Category Archives: veggies

Chopped

Despite a language barrier, Danielle and I work well as a team using hand signals

We had an hour, but it is 20 minutes now until judging and the chicken is raw. And then there is the peanut butter issue.

In our basket at the Char-Broil version of Chopped are the mystery ingredients: a whole chicken, a fennel bulb, a stick of butter, bacon, a wedge of blue cheese, a pineapple and a horrifying jar of chunky peanut butter. We have to use all of them in our dish. The Char-Broil people, who have kindly invited the All-Star Bloggers to a resort outside Atlanta, have thoughtfully provided us with a nifty “kitchen” consisting of two disposable cutting boards, a half sheet pan, a moderately sharp knife, and four miniscule bowls.

Fear the Diva

But I have the ace card in my corner. My teammate is Danielle Dimovski, the reigning world pork champion better known as Diva Q. I am totally set here. This is going to be a walk in the park. “I know exactly what we’re going to do,” says Danielle as she hacks away at the pineapple. “We’re going to make beer-can chicken but we’re going to use the pineapple as the beer can. We can totally do this in an hour.” I have a slightly difficult time understanding her. Danielle is from Canada and she uses words like “aboat” (about) and “hoose” (house). Then again I use words like “haid” (head) and “bidness” (business). We have a slight language barrier, but we’ll work through that.

There are screaming hot Char-Broil TRU-Infrared grills set up around the Lake Pavilion at Serenbe, an insanely gorgeous planned community. Danielle slams that chicken onto the pineapple spike, rubs on some spices and citrus juice (the bloggers have a common “pantry” of additional ingredients we can use),  slaps the whole thing authoritatively on the grill and slams the lid shut.

If you’ve ever watched Chopped, the Food Network Show where four chefs are given mystery baskets of insanely inappropriate ingredients, you will understand that Danielle and I had to take a few minutes to ponder the butter, blue cheese, bacon, fennel and peanut butter.

Bacon? Obviously, no problem. We cook it on a grill pan. Fennel? Shave it and briefly kiss it with some grill marks. Alrighty then. We’re left with the butter, blue cheese and peanut butter. Yummy, yum, yum.

I am slightly reticent to offer suggestions to the world pork champion, but I wonder if we can’t use the peanut butter with some barbecue sauce to make a dipping sauce for the chicken. Why the hell not? We throw the peanut butter, barbecue sauce, a bit of lemon juice and a bit of Worcestershire into one of our pygmy bowls.  We throw in some bacon grease and butter. It looks like baked beans. But it tastes good.

It is now 20 minutes before turn in. Danielle lifts the lid of the grill. The chicken is…raw. Plan B. Plan B! This woman is a rock star. She takes the knife and dissects that chicken right on the grill! Two chicken breasts off the bird and onto the grill. I retreat to make a vinaigrette for the fennel.

Grilled chicken with fennel slaw and our almost-award-winning pineapple and bacon bites

I am going to cut to the chase.We made a grilled chicken breast over grilled fennel slaw in a citrus vinaigrette topped with blue cheese and bacon crumbles. But the single thing that makes our dish is this: We took some of the pineapple, cut into spears, and grilled it. Then we topped it with our peanut butter barbecue sauce concoction and then we put a strip of bacon on top. Sweet and salty on top of sweet and salty. They were over the top. The chicken and the fennel, not so much. Danielle and I knew this. Even though we don’t speak the same language we are realists.

We got honorable mention, based solely on our pineapple bacon bites. The winner was a New York

Christo modest in victory

City chef, Christo Gonzales, who made a chicken breast stuffed with fennel, bacon and blue cheese with a peanut butter and citrus jus. What a show off. Oh, I’m sorry. That’s not ladylike. But we’re not bitter. We applauded Christo, took a bite of his chicken and conceded we were outdone.

I will say this. After the competition, we had quite a few pineapple bacon bites left. And one by one, our fellow bloggers slowly sauntered over to our station and ate them all. I’m just sayin’.

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Filed under cheese, chicken, pork, salads, sides, Uncategorized, veggies

Lamb kabobs with grilled vegetables

I know, I’m about to digress and I haven’t even started. I’ll get to the lamb in a minute.

It is Palm Sunday and for the first time in about 17 years, I did not go to Palm Sunday services. Many of my blog followers go St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and they may be tempted to smite me. Or smack me. But I just needed one Palm Sunday off.

