Monday, August 29, 2011

shrimp arrabiata

      I bought some uber-fresh, Georgia white shrimp from the farmers' market. They smelled of the salty water they came from. A quick look through the pantry reveals a treasure trove of possibilities. And I'm in the mood for something spicy!
     I cleaned the shrimp, freezing the heads and shells for shrimp stock. Then I began the water for pasta and prepared the ingredients for the sauce.
     It's a simple tomato sauce with a kick. The heat comes from our indispensable friend, the red pepper flake. Fresh basil from the yard brightens the flavor. Add it right near the end.
     The shrimp are quickly sauteed, then removed. They'll jump back in later... we don't want them to be tough. This is quick and easy, just like we like it. No problem for a busy weeknight...
Ingredients
1 pound fresh shrimp, cleaned and shelled
1 T. bacon drippings
1 T. olive oil
1 small onion, minced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. red pepper flakes... or more to your taste
2 T. tomato paste
1/2 c. vermouth or dry white wine
1 28-oz. can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes
1 pound pasta
1/2 c. pasta cooking water
salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 or 6 leaves of fresh basil
Directions
Place large pot of water on to boil. Salt the pasta water, the cook pasta to al dente. Before draining the pasta, remove 1/2 cup of cooking water.
In a large, flat pan heat bacon drippings and oil. Saute onion for about a minute, then add the garlic, red pepper and shrimp. Cook the shrimp until they begin to turn pink. Remove just before they are cooked through and set aside.
Add tomato paste and brown it a little, then deglaze pan with vermouth. Scrape any of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Dump in the tomatoes. Add half of the basil with a little salt and pepper. Pour in the pasta water. Let sauce cook for ten minutes... This should be about the same time as the pasta is done.
Scoop out a small amount of the sauce liquid and mix it into the pasta to prevent sticking. Cover pasta and set aside.
Continue to simmer sauce on low heat for another fifteen minutes. Add shrimp back in and cook for about three minutes. Toss with the pasta, tasting for seasoning. Add salt if needed and lots of black pepper. Top with remaining basil and serve.

Friday, August 26, 2011

affogato... italian for OMG!!!

      Have you heard the term, affogato? If you love coffee, chocolate and ice cream, this is something you're going to want to make... probably, right now. As you're reading.
gelato ad
     Here is the wikipedia definition: An affogato (Italian, drowned) is a coffee-based beverage or dessert. It usually takes the form of a scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso. Some variations also include a shot of liqueur.
     I made a chocolate affogato for dessert. Start with a scoop of chocolate ice cream in a pretty glass. Pour a shot of hot espresso over. 
     A good ratio is one shot per scoop of ice cream. I shaved a bit of dark chocolate with sea salt over... just to finish it off.
 Then, I snapped a few pictures.
Then, I gobbled up every last bit;)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

pasta rosa with chicken and spinach... a creative process

     My home kitchen serves a test kitchen for new stuff... My family are the guinea pigs. They won't be surprised by that statement if reading this.
     When trying out a recipe that could possibly serve a couple hundred hungry church members, I first prepare it as written. If it doesn't receive rave reviews, a few adjustments are in order.
     The following recipe originally contained Italian sausage, but the chunky, chewy texture was not well received by the kids at home... I suspected it wouldn't go over well at church either. Kayla suggested adding the chicken... Hey, maybe she has been paying attention in the kitchen!
     But herein lies my dilemma: I love to flavor my homemade red sauce with a little ground pork or Italian sausage. It gives it depth and that extra richness. For this sauce, I finely ground the sausage, so it would not be noticeable.
     Finally, the dish came together. It is now what it always wanted to be... healthy, light and really delicious! By making red sauce in advance and using cooked chicken, this meal is a snap to prepare.
     The cream makes it a nice rosy color and adding spinach is an unobtrusive way to feed your veggie haters some dark green stuff... all without bloodshed, hand-wringing, wailing or gnashing of teeth!
     I did a little quantity adjustment and served it for a Wednesday Night Supper at church. It was a huge hit. I think you'll like it as well.
wednesday night supper?
Ingredients
1 pound mostaccioli or penne
small amount of pasta cooking water
2 qts. homemade marinara sauce
1 c. cooked chicken, very finely chopped
2 c. fresh spinach leaves
2 T. fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 c. heavy cream
Directions
Cook pasta and drain, reserving a cup of pasta cooking water. Meanwhile, heat the red sauce and add chicken. Cook for about 30 minutes. Add spinach, Parmesan, lots of black pepper and half of parsley to sauce. Stir to blend and wilt spinach leaves.
At the last minute, add the cream and heat until warm. In the pasta pot or a large serving bowl, toss sauce with pasta. Add small amount of cooking water if needed. Serve topped with more Parmesan and remaining parsley.

