Monday, August 30, 2010

Roasted Corn & Zucchini Flower Quesadillas w/ Manchego

Manchego cheese, from the Manchego sheep who graze the plains of La Mancha, is arguably Spain's most famous cheese. This cheese is very mellow and blends well with the light flavor of the edible flowers. Zucchini flowers or squash blossoms can be found from late Spring through early Fall. They are extremely delicate, in structure and flavor, and are very perishable. I don't recommend having them for more than 24 hours without using them. You can find them in specialty shops or Italian markets.

2 Flour Tortillas
2 C. Manchego Cheese, shredded
1 Large Red Onion, grilled, julienned
1 C. Zucchini Flowers, sauteed
2 Ears Corn, roasted or grilled
2 Tbsp. Cilantro, chopped
Salt & Pepper
2 Tbsp. Butter

Roast the corn, in its husks, for 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Allow the corn to cool, shuck the ears, and cut the kernels out using a knife. Grill the onion until the outside begins to wither, then julienne. If you don't have a grill, simply julienne the onion and then saute. Heat a skillet over medium heat, chop the zucchini flowers, and quickly flash cook the flowers.

Melt 1 Tbsp. of butter per quesadilla over medium high heat. Build your quesadilla by placing a flour tortilla down, sprinkle a little cheese, onion, corn, zucchini flowers, and seasonings. Finish the quesadilla with more cheese and the final tortilla. When the cheese begins to melt, it will spread out and help to seal the quesadilla. Using a spatula, sneak a peek at the underside of the quesadilla. When it is lightly browned, flip the quesadilla over and cook all the way through. This method will yield 8 triangles.
Some people prefer to use only one tortilla for a quesadilla because it doesn't involve the dangerous business of flipping. To construct this kind of quesadilla, lay down one tortilla and build the ingredients on only one side of the tortilla. Fold the tortilla in half and turn it over. This method will yield 4 triangles.

I like to garnish my quesadillas with cilantro and sour cream. Combine sour cream and heavy cream until the mixture is "set" like sour cream, but thin enough to come out of a squirt bottle. Using a squirt bottle allows you to garnish with clean solid lines of the sour cream mixture.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Spinach Salad w/ Candied Pecans, Pears, Gorgonzola, & Raspberry Vinaigrette

My grocery store enters, like most, into the produce department where on a warm summer afternoon the aroma of fresh fruit overwhelms the passersby with such enticing aromas that you'd be hard pressed not to stop and inspect its splendors. On this particular afternoon, I first smelled peaches and nectarines, then apples and bananas, but finally... finally I was overcome by the sweet scent of fresh Bosc pears. I couldn't resist the aroma. Before I knew it I was frantically searching for the softest, ripest pears on the shelf completely oblivious to the fact that I had lost all composure and was undoubtedly tearing through the fruit like a kid through Christmas wrapping paper. The produce section is utterly intoxicating! This recipe is absolutely incredible and perfect for one such summer afternoon.

1/2 C. Raspberry Vinegar
1/2 C. + 2 Tbsp. Honey, divided
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 C. Pecans, chopped into pieces
1/2 lb. Spinach
2 Bosc Pears, diced
1 C. Gorgonzola, crumbled
TT Salt & Pepper (optional)
TT Oregano (optional)
TT Thyme (optional)

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the raspberry vinegar, honey, and olive oil until well incorporated. Transfer to a squirt bottle and store in the fridge.

To candy the pecans, simply drizzle them with honey and bake them in a 350 degree oven, shaking frequently until lightly toasted (about 5 minutes). I like to make my pecans sweet and savory at the same time, so I toss my pecans with a touch of olive oil to prevent clumping, honey, salt, pepper, oregano, and thyme. Then simply roast them in the oven as specified above. Spread the pecans out on a plate to cool.

At this point, simply build a salad as you normally would. Toss the spinach in a large mixing bowl with a touch of the raspberry vinaigrette to coat. Place the greens on the plate. Garnish the salad with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, pears, pecans, and drizzle it all with a bit more dressing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Roasted Corn Pudding w/ Fresh Basil

This is the easiest side dish I've ever made. I'm definitely going to keep it in mind for Thanksgiving because something about it tends to make me think of the holiday. And of course as a foodie, it is my favorite holiday. When you roast corn, it takes on a sweet flavor. Sweet corn and minty basil equals yum! This dish was so good that I ate the whole batch in one night. If you're going to use it as a side dish, this recipe will yield enough to feed 8 people or more.

6 Ears of Corn
1 C. Fresh Basil, chiffonade
3 Tbsp. Flour
1 Tbsp. Sugar
1 C. Milk
1 C. Heavy Cream
4 Eggs, beaten
1/4 tsp. Salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Do not shuck the ears of corn. Place the six ears of corn in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool, then shuck the corn.

