Monday, December 28, 2009

A Trio of Tasty Appys

If you’re anything like me, you like to ring in the New Year with a few good buds at a house party featuring fine wine, gourmet goodies, and the latest and greatest playing over the sound system. This year’s end-of-the year party is no different, except that for a lot of people it’s been one heck of a year. It reminds me of the last words uttered by the Wicked Witch in the movie The Wizard of Oz: “Look what you've done! I'm melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!”

Yes, old girl. What a melt down world we’ve lived in this year.

Perhaps the end of 2009 calls for lower key homey comfort in place of the normal razz matazz. Move over iPod, Dick Clark’s back on the tube. With just a little inspiration your New Year’s Eve celebration can be both festive and comforting by tweaking a few of our traditional Southern favorites.

My Open Face Tomato Sandwiches with Candied Bacon are based on simple tomato sandwiches made with white bread, a slather of mayo and a red, ripe, salted slice of tomato. They’re a bit soggy and a tad messy, but whether it’s now or when they’re in season this summer, you just can’t get enough.

I’m sure you have attended at least one party that included stuffed potato jackets as a pass-around appy. My version of this treat roasts fingerling potatoes and tops them with velvety cream and succulent salmon. Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Smoked Salmon and Dill is a perfect make ahead yummy.

Every tried and true Southern hostess boasts her version of pimento cheese. Mine comes from the recipe files of a good pal, adding almonds and a crunch of bacon to the spread. Almond and Bacon Spiked Pimento Cheese Triangles is my tweak on this staple.

Ease your way a long, long way away from 2009 by inviting your pals to nibble and nosh on a few easy-to-prepare Southern inspired appys. Pop open the bubbly and ring in 2010. Let’s wish for a very good year – for all!!

Almond and Bacon Spiked Pimento Cheese Triangles

You can make the spread a day or two in advance and sit back while the flavors improve in the fridge.

Yield: 30 appys
Prep Time: 15 minutes

2 ounces sliced almonds, about ½ cup
1/3 pound bacon (about 6 slices), cooked and crumbled
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated, about 2 cups
2 to 3 green onions, thinly sliced, about 1/3 cup
1 cup good quality mayonnaise
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 (17-ounce) package Westphalian Style Pumpernickel bread
¼ cup pimentos, diced

Place the almonds, bacon, cheese, green onions and mayonnaise into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Pulse again.

Place 15 slices of bread onto your workspace. Spread each slice with pimento cheese. Cut in half diagonally. Top each triangle with diced pimentos.

Flavor Hit
Add a dash of oomph to your pimento cheese dip by blending in a dash (or two!) of hot pepper sauce.

Open Face Tomato Sandwiches with Candied Bacon

Sweet and crunchy bacon adds a new dimension to traditional Southern inspired tomato sandwiches in this yum-in-the-tum appy.

Yield: 30 appys
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes for candied bacon

1 pound thick-sliced Hickory-smoked bacon
1 cup dark brown sugar

1 (1-pound) package sour dough party bread
1 (1-pound) package Campari tomatoes, thinly sliced
½ cup good quality mayonnaise
½ cup fresh basil leaves, sliced into thin strips

Preheat the oven to 325°. Line two lipped baking sheets with parchment paper. Dredge each bacon slice in brown sugar and place onto a baking sheet. Bake the bacon until golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes. The bacon will continue to crisp after you remove it from the oven. Cool to room temperature and crumble.

Use a round biscuit cutter to form circles in 30 slices of party bread. (Reserve remaining bread for another use.) Spread each slice with mayonnaise. Top with 1 to 2 slices of tomato. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Top with crumbled candied bacon and basil.

Make It Yourself Tip
To prepare your own mayo, place 2 egg yolks, ¾ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon powdered mustard, a pinch each of granulated sugar and ground pepper, and 3 teaspoons lemon juice into a blender, or the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade. Pulse for 15 seconds. With motor running, slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup light olive oil (or use moderately high blender speed). As mixture begins to thicken, continue adding up to 1 ¼ cups additional oil in a fine steady stream. As the mixture thickens, alternate the oil with ¼ cup warm water until you reach the desired consistency. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Simple Sub
I chose Campari tomatoes for this dish because they are the perfect size to fit on a round piece of bread, ripe, sweet and juicy. You can substitute with ripe plum tomatoes or several small cherry tomatoes that are thinly sliced.

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes Topped with Smoked Salmon and Dill

These bite-size buddies burst with flavor while brightening up your appy platter.

Yield: 30 appys
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes

15 (1 ½ -inch long) fingerling potatoes, about 1 ½ pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 (7.5-ounce) container Crème Fraiche
1 (4-ounce package) wild Alaskan smoked salmon
Fresh dill sprigs

Preheat the oven to 400°. Place the potatoes onto a baking sheet with lip. Toss with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until the potatoes are tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Cut the potatoes in half, lengthwise. Spread the cut side of the potato with Crème Fraiche. Layer with a piece of salmon and top with a dill sprig.

Make It Yourself Tip
You can make Crème Fraiche by combining 1 cup whipping cream with 2 tablespoons buttermilk in a glass jar with lid. Let stand at room temperature (about 70 degrees F.) for 8 to 24 hours, or until thickened. Stir well and refrigerate for up to 10 days. Use as directed above or in soup recipes, as Crème Fraiche will not curdle when boiled.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Are You Ready for Some Football Appys?

It's that time of year. Oak leaves, autumn temperatures, and winning seasons begin to fall. That great Round One draft pick has all of the potential of a second year bust. The all-star pass defense is giving up 250 yards per game. The hot, hot, quarterback has traded in his hot, hot girlfriend for a hot, hot ride and finds himself suspended for 4 games. Ah, yeah, I’m ready for some football……..

Games are won, games are lost, but some things never change – LIKE THE FANS!!! I define them as ordinary people who emerge on Sundays: loyal, lofty, never-say-die, they paint their faces, wear ill-fitted clothing and spend hours penning quirky sayings onto poster board. Accountants, lawyers, delivery dudes, and nurses alike, act like drag queens out to support their team. These guys are ready for some football.

The rear gate of a tricked-out pick-up truck unfolds to reveal a full-size kitchen. A tent rises up to encase a flat screen TV (complete with satellite service), and a karaoke machine blares out the home team’s fight song. And this is all happening in the parking lot! Inside the arena people are hunting down quirky new “football fan food”, like smoked turkey legs, Cuban panini, and jerk chicken wings. Grown men are removing their dreadlock style wigs, in order to eat jumbo chocolate chip cookies. What ever happened to warm beer and peanuts?

Today’s game has gotten bigger. The arenas are bigger. The cheerleaders have bigger … hair. The half time shows are bigger. The music is louder; the game is longer. Even the fans are … bigger. And why not? If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that football watching is a reason for an all day (and night) grazing feast. Win or lose, you gotta eat!

In an attempt to scale down the calorie intake during a 16 game season, I have explored some twists on typical game day fare. The most successful thus far is my buffalo chicken wing appy; it has all of those fab flavors, but wraps them in a chilled lettuce cup. It’s still hot and spicy, and still just as messy so it passes the game day test. Give it a try and let me know what you think, and since we still have a long season ahead of us, I’d love to hear your game day favorites along the way!!

Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Looking for a more figure-friendly game day snack food? This appy has all of the ingredients of that spicy wing dish you already know and love -- with a few of the calories lopped off.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
8 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, about 1 cup
3 medium celery ribs, diced, about 1 cup
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 1 tablespoon
1 whole marinated roasted red pepper, diced, about ½ cup
1 cup hot pepper sauce
1 head leaf lettuce, 25 to 30 leaves, washed and dried

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Sear the chicken until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Remove the chicken to a platter.

