
Mix it up a bit... make more than one batch at a time. Maybe one sweet and one savory. Here are a few variations to try: 
bacon-cheddar: Omit sugar and currants. Stir in 1/4 c. crumbled bacon and 1/4 c. sharp, grated cheddar to dry mixture, after butter is worked in, but before adding wet. Brush top with milk just before baking and top with coarse-ground black pepper instead of sugar.
ham and chive: Omit sugar and currants. Add 2 T. snipped fresh chives and 1/4 c. chopped ham to dry ingredients after working in butter. Brush with milk before baking and top with a little cracked black pepper instead of sugar.
lemon-blueberry-rosemary with a lemon glaze: Add the zest of a lemon and 1 T. fresh rosemary leaves to the dry ingredients after the butter is worked in. Replace currants with dried, fresh or frozen blueberries. Work them in before adding wet ingredients. For lemon glaze: Stir together 2 T. lemon juice with 1 c. powdered sugar. Drizzle over warm scones before serving.
cherry-almond: replace currants with dried cherries. Add 1/4 c. chopped almonds.
orange-cranberry: This is one of my faves! Change the currants to dried cranberries. Add the zest of an orange to dry ingredients. Then, add 2 t. orange baking emulsion or 1 t. orange extract or orange oil to egg and sour cream mixture.
apricot-thyme: Substitute dried apricots for the currants. Add 2 t. fresh thyme leaves to dry ingredients.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

grilled chicken with homemade peach salsa

      I first published this recipe in 1988, in our church's cookbook in Florida. This recipe has been one of our faves for many years. When peach season arrives each summer, the requests for peach salsa begin pouring in.
     It is a fine summer-y, family dinner that appeals to all ages. Who doesn't love grilled chicken or peaches? It is an equally impressive choice for a dinner party. Peach salsa is easy for the novice to prepare and creative enough for the most experienced culinary palate to appreciate.
     It is equally delicious on blackened fish or marinated flank steak grilled to medium rare and thinly sliced. I have substituted mangoes for the peaches when they are in season.
Ingredients
For grilled chicken:
boneless, skinless chicken breasts... however many you need. (The marinade will accommodate 6 to 12, easily. Since the grill is fired up, make a few extra for salads or sandwiches.)
One recipe of food maven's basic marinade for chicken
Directions
Mix up marinade. Pour into gallon zipper bag set inside a bowl. Put chicken into bag. Marinate for a couple of hours, or up to two days. Remove from bag, discarding bag and marinade. Grill until juices run clear. Place on platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Allow chicken to rest for 15 minutes before serving.
For peach salsa:
Ingredients
8 large peaches, cut into chunks
1/2 c. scallions, sliced
1/4 c. each, red and yellow bell pepper
zest of one lime
1/2 c. fresh lime juice
2 T. fresh italian parsley, finely chopped
1/2 of a bunch of cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 t. cumin
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
2 t. minced jalapeno (optional)
Directions
Dump everything into a medium sized bowl. Stir it together well. You want the peaches to be coated with the lime juice and olive oil so they won't turn brown. I rarely add the jalapeno, but feel free. Let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour, for the flavors to get real friendly:) Serve on top of grilled chicken.
     While peaches are at the peak of the season, grab a few from a roadside stand or local orchard, and fire up the grill. I serve mine with roasted new potatoes, steamed veggies and whole wheat rolls.

Friday, July 15, 2011

lazing on a thursday afternoon...

     Summertime is lazy-time. It's around four in the afternoon. Or four-thirty... I'm not wearing a watch. I'm drinking a tall, frosty glass of Pioneer Woman's creamy, iced coffee. And, enjoying a cranberry orange scone with it.
     Sitting under the protective roof of our cozy back porch, I listen to the rumbling overhead in the dark, gray sky. The air feels thick enough to gather in my arms. My bare feet are up... the large wooden coffee table is really more of an ottoman.    
     A few deer mosey silently through the wetland area on the side of our property. My three attack dachshunds race to the sidelines... and not for the purpose of cheering them on. The deer pause, blink a few times, then meander farther into the woods, nibbling as they go.
     Two tiny hummingbirds, nearly invisible, chirp at one another as they flit in and out of the monster Lantana that has taken over one end of a large flower bed. A rabbit crouches under the hammock in the shade. He is on the other side of the yard, unseen by the dogs.
     Earlier, I cleaned out the refrigerator and a junk drawer, organized my personal file box, filed old check stubs and discarded a few remnants of homeschooling life. I soon will have to contemplate an evening meal... Boo:(
     Whenever I get around to it, dinner is to be something cold. A sandwich or salad, perhaps. It is entirely too hot to have anything warm and heating up a kitchen appliance is out of the question. It makes me a bit sweaty to even think of it.
     For now, though, Nature beckons me to sit quietly and marvel at the handiwork of our Creator. Magnificent. Amazing. Glory...
Who among the gods is like You, LORD?
Who is like You— majestic in Holiness,
awesome in Glory, working wonders?
Exodus 15:11, NIV
Everything else can wait.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

tuna with capers and lemon in tomato sauce

     I love, love, love fast pasta sauces! I keep thinking of another, another, and then another to share with you. Summer is the perfect time for fast pasta dishes. Boil a little water, stir up a sauce, then sit down and enjoy. Fast, simple, yum!
     Use your favorite prepared marinara sauce, from your freezer or from the food store. (My favorite store bought sauce is by Gia Russa. It is a little pricier than some, but tastes homemade. I buy a large quantity when it is buy one, get one free.)
     Add Italian tuna fish packed in olive oil, lemon zest and capers. The sauce will be done by the time pasta is finished cooking.
     Toss up a salad, whisk together a vinaigrette, warm a crusty Italian loaf and dinner is served! Hey, I think I've said that sentence more than a few times;)
Ingredients
1 pound pasta, any shape
1 26-ounce jar, marinara sauce or equal amount homemade tomato sauce
2 cans light tuna in olive oil, drained
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1 lemons
1 T. capers, roughly chopped
1 T. chopped Italian parsley
freshly ground black pepper
Directions
Cook pasta according to package directions. Do not overcook. In a saucepan, combine marinara, tuna, lemon zest and juice of one lemon, and the capers. Give it a stir, then add chopped parsley and black pepper. Taste and add a little more lemon juice if desired. Let it simmer for about ten minutes. Drain pasta, reserving a little cooking water and dump into sauce. Toss about to blend. Add a little pasta water, if needed. Serve with Parmesan on the side.
Could cooking dinner get any simpler?