Monday, August 22, 2011

asian chicken salad

     Did you ever have one of those days when you couldn't bear the thought of turning on a stove? The weather here is so very warm... But what to serve the FAM? Hey, how about a lovely Asian salad? 
     Everything can be grabbed on a quick run through your local food store. Our neighborhood Publix sells chicken fingers tossed in a oriental sesame glaze. If your place doesn't carry them, just get plain ones.
     To omit using fried fingers, substitute meat pulled from a rotisserie bird. Use the rest of the meat for another meal and remember to save the bones for homemade stock.
     Here's what you do to avoid firing up your own stove:
1 bag Asian slaw mix or broccoli slaw
1 bag sweet butter lettuce or spring mix
1 bag julienne carrots
8 oriental glazed, deli-cooked chicken fingers
1 can chow mein noodles
1/2 c. slivered almonds, toasted
1 small can mandarin noodles or 1 Fuji apple, cored and diced
1 bottle sesame ginger salad dressing
freshly ground pepper
Directions
Combine needed amount of slaw mix with carrots and lettuce in large salad bowl. Divide onto individual serving plates. Cut chicken into bite sized pieces. Allow everyone to build their own work of salad art using chicken, crunchy chow mein noodles, almonds and fruit. Apply dressing sparingly, then pepper liberally and enjoy!
     I like to serve this with homemade Ramen noodle soup, adding fresh veggies, like carrots, pea pods, bean sprouts and sliced ginger. Homemade vegetable or chicken stock really makes the flavors sing and it's much lower in sodium than the instant version. Oriental noodles can be found in the international section of your grocery store. What a great weeknight meal!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

grilled teriyaki salmon

     I love salmon. For all of you haters out there... I'm ready to fight for my fish. Take that, and that!
     You already know it is good for you. But do you know how good it is? Especially when cooked over a wood flame or grill.
     My mom won't eat it, too fishy for her. And my kids will eat it raw, but not cooked. They're sushi freaks, just like their parents.
     My husband will eat cooked salmon occasionally... mainly when it's put in front of him and he's hungry. Poor guy. He tries to be a foodie. He really does.
     Some days, like today, I am so over the short-order gig. I just decide to cook for me. Right now, I am craving grilled teriyaki salmon. Maybe I'm deficient in omega-3s.
     I bought a nice, big piece of wild caught, pacific salmon at the market. I like the thick Teriyaki Baste and Glaze from Kikkoman because it stays where you put it.
     Yes, I know... you're disappointed because I'm not making my own in an old oak barrel in the garage, right? We've already had the I'm not Martha talk, haven't we? Let's move on...
     Cut the fish into serving sized pieces, then marinate for about an hour. If you have some wood chips for smoking, soak them and put them in the grill before getting started.
     I put heavy duty aluminum foil on the grill and sprayed it. Then lay the salmon skin side up to start.
     Let the top caramelize and get a nice crust on it. Flip it over and sear the skin side for a minute or two. Remove from grill and let rest for five minutes. Peel the skin off and discard before serving.
I made orzo and wild rice salad and steamed veggies to go with it... Mmmm:)

orzo and wild rice salad

     One of my summertime favorites was adapted by my friend, Marie as homage to j. alexander's popular orzo salad. Its great as a summer lunch or an accompaniment for dinner.
     When I eat at j. alexander, I usually pair this with their wood-fire grilled salmon... Mmm! I adjusted Marie's recipe a bit to suit my tastes... cause that's what it is all about! She adjusted their recipe to suit her... and the circle of creativity remains unbroken.
Ingredients
2 cups cooked orzo
1 cup cooked wild rice
1/4 c. diced red onions
1/4 c. dried cranberries
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
3 T. each, diced yellow and red bell pepper
3 T. basil, finely minced
2 T. Italian parsley, finely minced
dressing:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 T. of honey
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1/4 t. pepper
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil
Directions
for the salad:
Cook orzo and wild rice separately, per package direction, using chicken or vegetable stock instead of water. Drain, then briefly shock in cold water and refrigerate to chill. When chilled, place all ingredients in a mixing bowl including dressing and toss well. Serve very cold.
for the dressing:
Place all ingredients except oil, in small mixing bowl. Stir until blended. While vigorously stirring the mixture, slowly add oils. Toss with orzo and other salad ingredients.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