Place the green onions, celery and garlic in the pan. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the red pepper. Place the chicken back into the pan. Pour in the hot sauce. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the chicken in the sauce until cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove the chicken to a cutting board. Use 2 forks to shred the chicken into bite-size pieces. Place the shredded chicken back into the sauce.

Serve the shredded chicken in a bowl. Place the lettuce leaves around the side.

Servings: Enough for a game day crowd
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fall Musings

October means there’s one last hurrah to be had in my Carolina kitchen. Here in the Blue Ridge Mountains the weather is crisp and blustery. The leaves are vibrant, but falling rapidly. The humming birds have flown south, the last of the summer flowers are shivering in their pots, and it’s probably time for me to hit the road and admit the true “snowbird” that I have become.
Fall weather and cozy fires lend themselves to comfort meals. My favorite fall food to prepare and keep on the stovetop, are soups. Heartier fare like potato soup and pumpkin soup, lentil and bean soups, chowders and bisques – they all work.

Most often you will find everything you need to make simple, supple soup in your pantry. The main ingredient comes from your local festival, farm stand or farmer’s market. My most recent soup recipe came into being when I found a gorgeous squash and had leftover onions, potatoes and salad fixins. Butternut Squash Soup is thick, rich, hearty and velvety and complimented perfectly with a crispy shallot garnish.

My soups are created with fresh, healthy ingredients, so there’s no need to worry about calories – your only risk is being too full for dinner later on! A bowl of soup and a big green salad is an excellent lunch choice, kind to your waist line and your budget!
And so I leave you with three simple words: Enjoy the soup. Oh, and please leave me a comment and let me know how you like it. My new blog, From Nana’s Kitchen will debut soon. I’ll offer recipes and activities for grandparents and parents to enjoy with their children. If there is a special recipe you would like to see, or a grandma question you would like to have answered, just let me know and I’ll make sure to post a response.

Happy Fall Leaves – wherever you are!!
PS: Pumpkin Patch Photo courtesy of Chris Morgan

Butternut Squash Soup with Crispy Shallot Garnish

The addition of a potato to this traditional soup gives it a thick and velvety consistency. Feel free to spice up the soup with your favorites. Cumin, chili powder, curry, cinnamon and ginger are all welcome additions.

For soup:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely diced, about 1 ½ cups
2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed and chopped, about 1 cup
3 medium celery ribs, sliced, about 1 cup
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 1 tablespoon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large butternut squash, peeled and diced, about 6 cups
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced, about 1 ½ cups
2 cups dry white wine
2 quarts homemade chicken broth, or low sodium chicken broth
2 to 3 sprigs sage leaves
1 large orange, cut in half

For shallots:
4 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced, about 1 cup
2 cups canola oil
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic to the pot. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

The best way to cut and peel a butternut squash is to first, trim off the bottom. Cut the squash in half, and then half again. Smaller pieces are easier to handle. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer skin. Use a tablespoon to scoop out the seeds. Now, wash the knife and your hands well. The squash is slippery. A clean knife and hands will make chopping easier. Cut it into 1 to 2-inch pieces. Add the butternut squash and potato to the pot and stir. Pour in the wine and simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour in the stock. Place the sage into the pot. Squeeze the juice of the orange into the pot and add the orange halves. Cook until the vegetables are very soft, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Cool the soup. Remove the sage sprigs and orange halves. Use an immersion blender, food processor or blender to emulsify the soup. Pour the soup back into the pot and season with salt and pepper.

Place the shallots and the oil in a small pot. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer. Turn the onions every few minutes until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the shallots with a slotted spoon to a dish layered with paper towels. As the shallots sit, they will become crispy. Season with salt and pepper. If not using immediately keep warm in a warming drawer, or in the oven on the lowest setting.

Ladle the soup into bowls or mugs. Top with crispy shallots.

Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes for soup, 20 minutes for shallots

Friday, September 18, 2009

YUM ...ography

Photographically Inspired Musings by a FANatical Foodie
Title: Color Guitar

I see in this two-toned photo, the artist behind the instrument. The artist takes pride in his instrument. He makes it sing. He uses the guitar as a medium to pay homage to his generation; for him, its songs are an anthem. He dismantles the guitar, looking for its heart. Will he ever find it? Must he find it? Who is the artist? Is he the creator of the instrument, or just its manipulator, the one who makes it sing? Are we all instruments just waiting to be strummed? When I die, I want to go out with Stevie Nicks singing from the rafters. I want Robert Plant singing me up and up on the stairway to heaven. I want Paul and John and Ringo and George (I always loved George) holding hands and singing me through the gate…..
While listening to the newly re-mastered songs of the Beatles, I discovered a most enjoyable cab from a little, local North Carolina vintner. Banner Elk Wineries showcased a handful of their signature cabernet sauvignon, a mature, full-bodied, elegant, complex, and well-balanced wine. It pairs perfectly with rich meats, cheeses, and dark chocolate. It won double gold medals at the 2006 NC state fair. Priced at $29.95, it’s not too costly for a rock ‘n roll splurge. Speaking of splurge, what’s better than listening to the Beatles while sipping great wine? Eating great food, of course. My recipe for Roasted Veal Chops, Stuffed with Pecorino Cheese with Madeira Wine Drizzle and Arugula Salad is just the dish to strum by.

Now, my friends, this is what YUM …ography is all about!!
See more photographic inspirations at

Roasted Veal Chops, Stuffed with Pecorino Cheese with Madeira Wine Drizzle and Arugula Salad

This is perfect dinner party fare. Purchase plump veal chops for this dish, as well as flavorful smoked ham and a wedge of pecorino that you can shave with a vegetable peeler.

4 veal rib chops, about ¾ pounds each, about 2-inches thick
A pinch of coarse salt and a grind of fresh pepper
4 thin slices smoked ham
4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, shaved, about 1 cup
2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 cup Madeira wine
1 cup home made beef stock, or low sodium beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 ounces fresh Arugula, about 2 cups leaves
2 ounces salad mix, about 2 cups torn
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium lemon juiced, about 3 tablespoons

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Use a sharp knife to cut a deep pocket into each veal chop. Place a slice of ham and 1 ounce of the cheese into each pocket. Season the chops with salt and pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Sear the chops until golden, about 2 to 4 minutes. Carefully turn and sear the second side for 2 minutes more. Transfer to a baking dish. (Depending on the size of your skillet and of the veal chops, you may have to do this in batches, using additional oil and butter.) Place the chops in the oven and roast until just rare in the center, about 8 to 12 minutes.

Pour the wine into the skillet and stir to remove the brown bits. Pour in the beef broth and simmer until the liquid is reduced to about 1 cup. Stir in the tomato paste and season with salt and pepper.

Toss the Arugula with the salad mix. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve the stuffed veal chops on a platter. Drizzle the wine sauce over the top. Mound the salad on the top of each chop.

Yield: 4 veal chops
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 8 to 12 minutes for chops, 5 to 10 minutes for sauce

Sources and Substitutions
Ask your butcher for veal chops from a source that produces humanely raised animals that are not raised with hormones or unnecessary steroids.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Yum ….ography!

Photographically Inspired Musings by a FANatical Foodie
Title: Smiley Face

I see in this black and white photograph the remnants of the day – a California day. A day of driving from vineyard to vineyard. A day of sipping, sighing, singing. A day that celebrates youth, celebrates the harvest, celebrates the artisan. A day of discovery. A day of bonding. A day that we want to be a part of. A day we want to remember.