Using a knife, cut the kernels off the cob. Pulse about half of the corn in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Transfer the processed corn to a mixing bowl and stir in the basil, flour, sugar, salt, and unchopped corn.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs and then add the milk and cream.

Combine the corn mixture with the egg mixture and stir to incorporate.
Pour into a well buttered baking dish and bake on the center rack for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Let stand for about 20 minutes before serving.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chilled Cucumber & Avocado Soup

The temperatures reached upwards of 100 degrees this past week. Because of so many incredibly hot days, this blog is very quickly becoming a reflection of the weather. When the weather is scorching, it's very hard to get excited about firing up a grill or basting something in the oven. We need to cool off! Cucumbers have always had a cooling effect which is why many spicy foods are accompanied by cucumber to act as a sort of palate cleanser. Creamy avocado joins with buttermilk in this filling, chilled soup while the cucumber adds a satisfying crunch!

2 each Cucumbers
2 each Avocados
3 each Scallions, chopped
1/4 C. Mint Leaves
2 C. Buttermilk
1 1/2 C. Cold Water
1/2 tsp. Salt

Cut the cucumbers in half and use a spoon to remove all the seeds. Reserve about one half of a cucumber and mince it and set aside.

Coarsely chop the remaining cucumbers and place into a food processor.

Peel the avocados and mince one, setting it aside with the minced cucumber. Coarsely chop the other avocado and place it into the food processor.

Puree the cucumber and avocado until smooth. Add the buttermilk, water, salt, mint, and scallions and continue to puree until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Chill the soup until ready to eat, at least 15 minutes. Float the minced cucumber and avocado in the soup when serving.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pasta Salad w/ Snow Peas, Smoked Salmon, & Lavender

It wasn't until the last minute that I discovered that I still had lavender in my cupboard, but boy am I glad that I did! The aroma of lavender really tied this dish together. The fresh florets pop between your teeth and produce a burst of refreshing flavor that almost resets the palate for the next bite. These little purple flowers add a nice color to the plate as well. I love summertime!

1/2 lb. Fusili or Rotini Pasta
1 Medium Red Onion, shaved
1/4 lb. Snow Peas, blanched, cut on a bias
1/4 lb. Pastrami Smoked Salmon*
1/4 C. Olive Oil**
TT Salt & Pepper
Fresh Lavender, for garnish (optional)

*There are two mainstream methods for smoking; hot-smoking and cold-smoking. When hot-smoking, fish is smoked for shorter periods of time, usually between 6 and 12 hours. The smoking times are determined mostly by the kind of fish and the size of the fish involved. The hot-smoking process uses temperatures ranging from 120 degrees to as much as 180 degrees. The cold-smoking process requires temperatures that are half that of hot-smoking processes. Because of the lower smoking temperatures, the length of time required for smoking is drastically increased. A quick cold-smoking process can last as little as 24 hours where as a more intense cold-smoke may last as much as 21 days. The intensities of the smoke flavor vary depending on how close the fish is to the source of the smoke.

For this dish, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on some Pastrami Smoked Salmon from The Wine Shop located in the Rivergate shopping center here in Charlotte, NC ( Pastrami Smoked Salmon uses a cold-smoked process. The fish is cold-smoked with the herbs and spices most closely associated with pastrami and then cut into paper-thin slices. It is far and beyond the best smoked salmon I've ever eaten. I much prefer the cold-smoke process as it lends itself to a more sushi-like texture versus the hot-smoke process which can result in fish-jerky.

**Extra Virgin Olive Oil works perfectly well for this dish. I love making infused oil, so for this dish, I used a rosemary-oil that I've been aging since March of 2009. Although infused oils are wonderful to cook with, I really enjoy when I get a chance to use them raw. The infusing flavors are so intense that it's basically like adding the ingredient itself. The rosemary lightens the overall flavors from this dish and almost removes some of the starchy texture from the pasta.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pork Tenderloin w/ Tomatillo Sauce & Braised Apricots


Pork and fruit, what a great combo! These dried fruits can withstand the long cooking times needed to braise this dish, and they compliment the pork so well. Tomatillos are such a perfect base for this sauce. Over time, they simply break down and the natural flavors and juices become the sauce that saturates the pork. Tomatillos are related to the tomato, but are also just as closely related to the Cape Gooseberry. They are typically used before they are ripe. A ripe tomatillo is yellow, but most people use them while they are still green. While green, the tomatillo has the aroma and flavor of lemon, apple, and herbs. Because they are under-ripe, the tomatillos do well braising under the low heat, slowly breaking down to become this succulent sauce.