tiramisu

     For Kayla's eighteenth birthday celebration, we came up with the idea of an Italian dessert buffet. Her guests met at Bella's Italian Cafe for a dutch-treat dinner, then came back to our house for sweets and coffee.
     I made three of her faves... a dense fudge-cake, a berry-topped cheesecake and a rich, coffee-flavored tiramisu.
     The night was a great birthday celebration. As the dawn grew closer, we bid gentlemen callers adieu. Almost immediately, the atmosphere changed. The giggly girls changed into their pjs and grabbed some spoons to finish off the pan of tiramisu.
Girlfriends, laughter, coffee and chocolate... What a great way to celebrate the beginning of adulthood!!

birthday girl
Ingredients
1 14-oz package ladyfingers
2 c. strong, brewed coffee or espresso
1/3 c. coffee liqueur
8 eggs, separated
1/2 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 pound plus 1/2 oz. mascarpone cheese
4 oz. semi-sweet or dark chocolate, grated
Directions
In bowl of mixer, fitted with whisk, if possible, beat the 8 egg whites and 1/4 c. of the sugar into stiff peaks. Take egg yolks, other 1/4 c. sugar and vanilla, beating them to a ribbon consistency. Mixing by hand, add mascarpone to egg yolk mixture a little at a time. Mix well. Fold in egg whites with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.
Pour cooled coffee and liqueur together in a shallow bowl. Dip ladyfingers briefly in coffee mixture. Make a layer of ladyfingers in glass dish of choice... 9x13, 2 1/2 qt. round or trifle bowl. Top with a fine dusting of grated chocolate. Spoon on a layer of mascarpone mixture, then another layer of chocolate dust. Repeat, beginning with a layer of ladyfingers.
Continue process until dish is full or ingredients are gone. The deeper the vessel, the more layers you'll have. The final layer should be a dusting of chocolate shavings.
Place in refrigerator to cool for a couple of hours before serving. Cut into squares to plate or spoon into small bowls and serve.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

cinnamon apples a la mode

     One of our favorite desserts is Outback's Cinnamon Apple Oblivion. A few years ago, they removed it from the menu. My girls' emotions vacillated between shock, grief and outrage. They are very passionate about the food they love... I wonder where they got that from?
     As luck would have it, I came across a similar version and adapted it. Now that I can make it at home, all is well. 
     I don't like things overly sweet... my kids DO. I leave the caramel and whipped cream off of mine. The girls load theirs down. When I am feeling ambitious, I make my own cinnamon apples.
     Read through the entire process before beginning. Pecan-covered ice cream scoops and cinnamon-sugar croutons can be made ahead in order to shorten prep time. 
     The original recipe was published to make four large servings, but can be divided up to make smaller portions. If you are eating this after a meal, you really don't need that much dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth... portion control, people! Just a few bites will do. 
     I use a very small ice cream scoop to make the ice cream balls. (You can store them portioned out in the freezer to cut down on how much everyone eats at one sitting.)
Ingredients
for cinnamon-sugar croutons:
2 c. sweet brown bread, similar to Outback's Bushman bread
1/3 c. salted butter
2 T. sugar
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
for the dessert:
1 pkg. frozen scalloped apples from Stouffer's
1 qt. good quality vanilla ice cream
1/4 c. caramel topping (optional)
1 1/2 c. whipped cream (optional)
1 cup candied pecans, chopped
several strawberries, sliced
Directions
for cinnamon-sugar croutons:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cut bread into large cubes. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for ten minutes. Stir to turn cubes, then bake five or ten minutes more until bread is brown and crispy. While bread is toasting, melt butter in a skillet. Dump baked croutons into skillet and saute until bread is coated with butter. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together, then sprinkle over croutons, stirring to coat. Remove from heat and place on baking pan to cool. These can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container.
for the dessert:
Scoop out desired amount of ice cream, one scoop per serving. Roll ice cream in chopped, candied pecans. This step may be done ahead of time and stored in freezer. Warm apples in microwave until hot. 
For each serving, drizzle a small amount of caramel sauce onto each plate. Place a pecan covered ice cream ball on top. Spoon warm apples around it on plate. Scatter cinnamon croutons among the apples. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and top with a sliced strawberry.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