Palm Sunday is all about proceeding. We proceed because Christ proceeded. He proceeded into Jerusalem on a donkey, welcomed by people waving palm fronds. So we proceed with great vigor. But not on donkeys, of course. We just hoof it.

The first procession takes place during the Palm Sunday service and involves the children carrying palm fronds and marching up and down the aisles of St. Paul’s. Back and forth, to and fro. Usually this involves very young children whose parents may have nudged them out of the pews and into the aisle. I know this because I practically shoved Noah into the marching line. “I don’t want to,” he would say. “Just do it,” I’d hiss. “It’s Palm Sunday. Now proceed, dammit.” I wouldn’t actually say dammit, of course. I have never seen a child cry while proceeding, but I have seen some fairly confusing looks on their faces. Why, oh why, am I proceeding? Where’s my mommy?

But we’re not done. After the service, children and adults join one or two other congregations nearby and we proceed en masse through historic downtown Franklin. We proceed past the Starbucks, where bikers in their tiny shorts and funny shoes regard us with some confusion. We proceed along at a fairly good clip, the children carrying banners in front of us. The children are still not quite sure why they are proceeding but they get to carry banners and they’re outside so they’re usually compliant. Once we get down to the Square, we turn around and proceed back.

In general, I like proceeding. It’s one of the gentle, if odd, ways we proclaim our faith. And it’s good exercise. It’s worth a cup of frozen yogurt topped with caramel sauce and nuts if you have proceeded vigorously.

But this year, I did not proceed except to make my way to the grill to make lamb kabobs and grilled vegetables, a religious experience of a sort. A few notes about kabobs. First of all, you might be able to find a nice butcher to do the work for you rather than cutting up your own lamb. I can get pre-cut lamb kabobs at The Fresh Market. Secondly, I never alternate the vegetables with the meat on kabobs. I just throw the vegetables in a grilling basket. That way everything gets cooked as it should.

Lamb kabobs with grilled vegetables

½ cup olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

2 sprigs fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pound leg of lamb, cut into one-inch pieces

1 8-ounce package fresh whole mushrooms

2 red peppers, cut into large chunks

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, rosemary, salt and pepper. Marinate lamb for about one hour in the refrigerator. Thread the lamb on skewers. Set aside.

Cut the mushrooms into halves and combine with the peppers in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a grill to medium high. Add the lamb kabobs to one side of the grill and the vegetables to the other, using a grilling basket. Grill the lamb about five minutes and turn over. Continue grilling until the lamb springs back slightly to the touch. Continue grilling the vegetables until they have a nice char and are cooked through.

Let the lamb rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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Filed under lamb, Uncategorized, veggies

Poor people’s food

Noah has been getting a bit of instruction this week about living frugally when he gets his first apartment. Mark knows something of this subject. Professor Mayhew and his two sisters were raised by a single mother who earned just enough money as a bank teller to keep food on the table. Poor people’s food. Beans, rice, cornbread, greens and maybe – just maybe – a pork chop every now and again. When I first met Mark he would not even eat beans and cornbread. He was saturated. And now he cannot fathom a meal that does not include meat. It’s a symbol of security.

The other night we were talking about the origins of poor people’s food. Some of it has African origins – field peas, okra, eggplant, peanuts and yams. Some was the “waste” the plantation owners thought not fit to eat. Greens and the nasty bits of meat – offal and, believe it or not, pork ribs. Corn, which was introduced to settlers by Native Americans, became cornbread because flour for biscuits was too expensive.

All of that, of course, became the basis for what we now think of as Southern cooking.

The menu for that night encapsulated Mark’s childhood – crowder peas with chow-chow and mayonnaise, cornbread and “killed greens”. Or as Mark’s Granny Belle used to call them “kilt greens”. She also pronounced “idiot” as “idjut” – Appalachian to the core.

Mark boyhood memory: “I have a distinct memory of finding green lettuce-like plants growing in a creek while playing. I went home and described the plants to Granny Belle, who immediately got what she referred to as a “paper poke” (paper sack), and ordered me to show her the plants. We walked about a mile and a half to the creek and picked the branch lettuce (watercress), then walked home. That night, I had “kilt greens” for the first time.

There are no measurements for killed greens. But the preparation goes something like this. Take a bunch of watercress or sturdy lettuce (I actually use turnip greens) and chop it in a bowl. Then fry up some bacon or fatback. As the grease renders add four or five sliced green onions (which also grew wild) and saute them until they’re tender. Chop up the bacon and add it to the greens. Then pour the bacon grease and onions over the greens and toss. Eat immediately.