California reminds me of fresh ingredients paired with great wine. I just sampled a bottle of Backyard Chardonnay. It’s Russian River Chardonnay, remarkably tasty and reasonably priced. Russian River is known for Chardonnay that maintains a harmonious balance between acidity and fruit. This one is stellar, opening with apricot, peach, melon, and toasted oak aromas before a palate of citrus, melon, and oak, followed by a lingering, vibrant tropical finish. Run, don’t walk to your local wine merchant and seek out C & T Cellars Chardonnay. While the bottle chills to perfection, and your perfect companion is motoring your way, create a California-inspired appy that is perfectly paired with the day. My recipe for Rustic White Bean Bruschetta comes together in minutes, with a hint of garlic and pepper and a dash of fresh lemon and basil.

Now, my friends, this is what YUM …ography is all about!!
See more photographic inspirations at

Rustic White Bean Bruschetta

Creamy white beans, tart sun-dried tomatoes and fragrant basil top crunchy garlic toasts in this simple appy that’s sure to put a smiley face on all of your guests.

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 2 more for bruschetta
1 medium garlic clove, peeled and minced, about 1 teaspoon
½ teaspoon hot chili pepper flakes
1 (15.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
½ large lemon juiced, about 2 tablespoons
1 (16-ounce) loaf French bread, cut into (1/2-inch thick) diagonal slices
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Parmesan cheese

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and chili pepper flakes, Cook until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the cannellini beans to the pan and stir. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the skillet from the heat. Stir the sun-dried tomatoes, basil and lemon juice into the bean mixture. Set aside.

Place a grill pan on the stove top over medium high heat. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil with the garlic powder. Brush both sides of the French bread slices with the garlic flavored olive oil. Grill the bread, turning once until golden and crunchy.

Place the grilled bread onto a platter and spoon a generous amount of the bean mixture on each one. Shave slices of Parmesan cheese over the top.

Servings: Enough for a crowd
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes to grill bread

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Tale of Two Salmon and Tequila for All

Hello Summer Foodies,

Surviving the dog days of summer? I have a couple of great salmon recipes for you. For all you barbecue lovers, the first recipe is an effort to play down the fishy-ness of the salmon, by glazing it with barbecue sauce and putting it in a hoagie bun. Just open wide, close your eyes and savor…prepare to become a serious fan of my Barbecued Salmon Hoagie!!

The second recipe is based on the classic French preparation for poached salmon. I must admit that I am inspired by the film Julie & Julia. You must see this movie – just be aware that the popcorn in your lap will not satisfy your appetite whilst immersed in all of the amazing food scenes! If, like me, you were inspired by the Bœuf bourguignon, but find it just a little too heavy for the summer heat, this delicate dish of Poached Salmon with Piquant Mustard Sauce is a fine substitute.

Now, for the tequila tale:

When my kids were here for the 4th of July celebration this summer, we concocted a cocktail that turned out to be a BIG hit! You might want to serve this festive, summer drink at your Labor Day picnic, and, since you have to start a couple of weeks in advance, I’m offering it to you now!

In a beverage server, or sealable large glass container, layer wedges of watermelon and fresh cherries. Fill the container to the top with your favorite tequila. Place the top onto the container and walk away. Over several days, you can watch as the fruit absorbs both liquor and sweet summer flavors. Let everything marinate together for at least a week and longer if you like.

We used our fruit flavored tequila to make “Watermelon Margaritas”. Prepare the base for the cocktail by emulsifying the inside of a seedless watermelon. We mushed up (this is a highly technical culinary term – not used by Julia in any of her 700 pages) two large watermelons for our big 4th of July bash. Add two or more large cans of lime concentrate to the watermelon slush. You can prepare this base in advance. Pour it into a large container and refrigerate.
For Watermelon Margaritas, take a lime wedge and run it around the rim of a margarita glass. Combine margarita salt with a bit of granulated sugar and place onto a small plate or into a shallow bowl. Dip the rim of the glass into the salt/sugar combo. Pour the slush mixture into the glass. Top with a drizzle of Triple Sec Liqueur and a generous splash of fruit flavored tequila. Top with a fresh, pitted cherry. What a refreshing summer party starter!!

Remember you can share your comments and recipes right here. I love to hear from you.

Until then, as Julia says, “Bon Appétit”!

Poached Salmon with Piquant Mustard Sauce

This delicate dish is perfect for a luncheon plate or for a light summer supper in the garden. It’s a breeze to prepare. The secret is not to overcook the fish. It should be rare in the center and flaky on the edges. If you are not a salmon devotee, you can use the same technique for chicken.

½ pound grilled salmon, sliced into 2 pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large carrot, peeled, trimmed and sliced
1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
2 to 3 radishes, thinly sliced, about two tablespoons
2 bay leaves
A handful of fresh parsley
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 to 2 cups white wine

2 tablespoons good quality mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
½ lemon juiced, about 2 tablespoons
1 tablespoon capers, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Sprinkle the salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Place the vegetables and herbs into a skillet. Toss in the peppercorns. Pour in the wine. You want enough wine to halfway submerge the salmon fillets. Bring the poaching liquid to a simmer over medium heat. Place the salmon fillets, skin side down, into the skillet. Cook until the salmon is still rare in the center, about 6 to 8 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets. Transfer to a serving platter.

Prepare the sauce by whisking together the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Garnish the salmon with a dollop of sauce.

Servings: 2
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 6 to 8 minutes to poach salmon

Barbecued Salmon Hoagie

Open wide! This easy, good-for-you sammich is piled high with ingredients that you are going to Yum over.

½ pound grilled salmon, sliced into 2 pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons homemade or good quality prepared barbecue sauce
2 whole grain hoagie rolls
1 large plum tomato, diced into ½-inch pieces
Hamburger dill pickle chips
Cole slaw

Sprinkle the salmon fillets with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the salmon, flesh side down to form grill marks, about 3 to 4 minutes depending on thickness. Carefully turn the salmon. Brush the seared side with barbecue sauce (homemade is best, but a good quality barbecue sauce in a jar will work just fine.) Grill the salmon for about 3 to 4 minutes more. Carefully turn the salmon one more time to sear the other side with the barbecue sauce. Cook until the salmon is still rare in the center. Remove to a platter, glazed side up.

Brush the inside of the hoagie rolls with the remaining olive oil. Grill the rolls until just golden. Transfer the rolls to a platter. Place the fillets onto the rolls, top with diced tomato, pickle chips and cole slaw.

Servings: 2
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 6 to 8 minutes to grill salmon

Monday, July 20, 2009


When inspiration knocks, invite your friends to supper! Roasted lemons are my inspiration centerpiece for an al fresco dinner party menu, created especially for my pals, Jim and Barbara. These guys know their Italian dishes and fresh ingredients. I have devoured their signature dish - a baked, stuffed artichoke cooked in rich marinara sauce that will make you sing like Sinatra. I’ve sampled their tomato mozzarella salad, and had not one, but two helpings of Jim’s famous meatballs! Joining them are my dear pals, Mindy and Lee. He’s known for his perfectly grilled beef filet (he orders from Lobels), she, for her yummy desserts. The party guest list is rounded out by my BFF (Best Foodie Friend) Diana and her hubby, Steve. Steve and my hubby bond over their mutual love of dessert. And I quote from Steve, “If it ain’t frozen, it ain’t dessert!”