Pork Tenderloin, cut into chops
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 lbs. Tomatillos, husked, quartered
2 Tbsp. Chipotle Peppers, minced
2/3 C. Apricots (dried)
1/2 C. Cherries (dried)

1 lb. Pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 Cinnamon Stick
1 Tbsp. Oregano
1 Onion, sliced
4 Cloves, Garlic
3 Green Onions, chopped

Heat the oil over medium high heat. Sear the pork, about 4 minutes each side. Transfer to a holding plate.

Add the onions to the pan, saute about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and chipotles and saute for one additional minute. Stir in the tomatillos and cinnamon stick. Reduce the heat (to somewhere around low), cover and simmer the mixture for about 20 minutes. Once the tomatillos have begun to break down, add the pears, apricots, and cherries and simmer until the fruit is tender. Braise the fruit as necessary. This should take about 15 minutes.

Add the pork back to the pan and reheat to desired temperature. Serve with a healthy portion of pork and braised fruit.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake with Grand Marnier

The recent heat waves have reminded us all that summer is in full swing. Summer means strawberries. There is no fruit more refreshing this time of year. I was looking over some culinary magazines from years past and came across this recipe in Bon Apppetit from 2007. I'm not much for baking and pastry, but this recipe is so easy that I had no trouble with it at all. I think the beauty is in its simplicity. Adding Grand Marnier, which is definitely an optional step, adds just enough flare to impress your friends. This is a wonderful dessert for a summer evening get together on the back porch.


for the biscuits
1-1/4 C. Flour
1/2 C. Cocoa Powder
1/2 C. Sugar
1 Tbsp. Baking Powder
1/8 tsp. Salt
1 C. Heavy Cream
1/2 tsp. Vanilla

for the strawberries
2 lbs. Strawberries, hulled, quartered
1/2 C. Powdered Sugar
1/2 tsp. Orange Zest
1/4 C. Orange Juice
1/2 C. Heavy Cream
2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 400F. Using parchment paper, line a baking sheet. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Combine the cream and the vanilla in a bowl and use a stand mixer or electric hand mixer to beat the heavy cream mixture until stiff peaks arise.

Stir the cream mixture into the flour mixture until you begin to see clumps. Transfer the mixture to a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough gently until it forms into a ball. You'll knead the dough approximately one dozen "turns". Press the completed dough down to about 1" thick. Use a 3# biscuit cutter to cut out little cakes. Continue to gather the dough and pat it back down so that you can continue to cut more cakes. You'll get a total of 6-8 cakes from one batch of dough, depending on the thickness. Place the cakes onto the baking sheet. Bake the cakes for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a cooling rack.

Combine the strawberries, orange juice, orange zest, Grand Marnier, and 6 Tbsp. of the powdered sugar in a mixing bowl. Chill for 2 hours.

Use a mixer to beat the heavy cream and remaining 2 Tbsp. of powdered sugar until soft peaks form. Plate a shortcake with strawberries and juices on top, garnished with whipped cream.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Braised Chicken with Cilantro Dumplings

Everyone looks at me funny when I refer to this dish as a casserole. So, let's define the term so that we are all on the same page. According to The Food Lover's Companion, casserole "refers both to a baking dish and the ingredients it contains." The advantage to this kind of cooking is that the food is served in the very same dish in which it was prepared. I made this casserole in a giant metal pot and served it like a family style soup right from the pot. Hearty chunks of vegetables, chicken quarters, and cilantro dumplings with a home-made chicken stock; YUM!


2-4 Chicken Portions (Leg Quarters)
1 Qt. Chicken Stock
2 Leeks, White Part Only, chopped
4 Carrots, chopped
2 Onions, quartered
4 Celery, halved
2 Parsnips, chopped
1 Celeriac, diced
2 Bay Leaves
Thyme Sprigs
3 Lemon Grass Stalks
1 Ginger Root, bruised
Salt & Pepper

Cilantro Dumplings
1-3/4 C. Flour
1 C. Shortening
1/4 C. Cilantro, chopped
3/4 C. Water

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat a pot with oil over medium high heat and brown the chicken on each side. (If using a glass casserole dish, transfer the chicken to the glass dish before following further instructions). Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the vegetables and bring back up to a simmer. Finally, add the herbs, ginger, and season. Cover the casserole and let it simmer for 20 minutes, until the chicken is tender.

If you are not a fan of fat, let the casserole cool down (this will take several hours and can even be done a day ahead of time), and then skim the fat from the surface. If, like me, you don't mind fat, then continue on with the recipe.