Is this in any way good for you? No. No, it is not. Is it oddly soul-satisfying? Completely. As Mark says, when you eat greens doused with bacon grease you don’t miss the meat.

We feasted. The mayonnaise on the crowder peas, by the way, came from my father-in-law, a good Georgia boy who knew how to improve on an already delicious bean. Noah is quite the adventurous eater, but I’m proud to say he also appreciates his roots.

For a slightly healthier version of killed greens, try Frank Stitt’s take. The owner of the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham takes Southern classics and reinvents them. Olive oil replaces the bacon grease in this recipe for wilted greens.

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Filed under pork, Uncategorized, veggies

Please read me

I’m sneaking one in on you. You looked at the title and you clicked because you were curious.

Ha! Kale!

No, no, don’t go away. This is one you’re going to like. I promise! This is a snack. A healthy snack. You will never know you’re eating kale. Kind of. In a way.

The end of kale season is near and I know all you kale haters are happy about that. You can now confidently go to the farmer’s market and not worry about making eye contact with the poor farmer trying to peddle his kale.

But let’s all face it. We’re heading into swimsuit season and you’re going to need a little help. Maybe a lot of help. So Kale Chips. Couldn’t be simpler. And they almost have negative calories. Just coat kale leaves in a little olive oil and bake them until they’re crispy. After they come out of the oven, sprinkle a little freshly ground salt over them. I made a complete cookie sheet of them the other day and I ate every single chip. They’re also delicious as a garnish for soup or as a crunchy element in a salad.

This is the last you’ll hear about kale this year. Please don’t hate me.

Kale chips

1 bunch kale or one 16-ounce bag fresh kale greens

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Freshly ground salt or kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Pull off the ribs from the kale, either bagged or fresh. If you’re using bagged, just distribute the kale over a foil-lined cookie sheet. If you’re using fresh, cut it in bite-sized pieces. Bake until crisp, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with salt to taste and toss.

N0te: Be careful with the salt in this recipe. It can easily overpower the kale. A light hand is called for.

 

 

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Mushrooms in red wine

I like to cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.

As you can see, nothing but the finest will do for me. A friend of Noah’s, who is from France and whose family is in the wine business, was holding forth with my son about the virtues of various vintages. “My mom loves wine!” he said cheerfully. What kind, the friend asked. “The kind in the box.”

I used to like the kind in the bottle, but certain things have to go during  a recession. And it was pointed out by my wine purveyor that wine in a box stays fresher longer. That, of course, is not an issue with me. I don’t get within six months of the expiration date for wine. Does wine ever expire? Not at my house.

And some of it actually finds its way into the food. My spaghetti sauce is about 70 proof. Equal amounts of crushed tomatoes and red wine. It also appears in pan sauces. Saute some seasoned chicken breasts, add some white wine and scrape up all the good bits on the bottom of the pan. Let the wine reduce by half and swirl in a bit of butter.

Noah has loved mushrooms in red wine since he was a little boy. Oh, I just realized I have been feeding my son alcohol since he was 10. Too late now. They say most of the alcohol burns off.

So the trick to sauteing mushrooms, and I’m sorry to repeat myself but some of you may not have had your listening ears on, is that you have to crank up the heat and cook them through the stage where they leach out all the water. If you stop while all that liquid is in the pan what you have are steamed mushrooms. You want a nice mahogany color on them, whether you’re adding red wine or not.

And since I’ve already admitted that I drink box wine, I’ll also admit that while I have several very nice sets of wine glasses, I often drink it in a Solo cup. There’s nothing like sitting in the garage (because we have banned ourselves from smoking in the house), playing World of Warcraft, and sipping wine from a Solo cup. That’s living, my friends.

Mushrooms in red wine

2 tablespoons butter

8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/3 cup red wine

Melt the butter in saute pan over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and season with salt, pepper and the thyme. Saute them until all the liquid has evaporated and they are a nice golden brown. Add the wine and continue cooking until all the wine has been absorbed into the mushrooms.

 

 

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Comfort food

Canned Tamales, Cold Pork & Beans, Mashed Potatoes. Photo courtesy of Kim Council

My friend, Kim, got some great news last week. Her sister’s Hepatitis C, which she has lived with for 30 years, is now undetectable. Which led to this bizarre meal her mother used to make: canned tamales, cold pork and beans, and mashed potatoes. Kim says it’s her English mother’s tribute to Mexican food. And for Kim this is comfort food and what her sister, Gloria, requested as a celebration meal.