In addition to the lovely lemons, artisanal goat cheese from my local farmer’s market inspires the menu; it’s flavored with lavender, herbs da Provence and other worldly spices. The cheese is not only fragrant, but smooth and velvety, and is the perfect ingredient to use as in appy course. I create a goat cheese tart using puff pastry, sautéed wild mushrooms and roasted red peppers. My first course salad is akin to Jim’s favorite. My version of Caprese includes grilled eggplant, enhanced with a gremolata (using the zest of my lemons) knock-off garnish. For the main course, I brine a pork roast and stuff it with spinach and sun-dried tomato pesto. A simple sauce created from roasted lemons and fresh thyme adds a sparkle. The flavors merge for a just perfect, “uh huh, that’s what I’m talkin’ about” in the mouth. The veggie sides are simply sautéed zucchini, topped with roasted tomatoes and pine nuts, and roasted potatoes and whole shallots seasoned with olive oil and sea salt. For the dessert lovers in the crowd, I offer cherry/berry puffs with silky mascarpone and a scoop of lemon sorbet (because if it’s not frozen ……)

The beauty of the meal is that every dish is prepared in advance and only a bit of finishing is required before serving. So the next time life gives you lemons, and the markets give you artisanal cheese, and the garden gives you heirloom tomatoes, and the vines give you cherries …. Invite your best pals and serve them …. This alfresco supper!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Macerated Berry Puffs with Mascarpone Cheese and Lime Sherbet

This simple dessert soaks in the freshest fruit of the season. It’s a wonderful, light ending to a super supper.

1 pint fresh blueberries, about 2 cups
1 pint fresh raspberries, about 2 cups
1 pint fresh blackberries, about 2 cups
1 pound fresh sweet cherries, pitted, about 2 1/2 cups
Juice of 1 large orange, about 1/3 cup
Zest of 1 medium orange, about 2 teaspoons
2 tablespoons Cointreau (orange liquor)
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon organic heavy cream
Lime Sherbet
Confectioners’ sugar
Fresh mint leaves

Combine the berries and the cherries in a bowl. Gently stir in the orange juice, zest and Cointreau. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the pastry sheet onto a floured work surface. Roll out to a 10 by 12-inch rectangle. Use a sharp knife to cut the pastry sheet into 8 squares. Transfer the pastry squares to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the baking sheet into the fridge and chill for 15 minutes.
Bake the puffs until golden, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool.

To assemble the puffs, place the mascarpone cheese into a bowl and whisk with 1 tablespoon cream until smooth. Spilt the puffs in half horizontally. Place the bottom half of one puff on a plate. Top with a slathering of mascarpone cheese. Spoon berries over the cheese. Place the top half of the puff onto the berries. Place a scoop full of sherbet along side. Garnish with confectioners’ sugar and fresh mint.

Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 12 to 15 minutes for puffs

Sources and Substitutions
This is a great summer dessert, easily adapted to seasonal fruit; pears and apples work well. You’ll also find the addition of a little espresso in the mascarpone really livens up a raspberry puff!

Sautéed Zucchini Topped with Roasted Tomatoes and Pine Nuts

This is a wonderful veggie dish, which goes with everything. Sprinkling the tomatoes with just a bit of sugar brings out the most wonder flavors. I cannot tell a lie. I found this recipe in one of Martha’s magazines. I changed it a little to simplify the process - but still kept the technique for sautéing the zucchini – which is genius! Feel free to make this one your own by changing around the ingredients. Imitation is the highest form of flattery!

2 pints grape tomatoes, halved
8 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced, about 3 tablespoons
Fresh thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon all natural granulated sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 more for zucchini
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
2 large zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces, about 4 cups
¼ cup water
Pinch of baking soda
1 (2-ounce) package pine nuts, about 1/2 cup
Zest of 1 medium lemon, about 1 to 2 teaspoons

Preheat to oven to 400 degrees. Place the tomatoes onto a baking sheet. Toss the garlic and thyme sprigs around the tomatoes. Drizzle with sugar, salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Toss gently. Roast until the tomatoes begin to burst, and the garlic is soft and golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and toss with the olives and capers. Set aside.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place the zucchini into the skillet in a single layer. Season with salt. Add ¼ cup water and a pinch of baking soda. Cook, turning often until the water evaporates and the zucchini is just soft and golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient, this step is worth the effort.

Transfer the zucchini to a baking pan. Cover each piece with a spoonful of the tomato mixture. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Bake until the dish is warmed through, about 10 minutes. Grate the lemon zest over top and serve warm.

Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

Brined Pork Roast Stuffed with Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto with Roasted Lemon and Rosemary Sauce

This is an elegant dish to serve at your next dinner party. Brining the pork produces a really, tender, juicy cut of meat. Stuffing the pork makes it even more flavorful and the drizzle of rich, lemony sauce takes it well over the tippy-top!

For brining the pork:
½ cup all natural granulated sugar
1 cup kosher salt
2 cups water
1 (4-pound) boneless pork loin roast
Fresh rosemary sprigs
2 bay leaves

For the pesto stuffing:
1 (2-ounce) package pine nuts, about 1/2 cup
1 pound fresh spinach leaves, about 4 cups
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 1 tablespoon
1 (3.5-ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained, reserve the oil
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1 cup
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the roasted lemon sauce:
4 large lemons
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, peeled and diced
½ cup white wine
2 cups homemade chicken broth, or low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons organic unsalted butter

Mix together the sugar, salt and water in a large bowl or pan. Place the roast into the bowl. Add a handful of rosemary springs (save some for the sauce) and bay leaves. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 and up to 8 hours.

Toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat until golden, about 4 to 5 minutes. Watch carefully so the nuts do not burn! Place the spinach leaves, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor. Season with salt and pepper. Pulse to combine. With the machine on, slowly pour in the reserved oil from the sun-dried tomatoes to form a paste. If the mixture is too dry, you can pour in additional olive oil. Set the pesto aside.

Preheat the oven to broil. Cut the lemons in half. Cut a small piece from the bottom of each half so that the lemons sit flesh side up in a pan. Broil until the lemons are charred, about 5 to 10 minutes. Set the roasted lemons aside.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the pork from the brine and pat dry. Use a sharp knife to cut a pocket into the center of the pork roast. Stuff the pocket with the spinach pesto mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Place one tablespoon olive oil in the skillet. Brown the pork roast on all sides, taking care to keep the stuffing in place. Place the stuffed pork roast onto a rack in a roasting pan. Cook until the roast reaches and internal temperature of 145 degrees, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the roast to a rack, and tent with aluminum foil.

Place the roasting pan on the stove top over medium high heat. Cook the shallots in the pan until soft. Pour in the wine. Use a wooden spoon to stir the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce the wine by half. Squeeze the juice from 6 of the lemon halves into the pan. Pour in the chicken broth. Add the remaining rosemary sprigs. Simmer and reduce the sauce by half. Strain the sauce through a sieve into a pot. Return the pot to the stove over very low heat. Swirl in the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.

Cut the pork into 1-inch slices and lay onto a platter. Drizzle the sauce over top. Garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs and the remaining roasted lemons.

Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 30 minutes, plus brining
Cook Time: 45 minutes for the roast

Sources and Substitutions
For a heartier stuffing, and ½ cup fresh bread crumbs to the pesto.

Heirloom Tomato, Fresh Mozzarella, and Grilled Eggplant Salad topped with Diced Hardboiled Egg Garnish

This dish is based on traditional Caprese salad that combines fresh mozzarella, ripe tomatoes and basil. The addition of grilled eggplant adds heartiness to this version. Gremolata is a garnish that combines lemon zest, garlic and parsley. To kick up our salad even higher, I added chopped egg to the gremolata. The result is a kissin’ cousin salad to the Caprese that’s just delicious served at room temperature where the flavors meld together.