To make the dumplings, mix the flour, shortening, and cilantro in a bowl with the water. Knead the dough until it is soft but adheres to itself. Shape them into dumplings. I used spoons to make quenelles. Drop the dumplings into the stock and simmer for 10 minutes. The dumplings will double in size and become fluffy. Remove the ginger from the stock and serve.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Pan Roasted Apples & Pears w/ Minted Blackberry Stock & Creme Fraiche

I spent the fourth of July weekend lake-side with about two dozen friends from college. The weather was perfect and sunny, the lake was cool, and the grill was always full. After dinner and hours in the sun, I was craving something refreshing and sweet. I whipped up this fruity dessert and served it in wine glasses just as the sun was setting over the water. We had dessert shots of Apple Brandy, which complimented this dish beautifully so I decided to incorporate them into this recipe. This is a wonderful dish for a crisp summer's eve.

2 Anjou Pears (or your favorite)
2 Fuji Apples (or your favorite)
1/4 C. Powdered Sugar, sifted to remove lumps
1-1/2 C. Blackberries
1 C. Simple Syrup (recipe follows)*
1 C. Creme Fraiche, for garnish (recipe follows)**
4 Sprigs of Mint, for garnish
2 Tbsp. Apple Brandy, Calvados (optional)

*Simple Syrup - there are three common types of simple syrups categorized as thin (3 parts water to 1 part sugar), medium (2 parts water to 1 part sugar), and heavy (equal parts sugar to water), but the possibilities are endless. Some syrups are even flavored with citrus zest or liquours. The recipe that follows is the one that I use every time I need a simple syrup.

Simple Syrup

1-1/4 lb. Sugar
1 Qt. Cold Water
1 Lemon, zested

Using low heat, dissolve the sugar, then boil for five minutes. Cool in the refrigerator, then pour the syrup into a container, and chill for up to 30 days.

**Creme Fraiche - a matured, thickened cream (similar to whipped and sour cream combined) with a tangy, nutty flavor. One of the benefits to creme fraiche is that unlike sour cream or other dairy products, it can be boiled without curdling. In France, cream is unpasteurized and; therefore, naturally contains the bacteria necessary for thickening cream. In the United States; however, all of our cream is pasteurized (free of this needed bacteria). In order to acquire the fermenting agents that are necessary to create the bacteria which thickens creme fraiche, we must add sour cream or buttermilk.

Creme Fraiche

1 C. Whipping Cream
2 Tbsp. Buttermilk

Combine the two ingredients in a glass container, stir well to incorporate, cover, and let stand at room temperature for 8-24 hours, or until very thick. Unwrap, stir generously, and refrigerate for up to 10 days.

First, you need to core and then slice the apples and pears. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Toss the apples and pears in the powdered sugar and then add them to the skillet in a single layer. If you have to cook the fruit in batches, that's fine. Cook the fruit until it is caramelized, then turn the fruit to caramelize the opposite side. Be careful not to overcook the fruit, they should still be firm. Medium high to high heat works best because it will caramelize the sugars on the outside of the fruit quickly without cooking the fruit through the center.

Using a fork or a potato masher, mash the blackberries in a bowl. Add the caramelized fruit mixture, simple syrup, and apple brandy (if desired). Toss all the ingredients until incorporated. Let cool in the refrigerator at least 2 hours. The sugar will thicken the syrup as it cools.

Spoon the dessert into serving dishes or wine glasses, and serve garnished with creme fraiche and mint.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Cream of Chicken Soup

Sometimes flawed recipes can turn into delicious mistakes. This recipe is one of those. I set out to make a braised chicken dish and ended up with soup. Errors in recipes are often times salvageable if the recipe is approached from another angle. In this particular instance, I mistakenly incorporated too much liquid, so I thought, why not continue with the recipe, puree everything at the end, add cream, and reduce? So, you'll see many of these ingredients in the future when I remake this recipe for the blog. In the meantime, enjoy this impromptu soup dish.

3 Chicken Portions, leg quarters
1 Gallon Chicken Stock
4 Celery Stalks, halved
3 Leeks, white parts, chopped
2 Red Onions, quartered
4 Carrots, chopped
2 oz. wt. Thyme sprigs
3 Stalks Lemongrass
1 Gingerroot, bruised
1 Bunch Cilantro, chopped
1 Qt. Heavy Cream

Bring the stock to a boil and add the chicken. Boil for 5 minutes and then add the vegetables, herbs, ginger, and bring to a simmer. Cover and let cook for 45 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, pull the chicken from the stock and remove the meat from the bones. Meanwhile, add the cream and increase the heat to high and reduce the stock by half.

When the soup is reduced and seasoned, use a blender or stick-mixer to puree. Add the pulled chicken back into the soup and heat for 10 minutes.