Comfort food. Really more like memory food. Those odd combinations that are just so right, so indelibly linked to our past. Usually created by mothers, who had no idea at the time that their spur-of-the-moment thrown together creations would endure and, yes, comfort.

"Flat" chicken

For me, it’s a peanut butter and butter sandwich. I still eat them when I’m feeling a little blue. My mother probably just ran out of jelly and made the sandwich out of desperation to feed a five-year-old. For Mark, it’s blackberry cobbler. He can still see himself in his mind’s eye picking the blackberries with his Granny Belle. For Noah, it will probably be “flat” chicken and green noodles. Definitely a thrown-together meal with thin chicken cutlets dredged in seasoned bread crumbs and fried in oil and lemon juice, plus spaghetti with pesto sauce from the supermarket.

There is actually scientific evidence that proves that comfort food makes you feel better. Researchers at the University of Buffalo found that not only does eating comfort food elevate your mood, but just thinking about it is restorative. So here’s my other comfort food that I’m thinking about right now. Liverwurst. Yes, liverwurst. I’d tag along with my dad when he went to the butcher, who always gave me a slice of liverwurst as a treat. My mother never made liver so I didn’t know it was supposed to be yucky. All the Mayhews still love a good liverwurst sandwich: mayonnaise (lots of it, Duke’s naturally), thin sliced liverwurst and sliced white onion. We are prohibited from attending social events after eating these.

I’m thinking about a good stinking liverwurst sandwich right now and feeling pretty happy about it.

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A new way to cook pasta

I have mentioned this procedure once before, but I realized last night that Harold McGee’s new method of cooking pasta has changed my life. So I wanted to devote an entire blog post to it.

Old way: Get out the big pot, fill it with 4-6 quarts of water, add a liberal amount of salt to the water, bring it to a rolling boil (which can take ages), and cook the pasta. Drain and, unless you’re using some of the pasta water as part of a sauce, throw the whole 4-6 gallons of water away.

Harold McGee’s way: Fill up a shallow pan with water. The pan should be big enough so the pasta can lie flat.

Here the water is hot, but it has not come to the boil and it never does before the pasta is perfectly cooked

And the water should cover the pasta. Again, add salt so the water tastes of the ocean, but you don’t have to add nearly as much as you would in a deep pot. Put the pan on the stove and turn on the heat. Add the pasta. It doesn’t matter if the water is room temperature, warm or hot. I know, you are beginning to be amazed. With a pair of tongs move the pasta to and fro so that it doesn’t stick together. Once the pasta softens, you will only have to do this occasionally. Continue cooking until the pasta is al dente, which happens at least as fast as it does using the old method.

This is revolutionary, folks. Why didn’t anyone think of this before? At the end of the day, I believe the pasta is texturally better, you have very starchy pasta water to enhance your sauce, and you throw away a fraction of the water you would have from a pasta pot. And clean-up is a snap.

Since I’ve discovered this technique, I have not pulled out the pasta pot once. For half a pound of pasta, I use a

The pasta is al dente and you don't even dirty a strainer with this method. Just pull the pasta out with tongs and toss with your favorite sauce.

regular skillet. For a pound, I have a slightly larger pan. You want enough room for the pasta to swim around a bit.

So now you’re thinking, “This sounds too weird. I’m afraid to try it.” Man or woman up. If you get a couple boxes of spaghetti at the Publix during the “buy one, get one free” promotions, this will cost you NOTHING.

Since I’ve been consuming cabbage casserole, sausage flatbread and mini-quiches for the last few days, I decided to keep it simple with the pasta. I sauteed 8 ounces of mushrooms in a tablespoon of butter with some salt and pepper. Added the juice of half a lemon, another couple tablespoons of butter, and the 8 ounces

Can I make your life any easier?

of perfectly cooked pasta. Finished with a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

As my daddy would say, “Man, oh man.” He always said that when he particularly enjoyed a meal. What the hell does it mean? I don’t know.

I want you – I implore you – to try this. And if you want to hear the great man himself talk about this, listen to this episode of The Splendid Table (scroll down to find the link). Even Lynne Rossetto Kasper is taken aback. Heretic. Pirate. Revolutionary. Harold McGee is my new favorite boyfriend.

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