1 (1-pound) eggplant, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 large heirloom tomatoes, cut into ½-inch slices
1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch slices
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
2 large organic eggs, hard boiled, peeled and chopped
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 1 tablespoon
Zest of 1 medium lemon, about 2 teaspoons
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a grill pan over medium high heat. Grill the eggplant slices, in batches, turning once until golden and just soft, about 6 to 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Assemble the salad on a large platter, alternating slices of tomato, eggplant and mozzarella. For the gremolata, place the chopped egg, garlic, lemon zest and parsley onto a board. Chop to combine the ingredients into a fine dice. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the egg mixture onto the salad. Drizzle the dish with olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Grind fresh pepper over top. Serve at room temperature.

Note: You can assemble the salad in advance, without the garnish. Cover with plastic wrap and place into the refrigerator. Remove about 1 hour before serving. Just before you present the platter, top with the egg garnish, olive oil and balsamic. Finish the dish with the chopped egg garnish, olive oil, balsamic and pepper.

Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Wild Mushroom, Roasted Red Pepper and Artisanal Goat Cheese Tart with Fresh Thyme

This is a simple appy that you can prepare in advance and bake as your guests arrive. The better the ingredients, the better the tart. Artisanal cheese makes a difference here. Farmer’s markets are loaded with vendors, offering their own varieties of seasoned goat cheese. Don’t hesitate to sample the wares, load your shopping tote with goodies, and then create the ultimate tart for sharing with pals.

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon more for drizzling
1 tablespoon organic unsalted butter
½ pound fresh assorted wild mushrooms, chopped, about 2 cups
2 tablespoons dry sherry
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces artisanal goat cheese, crumbled, about ½ cup
2 whole marinated roasted red peppers, diced, about 1 cup
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Unfold the puff pastry sheet and place onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll out to a rectangle about 12 by 14-inches. Transfer the pastry sheet to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roll up the edges on the pastry and crimp to form a decorative crust. Place the baking sheet into the fridge while you prepare the mushrooms.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. When melted, add the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are golden, about 5 minutes. Add the sherry and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Remove the baking sheet from the fridge. Place the cooled mushrooms onto the pastry. Top with crumbled goat cheese. Sprinkle with diced roasted red pepper and fresh thyme leaves. Drizzle the tart with olive oil. Bake until the crust is puffed and golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cut the tart into 8 pieces. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Servings: 8 as an appy, 4 for lunch
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

Sources and Substitutions
You can stack your tart with any of your favorite ingredients. Caramelized onions with slices of heirloom tomato are a fabulous combination; so is sautéed zucchini with sun-dried tomatoes and a shaving of Parmesan cheese.

Spinach and Cannellini Bean Dip with Endive Leaves

Sautéed spinach brightens up this traditional bean dip. Lemon juice makes it even sunnier.

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 2 more for dip
1 pound fresh spinach leaves, about 4 cups
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled (insert text) and minced, about 1 tablespoon
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Juice of ½ large lemon, about 2 tablespoons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Endive leaves
Pita chips

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted, about 5 minutes. Place the spinach into the bowl of a food processor. Add the garlic, cannellini beans and lemon juice. Pulse to combine. With the machine running, slowly pour in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve the dip at room temperature. Peel the leaves from the endive heads and place around the dip. Place pita chips in a bowl alongside the dip.

Serves a crowd
Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Recipe Knock-Off

Dear Fellow Foodie,

Here in the mountains of NC, there’s a different flow to things. The weekends are jam packed; houseguests arrive on Friday, Saturday activities begin at dawn and the rest of the F-U-N flows into the evening. Sunday comes along way too quickly, and a leisurely brunch is definitely in order. As guests depart and the realty of Monday looms, Sunday supper lends itself to being oh-so casual.

Monday thru Friday is a whole ‘nother ballgame. Many of us travel during the week – but for those of us left in town, a mini-weekday party is one hot ticket. This week, it’s my turn to host my gal pals for a casual Tuesday supper. I’m feelin’ the creative juices flow, but could still use some inspiration. It comes by way of gorgeous magazine pictures, a recent delicious restaurant meal, a favorite cookbook (usually one of the Southern Junior League ones), and, of course, from the Food Network.

As I mused over what to prepare for “da girls”, I caught the end of a Rachael Ray show where she was preparing one of her 30-minute meals. The meal involved shrimp wrapped in prosciutto , tossed with penne pasta. The final dish looked fresh and yummy. I was inspired. Of course, me being me, I simply could not prepare Rachael’s shrimp and pasta dish and then pass it off as mine…. could I? Nope, ‘cause that’s not the way I cook. If the truth be known, I probably don’t have the attention span needed to follow a recipe without adding a bit of this and deleting a bit of that.

So, in deference to my environment, my dish differed from Rachael’s, mostly due to local ingredients. I used apple smoked bacon in place of the prosciutto, baby heirloom tomatoes in place of grape tomatoes, fresh North Carolina shrimp, capellini in place of penne pasta, sautéed mushrooms and baby spinach (it’s all about the veggies…) and of course the BIG change: I turned the sauce into a cream sauce….. it was, as Rachel says, “YUMMO!!” To balance the creaminess of the dish, I served my choice for a side dish: broccoli rabe, bathed in an anchovy and crushed red pepper based sauce. Dessert was a simple fruit tart. We opened a bottle of (my favorite, but unfortunately not related) Morgan 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and poured liberally. Good F-U-N was had by all!

You can prepare my RRKO (Rachael Ray Knock Off) shrimp dish for your family “in thirty minutes or less”, or you can spend a couple of extra seconds, like I did, and really enjoy creating something delicious in your kitchen. The lesson for us foodies to take away from here, is that a recipe is not written in pasta – I mean stone. I use recipes merely as guidelines and enjoy changing ingredients with what I have on hand, or what I find fresh in the market. Rachael’s prosciutto wrapped shrimp would be just as mouth pleasing on a hors d’oeuvre platter as it is in a pasta dish. Her stewed tomato-wine sauce could just as easily be ladled over your favorite sautéed fish fillet rather than her cooked penne. You could easily substitute scallops in place of shrimp, canned tomatoes in place of fresh, or red wine in place of white. By messing around with ingredients, you broaden your weekday meal repertoire.

Now, fellow foodie, I bid you to go forth and find your inspiration, create YFRKO (Your Favorite Recipe Knock Off) and feel free to share the results with the rest of us “more-than-thirty-minute cooks”… we’re sure to enjoy!!

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp in Creamy Tomato Sauce over Cappellini

The commonplace shrimp is transformed into a 5-star ingredient in this simple, yet satisfying, elegantly presented dish.

1 pound fresh extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 26 to 30)
Juice of I large lemon, about 1/3 cup
¾ pound apple wood smoked bacon (about 12 to 14 slices)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the sauce:
4 tablespoons organic butter, divided (you can substitute with half olive oil, half butter!)
½ pound fresh assorted wild mushrooms, sliced, about 2 cups
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced, about
2 pints baby heirloom tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine
½ pound baby spinach leaves chopped, about 2 cups

1 pound cappellini pasta
1 cup organic half and half
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1 cup
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

Sprinkle the shrimp with lemon juice. Lay the bacon onto a cutting board and cut the slices into thirds. Wrap each shrimp in bacon and place onto a platter. Season the shrimp with paprika, salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet (with lid) over medium high heat. Cook the bacon-wrapped shrimp, turning once, until golden on both sides, about 4 to 5 minutes total. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may have to do this in batches. Remove the shrimp to a platter and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in the same skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions to the skillet and cook until golden, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the remaining butter to the skillet and cook the mushrooms until golden, about 5 to 6 minutes more. (TIP: Let the mushrooms sit in the pan for a couple of minutes before you stir them. They will caramelize and turn golden. If you stir them around right away, they will not color as well.) Add the tomatoes to the pan and pour in the wine. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pan, and cook until the tomatoes begin to burst, about 8 minutes.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Season with salt. Cook the capellini until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain.