gluten free banana bread

     A recipe was passed along to me by Christine, who got it from Debbie. Don't you love that? I'm not sure if the human race would have survived all these years if we didn't share our recipes with family and friends.
     After I made this a couple of times using only Pamela's GF Baking mix, I changed it up... for the better. Part of my recipe alteration was a happy accident. My former neighbor and son are sufferers of Celiac disease. I was baking a few loaves of banana bread for their large family and didn't have enough Pamela's, so I added Bob's Red Mill flour. A few other changes were made along the way... less sugar and vanilla, more bananas.
     The result was a moister loaf. It was pronounced the BEST banana bread I had ever made for my friend. With an endorsement like that, I had to quickly write down the changes made before I forgot what I did.
     You don't have to be sensitive to gluten to enjoy this banana bread. It's delicious. Thanks, Christine... and Debbie!
Ingredients
1 c. Pamela's Baking Mix
1 c. Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flour
1 c. sugar of your choice
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2 eggs
2 c. mashed, ripe banana
1/3 c. oil
1/4 c. plus 1 T buttermilk or plain yogurt
2 t. vanilla
Optional stuff:
1 c. nuts
1/2 c. toasted coconut
1 c. raisins
Directions
Combine dry ingredients in bowl. Set aside. In larger bowl, combine eggs, bananas, oil, buttermilk and vanilla. Blend well, then dump in the dry stuff. Stir until all is blended. Fold in nuts and raisins. Pour into  a large, greased loaf pan. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour and twenty minutes. If you are using two or more smaller loaf pans instead, baking time will be shorter.
I have found that this does not double well. To make more than one, mix individually.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

food maven's day off...

      Have you seen those cooking shows where the famous chef is cooking at home on their day off? I"m currently obsessed with Alex Guarnaschelli.
     Her show, Alex's Day Off is thirty, tip-filled minutes with simple instructions for a great meal. The one I recently viewed was for a roasted chicken. And as luck would have it, I happened to have a nice fat organic roaster, just waiting for some love.
     This recipe included a homemade olive tapenade.... just a little more love to slather... Even if you're not a fan of black olives, make the tapenade. It's all about the flavor... Trust me.
     While the bird roasted, I blanched a few green beans to serve on the side. Then, right before time to eat, I sauteed them with garlic and sprinkled them with a pinch of kosher salt and a liberal amount of freshly ground black pepper.
     The crispy, golden-skinned bird made a grand exit from the oven. After cutting into serving pieces, I arranged a few pieces of lemon and the olives around the meat.
     The big, garlic croutons were tossed onto the large pewter platter beside the chicken. The stock and pan drippings were drizzled over them.
They became a heavenly pile of crispy-soggy stuffing.

     Sometimes I amaze even myself... at how well I can follow someone else's instruction, anyway. The tapenade was the kicker. It elevated the existing flavors to a whole new level. I am sharing my version of Alex's recipe. I cut out a few things. If you want to see hers, click here.
    The stuffing idea was strictly mine. I had chicken stock and drippings. I had giant, homemade croutons. There was no other choice, but to make stuffing;) For the crouton recipe, click on the above highlighted link.
this is one of the BEST things I've eaten!

Ingredients

1 nice, fat roaster
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons
handful of thyme sprigs
1 cup pitted black olives, plus a few for stuffing chicken
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 to 2 teaspoons whiskey
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt 
Directions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
For the bird:
Season the inside cavity with salt and pepper. Arrange the chicken, breast side up, in a roaster with a lid. Zest the lemons. Mix with butter and a couple of pinches of salt. Cut the zested lemons in half and put it inside the cavity of the bird along with the thyme, and the extra olives.
Rub butter-lemon zest mixture on the outside of the chicken. Roast in the oven for about an hour, remove lid and brown for another ten minutes. (The juices from the thickest part of the thigh should run clear. if they're not, throw her back in for a few.) Remove the chicken from the oven and allow it to rest about fifteen minutes. Cut into serving pieces.
For the tapenade:
Place the shallots and olives in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the whiskey and with the machine running, pour in 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a slow stream. Taste for seasoning and set aside.
Arrange cut-up chicken, lemons and olives on a platter. Drizzle any run off juices onto the chicken and croutons. Toss the croutons a little to distribute juices. Top chicken with a little tapenade and serve immediately.