Remove the lid from the pan with the sauce. Stir in the spinach leaves. Add the half and half and place the bacon-wrapped shrimp back into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

To serve, use a pasta spoon to twist a handful of cappellini into the center of a pasta bowl. Ladle the shrimp and sauce onto and around the pasta. Grate fresh Parmesan cheese over top, dazzle with an extra grind of fresh pepper and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Yield: About 6 servings as a main course
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Sources and Substitutions
You can substitute with scallops or cod pieces in place of shrimp. Feel free to use any and all veggies in the sauce.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lobster - THE Maine Event

The Maine Lobster Council boasts of having the most delicious lobster in the world, and there was a time when you had to travel to Maine just to see if they were right. Flash forward to today when, last weekend, my entire family convened at our mountain house, and one simple phone call brought the world’s finest crustaceans to our front door – enough for Saturday night’s supper. Steak and Lobster night is a long standing tradition for us Morgan’s…. and in true Morgan fashion, we felt the need to include good friends in our celebration.

Combining those jet-setting lobsters with simple, locally grown products, makes for a simple, yet stunning dinner menu. And so, early Saturday morning, me, son Jonathan and granddaughter, Mallory, woke early, grabbed a few totes and made our way to the Boone Farmer’s Market to take stock of the fresh produce from the local farmers. We sampled several flavors of artisanal goat cheese and settled on the Herbs de Provence flavor to be served as our appy. We also purchased two varieties of homemade hummus, a basket of newly planted fresh herbs, ripe tomatoes for our garden salad and a great big, warm-from-the-oven cinnamon bun for Mallory (and Jon) to nibble on.

Safely back at home, we were greeted by the UPS delivery dude, who carefully unloaded a box of still-squiggling, jet lagged whole lobsters. My lobster provider of choice is The Lobster Guy. I have ordered from this site many times and have been thoroughly pleased with every purchase. The lobsters were HUGE and scrumptious. We housed them in their cooler, on the outdoor covered deck, where they were kept safe and sound for the better part of the day.
In order to spend the most time with my family and guests that evening, I prepared many of the dishes in advance. I husked ears of corn and brushed each one with olive oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper – all ready for their date with the grill. I baked and then stuffed potatoes – so they required only a finishing roast. The salad ingredients were washed, peeled, and chopped and lovingly arranged in a salad bowl. The simple vinaigrette made from grainy mustard, lemon juice, salt, pepper and a palm full of fresh dill was whisked with just enough olive oil to splash onto each bite. Just to take the meal over the top, I served perfectly grilled beef tenderloins alongside of the lobster. I marinated the beef in a combination of Worcestershire sauce, crushed garlic, fresh parsley and olive oil.

Then there were those lobsters … I had planned to boil them in a large pot on the stove: however, grilling was on my mind – so I came up with plan “B”, which would now become my plan “A”. I did boil the water, and each one took his swim, but after the dunking, I removed the slightly under-cooked lobsters to a roasting pan and allowed them to cool slightly. I broke apart the tails and the claws and discarded the bodies. I persuaded son, Trey, to do the honors and equipped him with a mallet, a heavy towel and a wooden cutting board, directing him to the back porch (so as not to wake the babies from their nap). He cracked the claws in several places and placed them back into the roasting pan. With scissors, I cut through the spiny tail and carefully loosened the meat. Son Christopher’s girlfriend brilliantly discovered a way to squeeze the tail meat from the shell (rather than prod it out) and our hands were saved!! When the lobsters were prepared, I drizzled the whole lot with olive oil, fresh lemon juice and generously seasoned them with sea salt and coarse pepper.

As the group gathered, sipping wine and nibbling appys, Jon and I lit the grill and the final stages of cooking were underway. He roasted the lobster claws and tails on the hot grill just long enough to give each bite a bit of smokiness. The beef was seared, the corn was charred, the salad tossed and the potatoes pulled from the oven. Melted butter was poured for all – and the meal was served and devoured.

Another Morgan tradition happily transpired and the only question on everybody’s lips was, “Can …we do it again next week??”

If you would like to see more step-by-step pictures of how to grill lobster tail you can check out my AT HOME ENTERTAINING recipe for Grilled Florida Lobster Tail with Garlicky Tomato Sauce (page 130). Here's another FUN tip: I used the leftover lobster meat, all of the rosy shells and my AT HOME ENTERTAINING recipe for Lobster Bisque (page 274) to make a hearty soup for everyone to take away on the trip home. A satisfying YUMM was had by all.......

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

About Choosing Chicken, Beef and Poultry

When it comes to delivering the safest, cleanest, most chemical free meat from the market to your family’s dinner plates, the best choice is hormone free, grass-fed, humanely raised meat and poultry products. Because they contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, grass fed meats are more nutritious than the conventionally raised meats that you find in the grocery store, including those labeled, “organic” as these are not exclusively pasture fed. Remember that the more grain in a livestock’s diet, the less nutritious the meat; grass is best, and, at least in this case, greener on BOTH sides of the fence!

Grass fed cows produce the freshest most satisfying milk you’ve ever tasted and cuts of beef that are lower in fat and calories than conventional meats, higher in vitamins, and, as if this weren’t enough of a reason to buy pasture fed, clean living cows have more cancer-fighting fat (conjugated linoleic acid) than conventional meat products.

But better meat choices don’t stop there! Pigs and chickens cannot live on grass alone; so when you’re buying pork and poultry, look for the manufacturer’s promise that the animals, during their free-range life, fed on grains 100% free of pesticide and weed killers, and were never, I repeat NEVER, (mis!)treated with antibiotics and hormones. If you want your family eating clean, healthy sources of protein, you want grass-fed AND organic on your meat label! It’s the best of both worlds!

Industrially raised animals are often treated with hormones (also known as steroids) to fatten them faster. Synthetic hormones affect the animal’s natural hormone balance. Studies suggest that eating meat and poultry filled with superfluous estrogen, affects your body’s hormones. Could this be the reason why our sons and daughters are maturing much earlier than we did?

I feel very strongly that we must be aware of the links in our food chain in order to make the best choices. We are what we eat. Some scientists suggest that it may be more than coincidence that the rise of reproductive cancers (those influenced by estrogen) in Americans, like breast, prostate and testicular have increased in direct proportion with the use of hormones in industrially produced beef and poultry.

I urge you to shop for beef and poultry at your local butcher or at grocery stores that offer an organic alternative. The good news is, hormone free products are being welcomed into our supermarkets and showcased on the menus of more and more restaurants. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions that need asking like, “Where did this chicken come from and how was it raised?” Terms like “free range”, “all natural”, “choice”, “grade A” and “prime” are confusing and do not give you enough information. Here, is some information that may help you in determining which product you choose for your family.

Free range indicates that the animal was put outside or in a barnyard at some point in his life. This label does not mean that the animal was raised in a pasture and fed on grass, exclusively, only that they were given access; still, free-range makes a lot of healthy assurances you can feel good about. Food producers of free range livestock must adhere to strict standards and that’s something to applaud.

The Natural label, according to the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service, can be applied to any product that does not contain “artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemical preservatives. This label can also be applied if the product “is not more than minimally processed”. In other words, the natural label can be applied to chicken and meats that are minimally processed, regardless of what they were fed and whether they were treated with steroids and hormones.

The organic label assures you that the animals were raised without the use of synthetic products and the livestock feeds were not sprayed with synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. It also means that the animals were not treated with unnecessary hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified organisms of any kind. Organic does not necessarily mean that the animals were pasture fed. You have to do further research to make this conclusion. Labels such as grass-fed, grass-raised, and range-fed will lead you in the right direction.

Luncheon meats sold in packages and even those sliced at the deli counter of your supermarket often contain hidden salt and are, most commonly, processed. (i.e. Does that rectangular slice of deli ham come from a square pig?) In place of a deli meat sandwich or a processed lunch pack, you might prefer to utilize last night’s left-overs for your child’s lunch box. Sliced chicken breast, sliced flank steak and even yesterday’s pulled pork make one heck of a sammich. Beware also of cooked-for-you food like a whole delicatessen chicken. In many cases these are injected with a solution of salt and fat before cooking. Read the label to see what other hidden ingredients are added to your deli meal before you purchase it.

One of my earliest experiences with locally raised, hormone free poultry was initiated by my brother, “Uncle Rich”. His pal owned a turkey farm, so, my brother volunteered to purchase the turkey for the family dinner. He selected our bird in the early fall and visited him when he was in the neighborhood. He took pictures and even named him. He delivered the freshly slaughtered bird to me the day before Thanksgiving. Henry weighed-in at twenty-six pounds and darn near exceeded the size of my largest roasting pan. We squished him in the pan, patted him down with real butter under and on top of the skin, filled the cavity with oranges and apples to keep him moist and put him in the oven. The results were amazing. He cooked in far less time than we expected. The meat was juicy and flavorful. We proclaimed our pasture-fed turkey the best turkey we ever had! Thus began my search for more farm-raised products… and farmers that are leveling the playing field.

I recently bumped into n acquaintance who reminds me of all of the hard work and dedication that is needed to bring healthy foods to our tables. Lee Rankin is the owner of Apple Hill Farm in Banner Elk, NC. Her passion is “Agricultural Tourism” which she says bridges the relationship between the consumer and the farm community by bringing tourism to the farm. Any activity that draws people to farms to learn, pick produce, and connect with the farming of crops or raising of animals is considered Agricultural Tourism or Agri-tourism. We live in a time where we can walk into a grocery store and buy meat, produce and already prepared food items without needing to know anything about where the food came from. But we also live in a time where more and more people desire to learn about the process of how the food is grown and how the animals are raised. Farming has become a fascinating topic.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Day for Mum, Mommee, Ma, Mom, Mawm, MOM!!!!!!

No matter what they call you (or how many times they shout your name), when they call for mom, they are calling out of need. “Mom, where’s this… Mom, can you believe she did that? Mom, tell him to stop touching me!!! Mom, I can’t find……………..” Well, on this one Sunday in May, we moms don’t need to have all of the answers. In fact, it may be the only day of the year when you can reply, “Ask your father,” without ending your marriage in the process.

As your loved ones frenetically scour your kitchen for breakfast and brunch ideas, let me help you get them started with a few of my favorite recipes. If they need some extra help, get the TiVo programmed and watch my Mother’s Day Brunch demonstration on South Florida Live! on Monday, May 4th during the 8:00am hour.

The following dishes comprise my Mother’s Day Menu:
Morning Margarita
Spinach, Bacon and Caramelized Onion Tart
Breakfast Tomatoes with Grilled Salmon and Creamy Barbecue Sauce
Queen Mum’s Fruit and Yogurt Parfaits
Blueberry Bars with Oatmeal Streusel Topping

And also just for you!!: Visit and enter to win one of their exceptional Mother’s Day give aways that include my very own Mom’s Gourmet kitchen basket, featured on May 5th. For you flower lovers, sign up to receive my blog in your mail box, and you will be eligible to win a Mother’s Day arrangement from Teleflora’s Flower Blog! See for their tribute for mums on Mother’s Day.

Wishing all of my fellow moms a special day with your family and friends…… J.

Blueberry Bars with Oatmeal Streusel Topping

These bars are crumbly and bursting with juicy blueberries. You can make up a batch, and store them in the refrigerator. Bring them to room temperature before you pass them around.

3 cups whole-grain pastry flour
1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
1 ½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup organic unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1 large egg, separated
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 medium lemon juiced, about 1/3 cup
Zest of 1 medium lemon, about 2 teaspoons
1 pint fresh blueberries, about 2 cups

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13-inch pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang of 1 to 2-inches on two sides (in order to easily lift the bars out of the pan).

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, oats, baking powder and salt. Place the softened butter into the bowl and use your fingers to combine the mixture into course crumbs. Reserve 2 cups of this crumb mixture.

Separate the egg. Add the white part of the egg to the crumb mixture in the bowl and combine. Place this mixture into the bottom of the pan and press down firmly. Bake the bottom crust until just beginning to brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Whisk together the condensed milk, lemon juice, lemon zest and egg yolk in a small bowl. Set aside.

Remove the crust from the oven. Spread the blueberries over top. Spread the lemon cream over the blueberries. Place the pan back into the oven and bake for 7 to 8 minutes or until the cream becomes shiny.

Remove the pan from the oven and top with the reserved crumb mixture. Place the pan back into the oven and bake until golden, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let the bars cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Lift the bars from the pan (using the parchment paper) and cool completely on a rack. Cut the bars into 2-inch squares. Store the bars in an airtight container the refrigerator, but serve them at room temperature.

Yield: 24 bars
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes

Fruit and Yogurt Breakfast Parfaits with Granola Crunch

Recipe from GORGEOUS: The Sum of All Your Glorious Parts

Granola is chock full of oats and nuts. Making your own is easy and far less expensive than purchasing it in the grocery store. The parfaits are not only pretty, but rich in the nutrients you need to get your day started off on the right foot!

For the granola:
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup apple juice
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the parfaits:
½ pint fresh blueberries, about 1 cup
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup strawberries, hulled and quartered
Zest of 1 medium orange, about 2 teaspoons
Juice of 1 large orange, about 1/3 cup
2 cups vanilla flavored organic low-fat yogurt
Mint leaves

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a small bowl, toss together the oats, flaxseed, nuts, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Combine the apple juice, honey and brown sugar in a pot over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the oil and vanilla. Pour the apple juice/honey mixture over the oat mixture and toss.

Spread the coated mixture onto a baking pan with lip that has been coated with vegetable oil spray. Bake for 10 minutes, using a spatula to stir. Bake until the granola is golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes more. Cool and break into small pieces.

To assemble the parfait, mix together the fruit with the orange zest and juice in a small bowl. Layer the fruit, yogurt and granola into 4 parfait glasses (or bowls). Continue layering all the way to the top. Garnish with a mint leaf.

Makes 4 parfaits, plus an extra 3 cups granola
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

You can store the granola in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

Breakfast Tomatoes with Grilled Salmon and Creamy Barbecue Sauce

This is a breakfast dish created from the left over salmon that you grilled and served for supper the night before.