Monday, August 8, 2011

let's review: 17hundred90

     We went to 17 hundred 90 for dinner near the end of Savannah Restaurant Week. During this special time, diners are offered a three-course, prix-fixe menu for thirty dollars. We were dining with good friends who recently moved to Savannah.
     17 Hundred 90 is located at the corner of President and Lincoln Streets. Hey, how's that for mnemonic? Say it together a few times and you'll never forget where it is.
     This inn and restaurant is named for the year it was constructed. The brick walls, crystal chandeliers and live piano music give this place a great ambiance.
     We began our first course choices with crab for the ladies and salads for the men. Miss Annette's Crab Stew was fairly smooth, except for the nice-sized pieces of crab. I considered licking the bowl to get every last drop, but in the name of decorum, quickly reconsidered.
     Two crispy wafers of jumbo lump crab perched beside a dollop of lemon-dill aioli. They were nicely seasoned and we agreed that not much filler was used in the construction of these tasty cakes.
     The boys' salad greens were bright and crisp. Mixed greens with a raspberry vinaigrette for one. The other salad, a Caesar was tented with a large, toasted ciabatta crouton.
     Even though the restaurant was busy, we enjoyed the relaxed pace at which our meal was delivered... no Benihana model here.
     The girls each chose scampi for dinner. Shrimp and scallops in a light, white wine garlic sauce with grape tomatoes and basil. Tiny whole carrots and asparagus, perfectly steamed came with it.
     Both guys ordered a form of beef. One settled on peppercorn crusted tenderloin finished with a bourbon demi-glace. Served with roasted fingerling potatoes and veggies du jour, the steak was melt-in-your-mouth tender.
     The other had the veal cutlet, pan-seared with a white wine butter sauce over pasta. He pronounced it, in a brief ape-man, Tim Allen grunt, "really good." A wonderful economy with words...
     The arrival of dessert was a little delayed, but the piano man had a velvety, smooth voice. He entertained with a little Frank and a little Johnny. When he played Moon River, I felt as though we should all stand reverently with hands on heart.
     For the sweet and final course, each chose blood orange creme brulee, but were a bit disappointed with it. It had an orange-y creamsicle flavor, but upon discussion, we felt it needed more time to set up and develop.
     The texture was more like a warm egg custard, instead of dense and cool. Hmm... maybe it was supposed to be like that and merely needed to undergo a name change.
     On a positive note, the caramelized sugar top was thin and perfectly browned. I adore the crackle-y sound it makes when the spoon plunges in! Piercing the surface of hardened sugar has to be one of the best sounds, ever.
     A lovely meal at 17 Hundred 90, fine friends as dinner companions and another warm, balmy night in Historic Savannah... What more could you ask for? Well, a cool, autumn night, maybe;)
17 Hundred 90 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

during my unfortunate incarceration...

     One of my favorite television shows of the late eighties was Designing Women. My favorite frequently repeated line from the show was Anthony beginning a sentence or explanation with, During my unfortunate incarceration...
the food maven, july 2011
     Well, the month of July has been my period of incarceration, so to speak. My little homestead has been an assisted living facility for my eighty-four year old mother-in-law, Lita. She had surgery at the end of June and is resting very comfortably at my house... to this day.
the fam with lita
     I am her nurse, her maid and her cook. The day she came home from the hospital, she asked for a bell.... to ring for me. In case I was urgently needed. Thank goodness I don't own one.
     I have considered adopting Anthony's line when people ask me where I've been for a month. But, that might seem mean. and ugly. and very un-Christ-like.
     I have to mentally remind myself that we will all be in need of assistance one day. And we will want it to be given with a little mercy and a lot of grace.
     Today, as I was looking at the stats on the blog, I realized something. I have written more in this month alone than I have in any month prior.
     Wow, see what you can accomplish when you stay home? I used to have a stay-at-home life. Gee, I miss those days. So, for the month of July, during my fortunate incarceration, I returned to a simpler daily routine.
     Rise early, feed dogs, feed myself. Quiet time, read the morning news. Plan dinner, do a little housework, write a blog post. Cook dinner.
     Read a book, lunch for Lita. Plan for the fall season of church kitchen meals. Answer emails. Write a restaurant review. Mull over the possibility of a negative review.
     Write a blog post. Plan special events menus. Throw away mountains of paper. Go to the local farmers' market. Make an amazing meal. Photograph said meal;)
    I will be celebrating my one year blog-iversay very soon. What a nice way to ring in the second year! With a writing stable full of posts... chomping at the bit, waiting for the gate to open so they can race around the blogosphere. This will come in handy when my crazy schedule resumes in September.
     Hopefully, this bit of silliness will encourage you, Dear Reader, to be a glass-half-full kind of gal... or guy. If you try very hard, you can usually put a positive spin on lots of stuff... even an incarceration.