** ½ pound grilled salmon with barbecue glaze

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons good quality mayonnaise
1 tablespoon organic sour cream
1 tablespoon barbecue sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Zest of 1 small lime, about 1 teaspoon
Juice of 1 small lime, about 1 tablespoon
Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 large beefsteak tomatoes cut into 1/2-inch thick slices (about 8 slices)
1 tablespoon capers, drained
4 large radishes, julienned, about ½ cup
4 extra large organic eggs, hard boiled, peeled and sliced in rounds
Chopped fresh dill

** For the salmon, sprinkle a fillet with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the salmon, flesh side down to form grill marks, about 2 to 3 minutes depending on thickness. Carefully turn the salmon . Brush the seared side with barbecue sauce (homemade is best, but a good quality barbecue sauce in a jar will work just fine.) Grill the salmon for about 3 minutes more. Carefully turn the salmon one more time to sear the side with the barbecue sauce. Cook until the salmon is still rare in the center. Remove to a platter, glazed side up. Serve for supper, reserving about ½ pound for tomorrow’s breakfast treat!

Whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, barbecue sauce, mustard, cumin, lime zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble the dish, lay the tomato slices onto a serving platter. Lay rounds of hard boiled egg onto each tomato. Season with salt and pepper. Top with radishes. Mound each with chunks of salmon. Top with capers. Spoon a dollop of sauce over the top and garnish with fresh dill.

Servings: 4
Preparation Time: 10
Cook Time: 20 minutes to prepare and grill salmon

Monday, April 27, 2009

Electric Rotisserie – Your New Best KMH

Some girls go gaga over the newest JimmyChoo shoes. Some guys go ape over their latest fantasy football trades, but when it comes to a new kitchen doohickey, we foodies put fashion AND sports on the back burner! My friends, I’d like to introduce you to my favorite acronym: your next “kitchen must have” or (KMH). These days mine is Cuisinart’s Electric Rotisserie! It’s a new countertop cooker that turns out exceptionally juicy, evenly roasted foods by rotating them on a vertical spit. If you want to lock in flavor and juices while draining away unwanted fat and grease, this is your KHM!

This rotisserie is equipped with a programmable touch-pad control, LCD readout and auto-shutoff. Removable, easy-to-clean chrome inserts reflect heat as the rotisserie turns, providing the most consistent cooking temperature possible. Five preset oven temperature settings – ranging from 325°F to 450°F – and a three-hour countdown timer offer pinpoint heat control.

Whew! Am I done cheerleading for this particular KMH? Not by a long shot! The rotisserie chamber’s generous size accommodates food as large as an 8-lb. roast; its brushed-stainless-steel exterior complements any kitchen decor and, thanks to a non-stick interior, easily wipes clean. Accessories include a recipe book, an eight-piece skewer set, a roasting rack, a poultry tower, a multipurpose basket and a drip tray. And, he best part? It’s all dishwasher safe!

My fellow foodie friend, Lucy, recently purchased this electric rotisserie and gave it a test drive. Her rating is ***** five-stars!! My first question to Lucy was, is the appliance light enough to move around? Not many of us have enough counter space to display the unit when it is not in use, necessitating storage space in a closet or under a counter. Lucy’s response, “Yes, it’s easy to move. I can store in on a shelf and bring it out when needed.” Just to make absolutely, positively sure, I went to my local Williams-Sonoma store and, without messing up their stunning display, lifted the unit to find that it is, indeed, light weight!

On the day of the “test drive” Lucy picked up a 7 pound chicken and headed back home to give it a go. To begin, she injected the chicken with a mixture of herbs, lemon juice and melted butter. Per the instructions that came with the oven, she tied the chicken’s legs together and placed it onto the rack. She then brushed the outside of the chicken with the remaining melted butter and sprinkled it with a dash of herbs. Into the rotisserie goes the chicken. She closed the door, set the temperature and 1 ½ hours later, out came THE most delicious roasted chicken! Lucy was sure to note that she cooked the chicken at 325 degrees instead of the recommended 400 degrees. She used a thermometer to determine doneness. Next time, she plans to cook the chicken at the higher temperature. Lucy raves that the cleanup was a breeze, as promised and confides that her next project will be a beef roast. (Let’s see if we can wrangle an invitation to dinner for that one!!)

Before I get cookin’ on my next dinner, I’ll leave you with the good news: although the new, electric rotisserie is pricy, retailing at $365, it sells for $199.95 on Amazon and at If you have an outdoor grill with a rotisserie attachment, you can achieve a similar result. Another option is to use a non-stick vertical roaster in the oven (there is also grilling king, Steven Raichlen’s, beer can version, designed for the outdoor grill). Place the injected, seasoned chicken onto the roaster and into a roasting pan. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place the chicken into the oven. Reduce the temperature to 375 and cook the chicken until a thermometer reaches the desired amount of doneness (about 185 degrees).

Whether using your new rotisserie oven, your outdoor grill, your indoor oven or a combination of all, the recipe for Roasted Chicken with Herb Butter from my book Fresh Traditions will get you well on your way to a yummy chicken supper – one to share with family and friends.

Roasted Chicken with Herb Butter

An upright roaster is a great tool to use when roasting chicken. The chicken sits up and browns evenly on all sides. Stuffing the cavity of the chicken with orange segments keeps it extra moist.

½ cup organic butter, room temperature (1 stick)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 (4 to 5-pound) free range certified 100% organic chicken
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 whole orange, cut into wedges
½ cup sherry

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix together the softened butter with the herbs. Use your hands to cover the chicken with the herb butter. (Use your fingers to gently loosen the skin and place some of the butter between the skin and the meat.) Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

Place the orange sections into the cavity of the chicken. Place the chicken onto an upright roaster (or on a rack) in a roasting pan. Pour the sherry over the chicken.

Place the chicken into the oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 degrees.
Bake until the skin is crisp and the juices run clear, about 15 minutes per pound.

Servings: 4 to 6
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 to 60 minutes

Sources and Substitutions
Choose a humanely raised chicken that is free of hormones and antibiotics for the most healthful results. Check out for more information.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Chicken Teriyaki with Golden Cauliflower

I simply hate to throw away food – so I don’t! I’m constantly inventing new dishes to serve my family, using ingredients salvaged from the back of the fridge’s vegetable drawer (in this case the cauliflower, last piece of ginger and lonely lemon). If you have time in the morning, you can marinate the chicken and refrigerate until you are ready to cook. Serve with some rice, pasta or a bit of cooked polenta to make this a family favorite!

2 boneless, skinless, double chicken breasts, cut in half, 4 portions
¼ cup prepared teriyaki sauce
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 1 tablespoon
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated, about 1 tablespoon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium white onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced, about 1 cup
1 large green bell pepper, seeded, veins removed, thinly sliced, about 1 cup
1 medium head “golden” cauliflower cut into florets, about 3 cups
½ cup home made vegetable broth, or prepared low sodium vegetable broth
½ large lemon juiced, about 2 tablespoons
Zest of 1 medium lemon, about 2 teaspoons
Freshly ground pepper

Place the chicken into a shallow dish. Cover with teriyaki sauce. Stir in the garlic and ginger. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to several hours.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Remove the chicken breast from the marinade and place into the pan. Cook until golden on one side, about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn and cook until golden on the other side, about 5 minutes more. Remove the chicken to a platter, cover with aluminum foil and keep warm.

Add the onion, pepper and cauliflower to the pan. Cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium. Pour in the vegetable broth and add the chicken breasts back into the pan. Simmer until the vegetables are soft, and the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Season with lemon juice, lemon zest and freshly ground pepper.

Servings: 4
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Sources and Substitutions
Golden cauliflower is one of the new varieties of veggies that are rapidly making their way to your grocer’s shelf (like those purple potatoes or white carrots). The flavor of the veggie is basically the same and you can substitute with what ever you can find that looks most fresh!
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